Desmond Howard Recalibrates Michigan Season Expectations

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Desmond Howard Recalibrates Michigan Season Expectations

Football

Desmond Howard Recalibrates Michigan Season Expectations

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Former Michigan wide receiver and Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard is not shy about his love for his Wolverines. Now an analyst for ESPN’s College GameDay, Howard predicted before the 2018 season that his beloved alma mater would roll through the college football season en route to a College Football Playoff appearance and national title.

But, a funny thing happened on the way back to The Big House from South Bend — Michigan ended up with a one in the loss column.

While there was a lot of panic around the fan base, Notre Dame looks to be better than anticipated, as the Irish are undefeated through the first six weeks and are currently ranked No. 5 in the nation.

So where does that put the Wolverines in Howard’s eyes? Well, as you can imagine, somewhat back to the drawing board. But there’s still a lot of the 2018 left for the Wolverines to get back into things.

“They’re not in the top four – they’re definitely not that,” Howard said. “But things change weekly. Oklahoma was in the top four a week ago and they got knocked out. It’s a fluid situation, as I expected it to be. It’s not easy for anybody. For Alabama it seems easy so far, but there’s a lot of football left to be played. They are in the top four, but there are a lot of teams making the climb. Teams are starting to falter.”

Of course, that time for Michigan to put its best foot forward starts now, with Wisconsin coming to town.

It’s a huge game with potential conference and College Football Playoff implications. The loser is all but eliminated from the latter, with the former still in play.

But, it doesn’t stop with this Saturday for Michigan.

Next week, the Wolverines travel the 60 miles to East Lansing to take on rival Michigan State — a team seemingly in disarray at 3-2 through five games. Then, they welcome a Penn State team that defensively has some issues but looks like an offensive juggernaut.

Should Michigan get through that slate unscathed — and then do the seeming unthinkable by winning in Columbus — the Wolverines could be right back in the thick of the playoff race, Howard says.

“If they win out, they have a shot,” Howard said. “They’ve got a lot of work ahead. We make these predictions sight unseen at the beginning of the season – just like polls, they probably shouldn’t exist before you see five or six games. But it is what it is, because you look at the team and what they have coming back. You look at the schedule. I’m the kind of guy who likes to think outside of the box. If everyone picked Alabama at the beginning of the season, what fun is it?

“They’ve still got a chance to do something special.”

Of course, now there’s something of a stigma surrounding Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and his record in big games — namely going 1-6 against his rivals.

Michigan is 1-1 vs. both Wisconsin and Penn State in his tenure and has beaten teams that were ranked (at the time) like BYU and Northwestern in 2015. So, big games have been won, but there still has to be more, given the overall lack of Big Ten Championship Game appearances.

But why does Michigan seem to struggle in big games, regardless?

“It depends,” Howard said.  “Some things were a fluke – when they played against Michigan State a couple years ago with the punt. Was it one of these types of games – where you outplay a team the whole game except the last 10 seconds – nine – whatever it may be? It’s different situations. I can’t say why they struggle. I can’t put them all in one basket. I understand the question, but there’s no real good answer to that question.”

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