The Shea Show
It's moments like this Shea Patterson came to Michigan for, and Michigan was fortunate to have the former 5-star recruit essentially fall into its lap. For it was the Wisconsin game last season that sealed the Wolverines' fate. They were 8-2, and still in the hunt for at least a major bowl. They scored 10 unanswered points in Madison to take the lead on the undefeated Badgers, and that was with a fumble inside the Wisconsin 5-yard line on a drive that could've resulted in even more.
But then quarterback Brandon Peters got knocked out of the game. Michigan's spirits were deflated, and the Badgers scored 17 unanswered points for a double-digit victory. The Wolverines wouldn't win another game the rest of the season, and finished a disappointing 8-5.
Fast forward 11 months, and although both squads are battling injuries on the defensive side of the ball, many of the same guys on the field that fateful day in Madison will take the field at the Big House come Saturday night. With one obvious exception -- Shea Patterson.
So far he has a 160.7 passer rating in a winged helmet, which is 12 points higher than Elvis Grbac's school-record 148.1 career passer rating. More than 15 points higher than his head coach, Jim Harbaugh, had when he played at Michigan. Which includes one season (1985) when Harbaugh was the nation's most efficient passer. He's 42 spots higher than the celebrated Trace McSorley in national pass efficiency.
And he's already thrown more touchdown passes (10) than Michigan had all of last season (9).
This is the moment for Patterson to assert himself. Coming off a season-high in passing yards, and with Gameday and a primetime kickoff bringing all the national attention you need to do so. If he's the best quarterback on the field Saturday night, Michigan is going to win -- period.
Embrace the Moment
There's plenty of analytics in this game I could spend the rest of this space writing about. Like converting touchdowns in the red zone against a Wisconsin defense giving up a lot of yards but not a lot of points. Or Michigan proving the improvement in pass protection we've seen this season isn't simply a byproduct of inferior competition, now that it's facing the Badgers' angling and attacking 3-4 defense.
However, as much as I believe in being data-drive, let us not forget these are human beings not algorithms. And that's why I think this is more about the moment for Michigan than the metrics.
Wisconsin may be banged up, but it's still Wisconsin. A program that hasn't lost a road game by more than seven points in its last 33 road games. A program that has lost one Big Ten road game since September 28, 2013 (14-7 to Michigan in 2016). A program that in many respects has assumed the mantle of physical and impose-your-will football the Wolverines have been seeking to reclaim for a decade.
This is the time.
Michigan has the better defense. The better quarterback. The home field advantage, and also the motivation to avenge last year's season-deflating loss to these same Badgers. The only question is whether or not the Wolverines are ready to embrace the moment, or let another one of these moments elude them.
The last time College Gameday came to Ann Arbor was the 2015 nightmare against Michigan State. A day that Michigan looked poised to take the big step so soon in Harbaugh's first year. But then came one of the most infamous losses in recent college football history, which began an unfortunate trend of the Wolverines finding ways to lose the games that matter most when the moment matters the most.
It's almost cosmic how this all seems to be coming full circle this Saturday night. A chance to exorcise some demons under a gold, gray October sky. A chance to reintroduce the country to the winningest program of all-time. It's like the maize-and-blue version of a harmonic convergence.
I believe these Wolverines will answer the call.
Prediction: Michigan 27, Wisconsin 17