After last season's detour into mediocrity, Jim Harbaugh has led the Wolverines back among the nation's elite heading into the crucial month of November -- just like they were in 2016. Here are three reasons why Michigan won't waste this opportunity like it did two years ago.
1. The schedule
In 2016, the Wolverines entered November not having played a road game against a team with a pulse. Yes, they played at instate rival Michigan State, but the Spartans were in the midst of their 3-9 free-fall and out of title contention. So when the Wolverines traveled to always treacherous Iowa City for a night game, they were untested on the road against a team that could physically punch back. And it showed, as Michigan left points on the field and let the Hawkeyes hang around long enough to pull off their biggest win in years. Then, of course, came the rivalry game at Ohio State and that infamous outcome. Which an obviously banged up Wilton Speight played a major role.
This time around, Michigan's other tough November game is at home, and is also a big revenge spot against Penn State, which woodshedded the Wolverines in the White Out last year. Furthermore, when Michigan goes to Columbus it will have already played two rivalry games on the road, so it's better prepared for the Horse Shoe.
2. The quarterback(s)
We've forgotten how good Speight was before his injury in the Iowa game, and that he was third team All-Big Ten in 2016. And we had to rush him back early to have any chance against Ohio State two weeks later, because it was obvious in the Indiana game in-between that John O'Korn was a considerable downgrade.
This year, as good as Speight was at times in 2016, Shea Patterson is simply the more physically-gifted quarterback. And his backup, Dylan McCaffrey, has shown he's got some exciting potential as well. Thus, if the Wolverines are forced to go with the backup for injury reasons again, Michigan fans already know they don't have to fret.
3. The bellcow and the blocking
De'Veon Smith had one of the greatest touchdown runs I've ever seen by a Wolverine against BYU in 2015, and was such a reliable running back for Michigan throughout his career as well. However, already this season Karan Higdon has emerged to acquire a status Smith couldn't quite reach -- the bellcow. As in the guy you believe can rush for those crucial three yards on a third down to close out a game, or sustain a key drive.
Higdon is the first Michigan running back to have six straight 100-yard games since Mike Hart was on his way to becoming the leading rusher in school history a decade ago. And the offensive line blocking for him has shown an ability to get stronger as the game goes on, which the 2016 offensive line didn't.
For these reasons, Michigan is ready to seal the deal this November.