Just Two Weeks In, Michigan Looks Like A Serious Contender In The Big Ten East

There's an opportunity for a team not named 'Ohio State' to claim the Big Ten East title in 2021, and the Wolverines appear to have as good of a shot as anyone.
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For the second week in a row, the Ohio State Buckeyes found themselves on the ropes to an underdog opponent. College football fans across the country turned their attention to Columbus on Saturday afternoon, as No. 3 Ohio State struggled to come up with an answer for the high-powered offense of No. 12 Oregon. 

Offensively, redshirt sophomore quarterback CJ Stroud once again showed signs of tremendous talent, but also signs of inexperience. Stroud finished the afternoon completing 35 of 54 attempts for 484 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception in a stunning 35-28 loss - Ohio State's first loss in Columbus since 2017 against No. 5 Oklahoma.

Not only did the loss leave Michigan fans grinning from ear to ear, it also led many of them to entertain an idea that most had promised themselves they wouldn't dare entertain during the off-season. With Ohio State showing signs of vulnerability early, some within the Wolverine fanbase are starting to believe that this might be the year.

Though some may chalk this up to the same old story year after year, there's something about this Michigan football team that just feels different. Being talented enough has never been a problem, but there have certainly been whispers about culture issues within the football program throughout the Harbaugh era - something that was confirmed by senior Aidan Hutchinson during Big Ten Media Days.

“Clearly in 2018, 2019, something wasn’t right about the culture,” Hutchinson said. “We shouldn’t be getting blown out by Ohio State if we’re competing at just as high a level as them, and it just didn’t make sense. Coach Harbaugh has been doing a great job of adapting and seeing what our team needs and changing what needs to be changed.”

It's hard to quantify just how impactful things like 'energy', 'brotherhood' and 'culture' are to a football program, but the early results seem to suggest it could be the difference between third place in the Big Ten East and a trip to Indy

During the off-season, Michigan coaches and players talked extensively about a renewed sense of energy, a sense of brotherhood and an improved culture that was infectious throughout Schembechler Hall. Meeting with the media leading up to week one, wide receiver Ronnie Bell said he's never experienced anything quite like it.

"The team morale is the highest and best that I've ever seen on any team that I think I've ever been on - counting every basketball team, every baseball team, you name it," said Bell. "This team, and how much we love and care for one another, it's so - it just passes along so well throughout this team."

According to Bell, the chemistry currently flowing throughout the team is something that head coach Jim Harbaugh has been striving for since arriving in Ann Arbor back in December of 2014.

"He's the head of the sword, he's the boss man," said Bell. "I feel like he's always been striving to get this energy. I feel like this has been the overall goal from the standpoint of how he wanted things to flow, team chemistry, team morale and how we love and care for one another."

For Michigan fans, the team chemistry has been on full display during the first two weeks of the season. You could see it when quarterback Cade McNamara embraced JJ McCarthy prior entering the Western Michigan game. You could see it when Aidan Hutchinson gave a pep talk to true freshman defensive back Rod Moore after giving up a touchdown against Washington. You could see it when an injured Ronnie Bell was coaching up the wide receiver group on the sidelines.  

All of those instances may seem relatively insignificant on their own, but collectively it adds up to a whole hell of a lot for a football program that has been searching for an identity.

Sure, it's early - and Michigan fans have certainly seen this movie before. At the same time, it's also okay to admit that there's something special about this particular group of Wolverines. Whether or not that means they'll be playing in Indy for the conference title on Dec. 4 remains to be seen, but it's starting to look like this might be Michigan's - and Harbaugh's - best shot to do it since 2016.

Oh, and by the way...JT was short.