|Michigan happy with win, eyeing Big Ten title|
Michigan's 12-10 victory over Michigan State Saturday was significant for many reasons. The Wolverines have moved on quickly with their minds focused on bigger and better things to come.
Michigan beat Michigan State for the first time since the 2007 season Saturday night. Phrases such as "monkey off the back" and "return of Paul Bunyan" have been front and center from fans, media and even players in the aftermath of the 12-10 victory. This was a win Michigan needed after four straight seasons of disappointment, culminating in the 2011 loss to the Spartans that left Brady Hoke with no other recourse but to say his team was out toughed.
But this game was much more for the 2012 Wolverines. Sure, the win over Michigan State was a big one for the rivalry but that's not the only reason the excitement surrounding the Wolverine's football program continues to grow. The new age of the Big Ten has brought the Legends division and Leaders division, of which both Michigan and Michigan State belong to the first, and with the Wolverines 3-0 start in conference play, a Big Ten title berth is out there to be had and appears to be Michigan's to lose.
"Great rivalry and all that kind of stuff," said Hoke. "Its important. Winning that game is important, multiple reasons why. But it's a who's next mentality. Who do you play next? Because as you know, November and October is when you win championships."
"I think we looked at it during the bye week that every game is a championship game and this falls into that category," added Hoke. "It is significant because it's in our division but they all are. Every week."
The Wolverines are utilizing the week-to-week approach to prepare just as hard for each game no matter who the opponent is. With a night game in Lincoln, Nebraska looming this Saturday against another divisional opponent, Michigan will have a chance to put a strangle hold on the Legends division with four left to play afterwards.
"We try to have the mindset that every game we play against a Big Ten opponent is just like we're playing in Indianapolis and we're playing for the trophy," said senior OL Elliott Mealer. "And we control our own destiny. It's going to be a big game. It's going to be an exciting atmosphere and there's no denying that but we'll try to prepare just like we have any other week."
2011 provides a blue print of how one mistake here, one penalty there or one missed assignment can come back to haunt you and prevent an opportunity to play for a title in Indianapolis. For the seniors on team 133, pictures of the Big Ten championship trophy is a constant, daily reminder of the expectation but also what the finish line truly looks like.
A May trip out to Pasadena, California for training with Navy Seals, volunteer work in the community and a casual stroll through the iconic Rose Bowl, allows Mealer and the seniors to envision a return out west for the first time since 2006.
"Obviously the whole idea of taking us out there was to give the seniors a visualization of the Rose Bowl and what it looks like so that we could come back and tell those younger players ‘this is what it is and we got to get out there," said Mealer.
"We do remind the underclassmen of what we went out there and saw and I don't think its been brought up quite as much but I know myself and I've seen other seniors do it say ‘hey when we were out there this is what we saw' and we talk about it here and there," added Mealer. "Remind each other that we're getting close but we're not finished with what we're doing."
To watch video of Elliott "Paul Bunyan" Mealer from Monday's press conference, press play below.