Both the Michigan Wolverines and Nebraska Cornhuskers come into Saturday’s game with 6-2 records. Winning this game would mean more than just getting to seven wins; it could mean the difference between playing in a January bowl game and being in the December bowl crowd for both of these programs.
For the home team Michigan, taking a third loss could mean a disappointing 7-5 season. The Wolverines will be heavy home underdogs against Ohio State at the end of the year, and going to Iowa has proven tough for Michigan over the past few years. Finishing the season having lost four of their last five would likely relegate the Wolverines to a game early in the bowl season, far removed from the Rose Bowl aspirations they had at the beginning of the year.
A win in this game, however, could give Michigan the momentum it needs to beat both Northwestern and Iowa. Even if the Wolverines do lose to the Buckeyes, they’d still finish with a 9-3 record. Getting nine wins and traveling as well as Michigan does, an Outback Bowl or Capital One Bowl invite could be sent to Ann Arbor.
For Nebraska, there’s a little bit more at stake. The Cornhuskers’ loss to Minnesota two weeks ago is their only Big Ten loss so far, so they are still very much alive to defend their Legends division title. Beating the Wolverines would keep Nebraska in control of its own destiny as far as the division goes. Losing to Michigan would put the Cornhuskers two games behind the Michigan State Spartans in the standings.
Just like in Michigan’s case, there’s a huge difference in the postseason destination of a 9-3 Nebraska team and a 7-5 Nebraska team. While Nebraska’s sights right now are still set on a first-ever Big Ten championship and going to the Rose Bowl, even a Nebraska squad that fails to reach the Big Ten championship game with nine wins is likely to play a New Year’s Day bowl game.
If either of these schools can get to eight or nine wins and is playing a game on New Year’s Day, they will be able to look back on this game and count that as a huge victory in their path to that bowl game.