Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Wisconsin and Michigan clash for the first time since the 2010 season

              Photo Credits: Geno Green/The Blueprint Michigan

A lot can change in six years.

For the Wisconsin Badgers and the Michigan Wolverines, conference realignment in the Big Ten split the programs into different paths after the 2010 season.

After the addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten and the formation of the Leaders (Wisconsin) and Legends (Michigan) divisions in 2011, both teams would not play each other on a regular basis anymore.

No one anticipated the next matchup would be until the 2016 season. The additions of Rutgers and Maryland in 2014, along with another set of divisional realignments further contributed to the schedule gap.

Fast forward to 2016 and the second full week of conference play on the horizon as No. 8 Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten West) and No. 4 Michigan (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten East) reignite the fire at Michigan Stadium Saturday.

Michigan knows all to well about falling on the wrong end of the scoreboard in impact games, especially against Wisconsin.

The last meeting took place on Nov. 20, 2010 as the No. 7 Badgers plowed through the unranked Wolverines 48-28 in what turned out to be the beginning of the end of the Rich Rodriguez era in Ann Arbor.

Michigan's rush defense had no answer for Wisconsin's Montee Ball and James White, as they combined for 354 yards and six touchdowns and signaled a need to return to a pound and ground attack as the 3-3-5 defense failed to fit in the Big Ten.

Despite its 11-game losing streak against top 10 opponents, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has injected a flavor of old-school, smash mouth football, but knows a signature win against Wisconsin could be a return to the national spotlight as a championship contender.

"We are treating this as a championship-type of game and that's the way we have approached things all season," Harbaugh said on Tuesday's Big Ten teleconference. "We will continue to do so and need to do so [against Wisconsin]."

With most of the roster in middle and high school when Badgers and the Wolverines last played, coach Paul Chryst believes the current stable grasps the importance of playing at the Big House with conference and playoff hopes at stake.

"This group gets the fact that all of the opportunities are huge and you want to maximize them the best you can," Chryst said. "The way this season has played out, there is a lot of attention to this game. They understand [the stakes] and appreciate the opportunity to play against a top program right now. I don't think the history matters as much as this being an opportunity against Michigan."

With wins this season against the likes of LSU and Michigan State, Chryst relishes in the poise of the Badgers embracing each challenge.

"They have done a nice job of being in the moment in each game because you appreciate that as a coach," Chryst said.

Saturday's Wisconsin/Michigan game could go a long way in shaping the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year's Eve.

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