UM players: Every game's like a playoff now

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan's mentality hasn't changed since Michigan State lost Saturday night.

In fact, Michigan's mentality changed three weeks ago — when it lost to Michigan State.

That's when coach Jim Harbaugh told his players to play every game like it's a playoff game.

"After we lost to them, we understood that we'd have to win out anyways," wide receiver Amara Darboh said Tuesday. "That's kind of what he said again— 'Play every game like it's a playoff. Don't lose in November, so you can keep the season going.'"

With Michigan State's loss to Nebraska on Saturday night, the Spartans and Wolverines both hold one loss in the Big Ten — but the Spartans hold the tiebreaker, because of the rivalry win.

Ohio State, meanwhile, doesn't have a loss, but still has to play MSU and UM this month.

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If Ohio State wins out, it's going to the Big Ten championship game. If Michigan State wins out, it's going to the Big Ten championship game.

Michigan, meanwhile, would need Ohio State to beat Michigan State, and then Michigan would have to win the regular-season finale in Ann Arbor to play in the title game next month in Indianapolis.

The winner of the Big Ten championship game, then, figures to have a shot at the real playoffs — the four-team College Football Playoff.

"As football players, we prepare so long for the season and the season goes by fast," Darboh said. "And if we can keep winning and make the season last, you're gonna do that."

Michigan still has business to take care of before Ohio State, of course.

Up this week is Indiana, which isn't much to look at record-wise — 4-5 overall and 0-5 in the Big Ten. But that doesn't tell the whole story, and Michigan players know it.

Indiana, after all, had the ball on the goal line late in the fourth quarter with a chance to beat Ohio State, played Michigan State really tough for 55 minutes, and gave Iowa all it could handle before losing again last weekend. At one point, all three of those teams were ranked in the top 10 nationally, and the Hoosiers had a shot at all of them.

Some experts think it's only a matter of time till Indiana, with its dynamic offense, picks off some big boy. And Michigan players know they're the next big boy up.

They were dealt a loss three weeks ago, and it didn't sit well.

"Play every game like it's the last," said Darboh, "and not have this feeling again."