Harbaugh: Penn State is first step to Big Ten title
Ann Arbor — Michigan opens its Big Ten schedule against Penn State on Saturday, and its approach will be the same as it has been the first three weeks.
The goal is to win the Big Ten title.
“It’s a big game; it’s a championship game,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. “That’s the way we’re going about it. Every game is a big game.”
Michigan, which is 3-0 and ranked No. 4, hasn’t won a Big Ten championship since 2004.
Facing Penn State (2-1) at Michigan Stadium is the first step, followed by Wisconsin to close out Michigan’s season-opening five-game home slate.
“We’re trying to see how high we can climb (in the rankings), how far we can go,” Harbaugh said. “Striving to be the best.”
Michigan, which struggled early against Colorado last week before overcoming a 14-point deficit to win, has 159 points the first three games, a school record.
And it will need that offense after Week 5 when the road gets more challenging — games at Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State.
The players, however, believe the adversity they faced against the Buffaloes will help later.
“It’s huge,” offensive lineman Erik Magnuson said. “Going into the Big Ten season without having any adversity at all would have been a little bit worrisome just from the aspect that in the Big Ten everyone is good and could beat you any week.
“If that’s the first time we’re dealing with it, maybe we wouldn’t have been able to come back from that if we were playing a different team. It’s good to deal with that early in the season and say, ‘We came back 21-7 against Colorado, let’s do the same thing if we’re ever in that position again.’ ”
It was the proverbial wake-up call, one the players said they needed to receive after routing Hawaii and Central Florida.
“From this point forward we are going to have to be on top of our game,” Magnuson said. “We can’t allow what happened the first quarter (against Colorado) to happen again this season.
“When things go bad — we haven’t had many of those this year — we could have easily said we had a bad game, it’s over. Everyone fought, we came back. It just speaks to the maturity of this team, the leadership.”
Quarterback Wilton Speight proved plenty to his teammates and coaches against Colorado after he took a hard sack and hurt his right elbow (throwing arm) while fumbling. The Buffaloes scored on the fumble.
“He got hit hard,” Harbaugh said. “We missed a protection, not him, one of the other guys missed their assignment, and he took the brunt of it. Got up and ... walked it off like a tough guy and kept playing. He never said anything about coming out.
“As he went through the game you could tell he wasn’t 100 percent, but this isn’t track, this is football. Playing the quarterback position, that’s part of the game. I thought he showed a lot to his teammates. It’s another rung you grab and you raise yourself up in the respect in the eyes of others.”