‘We’re ready’: Michigan begins quest for elusive Big Ten title

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Devin Bush

Ann Arbor — Sometimes it seems that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh can’t tolerate having to state the obvious. Yes, the Big Ten season is about to begin for the Wolverines, and, yes, they are striving to win that elusive Big Ten title.

Michigan hasn’t won a conference championship outright since 2003 and the last shared title was in 2004.

Harbaugh, asked this week how motivated the team is to win a Big Ten title, answered as simply as possible. The Wolverines (2-1) face Nebraska (0-2) in the Big Ten opener on Saturday at noon at Michigan Stadium.

“Very motivated,” he said.

Daily? Weekly?

“Daily, weekly. And yearly,” Harbaugh said.

More: View from the other side: Michigan vs. Nebraska

More: Michigan mailbag: Is Jim Harbaugh too stubborn with run-heavy approach?

Clearly, the focus of this team is to win the Big Ten title. That starts with Nebraska, before the Wolverines head to Northwestern next week. Later they have a couple tough home games against Wisconsin and Penn State and face rivals Michigan State and Ohio State on the road.

“We’re ready,” center Cesar Ruiz said of beginning Big Ten play. “I don’t have a doubt in my mind we are ready. We’ve been preparing well and working our butts off.

“That’s the goal (to win a league title). That’s been our goal since winter conditioning. That’s pretty important for us. Taking it one game at a time. Winning a Big Ten championship would be important for this program.”

Michigan opened the season with a loss at Notre Dame and rebounded with wins over Western Michigan and SMU. Quarterback Shea Patterson has proven to be extremely accurate (70.8 completion percentage) and the Wolverines said they are feeling confident less than a month into the season.

“We feel better,” safety Tyree Kinnel said. “We’re on a two-game winning streak now. We got that nasty taste out of our mouth in Notre Dame. We were a little down after that. We bounced back, and we won two games we needed to win and we’re excited to get to Big Ten play and show what we can do.”

The Wolverines’ offensive line is still a work in progress, the run game was slowed a bit last week with the absence of No. 1 back Karan Higdon, who was not healthy enough to play but is expected to be ready for the Cornhuskers, and the defense is looking to cut down on penalties and put together a complete, stifling performance.

Junior linebacker Devin Bush says this could be Michigan’s best defense since he’s been in Ann Arbor.

“This definitely could be the best defense, hands down,” Bush said. “To take that next step we have to make our focus go higher. We’re not there yet, but we see it. We’re getting better.”

It will have to get better for Michigan to have a legitimate shot at the Big Ten title in Harbaugh’s fourth season as head coach.

“Our confidence is high,” Bush said. “We expect to win every game and going into Big Ten play, our focus is going to go that much higher. We’ve got to get the job done. We’ve got to win the Big Ten this year.”

Nebraska at Michigan

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: FS1/950

Records: Nebraska 0-2, Michigan 2-1

Line: Michigan by 17