Wolverines focused on task ahead, not rankings

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Carlo Kemp

Ann Arbor — Two years ago, as Michigan climbed in the rankings, the message Jim Harbaugh sent his players was somewhat unique. He told them to care about the rankings because they should want to be ranked as high as possible.

The goal remains the same, but for this group of Wolverines, ranked No. 5 with No. 14 Penn State coming to Michigan Stadium on Saturday, the approach is different. The Wolverines (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) said they don’t care about rankings, only about the next opponent.

“This year it’s just one game at a time, because the only thing that really matters is the next game and then after that, the next game that you play is even more important than the past,” defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said Monday.  “We’re at a point right now, four games left, where every game matters.

“Two years ago we were in this position, so we know how it feels to be at the top and be in control. Right now we have that grip and right now we’re trying to not let it go.”

Michigan was on the cusp of the College Football Playoff in 2016 but slipped late. Kemp said that had nothing to do with paying attention to the rankings.

“I don’t think it distracted us at all, but now we remember that feeling so we’re putting an emphasis on it like, every game here matters,” Kemp said. “It’s determining if you go to the Big Ten championship, if you make the playoff. These last games are the ones that really define a season.”

The first of the College Football Playoff rankings will be revealed Tuesday night during a one-hour show on ESPN that begins at 7 p.m. The Top 25 will be announced in the first 20 minutes of the show. The rankings will be revealed each week until the final rankings are shared Dec. 2 to determine the College Football Playoff matchups and the New Year’s Six participants.

Michigan senior running back Karan Higdon, a co-captain, was asked if he will watch the first show Tuesday night.

“Nah,” Higdon said Monday. “It don’t even matter. We’ve got four more weeks left.”

Higdon said the team is taking “with a grain of salt” the fact Michigan is atop the Big Ten East Division rankings. He said no one is focused on rankings of any sort.

“We haven’t even talked about it,” Higdon said. “Obviously, we know what it is, but we don’t focus on that. We just focus on the task at hand. And right now that’s really taking care of Penn State.

“We’ve attacked this year completely different making sure we focus on each individual game and we’ve done a great job of that and producing.”

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Fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich returned to Michigan for his final year of eligibility instead of heading to the NFL. Experiencing what the team has so far this season confirms for him he made the right decision to return.  But like Higdon and Kemp, Winovich is all about the here and now and the next game.

“Seeing our transition from last year’s team to this year’s team and the growth we’ve had, it’s a really cool thing to see,” Winovich said. “I’ve got eight quarters left in the Big House and my time is coming to an end here. It’s very special to me to see Michigan in the position where if I leave it — we do big things here, hopefully. It’s leaving on a great note — it’s what I envisioned coming back and in the first place coming to Michigan.”

Winovich moving on — sort of

After Michigan’s 21-7 victory over Michigan State, Winovich reignited thingswhen he referenced the Spartans as “little brother.” Former Wolverine running back Mike Hart made the comment famous in 2007 before the Spartans rattled off six straight wins in the rivalry.

Winovich spoke to reporters for the first time since the MSU game and was asked about his comment.

"That's an interesting thing, because it’s like, on one hand I'm moving on from it, but on the other hand — which I still am moving on from it, distancing myself from it — but it’s like, in my eyes, I didn't start the fight,” Winovich said. “If I go through any other week, and I've been interviewing with you guys for years, I'm not out here just trying to call out teams, even postgame interviews. I don't like a lot of teams, but I'm not going to just go pick a fight.

"But for them, they called us 'little sister' in the summer. They came there and tried their antics with the helmet. Obviously, you guys know how that went. They wanted us to almost take the low road, and maybe I took the bait. But I don't mean any harm from it. I'm just having fun. I think they took it a lot more serious than probably I did. But yeah, I'm moving on. I'm focusing on the Penn State now.. That's the only thing that's on my mind.”


Twitter.com: chengelis