John U. Bacon: Michigan primed for Big Ten title game vs. Iowa after historic win over Ohio State
Michigan State’s football season is over, but the Spartans have hired a new coach to be on the sidelines next season. In the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, the University of Michigan will also have a different coach on the sideline as Jim Harbaugh returns from a suspension.
Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to discuss the coaching changes, Michigan's win over Ohio State, and the Wolverines' upcoming matchup against Iowa.
Saturday's game: Michigan vs. Iowa - Big Ten championship game - Indianapolis - 8:00 p.m.
Doug Tribou: Michigan State announced Jonathan Smith as its new football coach last weekend. MSU fired head coach Mel Tucker in September over a sexual harassment case. Smith had been the head coach at Oregon State for the past six seasons. In 2022, he guided the Beavers to a 10-win season. This year, the team has eight wins. Is Smith a good choice to lead the Spartans?
John U. Bacon: No, he's a great choice. How's that, Doug? The program he took over at Oregon State was 2-10 his first year. Then they finished [with] 7 wins, 10 wins, 8 wins [in the past three seasons]. He's done a great job. This is the kind of coach [MSU] should have hired before they hired Mel Tucker, who only had one season [as head coach] at Colorado at 5-7. I still don't know why they hired him.
DT: Let's turn to Michigan. John, we have not had a chance to speak since Michigan defeated Ohio State at the Big House last weekend, 30-24 in the 119th meeting of those teams. What stood out to you about that critical game?
JUB: Well, first of all, both teams played a great game on offense and defense. Some are calling it the best-played game in the history of that rivalry, which is saying something. That's subjective. But one thing I can tell you objectively, I think, is that that was the single most important game in the history of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry for several reasons.
"This is the kind of coach they should have hired before they hired Mel Tucker."John U. Bacon on Michigan State's hiring of Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith.
One is next year you add four Pac-12 teams to the Big Ten, so that game's going to mean less. Number two is next year, there's a 12-team playoff. Right now it's four teams, so if you lose that game, you're out. Next year, [in the same scenario] both teams are going to be in. So again, less pressure.
But the third thing might be the most important. Due to the sign-stealing business with Michigan, if Ohio State had won that game, they would have claimed that the last two [UM-OSU] games don't count. "You can see they're fraudulent and when they can't cheat, we'll beat them."
Michigan can now claim the opposite, that with one hand tied behind their back, with their head coach out, their linebacker coach out that they still beat Ohio State straight up with one of their best teams of all time. So this has got bragging rights for years.
DT: And now the Wolverines will face the Iowa Hawkeyes in Indianapolis Saturday night in the Big Ten title game. Jim Harbaugh will be back on the sidelines for Michigan after his second three-game suspension of the season. This one over the U of M sign-stealing scandal. Here's what Michigan running back Blake Corum said at a press conference this week had about Harbaugh's return.
"Something I look forward to is just hearing his pregame speech. It kind of gets the hair sticking up on my arms. Gets me ready to run through a wall. I've definitely missed hearing that. But honestly, just his presence, you know, what he brings to the table, the way he operates. I know the players are fired up. I'm fired up. And I know he's super fired up."
With Harbaugh back on the sidelines, what will he and the Wolverines need to do Saturday night against Iowa?
JUB: [Iowa's] got a great defense and an abysmal offense, possibly the worst offense in college football. They will have to work hard against Iowa's defense. But Iowa's defense is not Ohio State's defense. Let's be clear about that. And if they take it seriously, they'll be fine.
"Something I look forward to is just hearing his pregame speech. It kind of gets the hair sticking up on my arms. Gets me ready to run through a wall."Michigan running back Blake Corum on what he's missed most about head coach Jim Harbaugh.
DT: Let’s pull back and look at the bigger postseason picture. In the latest College Football Playoff rankings, Georgia is No. 1 in the nation. Michigan is No. 2. Washington is No. 3 and Florida State is No. 4. All of those teams are undefeated. Ohio State, by the way, dropped to No. 6 after losing to Michigan last weekend.
Only the top four make the playoff and each of them are in their own conference championship games. If Michigan is able to defeat Iowa, what other results could have an effect on U of M’s spot in that top four?
JUB: Well, all of them could have an impact on where Michigan falls in the Top Four, provided Michigan wins. If Michigan wins, they're automatically in the top four and no lower than No. 2 — and maybe No. 1 based on Georgia. [Barring a move up,] they're almost certainly going to be playing the winner of the Washington vs. Oregon game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. So that will be good for old-time [Big Ten and Pac-12] fans.
DT: Also this weekend, the Detroit Lions will face the Saints in the NFL. The Lions will try to get back to their winning ways on Sunday after a loss on Thanksgiving Day.
John, thanks a lot.
JUB: Doug, thank you.
Editor's notes: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.
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