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Michigan marches closer to Big Ten title game, potential playoff berth

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Jim Harbaugh declared it a goal before the season even started. His players have not been shy about what they want out of 2018.

Now, after a 42-7 win over Rutgers on Saturday, fourth-ranked Michigan is a step closer to the Big Ten championship game.

But in order for the Wolverines to qualify for the Dec. 1 game in Indianapolis, they must first clinch the Big Ten East. That could be done one of two ways: an Ohio State loss at Maryland and Michigan win over Indiana on Saturday, or Michigan winning its next two games.

Of course, that second and final regular-season game on Nov. 24 will be played in Columbus, Ohio, where Michigan (9-1, 7-0 Big Ten) has not won a football game since 2000. 

Asked Saturday night if the potential of playing for a Big Ten title, or more, was beginning to creep into the locker room, Michigan tight end Zach Gentry acknowledged that it was.

Michigan QB Shea Patterson, in the wind, delivers again

“A little bit,” Gentry said. “We’re not trying to get too carried away. I think we’ve been happy with our team, so we haven’t looked too far ahead. But you definitely feel it because we’re riding a wave. We’ve got a lot of momentum going.

“So, we kind of know it in the back of our mind. But we’re taking it week to week.”

A Big Ten title game berth would be significant since the Wolverines have won a conference championship since 2004. They have never reached the Big Ten title game since it began in 2011.

Should they complete what is laid out for them, and finish with a 12-1 record and league championship, it’s likely that a berth into the College Football Playoff would be waiting for them.

Already in the Big Ten title game is Northwestern, which clinched the Big Ten West on Saturday with a 14-10 win at No. 21 Iowa. The Wildcats are now 6-1 in conference play, with wins over Wisconsin, Rutgers, Nebraska, Michigan State and Purdue.

Their lone Big Ten loss came against Michigan, 20-17, a game they began with a 17-0 lead. 

Michigan, meanwhile, handled its business on Saturday against Rutgers. The Wolverines scored 35 unanswered points after the Scarlet Knights tied the game, 7-7, late in the first quarter.

By the time the game had ended, Michigan had 453 yards of total offense, 260 of which came through the air. Quarterback Shea Patterson completed 18 of his 27 pass attempts and threw for three touchdowns.

In contrast, Rutgers had 252 yards, 80 of which came on its lone touchdown run. The Scarlet Knights threw for a total 59 yards.

A new set of polls will come out this week. Michigan will likely maintain its No. 4 spot in each one, including the College Football Playoff rankings, the one responsible for determining the four-team playoff.

“Do we have a chance? Sure,” Harbaugh said after the game. “A good one. Just keep preparing, keep focusing and keep taking it one game at a time and see how good we can get.”

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