Michigan and Northwestern meet Saturday at the Wildcats' Ryan Field, and both teams are in desperate need of a win. Both started the season with nice winning streaks, but they've fallen on hard times recently.
The Wolverines opened the year with five straight wins, including victories over then-No. 14 Notre Dame and Minnesota, one of only two defeats for the Golden Gophers this season. However, there were harrowing escapes against Akron and UConn, perhaps signaling potential struggles in Big Ten play. Michigan has now lost three of four, including two consecutive games against Michigan State and Nebraska. The offense has scored 19 points combined in the last two weeks, compared to at least 40 points in each of the previous three contests.
Northwestern began 2013 with four victories in a row, and the Wildcats hosted then-No. 4 Ohio State and ESPN's College GameDay on Oct. 5. Everything's gone downhill from there, as the Wildcats are in a complete tailspin with five consecutive losses. They've yet to pick up a conference win, and after Saturday, there are only two opportunities remaining on the schedule.
Rankings and records: Neither the Wolverines (6-3, 0-3 B1G) nor Wildcats (4-5, 0-5) are ranked. Michigan leads the all-time series, 54-15-2, and has won 10 of the last 12 against Northwestern.
Vegas: Despite the five-game skid, Northwestern actually opened as a 1.5-point favorite, according to Odds Shark. The line has moved even more in the Wildcats' favor, climbing to -3 at most sportsbooks. The over/under is set at 52.5.
Weather: The Saturday forecast in Evanston calls for a high of 58, a low of 54 and afternoon rain.
Three names to know
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is the catalyst for the Wolverines' offense. But in the last couple of weeks, he's struggled, completing 32-of-54 passes for 406 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He's also been a non-factor in the run game, carrying 34 times for -78 yards. That includes sacks, but it's still ugly.
Jeremy Gallon has been the Wolverines' top receiver, catching 55 passes for 947 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He'll need a big day to help Michigan win.
Northwestern senior defensive end Tyler Scott has done a good job of getting into the backfield, compiling nine tackles for loss and five sacks in 2013. As the last two Michigan games have proven, Scott can really disrupt the Wolverines' offense if he can get after Gardner.
Two things at stake
Michigan is bowl eligible, but just making a bowl game doesn't count as success in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines can't afford another loss if they want to be able to call 2013 a good season.
Northwestern needs to find a way to stop the bleeding. A loss to Michigan would be the Wildcats' sixth, requiring a 2-0 finish to reach the postseason. Considering one of those final two games is against Michigan State, the matchup against the Wolverines appears to be a must-win.
How to witness
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network (Kevin Kugler, Glen Mason, J Leman)
Radio: Here's a list of Michigan affiliates. Northwestern airs on WGN AM-720 in Chicago.