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Purdue 38, Michigan 36. Mathematically, Michigan is still alive for a bowl game, but at this point, that's like saying "Chrysler is still solvent" or "People are still watching the new Jay Leno show." Technically, yes: At 5-5, if the Wolverines upset Wisconsin on the road or end their five-year losing streak against Ohio State, a bid to the Little Caesar's Bowl may be waiting for them.
Let's rephrase that with a few more pieces of key information: If the Wolverines snap out of a five-game conference losing streak in which they've now allowed 500 yards and 38 points apiece to Illinois and Purdue in back-to-back weeks to knock off one of the top teams in the conference, they can eke out a bid to the least prestigious postseason date in school history. That's the best-case scenario.
Today, at home against another struggling outfit struggling just to stay out of the conference cellar (Purdue was routed last week 37-0 by Wisconsin), was the chance for Michigan to end that malaise and salvage whatever goodwill remained from the 4-0 start in September. Instead, the beleaguered secondary gave up four completions of at least 30 yards in the worst aerial assault against Wolverine D (367 yards) since USC in the 2006/07 Rose Bowl. Aside from defensive end Brandon Graham, this rock-bottom defense is like last year's rock-bottom offense: Outmanned, condemned from the outset by a shockingly bare cupboard at key positions and careening quickly toward historic depths every time the ball goes in the air.
That's a sobering comparison on its face, particularly for what it implies in the big picture: Assuming the chalk holds against Wisconsin and Ohio State, Michigan is on pace not only to miss a bowl game for the second year in a row, but to finish 1-7 in Big Ten play with seven consecutive losses, a regression from the unthinkable catastrophe of finishing 2-6 in conference games last year. Rich Rodriguez's second team seemed to establish the bare minimum of its requirements -- just don't be as bad as Rich Rodriguez's first team, please -- by beating Notre Dame at the last second and avoiding another embarrassing loss to the equivalent of Toledo during that 4-0 start. Back-to-back defenses collapses to obviously reeling outfits from Purdue and Illinois, though, threaten to erase all of that: Unless the Wolverines manage to pull a stunning upset over a top-25 rival in the last two weeks of the season -- or somehow shut down the Badgers' and Buckeyes' offenses in close, spirited losses -- Michigan is going to end this season just as it ended 2008, wallowing in the Big Ten cellar with Indiana, probably looking for yet another defensive coordinator and definitely still wondering how and when it's ever going to manage to crawl its way back into the light.