Players eager for next 'championship' game

The celebration after Michigan State was great, but one in Indianapolis would be even better. Lon Horwedel/Icon SMI

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- With a 3-0 record in Big Ten play, including 1-0 in the Legends Division, Michigan heads to Nebraska for its second Legends game. It will be a night game and the Wolverines’ first trip to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., in a conference matchup, but this week will feel exactly like the weeks leading up to Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State, according to the players.

“It's a championship game for us,” senior offensive lineman Elliott Mealer said. “Last week was a championship game and the week before that was. We try to have the mindset that every game we play against a Big Ten opponent is just like we're playing in Indianapolis [site of the Big Ten championship game] and we're playing for the trophy and we control our own destiny.”

With Brady Hoke’s return to Michigan the focus was brought back to the Big Ten title. He has made no secret of that being the Wolverines’ goal first and foremost in every season.

“I think we picked up to it the first week Coach Hoke said it,” senior defensive lineman Will Campbell said. “Because every week is a championship week and we have to win out. … That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Mealer said there are photos of the Big Ten trophy in the team meeting rooms and Hoke brings it up in every meeting they have. And for any player who was a member of last year’s team, which Mealer later defined as a “failure” for not winning the Big Ten title, he said the reminders are welcomed and appreciated.

“We want to hear about the Big Ten trophy and Indianapolis and all those things because we know that last year we didn't get that accomplished,” Mealer said. “You need a reminder, need a reminder every week what you're playing for. We accept it and it's not redundant. We need to hear about it.”

With big matchups such as Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio State on the horizon, they’ll hear more about how each week presents a championship game.

However, unlike the real championship game at the end of the season, the Wolverines get to learn from each “championship” game they play in as they march closer and closer to the real one.

“Every week there’s something you can learn from,” Campbell said. “Week in and week out there’s going to be different offensive lines or different schemes coming at you. So every week you can take something from that game to help prepare for the next or the one after that.”

The Wolverines have five more “championship” games remaining on the schedule. But it’s the sixth one, the one that’s scheduled but has “TBD” for opponents, that they really want to play for.