No. 2 Michigan beats No. 18 Iowa 26-0 for Big Ten title, likely to claim top playoff seed

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Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run during the first half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

INDIANAPOLIS – Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh celebrated his return to the sideline Saturday by hugging players and evasively running to avoid a Gatorade bath.

Blake Corum and J.J. McCarthy were already reflecting on bigger goals.

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And when the confetti came streaming down over the Wolverines, they made sure everyone knew they were no longer the nation’s second-best team.

Corum scored twice and the defense pitched a rare shutout as No. 2 Michigan routed No. 18 Iowa 26-0 for its third straight Big Ten title game, a third straight playoff berth and likely the top seed in the College Football Playoff.

“We set our goals earlier this year and this is another one we checked off,” Corum said after rushing for 52 yards on 16 carries and tying Anthony Thomas’ career record for TD runs with 55.

And with No. 1 Georgia falling to No. 8 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference title game, Michigan (13-0, No. 2 CFP) is finally poised to reach No. 1 after spending 13 of 14 weeks at No. 2. Michigan lost each of its previous two semifinal appearances and hasn’t won a national title since 1997.

Iowa (10-3, No. 16) never had a chance.

Harbaugh's return meant he could finally savor a milestone moment on the sideline with his players after serving three-game suspension for an alleged sign-stealing scheme. He missed the 1,000th victory in program history and last week’s 30-24 division-clinching victory over archrival Ohio State.

Michigan fans booed loudly as first-year Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti presented the championship trophy and appeared not to even look at Harbaugh after he became the first coach in league history to win three straight outright conference championships. It’s also a school first.

Harbaugh didn’t seem to care about Petitti’s reaction, though.

“It made me feel super great,” Harbaugh said of the feat. “I’ve got one question for the Michigan Nation, who’s got a better team than us?”

The Wolverines extended their school record of consecutive wins over Big Ten foes to 25 as J.J. McCarthy went 22 of 30 for 147 yards.

For the Hawkeyes, it was more of the same.

While the defense held stout — allowing the TDs on drives of 5 and 6 yards and four field goals — the offense produced just 155 yards and became only the second team in conference title game history to be shut out in the final season of the East-West division format. Ohio State opened that era with a 59-0 rout over Wisconsin 59-0 in 2014.

Deacon Hill was 18 of 32 with 120 yards and the Hawkeyes rushed for 35 yards on 24 carries. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak and marked the second in three years Iowa lost the title game to Michigan by more than 25 points.

The difference Saturday was simple.

The Wolverines capitalized on Iowa’s errors; the Hawkeyes never did.

“Tonight certainly wasn’t our night,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We knew we came in here needing to play pretty much a flawless game. Obviously, we didn’t do that, didn’t do a great job protecting the football, and a couple of other situations. It was a disappointing tonight.”

Michigan took a 10-0 lead with a 35-yard field goal on its first possession and Corum's 3-yard run on its next, two plays after Semaj Morgan broke free for an 87-yard punt return to set a Big Ten title game record.

Corum is the only FBS offensive or defensive player who has scored in every game this season.

He scored again early in the second half when a replay review overturned an incompletion and ruled it was a fumble. Michigan recovered and outgoing Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz compounded the problem by drawing a penalty for unsportsmanlike penalty, moving the ball to the 6. following. That made it 17-0.

“I’ve made it the last two months without getting fined, so I’ll try again,” Ferentz said. “I’m really struggling with our replay system. Tonight what I was told, the arm was going forward, but the hand wasn’t, which I’m not sure if that’s possible mechanically.”

Michigan closed it out with three field goals, the final one being a 50-yarder from James Turner to set a title-game record.

Iowa's best scoring chance came after a 25-yard punt put it at the Michigan 38. Three plays later, though Jaziun Patterson lost a fumble at the 30.

THE TAKEAWAY

Iowa: Two streaks continued. The Big Ten West closes out the league's division era going 0-10 in title games and the Hawkeyes still have not won a conference crown since 2004. Few gave Iowa and its low-scoring offense any chance Saturday night. Neither did the Wolverines.

Michigan: Harbaugh missed six games this season because of suspension and yet Michigan heads into the postseason undefeated for the second straight year. Getting the No. 1 seed could lead to a matchup with SEC champ Alabama, Big 12 champ Texas, two-time defending national champ Georgia or perhaps even archrival Ohio State.

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