- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It was not the way Michigan wanted to enter its only week off until December.
This was a team with national championship dreams at the beginning of the season and a now-baffling first-place vote in the preseason Associated Press poll. A month and a non-conference season later, the Wolverines have two losses to two potential top-10 teams and a realization returning to college football's elite is a long way off.
The thin Midwestern line for Michigan as it wakes up Sunday morning having started September slammed by Alabama and ending it with a wake-up call after its first loss to Notre Dame since 2008.
Michigan is not one of the best teams in the country. In the Big Ten, where mediocrity has set up a permanent residence this month, it might not have to be.
When the Wolverines process what happened Saturday night in a 13-6 loss to Notre Dame, they'll realize they aren't incredibly far from what they want, from Brady Hoke's stated goal every season.
To win the Big Ten.
If the Wolverines build on signs of improvement Saturday in the defense, they have a shot at a league title. There's a confidence from Michigan it can do so.
"We're going to take this bye week and make strides in the areas we need to," senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "And get ready to make a championship run in the Big Ten."
Yes, a six-turnover game with five interceptions could be an outlier in the law of averages for both Denard Robinson and Michigan, but it is concerning for an offense which has turned the ball over 11 times in four games.
It is also concerning for Robinson, who has six touchdowns, eight interceptions and is completing 54.8 percent of his passes -- slightly higher than the 48.6 percent he completed in the non-conference season in 2011.
While Robinson and Michigan's offensive inability to produce continue to be baffling in certain situations, the Wolverines had positives.
Their defense forced turnovers, coming up with its first two interceptions of the season. Michigan's defensive front appeared to start finding its form, much like a season ago when the defense started improving in the fourth game of the season.
The offensive line also showed blocking promise in the run and pass game at the same time for the first time this season.
"Both our fronts came out and played better than we have in the first three games, and that's a plus," Hoke said. "I think there's some young guys who are getting better weekly, Joe Bolden I think, and I think the competition we have going on there.
"There's a couple of those guys. So I think as we analyze it and look at it and get back to work, it's still going to come down to little things in the game of football and still going to come down to the fundamentals and how you want to play."
The best news for Michigan is it has two weeks to figure it out.
"We look forward to playing Big Ten football," Kovacs said. "The bye week falls at a pretty good time for us where we can regroup, gather ourselves and look forward to making some strides."
Whether Michigan makes those strides against Purdue in two weeks will go a long way to determining whether the Wolverines can make a run in the Big Ten.
Michigan looked shaky offensively for much of the game against Notre Dame, but the defense and even the offensive line late showed some positive signs heading into Big Ten play.