Time is running out for Brandon Graham at Michigan, and he knows it.
Graham will play his final game at Michigan Stadium on Saturday as the Wolverines take on No. 10 Ohio State (ABC, noon ET). And if Michigan doesn't pull off a major upset, Graham's college career will be over.
"My days are numbered here," Graham told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I don’t think I’m going to cry. But I don’t really know what to expect. I know that when I'm finally done, when I can’t take any classes here or anything like that, I might cry then. Other than that, I'll be OK. I'm going to be tough."
Graham has not only been a pillar of toughness for Michigan this fall, he's been quite possibly the Big Ten's best player.
For a minute, forget about Michigan's 5-6 record and its mostly miserable performance on defense. Graham has been absolutely unstoppable at defensive end, and he's got the numbers to back it up.
His 21 tackles for loss lead the FBS
He's tied for second in the Big Ten and tied for 24th nationally in sacks with 8.5
He's the only FBS player to rank among the top 10 nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss in each of the past two seasons
He has at least one tackle for loss in nine of his past 10 games and six games of two or more tackles for loss this season
He has blocked two punts and returned one for a touchdown
He has forced two fumbles, one of which teammate Ryan Van Bergen recovered for a touchdown last week at Wisconsin
"He's doing all he can," Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "But he knows, too, he's surrounded by inexperience. The thing about Brandon, he's still being a team guy and playing with the framework of the defense. We try to do some things scheme-wise to free him up, to use his ability. He's had a great senior year."
For much of the year, Graham has been a one-man show for Michigan's defense, which allows more than 400 yards and more than 28 points a game. The unit's struggles don't stem from a lack of effort.
Just the opposite, as Graham explains.
"A lot of people want to make big plays and be the savior," he said. "Sometimes a lot of people are outside their gaps, stuff we went over in practice. A lot of people want to be that superstar. But if you do what you’re supposed to do, then you'll be that much better."
In other words, do as Graham does. Michigan tries to free him up as much as possible, but opponents also counter by dispatching as many as four players to block Graham.
And he still produces, in large part because of a quicker burst off the line.
"I was slow off the ball and had a lot of big questions about me [after the 2008 season]," he said. "I just tried to take all the criticism I could and step it up in all areas. Just being a step late can hurt you."
Graham could have left for the NFL following his junior season, but he has no regrets about returning to Michigan, as he "didn’t want to grow up too fast anyway." He's certainly ready for the next level -- ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projects him as the Big Ten's top draft pick in 2010 -- but he doesn't want to put away the winged helmet just yet.
Graham relayed his wishes to his younger teammates during a players-only meeting earlier this week.
"It was just, ‘Lay it out on the line. This is our last go-round,'" Graham said. "'This is our way out. You’ll have to wait 300-and-something days until this game. Right now, leave a mark on [Ohio State] for a whole year until that next game because we beat them.’
"A lot of people were into it. They were ready."