Finally, more than two games to talk about! Starting in 1975 with a win over the Wisconsin Badgers, the Michigan Wolverines hold a 5-1 record on Sept. 13. Pretty solid.
Beating a middling Wisconsin team in '75 and squeaking by an unranked Irish squad in '86 (Michigan was ranked #3) aren't too impressive. The 38-0 shutout against Notre Dame in '03 (the first in the rivalry, that's right Notre Dame, we taught you the art of the shutout too!) is an easy choice, but not the game I've decided to go with. In my eyes, the greatest victory for the Wolverines on Sept. 13 came in '97, on opening day, in Ann Arbor, against the Colorado Buffaloes. Granted, the Buffaloes entered '97 on the decline after eight years of success, including a National Championship in '90, but the win started Michigan's first 11+ win, undefeated season since Fielding Yost's first three seasons (1901-03) and first National Championship winning season since '48. Colorado never had a chance in the game as a Brian Griese-led Michigan team jumped out to a 10-0 lead at halftime. The Wolverines didn't slow down after the break, outscoring the Buffaloes 17-3 to finish the game. According to The New York Times, it was the lowest point total in 101 games and fewest total yards (224) in five years for Colorado.
17-10 over one of the worst teams ever. By opening day 1980, the Wildcats were in the middle of a 34-game losing streak and had three victories spread out over the last four seasons. One win in '76, '77, and '79. That's it. On the other hand, Michigan won the Big Ten three out of those four years ('76-78). Needless to say, a powerful, Bo-led Wolverines squad should have dominated the Wildcats. That didn't happen. Rain poured down for the first half, and Northwestern controlled the game early in the second half, holding Michigan to only three offensive plays in the third quarter. With a touchdown early in the fourth, the Wildcats tied the game at 10 and held 100% of the momentum. If not for linebacker Andy Cannavino, Michigan would have probably lost this game. Cannavino recovered a Wildcats fumble at Northwestern's 23-yard line, which the Wolverines turned into seven points. However, Northwestern fought back, driving from their own 27 to Michigan's 7-yard line before Cannavino sealed the victory with an interception.
Overall Record on Sept. 13
1975 at Wisconsin, 23-6
1980 vs. Northwestern, 17-10
1986 at Notre Dame, 24-23
1997 vs. Colorado, 27-3
2003 vs. Notre Dame, 38-0
2008 at Notre Dame, 17-35
So, overall, Michigan's performed well on Sept. 13 with a 5-1 record. But how have they done after starting a season 1-1? How about after a loss against Notre Dame? A shutout? Once again, let's go beyond Saturday's date and look at how Michigan's fared in a situation similar to where the Wolverines are heading into Week 3 against Miami (OH):
|Season Characteristic||Record in Next Game|
|1-1 Start (Loss in second game)||18-6-1 (11-3-1)|
|Loss Against Notre Dame||12-4|
(NOTE: I limited my study to include season's with a minimum of five games, so this excluded Michigan's first eleven seasons, i.e. I started in 1891)
Three Reasons for Optimism
1) Michigan bounces back after starting 1-1
This one is clear from the record above. After splitting the first two games of the season, the Wolverines win the next contest 72% of the time and slightly more often if the loss comes in Week 2 (73.33%).
2) A loss against the Irish fires up the Wolverines
Michigan just doesn't lose after failing against Notre Dame, especially against lesser opponents. Of the four defeats after losing to the Irish, only one happened against an unranked opponent (South Carolina in 1980). The other three were at the hands of powerful opponents: '82 UCLA Bruins (finished #5, Pac-10 champs, won the Rose Bowl), '88 Miami Hurricanes (finished #2, won the Orange Bowl), and '98 Syracuse Orangemen (Big East champs).
3) Shutouts don't happen often
On first look, the total number of shutouts against the Wolverines might seem high to you, but don't worry. 36 occurred before the start of WWII, including 12 in a four-year span from 1934-37. In the 76 years following that rough period, Michigan's averaged a shutout loss about once every four years. Furthermore, the win-loss record after shutouts is skewed due to '34-37: Michigan followed up 10 of those shutouts with another loss.
Three Causes for Concern
1) Week 2 losses against Notre Dame fog the picture
While the Wolverines tend to perform well after losing to the Irish, their record after losing the second game of the season to Notre Dame isn't as convincing. After five Week 2 losses to the Irish, Michigan's 3-2 in the next week. It's a small sample size, so it doesn't prove anything in either direction. Still, losing to the Irish in Week 2 seems to make Week 3 a bit more difficult.
2) Historically, Michigan isn't guaranteed to perform well after a shutout
Yes, over half of the Wolverines shutouts occurred before 1939, the data is skewed because of some pretty bad seasons back in the day. However, Michigan frequently totes their historical win total, a skewed statistic as well. Thinking in that way, the Wolverines are just above .500 following a shutout.
Even though this section is more for fun than for performing rigorous statistics, I really couldn't come up with a third reason for concern. Throughout the years, Michigan tends to bounce back after starting 1-1 and/or following a loss against the Fighting Irish. The shutout data is a mess, and since the Wolverines haven't been shutout much in the past half of a century, there's not much to glean from it.
Everything points to Michigan winning on Saturday: a lesser opponent, a winning record on the date as well as in situations similar to this season. If the Wolverines fall tomorrow, it might be time to change my username. Go Blue!