Charles Dickens started A Tale of Two Cities with this famous quote - which I will now use as a segue to talk about football, and not about other things.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Michigan’s two biggest rivals, MSU and OSU, have now reached the College Football Playoff in every year of its existence. And, they were completely blown out in the last two years in embarrassing fashion, 38-0 to Alabama and 31-0 to Clemson. It was - well, I’m not sure how to feel about it.
Michigan State, after that game, completely collapsed. They went 3-9 in 2016 and managed to not lose the bowl game, at least. Ohio State, in the aftermath of their loss four days ago, have been a little more proactive about avoiding the same fate.
Tim Beck is now gone. Kevin Wilson, Indiana’s one-time head coach and a Broyles Award winner at Oklahoma in 2008, is headed to Columbus to call plays instead. That was a brilliant move, tactically speaking, because it gives Ed Warinner (co-offensive coordinator) a chance to focus more on his specialty, which is building up NFL offensive linemen, and it gives Greg Studrawa (offensive line coach) a chance to focus more on his specialty, which is recruiting. Presumably it will give Zach Smith (recruiting coordinator) some more time to focus on his specialty, which is being an asshat on Twitter.
Combine that with the #2 recruiting class in 2017, which features 6 (!!) five-star players, and you’re looking at a quick rebound for the team down south.
In East Lansing, things have been going at a slightly slower pace. MSU fans, when they weren’t on Michigan sites, clamored for a high-profile coordinator to be brought in. Mark Dantonio sent out a tweet about how they “will rise up again,” but ‘how’ was a question that needed more than 140 characters.
The Spartans have always been good at the off-season, but for some reason that failed them in 2016. They lost close games to Indiana and Illinois. They lost blowouts to Wisconsin and BYU, Maryland and Penn State. They mounted emotional last stands against Michigan and Ohio State. Nothing worked. They hadn’t prepared enough for anything to work.
The offensive line was a shambles. The quarterback position had no leadership. The defense had few playmakers. Whatever a team could miss, they did. It was a mess of Hellenistic proportions for a fan base foiled by their sword of choice, pride, and it capped off an absolute nightmare of a calendar year.
Then again, being the prohibitive favorite didn’t do Michigan a whole lot of good, either. As the 2016 season wound down into November, with all the hype and the accolades rolling in from Michigan fans and Wal-Marts everywhere, this Michigan team started to blink. They lost their focus. In big moments in critical situations, they tensed up and hoped that the ball would bounce their way instead of making it bounce their way. You could feel it against Iowa and Ohio State, and even against Indiana.
Now, perhaps, Michigan gets back to being the hunter. They get to focus on the Buckeyes, on their goals, and on hosting their rivals in the Big House in 2017. They get to reset their clocks, and their focus. They get to teach the young guys how to win.
In truth, both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes will be looking desperately for new star players, for new team leaders as they head through the off-season. The Buckeyes will be favored in all the preseason polls given how much Michigan loses to the draft, but that’s not really a concern. Neither side can survive without turning their talent and potential into some All-American production at at least a few positions.
The Wolverines will be focused on the Bucks. The Buckeyes will be focused on the playoff. The Spartans will be focused on us. Every side will be licking the various wounds that 2016 inflicted.
To the off-season we go.