Did Saturday’s 31-6 victory over Bowling Green feel like a 25-point victory for the Michigan Wolverines? Or did it feel like a spiritless slog to the finish line by a possibly arrogant team too focused on the destination instead of the journey?
In 2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Globo Gym — led by antagonist gym owner White Goodman (Ben Stiller) — is branded with a demeaning, “motivating” company slogan that runs during their commercials: “Here at Globo Gym, we’re better than you…And we know it.”
This is how the Wolverines played on Saturday: We are Michigan, we’re better than you, and 10 percent of our attention and effort is good enough to beat a MAC team. And this feeling was not exclusive to the Wolverines alone this weekend.
Georgia trailed by 11 at halftime at home against South Carolina before pulling away. Florida State clung to a two-point victory on the road against a Boston College team that is one week removed from a three-point nail-biter against Holy Cross. Texas entered the fourth quarter tied 10-10 against Wyoming, and Alabama only beat a bad South Florida team, 17-3, in what was supposed to be a vengeance game for the Tide following a home loss to the Longhorns. Meanwhile, Tennessee and Kansas State got the worst of the weekend by both struggling and losing on the road.
Fortunately, the Wolverines were able to secure a comfortable victory, but this attitude is the bedrock of upsets. This is how Michigan lost to Iowa in 2016; this is how Michigan lost to Appalachian State in 2007; this is how Michigan lost to TCU in the College Football Playoff last New Year’s Eve.
During the last four years, Michigan has skated by on more than one occasion and survived to fight another day. Last season, following a resounding 59-0 victory over UConn, Michigan struggled to salt away Maryland, 34-27, in the Big Ten opener.
The same can be said to an even higher degree about the 2021 conference opener. Following a dominant, 63-10, win over Northern Illinois, Michigan needed two massive fourth down stops to beat Rutgers — who finished the season 5-8 — by seven points. This specific performance saw the Wolverines average less than three yards per carry, and only complete one forward pass in the midst of being shutout in the second half. Going back to 2019, the Wolverines required a missed field goal and overtime to beat an eventual 5-8 Army team in the Big House.
So the question facing this current team is simple — is the Bowling Green game going to be a wake-up call performance like it was in 2021 and 2022? Optimistically, maybe Michigan is just a week ahead of its usual game of humility, and with Jim Harbaugh re-entering the fray, this team is ready to refocus and attack its conference schedule.
Or is this performance indicative of deeper issues and an eventual disappointing season like 2019? Following that narrow victory over Army, no one was predicting No. 7 Michigan to get boat-raced by Wisconsin the following week in Madison. Even Ben Bredeson’s quote following the Army game could be applied to Michigan’s game against Bowling Green.
“We had some mistakes, we had some penalties, turnovers, things we need to clean up. It’s hard to get into an offensive rhythm with that, but I really like that the team fought through to the end of the game, through all those mistakes, to be able to close it out.”
What we learned on Saturday was the Wolverines are in a dangerous place right now. This team is carrying itself with overconfidence like a team that has won three consecutive national championships, when in reality they haven’t won anything. Sure, Team 142 and Team 143 won Big Ten championships, but is that the ultimate goal for Michigan and Team 144? Another Big Ten title, and then forget about the chase for the ultimate prize?
Maybe the program’s mantra should be changed to, “Those who stay will be Big Ten champions,” then. Michigan has to quickly learn no team is going to hand it the national championship no matter how many preseason polls and outlets pick it to win.
If this team cannot introduce some humility and hunger into its weekly approach for the next nine to 12 weeks, it will be sitting at home in early January after falling victim once again to some average joes with no one to blame except themselves. And maybe Chuck Norris.