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What we learned from Michigan’s Rose Bowl victory over Alabama

The Wolverines have taken the next step toward capping a historic season.

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Rose Bowl Game - Alabama v Michigan Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

Let’s talk about history today. After all, you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve already been.

For as long as I can remember, Michigan teams have largely fallen into the category of good, but not great. Think of the teams from 1971-1974, 1985, 1992, 2006, 2016, 2021, and 2022 — every single one of these teams had the potential for greatness but came up short for one reason or another. The last two years alone it felt like Michigan was finding new and inventive ways to lose big games.

In 2021, Michigan got its ass kicked so fast by Georgia in the College Football Playoff that fans barely had time to process the anguish. But in the end, much like Dante in Clerks, Michigan wasn’t supposed to be there anyway, so the loss didn’t carry as much hurt as other years. Last season, Michigan entered the CFP as more than a touchdown favorite over TCU and found a new heart-breaking way to lose through a bad game plan, sloppy execution, and repeated self-inflicted wounds.

The Wolverines have not won an outright national title since 1948 and for more than half a century, Michigan has perennially been the bridesmaid and not the bride. Even the 1997 National Championship team – which was great, don’t get it twisted – is forever tied to the word “Shared” in the history books because of a pandering Scott Frost and spiteful Phil Fulmer.

The one opportunity Michigan had to be the star of the show, the largest corn-fed Nebraska Pippa Middleton of all time showed up to steal the spotlight. Thankfully through a restructured postseason, the days of sharing the spotlight are over. But two days ago, it felt like the days of heartbreak were going to reach new heights.

Trailing by seven with less than five minutes remaining in the Rose Bowl, Michigan needed 75 yards to reach the promised land. Not an insurmountable task, but factoring in that Michigan had only gained two first downs and been held scoreless in the second half, it was an improbable, daunting proposition at the very least.

Two years ago, Michigan was in a similar in-game situation and had to not only win the moment, but had to conquer the ghosts of the past. Trailing by three with just six minutes remaining, the Wolverines had the ball on their own 25 and were on the ropes at Penn State. Thoughts of “here we go again,” filled the head of every fan in the maize and blue across the globe. Michigan had only managed one first down since its opening scoring drive of the second half, and for the past 15 years, Michigan always lost games like this and you could almost hear journalists across the country sharpening their 90s ‘Mediocre Michigan’ references.

But six plays later, as tight end Erick All rumbled down the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown, something changed. A resiliency emerged that had laid dormant for years; a resiliency that is a prerequisite for an opportunity at greatness. It took nearly 10 years for Michigan to take this step and it took two years to take the next one.

When Michigan received the ball against Alabama, fans were anything but confident. Thoughts of “here we go again,” filled the head of every fan in the maize and blue across the globe. For the past two years, Michigan always lost CFP games in increasingly devastating fashion and you could almost hear Paul Finebaum rehearsing the same old recycled jokes.

But in Michigan’s final two possessions of the Rose Bowl, something changed. The Wolverines averaged over 10 yards-per-play against Alabama and scored 14 unanswered points to secure the win in overtime. Even two days later, the game, the moment, and Michigan’s victory still feel surreal. Short of Bane showing up, the scariest thing imaginable on a football field was Alabama head coach Nick Saban with a month to prepare, but even that did not stop the Wolverines from continuing their mission.

This was a different kind of resiliency on display; this was the kind of resiliency only reserved for championship-caliber teams. Although Michigan isn’t a champion yet, Team 144 has earned an opportunity at greatness. An opportunity to set a Big Ten record of 15 wins in a single season and an opportunity to be the greatest Michigan team in the history of the program.

This isn’t a Revenge Tour, this is a CFP Redemption Tour. Michigan conquered the mighty SEC and exorcised any lingering demons from the 2021 Playoff game. Up next, is a chance to exorcise the demons of 2022. Washington — mirroring TCU — is a plucky underdog led by the AP Coach of the Year with a high-powered offense and a knack for winning one-score games.

Is this finally the Michigan team that ascends the mountain of modern college football? One game remains...if Michigan can overcome its past once more, it can write a new future for Team 145. The Wolverines know where they have been, now, it’s time to make history.