Two years ago to the day, the Michigan Wolverines seemingly had no hope after suffering their worst home loss since 1935, 49-11, at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers.
The following Monday, I lambasted the state of the program and focused my ire on the man leading the team, head coach Jim Harbaugh. In summary, I wrote:
“The good news is the sky isn’t falling; the sky has already fallen. In this post-apocalyptic football world, we learned and have accepted that even a loss to Rutgers seems within reason at this point.
“This program needs a dire culture change and that is not going to come from shuffling coordinators or an extra hour of padded practice a week. This begins and ends with the $8 million dollar man.
“Until then, it is just going to feel like a flat tire at an indecisive four-way stop, with Train playing while you head to the golf course with skunked beer.”
At the time, this was a call to action for anyone — Harbaugh, Athletic Director Warde Manuel, quarterback Joe Milton, ANYONE — to step up, right the ship and restore the promise from 2015 when Harbaugh first took the position at Michigan.
It wouldn’t come the next week, or that season for that matter, but it came in the offseason once every fan had given up hope. Now in 2022, after almost two seasons of restoration from the depths of 2020, the program has reached a point where optimism is in abundance, where victory feels routine and where domination feels mundane.
The Wolverines trounced the Nebraska Cornhuskers 34-3 on Saturday, and the feeling among fans after the game is resoundingly, “Ehh, good, not great, could be better.”
A 31-point victory is receiving that type of response from the fan base! And the craziest thing is, it is completely justified from what fans have come to expect this season.
The Good: Blake Corum is currently in position to earn an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, which would make him the second Wolverine invited in back-to-back years (Aidan Hutchinson). Currently, the junior tailback is third in the country in rushing yards, tied for second in rushing touchdowns and is only 30 points away from the all-time single season Michigan scoring record.
Paving the way for Corum is the best offensive line in college football coupled with an army of capable blocking and receiving tight ends. Defensively, the unit is smothering across the board with minimal weaknesses. The defense is currently ranked first in the country in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense, and fourth in passing defense.
The Not Great: Michigan’s wide receivers have struggled with drops and separation, cornerback DJ Turner has yet to return to the form he flashed in 2021, and quarterback J.J. McCarthy has still not found his deep ball, limiting the offense’s explosive potential.
Michigan has a ceiling of becoming the greatest team in the program’s 143-year history.
Its narrowest margin of victory is seven points, thanks to a garbage time drive by Maryland’s backup quarterback for cosmetic points. And the one ranked team Michigan played (Penn State) it clobbered 41-17, while racking up over 400 rushing yards.
Team 143 is not just beating opponents, but it is smashing them to the point where 31 points feels merciful.
Of the Harbaugh era, the 2021 team never reached this level in the regular season with massive struggles against Rutgers, Nebraska, and the 16-point blown lead to the Spartans.
The 2016 team collapsed on the road against Iowa, unable to ice the game with one first down against the seventh-best rushing defense in the Big Ten. And the 2018 team dropped their first game of the season to Notre Dame due to a stagnant offense and had to overcome a 17-point deficit to Northwestern; not to mention the team was largely propped up by a one-note defense that used blitzes to mask glaring problems in the secondary.
Let’s look even further back to two other great teams for comparison: the 2006 team and the revered national champion 1997 Wolverines.
The 2006 team was the last Michigan team to start 11-0, but even they experienced struggles far greater than this year’s team. In 2006, the Wolverines squeaked by an eventual 5-7 Ball State team by eight points, for win No. 10, in a game that required a turnover on downs inside the Michigan 10-yard line and a stop on a hail mary to preserve the undefeated record.
The 1997 team overcame a seven-point halftime deficit at home to a 7-6 Notre Dame team to win 21-14, but was held scoreless in the final frame as they struggled to salt it away. Three weeks later, the Wolverines needed a fourth quarter comeback in the final three minutes to beat a 7-5 Iowa team 28-24, once again at home, en route to a national championship.
Michigan has remained perfect this season and is bullying opponents week-in and week-out like we have not seen before. The ceiling is the greatest ever and the floor is 10 wins. Are we sure 2020 was only two years ago?
Two years later, this season feels like a fresh set of tires on a new car headed through a smooth four-way with Pump It Up blasting through the speakers. The skies are clear, the Bud Heavies are ice cold and Michigan is 10-0 speeding towards the Game of the Century with immortality on the line.