What sparked this post? The hypocrisy surrounding the entire University of Michigan program, but mostly the fans, who are once again arrogantly criticizing Michigan State for going 6-6, while bragging about making the meaningless exhibition game called the Outback Bowl to face South Carolina.
Remember, these are the same Michigan fans, who last year, chastised rival Michigan State for losing in the inaugural B1G championship game in heartbreaking fashion to Wisconsin. Then, after receiving a bid to play in the Sugar Bowl, despite not playing for their own conference championship and losing to MSU during the regular season, subsequently mocked them incessantly for being in a bowl game for “losers.” What bowl game did MSU play in last year? Oh, that’s right, it was the Outback Bowl. My, it’s crazy how the tables turn, isn’t it?
However, this is not a post about just the fans. This post is about how Michigan fans and the mentality surrounding the football team are holding back this program.
Before September 1st, those same Michigan fans couldn’t wait to get their hands on “overrated” Alabama and show the country that “the winningest program in college football history” was legit. Boy, those high horses sure were nowhere to be found midway through the 2nd quarter when the scoreboard read Alabama 31, Michigan 0 in bright colors on the bottom of the ESPN Broadcast, a constant reminder of the discrepancy between the programs.
But, that wasn’t really what irked me the most. All fans talk smack and it’s fun and it gets you excited for the game. Talking smack is a source of pride and can provide some hope. The issue was that Michigan fans kept bragging that after last season’s 11-2 record and victory in the Nokia Sugar Bowl, that Michigan was “back.” Back to what? Back to 3-loss seasons and underachieving with great recruiting classes? Back to losing every year to Ohio State, who routinely out-coaches you? Back to only winning one national championship since World War II?
Sure, Michigan may have won more games than those schools, but it’s not about how many wins you have. It’s how many big games you win and how many championships you can claim. With that said, since World War II, Michigan has been slightly better than mediocre, but definitely not great, save a six-year run when Bo first arrived. Sure, Lloyd Carr won a national championship in 1997, but every other year he was there, he did not lose FEWER than two games. How is this acceptable? How is that good enough? If you claim to be the best, how can getting throttled in the Rose Bowl be all right?
Let me remind you that from 1987-2000, Bobby Bowden and Florida State had 14 consecutive seasons of 10 wins or more, which included National Championships in 1993 and 1999. Nick Saban, if his Alabama team that was considered “overrated” according to Michigan fans, beats Notre Dame in the National Championship game, will win his 3rd National Championship in 4 years. Wow. Ohio State went undefeated this season with a first-year coach, and in the past 10 years has won a National Championship and played for two more, and been a consistent staple in the Rose Bowl. Chip Kelly, since he took over at Oregon in 2009, is 45-7, never winning LESS THAN 10 games in a season. Pete Carroll, in his tenure at USC, sandwiched in between 6-6 and 9-4 seasons in his first and last seasons, never lost more than 2 games in a season, including winning the 2004 National Championship, and constantly playing in the Rose Bowl. And lastly, Mack Brown at Texas had a string of 9 straight 10 win seasons from 2001-2009, including playing in two National Championship games, winning one.
That’s not to say Michigan has not been successful or relevant. They have been. When Bo Schembechler first showed up in Ann Arbor in 1969, he elevated the Michigan program back into the national spotlight. From 1969-1974, Bo went a staggering 58-7, including winning 10 games four straight years. But, let me remind you, Bo never won a National Championship, and he was a deplorable 2-8 in Rose Bowls.
Since Bo left, Lloyd Carr, save the one National Championship in 1997, was mired in crippling mediocrity and continued Bo’s penchant for losing Rose Bowls. Lloyd was 1-3 in Rose Bowls, but the fact that he played in just four Rose Bowls in 13 seasons should be cause for concern. But, of course, it wasn’t, and he kept his job despite underachieving with exceptional talent, which included never losing less than 2 games per season in every other season, and could never figure out how to stop a spread offense.
The goal should be National Championship or bust. That’s the mentality at Ohio State. That’s the mentality at Alabama. That’s the mentality at USC. That’s the mentality at Texas. Yeah, programs like Oregon and Virginia Tech are really happy playing in the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl every so often because they have not had the reputation, or the success, that Michigan has had.
So, if the Outback Bowl, or playing for a Rose Bowl once every 5 years is good enough and something to be proud of, then what Michigan is saying is that they are no better than Wisconsin, or that program over in East Lansing who they smugly refer to as “little brother” because that’s good enough for those programs. But that’s not good enough for the programs out there who are better than you.
Until Michigan consistently beats Ohio State, wins a Rose Bowl, or at least plays for a National Championship more than once every 15 years, can we please stop with the “Michigan is back” garbage?
Currently, Ohio State is the standard for excellence in the B1G, not Michigan. That’s the big gorilla in the room that no one in Ann Arbor wants to acknowledge, but it’s the sobering reality. When playing in BCS games and playing for National Championships happen consistently and being better than Alabama become the top priorities instead of the top priority being doing things “The Michigan Way”, Michigan will be a top-5 program.
And one final knife twist, Michigan. That other school you hate and brag about having more wins than down in South Bend… what are they doing in 30 days or so? Oh, that’s right, playing for the National Championship versus that “overrated” Alabama team. So wait, why does winning more games than them over history matter?
Yes, Michigan, your business program and your medical and engineering programs are top notch, but your football team, is sadly not, at least not anymore. It would be great to have you be a top-5 program and it would make me so proud, but that, I’m afraid is a long way off.
Dave Brandon has been an exceptional AD since he’s been at Michigan and definitely from a revenue standpoint, put Michigan on par with Alabama and Texas, but the results on the field are to be determined.
Pete Carroll said it best, and this shows why USC rose to the top, and Michigan did not:
“…We’re going to do things better than it’s ever been done before in everything we do, and we’re going to compete our ass off. And we’re gonna see how far that takes us.”
When is the last time anyone at Michigan said that they were going to do things better than it’s ever been done before? It’s because the fans falsely think that they are already doing that, while the results on the field would say otherwise. But, that is precisely the medicine needed to rid the program of paralyzing mediocrity.
In the modern landscape of college football, championships matter, not just winning 8 games and playing in a cute bowl game.
Teams no longer fear Michigan, or their stadium. Teams know they can beat Michigan and they know Michigan has for most of post-war history, lacked a killer instinct. Is that the legacy Michigan is proud of? Is that something Michigan fans want to hang their hat on; winning a lot of games, but never winning the big game? Anyone can beat an overmatched Indiana team in mid-October, but can you win when it matters? For Michigan currently, the answer is a resounding no.
Michigan needs to instill fear in their opponents and be committed to doing things BETTER than the way Bo did them. That is no disrespect to Bo, he was the standard of excellence for a long time. But it’s time to move on. It’s time to stop living through the 1970s and living by these silly, unwritten rules and worrying about doing things the “Michigan Way.” Being a top-25 team and going to a New Year’s Day Bowl Game should no longer be good enough. New Year’s Day bowl games only matter for the sake of nostalgia, but all of the BCS Bowl games, you know, the ones that actually mean something, are played after New Year’s Day.
The focus should be on doing things the best way you possibly can, “Michigan Way” or not, and being better than Bo could have ever imagined. I would venture a guess that if Michigan became a better program than Alabama, and was even more successful than they were for Bo’s 20 years by consistently playing in BCS games and winning National Championships, Bo would be proud of that, whether or not you did it his way or the “Michigan Way.”
It’s time to start winning championships. Being anything less than the best football team ever can no longer be satisfactory, no matter how unrealistic or unfair that may seem.
Right now, the only thing Michigan can hang their hat on that is better than everyone else’s is their fight song.
Hail to the Victors? What Victors?