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Putting Michigan football’s season, state of program in perspective

When you set your goals as high as possible, the harder they will be to reach.

“We want our dreams to be big. We want our goals to be lofty. We want to dream those dreams so much that people would laugh at us,” Jim Harbaugh said in 2016. “If they’re not laughing at us, then we haven’t set high enough goals.”

Michigan’s goal each year is to play in the Big Ten Championship, play in the College Football Playoff, and hopefully win a National Championship.

None of those aspirations will come to fruition for the Wolverines in 2018.

Although Michigan did lose to the two best teams on their schedule, that doesn’t mean the season was a failure.

It’s funny how in the span of three hours, the narrative of a season completely changes. And that’s what happened for Michigan in Columbus Ohio on November 24th. An entire season was judged based on one game, albeit a really big one.

Before the Wolverines took the field against Ohio State, nearly every analyst picked Michigan to win, and there was even chatter that Harbaugh deserved to be National Coach of the Year with a win over the Buckeyes.

At halftime, that narrative was still possible with Michigan trailing by only five points, 24-19.

But then the Wolverines had a bad third quarter, where they committed two turnovers; one a punt block returned for a touchdown, and the other a Shea Patterson interception that led to seven points.

That’s all Ohio State needed at home to put Michigan in a hole they couldn’t dig out of. OSU won the game 62-39.

The final result looks ugly, feels ugly, was ugly, but to dismiss the season because of one game, basically one bad quarter, would be a mistake.

I’m going to let John Bacon take over for a minute here, who felt Michigan had a bad loss, but still had a great season.

Bacon: “If you told Michigan fans after the Notre Dame game that the Wolverines would win ten games, they’d be ecstatic. And if you added that their team would score 39 points against Ohio State, they’d be thrilled – and would probably assume their team would blow out the Buckeyes.”

To summarize the game versus OSU, Bacon said “Michigan picked a bad day to play its worst game of the season, and Ohio State picked a great day to play its best.”

Bacon is right on both accounts.

Michigan fans are mad at how often they’ve lost to Ohio State since the turn of the century, I get it, but there are twelve games in a season, and Michigan won ten of them. And all ten were in a row. That’s not easy. One game, one loss shouldn’t diminish the fact progress is being made at Michigan.

“In the 11 years before Harbaugh returned, Michigan managed to win 10 games exactly twice, Bacon said. “Harbaugh has won 10 games in three of his first four seasons – the first Michigan coach to do that in more than a century. And he’s building it to last, on and off the field.”

For Michigan fans, the name Jim Harbaugh came with the expectation he would ride into town on a white horse and give Ann Arbor championships on a yearly basis. It would be nice if things worked that way, but they rarely do when a head coach comes in trying to rebuild a program. Sure, there are rare instances where a coach won a National Title in their first couple years at the helm can be found, but that is infinitely far from the norm.

This is more realistic:

Part of the problem with how Michigan’s season has been viewed after their loss to Ohio State is based in perception.

We were hearing analysts like Kirk Herbstreit and Paul Finebaum, among others, lobby for Georgia to be the No. 4 team in the College Football Playoff after their loss to Alabama.

Looking at the numbers above, Michigan’s best wins are every bit as good as Georgia’s. When it comes to losses, Michigan lost to the now No. 3 team in the country (Notre Dame) by 7, and now No. 6 Ohio State by 23, while Georgia lost to No. 1 Alabama by 7 and current No. 11 LSU by 20.

And after Alabama beat Georgia, head coach Kirby Smart said it would be an injustice if the Bulldogs were left out of the playoff. Sorry, Kirby, be grateful the masses think as highly as they do about your team.

You can say Alabama is light years ahead of Notre Dame if you like, but we don’t know that yet, and the fact remains Georgia lost to the #1 team by a score and Michigan lost to the #3 team by a score. Michigan and Georgia have similar resumes.

“But Georgia played in the SEC Championship game!”. Well, yes, Georgia is fortunate Alabama isn’t in the same conference division as them. If this was the case for Michigan and Ohio State, both teams would have met up in the Big Ten Championship Game.

It is quite mind boggling how the perception of the teams are vastly different. They should be viewed similarly to how Georgia is viewed. Michigan had themselves a great run in 2018 where they beat the breaks out of Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State. By the way, that’s called beating your rivals, believe it or not.

The 2018 Michigan offense improved drastically and was one of the best in the Big Ten:

The state of the Michigan program is rock solid and trending in the right direction. Currently, Michigan has the No. 8 recruiting class in 2018 according to 247 Sports.

Michigan will be playing in the Peach Bowl against Florida, which is in fact one of the bigger bowls that doesn’t have the title ‘College Football Playoff’ attached to it. Not ideal, that’s not where they want to be, but not too bad either. The game will likely be a sold out affair at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. It’ll feel big enough once the opening kickoff transpires.

The bowl matters. Recruits can decide to commit to a team or look elsewhere based on how a team performs in their bowl game. It matters to Michigan players, too, who have never won a bowl game. There’s still plenty to play for. There’s pride.

In some ways, the Peach Bowl is a season in itself. With over a few weeks to prepare for the matchup, we will be able to see if progress has been made on both sides of the football. No one realizes more than Harbaugh that there are improvements to be had, and you’d have to think Michigan’s going to be one hell of a motivated team when they take the field in Atlanta.

The Wolverines will take a win any way they can get it in the Peach Bowl, but to change the narrative to the way it was before the Ohio State loss (somewhat), a dominating victory would do the trick.

While some will say the Peach Bowl doesn’t matter, I find it to be a must-win game for Michigan. If they beat Florida, U-M’s only losses would be to two of the top six teams in the country — both of whom they play at The Big House in 2019.

An 11-2 season would look a whole heck of a lot better than a 10-3 one. Michigan has only won 11 games twice in the past 20 years. If an 11-2 record in 2018 isn’t progress, if that isn’t improvement, I guess I don’t know what is.

Could things be better? Yes.

Could the state of Michigan’s program be much, much worse? Yes, yes, yes.

Is Michigan that far off from turning a 10-2 regular season into a 12-0 one? No, they are not.

In closing, I’ll leave you with more thoughts from John Bacon:

“Michigan fans take losing hard, and losing to Ohio State the hardest. But you watch. After a few days of breathing deeply, and visualizing a sunset, they’ll come to their senses and realize Harbaugh has done a pretty amazing job turning around their team.

And if not Harbaugh, who?

That’s what I thought.”



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