Is it safe to talk about football again yet?
Michigan got embarrassed by Urban Meyer. Again. Sports punditry declared Jim Harbaugh to be on the chopping block and simultaneously pursuing every NFL opening both present and future. Again.
We, like, the rest of the fanbase, are tired of this. I personally cannot take the perpetual pattern of having everything go right for ¾ of the season only to see our beloved Wolverines fall on their face and into a volcano on the final Saturday and end up in a virtually-meaningless bowl against Florida. Again.
Our Maize n Brew hivemind has been makin’ a list and checkin’ it twice to figure out why Michigan keeps playing nice and losing to the naughty ones. Our year-end assessment of the Michigan football program is this:
- The offense must have a course correction in order to not lose to the likes of Notre Dame or Ohio State
- Michigan worked really hard to get Daxton Hill and it paid off, but there’s still some inconsistency in developing talent, landing it and keeping that talent around/avoiding transfers. Yes, these are 18 year olds, but this problem appears disproportionately skewed against Michigan.
- Near and dear to Von & I’s heart: the Big Ten has to revisit either moving Michigan to the West division or disband the divisions entirely because watching a four-loss Northwestern team compete with Ohio State for a half isn’t fair to anyone in college football.
- The fanbase is largely unenthused about the Peach Bowl, and we’ll get to the actual game later. As Michigan continues to earn consolation births in games that don’t affect the trajectory of the program beyond a blip, naturally, some star players are going to sit them out with NFL dollars on the horizon. This makes it worse if Michigan can’t prevail. Yet this still feels like the type of bowl game matchup that can signal which direction the program is moving.
More on all of these points, but, I yield the floor…
Daniel A: I’ll take #4 to get us started here, and in the next couple days I’ll have more to say on the matchup with UF. I agree that it could be an important barometer game, but I think a lot of that hinges on how Harbaugh restructures his staff after the fact.
As long as Harbaugh continues to employ unimaginative, old-school NFL-style (FIRED FROM THE PATHETIC BROWNS NO LESS) coaches, nothing else matters – I guess we’re getting back to #1 here so I’ll course correct.
If Michigan loses to Florida and Hamilton is replaced by someone from a spread tree, I think the game is mostly meaningless as far as projecting current trajectory. If Michigan loses (or even wins), and Hamilton retains his job signalling a staying of the course, I think it’s fair to say that Michigan has plateaued as a program.
Personally, I think the gap between 1 loss and 2 is bigger than the gulf between two and three. This is the second time in the last three years that Michigan’s season contained a road loss at night and a disappointing defeat in Columbus. Nothing that happens against Florida will really change my mind. We saw this team show flashes of creativity and uniqueness only to fall back on their most Bo-like (sorry comment section, that’s the hill I’ll die on) tendencies.
Beating the Gators would be nice, but this team is currently built around two guys who aren’t going to play in Atlanta – Karan Higdon and Devin Bush. Unless Pep comes out, ditches McKeon and Gentry in favor of slot-Evans and others, then I don’t know man, it’ll be hard to get jazzed about any of this.
Sam D.: The Pep Hamilton criticism is really a Jim Harbaugh one. He’s the final say with the offense, and it played not to lose in the two losses this year. In the Ohio State game, he probably was banking on Don Brown’s defense allowing less than 62 points.
Point being, it’s not about hiring a new coordinator. It’s about continuing to deploy the new wrinkles that got this team to 10-1 in the first place.
Regarding the Peach Bowl, the odds are starting to stack up against Michigan. It’s the third game against Florida in Harbaugh’s tenure, so complacency could start to creep into the mentality. People forget that the Gators were winning at halftime a year ago, so they have the talent to jump on the Wolverines.
The biggest loss in this is Devin Bush. Rashan Gary had been mostly replaced by the combination of Josh Uche and Kwity Paye anyways, and Karan Higdon was starting to lose his mojo after hitting 1,000 yards against Penn State. With Bush, the sideline-to-sideline speed to deal with Dan Mullen’s spread is lost.
Despite it being a top-10 matchup, there’s not a whole lot to gain in Atlanta. A third win in four years over a middle-tier SEC team isn’t moving the needle. With Florida looking to move up a tier in its own conference, the motivation is all in Mullen’s corner.
Von: Allow me to spend the entirety of my time here discussing why divisions should never be a thing in college sports. Ever.
In the MLB, divisions are necessary. For instance, the Detroit Tigers only travel out west a few times each season to play at Oakland, Los Angeles, etc. They play divisional foes on a regular basis, making it easy for the Tigers to travel around and not get worn out on the road.
Traveling is a huge part of professional sports. For college football, conferences essentially are the divisions. Michigan travels to its usual places every other year — Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers, Ohio State, Michigan State, you get the idea.
Not too far, right? The farthest Michigan would ever travel for a conference game is to Nebraska, which is still a short plane ride away.
So what is the point of having divisions within a conference if travel is not a factor? Answer: There is no point. It only complicates things and assists in embarrassing Northwestern in Indianapolis.
So eliminate divisions (like the Big 12 did) and the product will be much better. Did anyone complain about seeing Oklahoma and Texas play each other again? I didn’t see any complaining. It was a great game with a lot on the line.
Oklahoma winning that game catapulted them into the College Football Playoff. If Oklahoma played a team of the equivalent of Northwestern, there would have been a bigger debate as to whether Oklahoma or Georgia should get in.
“BUT HAVING MICHIGAN AND OHIO STATE PLAY TWICE IN A ROW WOULD RUIN THE RIVALRY! THE FIRST GAME WOULD NOT EVEN MATTER!”
Oh, really, 70-year-old Michigan fan that tells the younger fans to sit down and stop yelling at the Big House?
Can you IMAGINE what it’d be like for Michigan fans to finally say the Wolverines got it done in Columbus for the first time since 2000?
Can you IMAGINE what it would be like to even say Jim Harbaugh finally led Michigan to a win over its biggest rival? My God, the fan base would explode with excitement. Whether it was in a regular season game or the Big Ten Championship.
A rivalry game, no matter what the situation, matters every time. It just does. I would be ecstatic to see Michigan and Ohio State play twice in a row, simply because it is, in my opinion, the greatest rivalry in college sports. The coaches care, the students and student-athletes care, and the universities care.
So please, Jim Delany, do the right thing. Get rid of these meaningless divisions in the Big Ten, hope your fellow conference commissioners do the same and give (most of) the fans what they want.
Sam D: Excellent points all around, Von. Only quibble: Northwestern didn’t embarrass itself in Indianapolis. They fared much better against the Buckeyes than Michigan did.
I think the system just needs to go back to the Leaders and Legends divisions, but just eliminate the dumb names. It put Michigan and OSU on opposite sides, and gave OSU the challenge of Wisconsin and PSU as well as Michigan every year.
Also, Michigan would play at Nebraska and/or Iowa every two years. More trips to Lincoln and Iowa City, please.
Regarding point 3, transfers are not affecting Michigan disproportionately. Here’s an entire article on Eleven Warriors detailing all Buckeye transfers from the last few years.
Every school has stuff to overcome. For Oklahoma, it’s defense. For OSU, it’s ignoring glaring red flags about its coaching staff. At some point, transfers have to be a footnote rather than a large distraction.
Kevin: I knew I could get Von to lay down the thunder if I threw it up for him!
It seems the Big Ten is almost at the plateau where they’re starting to see diminishing returns on having one really good team play a very average team in the conference championship each year. After all, ad dollars are why they set up this system in the first place.
They got an extra conference game onto the schedule finally, because non-conference games are dumb, but locking in a certain number of divisional matchups means Michigan misses the likes of Iowa and Minnesota and Nebraska annually. But sure, playing Maryland and Rutgers every year is a way to measure program success. If the Big 12 can endure without divisions, so can the Big Ten. And for the shining example of why divisions are bad, look to the Pac-12, who missed the chance for an Apple Cup rematch just this year because Wazzou and Washington are in the Pac-12 North.
Pretty simple formula: have protected matchups with Ohio State and Michigan State, either because it’s cross-divisional or otherwise, and rotate the other seven schools on a carousel where just one is left off each year.
Or just add Notre Dame and kick out Rutgers.
Florida will be ready for Michigan this time. Dan Mullen doesn’t mess around, and getting to ten wins in year one while Florida State farts around to the north, might be all they need to be an SEC giant again. That’s bad for Michigan’s largely-excellent recruiting in that state. A win is merely stopping the bleeding and resetting for next year with an awesome 2019 class coming in. A loss is going to set off the Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork Crew that won’t go away until Harbaugh beats Ohio State next year.
A few of us were reminded of that glorious 2008 Capitol One Bowl in which Michigan completely threw out their pro-style playbook and morphed into a spread ‘n shred team before Rich Rodriguez had even moved into his office. They’re going to need to do that again in order to convince all of us that this NFL crap isn’t going to work anymore.
I kept waiting for Stanford 2.0 this year, but it ended up looking like Generic NFL Playbook That Can Be Studied By Playing Madden. Maybe it all stems from the offensive line being a work in progress, maybe it’s boneheaded play calling. I’ll take What is Pep Hamilton still doing on this staff for $1000, Alex. If Ohio State, the toughest opponent on the whole schedule, says they knew what Michigan was going to call, then your system isn’t creative or effective. The end.
I’m not sure what kind of roster Michigan will have for this game due to so many guys sitting out, but if I’m this staff, I use that as an excuse to pull out the unused portions of the playbook, because what does it matter? As Michigan continues to have guys drafted each year, this trend of guys skipping bowl games will continue, especially when it’s not a playoff semifinal. I hold no ill will toward a kid who wants to get PAID, but it’s also a reflection on the coaching staff if they go out there with a few new bodies in starting roles and don’t prepare these guys. This is Harbaugh’s weakness as a coach so far at Michigan — he hasn’t had them prepared for big games, but all that changes in a whim if you get out of your own way and STOP RUNNING THE BALL UP THE MIDDLE.
Dan P: This is really what it all comes down to in terms of the offense. Is Jim Harbaugh content with being a consistent 10-2 team? If his goal is to live in this slightly better than mediocre world, then Michigan will go for the next several years running this same offense which is good enough to get to 10 wins. Harbaugh is delusional if he thinks that this offense can take them to a championship, conservative play calling offensively and a strong defense doesn’t get to the CFP or beyond anymore.
Look at Oklahoma, they are ranked 108th in total defense this year, but their top ranked offense carried them into the CFP this season. All they needed in every game was one or two defensive stops because their offense scored on nearly every possession it seemed. This was a common theme from all four teams in the playoffs this year. They all rank within the top-30 teams in the country in total offense. Michigan was 43rd and again couldn’t make the cut for the playoffs or even a Big Ten Championship.
The good news is that Michigan and Harbaugh will get another shot with the best quarterback the Wolverines have had in years. With Patterson returning and talks of abolishing the Big Ten divisions, Michigan could be favored to reach the Big Ten Championship for the first time next season. If Harbaugh takes advantage of this and actually produces an offense that fits Patterson skills set, then they will likely do much more damage. Figuring out this offense is priority No. 1 for Harbaugh yet again this offseason.
I’ve said it all along, 5 years is how much time you have to give a guy like Harbaugh to turn around a program, and he has certainly done a good job of it so far bringing in some top recruits and making Michigan a football school once again. However, if he keeps having a recurring problem of figuring out the offense once again in his fifth season, then maybe the Harbaugh-haters have been right all along.
Harbaugh cannot continue this stubborn mindset of 1980’s football that is outdated. If he wants to take Michigan to the next level, he has to implement a new offense that fits the new college football. This is what stands between the 10-2 seasons we have seen and championships abundant in Ann Arbor.