Depending upon your perspective, Michigan is either back to its glorious, pounding, stuffy ways, or it’s being fawned over ridiculously, like when an infant spits out its first word.
The Wolverines at least have spoken, and the first word sounded vaguely like “B-B-Bo.” Hmm. That’s the growing vibe in Ann Arbor, and not just in the old hazy apartments with the shades drawn and Jimi Hendrix playing. Jim Harbaugh has revived images of the great patriarch Bo “Jim” Schembechler, from his Block M cap to his crazy eyes to his ability to use atmospheric conditions to gain a competitive edge.
Oh, that’s right. Nobody wants to play at night on the road, even against a lame opponent, so Maryland was forced to move the kickoff against Michigan from 8 p.m. to noon Saturday. I’m not saying Harbaugh had anything to do with Hurricane Joaquin churning toward the East Coast. I’m just saying, if Harbaugh wants to play at noon, he plays at noon. If he wants his team to run straight up the middle instead of throwing fancy passes, he gets torrential rain and whipping winds.
As the Big Ten season officially launches, it’s clear the championship now goes right through Michigan. Actually, the championship has plowed right through Michigan for about a decade, stopping only long enough to knock another Wolverines player viciously to the turf
Michigan is 3-1 and ranked 22nd after the greatest 31-0 victory over BYU in program history. Ohio State is 4-0 and ranked No. 1, but Urban Meyer is so annoyed with his quarterbacks, he’s considering docking them a week’s pay. Michigan State is 4-0 and No. 2 in the country (not yet No. 2 in the state) but has declined to expend much energy, saving up for when it’s time to be violently offended by something Michigan does.
Ever since Harbaugh shocked the NFL’s myopic elite by bolting the 49ers — some still insist he’ll be coaching the Colts or Lions by next Thursday — the debate has raged. At what point would it be fair to declare Michigan legitimate again? When it gains more than 4 yards on consecutive carries? When it beats Michigan State six times in seven years? When it finally beats Maryland?
If nothing else, the timetable for Michigan to stop being irrelevant has been accelerated. Michigan fans expect Big Ten title contention this season, as opposed to their previous goal of “this season.” Michigan State and Ohio State were planning to be afraid of Michigan again in the fall of 2022, and that’s been moved up to the spring of 2022.
So there’s a disconnect there, as you might expect. I wish I could give you scientific data that clearly defines when “Michigan is back,” but my formula was debunked after Brady Hoke’s 11-2 debut season.
The only thing we can say with certainty is, the Wolverines have returned to football fundamentals cherished during the Bo years, such as “blocking,” “tackling,” “lifting weights” and “wearing shoulder pads.” The days of chatting with opposing ballcarriers and trying to reason them to the ground appear to be over.
The clamor has grown in the past week, and not just because Michigan’s defense smashed BYU. It’s important to follow this transitive property — Michigan previously lost to Utah, which then crushed Oregon, which previously lost to Michigan State. Therefore, according to college football edict, Michigan’s loss to Utah is declared a much better outcome than Michigan State’s slim victory over Oregon. I don’t know why, but those are the rules.
Of course it’s silly to waste the hype this early, with the Big Ten Game of the Century still a ways off. But man, the anticipation keeps building for the epic clash that should decide who goes to the national playoff. The date has been circled and the cheese-and-grape platters ordered, and you can bet the college football world will be riveted when Michigan clashes with unbeaten Northwestern next week.
(There’s still a chance Michigan State-Ohio State on Nov. 21 will have title implications, but it’s unclear at this time.)
First, the Wolverines have to prove they’re truly back by pretending they can’t overlook an opponent they probably can overlook, if they so desire. Harbaugh would remind his team it technically lost to the Terrapins, 23-16, last season, except every reference to the game has been scrubbed clean out of Schembechler Hall.
The Terrapins are a mess under coach Randy “Edsel” Edsall, who inexplicably has juggled three quarterbacks and not one of them is named Cardale. Hurricane Harbaugh is coming. The only question is whether it makes landfall, and whether the effects will be felt all the way to the Midwest.
Pick: Michigan 34-13
Purdue at Michigan State: As part of its centennial celebration, Michigan State officially changed the name of its fight song from “MSU Fight Song” to “Victory for MSU over Michigan Fight Song.” Seems unnecessarily redundant. With conflicting noon kickoffs, school officials turned down a request to show the Michigan-Maryland game on the big scoreboard. The Spartans and Mark “Duffy” Dantonio have to pay attention because they can’t expect to reach the playoffs winning every game 30-10. Michigan State 30-10
Ohio State at Indiana: This is the biggest event in Bloomington since that little bike movie “Breaking Away” was filmed there 35 years ago. The Hoosiers are 4-0 and still pedaling hard, as if they actually might get somewhere. The Buckeyes are 21-0-1 the past 22 games in the series, yet I’m sure they’re haunted by the one tie. Ohio State 45-20
Iowa at Wisconsin: One of the biggest surprises is learning Kirk Ferentz still coaches the Hawkeyes and they’re 4-0. Might as well stick with the narrative: Iowa is back! After that early loss to Alabama: Wisconsin is back! Wisconsin 20-17
Minnesota at Northwestern: Even this game counts as a showdown, with 4-0 Northwestern ranked 16th. Will the Wildcats get caught looking ahead to the Wolverines? Will they get caught reading their press clippings? Do Northwestern players get press clippings? Northwestern 15-6
Nebraska at Illinois: OK, let’s say it. Illinois is back! Sorry, I can’t even fake that one. There’s a chance Illinois is the worst 3-1 team with an interim coach in modern history. It’ll take at least a half-dozen Hail Marys to beat Nebraska, which is possible. Nebraska 38-32