We all know that the most pandemonium inducing, all out nuts with awesomeness moment last year was the UTL victory, which was of course the greatest single Michigan moment any of us has ever witnessed. However, I don't think it was really the BEST moment from last season. After all, we've been kicking ND's tail pretty well recently, with several of the games featuring ND style Yakety Sax. Had we LOST to ND, it would've been very sad that we lost our first night game in Michigan stadium. It also would've been our first loss in four years, the first year of Brady Hoke's tenure, and not a lasting pain. It would'e been a very "can't win them all" loss.
Conversely, though The Game 2011 certianly had a dramatic ending, it's drama did not even sniff UTL's level. There were several palys that made everyone's heart skip, but there was no one single, "It's this or it's nothing" play. Despite that, The Game 2011 was undoubtedly the best moment of the 2011 season. No other game had me pacing holes in my floor for the last quarter. No other game had my father visibly bemused at my nerves and consternation. And when we won, well, King Kong ain't adust mite compared to the Mutant Space Monkey that climbed off every true fan's back at that moment. A loss there would've crossed the line from soul dong punching to soul eunuch making. I would've wilted and died right there in the middle of the living room, leaving only a baren, dust gray talk hinting that once there had been a beautiful fan in bloom there. I may have honestly convinced myself that we would never win The Game again.
But win we did.
So now I ask you,do you think Bama, or any other game of the 2012 season can possibly eclipse that moment? Beating the defending National Championship to open the season would be huge, huge, but again, I think it would fall into the category of "Can't win them all", should the good guys lose.
Or how about MSU? It's been a while now. But after last year's loss, I realized something. I just didn't care as much as I do about OSU, and maybe even the bowl game. Oh, it sucked to lose, but I didn't lose any sleep over it. It's Sparty! They will ALWAYS be little brother. Maybe OSU? Go 1-0 against the new regime?
So what game, if any this season, do you think can bring that same sense of jubilation?
My brother put together this pretty sweet highlight video for the 2011 UTL game. Fans of Explosions of the Sky or Friday Night Lights (the movie) will probably enjoy this.
This isn't exactly an exhaustively researched report, but there has been nothing in the diaries lately, and I thought I'd bring up a foreboding bit of Michigan history for you all. As we prepare to enter the 2012 season, I got just a minor sense of foreboding thinking of a few parallels to another well known season.
The year is 2006. Michigan football rebounds from an extremely disappointing 7-5 2005 campaign that sees losses to OSU and the bowl game to have a breakout year. The juniors on the team finally seem to gel completely and Michigan storms to an 11-2 record, including playing one of the most epic games in one of the most storied rivalries ever.
The following season, the pundits say, if there were ever a Michigan team that was primed to make a big run, it was the 2007 Wolverines. A truly gifted senior QB entering his 4th year of starting, who looks poised to make that leap to true stardom. A lockdown left tackle clearly produced by the NFL's most crack genetic engineers. A tailback that had emerged from a rash of injuries the previous season to prove a star, and a defense that had lost a few pieces but had improved so vastly from the seaon before that an upward trajectory could only be expected to continue.
Of course, we all know how that went.
Consider the 2011 Wolverines. Fresh off an extremely disappointing 7-5 campaign that sees losses to OSU and in the bowl game, the Wolverines put together a breakout year. The team seems to gel and Michigan storms to an 11-2 season including playing in one of the most epic games in one of the most storied rivalries ever.
For the 2012 season, Michigan will feature a truly gifted senior QB entering his 4th year of starting. He seems primed to make the leap from extremely talented to true stardom. Michigan features a lockdown left tackle seemingly produced by the NFL's most crack genetic engineers. We even have a tailback that emerged from a rash of injuries last season to prove a star, and a defense that made a stratospheric leap that bodes extremely well for the future.
Now, I'm not saying that Michigan 2012 is Michigan 2007. These teams are extremely different. But, it is the middle of the off season, and with Hoke heading things up, it's all sunshine and lollipops. What fun is that? Maybe it's good to be a little scared?
Last night Team 132 finished one of the more memorable, rewarding, and unexpected seasons in recent memory. Brian and much of the blogsphere have valiantly focused on what this team accomplished, what they overcame, and how well they have represented the university not just this season, but through their entire careers. But there has been consistent talk among some fans and media types about how "Michigan is back".
With the help of my brother I set out to understand if this 11-2 season with a BCS bowl victory matched some vague definition of Michigan past and thus validates the claim of the program being back. I looked at all seasons in the "Bo era" of UM football to see when the team finished the season with a good record and BCS bowl appearance.
But in order to do that, we need a chart.
Chart you say?
Wait - there is an alter ego in this post too?
Yes - So let's see the chart then!
**UPDATE** In the comments user "Vasav" made a suggestion that we could create a metric that took into account beating OSU, winning the conference, and final ranking to get a "score" for that season. I updated the table below with that metric, though I changed his values somewhat.
- Versus MSU: Win = 0.5, Tie = 0.2, Loss = 0.0
- Versus OSU: Win = 1.0, Tie = 0.5, Loss = 0.0
- Big Ten Finish: 1st = 1.0, Tied for 1st = 0.5, Other = 0.0
- Bowl Outcome: Win = 1.0, Loss = 0.0
- Final AP Rank: 1-5 = 1.0, 6-10 = 0.5, Other = 0.0
There are obvious flaws in this such as the difference between being ranked 5 and 6 costing a significant amount toward the final score or the fact that you can't have "ties" for the conference title like you used to before this season. But it is a starting point and helps sort these seasons, so the table has been updated. (Read below for other updates.)
What did we learn from that?
Well, you can find just about anything on the Bentley LIbrary site.
Besides the shameless plug, what else did we learn?
There are several things that were interesting in this research. Here are a few.
- Carr (2-3) and Bo (3-10) did a lot to promote the belief that the Big Ten can't win big games.
- But they also got to these big games at a very high rate with Carr going to 5 BCS games in 13 years and Bo going to 13 in 21 years. This may be where the "Michigan is back" meme comes from since the five year drought we just lived through had only happened one other time in the past 40 years.
Carr, Mo, and Bo all had several historically great seasons with Carr's 1997, Bo's 1985, and Bo's 1988 standing out perhaps as the best.
- **UPDATE** When applying the "Vasav score" you see these seasons change slightly. Obviously 1997 and 1988 still stack up, but 1985 is lower on the list than 1980 and 1992.
- Damn.....Bo was a great coach. Over time I had sort of felt like his memory was greater than his actual resume, but you can't help being amazed at his tenure. The Rose Bowls, top ten rankings, and conference titles are more than impressive.
- What was it like to be a die-hard fan from 1970 to 1974? In five seasons Bo went 50-4-1, won or tied for the conference title 4 times, finished in the top ten each season and only went to ONE bowl game. Imagine the server damage that would have been done if MGoBlog existed then.
- **UPDATE** Look at how 2006 scores out despite being perhaps Carr's second best team. I think this is a good test of the Vasav score because that great season left such a bitter taste in our mouths for having lost to OSU and then USC when we were perhaps so close to a championship.
Well, those are some nice bullets, but does that mean the people saying "Michigan's Back!" are right?
Can't we just focus on this great season and the heart shown by the members of the team who have put everything they had into this program despite the chaos over the past several years?
No - I need an answer. Is Michigan back? Does this season stack up against the rest?
The answer is "not quite". Finishing with an 11-2 record and BCS win (regardless of how ugly) is amazing and stacks up with some of the best seasons ever. Considering the past 4 years that is a great accomplishment and shows that the program is on the right track and about as "back" as could be dreamed of before this season started.
But there are a couple of things that put it a notch below most of the seasons on the list. First is the fact that Michigan finished as the third best team in the conference behind MSU and Wisconsin, despite the deserved BCS appearance. Classic Michigan teams expected to win the conference and did more often than not. That's the goal and motivation for next year. Another difference is that Michigan will likely finish ranked outside the top ten this year while all but two of the teams on the list finished with a better final ranking.
Hoke has exceeded expectations and has Michigan poised to compete for BCS bowls going forward, even if this season is a slight notch below the great ones of the past 40 years. Bring on Alabama and 2012! Go Blue!
**UPDATE** Response to comments
It is always dangerous to respond to comments, so I'll keep this brief. Obviously I, and most readers of this site, agree with Brady Hoke when he says that Michigan isn't "back" because it never went anywhere. No matter what the record on the field, the men wearing the winged helmets have represented the university with integrity and worked their tails off both on and off the field. The "Michigan is back" meme is used in this post as a backdrop to putting the 2011 season in historical context. Anyone reading this blog has lived and died emotionally with this team no matter their record or coach and can attest to Michigan not needing to be "back."
Likewise, there is no arguing that 2011 was a spectacular season by any measure or metric. The fact that we are even comparing it to the other 24 on this list states that. But this post was a way to both celebrate the past, celebrate 2011, and look forward to areas where we can still improve.
Finally, I intentionally avoided any discussion of late-era Carr or Rodriguez because that isn't relevant. Whatever ill-will or praise you have for either coach does not factor into the on-field significance of their past seasons so I hope we can avoid turning another series of comments into an argument about either coach.
It's the last play, fourth down and goal against Iowa this year. Denard Robinson throws a pass into the endzone. The reciever is interfered with and can't quite bring it in. No flag. Iowa wins. M records its second loss.
It's the last play, fourth down and goal against Iowa this year. Denard Robinson throws a pass into the endzone. The reciever is interfered with and can't quite bring it in. The yellow flags fly! Pass Interference! There will be one untimed down. Denard takes the shotgun snap and takes two steps towards the line. The defense lunges forward on his motion. Denard pulls up and lobs a short one to a TE that has snuck behind the linebackers. Touchdown! Michigan wins! The season ends as it otherwise did. The final record looks like so.
Western M - Win
Notre Dame - Win
Eastern M - Win
SDSU - WIn
Minnesota - Win
Northwestern - Win
#17 MSU - Loss
Purdue - Win
Iowa - Win
#20 Nebraska - Win
Ohio State - Win
Compare that to some other 1 loss teams:
#2 Alabama - 1 loss to #1 LSU, 3 wins over ranked teams #6 Arkansas, #22 PSU, #25 Auburn
#3 Oklahoma State - 1 loss to Iowa State, 2 wins over #11 KSU, #19 Oklahoma
#4 Stanford - 1 loss to #5 Oregon, no #25 wins
I'm thrilled with our season and the Sugar Bowl, and I'm not going to dwell on an unthrown flag. We still wouldn't have gone to the BIG TEN championship game, by right of head to head versus MSU, and so we still wouldn't make the Rose Bowl. Sugar was certainly as good as we were going to do. I can't help but wonder, though, where would we have been ranked? I slot us in about #4.
I just want to give a quick comment on what a great bunch of recruits you brought in during your short stay here. Most of the kids stayed when it would have been easy for them to bale because they didn't necessarily fit the new scheme. We have a lot of talent coming back next year which would be your first full recruiting classes senior/rs junior year and I look forward to great things from them.
Hoke and Mattison took your young D and helped shape and mold them into a very good defense. Seniors congratulations you finally got the type of season you expected when you committed to the University of Michigan. Go Blue!