By Bryan MacKenzie
Fandom is an exercise in optimism untethered from reality. Every year, Vegas sports books put out a line on the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl, and every year, people literally hand their own money to another human being with the understanding that they get nothing in return unless the Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl. When a team is announced as a #11 seed in the NCAA tournament, its fans look at the bracket and see how hard their draw to the Final Four will be. I went back to watch the end of the Utah game a couple of years ago JUST IN CASE.
Fans are stupid about being fans. We know this. And we accept this, both in ourselves and in others. It actually makes the whole endeavor more entertaining; what would be the fun of College Gameday showing up at your school to signs like and "Covering the Spread For Harambe" and "Moral Victories are Victories Too?"
Ordinarily, we do not begrudge fans their optimism. We point and laugh at outlandish predictions, and we remind those optimistic fools of the error of their ways when their hopes are found wanting. but that's because we have all been blinded by fandom, and we know that some day we will be those blind fools predicting glorious victory over the windmills.
Penn State fans are not unlike Michigan fans (or fans of dozens of other schools) in their proclivity to predict great things for their program, whether or not such predictions are even remotely rational. And if it were any other team, I wouldn't be as annoyed when they predicted their team to cover the spread by 58 points, or declared their coach to be superior to Jim Harbaugh, who is destined to fail. Hell, Rutgers has been engaged in a similar battle of words with Michigan, and Michigan fans collectively see this as somewhere between amusing and downright cute.
But Penn State fans aren't just apologists for a bad football team. They are, from the Board of Trustees to the Athletic Department to a shocking and disappointing number of the fans, apologists for a man who hid child sexual abuse for decades. They talk, without a shred of self-awareness, about how much JoePa cared about the kids he coached. They make mealy-mouthed arguments about honoring Paterno's first team, not Paterno himself. They demand a return of the statue. They threaten to sue anyone and everyone. They quote Martin Luther King.
So when Penn State fans scream "CONSPIRACYYYYYY" every time the referees call a hold or add two seconds to the clock, it just serves to remind everyone how far from reality they have drifted, and that the disconnect extends way beyond the football field. That the toxic, deluded culture that permitted so much damage continues to exist, and that five years later they still don't get it. And yes, I know that a throttling on the football field probably won't change anything. But it couldn't make it worse. And it would feel damn good. Michigan 34, Penn State 8
by Nick RoUMel
I promised myself I would try to get through an entire article about Penn State without once mentioning the permanent stain of corruption on the program and the entire school. But there are things that become forever identified with one thing that defines them. These include people, places, institutions and even dates (just ask anyone whose birthday is September 11). What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when someone says they attended Penn State University? Oh, yeah, that Thing. Nice meeting you; I think my Uber is here.
The Nittany Lions wear this thing as a badge of defiance, what former safety Malcom Willis once described as the “us against the world” mentality. Coach James Franklin, with his relentlessly positive attitude and the official end of scholarship sanctions, is trying to return the football program to normalcy and prominence. But Penn State still see themselves as underdogs.
The problem is that unlike other underdogs, Penn State is not loveable. Even before the Thing, they were jerks. When they joined the Big Ten, they boasted that they would dominate the league. Pennsylvania’s Lt. Governor said of the merger, “What it means is that Penn State fans can make plans to attend a Rose Bowl in the very near future.”
It didn’t work out as they had hoped. While 1994 was a very good year for them, it was their only outright title. Northwestern has won or shared as many since Penn State joined the league. And as for Michigan, the Wolverines rang up ten straight victories from 1997-2015* under coaches Lloyd Carr and Jim Harbaugh, while Penn State fans groused about ridiculous conspiracy theories, such as Coach Carr’s ability to personally add two seconds to the clock.
But see, that’s the difference between our programs. Our embarrassing thing is a bad hire or two. We get an awful AD, we pretty much scrub him from history. That’s done more easily when the man was a loser both on and off the field. The problem Penn State has is that Joe Paterno and his minions were winners, and people too often look the other way when the wrongdoers are otherwise successful. That’s why Penn State still has its fits of moral ambiguity, such as when it “honored” Paterno at its last home game.
Well, I broke my promise to myself that I wouldn’t write about the Thing. So let’s talk football:
MICHIGAN WOLVERINES 42, PENN STATE PEDERASTS, 20-TO-LIFE
[*Michigan temporarily suspended its football program from 2008-2014.].
By Bryan MacKenzie
The implication of that headline is that Harbaugh found it stupid or distasteful. Or maybe he judged it to be a failed joke; it was an amusing idea, but was poorly executed. However, from all outward indications, the truth is likely is that Jim Harbaugh is the kind of guy who divides all information into two categories: 1) information that is relevant to the task at hand, and 2) why are you telling me this?
Colorado sent us a funny depth chart? Why would they do that? They could have been using that time to break down film or find a more efficient route to the stadium. And why would you show it to me? This does not help me win this football game. I’m not going to waste disk drive space or RAM on this, when I could be spending that computing power on a fullback wheel route.
He does not take vacations. He doesn't get sick. He doesn't observe major holidays. He is a jackhammer.
Harbaugh is not unlike a number of successful top-tier football coaches in this way. The line between this kind of behavior and mental illness is a fine one (as this week’s Urban Meyer piece artfully demonstrated). But while it may lead some to point and laugh at the way he interacts with the world, it also means that Jim Harbaugh isn’t going to leave anything on the table.
Why does this matter for Colorado? Because while Colorado isn’t awful, they also aren’t very good. And more importantly, they aren’t a complete team. They have a few strong pieces, but they have some glaring deficiencies. And if you have Jim Harbaugh
throwing wearing the headset, those weaknesses are going to be exploited. Betting on Harbaugh to either not notice, or to not find a way to take advantage of, an opponent’s weaknesses, especially when they are not particularly small not well disguised, is an unwise gamble.
Why would you even send me a depth chart? I’ve already watched every snap you’ve ever put on film. I know your backup quarterback’s favorite color, and the shoe size of your associate athletic director. We might not need the trebuchets I’ve specially designed to the type of stones you’ve used to construct these walls, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to build them just in case.
Michigan 41, Colorado 7.
by Nick RoUMel
Scotty Frost, the half-championship, half-baked half-wit, was only half right. Despite last week’s 51-14 thrashing, Frost boasted that his Knights “outhit” Michigan. I was reminded of the Black Knight from Monday Python and the Holy Grail, brushing off his quadruple amputation as a “scratch” and a “flesh wound:”
“We’ll call it a draw, then.”
While it might be more accurate to say that CFU “out-held” Michigan, Frost did have a point. Our offensive line wasn’t blowing anyone off the ball; the defense gave up yardage; and the Wolverines looked curiously lackluster at times - despite the final score.
The good news is that our passing game seems ahead of where it was last year, when Jake Rudock was rusty in early games. Wilton Speight, blessed by a splendid receiving corps and enough time on pass blocking, took full advantage of the Knights packing the box to stop the run. With CFU daring the pass, Coach Harbaugh was happy to oblige; whereas certain past coaches in the same circumstance would keep trying to “establish the running game.” (Fitz Toussaint’s 27 carries for 27 yards, anyone?)
Colorado gives us a much harder matchup than CFU, is coming off two impressive victories, and is projected to play in a bowl despite a ferociously difficult schedule. In short: they are the real deal. They can pile up yards in a hurry, led by their dual-threat quarterback Sefo Liufau (a cross between Lucy Liu and a loofah).
Did you know you cannot find a photo of Michigan alum Lucy Liu in a Michigan shirt?
They are also aggressive on defense. If you concede that CFU gave our o-line a challenge, then today will be even tougher. In short, the 20-point spread is insane. Yes, I love this Michigan team. But like Jim Harbaugh, I worry about Freddie P. Soft (as described by Harbaugh, a little devil looking very much like the Virginia Cavalier, whispering sweet nothings in our ears):
Hey you, #4 in the U.S.A.! It’s in the bag!
Alas, we will succumb to Freddie’s seductive song. I do not want this to be true, but as Cassandra I have the gift of prophecy (and as Cassandra, I am cursed that no one will believe me). But I must foresee the future I have been shown.
It is this: The Buffaloes won’t even need a Hail Mary today. They’ll beat on both sides of the ball, and on the scoreboard. Curse you, Freddie.
COLORADO 24, MICHIGAN 20
— jason (@jaycrey) October 7, 2014
By Bryan MacKenzie
Last week, I predicted a 49-3 win over Hawaii, and Michigan's offense outscored Hawaii's offense exactly 49-3. I just didn't foresee the two defensive scores. My bad. I will do my math more carefully in the future. In the meantime, however, there is reason to worry that this weekend will not see a similar thumping.
For one thing, the weather might give UCF a chance to hang around. Last week was played under perfect conditions. We're expecting rain and wind this afternoon. Michigan's offense struggled against a bad opponent last year in the rain, scoring only 6 points in their first 9 drives against Maryland. A wet surface means mistakes and turnovers, and wet, windy weather makes it harder to throw the ball. UCF wasn't going to able to throw the ball anyway, so this could even things up a bit.
Second, Michigan is already banged up. Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone are expected to miss this week. Ben Braden, Mo Hurst, and Jourdan Lewis all missed the Hawaii game, and even if they return, they may not be 100%. And given the apparent disparity between the teams, Michigan may be tempted to rest anyone who is on the borderline, and to play a deeper rotation than they would against rivals like Michigan State, Ohio State, or Rutgers.
Third, Michigan doesn't have much incentive to go out of their way to demolish UCF. They already got to kick the tires and take their entire roster for a test-drive. They got some real-world experience running their new defense, and blitzing from every-dang-where. They aren't going to tip their hand on anything new schematically on either side of the ball. This is a box to be checked, not a platform to demonstrate greatness.
And finally, Michigan is primed for a let-down. They trained for months with an eye toward September 3rd, and the sexy part of the schedule is still weeks away. Can you imagine that a single Michigan player had September 10th circled on the calendar? Did anyone say "for the honor of my great-grandmother, those UCF bastards must pay for their insolence?" Meanwhile, I bet more than a few UCF players had the Big House on their mind this summer.
But, "what about the opponent?" you ask. Good question, Dear Reader. It is, after all, entirely possible that this week's opponent might be even worse than Hawaii. UCF was 0-12 last year. Their offense was bad. Their defense was bad. They fired their coach mid-season. But it hasn't always been this way. In 2014, UCF was 9-4 and shared the AAC title. In 2013, they were 12-1 and beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl after beating Penn State and #8 Louisville in the regular season. UCF may be a bad team, but they aren't a Kansas-level disaster of a program. A significant chunk of their roster remembers a time when they weren't just 'not an embarrassment to an entire region of Florida,' but were in fact pretty good.
UCF still doesn't win this game. Michigan is still too talented, and they are too well led. But there's a good chance Michigan grabs an early multiple-score lead and cruises to an uninspiring victory. Michigan 27, UCF 13.
by Nick RoUMel
Central Florida are the Beverly Hillbillies of the NCAA. For those of you born after black and white TV, this was a show about a backwater family (never specified, perhaps from Kentucky or Tennessee) whose patriarch, Jed Clampett, accidentally discovered oil on his property. This made them multimillionaires, and as the catchy theme song describes, “They loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly. Hills, that is. Swimming pools, movie stars.”
Central Florida, joining NCAA Division I-A.
Florida Technological University opened in 1968, in the remote forests northeast of Orlando, inspired by the space program, and with the astonishingly clever motto “Reach for the Stars.” Geeks and nerds of all manner flocked to its campus, gawking at rocket launches, their hearts pounding with excitement into their pocket protectors and slide rules. They hung posters of the Citronaut, the school mascot who was a cross between an orange and an astronaut(see: Cook, Brian, “Preview: Central Florida 2016,” http://mgoblog.com/content/preview-central-florida-2016, published 9/9/16), and got mildly aroused at his orange plumpiness and confident mien.
But this wasn’t good enough. Enter Jed Clampett, a.k.a. Dr. Trevor Colbourn, who in 1978 convinced the Florida Legislature to dispense with the limiting “Technological” moniker, as no one was intimidated by facing the “FTU Knights of Pegasus.” Colbourn built a ce-ment pond, in the guise of a massive athletic campus, before even having a football team. That came in 1979, when they spent a lot of their oil money and built a Division III powerhouse in a hurry.
It worked. From their first meeting in the spring of ’79 to talk about forming a team, to their historic season opening thrashing of St. Leo University on September 22, 1979, CFU has gone nowhere but up, just like the rockets in nearby Cape Canaveral. Just four years into starting a program, they convinced the venerable Lou “I’m not Nick, dammit!” Saban into being their head coach. In 1996, with Daunte Culpepper behind center, they entered Division IA. They were the only team in NCAA history to go from Division III, to II, to 1-AA, to 1-A.
In 2004, they hired George O’Leary, the only coach in Notre Dame history to not lose a game. That is because he was fired before ever taking the field, due to resume padding that included calling himself a three-year letterman at New Hampshire (he played one game) and earning a master’s at “NYU-Stonybrook,” a non-existent institution, when he had actually taken one class at Stonybrook.
Undeterred by these transgressions, CFU hired O’Leary who promptly went 0-11 in 2004, but then took them to a bowl game in 2005. He tasted success, culminating in a storybook 2013 season (defeating both Penn State and Louisville on the road) and becoming the largest underdog in NCAA history to win a bowl game, shocking #6 Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl. He was rewarded with a four-year contract extension.
Everything came crashing down last year. After opening the season 0-8, O’Leary abruptly resigned. (He promptly updated his resume to claim that he walked on the moon with the Citronaut.) CFU finished the season 0-12.
Enter Scott Frost, like bank president Mr. Drysdale taking over the mansion after foreclosing on the mortgage. Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback, has been appropriately lambasted for woofing in 1998 that Nebraska would have beaten Michigan. Why is such lambasting appropriate? Three reasons. (1) Nebraska was only undefeated that year because of the “flea-kicker,” an illegal pass that enabled them to beat Missouri. (2) When Nebraska beat Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, Peyton Manning was so badly hobbled by a knee injury that it was uncertain whether he would even play. (3) Despite his many accomplishments, Manning’s mantelpiece is still entirely devoid of any Heisman trophies, because Charles Woodson was the best player in college football that year, and would have picked off Scotty Frost four times with his teeth.
Frost does have the hillbillies in swampland very excited, because of his up-tempo Oregon-style offense, and new Nike uniforms in white, gold, anthracite and pewter. Inscribed on the neckline is the school’s new catchphrase, “Rise and Conquer,” which is as original and inspiring as “Reach for the Stars.” Perhaps next year they’ll even find some black gold buried beneath the campus, and move to Beverly.
MICHIGAN 48, CENTRAL FLORIDA 17
It’s an honor to follow in the footsteps of Ken “Sky” Walker and Heiko “Never Picked a Nickname” Yang, and I look forward to working with Nick. Punt/Counterpunt has graced the pre-game routines of countless Michigan fans over the last two decades, myself included. I remember some of my earliest trips to the Big House, when the first thing I did after plopping down in my seat was to flip to see Ken’s and Nick’s thoughts on the game. I would then call whoever made the more pessimistic prediction an idiot. They alternated in this role; sometimes it was Ken, and sometimes it was Nick. And even when the more pessimistic take was ultimately correct, said author was still an idiot. And probably jinxed the whole thing with their pessimistic juju. Look what you did, idiot. Michigan just lost because of you.
Such is the nature of fandom. You respect the superstitions. You don’t talk about a no-hitter during a no-hitter. You wear your Lucky Game Shirt even if your team is 2-7, on the off chance it suddenly makes Nick Sheridan an unstoppable throw-god. You don’t bring up 2007 before a season opener. I guest-Punted last year’s MSU P/CP, and I still feel bad about it. So I promise to do my best to not mess anything up this year, because this promises to be a HELL of a season.
The good news for me in stepping into this role is than now I get to assume Nick is the idiot 100% of the time. And the good news for everyone else is that, having read my stuff for a while, you all know that I am the idiot. It’s win-win.
Fortunately, this week’s game provides less opportunity for idiocy than normal. Michigan is a 40-point favorite against a team that is flying across seven time zones after spending the previous week in Australia. The biggest questions this week are “will Hawaii score?” and “how high will the rubble bounce?” Such questions do not lend themselves to declarations of “told you so.”
Yes, Michigan beats Hawaii. They beat Hawaii by a lot. The extent of the devastation will come down to how early Michigan lets off the gas, and whether they even slow down once that happens. Hawaii turned the ball over five times against an awful Cal defense, so there’s a good chance Michigan either scores on defense or ends up with multiple short fields. Hawaii gave up 9 plays of 20+ yards against Hawaii, most of which were the result of poor tackling and the Rainbow Warriors exhibiting the gap integrity and situational awareness of a Roomba. This is not a recipe for success and glory against a Harbaugh offense. Vanilla Garbage Time Michigan Offense is still likely to run all over this undersized, jetlagged, not-that-good-to-begin-with Hawaii team. And given Michigan’s depth on defense, it’s hard to see that side of the ball going much better as the game wears on.
So, my answers are “eh, maaaaybe?” and “quite high, thank you very much.” Michigan 49, Hawaii 3
by Nick RoUMel
Yes, Punt, there is a way for Hawai’i to beat Michigan.
There are certain results that cling to one’s memory like a leech. There’s Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary to beat Michigan in 1994, Appalachian State in 2007, and something that happened last year in the Big House on October 17, 2015. One wishes fervently to Spotless Mind these events. Jack London once wrote, “To be able to forget means sanity.” Friedrich Nietzsche one-upped London, asserting “Without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all.”
But for Hawai’i coach Nick Rolovich, it wasn’t enough to merely forget Michigan’s 49-3 shellacking on September 3, 2016. He wanted a thorough do-over.
The embarrassment was so acute. Nearly 113,000 screaming fans, on an achingly beautiful late summer afternoon in Ann Arbor, celebrated Michael Jordan, Jumpman, and a thumping defeat of Rolovich’s Rainbow Warriors.
Shockingly, Hawai’i struck first. Taking the opening kickoff, a nifty drive surprised the Wolverines with a field goal. It temporarily silenced the home crowd, but that was all they had. As the police officer told Clark Griswold about his forgotten puppy, “Poor little fella, the first mile or so he tried to keep up with you, but after that ...”
Yes, “after that.” In response to Hawai’i’s opening drive, the Wolverines were merciless: scoring touchdowns on 6 consecutive drives until emptying the bench, even giving Jordan a try at a field goal for the longest three-pointer of his career. (He missed.) Embarrassed, and exhausted from their travels halfway around the world, the Warriors could not be consoled in the locker room by their new coach.
Rolovich thought back on the humiliation - not just of the football game - but of being jilted by Coach Harbaugh’s refusal to give him film of Michigan’s scrimmage. While Rolovich claimed later he was joking, it was a lame attempt to cover the pain of rejection.
“What if I could have seen the game film?” Rolovich wondered. “Would it have made a difference?” Or was it all the travel that tired us out so much, including going back-and-forth over the International Date Line?” He drummed his fingers, then stopped cold. The idea was so bright it blinded him from the inside.
Furiously, he acted. He chartered a plane as quickly as possible, and arranged for provisions to be stocked for a long trip. Gathering his players, he steeled himself to go back in time. “Men, we’re going back to Australia.” Puzzled, the 0-2 Rainbow Warriors thought their coach daft. But by the second west-to-east journey, they’d already gone back a day and a half -but not before they managed to dissect a video replay of the Michigan game, play by play.
By the time the plane reversed course, went back east-to-west, and landed in Detroit Metro, they were ready. A bewildered Coach Harbaugh said afterwards, “It was like they knew exactly what we were going to do on every play.” Michigan’s superior talent almost saved the day, but the Rainbow Warriors hung on for the shocking win.
Coach Rolovich smiled. This was even better than forgetting.
HAWAI’I 21, MICHIGAN 20
P.S. Welcome Bryan!
By Heiko Yang
This is going to be my last punt column. Assuming I match into residency (20 days until urology match day ahhhh /vomits), I won’t have much time next fall to do this anymore. I’m bad enough with deadlines as is, and I’m the kind of the writer who likes to type three words at a time and then delete two, i.e. slow. Not really compatible with the 80-hour workweek.
A Michigan-Florida Citrus Bowl is a weirdly poetic last game for me. The same matchup in the same bowl game in 2008 was my introduction to Michigan football. I had just been accepted to medical school at Michigan that year. For my second-look visit they showed us highlights of that game, and they even had Lloyd Carr speak to us about leadership and teamwork and a lot of other stuff I can’t really remember. I wasn’t even a college football fan back then, but meeting the legendary national title-winning coach of college football’s winningest program was still a pretty cool experience.
Whatever impression of the football team I got that day, the next eight years were anything but. Yeah we all know this. Woe is me, you, and everyone else. I’ll try to spare you the Daily Sports column redux that people have been writing every year for the last half-decade or so. On the bright side there was that one good season in 2011, and I did get to see (on the sideline, no less) exhilarating wins against Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and in a BCS bowl. Beyond that, I am thankful that I’ve gotten so much more than entertainment value and school spirit out of this experience. How do you win and do the right thing when the odds are stacked against both? It seems like the Michigan football program has been running daily experiments to explore this question ever since I got here, and there’s an endless number of lessons, good and bad, to be drawn from the data.
At least the answer seems clear now, finally: wear khakis. No, but really. Winning the Michigan way is a lot like crowd surfing at a rock concert. The program can be buoyed only by the uninterrupted arm strength of the people in it, so the less everyone worries about their pants, the more time and energy they have to making sure it doesn’t tumble to the ground the way it has done so often in recent years. Also because they are the quintessential business casual pant material. Jake from State Farm agrees.
For poetry’s sake I’m going to predict the same score and outcome as that of the 2008 bowl game. Like Michigan, Florida has also spent a lot of time wandering the desert only to find itself recently. (One could say that their string of personnel issues is an indication that they’ve found a little too much of their former selves.) Both teams now have great defenses hamstrung by up-and-down offenses. In Michigan’s case, it’s been mostly down to up; Florida not so much. The Gators will score their points early and late, but the Wolverines will control the game, much like they did when Carr coached his last game.
But there will be something very, very different about this one. Rather than a sentimental elegy for the good ol’ times of the past, today’s victory will be a harbinger of amazing things to come in the future. We’ve got a monster recruiting class. Our roster won’t be decimated over the next month. And our head coach is here to stay – oh, and his name is Jim Harbaugh.
It’s an exciting new era for Michigan football, and wherever I end up, I can’t wait to see it.
Michigan 41, Florida 35
By Nick RoUMel
COUNTERPUNT – Citrus Bowl – Florida vs. Michigan 1/1/16
By Nick RoUMel
Just before Christmas, on Main Street, Ann Arbor, I was out for “Midnight Madness.” Among the shoppers and merchants were UM Medical students with buckets, collecting for the annual “Galen’s Tag” charity fundraiser. I said hello to a young man I knew, working on his Medical School Ph.D., when he motioned towards the student next to him. “I believe you know Heiko?” he asked.
Heiko Yang, Off-hour Postdoc
(full time M3 at Medical School)
I glanced over. Heiko looked just as he does in the photo above (from his Med School lab’s web page), perhaps taller than I’d remembered. But I didn’t immediately recognize him, since it was only the second time we’d ever met.
We talked for a long while, about football and residency search. He told me then he was leaving this column, due to his anticipated workload. Still, Heiko’s official announcement today leaves me with inexplicable sadness. I have enjoyed our friendship, mainly consisting of peppy email exchanges for our column, and occasionally during games. I have come to appreciate Heiko’s enthusiasm, humor, intellect, and above all, his mastery of creative syllogisms. This is a guy who can start out talking about being concussed in a softball game collision, and draw an analogy to forgetting the bad stuff about UM football; and today, he manages to connect crowdsurfing with football fan support. And here I thought I was the one who more easily –
“Look! A squirrel!”
Ahem. Well, that went off-topic quickly.
Heiko’s only flaw, as Punt, has been his wrongness. Counterpunt, channeling Nostradamus, has consistently been on the right side of these picks, while Punt predicts the result about as often as a blind squirrel finds a nut.
Today Heiko has chosen the safe choice. He knows, as Einstein never once said (despite memes to the contrary), that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” In this context, the usual result of a January Florida bowl game, at least in the last 30 years, is a high-scoring Michigan victory:
Jan. 2, 1988 Hall of Fame (Tampa) Michigan 28, Alabama 24
Jan. 1, 1991 Gator (Jacksonville) Michigan 28, Ol’ Miss 3
Jan. 1, 1994 Hall of Fame Michigan 42, NC State 7
Jan. 1, 1997 Outback (Tampa) Alabama 17, Michigan 14
Jan. 1, 1999 Citrus (Orlando) Michigan 45, Arkansas 31
Jan. 1, 2000 Orange (Miami) Michigan 35, Alabama 34
Jan. 1, 2001 Citrus Michigan 31, Auburn 28
Jan. 2, 2002 Citrus Tennessee 42, Michigan 17
Jan. 1, 2003 Outback Michigan 38, Florida 30
Jan. 1, 2008 Capital One/Citrus Michigan 41, Florida 35
Jan. 1, 2011 Gator Mississippi State 52, Michigan 14
Jan. 1, 2013 Outback S. Carolina 33, Michigan 28
That’s an 8-4 record, and 3-1 in Citri Bowls, with at least 4 touchdowns in each win. Not bad - and better if you don’t count 2011 (when that thing happened); and 2013 (when that other thing happened). Oh, and another thing happened in ‘13: a fortuitous angle on a tackle helped make Jadeveon Clowney the #1 NFL draft pick in 2014.
So my hat is off to Heiko. He’s not insane, he’s just wisely foreseeing the odds-on result.
But my friend, here is where our friendship departs. In contrast to Punt’s La-Z-Boy bravado, not daring more than to changing channels in the dark, Counterpunt opts for the bold and the reckless path - nay, the insane choice – like motorcycle daredevil Evel Kneivel, who once attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon (seen here thrashing bravely at E.T.):
Yes Heiko, this is my parting gift to you. Because you are leaving and I am passive aggressive about it, my gift is not very nice. I give you a loss, from a banged-up Michigan team, fighting hard but losing by the skin of their teeth.
But there’s one more gift, and more important – it is my best wishes to you for a successful career. Go Heiko, and we’ll always be back here at this URL when you miss us.
FLORIDA 24, MICHIGAN 21
By Nick RoUMel
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association rule book, college athletes are not to receive preferential treatment, gifts or other special benefits because of their athletic skills. Michigan fans will recall that our athletic teams have been punished more than once because of this rule.
In February 1996, UM basketball players Maurice Taylor, Robert “Tractor” Traylor, Louis Bullock, Willie Mitchell and Ron Oliver took Mateen Cleaves, then a senior at Flint Northern High School on his official recruiting visit to Michigan, to a party at a Detroit hotel. On the return trip, Taylor’s Ford Explorer rolled over on M-14, breaking Traylor’s arm and leading to many questions. Ann Arbor News sports reporter Jim Cnockaert reported, in a 2002 article, that immediately after the accident, the NCAA asked Michigan for financial records detailing the leasing arrangements for Taylor's vehicle. The aftermath led to the Ed Martin booster scandal that rocked the Michigan basketball program, causing its rapid and long demise.
In enforcing the rule against providing benefits to players, the NCAA did not limit the scope of its inquiry to college. In February 2000, UM basketball freshman phenom Jamal Crawford was handed two separate suspensions totaling 14 games, arising from his relationship in high school with a man he considered his father figure and godfather, who helped rescue him from a childhood of poverty and criminal influence. The major accusation against Crawford was that this good Samaritan had given him a used car to help him get to school. The New York Times reported in 2000 that Crawford’s was just one of a rash of aggressive investigations the NCAA launched against college players accepting benefits while they were in high school.
The NCAA has been kinder to Ohio State. In 2010 it was learned that several players had traded “nine Big Ten championship rings, 15 pairs of cleats, four or five jerseys and one national championship ring” for cash or trade, including tattoos. The players were suspended for five games – but they did not have to sit out until the beginning of the non-conference 2011 season. They were permitted to play in the January 4, 2011 Sugar Bowl, which the Buckeyes won over Arkansas to cap a 12-1 season. After the game it was determined that then-coach Jim Tressel was aware of the NCAA violations by his players, had led others to believe he wasn’t, and failed to report them. He too was eventually suspended for five games, but in the face of controversy about his relatively light punishment, he left amid allegations of more extensive problems.
The Buckeye football program was transformed by these violations, but in a good way. After a 6-6 2011 season that saw Michigan’s only gridiron victory over their rivals since 2003, OSU hired Urban Meyer to head their program, less than a year after Meyer retired as Florida’s coach to “spend more time with his family.” (Sportswriter Mac Engel quipped, “Urban Meyer has apparently spent enough time with his family.”)
Some may argue that Meyer has brought an SEC mentality to Ohio State; others respond that nothing has changed. Their reaction to the complete beatdown that Sparty laid on them last week was outrage. Suddenly a coach who had won 23 straight games didn’t know what he was doing. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott blasted the playcalling, and declared there was “no chance” he would return next year. Cardale Jones also announced he would not return. One might expect that such openly public criticism would lead to discipline; no chance of that in Columbus. Meyer stated of Elliott, “He apologized. We squashed it as a team.”
Thus the Buckeyes, remarkably, come into Ann Arbor as a cohesive unit, and the rumors of their implosion are highly exaggerated. They are the same program that has owned Michigan for a dozen years, and the same team that are the defending national champions. They have been ranked #1 for much of this year, and are still in the top ten.
Sure, Sparty exposed some vulnerability. But don’t expect Michigan’s offensive line and running game to enjoy the same success, and I think that Barrett/Jones/Elliott will fare better offensively, especially with Ryan Glasgow’s absence in the middle.
If you’re looking for scandal: move along, nothing to see here. The Buckeyes are one big, happy, dysfunctional family. This is who Urban Meyer really wanted to spend more time with, and he’s found a home.
OHIO STATE 23, MICHIGAN 19
By Heiko Yang
Hate is a strong word, but it’s the only way to describe what I felt when OSU fans swarmed onto the field around me after their team beat Michigan 26-21 to secure an undefeated season in 2012.
I remember the final moments of that game cinematically: the last kneel down, the roar of the crowd, and then just a muted daze as I looked around and marveled at how much I hated everything in that frigid stadium. I hated their band, hated their fight song, and hated that all the prematurely made victory signs somehow weren’t enough to jinx the outcome. I hated that I was there to suffer their happiness. I had to force my way past throngs of jubilant idiots on my way to the press conference area, and I just hated that they were euphoric about the very thing that made me miserable.
I didn’t know I was capable of such all-encompassing hate until that moment. I had to keep telling myself “it’s just a game and none of this matters,” but never had those words felt so hollow.
Hate is a powerful thing. We don’t even need to talk about the recent tragedies around the world to know that it can inspire terrible things when misguided and left unchecked. But hate isn’t always bad. In the world of sports, we happily subject ourselves to regular exercises in hate on because it’s a constructive outlet for an emotion so potent that even for a contest premised on moving a leather balloon 100 yards back and forth we will cultivate century-old rivalries based on little more than geography, provisional ideologies, and color schemes.
Our capacity to hate gives these rivalries meaning and character. It’s no longer just a simple game with inconsequential outcomes; when we’ve invested our very identities into something, everything matters. We remember all the verbal slights, the guarantees of victory, the recruiting battles, the midfield brawls, and the tearing down of our banners, and for one day every year we lay that hateful history on the line. The stakes are very real: emerge triumphant or be sentenced to suffer your opponent’s gloating happiness for another year.
This is Michigan’s proverbial Year. It’s been on the warpath toward this game ever since Jim Harbaugh took the reins of the program and channeled a decade of personal frustration over Michigan losses into his coaching. Like Bo in 1969, Harbaugh has built this team to beat the Buckeyes. The Wolverines defense is rock to Urban Meyer’s scissors, and the offense has been meticulously stockpiling weapons capable of punching holes through the Ohio State defense. More importantly, the team has come together over the course of the season and achieved a heightened level of focus and determination just as the Buckeyes are beginning to fall apart. This year more than ever, Michigan is prepared to win. And they will – with character, cruelty, and hate.
The Ohio State fans here today will be in for a real treat. It’s been too long since they’ve been forced to suffer our happiness. I don’t think they remember what it’s like to regret having to be in our frigid stadium to listen to our band play our fight song while they filter out miserably past our throngs of jubilant fans.
It’s time to remind them what hate feels like.
Michigan 24, Ohio State 12