By Bryan MacKenzie
Ah, Homecoming. That annual tradition when we see the return of long-lost friends who look only vaguely familiar.
"Wait, don't tell me... Illinois, right? Oh, man, good to see you again. How's things with Tim? Still good? Oh... sorry to hear that."
This year's edition may be a nostalgic throwback in several ways. The last time Michigan played Illinois was 2012, when the Wolverines threw Tim Beckman a 45-0 farewell party. The last time Jim Harbaugh stood on the opposite sideline from Illinois was 1986, when he quarterbacked the Wolverines to a 69-13 hamblasting of the Illini. The last time he faced off against new Illinois hear coach Lovie Smith, Harbaugh's 49ers defeated Smith's Bears 32-7 in the game that saw the emergence of Colin Kaepernick as a starter. And the last time Harbaugh coached a game at Michigan Stadium, Michigan State was 2-1 and ranked in the top 25. My, how time flies.
On the other side of the ball, there's a good chance that Jeff George will be under center for Illinois. Not That Jeff George, of course. Not the two-year starter at Illinois who went on to be the #1 overall selection in the NFL draft before pissing off everyone he came in contact with in the NFL. That Jeff George played two games against Michigan, getting outscored 62-19. No, this year's edition is his son, Jeff George, Jr. George the Younger is a redshirt freshman who was a two star greyshirt, and who has yet to see any real action. But now, with Wes Lunt questionable with a back injury (he missed the Rutgers game) and Chayce Crouch questionable with a shoulder injury (he could barely physically throw a football against Rutgers), George may be throwing the first passes of his collegiate career in the the Big House into a Don Brown defense.
So, all things being equal, history would seem to favor Michigan. But oh, good sweet galloping ghosts, nothing about this game is equal. Illinois is coming off a game in which they were outgained by Rutgers. The week before that they lost to Purdue, a team that fired its head coach eight days later and is PURDUE. They are giving up the most yards per pass in the Big Ten. They haven't won multiple road games in a season since 2010. And their backup quarterback this week might be a guy they moved from defensive back... this week.
Michigan, meanwhile, has been an absolute sower of destruction on defense.
- They're in the top 5 in the country in most of the fancystats, including the top overall defense in S&P+ by an unfathomable amount.
- They're #1 the country in scoring defense (10.3 points per game).
- They're #3 in yards per carry allowed (2.86).
- They're #1 in yards per pass allowed (4.6) by more than half a yard.
- They're #1 in total yards per play allowed (3.58) by more than half a yard.
- They're #1 in 3rd down conversions allowed, and have only allowed 10 first downs ALL SEASON.
Oh, and they are also #2 in the country in scoring at 50 points per game.
If you average the scores of those four games I mentioned above, you get something that seems fair, if even generous, to Illinois under the circumstances. But above all, Homecoming is a time to honor the past. Michigan 52, Illinois 10.
by Nick RoUMel
Michigan and Illinois have had some memorable games. Mostly because Illinois isn’t always aware they’re supposed to suck, and they come in to the Big House to do noble battle. Sometimes they win, others they fall a tad short.
1981 – The Illini were 5-3 and loaded for bear against the 6-2 and 12th ranked Wolverines. They scored the first three times they had the ball behind all-Big 10 quarterback (and future New England Patriot) Tony Eason, roaring to a 21-7 first quarter lead.
Michigan went on to win 70-21. LOL.
1992 – The unranked visitors battled undefeated and #3 Michigan to a 22-22 tie. The Wolverines fumbled ten times, losing six.
1993 – Playing for a second consecutive year in Michigan Stadium, 26-point underdog Illinois stunned Michigan when Simeon Rice stripped Ricky Powers of the football in the final minute and the Illini drove for the touchdown to win 24-21.
1999 – Led by Tom Brady, the #9 Wolverines were supposed to have an easy time against unranked Illinois, and led 27-7 in the 3rd quarter. Illinois stormed back to win 35-29.
2001 – The last time both teams were ranked when they met, #17 Michigan defeated #21 Illinois 45-20. Despite the loss, the Illini won the conference, but lost to LSU in the Sugar Bowl.
2010 – Michigan’s 67-65 triple overtime victory was the highest scoring game in the history of the Big Ten - and indeed thrilling to watch, in sort of an icky way - especially when you realized afterwards that we gave up 8 more points in that game than Bo Schembechler’s defense gave up in the entire 1972 football season.
2012 – All was right with the world as a loaded Brady Hoke roster shut out Illinois 45-0 behind my all-time favorite Wolverine Denard Robinson. After that game, Hoke’s record at Michigan stood at 15-4. From that point forward, his teams went 16-16 before his inglorious firing.
2016 – Illinois is supposed to suck. They are a 28-point underdog to the #3 Wolverines. They sport two wins: against Murray State (the only college named after an accountant) and a truly woeful Rutgers squad.
On paper, today’s game is as bad a match as Man O’War vs. Upset. You remember this 1919 horse race, of course. It’s the only contest Man O’War lost in his career, to a 100-1 underdog, that gave us a name we still use 97 years later to describe a shocking, unexpected loss.
Illinois is no stranger to being an underdog. (Another language lesson: underdog and top dog come from dog fighting, referring to the relative position of the winner and loser.) The Illini have come into Michigan Stadium before, fearless and irrepressible, and shocked the Michigan sports world. Whenever the odds makers count them out, the Illini rise like ... like ....
... Nah, I just can’t do it. Brian, dude, I love you; but you just don’t pay me enough.
[ed note: fact]
By Bryan MacKenzie
On the surface, this is a mismatch. In fact, even below the surface, this is a mismatch. Okay, okay, so the layers go:
- Sesame Seed Bun
But if you dig deep enough, it's there. Something is changing in this series. You've gotta squint hard; it's like the fourth or fifth derivative. It's the rate of change in the rate of change of the rate of acceleration of the program. But Rutgers is slowly turning this thing around. And it starts for real today.
Rutgers is 2-1 against non-Top 5 opponents. They almost beat Iowa,who almost beat the team that won five straight national championships. They beat New Mexico, which is the fifth largest state in the country by area. They outscored mighty Washington (also a geographically large state) 10-0 in the fourth quarter. They forced JT Barrett into more interceptions than did Oklahoma.
Off the field, things are turning even faster. They already stole Ahmir Mitchell from the Wolverines, They have as many four-star commits in the current class as they've had in the last four recruiting classes combined. The Fence is in full operation, as Michigan hasn't landed a single commit from New Jersey in this class. Maybe Michigan's satellite camp shenanigans caught up to them, and served only to legitimize Chris Ash as a recruiting threat.
Sure, there are still some kinks to be worked out, such as the offense, defense, and special teams. But winning football games isn't about tactics or strategies or talent. It isn't even about having a general cohesive plan for scoring points or preventing the other team from scoring points. It's a positive mental outlook. And Rutgers has that. Their spirits will not be dampened by ONE mere 58-0 hamblasting. They won't slow down simply because they lost their best offensive player and their starting left tackle and their second best defender. Chris Laviano won't stop throwing the ball just because the last few dozen throws didn't go so well. Their secondary won't stop chasing receivers just because they have a couple of yard head start. No, sir. this defense will keep chasing and chasing and chasing.
Vegas, S&P+, and F+ all favor Michigan by at least thirty points. But this Rutgers team won't be intimidated by statistical realities. Because they have heart. Gumption. Pluck. And in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans this evening (many of whom will be cheering for the home team), Rutgers will shock the world. Thirty points? Clearly these guys don't know the *REAL* Rutgers. Michigan 29, Rutgers 0.
By Nick RoUMel
It is my goal to visit every Big Ten football venue. Trouble is, they’ve been adding teams faster than I can visit. I will be rocking Kinnick Stadium next month, which will leave Minnesota as the only traditional Big Ten venue to visit. But then there’s Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers. So four more to go, barring another add.
Woe to those who did visit the Scarlet Pimpernel’s playground in 2014, Michigan’s first-ever joust with Rutgers. I watched the lowlights from that game this morning and watched as their senior quarterback Gary Nova torched our defense, and Michigan’s comeback fell short, 24-26.
It was odd watching De’Veon Smith score a touchdown in that game, because I have compartmentalized that version of the Wolverines as a completely different team.
Michigan was 2-3 as it traveled to Piscataway, a 3.5 point underdog, coming off the infamous home loss to Minnesota in which Dave Brandon suffered a probable major concussion to his career. People were not talking about Michigan football as a powerhouse, but as a national laughingstock. There were demonstrations and calls to boycott. Through it all, the team played with class and dignity; but could not shake the Scarlet Letter of the season, limping home with a 5-7 record.
You know the rest of the story. A scant two years later and Michigan is undefeated and a serious contender for the college football playoff. This remarkable turnaround is a testament to what happens when the entire team - from University administration, to the coaching and support staff, to those young men on the field – “believes in each other, doesn’t criticize each other, doesn’t talk about each other, and encourages each other,” to borrow a phrase from not so long ago.
Rutgers has gone the opposite direction, from a successful inaugural Big Ten season, to 4-8 last year, and an indifferent 2-2 this year. Today they are the home dog, by 30 points. Yes, 2014 was indeed a galaxy far, far away. There is no Scarlet Fever, only malaise. And at the end of the night, Rutgers shall be blue.
MICHIGAN 48, RUTGERS 3
By Bryan MacKenzie
You may remember "Wisconsin" from your childhood, but if you don't, here's a brief refresher: Wisconsin is a state just west of Michigan that somehow claims to be the one shaped like a mitten.
This is somewhat like Louisiana trying to claim the title of "the one shaped like the wang" from Florida, or Idaho trying to declare itself "The Great Rectangle State of the American West." But I digress.
The reason you may not remember Wisconsin very well is that Michigan hasn't played the Badgers since 2010. Both schools have gone through two coaching changes since then; Brady Hoke's Michigan never played Wisconsin, and Gray Andersen's Wisconsin played Michigan. The last time these two teams met, Wisconsin did to Michigan what Michigan just did to Penn State; they ran the same. damn. play. over. and. over. They ran for 357 yards at 6.2 yards per carry. Greg Robinson, who believe it or not was Michigan's defensive coordinator, rubbed a stuffed beaver in Kenny Demens' face on the sidelines. Remember 2010? 2010 was weird as hell. 2010 sucked in a lot of ways.
A lot has changed since 2010. Gas was $0.27 per gallon, but we didn't notice because cars ran on Arcade Fire and Four Loko. Our computers SUCKED at playing Jeopardy. We hadn't seen Anthony Weiner's Florida a single time. Rutgers still sucked, but they sucked WAY THE HELL OVER THERE. Global warming was still called global warming, and hadn't produced a single Sharknado.
2016 is emphatically not 2010.
2016 Wisconsin is not 2010 Wisconsin. You can see a family resemblance, of course. But those old Wisconsin teams always had a massive, immovable, road-grading offensive line consisting of three-star corn-fed midwesterners. 2016 Wisconsin's offensive line is fine, but they are far from the mass of murderous thunder-flesh that blew those RichRod teams three yards off the ball on every play.
2016 Michigan is also decidedly not 2010 Michigan. 2016 Michigan is the Michigan that runs the same play eight times in a row, because the opponent can't stop it. 2016 Michigan is the team that can throw "rock" on every snap because the rock is Wormley-shaped. 2016 Michigan is the river carving the canyon through simple operation of physics over time. And this game is when that really becomes clear. Michigan's defensive line will simply overwhelm Wisconsin's line, and they force Wisconsin's young quarterback to put the ball up and pray for rain. Meanwhile, Harbaugh uses a combination of crazy wizard magic and Jabrill Peppers (admittedly, these are related fields) to put points on the board against a stout defense.
Welcome to 2016, Bucky. Michigan 31, Wisconsin 7
by Nick RoUMel
Last week Michigan fans came tantalizingly close to the exceedingly rare “quad-fecta.” Michigan trounced Penn State, Sparty was crushed by the Badgers, Notre Dame lost at home to Duke, and Ohio State did not win (drat … only because they didn’t play).
We also enjoyed two bonus games. Colorado, behind their second-string quarterback, won at Oregon - thus enhancing the value of Michigan’s win against the Buffalos. The other was 0-4 Furman’s 20 point drubbing by Coastal Carolina, a margin that exceeded Michigan State’s 28-13 home victory over the Paladins on opening day. Thus both of Sparty’s victories were significantly diminished Saturday.
(To be fair to Michigan State, as I must because I am married to a Spartan grad, it is looking like a rebuilding year for them; and I am certain they will come back strong behind their handsome and determined coach Mark Dantonio.)
I was curious enough to look up the last time we experienced an actual quad-fecta. You have to go back to September 12, 2009, when the Buckeyes lost to Southern Cal, MSU lost to Central Michigan [insert helplessly laughing emoji here], and Michigan stunned Notre Dame in the Big House, 38-34, on the legendary Tate Forcier’s pass to Greg Mathews with 11 seconds to play.
The last quad-fecta where none of these teams played each other happened on October 2, 2004. Michigan beat Indiana; and Ohio State (Northwestern), MSU (Iowa), and Notre Dame (Purdue) all went down ingloriously. No doubt Wolverine fans everywhere rejoiced long into the night.
Can we have another today?
Let’s start with Ohio State, which hosts Rutgers, a 38-point ‘dog. Unlikely.
The Flailing Irish travel to Syracuse as a 10 ½-point favorite. Could be an upset special.
And Michigan State, distracted by those pesky Dantonio-to-LSU rumors, visits Indiana as a shaky 6.5 point favorite. The non-horrible Hoosiers will give it a good shot.
Which brings me to UM.
This one makes me nervous. The oddsmakers are too generous here, giving 10 ½ points to Wisconsin, which is rolling like the thunder Mother Nature has in store for us on Saturday. Those behemoths on both sides of the ball are going to battle in the trenches a lot tougher then Pederast State did last week, and lefty QB Alex Hornibrook showed a lot of poise against the Spartan defense. The weather could also be a factor to slow down Michigan’s offense.
But Wisconsin is vulnerable in the secondary, which was lit up by 0-3 Georgia State’s Conner Manning two weeks ago (20-29, 269 yards, 1 TD) in an upset bid at Madison that fell just short, 23-17.
So what’s the call, Counterpunt?
Say it ain’t so, Superboy … it’s going to be a Bizarro quad-fecta:
WISCONSIN 28, MICHIGAN 27
OHIO STATE 54, RUTGERS 20
MICHIGAN STATE 23, INDIANA 15
NOTRE DAME 24, SYRACUSE 16
[Insert stunned Bizarro emoji here]
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