William S. Burroughs described the contents of his book Naked Lunch - a book, utlimately, about abuses of power - as "brutal, obscene, and disgusting," but he believed the contents were important so that readers would see what was on the end of their "long newspaper spoons," i.e., the reality they missed as it was filtered through the media of Burroughs' day. The title was a reflection of his desire to deliver a lucid account - readers where to be given Burroughs' news naked and unvarnished.
I think it is time given the hand-wringing over this season (and not picking up Hand, to a much lesser extent) to take an unvarnished look at Michigan football in the last ten years. Why ten? Well, it's a nice round number and because it puts us well into the childhood of recruits so that the'yre unlikely to have formed a perception of a football program much before then. It's also just a pretty long time. It's hard to say that ten years' worth of outcomes is a fluke.
2003: Michigan goes 10-3, beats ND, OSU, and MSU, wins the Big Ten, and loses in the Rose Bowl. This was the last year in which Michigan beat ND, OSU, and MSU...Also, Chris Perry finished fourth in the Heisman vote, making him the last Wolverine to finish that high.
2004: Michigan goes 9-3, beats ND and MSU, wins the Big Ten for the last time since, and loses in the Rose Bowl, Michigan loses to OSU for the first of what will be seven straight times.
2005: The Year of Infinite Pain we called it. If we'd only known. Michigan suffers mass injuries, goes 7-5, and among the rivals only beats MSU. They then lose in the Alamo Bowl to Nebraska and a collection of scarecrows dressed up as referees.
2006: Michigan rebounds to go 11-2 but loses to OSU and is thrashed in the Rose Bowl. This is the last time Michigan was considered a national championship contender late in the season. Current high school seniors were roughly eleven years old when this happened.
2007: Michigan goes 9-4, loses to App State, loses to OSU, and wins the Citrus Bowl. Lloyd Carr then retires.
2008: Michigan goes 3-9 and loses to all of the rivals.
2009: Michigan goes 5-7, beats ND, and loses to OSU and MSU. No bowl for the second straight year.
2010: Michigan goes 7-6, beats ND, loses to OSU and MSU, and is destroyed in the Gator Bowl. RR is out. Hoke is in.
2011 Michigan goes 11-2, beats ND and OSU, loses to MSU, and wins the Sugar Bowl against Va Tech in a match-up that drew criticism on the grounds that some people believed neither team deserved a BCS bid. This is Michigan's only BCS bowl victory since 2000.
2012: Michigan goes 8-5, beats MSU, loses to OSU and ND, and loses its bowl to South Carolina.
Why did I bother to type all this out? That's a good question, and my answer (which may not cut it) is that I think some people don't realize what Michigan football is right now. Michigan football is Penn State - or maybe Notre Dame. History of great coaches (or at least one great coach)? Check. Large and passionate fan base? Yep. Lots of great history generally? Yep. Great stadium? That too. A long list of former All-Americans and NFL players? Sure. Very good school? Yes...All of that is great, but is Michigan a top football program right now? No, I don't see how you can say that. Again, a decade is a long time. You just aren't very good if you're having to make excuses for an entire decade.
I join everyone in wanting Michigan to return to the top. But I encourage you not to despair as if Michigan just recently fell from the top or is right now falling from the top. Michigan has not performed like a top-tier program for most of the last ten years. Michigan is like ND or PSU - once-great programs that are and have been shells of there former selves that occasionally, briefly pop back up into the elite only to drop back down again. There is no point in pretending otherwise.
Oscar Wilde wrote something about staring at the stars while lying in the gutter. Let's continue to stare at the stars, but let's have no illusions that we are, while not in the gutter, not too far out of it either.
EDIT: See NittanyFan's comment below for more on the PSU comparison.