Block/Charge: Villanova and Everything

Block/Charge: Villanova and Everything

Submitted by Seth on April 2nd, 2018 at 2:05 PM

24065224278_8d626b1bb2_o

Them? [Marc-Grégor Campredon]

Something's been missing to take the edge off before Michigan games since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one. Something like… Punt-Counterpunt, except for basketball.

BLOCK

By Bryan MacKenzie

We all know the bad news: Villanova. They are good. This need not be discussed at length. The good news: Michigan’s offense has struggled mightily throughout the NCAA tournament.

Yes, yes, this is not the good news you were hoping for. You were hoping that I had climbed high atop the thing and consulted the wise oracle, and the runes foretold of a great firebombing from deep. But this is actually better. Because already know what happens when Michigan comes out firing – and hitting – from three. You get a game like Texas A&M, or late-season Maryland, or the Texas Shruggie game, or the Florida Elite Eight Stauskasfest. There is much rejoicing and Twitter screaming and maniacal laughter. A good time is had by all.

clip_image002

According to Science, two of these = a National Championship [Brian Fuller]

Team shooting streaks are as fleeting as Nick Ward’s and Jaren Jackson’s minutes; you never know when they will appear, or how long they will last. Michigan could come out tonight and hit 60% from deep, and no one would be that surprised. But Michigan could also come out flat again, in which case they will lose (as would any team Beilein has ever fielded, and as would 99% of basketball teams assembled in the modern era against this Villanova team). Based on the last two and a half weeks, this would surprise no one either.

Coming into this season, Michigan under John Beilein was a combined 11-80 when its offense put up a Dead Body game (i.e. where their offensive efficiency dipped below 98.6). That just over one win per year. This year, they are 7-2 in those games. They’ve won as many such games this year as they won in the previous eight seasons combined. And this includes three tournament wins this year (Montana, Houston, and FSU) and barely excludes Loyola-Chicago.

clip_image004

[Fuller]

It’s hard to imagine that any other Beilein team would even be standing at this point with the kind of offensive production they’ve gotten. Yet here they are, still playing in April. And sure, they still have those Walter In The Crawlspace games in them. We’ve seen three of them in the current 14-game winning streak. But now, for the first time, they have a defense. A real defense. A salty defense. The kind of defense that can get some stops when the offense stalls, as even the most firebreathingest offenses are wont to do. Michigan doesn’t have to be perfect. They have the luxury of being almost perfect. And that might, might just be enough.

One other thing. I feel pretty comfortable with the notion that karma doesn’t really control basketball games. Neither the Universe, nor any omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent entities residing therein, care significantly about the outcome on Monday night. But I feel equally comfortable with the notion that if he/she/it/they ever DID want to put a finger on the scale, it would be in favor of John Beilein winning a title. Winning “The Right Way” may not be fair, as one can only be so upset about players getting paid during the cash bonanza that is the NCAA Tournament. But he has sure as hell won The Hard Way, and the next person I meet with a cross word to say about him will be the first.

clip_image006

[Fuller]

Still, as we said before the Loyola game, this is ultimately a battle of basketball teams, and Villanova is statistically better. Michigan probably needs to have one of their Death From Above performances to win this game, and this may be the one opponent against which such a performance might not be enough. That’s a tough ask, even for a wizard.

Villanova 77, Michigan 73

----------------------------

CHARGE

By Smoothitron

I feel conflicted regarding Villanova being Michigan’s title game opponent. This is exactly the sort of matchup I would want if I were an unaffiliated fan. It has two schools big enough and good enough to produce a quality game with two coaches dragging college basketball ever further out of the 2-points-and-a-cloud-of-dust era, but none of the annoyance of seeing a blueblood like North Carolina for the zillionth time.

In other ways, Villanova is exactly the kind of opponent I didn’t want to see. This almost goes without saying, but Villanova is extremely good. Their Kenpom page is a boon for the antacid industry and it’s hard to imagine Beilein coaching circles around someone like Jay Wright who emphasizes so many of the same concepts but has reached an indisputably greater level of success. On a more personal note, while I’m happy to see Villanova be successful in general, I had always imagined and hoped Beilein’s pinnacle victory would be against one of the villains of College Basketball.

clip_image001

yeah like that guy

I’ve decided not to let any of it bother me, though. I’ve gotten to see this team make a 10-0 deficit look like a well-intentioned but woefully insufficient rec-league handicap against Montana. For Throwback Thursday: an old-fashioned Michigan shruggie game vs. Texas A&M, followed by a win against Florida State where the concept that Michigan lives and dies by the 3 was emphatically destroyed. The Houston game was a simple reminder that sometimes good things just happen to good people.

swagcatresize

I didn’t cry, YOU cried

Against Loyola and for the 4th time this tournament, Michigan treated us to the experience of watching a team not playing its best but still winning important games. It’s harrowing and frustrating, but it’s a feeling I never had the privilege to endure growing up in the Amaker era. Coach Beilein and the players have rescued a moribund program and its fanbase from another generation of mediocrity and apathy, and they deserve their damn coronation.

So I’m done doubting; it’s no fun and the team has earned better. Villanova is a tremendous offense; they haven’t seen a defense like this. They hit a ton of 3s; they can’t make any if they can’t get them off. Jalen Brunson could be the best guard in America; X will be in his shirt and in his head for 40 minutes. Michigan’s offense goes into lulls; ask the Aggies about those lulls. Michigan can’t hit free throws; it won’t be close enough to matter.

Just a few more hours before an ass whoopin’. They ain’t know.

Michigan 75, Villanova 62

Block/Charge: Loyola-Chicago

Block/Charge: Loyola-Chicago

Submitted by Seth on March 31st, 2018 at 9:00 AM

image

A blue day. A shoe day. Ere the sun rises! [Patrick Barron]

Something's been missing to take the edge off before Michigan games since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one. Something like… Punt-Counterpunt, except for basketball.

BLOCK

By Bryan MacKenzie

Everyone loves an underdog. It's a big part of what makes March so much fun. Invariably every year a double-digit seed bombs their way into the Sweet 16 - or beyond -  and we get to learn about their little quirks and storylines and idiosyncrasies. Remember Dunk City? Havoc? George Mason? They are fun stories with fun, new characters. And just as importantly, unless your team is one of the Goliaths slewn (slewed? slained? slewned?) by these Davids, their stories are harmless and free from the usual baggage that comes with established foes. Loyola-Chicago isn't a long-standing rival. They never beat Michigan for a key recruit. They aren't coached by an archetypal Evil Coach like K or Cal or Boeheim.

image
But take a look at Michigan with those same fresh eyes. Pretend for a moment that you just emerged from a century-long coma, and observe these Wolverines. They are led by a 5'nothing" point guard who has shut down some of the best point guards in the country through sheer force of aggrievement. He launches ludicrous sky hooks and teardrops over guys a foot and a half taller than him. He has the biggest mood of all the moods. 

Their captain and shooting guard is a 2-star who they stole from Harvard. Their best shooter and 6th man of the year is a guy who transferred from Division 3. Their best player is from 7,000 miles away and who apparently learned his (fluent) English by watching, like, the Bad Boy Pistons and Joe Pesci movies. They have Jordan Poole, who... my God, Jordan Poole.

They play precise, intricate basketball. They run the kind of offense that overmatched teams run to try to manipulate matchups. They play White Wide Receiver Adjective defense.

Take the names off the front of the jersey, and this is a "Cinderella team." It's just that if John Beilein were your Fairy Godmother, the pumpkin coach wouldn't have needed horses because it would have gotten 37 miles per gallon, and it wouldn't have turned back into a pumpkin for like three or four weeks. And the coachman would have shot 37% from three. 

There's no question that Loyola has captured lightning in a bottle. You don't get to the Final Four as an 11-seed without a little magic. But some combination of John Beilein's wizardry, the timely emergence of talent, a coalescence of karma and chemistry, and the right coins being tossed in the right wishing wells has led a nondescript bubble team to rattle off 13 straight wins (including seven Top-30 wins), and has them once again eyeing a ladder and a pair of scissors. 
When you boil it down, this is a basketball game. If Michigan hits, they win. If they don't hit, they might still win. That's good enough for me.

Michigan 74, Loyola-Chicago 63

----------------------------

CHARGE

By Smoothitron

Three hundred and fifty fanbases a year end the season knowing the wrong team accomplished what they desperately wanted for themselves. We try to avoid it. We do our best to apply reason to it. We acknowledge and honor fantastic achievements like conference championships and Final Four runs, but with each of these banner’s sweet memories comes the inescapable shadow of what-could-have-been. It’s the price we pay for the elation of another glorious B1G tournament, or Jordan Poole answered prayer; we treasure them on their own merits, but we ache for them to be the stepping stones to something more. We know these moments need no specific coda to give them meaning, but when that light at the end of the tunnel just keeps getting bigger, it becomes incredibly difficult to separate the joy from the regret.

Look no further than Michigan’s last Final Four team for the perfect example. Michigan has had a run of recent success under Coach Beilein that even this fickle fanbase has no choice but to look back upon fondly. Images of the brashest Canadian blowing kisses and a kid from Detroit clapping in the face of those that doubted his toughness dance in our heads. Mention 2013, however, and something altogether different burns brightest in our minds.

image

Team 97 earned a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament, claimed 3 consecutive wins over Kenpom top 10 teams on their way to Michigan’s first Final Four in decades, and its star player was a National Player of the Year that drilled a shot only very recently challenged for the title of Michigan Basketball’s “The Shot”. Even within the title game, we had an insane hot streak from a bench player put us on all cloud 9, if only for a few minutes. Despite all this, an inexplicable, inescapable call dominates their legacy.

Optimism pervades the Michigan community regarding this game, and not without reason. I’ve looked at the advanced stats, they look good. I’ve consumed a borderline-irresponsible number of takes regarding this matchup; people are mostly picking Michigan, and those calling a Loyola win are playing Major League Feelingsball. When common sense and the numbers agree in your favor, it’s a wonderful place to be. There is no good reason to believe Michigan will lose this game, but I’ve seen Jordan Morgan’s layup hang for eternity on the rim before falling harmlessly away. I’ve seen a Kentucky team with no shooters hit almost 70% of their threes, including the game-winner in our best defender’s grill. I’ve seen a Derrick Walton jumper that was absolutely destined to take us to the Elite Eight carom away.
There are reasons behind every win and loss, but those reasons don’t have to be any good.

Loyola Chicago 68, Michigan 62

Punt/Counterpunt: Outback Bowl

Punt/Counterpunt: Outback Bowl

Submitted by Seth on January 1st, 2018 at 10:03 AM

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

You know what college football doesn't have enough of? Equations.
 
I don't do much with the maths, but from what I remember from high school algebra, there's a general rule that if you have a variables system of linear equations, you need that same number of distinct equations to solve the system. In other words, the more variables, the more information you need if you want to know what the hell is going on and why. And hoo boy does college football have a lot of variables. Player turnover. Injuries. Weather. The way an oblong ball bounces. The ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ nature of 18- to 22-year-old man-children. The general bloodymindedness of the universe.
 
 
“System of linear equations” is the most boring thing that has ever been Google Image Searched. 
 
And the equations? Oh, there aren't many equations. Give me 162 baseball games, and we can calculate the exact value of every player down to the run. Hell, even if you’ve got 16 NFL games against other professional teams with rosters that are similar to those of the last couple of seasons, and you have a decent idea what you’re looking at. But in college football, you've got twelve regular season games. And odds are, three or four of those games are going to be against tomato cans. So you're really looking at a sample of eight or nine games against real teams. One will be in the rain. One will be windy and cold. In one game, the opponent's quarterback will get knocked out. In one, YOUR quarterback will get knocked out. 
 
Sure, we can draw some general conclusions, like “Mo Hurst is greater than or equal to everything,” or “you cannot divide by Mike Riley.” But to get more specific, we need more data. So we go searching in the places where your stats professor warned you not to go without a chaperone. Like spring games. Insider practice hype. Coaches’ press conferences. Tarot card readers. ESPN talking heads.
 
Bowl games.
 
Sure, there is information to be gleaned. But the temptations is to look for the shiny objects. Look no further than the narrative around the Big Ten bowl record. There is real value to the wins by the top echelon of the conference. But all everyone is talking about is “7-0,” despite the randomness of Iowa ice-skating better than Boston College, Kentucky dropping a two-point conversion against Northwestern, and Purdue completing a two-minute drill against Arizona.
 
 
Pictured: the Big Ten being unbeatable (USA Today)
 
Michigan is going to beat South Carolina, because Michigan is pretty good, and South Carolina isn’t particularly good. Whether it is by a field goal or four touchdowns is largely irrelevant. A big shiny multi-score win would make everybody feel better, and would be a talking point for those 30 second pre-season rundowns on ESPN 7 (“Michigan is coming off a bowl win, something something rivalry record,  Rashan Gary, something quarterback competition, latest Harbaugh thing”). 
 
But 2018 is set up to be a really, really good year regardless of how this game goes. So forget about the narrative. Instead of worrying about the final score, just enjoy the Hammering Panda and Mo Hurst destroying people one last time. Try to learn a *little* bit about Brandon Peters and the other new or like-new guys in line for playing time next year. And enjoy watching a real, honest-to-god football game for the last time for the next three quarters of a year.
 
(But yeah, Will Muschamp, so Michigan is probably going to bludgeon these guys)
 
Michigan 27, South Carolina 10
 
-------------------------------------------------
 
[Nick RoUMel has retired and a full CP search deserves a more thorough process, so this being bowl season we've promoted a guy in-house, MGoBlog GifMaster and Waffle Chef Smoothitron, with an interim tag and suggested a good performance can win him the job]

COUNTERPUNT

By Smoothitron
 
A year full of interesting storylines, compelling characters, and underwhelming results has culminated in a very appropriate finale. The Outback Bowl is the historical home of the also-rans who didn’t also-run well enough to even make the Citrus. Everything about this game is ho-hum, from the uninspiring Tampa locale, to the rehashed matchup of teams, to its relegation to ESPN2 in favor of UCF vs. Auburn in the Peach Bowl.
 
Even the Outback Bowl Trophy is an underwhelming prize. It features a crystal boomerang, which was a disappointing second choice when the Golden Crocodile Dundee Trophy™ was deemed too expensive to license.
 
TRULY A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
 
The B1G’s bowl performance thus far has injected a certain amount of fake conference pride to the stakes, with a perfect B1G bowl record on the line. Unfortunately, it will mean little for Michigan fans. A defeat today sullying the B1G’s otherwise flawless bowl record might add a different arrow to the quiver of rival fans, but won’t increase the inevitable barbs that will be lobbed all offseason.
 
None of this means that the game won’t be worth watching of course. There are fascinating storylines to keep an eye on. Chase Winovich spearheaded an effort to turn the leadup to the game into a tremendous fundraising opportunity for #Chadtough, resulting in a massive discharge of the Michigan Money Cannon and the glorious opportunity to see a great deal of our heroes sport luxurious orange locks(or facial hair in Don Brown’s case) for the game. As of this writing the fundraiser is barreling towards a staggering $200,000.
 
FRANCHISE OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE
(not too late to donate, click here[https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/chaseforchad/chasewinovich] to take part)
 
Simultaneously, in a wonderful example of what Internet 2.0 is capable of, notable Eddie-Murphy-impersonator Ryan Nanni successfully conned the bowl sponsor into facilitating his yearlong dream to depict the Official Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Onion Man.  Inspiringly, Nanni gets to portray a food item that contains more calories than his own body, while also depriving whatever local vagrant was previously going to wear the suit out of his New Year’s booze money.

As for the game itself, however, I will consider it a victory if it’s different enough from the last Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina that I’m able to successfully differentiate between them in five years. If you know where to look, there are plenty of ways the Outback Bowl will be an interesting and compelling experience. Unfortunately, an uninterested performance will mean the game won’t be among them.

South Carolina 20, Michigan 13
 

Mailbag: Vintage Punt/Counterpunt, Hurst Bowl, Patterson Transfer, Getting Served

Mailbag: Vintage Punt/Counterpunt, Hurst Bowl, Patterson Transfer, Getting Served

Submitted by Brian on December 8th, 2017 at 12:59 PM

UMvsOSU Program 1997 - Cover

Vintage Punt/Counterpunt.

I found my copy of the free game program from The Game 20 years ago in a box of old school stuff. Thought you guys might enjoy the Punt / Counterpunt column from that day.

Go Blue!

UMvsOSU Program 1997 - Punt-CP

Here's a zoomed in version.

UMvsOSU Program 1997 - Punt-CP

UMvsOSU Program 1997 - Punt-CP

Thanks to Nick and Ken for being a formative part of my fandom.

Hurst take.

If Hurst is worried about getting injured and the NFL draft. Lloyds of London will insure him for injury for the one game.

So you're asking Mo Hurst to literally pay for the privilege of playing in a football game that is mostly interesting because it will feature Ryan Nanni as a bloomin' onion? Nah.

I'd be vaguely upset if Hurst wasn't going to play in a New Year's Six game but more or less understand. The Outback Bowl? Hurst going in the top ten of the draft is probably more helpful to the program in the long term than whatever bonus chance he provides of beating South Carolina.

If you want players to compete in dink bowl games, there's an easy way to do so: pay them and sign them to a contract that says "you play in bowl games."

Recruiting is DISAPPOINT.

Is it fair to say, absent a change in trajectory, that '18 recruiting heads toward at best "unexciting", possibly even "disappointing"? I guess I have grown quite used to having a consensus top 100 'bell cow' (I loved it when K Jackson used to call FB players bell cows) at basically every position group, and a difference-maker (DPJ - Solomon) for each unit. Is that a reasonable standard, or is that Osu/Bama, which I don't think is realistic until we experience some playoff success and maybe never, given relative boundary-pushing of three programs. (Although the rush to Oxford has me questioning my prejudices.)    

Thanks, dirk

I'd say unexciting is about right. Michigan's sole composite top 100 prospect right now, Otis Reese, is pretty wobbly. That's a comedown from Harbaugh's first two full efforts, which delivered guys like Rashan Gary, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Aubrey Solomon, and Cesar Ruiz—amongst many others.

There are a lot of reasons for this: it's a severely down year in-state; Michigan had to hire yet another recruiting director; playing time is hard to sell when you return a zillion starters. And, yes, Michigan is working uphill for a lot of guys because they don't have a bagman network—at least that's what I've heard from guys close to the program for years. 

But the class is still 11th and should add a couple additional big fish to finish. Adding the three Ole Miss players also helps fill scholarships with talented players. And this looks like a blip. Michigan already has two five-star-ish DEs in the 2019 class plus top 100 guard Nolan Rumler and four-star LB Charles Thomas. I expect Michigan to bounce back to their previous level in 2019 now that they've got what looks like a solid recruiting infrastructure that isn't going to take a position coaching job next year.

Patterson feels.

Brian/Ace,

I am sure if I posted this as a thread I would be down voted as a babe in the woods and comments of “this is what it takes to beat OSU and Alabama” would rain down from the heavens.  But i have to say, going after Peterson when you have two VERY good QBs that harbaugh recruited in the stable feels very unmichigan.  What say you?

Thank you again for all you do and next year, please think of adding Boston to your season preview tour.  We would love to host!

Best,
Quinn

I don't think taking a transfer is a problem. Players at the same position as that guy might be a little cheesed off, but I'm sure Harbaugh didn't promise them they'd get to start. Because that's crazy. But that doesn't mean it's wrong. If Patterson does come in and start—which is not a foregone conclusion—because he's the best option, that's a negative for the other quarterbacks but a positive for the rest of the team.

Michigan doesn't take JUCOs because they can't get them through admissions, and I guess that's the reason taking a transfer seems weird? I find this take baffling. Recruiting kids in college isn't any different than recruiting them in high school. And if a school that was flagrantly buying guys out from under Michigan's nose suffers as a result, all the better.

I GET EMAILS.

So, as a lawyer I got to thinking, .Maybe a lawsuit for violating the Constitutions First Amendmenment protection of Free Speech is in order. Maybe Ill win maybe I wont Probably will) but even if not , it wont cost me one nickle. However you will need a battery of lawyers to deal the various and numerous motions I could file.  Hope you have deep pockets.

Expect to be served

Matt Mann

This gentleman was upset that I shut the comments down and has challenged me to a dance-off.

ASSEMBLE YOUR CREW, SIR.

Punt/Counterpunt: Ohio State 2017

Punt/Counterpunt: Ohio State 2017

Submitted by Seth on November 25th, 2017 at 7:09 AM

7958850486_2d762f359a_o

[Eric Upchurch]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

I tried to cut my finger off last weekend.

I was doing some woodworking with power tools, as I had done so many times before. I was not doing anything particularly new or dangerous, nor was I being particularly inattentive. And I was a quarter-inch from not even knowing that I had been in any danger at all. I just—juuuuuust—tapped the end of my pinkie to a router blade. It made such light contact that I initially didn’t know if I had hurt myself. Then it started bleeding.

clip_image002

In a way, this was the experience of every Michigan fan 364 days ago. An almost impossibly small distance from everything being fine. Inches from going about our business with a smile on our faces, and yet left bleeding and lamenting the myriad ways this could have been avoided. We were hurt by the hurt, but also by the knowledge of how needless the hurt was.

See, it doesn’t matter how many ways you didn’t screw up. If you are familiar with the story of McGregor the Bridge Builder, you know that it isn’t the hundred tiny, thankless steps up the hill that people remember. It’s the slip. And the fall.

Michigan was a better football team than Ohio State in 2016. They outplayed Ohio State in 2016. And even setting aside The Spot, they had multiple opportunities to win that game. If they don’t fumble on the goal line, or throw two brutal untimely interceptions, or committ an untimely hands-to-the-face penalty, or… or… or. The point is, they didn’t. Ohio State came out on the right side of the cosmic inch, so they don’t have to worry about how close they came to the blade.

clip_image004

The other thing my run-in with spinning steel reminded me, though, was how sometimes the littlest things can completely change your expectations. German general Helmuth von Moltke famously explained that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Or, if you prefer your philosophy to be more Face Tattoo-y, Mike Tyson opined that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. I had big plans for Sunday, and then I moved my finger a quarter-inch in the wrong direction, and then I was changing a week’s worth of plans.

Ohio State walked into Kinnick as a significant favorite, and one offensive play into the game they were on their asses. In 2013, Michigan busted an 84-yard play on its first offensive series, and the game was on. This year, a couple of series into the Michigan State game, Michigan looked like it would handle its business comfortably, and one Ty Isaac fumble later things… ended differently.

To win this game, Michigan doesn’t need the world to tilt off its axis. They just need a break or two. Maybe Brandon Peters heals quickly. Maybe JT Barrett has an off day. Maybe it’s a bounce or a catch or a drop or a play call. And this time, they get it.

Michigan 11, Ohio State 10

----------------------------

COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

I began writing in 1994 for Michigan Football Guide, the free programs that were handed out by volunteers before Michigan home games. When the Guide went defunct in 2007, I thought I’d done my last Counterpunt. But a series of shadowy negotiations between Guide publisher Dave DeVarti and MGoBlog founder Brian Cook, resulted in the resurrection of “Punt/Counterpunt” in 2012. “Sky” Walker and I resumed our collaboration with enthusiasm.

I’m now on my third “Punt,” and it’s time to hang up the crystal ball.

clip_image002[4]clip_image004[4]clip_image006           clip_image008

Sky didn’t need no stinkin’ animal familiar to be Punt. See ya.

But before I go, I must make one last prediction. To prepare for this pronouncement, I went back into the past, to see how I did calling the Buckeyes’ previous visits to Ann Arbor. If my record is any indication, take the final score at the end of this column to the bank.

1995—The Wolverines were reeling, stunned at home by Northwestern and smarting from losses to Michigan State and Penn State. The Buckeyes rolled in to the Big House sporting an undefeated season and #2 ranking. Yet I picked Michigan for the upset, 24-12, hearkening back to the historic 1969 game. Michigan actually won 31-23, behind Tshimanga Biatabutuka’s 313 yards rushing—helping Counterpunt to finish a perfect 7-0 for the season.

1997—The Buckeyes hoped to return the favor and spoil Michigan’s undefeated season. I wasn’t biting, picking the eventual national champions 24-10. Charles Woodson led the 20-14 victory with a punt return TD, interception in the end zone, and long pass reception to set up an Anthony Thomas touchdown.

I wrote in that 1997 column:

“I have great respect for the University, and they take their football seriously. John Cooper is an excellent coach who has put together some spectacular seasons, while Michigan has struggled in recent years. Still, it is indeed pleasurable to watch Cooper’s chin quiver, as he explains his annual Michigan loss to the media.”

clip_image010

1999—Of the 8-2 Wolverines, I stated the obvious: “Tom Brady has been a phenomenal leader,” while predicting a 35-20 Michigan victory against a relatively weak Ohio State squad. The Buckeyes made it closer, but the home team still prevailed, 24-17.

2001—I was skeptical, writing, “Ousted OSU coach John Cooper was definitely Michigan’s “boy,” losing pitifully for 13 years. Jim Tressel was hired to buck the trend … and will take advantage of Michigan’s frozen offense. As cold November winds swirly through the big house, the final score reads: OSU 17 – Michigan 13.” Actual score: OSU 26, Michigan 20.

Now 2003’s column is lost in the annals of home clutter. But I do know this: I went to the game with my college buddy Mike (see: Counterpunt PSU 2017 and my description of our driving adventures to Bloomington this year). Mike lives in Ohio and was getting sick of the woofing from fans of the #4 Buckeyes, and was so pleased when we polished them off 35-21 behind Chris Perry and Braylon Edwards, that he presented me a framed Ann Arbor News article featuring a photo of Perry with a rose between his teeth. My head and heart tell me I called that game correctly as well (any hoarders out there, let me know if you find my article).

clip_image011

2005—I feared a loss, writing, “… [C]unning OSU coach Jim Tressel keeps finding ways to win, and threatens to stretch his record against University of Michigan coach Lloyd Carr to an eye-popping four wins in five years.” I called it 17-13 OSU; the Buckeyes won 25-21.

Fast forward to 2013, our first opportunity for Punt and Counterpunt to predict the outcome of an Ohio State visit to the Big House, in this fancy new medium of “computers.” The wheels were coming off Brady Hoke’s team, limping into this game 7-4, with two of those victories narrow escapes against Akron and Connecticut. Fans were restless (sound familiar?).

Sloopy was undefeated, and few thought Michigan had a chance. But I was one of them, writing: “I am behind these boys 100%. If you don’t get pissed at being a 17-point dog at home to these stupid evil Buckeyes, then there isn’t a blue bone in your body. It is indeed great to be a Michigan Wolverine.” MICHIGAN 28 - OSU 26.

A hobbled Devin Gardner played perhaps the most courageous game of his career, but his late two-point conversion to win was picked off, and Ohio State survived 42-41.

clip_image012

2015 was supposed to be different. Jim Harbaugh’s first year raised expectations and hopes that we could start beating our rivals, but then “that thing” happened against MSU. Still, Michigan was #10 as they hosted the #8 Buckeyes. I went with OSU to win 23-19, writing, “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.” Fare better they did, cruising to a shockingly easy 42-13 win.

Coming into 2017, I have a 6-1 or 7-1 record, depending on whether you trust that I called the 2003 game correctly. The one game I missed in 2013, I picked a close win against heavy odds and we lost by a whisker. I have a lot on the line for this year to preserve this success, so what’s the call?

clip_image013

For those who believe in intangibles, and that the game is affected by what we wear, where we sit, and who we attend with, then the 2017 game today is blessed with a good sign. My friend Mike and his wife Sue are attending their first Michigan-Ohio State game since that 2003 victory Mike memorialized for my den.

But alas, as much as I would like to see the Wolverines catch a break—something Punt sees happening—and to make my final call for they boys in Maize and Blue, I just don’t see an upset in the making. Our team is still young and formative, and on top of everything else, is more unsettled at quarterback than ever. The Buckeyes aren’t unbeatable, but it won’t happen today.

Ohio State 30, Michigan 17

----------------------------

PS Thanks for the opportunity, Brian; it’s been a privilege to work with you, Seth and Ace, and to match wits with Sky, Heiko and Bryan on the top of this page. Forever and always, Go Blue.

We’ll miss you too, CP

Punt/Counterpunt: Wisconsin 2017

Punt/Counterpunt: Wisconsin 2017

Submitted by Seth on November 18th, 2017 at 8:54 AM

37661596766_c5bdc18169_o

[Marc-Grégor Campredon]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It's one of the earliest small-talk questions, and shows up starting around age six. What grade are you in? Do you like school? What do you want to be?

Set aside, for the moment, that the above is an entirely insane progression of questions for anyone, let alone a child (How long have you been a human? I see. Do you prefer recess or drawing or reading stories about mischievous bears the best? Gotcha. Okay, how do you plan to spend your earthly existence?). Kids always have an answer; they want to be a veterinarian, or a firefighter, or an astronaut, or a princess, or an old west sheriff.

1

Aaron Sheldon

But the thing adults fail to mention is that plenty of adults can't actually answer that question.

Sure, adults can tell you what they *do*. They are doctors, lawyers, engineers, sales people, window washers.  And some (maybe even most) can tell you what they would like to do next. But the transition from a job to a career to an identity can be a slow one. And an unconscious one. And an imprecise one. You may be hired on Day One as "Jerry, the new guy in Widgets," but it may be months, or years, or even decades before you are "Jerry the Widget guy." Everyone knows what Jerry is about, and how Jerry operates, and what you can and can't ask Jerry to do.

Some people never make that transition. Lots of people just work their jobs, and find their identities elsewhere, like the weight room. Or the community. But if I tell you someone is going to visit Dr. James Andrews, you instantly know the deal. And if I tell you Adam Sandler is in a movie, a lot of questions have already been answered.

234

Draws space-time, draws happy little trees, draws specious conclusions

Michigan knows what it wants to do offensively under Jim Harbaugh. They spent the first couple of years working with what they had (much of which was quite good), but at the same time they laid out a career plan for the future. They wanted to be a downhill, smash-mouth, "pro-style" offense. They want to run a mix of gap and zone, but their bread and butter is gonna be big ol' offensive guards gliding across the formation to abuse some poor damn linebacker in the hole.

They want defenses so worried about the power play that they create massive cutback lanes and expose themselves to counters, only to see Michigan counter those counters, and counter THOSE counters, until, like the World Turtle, it's counters all the way down. They want a collection of Hobart's Funnies at tight end, fullback, and running back who can force defensive coordinators to worry whether they even have a club in their bag for that shot.

And over the last few weeks, we've seen what that all might look like. And it has been exciting.

But Wisconsin? Wisconsin doesn't have an idea what they want to do. They know exactly who they are as an offense, as a team, and as a football program. Schemes have been tweaked, tactics have been updated, and the coaching staff has even turned over from time to time. But when I say "Wisconsin Football," you know exactly what I'm talking about. They are two decades into a very large, boring, physically uncomfortable experiment.

5

Michigan will get there. And in the long run, I would rather be where Michigan is going. But Wisconsin is already there. And for the moment, that is enough.

Wisconsin 21, Michigan 13

----------------------------

COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

clip_image002clip_image004

When I was born, I got no respect. The doctor told my mother, “I did all I could, but he pulled through anyway.”

Boy, is Bucky mad. Borrowing a page from the Mark Dantonio/Rodney Dangerfield playbook, Bucky’s wrath is directed at the CFP, who has them ranked on the outside looking in, because their schedule “just isn’t there.” Bucky begs to differ - but you be the judge:

Week 1 – Wisconsin 59, Little Ducklings Day Care 10

clip_image006clip_image008clip_image010

The “Battlin’ Babies” stunned Wisconsin with two quick scores to go up 10-0, but were soon derailed by hunger, wet nappies, and some pretty intense owies. The Badgers cruised to the easy victory.

Week 2 – Wisconsin 31, Sisters of Mercy 14

clip_image012clip_image014

The “Flying Nuns” kept it close for a half, but despite fervent prayer and a successful Hail Mary, couldn’t pull off the upset.

Week 3 – Wisconsin 40, Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats 6

clip_image016clip_image018

The “Helpless Kittens” used their cunning and athleticism to forge an early tie, but soon got bored, took naps, and licked themselves in nether regions. Wisconsin took advantage and scored the comfortable victory.

Week 4 – Wisconsin 33, Munchkinland 24

clip_image020clip_image022

The Badgers seemed on their way to another convincing win, but the “Lollipop Kids” put together two late scores and had the ball at the end with a chance to tie when the Mayor was distracted by a flying monkey and sacked in the end zone to snuff out the upset hopes.

Week 5 – Wisconsin 38, Cleveland Browns 17

clip_image024clip_image026

The Brownies fought hard for their first victory of the year, and even tied the game in the third quarter, before Wisconsin put together some late drives to remain undefeated.

Week 6 – Wisconsin 17, Powerchair Wheelers 9

clip_image028clip_image029

The Badgers were stymied by the Wheelers’ formidable flying wedge - and considerable heart - turning the ball over three times. They nonetheless managed to outlast the visitors and improved to 6-0.

Week 7 – Wisconsin 24, Illinois 10

clip_image031

Like father, like son.

Playing perhaps the most hapless team on their schedule, the Badgers spoiled the Illini homecoming celebration, and sullied their throwback uniforms, harassing Jeff George Jr. into three turnovers en route to another notch on Bucky’s belt.

Week 8 – Wisconsin 45, Bud Light 17

clip_image032

Fortuitously retaining several Jonathan Taylor fumbles from falling into the necks of their armless opposition, the Badgers gritted out another road victory over a weak, piss-poor opponent, breaking open a cold one in the third quarter when Bud Light proved to be “less filling.”

Week 9 – Wisconsin 38, Iowa 14

clip_image034

These guys are actually vegan.

OK fine, they beat Iowa. Wisconsin silenced some critics by taking home the Heartland Trophy, after crushing the team that had just demolished the Buckeyes.

The Badgers aren’t terrible. Despite their cottony-soft schedule, they’ve done what they’re supposed to do, in ways you expect them to do it (see Punt, above). Freshman and Rutgers flip Jonathan Taylor runs behind a massive offensive line to pile up monster yards. Sophomore quarterback Randy Creek has completed 64% of his passes, with 17 TDs (but 12 picks). Their defense ranks first in total defense, ahead of Alabama and Michigan.

But Michigan are not babies, nuns or kittens. We are the Wolverines - and we are certainly not cottony-soft. There’s a reason Bucky don’t get no respect; he just don’t deserve it.

MICHIGAN 17, WISCONSIN 14

Punt/Counterpunt: Maryland 2017

Punt/Counterpunt: Maryland 2017

Submitted by Seth on November 11th, 2017 at 9:14 AM

image

no, stay down. [Patrick Barron]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

Football games are predictable only in that they are almost uniformly unpredictable. Sometimes the result itself leaves people scratching their heads or throwing things through the television screen. But even the most to-the-script games played on a given Saturday bring at least some surprises. You know that if you drop an Illinois onto an Ohio State the Illinois will almost certainly break, but like an offensively-challenged snowflake, it will break in its own unique and unpredictable way.  It is part of the allure of the game.

1

But if you are anything like me, dear reader, there are three kinds of football Saturdays leading up to kickoff.

The first are the games in which you expect your beloved team to get thumped. These are not terribly fun, although there is something almost liberating about the freedom from expectation. Occasionally you will get a 2013 Michigan/Ohio State performance as a bonus. Michigan fans have experienced fewer of these in the last few years, though the 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2014 seasons did exist. It's not fun, but a blend of fatalism and gallows humor can get you through. 

2

The second are the competitive games. These are everyone's favorites. The games circled on the calendar. The games where, when you wake up in the morning, you don't think, "hey, Michigan plays today." You think, "hey, Michigan plays OHIO STATE today." You brush your teeth with a little more enthusiasm. Your thoughts never drift far from the upcoming game. Your loved ones ask if you are feeling okay, because you look a little constipated. These are the days for which college football fans spend so many months honing their fandom. They crave those few hours of painful anxiety that leads up to the opening kick. If you do it right, you can't exhale properly.  It is stupid. And it is glorious.

Then, there's... this.

This is one of the empty calorie games. The games that barely get mentioned on College GameDay. The games that get the who-dat announcing crew that can't pronounce your right guard's name. The game may not be "easy," but it makes for an easy game day. There is no stress. There is simply waiting patiently for the inevitable (regardless of how inevitable it turns out to be).

3

We complain about these kinds of games early in seasons. Like a teenager eager to get out into the Real World, we want to get to the meat of the schedule. But now, as the season passes middle age and we get contemplative about the approaching football-less Great Beyond, there is something to be said for an afternoon of sitting down to a relaxing afternoon of beating the hell out of a bad team. Do we learn anything? Probably not. Is there any real upside? Eh. But we get to watch Michigan's Mammoth Right Guard To Be Named Later smash some dudes on a power play. We get to watch Mo Hurst hurl humans into other humans. We get to laugh and enjoy a simple, unfair fight. This is the last of these until next September. So, enjoy it.

Michigan 38, Maryland 6.

-----------------------------

COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

COUNTERPUNT MARYLAND 11/11/17

By Nick RoUMel

There’s an animal in trouble!

For those of you who are culturally unaware, “Wonder Pets” is a Nickelodeon animated show featuring Linny the Guinea Pig, Ming-Ming Duckling and Turtle Tuck, who team together to rescue baby animals in distress.

The opening theme song grips you from the ringing telephone, through our superheroes’ realization that their services are needed:

The phone … the phone is ringing!

The phone … we'll be right there!

The phone … the phone is ringing

There's an animal in trouble

There's an animal in trouble

There's an animal in trouble somewhere

I once created an entire Wonder Pets episode in my head. My wife and I were driving on a highway in upstate New York, when we swerved to avoid a giant box turtle in the road. I turned to my wife and exclaimed, “This is a job for Wonder Pets!” I envisioned birds flying down to place orange cones in the road, while other animals nudged the turtle to safety. (Of course, this could be more elaborate, with additional drama like the texting driver who doesn’t notice the animated animals, frantically trying to get his attention.)

clip_image002 clip_image004

Today, Testudo, the Maryland Terrapins’ mascot, is an animal in trouble.

image

Our chaplets, on his bier we throw, Our braided tresses tear, and join a turtle’s woe! [Barron]

It didn’t start out that way, with all the excitement about beating Texas to start the year. But that was before everybody started beating the Longhorns like a hardware bucket in Central Park. Then injuries brought Maryland down to their fifth string quarterback.

clip_image008clip_image010

So today, this Wonder Pets episode is going to end up with a different song altogether.

clip_image012clip_image014

Tire tracks all across your back, I can see you’ve had your fun.

MICHIGAN 21, MARYLAND 7

Punt/Counterpunt: Minnesota 2017

Punt/Counterpunt: Minnesota 2017

Submitted by Seth on November 4th, 2017 at 9:57 AM

bhl_bl012256_full_4720_5900__0_nativeJon Falk in 1997 [UM Bentley Library]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

The last half-century of the battle for the Jug has been extremely lopsided. Since Bo Schembechler arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan has won 38 of 42 matchups against the Gophers, dontchaknow. But the recent history has been marked with a particular ingredient that gives a distinct flavor to the rivalry: quarterbacking weirdness.

In five of the last seven games, Michigan has hit the Random Quarterback Generator button heading into the Minnesota game, with wildly unpredictable results.

In 2007, Michigan started young Ryan Mallett in place of an injured Chad Henne. Mallett threw for 233 yards, one TD, and no INTs. His 11.7 yards per attempt were more than double his non-Minnesota average of 5.4 YPA. It was the statistical high point of his Michigan career.

In 2008, 2-7 Michigan was a 93-point underdog [*citation needed*] to 7-2 Minnesota, and turned to Nick Sheridan. There was not reason to expect this move to go well. And the result was one of the most unexpected quarterbacking outbursts in recent Michigan memory. Sheridan threw for 208 yards on over 6.8 yards per attempt, as Michigan routed Minnesota 29-6. Sheridan didn't crack 100 yards passing in any other game in his career.

LOLWUT

In 2012, as the result of the most soul-crushing ulnar nerve compression in the history of elbows, the first non-dilithium-fueled quarterback to start for Michigan in 35 games took the reins. Devin Gardnermade the move back from wide receiver to quarterback and made his first career start, and promptly threw for 234 yards on 18 attempts (13 yards per pass). Michigan beat Minnesota 35-13

In 2014... hell, do we really need to talk about this? Brady Hoke chose to start Shane Morris to teach some sort of J. Walter Weatherman-type lesson about something, and fittingly, Morris proceeded to get a limb ripped off. Hoke left a clearly hurt Morris in the game too long, until a clear shot to the head left Morris physically unable to continue (or to stand properly). Morris later went BACK into the game for random helmet-related reasons, and then... well, you all remember the rest.

Inline image 2

2015 started off pretty normally, with Jake Rudock starting as he had every week. But midway through the third quarter, Rudock got nailed and injured his shoulder, and redshirt freshman Wilton Speight stepped in. Speight - who was 0-4 passing in his college career at that point, struggled early, but put together the go-ahead touchdown drive, before Michigan formed a f***ing wall and held on to reclaim the jug.

Now, here we are in the brave new world of 2017, and Michigan is once again going to be sending a new quarterback out to face the Gophers. This time, it is messiahdemigod redshirt freshman Brandon Peters.

The downside here is obvious: quarterbacks get better over time, which means their first start is primed to be their... let's say, their not-best start. But the transition costs of a new signal caller seem to be baked into this rivalry already. And with Minnesota suffering some injuries in the back seven of their defense and Michigan's running game perking up, there is no reason this can't be another surprising quarterback outing.

Michigan 27, Minnesota 10

-----------------------------

COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

Last night I attended Michigan Basketball’s home opener with “Punt Classic” (that’s ex-Punt, a.k.a. Ken “Sky” Walker, to all you little shavers out there). We were surprisingly impressed with the potential of this squad, and excited about Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews, whom PC predicted will be the star of this team.

clip_image002

Not one and done.

As we were leaving Crisler Arena Center, we noticed strange lettering on the floor of the concourse, with Yoda-like phrases like, “Loud let the bells them ring,” and “Far we their praises tell.” I timidly offered, “Lyrics to ‘The Victors?’” Punt Classic confidently said, “Nah.”

Well I was right, and—as he was so often as Punt—Sky Walker was WRONG.

clip_image004

My revenge for his refusal to guest-write today’s column for me.

Now the lyrics to the “Yellow and Blue” are a whole ’nother kettle of fish, with the catchiest line being, “Blue are the curtains that evening has spun, The slumbers of Phoebus to woo…”

clip_image006clip_image008

Phoebus the Greek God, a.k.a. Apollo …. or the eponymous Maize and Blue “Hunchback” antagonist?

But you didn’t come here to read disambiguated mythology. You came for my prediction. And about that … it’s not going to be a very good one.

Yes, I’ve (uncharacteristically) been Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm for most of this season. Yes, I love my Maize and Blue, for the glory and fame they've bro’t us. But we’ve learned they’ve got more holes than Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway at the end of “Bonnie and Clyde.” 90.9% new starters on defense. A young and shaky offensive line, especially on the right side. Wide receivers who make us miss great duos like Desmond and Derrick, David and Marquise, Mercury and Amani.

clip_image010clip_image012

Feeling pretty sunny, just before the ambush.

And at QB: Brandon Peters is no more a messiah after Rutgers than Chris Zurbrugg was after Illinois in ’84, Tate Forcier after Notre Dame in ’09, or John O’Korn after Purdue in ’17. I truly hope Peters has a long and marvelous Michigan career, but he started the season third on the depth chart for a reason.

I have unshakeable faith in Jim Harbaugh and the future of this squad, and I will cheer with might and main. But this year’s version is likely staring down a 2-2 finish.

Here they come with banners flying, in stalwart step they're nighing, with shouts of vict'ry crying … fortunately, they are just good enough to beat the Gophers.

Michigan 23, Minnesota 20

Punt/Counterpunt: Rutgers 2017

Punt/Counterpunt: Rutgers 2017

Submitted by Seth on October 28th, 2017 at 9:05 AM

image

[Patrick Barron]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

I had the flu this week. My immune system took its cues from Saturday's performance by the Michigan defense, and by Sunday morning it had begun. Aches, pains, fever, gastrointestinal challenges... the whole shebang. I did not enjoy it. My wife and daughter also had the flu. They did not enjoy it, either.

1

Run the dang ball

Overall, having the flu is bad. But it does have one upside: crazy fever dreams.

Science isn't really sure exactly what fever dreams are, or how they work. The vortex and the hypothalamus work in mysterious ways. But sufficed to say, when you have a reasonably high temperature, it messes with your REM cycles in a way that makes your dreams freakin' nuts. Instead of the dream where you are taking a test you haven't studied for and you can't find your pants, you get the dream where that test is "a bunch of giant spiders" and the your legs are made of melting technicolor Legos.

I dreamed some weird shit, guys. I solved some of the great scientific problems of our day. I played what I believe to have been a very successful game of cricket against the Soviet Union (I do not know the rules of cricket). I got chased by some weird creatures. Adventures, all.

2

Me hitting a... uh... googly wicket home run

You know what DIDN'T happen? Rutgers didn't beat Michigan.

Even in my craziest, disease-infused dreams, that wasn't happening.  My short-circuiting brain knew better. Perhaps some neuron started down that path, but the rest looked at him like, "dude, no." He briefly protested, but then realized, yeah. He was being THAT neuron. And he went back to concocting a story line involving Dave Chappelle's Lil' Jon as a Revolutionary War General.

Michigan won last year's matchup 78-0, and 127-16 since Jim Harbaugh arrived. Michigan has scored the last 92 points in the series between these two teams. Rutgers is currently averaging 4.9 yards per pass attempt against FBS competition, which is #127 in the country, ahead of powerhouses UTEP, Charlotte, and Army.

To their credit, Rutgers is on its first ever two-game Big Ten conference winning streak. But those wins were the result of getting outgained by a conglomeration of toddlers at Illinois, and getting outgained more than 2-to-1 by a resurgent-but-still-Purdue Purdue.

Rutgers' defense is no longer an abomination, and Michigan's offense isn't good enough to score 78. But last year's "zero" understated how comprehensively Michigan dominated that matchup. Expect more of the same this year.

Michigan 27, Rutgers 0

-----------------------------------

COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

COUNTERPUNT – RUTGERS

By Nick RoUMel

Given the acute, recent misery I’ve experienced being a Michigan fan, I set out to answer an important question: is this relationship good for my health?

Surprisingly, I found that it is.

This is despite published studies that link team losses to increased blood pressure, decreased testosterone levels, excessive drinking, poor eating habits, and heightened risk of heart attacks and car accidents.

It also flies in the face of the powerful expressions of despondency - and even anger - that die-hard Michigan fans have experienced this season. Not to mention the embarrassment that comes with social media taunting, like this vicious anti-Michigan meme:

clip_image001

Memes like this cause “situational depression.”

We have to remember that “fan” is short for “fanatic.” According to the book “Media Audiences, Effects, Users, Institutions, and Power, “The etymological roots of the word ‘fanatic’ particularly the connections to religious fundamentalism, fueled early negative stereotypes about fandom portraying individuals as misguided at best and delusional at worst.”

Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t get it, either. Observing that players come and go, he says the only constant is the uniform. “You’re rooting for the clothes, when you come right down to it.”

clip_image003

It comes down to one thing: family. Win or lose, we are all part of this crazy, dysfunctional Michigan community.

clip_image005clip_image007

Fans who identify with a particular team have higher self-esteem and are less lonely. We have a lifelong bond, shared history and a common language. Ever feel that great sense of pride when you’re out of town and see someone wearing Michigan gear? And you give them a hearty “Go Blue!”

clip_image009

And sometimes they’re like, “huh? Oh, I bought this at a garage sale” (true story)

Win or lose, this is my team. As surely as “UM” is in my name, my diploma, my blood. On the whole, I think that is a very good thing.

MICHIGAN 27, RUTGERS 6

Punt/Counterpunt: Penn State 2017

Punt/Counterpunt: Penn State 2017

Submitted by Seth on October 21st, 2017 at 9:14 AM

10258823255_31569b8058_k

[Bryan Fuller]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

Deep breaths, folks.

Look, I get it. You're nervous. You've seen the memes. You've looked at the numbers through the hilarious prisms erected by Michigan's detractors (Harbaugh is 1-4 against Michigan's rivals! He can't finish higher than third in his own division! Etc! Etc!). And naturally, you've started to internalize it. And you're worried.

Sure, Harbaugh took over a 5-7 Michigan team, and led them to Michigan's first back-to-back ten win seasons since 2002-2003. But what if he falls short of 10 wins this year? What if, deep down, he's somehow Brady Hoke?

clip_image001

Upchurch

Sure, he turned Wilton Speight into a top-three passer in the Big Ten. And turned Jake Rudock into a top-three passer in the Big Ten. And made a Super Bowl with Colin Kaepernick. And made the NFC Championship game with Alex Smith. And honed Andrew Luck into the best QB in college football. And beat USC as a six billion point underdog with Tavita Pritchard in Pritchard's first career start. But we all saw John O'Korn these last few weeks. What if the first decades and a half was all smoke and mirrors, and Harbaugh is not really a quarterback whisperer?

Even prior successes are seen not as marks to the good, but as bars against which the future will be measured. Sure, Michigan has beaten Penn State twice already since Harbaugh arrived, including a 49-10 drubbing last year over the eventual Big Ten Champ... SO WHAT DOES THAT SAY IF YOU CAN'T BEAT THEM THIS YEAR?

clip_image002

Fuller

In a way, we Michigan fans forgot what this was like. We spent a decade riding the ups and downs that came from oscillating between good and bad. We forgot the ups and downs that come from oscillating between good and great. We forgot what it was like to have 7-5 be deemed the Year of Infinite Pain. And we're afraid of backsliding. We're in a place now where we tend to see bad games not as the doom, but rather as the harbinger.

That's how 5-1 can feel like an existential crisis.

So this week, there is a great deal of talk about what this game means, not in terms of this game, but in terms of the future of the program. I have seen talk of a road game against the #2 team in the country as a "must win." Not because of what it would mean, necessarily, but because of how it would make Michigan fans FEEL.

clip_image003

Upchurch

The bottom line here is that Michigan is facing the #2 team in the country. On the road. At night. That team has a generational talent at running back. Michigan is starting a backup quarterback. A loss here, even in the best of circumstances, would be the expected result.

Don't get me wrong. I think Michigan can win this game. Its defense is as good as any in college football, and if they get a couple of breaks, Penn State is beatable. Harbaugh has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a better football coach than James Franklin.

So, you know what? You can have this one, James. Go ahead and talk after the game about how this was like beating Akron. Pretend you didn't kick that sad field goal last year. Ignore the fact that you were 0-3 against Michigan. I'm not worried. I know a guy with steel in his spine, and that guy holds grudges.

Penn State 20, Michigan 17

[Nick after THE JUMP]