“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Learn from yesterday...
6-0 starts for Michigan are rare.
Most of my life (33 years) has been spent rooting for a Michigan team that would win most Saturdays, live in the national rankings, and stub their toe early in the season. 4-0 or better starts have only occurred 11 times in those 33 seasons:
4-0: '78 '96 '09
5-0: '85 '95 '99 '10
6-0: '86 '97 '06 '11
The starts to the last three seasons have been a stretch that Michigan fans have not witnessed since the dawn of the Carr era. That exciting time back in the mid-90s culminated in a National Championship with the two seasons before ending in disappointment. We have had the disappointment x 1,000,000 these past two seasons (but thanks for the excitement RR); perhaps we are on the brink of something special again.
Looking back reveals that the last 4 teams* to start the season undefeated through six games have gone on to have very memorable seasons:
'86 - Jimmy Harbaugh guarantees victory over Ohio and delivers as Michigan goes 11-2 losing the Rose Bowl to a tainted ASU team.
'92 - Gary Moeller with a senior Elvis Grbac goes undefeated, winning the Rose Bowl over Washington and finishing 9-0-3 in the days before overtime.
'97 - Michigan goes undefeated at 12-0 and clinches a NC, winning the Rose Bowl over Washington St and a Heisman for one Charles Woodson.
'06 - Michigan starts out 11-0 leading up to the Game of the Century against #1 Ohio; Bo dies and Michigan ends up 11-2 after a loss to USC in the Rose Bowl.
That would be 1 National Championship, 3 B10 Championships, 3 11+ win seasons, and 2 wins in 4 Rose Bowl appearances. These are good tidings indeed.
*1992 not included in the 4-0 or better teams because of a tie against ND in the season opener.
Live for Today…
Halfway through the season, several Michigan players and coaches** should take pride in accomplishments thus far:
1. Brady Hoke – My pride in my team and the way it is coached couldn't be higher right now. Brady Hoke should be the clear front-runner for coach of the year at this point. He is the glue.
2. Greg Mattison – The defense continues to improve and despite looking overmatched at times they never quit. The half time adjustments against JNW were remarkable, forcing 2 turnovers and shutting the Wildcats out for the second half. If not this season, coming seasons will feature a top-10 ranked defense and a return of Michigan dominance. Mattison = Gary Moeller++.
3. Al Borges – Naysayers can go sit in the corner because Mr. Borges is having none of it. Al Borges is having the time of his life, making use of the treasure trove of speed and talent left to him by Rich Rodriguez. His understanding of the talent he has, and how to most effectively make use of it, grows with each passing week. He has this team rolling, and even a 3-turnover 1st half can't derail their confidence. I can't wait to see what he has in store for little brother. Al Borges is a Mad Magician.
4. Junior Hemingway – Senior Junior is what bails out the shortcomings of a Denard-led offense. His ability to go up and get jump-balls stretched the JNW defense and forced them to give up more space for Denard's feet to do what they do. We are lucky he stuck around, because without him this team is probably 4-2.
5. Denard Robinson – Junior Denard overcomes his mistakes. Credit has to be given for how he shook off that dreadful first half to win the game for Michigan in the second half. There has never been a player like shoelace, and there will never be one like him again I bet. His humble attitude, always positive, always smiling... it allows for turnarounds like we saw yesterday. You just can't keep him down. He obviously took the coaching-up at half time and came out a different player. I told my wife before Devin Gardner's TD that Denard was not really injured bad, he just wanted Gardner to get his shot. Just remarkable.
Also of note: Jeremy Gallon, Roy Roundtree (nice to see some production), RVB, Kevin Koger, Jordan Kovacs (Probably the only player that could rip off the QB's helmet without drawing a flag), Devin Gardner (clutch TD run), every position coach and basically everyone on the team. Great job guys.
*Adding coaches in here this week because this team is truly a reflection of their hard work and dedication.
Hope for Tomorrow
Of those 4 seasons, the current one reminds me most of 1997 so far. Much like in 1997, Michigan is coming off of consecutive seasons that started hot only to end in disappointment. In '97 Michigan started the season ranked fairly low by the standards of the time, and had to win over hearts and minds with each passing week. There was a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire win over Notre Dame after trailing at half time. There was a gritty, come from behind win over a B10 opponent (Iowa) for the 6th win that overcame a two-score half time deficit. That '97 team got better with each week and won through a very tough November schedule that included Top-5 ranked Penn St and Ohio teams.
I remember that '97 Iowa game well. That was the game that showed the difference of that team, of that season. Instead of folding yesterday, Michigan again showed that fight and persevered to stay undefeated. This team is starting to believe in itself and I am feeling big wins in their future.
I realize that this team is not on the level of the '97 team, but if you squint you can see some similarity. The '97 team had a dominant defense centered around a Heisman candidate that supported an offense with several nice pieces to it. This 2011 squad may have the opposite in a sense, though it is far too early to predict this team's ceiling. The upcoming opponents are perhaps less intimidating than those the '97 team faced down the stretch, so there is reason to hope. Championships are a distinct possibility; which ones remain to be seen.
Go Blue and stay safe.