Friday, 30 December 2016 @ (corporate sponsor) Stadium
(№ 11) Florida State 33-32 Michigan (№ 6)
10-3, B1G 7-2
The University of Michigan Athletic Department website, MGoBlue.com, tries to highlight the silver lining to the dark cloud of 2016's three losses: "Michigan's three losses in 2016 came by a combined total of five points." I counter that in two of those three losses, at Iowa & in the Orange Bowl against Florida State, the valiant Wolverines held a lead in the dying minutes, only for our opponents to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Also, whether by one point of twenty-one points, a loss is a loss, & in the second year of the Harbaugh era we lost three out of our last four games. In September & October, the valiant Wolverines looked invincible, & posted an 8-0 record; in November & December, we looked eminently beatable, posting a 2-3 record.
It seemed that very little went right against the epithetless Seminoles. Uncle Don's Murder Machine, Michigan's vaunted defense, was repeatedly shredded by the Florida State offense, not just in the first quarter but also in the fourth. Jourdan Lewis, arguably the best cornerback in the entire country, playing his last game as a valiant Wolverine, had the worst game of his whole career, blowing multiple assignments & being beaten for multiple scores. For much of the game, Michigan might as well not have even fielded on offensive line. Of Brady Hoke's many areas of incompetence, at nothing were he & his staff worse than in recruiting & developing O-linemen, & that particular chicken came home to roost against the epithetless Seminoles' defensive line, which established residency & could have registered to vote in Michigan's backfield.
Yet for all that, the valiant Wolverines were never out of the game. They fought back from the first-quarter onslaught, made all their field goals when offensive drives stalled, scored a touchdown on defense, & after trailing the whole took the lead with 1:57 left to play in the fourth. But a huge return on the ensuing kickoff gave Florida State good field position & then their offense sliced through the Murder Machine like it wasn't even there for the go-ahead touchdown. The valiant Wolverines blocked the point-after try & returned it for a safety, Josh Metellus looking exactly like Jabrill Peppers returning a blocked extra-point kick for a safety against Michigan State back in October. The valiant Wolverines thus pulled back within one point, 33-32, which ended up being the final score. One point or twenty-one points, a loss is a loss. We lost, for the third time in four games.
So, 2016 ended on a very sour note. We try to console ourselves with the knowledge that the transformation of the last two seasons was nothing short of incredible, especially given that most of our best players were Hoke recruits. On the other hand, we are also faced with the grim reality that we are graduating or otherwise losing almost the entire Murder Machine; Harbaugh & co. are recruiting great players on defense, but they don't yet have the awesome depth of experience of Uncle Don's 2016 squad. On the gripping hand, nothing is to be accomplished by prognosticating the future, especially not when our vision is clouded by disappointment. Time will help us to acquire needed perspective. Yes, 2016 ended with the a 1-3 record in the last four games, but the valiant Wolverines still finished 10-3, the second consecutive ten-win season. That level of consistent success hadn't happened since the early Aughts; Michigan football had fallen from grace & lost its edge long before the Horror & the Lost Decade.
Bo's timeless wisdom, that "those who stay will be champions," teaches us & reminds us that there is no such thing as overnight success. Our goals are lofty: the B1G championshp & the College Football Playoff. Such heights are only attainable through dedication & persistence, through putting in the hours (over weeks, months, & years) & working harder & smarter than everyone else, than the guys who are themselves desperately hungry for the success we wish to taste. Do not lose sight of how far the valiant Wolverines have already come: three years ago, in 2014, Team 135 posted a losing record & was not invited to a bowl game; in 2016, with largely the same personnel, Team 137 was in the running for the College Football Playoff until late November. We are not yet where we want to be, where our tradition & commitment to excellence demand that we be, but those who stay will be champions.
Next: The 2017 season opener against Florida at "Jerry World," the pornographically ostentatious home stadium to the Dallas Cowboys of the No Fun League, on Saturday, 2 September. That the University of Michigan & the University of Florida are playing a game in Texas is a clear indication that college football has lost its way, seduced by filthy lucre & entering a death spiral from which it might not be possible to return.