The sun was setting over Ann Arbor, Michigan on the evening of September 1, 2007. There was no Hail! There was no Victor! The stadium and campus stood silent in the aftershock of the Miracle at Michigan.
Just the year before, in 2006, Lloyd Carr had taken his 11-0 team into Ohio State in hopes of winning and playing for a national championship. Michigan trailed pretty much the whole game but pulled within four early in the fourth quarter. Ohio State however, pulled ahead and held on for a three-point win. Still Michigan was granted a Rose Bowl bid, but fell to USC after a third quarter collapse.
In the dawn of the 2007 season, there were high hopes for the Wolverines. They had a senior quarterback, Chad Henne and he along with Mike Hart and Jake Long came back to right all the wrongs of a class that had never won a bowl game, never beaten Ohio State and were ranked No. 5 coming into 2007. They had their sights set on all of that and perhaps a national championship.
Appalachian State was to be a stepping stone to that end goal. But the Wolverines were casting those stones in their Big glass House and it all shattered, right in front of over 100,000 in Ann Arbor and millions more around the country with a 34-32 loss in a game where the underdog looked the better team for most of the game. Rock bottom, at the time. It would get worse.
Michigan went on to scrape through a 9-4 season and again lost to Ohio State, but won their bowl game against Florida. Dusk set on Llyod Carr’s tenure in Michigan after that and the Wolverines rang in the Rich Rod experiment.
Rich Rodriguez brought a spread offense to a team and a conference that had only dabbled. The spread philosophy led to the exodus of highly-touted pro-style QB recruit Ryan Mallett and receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. The era started off with a bang, collapsing long-standing metrics hit by Wolverine teams for decades, but not in a good way. In 2008 their record was 3-9, their first losing season in 40 years and they missed their first bowl game since 1974. And a 42-7 thrashing at the hands of Ohio State, the first time they had lost five in a row in a rivalry that dates to 1897.
The next year didn’t yield much better. A 5-7 season, another loss to Ohio State and a defense that was just this side of Swiss cheese. The one bright spot, Denard Robinson. The future, the dynamic quarterback who was the prototype for the spread, and who won the starting job going into 2010.
Sure progress was made in 2010, with Michigan clinching a bowl bid with their sixth win in a 67-65 triple OT win over Illinois. They finished 7-6, but allowing 65 points to Illinois was unforgivable. See, the experiment was never going to work. Think of the mindset of Michigan as a whole during that time. Michigan (the state) is gritty. They built the personal transit America we know today with their automobile industry. They went to hell and back during the economic meltdown. Thousands lost their jobs. Detroit became a shell of a town and the natives sure as hell weren’t going to let some guy come in and pussy foot around with their Wolverines, introducing a system that fancies finesse over smash mouth. That allows 65 to freaking Illinois. That can’t beat the cads from Columbus … again. Rich wasn’t their type of guy and it was time for a change.
The speculation of the hiring of Les Miles was rampant, but the Wolverines settled on Brady Hoke, a guy with no Michigan pedigree, yet a guy that was willing to look you in the eye and tell you “I’m going to bust you in the mouth.” Afterall, he was a linebacker. He coached Ball State to a 12-1 record, he certainly could do that at Michigan, right.
And Denard stayed. Sure Denard is a Rich Rod guy, as are most of Hoke’s current players. And sure, Denard is going to dance around you if he can, but he’s also not afraid to run through you, as well as around you. Which is the difference, mentally at least, in the minds of the Michigan faithful, between Rich and Brady.
Brady Hoke, in his first year, took Michigan back to the mountaintop. With far less expectation, the Wolverines went 11-2, one loss to Michigan State, a more mature team, and a disappointing drop to Iowa. But Hoke sprang hope. Michigan had stellar defense, they finally beat Ohio State, they finally made it back to a BCS bowl, and won it.
This has all culminated to this Saturday. Michigan will take on the defending national champions and they have a chance to prove that Michigan is no longer going to accept losses to the likes of Appalachian State, Iowa, Ohio State, or even Alabama. They have their shot. And the fans love Hoke, and they love Denard. Even to this extent:
We shall see what Saturday brings, but regardless, many are predicting the Wolverines get back to the Big Ten title game … and win it. After that, who knows … Go Blue Roses? Hail! The Victor! In the Coliseum, or possibly this Cinderella wins the Crystal Ball?