In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.
30. Everything that came before this season
#TueFact: Michigan football has more devastating losses on my personal list than any of my other favorite teams. Ten of the top 30 spots on that infamous list belong to Michigan football. The joy of this moment of Michigan winning the CFP national championship cannot be fully appreciated without first recalling the anguish the Michigan fanbase has endured since they last won a national championship in 1997.
That was the last year before the BCS. Head coach Lloyd Carr and Heisman trophy winning cornerback Charles Woodson led the Wolverines to a 21-16 Rose Bowl win against Washington State, and the 12-0 Wolverines were voted number one by the Associated Press. However, Michigan was voted number two behind undefeated Nebraska in the Coaches Poll, leaving them with a split national championship. Carr would go on to coach Michigan for 10 more seasons. The team finished ranked in the top 20 in nine of those 10 seasons, but they never finished higher than 5th and lost four games in a row against Ohio State to close out Carr’s career, including the number-four-ranked game on my list of most devastating losses.
After Carr retired, Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez as the new head coach. Rodriguez tried to bring the spread offense to Ann Arbor, but the experiment was an infamous flop. The team went 3-9 in his first season, becoming the first Michigan team that failed to qualify for a bowl game in 33 years. They failed to do so again the following year after a 5-7 season. The next year they went 7-6, finishing with a 52-14 loss in the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State. Rodriguez was subsequently fired.
Enter Brady Hoke. Hoke inherited the electric Denard Robinson at quarterback, and led Michigan to an 11-2 record in his first season as head coach, which was capped off by a 23-20 win over Virginia Tech. The team finished the season ranked 12th in the nation. However, it was all downhill from there. The 2012 team went 8-5 and lost in the Outback Bowl to South Carolina. The 2013 team went 7-6 and lost in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to Kansas State. The 2014 team went 5-7 and missed out on bowl season altogether. Hoke was fired after the season.
On Dec. 30, 2014, Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh as the school’s new football coach. Optimism was high in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh arrived on the heels of having success turning losers into winners at San Diego State and Stanford as well as in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers. Moreover, Harbaugh was a beloved Michigan man who had played quarterback for the Wolverines in the 1980s.
Although he lost his first game as Michigan coach against Utah, Harbaugh quickly got Michigan back to its winning ways. In his first five seasons at the helm, his teams went 10-3, 10-3, 8-5, 10-3, and 9-4, a far cry from the low water marks of his predecessors Rodriguez and Hoke. Yet there remained a lot of questions from the Michigan faithful because while he was winning games, he was losing the big ones, often in painful fashion. He started 3-2 against Michigan State but lost the infamous “trouble with the snap” game. He started 1-4 in bowl games with the lone win coming at the end of his first season. The most damning stat though was undoubtably his 0-5 start against Ohio State, including a double-OT loss in 2016 (aka the “JT Was Short” Game) and four other losses by an average of 23 points per game.
The COVID-shortened 2020 season marked the low point in the Harbaugh era, and arguably, in the history of the Michigan football program. The team went 2-4, winless at home, and canceled The Game against Ohio State citing “an increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases and student-athletes in quarantine over the past week.”
That offseason was marked by a lot of reflection and change within the Michigan football program. Heading into the 2021 season, Coach Harbaugh made it clear what the goals were. “Well, I’m here before you, enthusiastic and excited as I ever am, always am, even more to have at it, to win the championship, to beat Ohio and our rival Michigan State,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what we want to do, and we’re going to do it or die trying.”
Although they did lose 37-33 on the road against Michigan State, Michigan made good on the other two promises. On Nov. 27, 2021, on the strength of five rushing touchdowns from Hassan Haskins on offense and three sacks from Aidan Hutchinson on defense, Michigan defeated Ohio State 42-27, snapping the program’s 8-game losing streak against the Buckeyes and giving Harbaugh his long-awaited first win as a coach in the rivalry. A week later they beat Iowa 42-3 to win their first Big Ten championship since 2004 and earned themselves a number two ranking in the College Football Playoff. They were beaten soundly 34-11 by Georgia in the CFP semifinal at the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31, 2021.
In 2022, Michigan rolled through the regular season 12-0, including a 45-23 road win against Ohio State, marking the first time the Wolverines had beaten the Buckeyes in Columbus in 23 years. They beat Purdue 43-22 in the Big Ten championship game, and Michigan once again earned a number two ranking in the CFP. Unfortunately, the season ended in the semifinals for a second consecutive season. Despite being favored, Michigan lost 51-45 to TCU. The loss left Michigan fans disappointed after a great season. After the game, quarterback J.J. McCarthy vowed the Wolverines would be back.Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #28: Memories and Moments from Michigan’s CFP National Championship Season