Michigan football: What will actually be considered a successful season?
If not now, then when?
Oh, how I hate that question. It haunts me. Still.
Let’s flash back to late November of 2018. The table had been set for Michigan. All that was stopping them from winning the Big Ten East and earning its first-ever spot in the Big Ten Championship Game was going to Columbus and beating an Ohio State team that had some issues.
Michigan had won 10 games in a row after losing the season opener to a Notre Dame team that wound up going undefeated. The Wolverines had been impressive in doing it too, blowing out one decent Big Ten opponent after another.
Even in the Nov. 24 showdown at Ohio State, the Wolverines were 4-point favorites. Their No. 1-ranked defense was supposed to be well prepared to shut down — or at least control — Ohio State. It was all there for the taking.
So I asked. “If not now, then when?” I wrote and wrote all week that Michigan was the better team and that Jim Harbaugh was finally going to beat Urban Meyer, something he hadn’t done yet since coming home to Ann Arbor.
“If not now, then when?”
Ouch, babe. Well, we all know what happened, of course. Ohio State completely destroyed Michigan that day, scoring 62 points when they could have scored 100. Michigan, yet again, disappointed. And then they failed to show up a month later and lost in embarrassing fashion 41-15 to a Florida team that was average at best.
So now here we are in 2019, and I want to ask the same question again. But it scares me, mostly because I think all I’m doing is setting us all up for another disappointment.
I’ll ask it a different way then. What will actually be considered a successful season for Harbaugh and the Wolverines?
There’s no question that the bar has been raised at Michigan since Harbaugh arrived. It’s easy to forget that this program was a mess for years before he got there. Of the 15 coaches hired throughout the NCAA in 2015, only Paul Chryst at Wisconsin (42) has won more games than Harbaugh’s 38. That’s an improvement, but it’s also not enough.
For 2019 to be a success, three things are critical. They are:
- Michigan absolutely HAS TO beat Ohio State for the first time since 2011. Ohio State has won seven games in a row in this series, and had won seven in a row prior to that 2011 loss. That’s 14 out of 15 wins for Ohio State. It has to stop now, especially with Urban Meyer now out the door in Columbus. The game is in Ann Arbor this season, so that makes it even more critical for Michigan to come out on top.
- Michigan has to win the Big Ten East and earn a spot in its first-ever conference championship game. Beating Ohio State is one thing, but Penn State and Michigan State also think they have enough to beat the big boys and win the division, too. It’s imperative that the Wolverines win all of their Big Ten East games. And that includes not looking ahead on the road at Indiana the week before the OSU game. Indiana is a team on the rise, and it’s looking for scalps this season.
- Michigan has to win that said championship game. Whoever makes it out of the Big Ten West will probably be an underdog in that game, so it’s a game that Michigan should win. Since the conference championship game started in 2011, Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern have all played in the title game. Michigan never has, in a group of sad-sacks like Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers, Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue that have never played in the title game. That ends this season.
We won’t get into the College Football Playoff ramifications here because I think if all three of these things happen, then a CFP spot is probably a given. So I won’t make that a requirement of this being a successful season, but we should still see Michigan there.
A senior quarterback, seniors everywhere else over the field, a sound coaching staff and a deep lineup all add up to big things for Michigan.
Should this season be a success? Of course it should. And it will probably happen. And you know why?
Because if not now, then when? Right?