Michigan's best, worst season since 2014 B1G expansion
Expansion has been – and continues to be – the name of the game in the modern era of college football.
Very recently, plans were revealed for the College Football Playoff to expand to 12 teams. That decision comes after the seventh season since the removal of the BCS era and implementation of a four-team Playoff.
In the B1G, expansion in 2014 brought the conference to 14 teams with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland. Since that time, plenty of teams have seen ups and downs on the field, and Michigan is a great example of that.
The 2014 season saw the end of the Brady Hoke era in Ann Arbor after a 5-7 season. Since 2015, Jim Harbaugh has led the Wolverines. And while results have been solid and improved, the team has still fallen short of the ultimate goals of a B1G Championship and CFP appearance.
As we get set for the 2021 season, here is a look at the best and worst seasons in Ann Arbor since 2014.
Best Season – 2016 (10-3 record, Orange Bowl appearance)
The best season since 2014 really comes down to your perspective as a fan and expectations of the product on the field. But by most measures – including performances against rivals – the 2016 squad was Harbaugh’s best team to date. The other seasons considered were a 10-win season and Citrus Bowl win in 2015 or a 10-win team from 2018 that was blown out by Ohio State to finish the season and then blown out in the Peach Bowl by Florida.
In 2016, Michigan started the year as the No. 7 team in the nation, climbing as high as No. 2 in November. The Wolverines were an upset victim of the Iowa Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium but still had everything in front of them heading into the showdown with Ohio State thanks to a blowout win over Penn State, a tough win over Wisconsin, and taking down Wisconsin.
What ensued on Nov. 26 that year was the fateful end to the game of the year. Did J.T. Barrett convert on 4th-and-1, or was he the beneficiary of some home cooking in the Horseshoe? Your opinion on the matter likely lies along rivalry lines, but one thing is certain: that game was the only time Michigan was within 11 points of the Buckeyes at the final whistle since 2014.
The 2016 team was dominant on both sides of the ball, finishing with 14.1 points per game given up on defense, a mark that ranked second in the nation. Offensively, the Wolverines averaged over 40 points per game and finished as a top 15 offense nationally.
Wilton Speight did throw for 18 touchdowns, but it was a four-man ground game led by De’Veon Smith and Chris Evans that paved the way for the offense. Fullback Khalid Hill also served as the short-yardage and goalline specialist that season and finished tied for the team lead with 10 rushing touchdowns. Ben Gedeon led the defense with 94 total tackles, Taco Charlton hit the 10-sack mark, and five Wolverine defenders finished in double digits for tackles for loss.
Wort Season – 2014 (5-7 record, loss to Rutgers)
Some will have the knee-jerk reaction to the 2-4 record in 2020 as the worst season, but the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic muddles that record a bit. Last season was always going to be a bit of a challenge replacing veteran QB Shea Patterson and a few other key pieces. That fact, coupled with the short and interrupted offseason, makes it tougher to judge the full performance of the Wolverines in 2020.
What is not tough to judge is the body of work produced by Brady Hoke’s final season. A 31-0 blowout loss to Notre Dame. Posting 61 yards rushing in a loss to rival Michigan State. A road loss to Rutgers.
The offense finished outside of the top 100 nationally after averaging just over 20 points per game. Devin Gardner threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (10) while the team averaged just 333 yards of offense. When looking at the full picture, 2014 stands alone as a greater picture of futility for the Wolverines.
Total record since 2014: 54-29 (37-21 B1G)
Average record since 2014: 7.7-4.1 (5.3-3)