My, what a year it’s been for Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines. Following what can only be described as an explosion of cult-like insanity and fandom surrounding his arrival in Ann Arbor earlier this year, the former QB did surprisingly well in bringing Michigan Football back to some semblance of its former glory. In spite of this, some fans have begun a period of mourning over the team’s recent season-ending struggles, lamenting in their beer-stained apartments over fictitious memories of “the season that could have been”.
And who can blame them? Following back-to-back-to-back shutout victories against two ranked opponents and an admirable Maryland team, College Football Playoff alarms began ringing. Speculation of a tournament berth ran rampant across the sports world, with ESPN and its analysts leading the charge. “This is their year”, reporters and fans proclaimed across the country, placing Michigan on such a high pedestal it seemed almost nothing could touch them.
Well, almost nothing. On a bitter evening in Ann Arbor, a surging Michigan State team fueled by their detractors came into the Big House and pulled out a win, with what seemed to be support from the heavens. The pedestal had fallen, and fallen hard. I remember leaving the game dejected and speechless, uncertain of what to do next. I suspect my melancholy sentiments towards the game were mirrored in the minds of all who attended that day.
Regardless, Harbaugh and his team bounced back, winning four straight games–two of which in a rather gut-wrenching and dramatic fashion. Defensive wins in the last seconds of play against Minnesota and a feisty Indiana team seemed to put the Wolverines back on track. Better yet, the chants of a College Football Playoff berth rang strong once again. A critical matchup against Ohio State loomed ahead, promising to be one of the best games of the year.
What occurred against OSU was nothing short of a beatdown. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott plowed over our already injury-weakened defense, putting on a show for all to see. J.T. Barrett didn’t help much either, contributing close to 200 rushing yards–as a Quarterback–for the Buckeyes.
It was a sad end to what looked to be a fantastic season. Fans left the stadium visibly disappointed, bitter over head coach Urban Meyer’s domination of the game. With the final CFP rankings released earlier this month, Michigan fans across the country seemed to be heavily upset with their team’s performance. In passing conversations with friends and family, many described the Wolverine’s year as a “disappointment” or a “let-down”. It seemed that without a CFP berth, all hope was lost for the Wolverine faithful.
But this requiem for a season of such high hopes is madness and completely unjustified. Michigan currently ranks 14th in the CFP poll, and received a bid to play in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. For a team that missed bowl eligibility last year, this type of growth and accomplishment deserves praise, not derision. Consider this: Michigan is the 14th best team in the country out of 128 FBS teams. That is phenomenal, regardless of who you support.
What makes a season like this even more impressive are its implications for future years. Throughout the season, cornerback Jabrill Peppers was nothing short of spectacular. He was an unstoppable and motivational force on defense, commanded the special-teams unit, and was even a dominant force on offense. Towards the end of the year, Peppers was playing anywhere from 60 to 88 plays a game. WIth a workhorse like that who has recently stated he’s not going anywhere soon, Michigan’s future looks bright.
Tight End Jake Butt played admirably in his Junior year as well. Butt was a common target of Senior Jake Rudock, racking up over 50 yards receiving a game. For his efforts, he was awarded a spot on the Big Ten 1st team offense this year. Butt is a powerful force on offense, able to command control of a drive and score with relative ease. Butt has recently stated he will stay for his Senior year–pleasant news for Michigan fans across the country.
Last but certainly not least, Jim Harbaugh shined bright in his first year as head coach. Earlier this year, I wrote of the “Harbaugh-Mania” surrounding our new coach, and how absurd comparisons to his god-like abilities were blown far out of proportion. Now, I must take back some of my words, as his performance this year can only be described as unprecedented. WIth little recruiting time and a lot of work to be done, Harbaugh transformed a 5-7 team into a 9-3 bowl-berth team in less than a year–with hardly any of his own recruits. Regardless of who you are, that type of turnaround is astonishing and worthy of praise.
On New Year’s Day, Michigan will face Florida–another recently revived team–in the Citrus Bowl. While it may not be exactly what fans wanted, the bowl berth is still a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate what this team can accomplish. More so, it encourages fans like myself to be optimistic about the future potential Harbaugh and his team have. In the coming years, I can only imagine what incredible things this program will accomplish.
Following the dark ages of Hoke and Rodriguez, football is back in Ann Arbor. The 2015 season only further proves what incredible things are about to come. In the words of Harbaugh himself: “Who’s got it better than us? Nobody.”