That's Michigan's Biggest Win in 75 Years

That's Michigan's Biggest Win in 75 Years

We’ll never know what would have happened had Michigan failed to convert a fourth-and-3 with 3:19 left in the Rose Bowl. But it could have gone like this …

No more Jim Harbaugh. No more bites at the apple of college football’s eye with an experienced core that looks every bit of true champions and with the pedigree to back it up. No more delaying whatever penalty is coming on the other side of a scandal that, for all its hilarity and absurdity, seems somewhat serious. No more ability to play with a chip on the shoulder because there no more games to play in. Perhaps the next head coach in Ann Arbor works out splendidly and the Wolverines’ ascension to the top of the mountain continues apace. Perhaps it works out so well Michigan eventually wins its first solo national crown since 1948. But maybe it doesn’t and that elite shine wears off a little. These things are cyclical, after all.

We’ll never know because Harbaugh surveyed the situation and the reality that his team might not get to touch the ball again and decided to go for it. He could have punted and trusted his steel-curtain defense to force another Alabama surrender, but the man at the center of college football’s most strange-but-true season stared elimination and potential consequences in the face and trusted his guys. And his gut.

J.J. McCarthy, who yes absolutely has a hint of whatever the hell made Tom Brady become Tom Brady after Michigan in him, found Blake Corum clear and free for a yard-swallowing conversion. Roman Wilson hauled in the game-tying touchdown. A few heart-in-throat moments melted into overtime and Corum knifing and jump-cutting to paydirt and all the points Michigan would need. Three yards, a cloud of dust, and Jalen Milroe woefully short later, it was over.

Michigan took down Ryan Leaf’s Washington State on this same field on the first day of 1998. Charles Woodson did everything and Brian Griese did just enough. They shouldn’t have had to share the voting baubles with Nebraska but that’s what happened because Tom Osborne was one hell of a guy. What happened today was better for the program and a larger victory anyway. At the risk of sounding insane, it was the winningest college football team’s best win in 75 years.

Here come the charges of being a prisoner of the moment and part of that might be true. Yet this feels to be the defining year in the sport. Just as every year from this one forward may be the defining year. Things are moving so quickly and the future history will be written by the winners. The Big Ten and SEC are engaged in a goddamn arms race and this was a battle of their pride and joy. It was Harbaugh vs. Nick Saban. We’re on the third week of a bowl season that’s sadly existed to show how many things don’t matter or have been devalued. This evening was a commercial for what college football can be. Aesthetically it wasn’t the most gorgeous of games but it had the feeling of a classic. Just immensely satisfying and stimulating.

Michigan vs. Everybody only works as a mantra is Michigan shuts everyone up. They’ll get a chance to do that next Monday against either Texas or Washington. They’ll have to play cleaner than they did today in order to win. The offense needs to be smoother. Special teams can’t be comically bad. Yet they’ll be favored. This may not be their best win in 75 years for very long.

But I think this Rose Bowl will define Michigan football. That it will be the game that everyone associates with their program. That’s a monumental success because it was everything they’ve believed themselves to be for decades — even though the real world didn’t reflect that. Fair or otherwise, losing it probably would have defined them as well.

Again, we’ll never know.

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