First, the good news: A hearty four college football teams from the state of Michigan were invited to play in bowl games this winter: the University of Michigan, plus Eastern, Western and Central Michigan. The only top-tier team not to qualify: Michigan State, which fell all the way from a top-four spot in last year’s playoffs to a dismal 3-9 record.
Now, the bad news: All the teams from Michigan lost.
And they had company. The Big Ten sent ten teams to bowl games, and only three of them won. The worst was supposed to be the best: Ohio State, which made it to the playoffs, only to get blown out in the first round, 31-0.
In fact, the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan sent a total of 11 teams to bowl games – and every single one of them lost.
But there are some lessons we can draw from this meager showing.
From the top: Baby, it’s cold outside.
And that’s where these cornfed teams play their football. It breeds a different style of football, built more on size than speed. This works better in the north than in the south, where almost all the bowl games are played.
Here’s another: Not in my backyard.
Because most of the bowl games are played in the South, the organizers often try to pit a northern team – to draw their fans and tourist dollars – against a southern one, to make sure the locals buy the tickets.
Does that make a difference?
Well, just imagine the warm-blooded warriors of Georgia, Florida or Alabama traveling north to play a January bowl game in Pennsylvania, Ohio or Michigan. There’s a reason the Green Bay Packers almost never lose a playoff game at home: They’re used to it, and their opponents aren’t.
And there’s the issue of mismatches: Six Big Ten teams were underdogs, and seven Big Ten teams lost. Eastern, Central and Western Michigan were all underdogs, and they all lost. When you’re supposed to lose, you usually do.
Michigan teams also face systemic obstacles to success. As the jobs go south, so does the population. The bigger the base, the higher the pyramid.
In the Midwest, the best high school athletes often bypass football to focus on basketball, soccer, lacrosse, or even hockey. Not so down South, where football is their first, second and third favorite sport. They like it so much, during the spring, thousands of Southern players skip baseball to play in organized seven-on-seven football leagues.
But what matters most, I believe, is coaching. Just a few years ago, the Big Ten could boast only one surefire Hall of Famer, Urban Meyer, who made his name coaching Florida. Now there are probably three in the Big Ten East Division alone.
And that’s why, for all the hurdles they face, corn fed football will be back next year.
There. One less thing to worry about.