The latest college football bowl season might have gone worse for in-state teams, but it’s hard to imagine how.
First, the good news: four state schools were invited to bowl games this year, while Ferris State got to the final game of the Division II playoffs.
Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan both earned bowl invitations in the same year for only the second time in their long histories. But it all went downhill from there.
Eastern lost on a last-second field goal to Georgia Southern in the Camelilia Bowl, followed by Western getting blown out by Brigham Young in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Michigan Wolverines’ historic ten-game winning streak ended when they were waxed by arch-rival Ohio State — 62-39, the most points Michigan has ever allowed in regulation. That cost them a shot at the Big Ten title, and a likely spot in the four-team national playoff.
Instead, they got the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta, which for decades had been a middling bowl game for the likes of Indiana and Purdue. While the Peach Bowl had recently been elevated to a Super Six game, which include the Sugar, Orange, and Rose bowls, it didn’t feel like it for most Michigan fans, who stayed away in droves. Likewise, four starting players opted to skip the Peach Bowl to stay healthy for the NFL draft.
Nonetheless, the game provided the seventh-ranked Wolverines a great chance against the tenth-ranked Florida Gators to remove the bad taste left from the Ohio State game.
In the first half, the two teams exchanged the lead before going to the locker room with Michigan trailing just 13-10.
But, like the Ohio State game, midway through the third quarter, a costly Michigan turnover opened the gates for the Gators. They proceeded to score 28 points that half, while holding Michigan to five. That left the Wolverines to ponder another embarrassing loss: 41-15.
This predictably caused pundits and plenty of fans to conclude that the sky is falling, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is a failure, and the Wolverines will never return to the promised land – just the kind of overreactions college football games generate every weekend.
There’s no spinning the blowouts against Ohio State and Florida, where Michigan looked outcoached and outclassed. But those losses don’t erase Michigan’s ten-game winning streak, either, fueled by the nation’s best defense over that stretch. This season the Wolverines dramatically improved their offense, thanks to transfer quarterback Shea Patterson and an offensive line they sent from a liability to an asset.
Michigan will lose some key players to graduation and the NFL draft, but the cupboard will still be stocked next season. After the demoralizing finish, hope seems a hard sell in Ann Arbor, but when objectivity returns, the future will look bright again.
As miserable as Michigan fans might be right now, the Spartans would trade for their lot. After Mark Dantonio resurrected the program by winning 11 games or more five times in six years, the Spartans have fallen back to mediocrity. The reason: an offense that averaged an anemic eight points a game the last four games – capped by a loss in the lowly Redbox Bowl by the score of 7-6. Remember, this was football, not baseball.
If Dantonio doesn’t fire his play caller, Dave Warner, don’t expect any improvement next year.
True, all four in-state teams lost their bowl games. But on the bright side, ESPN made lots of money on every one of them.
Guess that’s not much consolation, after all.
John U. Bacon is the author of ten books, six of them national bestsellers. His latest, Best of Bacon: Select Cuts, is out now. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder, the University of Michigan.