Looking at this year’s Michigan football schedule, everyone who plays, coaches, covers, or follows the team knew it would be a tough run, maybe the toughest in the country.
Michigan’s schedule included five ranked teams almost half the schedule. Three of them sat right in a row, in the middle of the season: Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State. The players called that the gauntlet, until defensive end Chase Winovich renamed it “The Revenge Tour,” because all three teams had beaten Michigan last year.
I thought if Michigan could take two of those three, it would be a success. But after the Wolverines whipped Wisconsin and beat rival Michigan State, they got greedy, and wanted to sweep all three.
They had plenty of incentive. Last year, Penn State had crushed Michigan 42-13, and tried to score again with two seconds left. The Wolverines remembered that, too.
This year it was all Michigan, from start to finish, en route to a 42-7 triumph. The Wolverines didn’t merely dominate the Lions, they embarrassed them and had fun doing it.
This 2018 Michigan defense can’t boast the same star power. No one on this team is going to win the Heisman Trophy. There might not even have a trophy winner at any position. But top to bottom, this defense might be better, with great players at every position playing in sync with each other. Even from 70 rows up you can tell these guys can’t wait to get back on the field and do it again. Perhaps that’s why they’re the nation’s top defense.
Last year, the Wolverines averaged only 11 points against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State. This year, they averaged three times that.
For the first time in many years, the Wolverines are having fun out there at their opponents' expense and it’s contagious. When these Wolverines sack the quarterback or score a touchdown, they like to imitate the celebrations their opponents used the previous year. Even the public address operators are getting into the act, playing Wisconsin’s trademark “Jump Around” against the Badgers, and Penn State’s “Sweet Caroline” against the Nittany Lions.
Although both the Wisconsin and Penn State games were blow outs that ended long after dark, the fans didn’t leave early to beat the traffic, instead sticking around until the very end to cheer Michigan’s latest victory. They were savoring the success, just like the players were.
I haven’t seen that in a very long time. I’ve heard so many fans and former players say the same thing this fall: Michigan football is fun again.
Turns out revenge is a dish best served by the nation’s top defense.
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.