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When we last checked in with the Michigan football team four weeks ago, the Wolverines had just lost to 12th-ranked Notre Dame, then crushed Western Michigan.
But the Wolverines still had more questions than answers, especially after coming off a disappointing 8-5 season the year before.
The Wolverines answered some of those questions in their last four games, all victories. But the most important might’ve been the one that impressed the public the least: a come-from-behind victory over Northwestern.
After the Wolverines beat up Southern Methodist and Nebraska, they traveled to Evanston, Illinois, to take on Northwestern.
On paper, it didn’t look too hard. Northwestern had already lost to the Akron Zips, for crying out loud, a team that annually shoots for mediocrity, and only occasionally achieves it.
But the Wildcats often give the Wolverines fits, forcing them to pull out dramatic, last-minute victories.
And this time, Northwestern had a week off to get ready for the Wolverines. It showed.
Before the Wolverines knew what hit ‘em, the Wildcats were up 17 to nothing. Just getting to overtime looked like a longshot for the Wolverines.
Many Michigan fans vented their spleens on Twitter, complaining their team was no better than last year’s, and they’d never return to the promised land.
But unlike last year’s Michigan team, which would have folded under such pressure, this year’s version stayed calm, got focused, and went to work.
Michigan’s defense could not afford to give up another point – and didn’t. The Wolverines punctuated most of their defensive stands by sacking the quarterback.
Michigan’s offense scored three times to close the gap to 17-13. With ten minutes left in the game, the Wolverines marched down field with confidence and precision. They gobbled up seven minutes before scoring a touchdown to go ahead 20-17, with just three minutes left.
After the Wolverines stuffed Northwestern’s offense again, they had secured another exciting comeback – the second biggest comeback on the road in school history, going back to 1879.
The players knew such a narrow victory over a battered opponent wouldn’t play well with their fans, who were still grumbling on Twitter, or the media, which was bound to knock them down another notch in the rankings.
But they didn’t care. The locker room celebration was the best they’d had. They were thrilled to keep their winning streak alive – and showed it last weekend, when they stretched it to five straight victories by waxing a decent Maryland team, 42-21.
That sets up a huge game this weekend against tenth-ranked Wisconsin. The TV gods have deemed it big enough to bring ESPN’s College Gameday to town, and play the game at night.
I get the feeling the fans and the media are still holding back, reluctant to jump on the Michigan bandwagon until the Wolverines knock off a serious squad like Wisconsin.
The players don’t care. They never stopped believing this team was different, and they’ve become more convinced of that every week.
They’re about to get their chance to prove it.
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Radio stuff: On Friday mornings, these commentaries run at 8:50 on Michigan Radio (91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit and Flint, and 104.1 Grand Rapids), and a few minutes later, I join Sam Webb and Ira Weintraub LIVE from 9:05 to 9:25 on WTKA.com, 1050 AM.
I also join Michigan Radio’s great Cynthia Canty on her afternoon Stateside show every Monday for a few minutes, and occasionally on NPR’s Morning Edition, and the afternoon Here & Now show. Check ’em out!
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After stumbling in their season opener to Notre Dame, the Michigan Wolverines football game has rattled off five straight victories. Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon says that still hasn’t won over all the fans and reporters, but the players don’t seem too concerned about that. They’re convinced they’ve got something special.