INTRO: Two-thirds of the way into this year’s college football season, Michigan and Michigan State have both had their struggles on offense, and a few losses. But after last weekend’s results, the two teams seem to be headed in different directions. They’ll meet in three weeks.
Michigan and Michigan State both entered this season ranked in the top twenty. Both have struggled on offense, and lost some games along the way.
But by the end of October, their paths seemed to have diverged. Michigan State has lost three straight, while Michigan finally found its way with a big win over Notre Dame.
The Spartans started the season ranked 20th, and were expected to compete for the Big Ten East Division title. But it was quickly apparent the 2019 offense wasn’t any better than the previous year’s anemic model – and might actually be worse. Instead of hiring a credible offensive coordinator, head coach Mark Dantonio keeps playing musical chairs with the coaches he already has, moving this guy to that position, and that guy to this one – which hasn’t made anything better.
To be fair, the Spartans just finished one of the toughest months in college football. They faced three straight top ten teams — Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State — two of which have already beaten Michigan. But the Spartans’ offense looked particularly bad while doing it, scoring a total of 17 points for the entire month.
For a variety of reasons, many wonder if Dantonio plans to retire after this season. The circumstantial evidence includes Dantonio’s refusal to hire a real offensive coordinator, his request to delay a legal deposition for a lawsuit until after the season, and the fact that he set the school’s all-time record for victories in September. He’s had heart surgery, and after beating Michigan a record 8 of 10 times, he has little else to prove.
If I had to bet, I suspect Dantonio will, in fact, step down after this season.
While Dantonio might be winding down, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is working to gear things up. After Harbaugh hired an assistant from Alabama to run Michigan’s offense this season, the Wolverines grinded their gears en route to a 5-2 record at midseason. Their best game was a loss against Penn State.
After getting behind 21-0 in the first half, instead of giving up they got it together, playing their best football of the season before falling short, 28-21.
The Wolverines used that solid second half as a launching pad for their next game, against 8th-ranked Notre Dame last weekend. Going into the contest, every sports media outlet pointed out that in Harbaugh’s fifth year as Michigan’s head coach, he had beaten only one of the eleven top ten teams he’d faced.
None of that mattered Saturday. The Wolverines jumped out to a 17-0 lead, and kept it up to finish off Notre Dame 45-14 – by far Michigan’s best game this year, and maybe Harbaugh’s best at Michigan. He was rewarded with the national Coach of the Week award – and the silence of his many critics.
If the Wolverines had lost, they would have had a 5-3 record, and little hope to salvage much the rest of the way. Instead, at 6-2, they’re now heavily favored to win their next three games to set up another big game against Ohio State.
But one of those games will be against Michigan State – a contest that will have a lot to say about the direction of both teams, and perhaps both coaches.
John U. Bacon is the author of seven national bestsellers, the most recent being OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Cross-roads of College Football.
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Next week I’ll be in Philadelphia on Wednesday, DC on Thursday, and Williamsburg, VA, on Saturday. For more information on those events and many others ahead, check out johnubacon.com/events/.
I’m also in ESPN’s celebration of 150 years of college football, The American Game, 11 one-hour episodes running on Tuesday nights, and The Greatest (mascots, innovations, etc.), which runs 30-minutes on Thursday nights.
Please follow me on Twitter! https://twitter.com/Johnubacon. A fun way to swap witticisms — if we’re lucky! 44.5K followers and growing.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!
THE DOS EQUIS COLLEGE FOOTBALL FOOTBALL COLLEGE, on which I play the “professor” teaching ten classes on the sport. And yes, there IS a final exam! 12 questions to test your knowledge — and if you get a bunch right, they send you a certificate! Enjoy — and good luck!
We have plenty of excerpts, stories, and reviews out there, too, some listed below. Two more come out this week in The Wolverine print copy and the Ann Arbor Observer.
Let’s start with the EXCERPTS:
The first excerpt, “Hard to Beat the Cheaters,” on Michigan’s approach to recruiting, appeared in Postgame.com, Yahoo sport’s longform section.
The second, on the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry (derived from two chapters titled “Bad Blood” and “Cavalry’s Coming”), ran in the famed MGoBlog.com
The most recent excerpt, on the roller coaster recruiting process of five-star defensive back Daxton Hill, appeared in Sam Webb’s excellent Michigan Insider Thursday night.
INTERVIEWS AND STORIES:
REVIEWS AND STORIES
From Greg Dooley’s MVictors.com: “Punching Back.”
And even Ohio State’s top football website, Eleven Warriors:
I’ve read everything John U. Bacon has ever written and I’ve never been bored or disappointed.
Sprinkling character profiles into the storyline of Wolverines’ 2018 campaign produces a quick and captivating read – even if your position in Michigan’s football orbit is as an Ohio State fan.
Hope to see you down the road on the book tour!
Again, thanks for your support!