Spartans, Wolverines, and the Final Twist: Bowl Season

by | Dec 12, 2019 | Uncategorized | 2 comments


INTRO: Michigan and Michigan State’s football teams both started the season ranked in the Top 20. Now Michigan is ranked 17th, and Michigan State not at all. But they both earned bowl bids to give their roller coaster seasons one final twist – and answer some questions going into 2020.

In the preseason college football coaches poll, Michigan started the season ranked 7th, with Michigan State ranked 20th.  

Since then they’ve both gone through plenty of ups and downs, with Michigan falling to 17th, and Michigan State falling out of the rankings altogether. But there’s one final twist left: their bowl games.

Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio was expected to fix his anemic offense, but didn’t. The Spartans’ defense, however, earned them six wins – just enough to qualify for one of this year’s 40 bowl games. The Spartans will play in Yankee Stadium in December, but it still beats sitting at home. 

The bigger question is what Dantonio will do after they return. He’s 63, he’s already had a heart attack, he’s done just about everything he could do at Michigan State, and he’s going to be deposed in a potentially ugly lawsuit over a former player who was convicted of sexual assault. 

With so many reasons to step down, I suspect Dantonio will. But probably not before January 15th, when he’s scheduled to receive another four million dollars just for continuing to be the head coach that day. 

Down the road, the Wolverines struggled the first half of the season. But once quarterback Shea Patterson fully recovered from an injury suffered on the season’s first play, and new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis figured out how to drive this machine, they tore through their next four games until they faced top-ranked Ohio State. 

Michigan entered the game as 9-point underdogs, but they managed to do the hard things very well: neutralizing Ohio State defender Chase Young, considered by many to be the nation’s best player, passing for 300 yards, and scoring two touchdowns early on. But they also displayed a knack for doing the easy things poorly, including fumbling the snap near the goal line, dropping nine passes, and taking a few penalties that were as costly as they were stupid. 

Add it up, and that’s how you lose to Ohio State 52-27, one of Michigan’s worst losses in this rivalry, which is saying something when the Wolverines have beaten the Buckeyes only twice this century. 

But the only thing more unfounded than the perpetual rumors of coach Jim Harbaugh jumping back to the NFL are the pundits’ claims that he’s on the hot seat. It’s not even warm. So long as his team keeps winning 10 or so games every year, fills the stadium, graduates almost 90-percent of his players, and stays out of trouble, his job is completely safe – and should be, or Michigan isn’t what it claims to be. Athletic director Warde Manuel has the only vote that counts, and he isn’t budging. 

The Wolverines reward for all this is a return to Orlando’s Citrus Bowl, where they’ll face perennial juggernaut Alabama – a team that has won five national titles under Nick Saban. They last time they met seven years ago Alabama crushed Michigan 41-14. 

Most sports writers see this game as a mismatch, which could result in Harbaugh’s fourth-straight bowl loss. If they get blown out again, the off-season won’t be much fun for Michigan fans. 

But the game also gives the Wolverines a chance to flip the script if they can eliminate self-inflicted errors, give the Crimson Tide a run, and have nine months to enjoy their redemption. 

An that’s a chance worth taking. 

* * * * *

OVERTIME: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football debuted at #13 on the Publisher’s Weekly list of national bestsellers. That makes seven national bestsellers in a row, for which I can thank YOU!

After five great events from Seattle to San Diego last week, we finished with 100 folks in Flint, and a standing ovation. Thanks to you all! For more information on those events and many others ahead, check out

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! A fun way to swap witticisms — if we’re lucky! 44.6K followers and growing.


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, 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

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.


On the Big Ten Network with anchor Dave Revsine

In the Sporting News, with Bill Bender

With Jeff Arnold of


From Greg Dooley’s “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!


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  1. Sky Seymour

    Message (Required)Michigan is ranked 14th in the CFP – not 17th

  2. johnubacon

    Right — all rankings are from the coaches’ poll, since there is no CFP pre-season poll to be used for comparison.



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