Michigan Football Preview 2019

Digital Edition

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 5 of 179

4 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW J im Harbaugh's football team experienced the very best the University of Michigan has to offer on its grand excursion in May. The Wolverines witnessed the breathtaking beauty of South Af- rica — its mountains, ocean and exotic animal-populated wilder- ness. They learned from unspeak- able ugliness in a land where apartheid once reigned. They rode in Jeeps among li- ons, giraffes, rhinos, deadly snakes and countless other beasts. But it wasn't until they returned to the United States that they re-encoun- tered the elephant in the room. Ohio State — still lurking about, still terrorizing the landscape, still waiting to be brought down. It's a topic Michigan coaches, players and even many fans don't want to dwell on these days. And for good reason. The numbers are nastier than an enraged hippo submarining toward a stray bark canoe. Seven straight losses. Fourteen out of the last 15. An evil empire succeeding via one soon-to-be- disgraced coach after another. For Michigan followers, it's like a Star Wars se- ries in which the Death Star never blows up. Former Michigan All-American Jon Jan- sen remembers when the script stood flipped. He recalls exulting over three straight wins against the Buckeyes from 1995-97, part of a 10-2-1 U-M streak reaching its apex in the 1997 national championship. He asked Michigan director of athletics Warde Manuel about beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten championship on his podcast recently. Manuel responded, deliver- ing expected and requisite diplomacy. "They are certainly working towards that, and no one is working harder towards making those two happen than Jim and the student-athletes," Manuel said. "It's not dis- cussed in those terms. "We understand the desire to win in the Ohio State game. It's not something that needs to be said, over and over and over again, as it is in the public. It's discussed, but it quickly moves to a discussion about winning in general and continuing the suc- cess of the team." He pointed out several positives regarding Michigan's football program, including a 10-win season last year. Manuel's not wrong there. If fact, Harbaugh pulled off three 10- win seasons in the four years he's worn the head coach's whistle in Ann Arbor. In other words, this isn't 2008. At the same time, it's not 1969, 1976, 1986 or 1997, either. Those were all title seasons, including one involving the ultimate college football prize. Nobody needs to tell Harbaugh how big it is to beat Ohio State. He's stood as king on the turf in Columbus, having slain the beast. He's experienced the paradise of Pasadena because of it. Now he's doing everything in his power to pull his team over the last hurdle, from good to elite. He has in place a defensive coordi- nator who cranks out top-five defenses each year and stands beyond motivated by last November's meltdown in Columbus. Harbaugh plucked an offensive coordi- nator out of Alabama and looks to make a dramatic change there. He's been burned by a pro spread and prepped to don a flame- thrower in response. "People should understand that while we have not fared well against Ohio State over the last few years, it is not something that will take away from the overall accomplish- ment of the team," Manuel noted. That's fair. At the same time, Harbaugh, Manuel and the spirit inspiring the statue outside Schembechler Hall know the Wol- verines won't get where they want to go without faring better in pre- cisely that game. All of modern Michigan foot- ball's greatness is built on that foundation — Bo besting Woody, winning championships, hold- ing at least equal footing in The Game. It begat crowds of 100,000, palatial facilities across the ath- letic campus and athletic revenue creeping toward $200 million an- nually. The players know what it means, beyond all doubt. They hurt worse than any onlooker in the wake of a loss in that series. Sean Patterson says he has to pinch himself every time he enters Michigan Stadium, knowing his son quarterbacks the Wolverines. There aren't many downsides there. But there are some, like see- ing your kid limp out of a horse- shoe-shaped stadium defeated and bombarded by jeers. "I don't think he'll ever get over that," the elder Patterson offered. "You always have that in the back of your mind, that it happened. If you're a true Michigan guy, you don't forget anything. You learn from it." It's not always the opposing fans shrieking either. Senior tight end Sean McKeon has heard plenty from Michigan watchers, and so have his teammates. "I try not to listen to that," McKeon said. "It's a little harder when you're younger. You've got all these people yelling at you. You don't really understand it. "Now, that stuff doesn't really matter to me at all. We just need to focus on what we've got to do to get better and win those games at the end of the season." Jansen marvels at where Harbaugh has taken his team. "I've never been to South Africa," he pointed out. "I've never been to Rome. I've never been to Paris. They are lifetime experi- ences. "You can't go anywhere else to get that, other than being a student-athlete at Michi- gan right now." At the same time, they've never been to Pasadena. They've not donned a Big Ten championship ring — yet. There are lands waiting to be discovered and big game to hunt. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH JOHN BORTON Jim Harbaugh Is Still Tracking The Big-Game Trophy Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at jborton@thewolverine.com and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine. Harbaugh has produced three 10-win campaigns in his four seasons at Michigan, but he has also seen Ohio State extend its success over U-M to seven straight victories and 14 in the last 15 battles. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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