The Wolverine

November 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2021 C hris Hutchinson and teammates secured their jaw-dropping fourth and fifth consecutive Big Ten cham- pion rings when Michigan flexed its football might against over- whelmed opponents. Juwan Howard and his not- too-young classmates rampaged through back-to-back runs to the NCAA Tournament final. Mel Pearson served as an assistant coach on crews that melted the ice in consecutive Frozen Four runs. In 1991-92 and 1992-93 — when this column lingered in its infancy — the Wolverines burned white hot in their highest-profile sports. They brought even greater heat in the years to come, via a football national title in 1997 and hockey crowns in '96 and '98. In short, Michigan strutted as kings of the Big Ten — and beyond. Fast-forward three decades. The Wol- verines aren't back to the future yet, but they're warming up. No. 6-ranked Michigan football stood 7-0 at this writing, facing a daunting back half of the season. Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines stunned a sea of naysayers by surging past the halfway point of the campaign without a defeat. The Wolverines were largely written off, following a COVID-year plunge into oblivion. But they didn't write them- selves off, and made dramatic changes that could set them up for many strong runs going forward. "It reminds me of some teams we've had in the past — the '15-'16 teams, '18- '19 teams, '17 team," Harbaugh said. "In many ways, they're very similar. And yet to be seen, maybe even better. They still have the license and the ability to do that." Howard's crew, armed with seasoned standouts and a consensus top-five re- cruiting class, features the license and ability to win the Big Ten again, at the very least. There won't be five freshmen start- ing at once this time around, and that's no knock on the rookies. Michigan's returning starters are sim- ply too good. And hockey? The Wolverines not only beat the No. 1 team in the nation early this season, but became No. 1. Pearson assembled a shockingly talented squad for a very warm winter at Yost Ice Arena. Four of the five top picks in the most recent NHL Draft involved Wolverines, including the No. 1 pick, sophomore de- fenseman Owen Power. They're still Wol- verines, ready to make Michigan domi- nant before popping the pro cork. Power joined only a handful of other Michigan performers drafted No. 1 in their sport: Tom Harmon (NFL, 1941), Elmer Madar (NFL, 1947), Cazzie Russell (NBA, 1966), Chris Webber (NBA, 1993) and Jake Long (NFL, 2008). Because of that and more, Pearson's Wolverines are wearing a bull's-eye. "Every game we play, we're the red let- ter … on that team's schedule," Pearson said. "The preparation, the hype, the en- ergy that's gone in to play us is huge. "We just have to make sure that we are not only ready to meet that challenge, but exceed it." That's how Michigan likes it, right? Be the big target. Be the program lustily booed at the Big Ten ven- ues, because of past dominance. It's not just those three sports, either, stirring up the envy of others. Bev Plocki's women's gymnastics team won it all in 2021, and features the lineup to do it again this season. Marcia Pan- kratz's field hockey team battled all the way to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament last season. Carol Hutchins an- nually churns out softball teams that dominate regionally and challenge nationally. There's no lack of winning go- ing on, and more to come. But for the present Wolverines to take on the glow of former eras, the goose that laid the shimmering maize egg needs to be a powerful part of the mix. Harbaugh took major steps toward getting back to a championship level, with his offseason coaching changes and internal oversight. No longer does anyone suppress a cynical smile when junior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (Chris' son) talks championship. The Wolverines feature a suddenly stingy defense, a pair of young, talented quarterbacks, a rushing attack at the top of the NCAA statistics and a whole lot more. "I'm kind of excited to see how col- lege football plays out this year," redshirt junior offensive tackle Andrew Stueber assured. "I'm glad we're in the mix, and hopefully we can keep climbing." He's got plenty of fervent company in those hopes. It spills over from The Big House as well — to Crisler Center, to Yost and to a host of other venues where echoes of past successes are swirling back into reality. Never mind the good old days. Michi- gan stands ready to create good new days, with maize and blue sledgehammers. ❑ WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON U-M Might Be Revving Up To The '90s The football team, led by head coach Jim Harbaugh, is just one of a number of Michigan squads with eyes on championships at the Big Ten and national levels. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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