The Wolverine

April 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE APRIL 2022 W hat's a championship culture feel like?" We p o s e d t h a t question to former Michigan All-Big Ten offensive lineman Doug Skene a few years ago fol- lowing a U-M loss to Ohio State. The Wolverines were favored to win (Columbus, 2018), but the Buckeyes handled Michigan on their way to the title. Skene couldn't really put it into words. It was simply an "expectation," he said, and the knowledge that, at the end of the year, they were going to have accomplished something out- standing. "We'd go to camp talking about what we were going to do when we got to the Rose Bowl," Skene recalled. "Which beaches we might see, restaurants, stuff like that." Back when he played in the early 1990s, of course, the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl were the gold at the end of the rainbow. Now, it's the playoff and national championship game. Regardless, the 2021 group didn't get to experience it until last year, when they made an improbable run to the Big Ten title, crushing Ohio State and Iowa in their last two games to claim the crown. Once you get there and experience that feeling of euphoria … well, you want to go through it again, of course. Of all the vibes coming from Schem- bechler Hall this spring, according to the folks who live it and/or have wit- nessed it, that's been the most note- worthy. One title was great. It also wasn't enough. "Repeating a championship is even harder than winning a championship the first time," redshirt sophomore quarterback Cade McNamara said this spring. "… We know there's going to be a target on our back, and we're going to have to make sure our mindset is clean." So far, so good. The focus has been off the charts, according to those close to it (or who have seen it up close), and the competition even better. It starts at quarterback, where McNamara and sophomore J.J. McCarthy have a Tom Brady–Drew Henson, 1999 thing going on. Both are great leaders — one is com- ing off a Big Ten title in which the other also saw some time, and each wants the job. If there's one thing we've learned over the years, it's that competition brings out the best in a Michigan quarterback. Brady, Brian Griese, etc. … they were made better by the guys who pushed them. That's true at every position, of course. And while there will almost al- ways be a position that ends up a bit thin in the day and age of the transfer portal, with injuries, etc., factored in, the depth is where you'd expect it to be at a place like Michigan under a coach like Jim Harbaugh. The Harbaugh we've grown to love most is the one who has the big stick and isn't afraid to use it … or talk about it. So, it was exciting when he offered this a few weeks into spring ball: "The state of Michi- gan football is scary good right now." That's about as blunt as it gets. While he flirted with the NFL and the Minnesota Vi- kings, Harbaugh ended up back where it really all began for him at a high level — in Ann Arbor, surrounded by Michigan men. His staff has more of them than ever before, including on-field coaches and analysts, and he feels at home when he enters Schembechler Hall. His players are thrilled he's back, not upset that he chased a dream, and they believe in him. They've said it, and they show it every day in following his lead. They still have to go through Ohio State, of course, to win a title, and this year it's in Colum- bus. They also need to stay healthy. But Harbaugh loves where they are, and he loves coming into the building. "Really, a lot of gratitude for that," Harbaugh said. "Like I said earlier, just right now, it's scary good. You try to de- fine what that is — you know the law of averages is going to catch up with you at some point, but that's the place where you want to be. "Like always, I walk around our field, whether it's the weight room, out there with the guys, coaches and players. It's people that are engaged; players come up to you and have got a smile on their face, say, 'What's up coach? What have we got today?' It just makes the days fly by." Perhaps not fast enough for those Michigan fans counting the days (about 171 when this issue went to print, just to show you where we're at) to the Sept. 3 opener with Colorado State. ❑ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS That Championship Vibe Head coach Jim Harbaugh exuded confidence this spring, saying, "The state of Michigan football is scary good right now." PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL "

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