The Wolverine

January 2024

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE ❱ JANUARY 2024 T hese are good days for Michigan football. Unbelievable days, really, ones skeptics would have laughed off as insane to imagine, as recently as three years ago. Three seasons, featuring a mere three losses — a 38-3 mark and count- ing. Three consecutive outright Big Ten championships — a first in Michigan football history. Three straight wins over Ohio State. Michigan's first three trips to the College Football Playoff and a chance to win it all. Even if the Wolverines don't com- plete the mission this season — versus Alabama in the Rose Bowl, followed by either Texas or Washington in the na- tional championship game — it would mark the first three-year span with so few combined losses in half a century. Bo Schembechler's teams from 1970-74 lost either one or no games each year. But those losses came at the hands of the Buckeyes, and those teams didn't face Penn State, a Big Ten title game, or a playoff opponent. No, these days are to be treasured by anyone bleeding maize and blue. For some, they're the best years of their Michigan football lives. Just ask Tom Crawford, a 1979 Uni- versity of Michigan communications grad. Crawford earned his degree at the end of the 10-Year War, but his alle- giance to the Wolverines harkens back even further. He recalls watching Ca- zzie Russell play basketball at Yost Field House in the mid-1960s. He remembers witnessing pre-Schembechler Michi- gan football. Crawford works in the media, running his own podcasting network, jousting regularly with Spartans on the TV show "Press Pass," and unabashedly maintains his Michigan fandom while analytically examining the Wolverines. These aren't just good days, he insists. They're the best of his lifetime. "When I go back to '64, when I first started watching, without question, these three years represent a whole other level of culture, unified team, high-cali- ber coaching staff, based on some great hires," Crawford said. "One would be Sherrone Moore on the offensive line. The difference these three years is that the offensive line has had a level of phys- icality, more than I ever can recall, es- pecially last year. That goes back to the '70s and Mike Kenn, Billy Dufek, Walt Downing. Those were dominant offen- sive lines. "Compound that with the deepest team, talent-wise, on both sides of the ball, that I can recall. That's why I think it's the best. Plus, after 2020, 'Jim Har- baugh 2.0' came out. We recognized at Big Ten Media Days 2021 that he looked different. He talked aggressively about beating the rivals, and his players, led by Aidan Hutchinson, did the same. I knew there was something different." The question becomes, can these good days be maintained? Can the pres- ent magic last for another three years, or five, or more? That's the question raging with some these days, and it's bigger than whether or not the Wolverines will take down Alabama. Oh, that's a big deal, without question. Programs only get so many shots at standing at the top of the col- lege football mountain. Just ask the men from 1997, and that mountain certainly stands higher now than it did a quarter- century ago. If Jim Harbaugh leads this team past the Crimson Tide and to the national title, maybe he goes out on top. Maybe he decides it's time to seek the one other football trophy that has (barely) eluded him — the Lombardi Trophy as a Su- per Bowl champion. There's absolutely nothing Michigan can do to change that audible, if the head coach calls it. It does sound as if the Michigan brass has done everything in its power to keep Harbaugh in Ann Arbor. It backed him resolutely when the NCAA, Big Ten and conference coaches — all with selfish reasons for wanting to take Harbaugh down — unleashed an attack this fall. Michigan's powers that be also report- edly put a contract on the table to make Harbaugh the Big Ten's highest-paid coach at around $11 million per year. After knocking off Ohio State for the third straight season, Harbaugh didn't flinch. He went back to work, feeling the words of his past and the players of his Michigan present and possible future still moving him. Regarding his present team, Harbaugh noted: "They deserve the credit for sticking together, playing for each other, for being the kind of ball team that they are … I don't know if that's going to be fully known, if it's capable of being fully known outside of Schembechler Hall. But to us, when we look at that sign — 'The Team, The Team, The Team' — I think of this '23 team as The Team." He can begin 2024 by helping this crew become The National Champion- ship Team. That's job one. Then there's a big decision, if it hasn't already been made by then. Keep Michigan's program Harbaugh's program, dominating the conference and contending for the high- est honors in college football. Or seek his fortune and glory back in the NFL. For Crawford, and millions of other lifelong Michigan football fans, it's a call even bigger than a game-winning flea- flicker against 'Bama. ❑ WOLVERINE WATCH ❱ JOHN BORTON Can U-M Keep The Magic Going? Head coach Jim Harbaugh led U-M to three con- secutive outright Big Ten championships for the first time in school history. PHOTO BY MICHAEL MILLER Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on X (Twitter) @JB_Wolverine.

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