The Wolverine

January 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2017 S ome might be tempted to sigh and shrug over Michigan's impending foray to the Orange Bowl. Good escape from the snow- drifts, right? Solace in the sun, following the Crime in Co- lumbus. What may be the Big Ten's best team stood one play — or one call, depending upon one's continued state of embit- tered remorse — away from the conference championship game. The Wolverines likely lingered that same play away from their first league title in more than a decade, one snap from a surge to the playoffs in Jim Harbaugh's second season. The temptation — after the cracked-screen flat screen has been replaced and the cheese dip wiped from the walls — is to offer up a rueful, deter- mined wait until next year. The Orange Bowl is very much in the here and now, where Harbaugh lives. He'll deal with next Septem- ber when it arrives, but he's build- ing for it right now. Harbaugh's crew is assembling a beast of a recruiting class. He's also steeling veterans returning for 2017, beginning with a mission in Miami. He dropped jaws at his first in- person Orange Bowl press confer- ence, quoting Sir Andrew Barton: "Fight on, me men, Sir Andrew said. I'm a little hurt, but not slain. I'll lay down and bleed a while, and then rise to fight again." There it is. In this case, "a little while" involved the short span between the final (belated) whistle in Columbus and the beginning of bowl practice. A bowl game represents a reward to players for a strong season. Mas- sive disappointment aside, the 10-2, No. 6 Wolverines qualify. But the Orange Bowl is more than that, and here are three reasons why: 1. The Competition Is Ongo- ing — In two seasons, Harbaugh pushed the Wolverines from a 5-7, self-doubting, under-equipped crew to a squad with an arguable College Football Playoff résumé, despite the crushing final regular-season defeat. Ask any Michigan player if playoff- bound Ohio State is the better of the two teams. For that matter, ask your favorite Buckeye, following the introduction of some sodium pentothal. Ohio State survived on big Michigan mistakes, yes, but also on home cooking so tasty it induced an entire officiating crew to swallow whistles as well. Harbaugh felt so strongly about it he was willing to pay $10,000, instead of choking that particular meal down in silence. Michigan football didn't claw back to the brink of greatness by shrugging and sighing. They bled a while, but the Orange Bowl rep- resents the time to fight again. The guy who'd fight like a wolverine in a pick-up basketball game isn't about to tolerate a half-hearted ef- fort. 2. Pride Goeth Before A Brawl — To be fair, it's not like Harbaugh took a roster full of Pop Warner re- jects and fashioned them into a top-10 crew. Michigan features All-Americans, national award winners and a cast littered with All-Big Ten performers. Players like fifth- and fourth- year seniors Chris Wormley, Jake Butt, Ryan Glasgow, Jour- dan Lewis, De'Veon Smith, Erik Magnuson, Ben Braden, Kyle Kalis, Matt Godin, Ben Gedeon, Dymonte Thomas, Channing Stribling, Taco Charlton, Delano Hill, Amara Darboh, Jehu Ches- son and more lacked only the map to head the direction they wanted to go. Harbaugh sup- plied it, and they rolled. They take immense pride in forming the nucleus that brought the Wolverines back out of the wilderness. Many of them could also enjoy a future at the next level of their sport. Charlton went shooting up NFL Draft boards following his career-best effort in Columbus. They all get a chance to reach 21 wins in two years AND put a high- profile bullet point on a résumé, come Dec. 30. 3. Rocket Fuel For 2017 — Don't think for a second the aforemen- tioned crew doesn't care about next year, or 2018 … or 2025, for that matter. Michigan Men from the '70s were looking on during the Urban blight, hoping and expecting this would be the year Michigan and Ohio State got back on even footing. They'll be looking again next year, and the effort starts now. Last season's bowl beat-down of Florida sent the Wolverines soaring into an offseason filled with confidence and a determined, eight-month effort to prepare for a championship. They came up closer to getting there than Ohio-based officials are to their Buckeye necklaces. Scorching the Seminoles starts the fire burning all over again. Hot as Miami might be, the Wolverines are looking to turn up the thermostat. ❏ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB _ Wolverine. WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON Orange Bowl Is A Big Deal; Here's Why Michigan has a chance to reach 11 wins for the first time since 2011 and just the sixth time since 1906. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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