The Wolverine

February 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2017 THE WOLVERINE 35   MICHIGAN FOOTBALL shirt junior linebacker Mike McCray and redshirt junior fullback Khalid Hill also announced they'd return for fifth years. 2016 TAKES ITS PLACE AMONG TOP-10 NEAR MISSES Michigan's 2016 season goes in the books with plenty of upside — a sec- ond straight 10-win season, a victory over Michigan State and major indi- vidual honors for the building blocks of Jim Harbaugh's first two crews of Wolverines. The seniors from this squad, though, will always take a moment to ponder what might have been. Michi- gan lost three games, by a grand total of five points — 14-13 at Iowa, 30- 27 in double overtime at Ohio State and 33-32 in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. The Wolverines finished up, argu- ably, three plays from perfection. As it is, they missed out on knocking off their archrivals in a game they led 17- 7, missed out on a first-ever trip to the Big Ten championship game and the playoff, and fell just shy of knocking off a Florida-based school in a Florida bowl for the second straight season. Almost might be the most pain- ful word in sports, and certainly the younger Wolverines will use their 2016 experience to fuel them in prepa- ration for 2017 and beyond. While that happens, the 2016 campaign takes its place among the biggest what-if sea- sons in Michigan football history. There's certainly an argument to be made at the top of the list. The 2016 campaign featured three losses by five points, the smallest scoring gap in any three-loss season by a Michi- gan squad. At the same time, consider Bo Schembechler's 1988 crew, which dropped only two games by a total of three points. Those two crushing defeats, of course, occurred at the very start of the season. The Wolverines saw one slip away at Notre Dame (19-17) in the opener, then led Miami (Fla.) 30-14 in the fourth quarter before surrendering 17 points in the final 5:23 to lose 31-30. One of Schembechler 's better squads responded furiously, reeling off nine wins and tying the Hawk- eyes at Iowa to win the Big Ten with a 7-0-1 record. The Wolverines beat Ohio State 34-31, knocked off USC in the Rose Bowl 22-14 and ended up ranked No. 4 in the nation. Given those circumstances, the '88 squad comes in at a solid No. 2 on our list. The '16 crew lost more via the late defeats and didn't come away with a Big Ten championship ring or a spot in the fledgling college football playoff. Here, then, is our top-10 list of near- miss seasons, whether that near miss be a shot at a national championship, a Big Ten title or an unblemished cam- paign. In every case, the season fea- tured multiple defeats by a total of 10 or fewer points. TOP 10 NEAR-MISS SEASONS Rk. Year Losses Margin 1. 2016 3 5 2. 1988 2 3 3. 1980 2 5 4. 1990 3 6 5. 2000 3 7 6. 1986 2 10 7. 1916 2 6 8. 1920 2 8 9. 1979 4 10 10. 1876 2 10 Longtime Michigan fans will, of course, remember the 1980 season, featuring another tough start and strong finish by the Wolverines. The Wolverines dropped their second and third games of the season, 29- 27 at Notre Dame and 17-14 at home against South Carolina. Instead of folding, they reeled off nine straight wins, including a 9-3 victory at Ohio State and Schembechler 's first Rose Bowl victory, 23-6 over Washington. The Wolverines finished No. 4 in the final polls and looked like a team nobody wanted to face at season's end. Had they made a couple more plays at the start, they could have run the table. The 1990 crew also enjoyed national championship aspirations that evapo- rated all too quickly. Michigan lost the opener at Notre Dame 28-24 in Gary Moeller 's first game as U-M head coach. But they recovered and entered the Oct. 13 showdown with Michigan State in The Big House ranked No. 1. The Spartans — with a little help from defensive back Eddie Brown's uncalled interference on Desmond Howard during a late two-point con- version try — upset the Wolverines 28-27. The very next week, Iowa came into Michigan Stadium and beat the still-reeling Wolverines 24-23. Michigan settled for a four-way tie for the Big Ten championship, a Ga- tor Bowl and a final Associated Press ranking of No. 7. Rounding out the top five, Michi- gan's 2000 season featured Drew Hen- son as the starting quarterback and also another multi-team tie for the Big Ten title. The Wolverines lost a tough one at UCLA (23-20) with Henson out injured. Michigan's three losses this past season came by a combined total of five points, including a 14-13 setback against Iowa Nov. 13 for its first defeat of the year. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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