The Wolverine

February 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 73 of 75

74 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2018 P laying second fiddle to a powerful program in your own conference is tough to stomach, regardless of who it is or where they're from. Being the alternate to a hated nemesis in that position, though, is an altogether differ- ent dilemma. Take Illinois, for example, which views Michigan as a "rival," something we weren't really aware of until a first trip to Champaign in the early 2000s, where the vitriol was off the charts. A little postgame research determined that yes, the Illini and their fans hated Michigan with a passion … perhaps because of the beat- ings they'd taken over the years, and that their natural ri- val — in-state Northwestern — was not that good for decades. On the flip side, if Illinois fans were to talk trash to a U-M fan to- day, they'd likely be met with a con- descending grin. Michigan supporters have now spent the better part of 15 years bowing to Ohio State in football and, before that, a similar amount of time looking up to Tom Izzo's Mich- igan State basketball program. But years of being on the other end of the beatings fueled a hatred toward Michigan that still hasn't taken any joy out of victory for their fans. In OSU's case, it's made them more obnoxious than ever. "I don't know why they call it a rivalry," five-star tight end Jeremy Ruckert of Lindenhurst, N.Y., said recently after choosing OSU over Michigan. "I think we've won the last [six] in a row and [13] of the last [14]. So I don't see it as a rivalry." Michigan fans have accepted their medicine much more graciously than OSU's base did after the Bucks went 2-10-1 against the Wolverines under John Cooper. It's just who they are — more of a tip-your-cap than throw-a-cheap-beer-in-your- face fan base. But Michigan head basketball coach John Beilein is here to tell you it doesn't have to last forever — though he wouldn't, of course. He does his talking on the court, gra- cious in both wins and losses (Izzo could take a lesson after complain- ing of his team being "pushed out" on offense by U-M in his team's 82-72 home loss Jan. 13, noting, "that used to be illegal."). MSU is still formidable, certainly, but Beilein's Wolverines have made a case that they're just about on equal footing. After losing his first four — the same way Izzo did to Michigan from 1995-97 — Beilein has gone 8-7 against the Spartans. He's twice won three in a row, has a two-game winning streak against MSU and fielded an injury-decimated team in four of the five losses in a row from 2014-17. Even then, the shorthanded Wolverines took the Spartans to overtime in East Lansing in Febru- ary 2015, proving to be a tough out. In this decade, Michigan has won more Big Ten titles than the Spartans (2-1), and was a few missed free throws against Indiana down the stretch (2013) from winning three straight. The Wolverines have ad- vanced as deep in the NCAA Tour- nament as MSU in four of the last six seasons, have more recently been in a national title game (2013) and more recently won the Big Ten Tournament (2017). Beilein has also recruited extremely well, and the Wol- verines should be able to build on that success over the next few years. It all started, too, when it appeared as though Michigan State would own the rivalry for the foreseeable future. U-M was 1-6 in conference play and reeling when Zack Novak and Co. beat the Spartans 61-57 in East Lansing in a 2012 game in which MSU was heavily favored. The point here … Sometimes things change when you least expect it. Jim Harbaugh's football team should have won at Ohio State in 2016 and took the Buckeyes to the wire in 2017 before losing late. Still, Harbaugh is 0-3 against Urban Meyer and OSU, and the narrative has essentially written itself in the media: "Michigan hasn't, can't and won't catch the Buckeyes as long as Urban Meyer is in Columbus." It's a daunting task, no doubt. But Harbaugh didn't forget how to coach, and he's not the first good coach to have had a disappointing stretch (or season). MSU's Mark Dantonio and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly won seven games between them in 2016 before rebounding with big years, and MSU upset U-M in Ann Arbor this year. So write Harbaugh and Michigan off at your own peril. Sometimes it only takes one win to get the mo- mentum to change a rivalry. As Beilein's team proved, the op- portunity to dig deeper and find more comes when a task seems most challenging. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS It Only Takes One … John Beilein lost his first four games to rival Michigan State, but has tipped the scales in Michigan's favor more recently. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - February 2018