This continues our series recapping the last ten seasons in the Big Ten.
For the Wolverines of the University of Michigan, the previous decade was one that saw the excellence, majesty, power and rich winning tradition historically associated with the Wolverines' football program displayed as prominently as it ever had, and then subsequently turned on its head. The same decade in which records were broken for career achievement in every statistical category would also see 50-year records broken of disappointment and failure. The Wolverines, as strong a brand name as there is in college football, have seen their ship take on water the last couple years. How soon will Ann Arbor again smell the sweet scent of football success?
II. Year By Year
More of the Big Ten Decade in Review:
|2000||9-3||6-2||Citrus||Auburn, W 31-28||Big Ten Co-Champs.
|2001||8-4||6-2||Citrus||Tennessee, L 17-45|
|2002||10-3||6-2||Outback||Florida, W 38-30|
|2003||10-3||7-1||Rose||USC, L 14-28||Big Ten Outright Champs. Last win over OSU. Chris Perry (Doak Walker Award winner)|
|2004||9-3||7-1||Sun||Texas, L 37-38||Big Ten Co-Champs. Braylon Edwards (Biletnikoff Award winner), David Bass (Rimmington Award winner),|
|2005||7-5||5-3||Alamo||Nebraska, L 28-32
|2006||11-2||7-1||Rose||USC, L 18-32||LaMarr Woodley (Hendricks Award, Lombardi Award winner)|
||Florida, W 41-35
||2nd consecutive blowout of ND: 47-21 and 38-0. Jake Long (1st Team All-American)|
|2009||5-7||1-7||-||-||Brandon Graham (Big Ten MVP).|
III. The Worsts
Because what's life without a six game losing streak to a hated rival? Makes you appreciate the good times more, I always say. Actually I don't ever say that...(painfully sighs).
A. Most Painful Loss
It's hard not to mention Nebraska '05, USC '06, OSU '06, ClockGate in East Lansing, the 39-7 loss IN the Big House to Oregon, the "trying to run out the clock, oh look what we found" Minnesota loss in '05 which snapped a 16 game win streak over the Gophers, OSU '01...
But, no, Appalachian State wins this category. I was back down to Miami (OH) for a roommate's wedding that day - I actually never watched a down in that game, figuring it was an easy win and plus, there was no Big Ten Network in most places. Sitting down in the hotel room, ESPN News put on their Breaking News flashers and went to the final play live. I sat in silence and watched the kick get blocked, the App State sideline explode...And I turned it off, along with my phone, because I knew this game signified a lot of things. It wouldn't be the same old Michigan for the time being - we had dropped, unprepared, into a year of turmoil which eventually led to Carr's retirement. And it all began with the biggest college football upset of the millennium.
B. Worst Team
2008, obviously. Quarterbacks who skipped the ball or floated it over wide receivers. The worst defense in Michigan history, even being shredded by a true frosh quarterback from Purdue who no longer plays on the team. 0-3 versus the ugly Trinity of rivals (OSU, MSU, ND) and not one of those games was close. Record setting consecutive bowl streak - snapped. Winning season streak - snapped.
C. Program's Low Point
November, 22nd, 2008. Law Buck had convinced me to spend $120 dollars on a ticket to the Big Game in Columbus (here is the recap of that weekend; at least it ended with us drinking beers while watching ND lose). 17 degrees and windy, I energetically skipped to the Horseshoe, with only a t-shirt and a fleece covering me. I would spend the next four hours frozen, my feet and hands awkwardly cold and my team being pounded. 3-9 is no way to live, especially in a decade that started with a 9-3 bowl-winning Michigan squad.
It was such an odd feeling, being at the bottom of the barrel, knowing the long offseason awaited and the fading memories of college football in 2008 would be a walk-on Michigan quarterback being unable to complete a five yard pass.
IV. The Bests
Because three Big Ten titles never hurt anyone.
A. Biggest Win
Florida, 2007. Law Buck picked this game correctly, reasoning that the Wolverines would play their hearts out in Lloyd Carr's final game. I predicted Florida would win by 24. Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Jake Long, Adrian Arrington, Mario Manningham...this was a stacked Michigan team hamstrung by injuries and under prepared to begin the season. A sentiment expressed by many people was that this wasn't Michigan anymore; no, this was a shell of the formerly legendary program.
But Lloyd Carr, a quintessential Michigan man, engineered a near perfect gameplan against Heisman winner Tim Tebow and the talented Gators, who were one year away from a national title. Chad Henne threw comfortably from the shotgun formation, while the wide receiving corps made about three highlight reel catches. Tebow was harassed enough to slow Florida and the Wolverines carried Lloyd out victoriously.
Other great wins - ND '09, Wisky '08 (a miracle comeback), PSU '05 (Thanks Mario!), MSU '04 (Braylon breaks out), '03 OSU...
B. Best Team
There was so much talent on the '06 team it's hard not to pick them. An almost injury free bunch, this squad had its sights on a national title before consecutive defeats to OSU and USC. Henne, Hart, Manningham, Long, Woodley, Garrett Rivas, Adam Kraus, David Harris, big ol Alan Branch, Shawn Crable, Jamar Adams, Leon Hall...Many of them are still playing and succeeding in the NFL. One hitch here though - it was painfully obvious that Michigan was outclassed by USC during that 06 Rose Bowl.
The 2003 team merits consideration also - Chad Henne beat the Buckeyes in a game that birthed TRE and Chris Perry was a legitimate Heisman contender.
C. Program High Point
The psyche of a Michigan fan is fragile. So when you grow up with chords of The Victors playing while hearing talk of Schembechler and Maize and Blue pride, you start to believe certain things about Michigan football, true or not. And most fans, me included, felt like Michigan lost an early game every single year, whether it was to an Oregon or UCLA or ND. This wasn't just fantasy though - only one Michigan team began a season 5-0 during this decade.
But the 2006 team didn't just start 5-0, it was 8-0, and then 11-0. And the only thing standing in the way of BCS title game glory was an undefeated Buckeye team. So on November 18, 2006, the Wolverines stepped into the Shoe, unblemished record and stocked with firepower. Ranked #2 in the nation, this was the apex of the Aughts for Michigan.
V. Play and the Player
A. Play of the Decade
It's got to be either Henne to Manningham versus PSU...or anything Braylon Edwards did against MSU. I begrudge none of these plays.
Sitting in my dorm room, I realized Michigan was in for one hell of a fight. Down 17, the Wolverines fought back behind a menagerie of Edwards catches. Check the 1:35 mark for my favorite.
B. Player of the Decade
Henne set all the passing records...Edwards is probably the most physically talented WR in Michigan history...Mike Hart set rushing records in spite of his diminutive size...Jake Long was the #1 pick in the NFL Draft...Chris Perry had a ton of 100 yard games...John Navarre was criticized most of his career despite winning a Big Ten title and starting for three years at quarterback...
But I'm going to go with LaMarr Woodley, the Saginaw born defensive end. A five star recruit who dominated at every level he's played, Woodley had 12 sacks and literally took Drew Stanton out of a game. Athletic and angry, Woodley was one of the staples on the nations #1 run stopping defense in 2006.
VI. The Rivalry Notes
The tremendously embarrassing losing streak to Ohio State has gone on far too long. We're at six games now and the last couple, I've known (or felt like I've known) the outcome before the game starts. We'll know Michigan is truly back when the Big Game is really up for grabs.