The Michigan football team came back to earth towards the end of the season. Their offense was almost totally rebuilt from last year. Four of the five offensive lineman have started in the NFL. The Wolverines lost their all-time leading rusher. They lost a receiver who could have broken many Michigan records if he had stayed, and they lost a quarterback who possibly could have been the top overall pick in the NFL draft. Despite this, the team excelled way above expectations for most of the season. It's just too bad that many will just see them as underachievers.There's no doubt that the Michigan slide started after the bye-week. They were fortunate to win at Iowa, they fell to Michigan State, survived at Wisconsin, and couldn't catch up to Ohio State. Don't look at the glass as half-empty, see it as half-full. This summer, I predicted this team to go 7-4. I expected them to lose at Washington, MSU, at Wisconsin, and lose at home to this year's Big 10 champs, Illinois. This isn't Nostradamus here, but it was predicated on a totally revamped offense, and a defense that really struggled at times in 2000. The defense, for the most part excelled. They once led the nation in yards against the rush. Through six games a running back hadn't scored a rushing touchdown. The secondary gave up passing yards, but that was usually after the Michigan offense forced opponents to play catch-up. The revamped Wolverine offense this season nearly scored as much as last season.
I sat in the press box this week, and I was sandwiched in between two Buckeye legends, Keith Byars, and coach Earle Bruce. Fans in Ohio probably would pay thousands of dollars for the chance, so I made the most out of it. I picked their brains on the rivalry and college football. Believe me, they weren't celebrating till the end. They felt Michigan was "ripe" after the first quarter, but in no way felt that Ohio State had won it until after the on-side kick failed with two mintues remaining and no Michigan time-outs. I asked about how a Buckeye win, this year, could change the recruiting wars, considering the Buckeyes have started strong in the Class of 2002. Both admitted the win was needed for the sake of the rivalry and the program, but Byars admitted, that he wouldn't expect the influx of talent shifting to Columbus from Ann Arbor. He expects both schools to continue to get their fair share. Both also have tremendous respect for Michigan, noting many times some of Michigan's failures in this game were the first they've witnessed in memory and were shocked to see it.
As for these failures, as usual, you can not blame a sole individual. Quarterback John Navarre will shoulder most of the blame. Navarre knows this. After the game, his family, so desparate to give him love and support, couldn't. John refused knowing that the overwhelming grief that would inevitably ensue, would appear on television over and over again. Other players will be thinking of dropped passes, missed field goals, mistackles, and a safety that changed how the two teams played. If the score was 21-0 or 24-0 instead of 23-0, Michigan doesn't go for two, and maybe they don't go for it on 4th down and kick a field goal instead, or maybe Ohio State doesn't play so conservative in the 2nd half. There are no specific what if's and therefore, no one person to blame.
This season was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the maize and blue, it ended up being one week short of a championship.