April 20, 2022

Good morning,

When we first launched this newsletter a little more than two months ago, we envisioned a concise way to highlight the best stories produced each week, both from our experienced beat writers and from our newer staffers covering non-revenue sports. With each new edition, I tried to include the current stories and themes most important to our readers, all while maintaining our mantra that sports are — in every regard — fun. 

In honor of this being the final edition of the Winter 2022 semester — and my last byline before I graduate — I wanted to look further back, beyond the historic 2021-22 season for Michigan athletics and the pandemic that preceded it. The sports landscape that then-freshmen walked into in 2018 differs dramatically from the one they will depart on April 30. This final edition of the semester seeks to map that change, remembering the moments that will define the sports experience of this year’s seniors.

Sports are fun. Here’s how the Class of 2022 will remember them.

Pardon our dust — many stories produced before March 2021 did not migrate to our new website properly.

2018 – 2019

No. 4 Michigan embarrassed by No. 10 Ohio State, 62-39

In the week leading up to it, this game was supposed to be the one that finally flipped the script on the rivalry. Ohio State was in the midst of a down year — the Buckeyes had been upset by Purdue, 49-20, on national television in October and had also just squeaked by Maryland in overtime on Nov. 17. Michigan, meanwhile, had assembled one of the most dominant defenses in college football, all while former five-star transfer quarterback Shea Patterson helped shape the most dynamic offense the program had boasted in years.

Reality, though, soon came crashing down on the Wolverines. The Buckeyes carved up defensive coordinator Don Brown’s man-to-man pass defense, hanging 62 points and 567 yards — the most regulation points ever scored on a Michigan defense and the most yards ceded in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure to that point, respectively. 

Instead of the rivalry-changing win Wolverine fans expected, the game marked a different kind of turning point for Harbaugh’s program, one that called into question whether the prodigal son could ever return Michigan to its former glory. A team previously marked by hope transformed into a program defined by cynicism and unfulfilled expectations — drawing the first whispers that Harbaugh might not be the man for the job.

Michigan finds its Beilein replacement, hires Juwan Howard

The Michigan men’s basketball program wouldn’t be the national name it is today without John Beilein. 

Beilein amassed a 278-150 record in his 12 seasons as the Wolverines’ head coach while adding two Big Ten regular-season titles, two Big Ten Tournament championships and two runs to the National Championship Game. At the end of the 2018-19 season — which included Michigan’s third-straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen, a feat it hadn’t achieved even once since 1994 — John Beilein wasn’t just the coach of Michigan men’s basketball. He was Michigan men’s basketball.

That’s why Beilein’s departure on May 13, 2019, shocked so many. His coaching, which focused on finding overlooked athletes and developing them to their fullest potential, seemed like the perfect fit for a program that — for nearly all of its history — teetered toward irrelevance. 

His replacement, Juwan Howard, represented the one era that marks an exception to that rule, a time when Michigan basketball was among the hottest commodities in sports. If Beilein avoided the most NBA-like tendencies of modern college basketball — the loud personalities, the flashy players — Howard has leaned into them, working to recruit top talent to Ann Arbor or die trying. Howard’s legacy at Crisler Center is still up in the air; Beilein’s is not.

2019 – 2020

Michigan gets signature win, beats Notre Dame, 45-14

The most striking aspect of Michigan’s 45-14 victory over No. 8 Notre Dame in 2019 was that it wasn’t supposed to matter. 

The Wolverines had already fallen to Wisconsin and Penn State that season — the latter occurring on a heartbreaking touchdown drop from then-sophomore receiver Ronnie Bell — all but eliminating their hopes for a College Football Playoff berth before what was supposed to be the season’s defining stretch in November. 

It’s only fitting, then, that the Oct. 26 matchup became one of the most memorable nights for fans in years. Despite expectations that the Fighting Irish would roll the dejected Michigan squad, the Wolverines flouted the monsoon conditions and put on an offensive showcase, totaling a whopping 437 yards. Even if the game didn’t change Michigan athletics in a way that other moments on this list did, members of the Class of 2022 will surely look back fondly on the experience of belting “Mr. Brightside” in the pouring rain.

NCAA Tournament, all spring and winter competition canceled amid COVID-19 pandemic

For many of those fortunate enough not to have lost a loved one in those early days, the cancellation of March Madness was the moment that the COVID-19 pandemic truly became real. 

The months without sports that followed left a gaping hole in the lives of sports fans everywhere. We watched reruns on ESPN Classic. We religiously followed Bundesliga teams when the German soccer league was among the first sports to return in those early months. Here at The Daily, I started writing about the NCAA 14 video game, documenting a fictional season that, inevitably, ended with Michigan losing its perfect season to Ohio State. 

As this entire newsletter exemplifies, there are plenty of moments from the past four years that will forever define the Class of 2022’s experience with sports. At the same time, though, it will be equally defined by the moments it lost.

2020 – 2021

Spartans stun No. 13 Michigan, 27-24

If Michigan’s 2018 loss against Ohio State drew whispers about Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan, its 2020 loss against Michigan State turned those into outright screams. The Spartans, led by first-year coach Mel Tucker, had just fallen to perennial Big Ten bottomfeeder Rutgers in Week 1, and for a Wolverine program already struggling to live up to lofty expectations, this loss seemed to be the first real nail in Harbaugh’s coffin. 

As the year wore on, those nails kept coming. The following week, Michigan snapped a 24-game winning streak against Indiana. Wisconsin embarrassed the Wolverines on their home turf. Penn State got its first win of the season against Michigan. While the COVID-19 issues that shut down the Wolverines’ season obviously weren’t intentional, they were in a way merciful in that they prevented what would have likely been a massacre in Columbus. 

While Harbaugh inevitably received an extension and turned things around in Ann Arbor, that loss to Michigan State marked a point where, to many, it seemed Michigan could never return to where it wanted to be.

Michigan clinches first National Championship title in school history

Women’s gymnastics is not a revenue sport. It doesn’t draw massive crowds to Ann Arbor on game days, nor does it prompt a jump in applications when Michigan does well. Most of the Class of 2022 probably won’t even remember this national championship in a few years. 

But that doesn’t make it any less remarkable. Every day, athletes push their bodies to the absolute limits in pursuit of the tiniest gains, and in no sport is that more true than in gymnastics. And as much as the championship meant to the athletes who gave their everything to the team, it likely meant even more to coach Bev Plocki who, in her 32nd year at the helm, had finally brought her program to the pinnacle of the sport. 

“It’s very hard to describe how it feels,” Plocki said at the time. “This is 32 years I’ve been waiting for this feeling. … It’s just an unbelievable pride and just an admiration for what our team has been through and the sacrifices that they’ve made. I knew this was possible because, for the first time, they have belief in themselves.”

2021 – 2022

Michigan escapes Sweet Sixteen with win over South Dakota, 52-49

It’s impossible to overstate what Kim Barnes Arico has done for Michigan women’s basketball. 

When she took over as coach in 2012, the program sported an abysmal 450-614 record and had never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It was an afterthought, a team that only mattered to the few hundreds of fans who followed the team religiously. 

Today, that’s no longer true. In 2021, Barnes Arico led the Wolverines to their first-ever Sweet Sixteen, and in 2022, she led them to their first Elite Eight. There are still many achievements that Michigan has not yet reached — from its first Big Ten title to the Final Four and the National Championship Game. But the 2021-22 team was the biggest step toward those goals yet. 

In short, it was the best team in program history. Within the next few years, I suspect it’ll be passed up. 

Michigan shocks Ohio State, ends eight-game losing streak in The Game

Up to this point, I’ve presented these stories in chronological order. I decided to put this one last because, well … yeah. 

There’s nothing I can say here that hasn’t already been said. Everyone reading this saw that game, understood its magnitude and remembers exactly how they experienced it. It’s undoubtedly Michigan’s biggest win of Harbaugh’s tenure, and probably its biggest since the 1998 Rose Bowl. 

For the Class of 2022, it’s a moment that nearly every class for two decades before it didn’t get to experience. What else is there to say?

Anyway, one more thing.

I know, you’re sad to see me go. I’ve made you so much money that you’re just a couple more wins from retirement. “Please, Brendan,” you say. “We need your bets.”

Here they are. We’re 8-7 on the year. Since it’s my last time doing this, we’ll look at some long-term futures. 

NCAAF — Alabama +200 to win national championship

I mean, come on. Who else is there to pick? Last season, Georgia showed the college football world the modern formula to beat Nick Saban in a National Championship Game. Unfortunately, that formula is “the greatest defense in college football history.”

It’s a boring pick, but it’s also the smart one. Roll Damn Tide. 

NCAAF — Jaxon Smith-Njigba +6000 to win Heisman Trophy

Not exactly writing to my audience here. From what we saw in 2021, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba has the makings of the next generational wide receiver. He’s crazy athletic, outworks everyone else on the field and catches everything thrown within a country mile. And with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave both off to the NFL, Smith-Njigba is the clear No. 1 target for 2021 Heisman finalist quarterback C.J. Stroud.

NCAAM — North Carolina +1300 to win national championship

Under first-year coach Hubert Davis, North Carolina has already won the rivalry against Duke. I’m not talking about one individual game against the Blue Devils — I mean they’ve literally won the entire rivalry. How is the Duke program possibly supposed to recover from losing to its biggest rival in its legendary coach’s final game? 

Especially with star big man Armando Bacot returning for the 2022 season, the natural next step is a national championship. Boring pick, I know. 

But hey, even if the picks are boring, the sports stay fun!

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