INDIANAPOLIS — At this point, it’s a moment you’ve probably seen before.
The confetti raining down in Miami Gardens, the best season the Michigan football team had in almost two decades coming to one somber and unceremonious end.
Red populated Hard Rock Stadium as Georgia’s players, coaches and faithful all stuck around to soak in a dominating Orange Bowl victory. All of the Wolverines had left the field, except for a few who stood off to the side, watching the Bulldogs celebrate what Michigan so desperately wanted.
That contingent included two then-freshmen: quarterback J.J. McCarthy and running back Donovan Edwards.
Fast forward to now, and the scene after the Wolverines captured their second straight Big Ten title was quite different: Players were grinning, the confetti was maize and blue, but one thing remained the same.
McCarthy and Edwards once again stood right next to each other. Although this time, it was at the podium after the tandem of budding stars carried Michigan to another Big Ten trophy. They shared bright smiles, but something about their celebration felt hollow.
The memory of last year’s Orange Bowl still lingers.
“I feel like (the Georgia loss) drove me so much that this victory tonight doesn’t really feel like anything,” McCarthy said after the game. “That’s something that’s really hard to come by. I mean, back-to-back Big Ten Championships is amazing, but just that feeling that we had last year, this is just in the way of making sure that feeling never happens again.”
It’s a difficult position to be in, but it’s also an enviable one. For McCarthy and Edwards, they’re at a point where accomplishments like Saturday night don’t mean all that much to them. They want more, the Wolverines want more.
Michigan just captured its 13th victory, its most wins in a season in program history. And yet, there is no trophy for that accomplishment, no banner to hang — it’s simply what’s expected of college football’s elite. It’s obvious that the Wolverines want to be in the upper echelon of their sport. Edwards proclaimed that much to everyone inside Lucas Oil Stadium, moments after accepting the Big Ten title game MVP trophy.
“I mean it’s kinda self-explanatory what our goals are,” Edwards said. “I believe we’ve talked about it all year. And it’s not really much more that needs to be said. … Let’s go do what our main goal is.”
Michigan’s goals have been to beat its rivals, win the Big Ten, make the College Football Playoff and win the National Championship.
The Wolverines have been very upfront about those goals all year, they’ve worn them unabashedly on their sleeve. But now it’s different. Now, they are on the doorstep of their hearts’ desire — they’re just two wins away from a national title.
Michigan’s dreams of winning a national championship are tangible. And McCarthy recognizes that.
“I love our chances,” McCarthy said. “Last year it was kind of the bright lights, everything was new, Big Ten Championship, College Football Playoff. Going into the offseason it gave us so much momentum, and we knew that we could get there, and we could get back. Ultimately, this whole offseason it was about winning it.
“Everything is great that happened today. But job is not finished. We’ve got a lot bigger plans in mind.”
It’s really that simple. The Wolverines want to win a national championship, and they believe that they can. Everything that has happened over the past year has just brought Michigan closer to its end goal.
Maybe that’s a rematch with Georgia for the national championship, maybe it isn’t. Just whichever team it plays, the Wolverines hope that they aren’t, once again, the team learning what it’s like to play with the big dogs. Or the team taking moral victories instead of taking a trophy.
Michigan wants to be the team celebrating. And if there’s one thing to take from the Wolverines, it’s that they unequivocally think they will.