On Sunday, the No. 2 Michigan football team learned its postseason fate: A trip to Miami to face No. 3 Georgia in the Orange Bowl. While the Bulldogs’ recent loss to Alabama toppled them from their long-held No. 1 spot, it’s hard to picture a National Championship game without them in it.
But, as the Wolverines have said all season, they aren’t flinching.
“We’re gonna be looking forward to it,” junior quarterback Cade McNamara said Sunday. “We know that it’ll be a challenge for us, and they have a good defense, but I think we’ve got a solid team ourselves. So I know that we’ll be confident, and I know we’re gonna be looking forward to it.”
While the team will take a short break to regroup before resuming practice, McNamara — known for his meticulous preparation — said he would start watching tapes later that afternoon.
For much of the season, it looked like Georgia was in a league of its own.
The Bulldogs have averaged close to 200 yards on the ground and 250 yards through the air en route to a 12-1 record. They have a defense that’s held four teams to a touchdown or less and three more absolutely scoreless, giving up an average of 9.53 points per game. They opened the season by holding then-No. 3 Clemson to just a field goal and followed it up just under a month later with a 37-0 thrashing of then No. 8 Arkansas, performances that were good enough to snatch the No. 1 spot early in the season and hold it tight up until the conference championship week.
But after Georgia’s blowout loss on Saturday, many in the Wolverines’ camp were hoping the dominant win against Iowa would be enough to propel Michigan to the top.
“I thought we should have been No. 1,” senior edge Aidan Hutchinson said. “I mean, we just beat the number two team in the country and the number 13, but it is what it is. I mean, we’re in it. And we’re all so excited to play in Miami.”
While the seeming nonchalance could be hiding a greater sense of disappointment, it might just be genuine gratitude for how far the Wolverines have come. They started the season with mediocre expectations, many outside the facility anticipating a 7-5 ceiling for their season. Now, they’re the only team in history to make the College Football Playoff after starting the season unranked.
Still, when asked whether there was any point in the season where they realized a Playoff berth could really be in their future, each player gave a similar response:
“I never actually gave up on this team,” sophomore receiver Roman Wilson said. “I thought we could be one of the best teams in the nation. Even when I committed here, I still believed that. And I want to say I’m not surprised but really happy with what this team has done.”
Added graduate defensive back Brad Hawkins: “After the Michigan State loss, we all had a player-led meeting. We didn’t let that game define us. We continued to push. We continued to move on as a unit. The leadership in this building is amazing. We just kept hammering at it, kept grinding at it. We didn’t get satisfied. We continue to just grind it out. We knew that to come to this point we’d have to win out and we did that. We just continued to believe in each other, we stayed together.
“And we got it done.”
Now, the Wolverines have a national semi-final clash with Georgia to show for it.