On Wednesday afternoon, when offensive coordinator Josh Gattis spoke with local reporters on a Zoom call, the second question he faced was about how his offense would improve in year two. The third was about managing expectations. The fourth was about junior quarterback Joe Milton. The fifth was about the offensive line.

In other words, it was normal. 

Well, it was on Zoom. And it was in September, four weeks after the season was scheduled to start. But if you closed your calendar and pretended you were in Schembechler Hall, it felt as close to normal as 2020 is capable of providing.

And after the last six months, that’s a beautiful thing.

Take it from Gattis, who said, “Obviously there’s a lot of excitement around the building.” Receiver Giles Jackson agreed that excitement was the first emotion anyone felt when football returned. Or, as linebacker Josh Ross put it, “It’s just a blessing we get to play this fall.” 

I’m not here to tell you that fans have to feel the same way. This season won’t be entirely normal even if the Big Ten gets through nine games without problems. College football, more than any other sport, is based on tradition and the energy that a game day brings to a community. None of that will be the same in 2020.

Fans will still miss tailgating and making the weekly pilgrimage to Michigan Stadium. They’ll miss being a part of the biggest crowd watching a football game anywhere in America today and belting out Mr. Brightside at the end of the third quarter.

But if you don’t think it’ll be fun, look at this past Saturday.

At noon, you were flipping between a pair of ranked matchups before No. 3 Oklahoma blew a 28-7 lead to Kansas State. A few hours later, Texas recovered an onside kick to come back from 15 down with three minutes left. The defending champs, LSU, lost to unranked Mississippi State. Speaking of Mississippi State, K.J. Costello threw for 623 yards.

In other words, it was awesome. More importantly, it felt as close to normal as anyone could hope for. In a handful of hours, the College Football Playoff picture was upended, new Heisman favorites emerged and the talking points were endless.

For a few hours, fans in the SEC, Big 12 and ACC didn’t have to think about the pandemic or being stuck at home for the seventh month in a row. They got to watch football and savor a fall Saturday as it was meant to be.

The Big Ten isn’t quite there yet. While those conferences have all faced pandemic-related problems in their returns to play, the Big Ten opted to prioritize player safety, postponing the season until it could mandate daily COVID-19 testing.

That means Michigan and its conference foes still have to wait a few weeks for their turn at a football Saturday. But when Oct. 24 arrives, it also means they’ll be more likely to finish the season and avoid pandemic talking points.

There will be fewer questions about quarantines and more about offensive schemes. Josh Gattis will be able to say more things like, “(Joe Milton) has every throw in the bag plus the extra club that you don’t need to carry all the time” and less like, “On some of these platforms, the film can become a little bit choppy based on your internet strength,” which was a real problem Michigan had to deal with when he last spoke with media in May.

So when you start to roll your eyes at coach speak or unnecessary Twitter controversies, remember what that felt like. Remember how close we were to not having a season at all.

And then savor what we have, even if it’s only 2020’s version of normal.

Mackie can be reached at tmackie@umich.edu or on Twitter @theo_mackie.

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