The Michigan football team has shrugged off its lackluster 2020 season and emerged as a Big Ten powerhouse. Emma Mati/Daily. Buy this photo.

Do you remember the last time that the Michigan football team traveled to Bloomington? 

Sorry, I probably should have begun this column with a content warning. If you’re a diehard, you likely buried that game — Michigan at Indiana, Nov. 7, 2020 — deep in the back of your brain; it’s a memory you’d rather not rehash. 

Too bad, here’s a quick refresher: The Wolverines lost, 38-21, their first loss to Indiana since 1987. As a team, Michigan managed just 13 rushing yards. Joe Milton threw a pair of interceptions. Don Brown’s embattled defense allowed a whopping 342 passing yards. Aidan Hutchinson suffered a gruesome season-ending leg injury. In short, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong.

Capacity inside Memorial Stadium was limited to just 1,034 fans that day due to pandemic-induced restrictions. But a boisterous group of Indiana students congregated outside the stadium after the game and started a chant: “We want Bama.” 

The scene was damning. Just look at what former Managing Sports Editor Theo Mackie wrote in his SportsMonday column following that game: 

“In year six of the Harbaugh era, it’s near impossible to see the Wolverines competing for a Big Ten title or College Football Playoff berth anytime soon.” 

I’m not here to expose Mackie for how poorly his take aged because, at the time, the statement couldn’t have been more accurate. 

The state of the program was harrowing. For the first time since the inception of the Rich Rodriguez era, Michigan was 1-2. In Year Six of Harbaugh’s tenure, Michigan felt closer to the pitfalls of Brady Hoke’s reign than any sort of glory.

To that point, the low points of Harbaugh’s era — whether it be an 8-5 season in 2017 or a deflating end to the Revenge Tour in 2018 — were justified by a juxtaposition to the lows suffered under Hoke. “Look at where it was in 2014,” the logic went. 

But when it left Bloomington that November evening, 2020 Michigan looked, and felt, a lot like 2014 Michigan. 

Now, with another trip to Bloomington imminent, that perspective is drastically different. 

Then, Michigan’s future — perhaps even more so than its present — was in peril. Harbaugh was in the midst of the final year of his contract, a rare predicament for a college football coach to inhabit. Donovan Edwards and Andrel Anthony, a pair of prized in-state recruits, seemed to be leaning elsewhere; Anthony, specifically, said that Michigan’s previous loss to Michigan State, an abomination for another day, “did open a lot of eyes.” 

Now, Edwards and Anthony are key cogs in the Wolverines’ high-powered offense that picked apart Iowa’s staunch defense Saturday. Edwards, who returned after missing two games with an injury, is particularly vital to the team’s success. 

“He is a tremendous leader,” Harbaugh said Saturday. “He’s loud, he’s vocal. I could be around the hall, around the corner and I know exactly who it is. Like the young people say: You already know. I already know it’s Donovan.” 

Then, the erratic Joe Milton started at quarterback, his arm talent undeniable but his decision-making suspect. 

Now, Michigan has J.J. McCarthy. The sophomore is arguably the most-talented quarterback the Wolverines have ever had under Harbaugh. In four games as the starter, McCarthy has met expectations while stirring imaginations with his potential. 

“He’s better than me, but he reminds me of a young Jimmy Harbaugh,” Harbaugh gushed Saturday after McCarthy played a nearly mistake-free, efficient game in Iowa City. 

Then, it felt like Michigan was light years away from achieving the goals that it often outlined for itself: Beating Ohio State, winning a Big Ten Championship, making the College Football Playoff. 

Now, Michigan has checked off all of those accomplishments and has a chance to double down. It’s on a collision course for another showdown with the Buckeyes and may have a pretty good shot at cracking the playoffs with one loss, too. 

That altered perception is a testament to this group of Wolverines. They may not have paved the way like last year’s group but, to date, they have continued the ascent. It’s a task easier said than done, especially after a chaotic offseason that nearly saw Harbaugh leave for the NFL. 

Saturday’s game at Iowa is an apt microcosm for the transformation. Michigan stormed into Kinnick — a daunting stadium infamous for producing stunning upsets — and made itself at home. The Wolverines hushed the crowd from the onset with a thorough 11-play, 75-yard opening drive, taking an early lead which they never relinquished. 

They even brought pink towels onto the field, an ode to the walls inside Kinnick’s away locker room, which are painted pink in a pointed psychological tactic. 

In the past, perhaps in 2020, Michigan would have wilted. 

But the 2022 Wolverines? 

“(We wanted to) let them know that we don’t care,” McCarthy said of the towels. “Doesn’t matter. Didn’t faze us.” 

Nothing seems to faze the program nowadays, most certainly not a trip to Indiana. 

What a difference two years can make.