Let me point something out for you real
quick here: Michigan has won one national title since 1948.

Chris Burke

The Wolverines aren’t winning them every other year.
They’re not playing in the title game consistently.
They’ve won one title in 55 years.

So maybe former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler had it right when
he was here.

When Schembechler had the reins, the Wolverines played
nonconference games for one simple reason: to get ready for the Big
Ten season and a run at the Rose Bowl.

Even though Michigan was consistently among the nation’s
best, that thinking never really changed until 1997, when the
Wolverines ran the table en route to the program’s 11th
national title. And it wasn’t that the fans, coaches and
players didn’t want to win those nonconference games under
Schembechler — of course they did. But Michigan belonged in
the Rose Bowl, and if it took a loss prior to the Big Ten season to
find out what the team was made of, so be it.

So now, just days removed from that punch-in-the-stomach
collapse in South Bend, it might be time to embrace that
Schembechler strategy.

That’s because Michigan is hosting a pretty good San Diego
State team on Saturday — the last game before a very good
Iowa team comes into town — and the Wolverines certainly
don’t look ready to head back to Pasadena.

“We’re going to look at the film,” Michigan
running back David Underwood said after Saturday’s loss.
“We’ve got a lot of things that need to get

First and foremost, this team needs to get refocused. On the one
hand, it shouldn’t be that hard because every Michigan team
over the last five years has now endured this same fate during its
first time venturing out on the road.

On the other hand, there’s always a chance that a tough
loss — especially on the road to a rival — could linger
for the rest of the year.

The good news is that Michigan has been able to avoid that sort
of misery. The Wolverines are 4-0 following a nonconference road
loss over the last four years.

Getting back to finding success is critical this coming weekend
because the following week begins — that’s right, Bo
— the Big Ten season. And that means that the Wolverines have
one week to right the ship before the Hawkeyes come a-callin’
in search of their third straight victory over Michigan.

“We’re going to see what kind of leadership we
have,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said yesterday of
Michigan’s final nonconference tuneup. “We have to see
if we can get ready to go into the Big Ten season. Certainly,
we’ve got a challenge here this week.”

Carr wants to win this game, no doubt. But Carr’s been
here long enough to know that a Big Ten conference title can make
people forget all about the problems earlier in the year.

Do you think anyone was thinking about Oregon’s victory
last year while they were storming the field after Michigan knocked
off Ohio State? I highly doubt it.

So with that in mind, it’s time for the Wolverines to take
a deep breath, try to forget about bombing at Notre Dame and figure
out how to get ready for the Hawkeyes.

“We’re going to come back,” linebacker Scott
McClintock said. “Notre Dame played great, but they have
nothing to do with the rest of the season.”

Right, damage control.

Obviously, if the goal of every Michigan team is to win the Big
Ten title, then the Wolverines had darn well better be firing on
all cylinders for the start of the Big Ten season.

Which means Michigan has some significant questions to answer on

But when you’re talking Big Ten football, you’re
talking about the running game (which is probably another thing
Michigan can thank Bo for). And no matter how many sensational wide
receivers Michigan has on its roster, the Wolverines will not be
going anywhere in the conference season unless someone steps up and
takes the running back position by the throat.

“Obviously, our ineffectiveness running the football
(against Notre Dame) put us in a lot of down-and-distance
situations,” Carr said. “We threw the football too many
times. We don’t want to throw the ball 45 times a game, but
when you rush for (56) yards on 30 carries, that’s what

Lest you’ve forgotten amidst all the hype about
Michigan’s tremendous receiving corps, the same wide
receivers were here last year. And remember what happened in the
Wolverines’ crucial conference games last year?

Win over Purdue: Chris Perry, 28 carries for 95 yards.

Win over Michigan State: Perry, 51 carries for 219 yards.

Win over Ohio State: Perry, 31 carries for 154 yards.

The colder the weather gets and the more important every game
gets, the more current Michigan teams revert to Schembechler-style

And there’s Bo again. If he were writing this column,
he’d be telling everyone to stop acting like a loss to Notre
Dame is the end of the world. He’d tell you the
season’s young and Michigan’s team is pretty young and
things take a while to come together.

And he’d probably tell you to get ready to go to Pasadena
in January.

We’re not in the “Point-a-minute” days of
Fritz Crisler anymore when Michigan just steamrolled everyone that
it played on its way to an undisputed national championship.

Now, we’re in an era where parity is at an all-time high.
Is Notre Dame down from previous years? Yeah, sure they are. But
there’s still more talent on that roster than a lot of
rosters in college football.

People act like the national title is Michigan’s to lose
every year. That a loss to Notre Dame or Oregon or Washington
prevented the Wolverines from grabbing the title that is rightfully
theirs. But there are lots of other teams with designs on national

So here’s what going to happen: Michigan’s going to
be fine.

This program isn’t one of the best and most storied in the
country by chance.

The Wolverines are going to iron out some of the kinks —
they’ll figure out that running game, just you watch, and
they’ll get everything else settled, too by the time the
conference season rolls around.

A 12-0 season with a national title would have been nice,
there’s no question about that. And Michigan will aim for
that outcome again next year without hesitation.

But, for now, it’s only September and — last time I
checked — Michigan is still very much alive in the hunt for a
Big Ten championship.

And as long as that’s the case, year in and year out, then
Michigan football will continue to be fine.

Right, Bo?


— Chris Burke can be reached at

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