EAST LANSING — After three years of torture, Michigan football fans were one win away from legitimately saying their team is for real.
In both 2009 and 2010, the loss to the Spartans was the beginning of a second-half collapse following an undefeated start to the season.
After a 6-0 start this year, Wolverine fans had been forced to hold back their excitement.
It’s like that eighth grade dance, when you were getting down with that babe on the dance floor but a chaperone came over and said, “Leave room for Jesus!” You want to get in there, but there’s that fear of getting in trouble holding you back.
Wolverine fans have had to leave room in fear of another second-half disappointment.
A win against the 22nd-ranked Spartans, and that space for Jesus would be non-existent. You could dance all night, with no fear.
No. 11 Michigan (2-1 Big Ten, 6-1 overall) would be 7-0 and in the driver’s seat of the Big Ten race with only a struggling Purdue team in the way of an 8-0 start. From there, who knows what could happen?
Instead, the Wolverines left East Lansing with their fourth-straight loss to the Spartans (2-0, 5-1) and a boatload of questions.
Is this just another over-ranked Michigan team who beat a bunch of soft teams to start the season? Should we prepare for another Michigan football collapse?
Is it still OK to call Michigan State “Little Brother”? Has Denard Robinson (9-for-24 for 123 yards, one touchdown and a critical interception) actually ever thrown a football before? Or was that Nick Sheridan in disguise?
These are all valid questions that deserve to be answered. The thing is, while they could have easily been answered after a win (Answer key: No. No. Yes. Yes. No — you’re welcome), the questions remain impossible to answer after this loss (except maybe questions three through five, but I’ll leave those up for your own interpretation.)
Yes, it was a fourth-straight loss to the Spartans. It hurts — bad. It’s like losing to your little brother in… Eh, nevermind. The bottom line is, it’s embarrassing, really.
Last season, the Wolverines went 2-5 after the loss to Michigan State. In 2009, they went 1-6. Could this be the start to another epic second-half collapse? Possibly.
But there’s too much talent on this team, and this coaching staff has brought a winning attitude that the players have clearly bought in to.
Only time will tell.
While it was a loss to a bitter rival, it was still just one loss. It wasn’t five. There’s still plenty of football to be played this season, as Michigan coach Brady Hoke would love to tell you.
After a bye week this week, the Wolverines have home games against Purdue, No. 14 Nebraska and Ohio State, and they play at Iowa and No. 16 Illinois.
None of the games will be easy, especially after Purdue. Iowa currently may be near the bottom of the Big Ten standings, but Kinnick Stadium isn’t exactly a welcoming environment to play in. Illinois has played like the real deal this year. So has Nebraska, despite a loss to Big Ten favorite Wisconsin.
And Ohio State — well, they’re still Ohio State.
But if this team is going to prove it’s different from past years, winning the tough games is how it’s going to happen. The Wolverines failed their first big test, but it wasn’t the only one they’ll have.
“I know for a fact this team will bounce back,” said senior defensive tackle Mike Martin. “Guys are hungry for the next game, and that’s the biggest difference in this team.”
The players and the coaches are already saying the right things, but now Michigan is going to have to show it.
Starting with a win against the Boilermakers in two weeks, you might be able to begin turning a blind eye to that chaperone and make your move.
And who knows, by the end of the season, maybe you’ll still even get a smooch.
—Raftery never had a good experience at an eighth grade dance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.