In the past four years, Michigan has won two Big Ten titles and had players win numerous postseason awards – including a fair share of All-America honors.
But it hasn’t won a bowl game.
The third-ranked Wolverines will get a chance to reverse that trend when they take on No. 8 Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
More than likely, Michigan will also be looking for a little redemption – and not just because of the controversy surrounding Florida’s selection as Ohio State’s opponent in the National Championship game.
Pasadena hasn’t been kind to Michigan of late.
In the 2004 Rose Bowl, Southern Cal soundly defeated the Wolverines, 28-14, thanks in large part to a standout performance from quarterback Matt Leinart.
Then in 2005, Texas quarterback Vince Young sliced through the Wolverines’ vulnerable defense for 372 total yards, including 192 on the ground, to lead the Longhorns to a last-second 38-37 victory.
Even though a trip to Pasadena wasn’t at the top of Michigan’s wish list this season, coach Lloyd Carr believes those disappointing Rose Bowl losses should provide more than enough motivation for his players.
“We’re going to make every effort to win one of these things because we lost the last two,” Carr said.
The game will give Carr a chance to even his record against the Trojans, who hold a 2-1 edge since he joined the Michigan coaching staff as an assistant in 1980.
The Wolverines faced Southern Cal in each of Bo Schembechler’s final two seasons as head coach, during which Carr was an assistant on Schembechler’s staff.
Michigan beat the Trojans 22-14 in 1989. Linebacker John Milligan’s late interception halted a Southern Cal scoring drive to seal the Wolverine victory.
The Trojans avenged that loss the following year in somewhat controversial fashion – at least the way Carr tells it.
“We ran a play I’ll never forget,” Carr said. “We ran a fake punt on fourth down and converted it, but got a holding call that was of some debate. Coach Schembechler was a little bit upset, and to make a long story short, (Southern Cal) ended up winning that game.”
The 17-10 loss was undoubtedly disappointing for the Wolverines. But the game also added to the Rose Bowl’s grand history – a past littered with National Champions and Heisman Trophy winners that earned the bowl game the nickname “Granddaddy of Them All.”
“I think going back prior to the (Bowl Championship Series), the tradition of the Rose Bowl – the Pac-10, the Big Ten – there’s no other tradition like it,” Carr said. “To be able to participate in this game is something that I can assure you our team is very excited about.”
And the Wolverines aren’t the only ones getting pumped. Michigan fans have already gobbled up the University’s allotment of 26,000 Rose Bowl tickets. At his press conference last week, Carr thanked the fans for their “absolutely wonderful” response.
Odds are the Wolverines will be even more grateful for the 26,000 strong Wolverine fans in the Rose, which sits just 16.5 miles from Southern Cal’s home stadium.
That enthusiastic support might be just what Michigan needs to notch its first Rose Bowl victory in almost a decade, and add to that already impressive trophy case.