About a year ago, I decided that I would be going to the 2001 Citrus Bowl. Michigan had just been invited to the self-proclaimed “best bowl trip in America,” so my friends and I didn”t think twice. We were there.
So what”s changed?
This year, it”s a completely different story. In the few hours that have passed since Michigan accepted a vacation to central Florida for the 2002 game, I”ve been bombarded with fans” disgust and disappointment.
The common message is simple people don”t want to go this year.
An upset fan base should come as no surprise. Five days ago, Michigan was a lock for the BCS.
The chances of Ohio State winning in Ann Arbor were about as good as those of Rutgers making a bowl.
But I think there”s more to this than the simple disappointment of losing a big game I think it has everything to do with losing The Big Game.
Last year, Michigan could count on its offense to put points on the board, but knew that it had to score enough to make up for a notoriously weak defense.
This year, Michigan also trusts just one of its units, but it”s the defense.
Last year, Michigan lost three disappointing contests en route to an 8-3 record
This year, same thing.
Last year, Michigan spent New Year”s Day in Orlando.
Same will happen this year.
So what”s the difference? It”s obvious. Contrary to what every team in the NCAA thinks, Michigan has three football rivals Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Last year, Michigan didn”t play Notre Dame, but it beat Michigan State and Ohio State.
This year, Michigan didn”t play Notre Dame, but it lost to the Spartans and Buckeyes.
There”s the difference.
This Michigan team was very good at best the midseason national title hopes were nothing but a tease. And at this school, what separates very good from elite is bigger than the difference between 8-3 and 10-1. It”s making sure that you win the big games.
John Cooper was fired from Ohio State largely due to his inability to beat Michigan. That”s how big this game is. Before the season started, I asked Jim Tressel whether he would rather go 11-1 with the one loss being to Michigan or 1-10 but beat Michigan in Ann Arbor. He laughed and told me that he wasn”t looking that far ahead yet.
I was joking, but not completely. An era of good feelings has just begun in Columbus, regardless of the fact that Tressel”s team could do no better than the Outback Bowl.
It wouldn”t have mattered if Ohio State got just its fourth win of the season against Michigan, an end to a season without a bowl game conclusion. Ohio State would still be feeling better about its team right now than Michigan does.
This Citrus Bowl invitation is not an end to a disappointing season, per se. The fact of the matter is that Michigan shouldn”t have expected much more than 8-3 going into New Year”s. Without an offensive line, quarterback or running attack, 8-3 is nothing to cringe at.
But it is impossible to think about the fact that Michigan lost to its biggest rivals and not be furious. It”s horrible when you realize that Michigan fans won”t ring in the new year on Bourbon Street because their team couldn”t knock off Ohio State at home. Jeremy LeSueur, Michigan State”s timekeeper, John Navarre it”s impossible not to look for people to blame.
But at the end of the day, one fact is clear as the Miami sky Michigan will never succeed if it doesn”t win its big games. There”s no one to blame, there are no excuses to project Michigan shouldn”t lose to Ohio State and Michigan State because the Wolverines should do to their rivals what Ohio State did to them in the first half Saturday.
Hey, Michigan”s going to its fifth straight New Year Day bowl, its 27th straight postseason appearance. I”ll be in Orlando if nothing else, it”s better than New Jersey.
But I can understand fans” disappointment. It”s not because Orlando isn”t the warmest of holiday destinations. It”s not because once you graduate high school, you”re officially too old to visit Disney World without a child. It”s not even because the Citrus Bowl isn”t part of the BCS.
It”s because Michigan didn”t get the job done. And here in Ann Arbor, that”s all people ask.
Jon Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. But don”t e-mail him on New Year”s Day he”ll be in Orlando.