An inexperienced offensive line deals with chemistry issues to help a team with loads of potential lose winnable Big Ten games despite a successful quarterback and promising defense.
If you’re a young Michigan fan, you’ve been hearing this for the last two months, but if your fandom stretches back 20 years, this whole thing might just be a re-run.
That’s because the correlations between the 1993 Michigan football team and the current squad are strong, especially for former players.
“We had a young offensive line with a new quarterback, lost four games in the Big Ten when we were expected to be better than that,” said former starting center Marc Milia in a phone interview with the Daily. “There are definitely some correlations there.”
Going into the 1993 season, Michigan had won five straight Big Ten championships but had graduated a lot of seniors in the offseason. The talent was still there — cornerback Ty Law, running back Tyrone Wheatley and defensive lineman Buster Stanley were All-Americans — but the offensive line was entirely new and needed time to jell.
It didn’t help that Milia — then a fifth-year senior — got injured in the middle of the season, which disrupted the chemistry of the unit.
By the time Ohio State came to town, the Wolverines had lost four games by a combined 20 points, while the Buckeyes hadn’t lost a game and were the fifth-ranked team in the country.
They also had a defensive tackle, Dan Wilkinson, who would go on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Plus, running back Raymont Harris set the Buckeye record for most rushing yards in a bowl game, 235, and finished as the sixth-leading rusher in program history.
And yet, Ohio State didn’t score a single point in a 28-0 loss. Afterward, Buckeye coach John Cooper told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “It’s the most embarrassing game I think I’ve ever been associated with since I’ve been coaching college football. We got outplayed every way possible.”
Milia, finally healthy, was part of ground attack that finished with 241 yards rushing, despite losing Wheatley in the second quarter with an injury.
Just like that, the season was made. It didn’t matter that the Wolverines finished fifth in the Big Ten, because beating Ohio State, “kind of saved our season.”
“It was a close line,” Milia said. “We were expected to be in the game, but no one expected us to blow them out like we did.”
But not everything about these two teams are parallel. The 1993 squad improved as the year went on and hit Ohio State with a full head of steam. This year’s team is limping into The Game having lost four of its last six games.
“If we had a few extra things happen that would have swung our way, we certainly could have won those games and that matchup could have been a lot more significant,” Milia said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s definitively the case this year. They could have lost some of those games they barely won early on in the season, but a few things bounce the right way and Michigan is probably a lot more confident than they are right now going into this last game.”
He added: “But I definitely think there’s a chance they could surprise some people on Saturday. It’ll be interesting to see, because there’s a lot of things hanging in the balance, apparently, in terms of staff and recruiting implications I think.”
Milia went on to become an orthopedic surgeon. He was an All Big-Ten honorable mention, but didn’t have a pro career. His best football memories remain in Ann Arbor.
And of those memories, none was sweeter than that win over the Buckeyes.
“It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago,” Milia said. “Seems like yesterday for me. It was absolutely the best victory of my career.”