Michigan clinches college football playoff berth, giving Wolverines one more round to prove themselves
INDIANAPOLIS – Jack Harbaugh dug deep Friday night. The task of Michigan football’s patriarchal soul was to convey the gravity of the moment. Heading into the 2021 Big Ten Championship game on Saturday night, the first question that needed to be answered was whether the No.2 Wolverines would have a hangover.
There was no way, according to popular thought, that Michigan could rise as high mentally and physically as it had the week before against Ohio State. The argument could be made, after all the previous frustration against the Buckeyes, that the 42-27 decision was the Wolverines National Championship.
That’s why Michigan coach’s father Jim Harbaugh, 82, spoke to the team on Friday about the end. He chose a forgettable fight from a forgettable former middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo to make his point.
In 1977, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart beat Antuofermo so badly that he broke his ribs. The the New York Times that night described Antuofermo as having “no physical attributes to brag about except that he was bleeding well”. But the then 24-year-old Italian immigrant resisted the pain.
Afterwards, Antuofermo said that if he had been hit once again in those ribs, he would have stopped. But he never did. In the fifth round that night, Antuofermo staggered Hart with a shot and ultimately won by KO.
“One more turn. One more turn!” Jack Harbaugh said, recounting his message to the Wolverines.
The 44-year-old message from another century was received at the time. It took Saturday night for him to knock at home. Michigan defeated No. 13 Iowa 42-3 to secure one more round in the college football playoffs.
Stepping into the boisterous Saturday night atmosphere at Lucas Oil Stadium, one could argue that the team with the most wins in college football history was still short.
Michigan entered the game with 975 all-time wins, but had never qualified for the college football playoffs. Of course, the CFP only has eight of Michigan’s 142-year history of football, but the point is there.
The result proved that the Wolverines failed to peak in the snow last week in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They did not leave years of nostalgia with them. They opened up a box of ass on the Hawkeyes before opening up more possibilities.
Michigan: 2021 national champion? After what happened across the country on Saturday, why not? It might be time to party like 1997, the last time Michigan won it all.
“It’s all in front of us,” said linebacker Josh Ross.
On the surface, this Big Ten Championship Game was “easier” than killing the Ohio State giant. Michigan came in as a prohibitive 11-point favorite. Iowa had made their way to a 10-win season like they usually do. The Hawkeyes haven’t done anything particularly well other than creating turnovers. Their 24 interceptions were the highest by a Power Five team since 2014.
“The main cause of interceptions in the United States is spilled balls and knockdowns,” Jim Harbaugh told the Big Ten Network this week.
Harbaugh looked like a medical professional warning about the dangers of dental plaque.
Michigan proved in the first half that they haven’t used their entire playbook against Ohio State. Running back Blake Corum ran for 67 yards in UM’s seventh snap of the game. Fellow RB Donovan Edwards threw an optional pass to a wide-open Roman Wilson for the second score. Those two plays accounted for 142 of Michigan’s 253 yards in the first half.
Getting to this point means the season won’t be known just for beating the Buckeyes. There is another definition. There’s a Big Ten title, the Wolverines’ first since 2003 in their first Big Ten Championship game. There is a National Playoff semi-final against an as yet unknown opponent. But at least Michigan will be there.
Who would have guessed all of this 11 months ago, the day Michigan announced the extension of Harbaugh’s restructured contract that warned the coach after six seasons? https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/jim-harbaugh-finally-conquers-ohio-state-altering-his-career-as-michigan-declares-postseason-bonafides/ Maybe only this patriarch and his fiercely loyal family.
We can look again at Aidan Hutchinson, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. We can see RB Hassan Haskins, who has run almost half of his yards this campaign in the last four games of the regular season. We can look at corn blue and blue blood injected with a little bit of Cinderella.
Now one of the most traditional sports programs is suddenly a beginner. In the previous seven years, only 12 teams have taken the 28 available playoff spots. A “new” team has not appeared in the CFP at all since 2019. The group is now assured of at least a few new faces with Clemson and Ohio State on the outside.
And Michigan in it.
One more turn.
How did the Fightin ‘Antuofermos get here? Quarterback Cade McNamara has become something more than a game manager. Harbaugh has dedicated himself again and brought his coaching staff together. Baltimore Ravens coach Brother John recommended his linebacker coach become the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator.
Mike Macdonald, 34, quickly became a star ranking among the top 10 defensive scorers.
A brother reduced his staff to enrich his brother’s chances of success.
“I really love Michigan football and I really love you,” Jim told John, “so I want you both to be successful.”
I told you the family is fiercely loyal.
Jack Harbaugh still tells tales of Bo Schembechler, the legend under whom he worked for seven seasons as a defensive back coach.
John Harbaugh has Bo’s famous quote – “The team, the team, the team” – stuck in the Ravens facility.
These Wolverines have a bit of Bo in them.
Jim Harbaugh is still leading a large number of 12 people (one running back, two tight ends), preferring to crush him instead of using eye candy. The offense bludgeons you, then puts you to sleep. Wide receiver AJ Henning helped open the Ohio State game with a final touchdown.
Who knew that part of the Michigan lore would now be a decades-old story about a middleweight palooka hooked up to a heavyweight at a soccer factory.
âIt was somewhat embellished,â said playful Jack Harbaugh.
Check that out, Jack. Nothing is embellished on Michigan for the moment.
âWe have to finish the mission,â Macdonald said this week.
At least one more turn is guaranteed.