Sunday, June 20

The Monday After: Its time to lower expectations a bit for Michigan and Jim Harbaugh – CBS Sports

Michigan suffered a shocking upset 27-24 loss to rival Michigan State on Saturday. Or at least, we’re supposed to call it shocking. Generally, when a team that closes as a 21.5-point favorite loses a game at home, it’s a shocking upset. Particularly when the team that beats it is unranked and was last seen being the first team to lose a Big Ten game to Rutgers in two years thanks to seven turnovers.

So it’s supposed to be shocking, but it wasn’t. Not because it was a rivalry game and “strange things happen when you throw out the record books.” Not because we’re amid a pandemic that has turned the country on its head, let alone college football programs, and can lead to strange results. No, it wasn’t a shocking upset because it was Michigan, and we’ve become immune to these things happening to Michigan football.

Maybe it was shocking in that Michigan lost to a Michigan State team in its first season — and second game — under Mel Tucker. Tucker became the first Michigan State coach to beat the Wolverines in his first try since Nick Saban did so in 1995 (whatever happened to that guy?). But it wasn’t shocking because the loss dropped Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan teams fell to 1-6 at home against the school’s chief rivals — Sparty and Ohio State.

Still, there was a question of whether or not this was the “worst” or “most embarrassing” loss that Michigan had suffered in the Harbaugh Era. I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that it might’ve been or that there are so many others worth consideration.

“The team is going to own this,” Harbaugh said during his postgame press conference. “Congratulations to Michigan State. But we’ve got to own this loss. Each person looking at themselves (in the mirror). Player, coach. All of us.”

At what point does Michigan own that this might be what Michigan is now? A perfectly respectable football program that will win far more football games than it loses, but it’s always going to lose games somewhere along the way. Maybe Michigan already does own that. Every time Michigan suffers one of these losses, there’s talk of Harbaugh being on the hot seat or failing to turn the program around.

None of the talk ever emanates from Ann Arbor. It tends to come from outside.

Still, at some point, it’s fair to wonder what the goal is in Ann Arbor. Is it winning national titles? That’s not something Michigan has done with regularity in over 70 years. When the Wolverines last won a title in 1997, it was the first time they’d done so since 1948. Not even Bo Schembechler, Harbaugh’s coach and the program’s icon, won national titles (or recognized ones, anyway). When Schembechler told his players, “those who stay will be champions,” he was talking about Big Ten titles. Bo won plenty of those. Harbaugh has yet to win one, and Michigan hasn’t won the Big Ten since 2004.

Right now, even that seems like a goal that’s too far out of reach for this program, though I don’t know if it’s fair to put the blame for that on Harbaugh or Michigan. That’s more a byproduct of Ohio State becoming a juggernaut few teams in the country can compete with on a regular basis, let alone within the Big Ten. Michigan’s problem is that Ohio State is its greatest rival, so it’s hammered over the head with Ohio State’s greatness in a way no other Big Ten program is.

Maybe what we all need to own is that, right now, Michigan isn’t a program that can suffer a shocking upset loss. Instead, all it can hope for is to be the program that pulls one-off against somebody else.

Random Factoid of the Week

It’s already clear Ohio State is the class of the Big Ten and is likely to win the conference a fourth consecutive time. Looking around the conference right now, the only other 2-0 teams through two weeks are Northwestern, Purdue and Indiana. You probably can’t remember the last time those three programs all started with 2-0 records in conference play, but don’t worry; there’s a reason for that.

Idea of the Week

Have you ever sat on metal bleachers like that for a long time? They suck, but they’re cost-effective, which is why you find them in so many stadiums. So shout out to this cadet for understanding the opportunity afforded him by a lack of a crowd and optimizing his experience at the game.

It’s that kind of thinking that’s going to make him a general one day.

Galaxy Brain Moment of the Week

Shortly after Clemson suffered a bit of a scare against Boston College on Saturday, Dabo Swinney broke the news that Trevor Lawrence — who missed the game after testing positive for COVID-19 — will not be available for next week’s game against Notre Dame. Upon hearing that news, my first thought was, “well that sucks” because it’s the biggest game on Clemson’s regular-season schedule, so you’d prefer the best players all be available.

My second thought was, “well, whatever, I just hope that Trevor Lawrence fully recovers and doesn’t suffer anything other than a runny nose for a few days.” My third thought was, “maybe my second thought should have been my first thought.”

My final thought was one that can only be concocted in a mind that’s been melted by over a decade of covering this sport mixed with the further mind-melting powers of 2020 in general. It was “what if Clemson’s better off not having Trevor Lawrence available for the Notre Dame game?”

Not because Clemson is better without him, because it isn’t. No, it’s because, while Clemson could still beat Notre Dame without Lawrence, a loss to the Fighting Irish probably won’t matter much. Imagine a scenario in which Clemson finishes the season as ACC champion with a regular-season loss to Notre Dame, and it’s College Football Playoff credentials are being questioned (again, it’s 2020; anything is possible). The committee will likely look at the loss and say “well, they didn’t have Trevor Lawrence. We can’t hold that against them.” So Clemson is essentially in a spot where it cannot lose next weekend, even if it loses.

So, yeah, how’s your 2020 going?

Soon To Be A New Rule Against This of the Week

On Saturday, Oklahoma State decided to take advantage of the giant video board it has behind one of its end zones by putting up a bunch of yellow lines as Texas lined up for a field goal. It was an ingenious idea, and I loved it. I also wondered how long it would be before the Big 12 tells Oklahoma State that it can never do it again.

I’m setting the over/under on that phone call at “has already happened.”

Social Media Teams of the Week

First, there was this effort from Maryland after it upset Minnesota on Friday night.

Then, there was this masterpiece from Tulane after it took down Temple. I think the greatest sign of progress in human civilization is the creativity displayed by our nation’s social media managers. 

Catch of the Week

Penn State lost to Ohio State on Saturday night, but at least it found a new star in Jahan Dotson. This was a spectacular touchdown grab by Dotson, and it came immediately after he made another terrific catch the play before. And just in case the video isn’t enough for you, we also got a beautiful photo out of it as well.

Stat of the Week

Remember all the way back to the first weekend of the season when Mississippi State threw for 623 yards and five touchdowns against LSU? It was only five weeks ago, but it feels like years because the Bulldogs offense hasn’t come close to repeating it. In fact, the Mississippi State offense now ranks last in the SEC in passing efficiency.

After being held to 163 yards in the air (3.4 per attempt) by Alabama on Saturday during a 41-0 loss (the first time a Mike Leach team has been shutout), it’s now been six years since Mississippi State last scored a touchdown in Tuscaloosa.

Rankings Complaint of the Week

Listen, I’ve said enough about Michigan already, and I don’t want to pile on, but how is Michigan still ranked while Northwestern’s on the outside looking in? Northwestern is 2-0 after beating Iowa 21-20 in Iowa City, having to come back from an early 17-0 deficit following a couple of turnovers in the first quarter. This a week after Northwestern beat Maryland 43-3. The same Maryland team that beat the Minnesota team that Michigan beat the week before.

Northwestern deserves a spot in the AP Top 25 poll far more than Michigan right now.

Also, while we’re on the subject, are we really going to do this to ourselves with Texas again? The Longhorns jumped back into the rankings after beating Oklahoma State 41-34 in overtime. Now, I get it, it’s a huge win, but did you watch the game? Oklahoma State outgained the Longhorns in yards 530 to 287, and there’s no way Texas wins without the Cowboys turning the ball over five times. Granted, Texas deserves some of the credit for those turnovers, but this was not a sustainable performance. Maybe we should make sure the Longhorns get past West Virginia before we feel the need to rank them again.

College Football Playoff Projection of the Week

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Notre Dame

Until the next Monday After!

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