Are You Not Entertained?

Michigan 49, Michigan State 0

Photo: Alejandro Zúñiga

I'm not used to this yet. 

I don't think I ever will be. My reptilian Michigan sports brain won't let me get used to this. And honestly, I think I'm fine with that.

Two years ago, after Michigan's 37-33 loss in East Lansing, I tried to make the case for optimism. Despite the anguish of another close loss at the hands of Michigan's second biggest rival, I tried to look for the positives. Michigan was still relatively young at that point. Coming off a dismal 2-4 Covid season, they were still prone to making frustrating youthful mistakes. And success in big games under Jim Harbaugh was almost nonexistent.

But despite all that, I still loved watching them. I loved rooting for them. That 2021 team just felt different from the 2018 or 2019 teams that had some early success. That team will always have a special place in my heart.

I wasn't fully able to acknowledge or comprehend it at the time, but Michigan was about to make a huge jump. Four games later, on a snowy, cold and gray November afternoon in the Big House, they did.

That loss to the Spartans in 2021 was the last time Michigan lost to a Big Ten opponent. This is a level of dominance no one could've seen coming. At least not me. 

But it's real. This Michigan team is playing on a level that, perhaps, none of us have ever seen in Ann Arbor.

What's great is the current Michigan squad doesn't feel that far removed from the spirit that made the 2021 team so special. A lot of the same pieces are still in place.

So here we are, at the bye week...a natural reflection point. While I've been busy photographing home games and maintaining my coverage with STAT-Os every week, I've been lacking on these blog pages. Part of it is real life and the time constraints that come along with that. Another part is a lot of content ends up on social media. But also, this 2023 season has been a strange one in that none of these games have really been that all. And yeah, it's awesome to win convincingly...which Michigan is easily doing...but that doesn't lend itself to interesting editorial content. 

You could almost copy/paste the recap from every game Michigan has played so far this season. Again, I'm not complaining. But the national pundits and fans of other schools to say that Michigan hasn't played anyone yet do have a point. These wins are...boring. It's like Maximus in the first half of Gladiator where he just bludgeons his opponents in 5 seconds while the crowd just kinds of stands there watching. 

"Are you not entertained?"

I mean, yeah...for us Michigan fans, this is great. Beating your rival 49-0 on the road is wonderful. But what's the bigger story? Is there a bigger story? 

I think this week we finally got a proper gauge of where Michigan (and Michigan State) are at the moment. Michigan is a program that seemingly can no longer be stopped by any pedestrian opponent. Things will start to ramp up in the coming weeks, so I'm not concerned with the "they haven't played anyone yet" narrative. They'll play better opponents in due time.

For the Spartans, man, that program is in free-fall. On a night when their pre-game jumbotron quiz feature had a question about Adolf Hitler's birthplace, Michigan showed up to hand them their worst loss in the 100-year history of Spartan Stadium. Michigan State now has to replace their $95 million coach who was fired in a sexual misconduct scandal (which will continue to play out in court for the forseeable future) while the Big Ten is set to expand with 4 more high-end programs. There simply couldn't be a tougher time for the Spartans to be struggling.

So as we head into this bye week, Michigan sits at #2 in both polls. The first CFB playoff rankings will come out tomorrow night where surely they'll be #2 there as well. The Wolverines lead the nation in scoring defense with 5.9 points per game, allowing only 5 touchdowns all season...but they've also scored 4. Michigan is outscoring opponents 107 to 0 in the 3rd quarter. They sit almost all of their starters by the end of the 3rd quarter. JJ McCarthy leads the nation in QBR, 2nd in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passing efficiency. He's the current odd-on favorite to win the Heisman trophy.

You could argue the two most important on-field ingredients for a championship team are a dominant defense and an elite NFL-caliber quarterback. Michigan has that. They have a enough rushing/passing/receiving talent on offense to do whatever they need to win. Opponents must gameplan for every facet of attack when playing Michigan. They also need to find a way to score more than one touchdown per game, against a defense filled with future NFL players...which no one has done yet. But again, better opponents are coming.

As I sit here typing this, I still can't really wrap my head around how good this team truly is. Everything I see on gameday tells me this is the best Michigan team of my lifetime. And that's not just from what we've seen this season, but from what's been building the last 3 years. 

Since that loss to Michigan State in 2021, this program has been on a steady trajectory to where they are now. There have been some bumps, but the they're on their way. I can't predict what may or may not happen, but I do know that Michigan is built for what's about to come. 

Get ready folks. This season has only just begun.

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