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Sense of hopeless resignation settles on Michigan football program after another flat performance

Wolverines fall to 1-2 after back-to-back losses against Michigan State, Indiana

Brad Hawkins #20 of the Michigan Wolverines lays on the field after breaking up a play during the second quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium on November 07, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana.
Brad Hawkins #20 of the Michigan Wolverines lays on the field after breaking up a play during the second quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium on November 07, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana. (2020 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football just isn’t in a good place right now.

And at this point, it kind of just is what it is.

On Saturday, a week after getting blindsided by its in-state rival, Michigan dropped another dud against No. 13 Indiana. The Hoosiers scored at will throughout the game, which had already been decided by halftime.

There’s no shame in losing to this Indiana team. Sure, falling to someone for the first time in 33 years sounds bad, but the Hoosiers are now ranked in the top 10, and Michigan had no business being ranked or favored, anyway.

The real tragedy for Michigan is the fact that Indiana so clearly is the better team. A week ago, Michigan State was the better team -- the same Michigan State team that lost to Rutgers by 11 and Iowa by 42 on either side of that Michigan win.

Iowa and Rutgers are a combined 0-4 against teams not named Michigan State. But when the Spartans and Wolverines met in Ann Arbor, it didn’t exactly take a keen football eye to see which was the better team.

Michigan fans shouldn’t be angry about losing to Indiana. Michigan fans should be outraged that Indiana is simply and obviously a much better team.

Ty Fryfogle #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers runs the ball while being chased by Vincent Gray #4 of the Michigan Wolverines at Memorial Stadium on November 07, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana.
Ty Fryfogle #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers runs the ball while being chased by Vincent Gray #4 of the Michigan Wolverines at Memorial Stadium on November 07, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana. (2020 Getty Images)

The last two weekends have been rough. Starting the season 1-2 is rough. But the true, deep-seated hopelessness most fans are feeling comes from the trajectory of this regime.

Jim Harbaugh’s arrival five years ago was one of the most reinvigorating moments in Michigan football history. He was by far the most qualified coach to pull the program from its seven-year slumber, and it didn’t take him any time at all to get rolling.

In his first year, the team won 10 games and thrashed Florida in a New Year’s Day bowl. The following year, the Wolverines spent almost the entire season ranked in the top five nationally and came within a play of a Big Ten title appearance.

Fans had every reason to be excited about the program. Finally, after so many years, the team was competing for championships.

But the following season, Michigan lost five games. Then in 2018, Ohio State and Florida erased any good feeling from the 10-game winning streak. Last year: four more losses in big games.

At the very least, Michigan had always been dominant in the games it was supposed to win. Bad teams didn’t beat Harbaugh, and he was perfect against the likes of Indiana, Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois and the Big Ten’s middle class.

Now, that’s not even the case anymore.

Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Indiana Hoosiers celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Memorial Stadium on November 07, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana.
Michael Penix Jr. #9 of the Indiana Hoosiers celebrates a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Memorial Stadium on November 07, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana. (2020 Getty Images)

Losing to Michigan State as a 21-point favorite was disastrous. Watching Indiana march effortlessly up and down the field was telling.

At best, Harbaugh is plateauing. At worst, he’s nearing the end of what was once a rejuvenating era full of promise.

It’s not quite back to square one, but it’s a pivotal time for the program’s future. Making the wrong hire in 2008 set Michigan football back for a decade. If the Wolverines do decide to go in another direction, they face a high-stakes coaching search that could have consequences just as dire.

Whether it’s Harbaugh or someone else at the helm going forward, the list of concerns is long. How did Mel Tucker come in and out-fox Michigan with what will surely be his least talented roster at MSU? Are Don Brown and Josh Gattis the right coordinators? Is there any way to close the gap with Ohio State, or is another decade of losing The Game inevitable?

One of the loudest -- and most valid -- questions about changing coaches is, “If Harbaugh can’t save Michigan football, who can?”

Right now, as Michigan sits at rock bottom, you have to wonder if the answer to that question is a famous quote from Harbaugh himself.

“Nooooooobody.”


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