ANN ARBOR, Mich. – When the final seconds of Michigan’s blowout win ticked off the clock at last season’s Big Ten Championship Game, the celebration was epic.
Michigan had ended an 18-year conference title drought. Vanquished a rival after losing 15 of 16. Silenced national media members who had made names for themselves by mocking Jim Harbaugh and his program.
For the first time ever, the Wolverines were heading to the College Football Playoff. And no matter what happened in the Orange Bowl, finally overcoming all those hurdles was good enough to make the season a success.
But this year feels different. Very different.
After Michigan’s win over Ohio State in 2021, fans and players flooded the field to blow off years of frustration. Nobody had witnessed a win over the Buckeyes since 2011, and it was something to be cherished and appreciated.
Fast forward to this season, when Michigan earned an even more impressive win, dominating Ohio State in Columbus on a sunny fall afternoon. How did the team react?
“The job’s not finished,” quarterback J.J. McCarthy said in his postgame interview.
A week later, his message remained the same, as McCarthy downplayed the importance of his Big Ten championship hat. He was glad to beat Purdue, but not satisfied.
The seed of this mentality was planted last year, in the moments after Michigan’s 34-11 loss to Georgia. J.J. McCarthy, Donovan Edwards, Andrel Anthony, and Blake Corum silently watched the Bulldogs celebrate their trip to the national championship game.
Even though that season was a resounding success, it ended a week too soon. Michigan’s young players had gotten a taste of college football’s grandest stage, and they craved more.
All year their play reflected that longing, as McCarthy took over as starting quarterback, Corum became a Heisman Trophy candidate, and Edwards exploded in Michigan’s two biggest games. The result was a perfect 13-0 season -- one of the best in program history.
But still, this team isn’t satisfied.
On Saturday, No. 2 Michigan will take the field against No. 3 TCU, a team that won its first 12 games and came an inch short of perfection in the Big 12 title. Max Duggan is the Heisman Trophy runner-up, Sonny Dykes is the National Coach of the Year, and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley is the Broyles Award winner.
It’s Michigan’s greatest challenge so far.
Last year, Michigan went into the semifinal as a 7.5-point underdog, and for good reason. That Georgia defense proved to be one of the best in history, and the Bulldogs went on to win the national title.
Now the shoe is on the other foot, as it’s Michigan coming in as the favorite. A loss wouldn’t make the season feel like a failure, but the Wolverines don’t have last year’s house money mentality, either.
Michigan had never won 13 games in a season, and that won’t change even if it loses to TCU this weekend. But don’t tell that to McCarthy, Edwards, and the rest of this team. They don’t want to hear it.
The College Football Playoff is nothing new to these guys. This time, they aren’t happy to be here. They expect to win.