The Michigan football team is returning from a week in Rome where they took in the sights, the sounds, the Pope, and also found some time to get a few practices in along the way.
It was a controversial trip in that it hasn’t really been done on this scale before — at least not in football. As with most things in college football, however, it was mostly controversial because other coaches hadn’t thought of it before — or they have no desire to have to do it now in order to keep up.
For instance, can you imagine Nick Saban trying to wrangle his players at The Louvre? He’d be fidgeting so much he’d knock over the Venus de Milo. Or Notre Dame at the Great Pyramids in Egypt. If you cup your ear, you can hear Brian Kelly yelling “Get up you lazy mummy!” as clear as a bell.
Or Mark Dantonio trying to control his Michigan State Spartans at the casinos in Ontario…?
Regardless, there was a whole new world opened up by Michigan, and it’s something that other coaches are now going to have to respond to.
While Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines were in Rome, however, Urban Meyer and his coaching staff were busy recruiting. On Tuesday, they landed a verbal commitment from Georgia defensive end Brenton Cox, rated the No. 2 strong-side defensive end in the nation per the 247Sports Composite.
Buckeye fans were obviously excited, but it didn’t take long to turn their attention toward Michigan and Harbaugh, who were off gallivanting in Rome. The thought being that while the Wolverines were busy sightseeing, the Buckeyes were working and getting better.
Combined with Michigan’s slow start in recruiting — Penn State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are all ranked ahead of UM in the 2018 recruiting race — the gap between the Wolverines and the Buckeyes, it would appear, was widening.
One day later, 4-star Florida cornerback Sevyn Banks committed to Ohio State, and the pointing and laughing started all over again.
Winning, however, can be as much about growing off the field as it is about growing on the field.
This Michigan team comes home having grown closer than they ever were before. That might not feel like a tangible improvement to some, but it could provide the difference of just a matter of inches, and just think where both the Buckeyes and Wolverines would have ended up if it was Michigan who was on the side of those inches a year ago.
Team building isn’t new, it’s been around forever. It was likely some corporate retreat in the Poconos where the first “trust fall” was ever botched. The Buckeyes usually do some team building within their position groups, be it water skiing, paintballing, or just a pool party at a coach’s house. These are off-hours where teams round themselves out and get closer.
Jim Tressel used to have his players learn facts about their teammates. Why? Because he wanted his players to know who their teammates were as people, and not just numbers and positions.
Look at what Urban Meyer does with Real Life Wednesdays and Live Life Wednesdays. Players were in tears a couple of weeks ago as they spoke of their struggles with each other. These shared experiences bring teams closer together, whether they happen in Rome or Ohio.
So yeah, while Michigan was in Rome, Ohio State was working and recruiting and having success in that area. In Rome, however, the Wolverines grew as a team — even if they had never held a single practice. And don’t kid yourself, last week was also a recruiting home run for Michigan as well. I can already see recruits not just wanting to sign with Michigan, but also wanting to enroll early so that they can be a part of the next trip.
Both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines got better over the last week, but Michigan’s improvement was more immediate and will be seen on the field this year. Ohio State’s improvement, meanwhile, won’t be seen until the 2018 class hits the field around 16 months from now.
The fun part about this rivalry is that a score is always kept. Every day. The score from this past week, however, is still pending.
Will Michigan’s trip to Rome be the difference in the game come November? Who knows, but if it is, don’t be surprised when Ohio State starts getting their passports in order pretty quickly after the 2017 season is over.