Football The Rivalry

Michigan Football: On Mirages And The Nature Of Reality

Ohio State 62 Michigan 39 Scoreboard

Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich doesn’t know what a mirage is. That’s pretty much the only logical takeaway from his analysis of Ohio State’s 62-39 ritual disembowelment of the Wolverines.

“I would say to any recruit or any potential guy that sees maybe what happened in the Ohio State game or is persuaded against coming here because of that, I would say that alone is a mirage and what we’ve built here is a powerhouse,” Winovich said. “That’s the Michigan I’m leaving. A Michigan that is headed in this trajectory where the sky’s the limit.”

“We didn’t have our best game that day, obviously, I don’t think anybody wouldn’t say that,” he said.

“It wasn’t us. It happened. It is what it is and we’re going to look it in the face. It wasn’t us being way worse than Ohio State, we just had a bad day and they capitalized on it. Just like we’ve been doing, we’re coming back stronger and we’re going to remember this next year.”

Ohio State’s social media team has already had some fun with this, and it was a topic on this week’s episode of The Buckeye Weekly Podcast as well. But it’s probably worth spelling out in some detail here as well.

Ohio State beat the Wolverines in all five years he played for them. They won the two games before that, as well.

The Buckeyes have won 14 of the last 15 games in the series, losing only in a season with an interim coach and suspended quarterback.

And the idea that Michigan is “a powerhouse” as Winovich says, is an idea that is simply not based in reality.

Michigan is a good program. It would be ludicrous to pretend that they’re not. They win fairly consistently, and have done so more often than not over the decades.

But the idea that they’re a powerhouse – a true, consistent top-5 program in the nation – is laughable.

Since 1950, the Wolverines have finished in the top-5 of the AP poll 10 times. That’s just once more than Michigan State, and ties the Wolverines with Tennessee for 12th over that span.

For comparison, Ohio State has done it 24 times.

Go back 10 years. 20 years. 30 years. 40 years. 50 years. There is no span in which Michigan is even the best program in the Big Ten, let alone one of the best in the nation.

Michigan proudly proclaims itself the winningest program in college football history. But for every span of time going back to 1899, Michigan isn’t even the winningest overall program in OSU-UM rivalry.

The Wolverines are on top of that all-time list because they started playing football in 1881, while schools like Ohio State started in 1890. The Wolverines rolled up a 55-1-1 record from 1901-1905.

Even with that head start, Ohio State now has more wins since 1899. And every year, the gap on the all-time list gets just a little smaller.

Speaking of gaps that seem to shrink every season, the Wolverines’ lead in the series against Ohio State is now down to 58-51-6.

Ohio State leads head-to-head in The Game for every time span in the last 110 years.

National powerhouses win national championships occasionally. By definition they’re in the running often enough that it happens eventually.

Michigan has one shared national championship to its credit since 1948. They went 12-0 in 1997, splitting the title with Nebraska in the final season before the dawn of the BCS era.

That season was momentous – and anomalous – in the last four decades of Michigan football. It was the only time since 1974 that the Wolverines have finished a season with fewer than two losses or ties.

That’s the same amount as Rutgers, Oregon State, and Syracuse. Arizona State has more (2).

Ohio State has 11 over that span. Yes, eleven. Urban Meyer did it four times as OSU coach by himself.

Again, Michigan has O-N-E.

Want to guess how many Big Ten programs have won an outright (not shared) college football national championship more recently than Michigan?

Six! Nearly half of the conference has won the coaches and media national titles in a single season more recently than Michigan.

Michigan State (1952)

Maryland (1953)

Minnesota (1960)

Nebraska (1971, 1994, 1995)

Penn State (1982, 1986)

Ohio State (1968, 2002, 2014)

Syracuse has an outright national championship more recently than Michigan. So does Pitt. So does BYU.

Other teams with at least a share of a national title over that span: Iowa, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Colorado, and Georgia Tech.

By any objective measure, you can only call Michigan a “powerhouse” through a mixture of denial and vaguely-sourced “well, my Grandpappy told me…” lore.

Maybe they can get back to where they were in the 1940s, when they won back-to-back titles in 1947 and 1948.

Maybe Minnesota can, too. They won back-to-back national titles in the 1940s as well.

Maybe Michigan can at least return to the level they reached during the early years of the Bo Schembechler era. From 1970-1974, they finished with 1 or fewer losses or ties for five straight seasons. But they didn’t win a national title in any of those seasons, mostly because they went 1-3-1 against Ohio State.

Urban Meyer finished his OSU career with a perfect 7-0 record in The Game. Jim Tressel went 9-1. Earle Bruce was 5-4-1, and Woody Hayes finished 16-11-1. The only Buckeye coaches with a losing record against the Wolverines are the one-game Luke Fickell era and John Cooper’s 2-10-1.

Ryan Day will show up on one side of that list or the other in Ann Arbor next November. Maybe he’ll lose.

Maybe he’ll turn into another John Cooper. Maybe.

But “maybe” is all that Michigan can hang on to right now. Because the bitter irony for Winovich is that the way he sees the Wolverines’ program is the real mirage.

6 Responses

  1. This is a pretty backwards way to spin it. Sounds like saltiness that Michigan is still leading the head to head series. I can’t imagine what that feels like.

  2. Except that you completely twisted your wording. Michigan has dominated many decades before, and sure, if you want to spin it recently, looking backwards from now OSU is ahead until the first couple of decades. But that’s pretty silly. to do. They still played each other. Just looks like you’re salty that Michigan still leads head to head with Ohio state. Can’t blame you for feeling bad about that 🙂

  3. Buckeye fans, view Lose-o-vich’s “Mirage” just like Harbaugh’s “Spot”. Soak it up. Savor it.

    It’s like this. Every year as kids we wondered, what Xmas presents we might get. Mostly we were lucky, happy. Sometimes even blessed with abundance. Lucky and happy are the 9-1 Tressel record, the 9-0 UM record. Maybe you’d even call that blessed with abundance. For sure, we’ll all agree- laying 62 points on the Skunk Weasels certainly is abundance.

    Now about that Mirage and that Spot. Well my friends, those are like sitting around the house 3 days after Christmas when the doorbell rings. Surprise! A big delivery box arrives late. The late present is great anyway and enhanced by no expectation. So because we’re grateful Buckeyes, it makes us love this time of year all that much more. So, thank you Lose-o-vich. Thank you Harbaugh. You’re truly giving souls.

  4. I should print this and give it to the MI fan I work with. He said we still are the winningest program in college football. So I asked him what has this program done for you lately?

  5. “Nothing cleanses the soul like a good butt whupping.” Or something like that. Too bad Chase and the rest of MI doesn’t realize that. Realizing a good butt whupping makes one assess their situation and what needs to be done. To Chase, they just played poorly, keep that line of thought and we’ll have to see how many more “Butt Whuppings,” need to take place before their souls are cleansed. The great thing about Urban the last 6 years, every loss was followed by winning streaks and eventually beating TSUN and more!

  6. This is a fantastic article, love it. It speaks the truth, not the “mirage” world which meechigan fans and players live in.
    Thank you!!

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