It’s been over a year and a half since I’ve had the energy to sit down and write something. I’m sure some of that can be attributed to the pandemic afflicting our lives, but the truth is I just didn’t have it in me to go to the effort to put pen to paper (er, uh, keyboard to screen?). But this week a local group of people have provided me with the inspiration I need to organize my thoughts into a coherent post that I believe people will want to read (although I’m sure there will be many who disagree). Who are these people you ask?
The Walmart Wolverines.
About five years ago I wrote a post about how I perceived my Spartan fandom as requiring justification to some while simultaneously not being as full-throated as it could be to others. And while I still don’t have the out-and-out hatred of the University of Michigan that some of my fellow Spartans do, listening to the loudmouth Michigan fans act as less than fully gracious winners after clinching their first College Football Playoff berth, I’m here to spew some sore-loser venom.
(Although, you know, we didn’t lose to them this year. Or last year. So there’s that.)
A little background, although if you read my blog, you likely don’t need it. Michigan just completed a 12-1 regular season by beating Ohio State for the first time since 2011, and then crushing Iowa in their first trip to the Big 10 Championship Game. In doing so they became the first team to start the season unranked and finish it with a CFP berth.
Good for them.
It’s hard to diminish what Michigan has done this year. They’ve looked good almost all year long, their only loss came on the road against a resurgent Michigan State team, they slayed the dragon in Ohio State, they exorcised almost every one of Jim Harbaugh’s demons, and just for good measure, they’ve got a Heisman Trophy finalist in Aidan Hutchinson.
But it’s not good enough for them.
After the Big 10 title was secured and the CFP pairings were announced, immediately the Michigan faithful started bitching that they should’ve been #1 instead of #2, that they should’ve gotten the “easier” matchup with Cincinnati, that Georgia’s season was somehow fraudulent, and even that they were screwed by the refs in their loss to Michigan State (you know, a game that happened over a month ago).
In the SEC Championship Game, #3 Alabama routed #1 Georgia 41-24. Alabama has not looked like the Alabama of old this season, and they won a couple of games they probably should’ve lost to inferior opponents (although calling an opponent inferior to Alabama is somewhat redundant). Still, Georgia had given up a total of 83 points (6.9 per game) on the season, and Alabama lit them up for 41.
It is not at all uncommon, when the #3 team beats the #1 team, for that #3 team to jump #2 and find themselves ranked #1 (I’m not doing that research for you. I know it happens. If you want to prove me wrong, you Google it). That’s what happened here. Being ranked #2 is nothing to sniff your nose at, but to hear U-M tell it, they should have been #1. Here’s the thing though: it literally does not fucking matter.
Georgia, on the strength of their dominant regular season, had already secured a spot in the Playoff. You could make the argument that their season looks significantly less impressive after their loss to Alabama, but if you look at the teams in the discussion for the Playoff, there’s little (legitimate) argument that Georgia belongs.
With that in mind, it is mind-boggling to think that the CFP committee would have Alabama play Georgia two games in a row. It defies logic. You’d have to be a moron to think that was going to happen. If Michigan had been ranked #1, Georgia would have been #4. Michigan was not getting Cincinnati (or Notre Dame, or Ohio State, or whomever else would have taken Cincinnati’s spot). In order to win the title, Michigan is going to have to beat Georgia, and then likely Alabama.
I might accept the premise that Michigan should be #1. I’d probably give Michigan the vote 51% of the time, and Alabama 49% of the time. But again, it’s irrelevant. Complaining that you should be #1 and be playing Cincinnati just looks like sour grapes from a fan base that doesn’t think they can beat an SEC power (justifiably so, it would seem, as Georgia has opened as 7.5 point favorites).
Now, if Michigan finishes 13-0 instead of 12-1, they would finish the season ranked #1 regardless of the outcome of the Alabama-Georgia game. Which brings us back to the Michigan State game.
Michigan fans, players, and coaches have spent the last month whining about the officials costing them that game. The primary issue involved the officials overturning a strip-sack fumble that Hutchinson recovered in the end zone and would have given Michigan a 13-point lead with 1:30 left in the first half. It is a borderline justifiable complaint. Was it a fumble? Maybe. The officials felt that there was sufficient video evidence to overturn the fumble. I think that’s a stretch, and that the call shouldn’t have been overturned, but it was. I’m an idiot sitting on my couch, the officials reviewing the play know the rules better than I do.
But combined with a couple of other no-calls that would’ve allowed Michigan drives to continue, the officiating gave Michigan (fans, players, and coaches – it’s important that this isn’t just idiot fans bitching about this) just enough grounds to complain that the refs cost them the game. They conveniently ignore the fact that they blew a 16-point lead with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Or the 5 TD that they surrendered to jilted-Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Walker III. They can’t take responsibility for their own deficiencies, they lost because of the officiating. Hutchinson and Harbaugh both implied as much in interviews after recent wins.
I’ve heard arguments that had the Hutchinson fumble recovery been allowed to stand he might be the front-runner for the Heisman. Hutchinson might be the greatest example of recency bias in Heisman voting I’ve ever seen. He failed the head-to-head stat comparison against Alabama’s Will Anderson, and it’s not particularly close. Think I’m wrong?
- Anderson: 91 Tackles, 31.5 Tackles for Loss, 15.5 Sacks
- Hutchinson: 58 Tackles, 15.5 Tackles for Loss, 14 Sacks
Hell, Anderson had a stretch this season where he had 7.5 sacks in 3 games, better than the 7 that Michigan fans love to point out that Hutchinson racked up against Iowa, Ohio State, and Penn State (incidentally, not 3 consecutive games, as Michigan played Maryland between Penn State and Ohio State). And as a die hard Michigan State fan, it’s worth pointing out that Kenneth Walker III boosted his Heisman case by running for 3 of his 5 TD’s against Michigan in Hutchinson’s direction.
(I’m not even going to pretend I’m not bitter about Walker not getting invited to NYC for the Heisman presentation. I’m extremely bitter. Doak Walker Award… Walter Camp Award… Can’t get an invite to NYC despite being a front-runner with 3 weeks left in the season. The Heisman can get fucked. I won’t necessarily put that all on Hutchinson, but the guy’s sudden candidacy has proven that voters basically watch the last 3 games of the year, if that.)
But we shouldn’t be surprised that Michigan bitches about the refs. They’re still bitching about a call from 2016. And 2001. And 1990. Hell, they complained so much about a vote of athletic directors in 1973 that cost them a trip to the Rose Bowl that the Big Ten Network made a documentary about it 40 years later.
Let me give you a short history lesson. The University of Michigan has belittled Michigan State going back to the latter’s very inception. When the federal government proposed a land grant college in Michigan, U-M fought against MSU’s creation and argued that they should get the land. When the Big 10 was looking for someone to replace the University of Chicago, Michigan openly campaigned against Michigan State. When that 1973 vote took place, Bo Schembechler (the less said about his legacy the better) honed in on Michigan State as the culprit of the tiebreaking vote to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl, as if we owed them our fealty. They called us “Little Brother” after a comeback win in 2007.
When Michigan State beats Michigan, which has happened quite frequently lately (10-4 since the “Little Brother” comment, so some thanks must be given to Mike Hart), their fans will trot out the overall record in the matchup, as if what happened in 1902 has any impact on the game that ended an hour ago. Here’s the thing about that overall record. It is considerably tighter since MSU joined the Big 10 in 1953, which, again, Michigan actively fought. Michigan State has actually won 3 national titles to Michigan’s 1 in that time. Please, discuss with me our school’s head-to-head history because you’re butt-hurt that we just beat you again.
I can have a conversation with a Michigan fan as long as they can talk respectfully about both teams. It actually happened fairly recently with a guy I met at the bar. For those fans, for my friends who don’t talk to me like I’m less than because of where I went to school, I’m genuinely happy for their team’s success.
But I’ve spent the last 25 years justifying my Spartan fandom because I grew up a Michigan fan and for some reason should still be a fan. I haven’t experienced anything like some uneducated Michigan fan working behind the counter at a gas station belittling me because I’m wearing an MSU shirt (something that did actually happen to a friend of mine), and that’s likely why my hatred has not evolved to the point where it is absolute.
Their behavior after this recent run, though, has altered my view somewhat. Nothing’s ever good enough. I heard local sports talk actually ask – should Michigan win the national title by beating Georgia and Alabama – if it would be the most impressive run in college football history. Well, as someone pointed out, LSU won the title in 2019 by beating 7 teams in the top 10. And I’m not sure how it could possibly be the most impressive run when you couldn’t go undefeated. But that’s just me.
Michigan State fans have bitched about our seeding in the NCAA basketball tournament for years. And then we go out and get beaten by a 15-seed. Or UCLA, who then gets a favorable bracket to go to the Final Four. Michigan fans need to learn from that lesson. Act like you’ve been there before, because complaining about not being #1 and crying that you should be playing the “lesser” semifinal team isn’t a good look. They’re acting like this hasn’t happened before. It has, we were there, it didn’t end well.
I can’t stand the SEC, but I’m not rooting for Michigan out of some sort of local pride anymore. I don’t care about niceties, about hearing, “Oh, I root for Michigan State if they’re not playing Michigan.” I couldn’t care less. I hope Georgia takes it to them, and if they don’t, I hope Alabama or Cincinnati does. And if they don’t and Michigan comes home with the trophy?
You can be damn sure we’re going to remind them who beat them this year.