Sunday, March 3, 2013

Michigan. A history of being overrated

Don't get me wrong. I like the Michigan Wolverines. Nothing against Michigan State, a mighty fine institution of education and athletics, but for some reason I grew up rooting for Michigan. Not sure how that came about, considering nobody in my family, including yours truly, ever went to school there. Maybe it's like being a hard-core Republican or Democrat. I suspect if many of them took an objective look back -- they couldn't logically explain how they originally came to embrace their party either. And be it the UM/MSU rivalry or politics, it seems that once some folks have it in their head that one side is always right, and the other always wrong -- they typically find a way to rationalize their allegiance -- even if it totally defies logic.

That said, I think Michigan is once again overrated. How the Wolverines can come into their basketball rematch against the Spartans as the #4 team in the country, versus MSU being ranked 9th -- after Michigan State absolutely destroyed them in their first contest, would indeed seem to defy logic. It's almost like the polls are rigged in Michigan's favor. The powers that be WANT them to win.

It certainly wouldn't be the first time Michigan was (in my opinion) over-hyped. Back in 1997, the Wolverines shared a national football championship with Nebraska. Both went through the season undefeated and won their bowl games. Yet then, and to this day, yours truly still believes Nebraska would have absolutely trashed Michigan if they had played head-up. A look back will tell you Michigan defeated Washington State, and a QB named Ryan Leaf, by 5 points in the Rose Bowl. Nebraska whomped Tennessee by 25 points in the Orange Bowl. The Volunteers were led by a QB named Peyton Manning.

Throughout the season, evidently the pollsters thought Michigan played in a tougher conference than Nebraska -- so they got points for that. But when it came bowl time -- all those supposedly tough teams UM had played in the Big 10 took on a different look. Washington walloped Michigan State 51-23. Arizona St. topped Iowa 17-7. Wisconsin got thumped by Georgia 33-6. Penn State went down at the hands of Florida 21-6. And the Buckeyes of Ohio State got clobbered by Florida State 31-14. If the Big Ten was such a tough conference back then, somebody forgot to tell the rest of the country. To boot, Nebraska beat its opponents by an average of 31 points a game. Michigan checked in 2 touchdowns behind with an average winning margin of 17. And those two teams shared a national championship? Somebody was overrated.

Going a little further back, consider the "Fab Five" era in basketball at Michigan. In 1991, despite their obvious raw physical talent, it was pretty much unheard of to have one, let alone five freshmen starters on a major college basketball team. They were the talk of the nation. Hype, hype, hype. To their credit, they made it all the way to the NCAA championship game -- but they lost. Come 1992, with a year of experience under their belts, surely they would be champions -- right? The media hype was in overdrive. Wrong. They lost in the finals again. Recently, legendary coach Bobby Knight may have summed it up quite well when he said regardless of the NCAA tournament runs -- Michigan didn't even win the Big 10 championship during those 2 years, so he failed to see what was so fab about the "Fab 5". Sour grapes? Maybe, but Knight's Indiana teams went 3-1 against Michigan during those "fabulous" two years, so how can one seriously dispute his take on it? He was there, and he beat them 3 out of 4.

Much more recently, Michigan hired a new football coach named Brady Hoke. Even as a rookie, Hoke just couldn't resist disrespecting Ohio State, referring to them as merely "Ohio". Nevermind that before their football program imploded, the Buckeyes had absolutely owned the Wolverines for several years. Brady finally broke the jinx and UM defeated OSU, even though Ohio State's football program was in a shambles at the time. All hail Michigan. Then, as usual, they got cocky and decided to take on Alabama, the reigning national champs, in the opening game of the following season. Despite Alabama having lost several key players to the NFL after the previous season, Michigan promptly got annihilated by a vastly superior team.

It just seems like Michigan is always overrated -- and takes it for granted -- while Michigan State continues to struggle for respect every step of the way. If one looks at the Tom Izzo era in basketball, and even MSU's football record over the last several years against UM, one would think it should be the other way around.

Looking at it another way -- Michigan State hard. Michigan soft. Though I'm usually wrong when I make predictions, I fully expect MSU to dump the Wolverines in Ann Arbor to sweep the season series.

And even if not -- which team do you think has more of what it takes to be a threat in the upcoming NCAA tournament?

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