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Excellence is something that is expected when it comes to Michigan football. What may be an excellent season for other teams is often considered a failure for the Wolverines because excellence is defined differently in Ann Arbor. University of Michigan fans have gotten used to not just winning seasons, but campaigns in which the Wolverines compete for the Big Ten title and wreak havoc on their opponents. Accordingly, it is a fair question to ask whether a ten-win season that resulted in a major bowl game was a failure.
None would say that Michigan’s 2018 campaign was an unfettered success. When a program measures its results based on whether the team can beat Ohio State and reach the College Football Playoffs, failure to do so will leave many questioning the team after the season concludes. Nevertheless, there were many reasons for optimism in the wake of Michigan’s 2018 campaign.
In 2017, the Wolverines got out to a fast start out of the gate and then struggled. They slumped to an 8-5 finish, which is regarded as a failure in Ann Arbor. Michigan lost to all of their rivals, dropping contests to Michigan State, Penn State and the all-important one to Ohio State. Thus, there was much for the Wolverines to recover from and many memories to erase coming into this season. Considering the losses to their rivals in 2017, 2018 was going to be a “Revenge Tour” for Michigan.
The season got started with a hiccup as the Wolverines dropped a close decision to Notre Dame. The Wolverines fell behind early and could not make up the entire gap in falling 24-17. However, although the Wolverines were down, they were just getting started.
After the loss to Notre Dame, Michigan got hot. The Wolverines promptly walloped a pair of non-conference foes before turning to its Big Ten schedule. Michigan continued its winning ways against its conference rivals. They thrashed a declining Nebraska squad before edging out the vastly improved Northwestern Wildcats. Going into their matchup with rival Wisconsin, Michigan’s record stood at 5-1. Before a frenzied crowd at the Big House, Michigan proceeded to dismantle the Badgers. The Wolverines broke open a close game in the second half to rout Wisconsin 38-13.
Michigan continued to run off wins, ripping off ten wins in a row. This included victories over Michigan State and Penn State, achieving revenge against both of those schools for 2017 losses. The Wolverines gave the Nittany Lions some massive payback, whipping them by five touchdowns. They also throttled the Spartans, holding them to a single touchdown.
The Wolverines went into “The Game” in the thick of the conversation for the College Football Playoffs. A win in the contest would put the Wolverines in the Big Ten title game in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. A victory would be the ultimate revenge for the beating that they suffered at the hands of the Buckeyes in 2017. However, Michigan fell short in a big way. The Buckeyes laid 62 points on the Wolverines, breaking open a tight contest in the third quarter. In a game against their archrival where Michigan absolutely needed a win, there was none forthcoming. It was the seventh straight time that the Wolverines had fallen short against their rival. Michigan closed the season by getting blown out by Florida in the Peach Bowl.
For the Wolverines, the 2018 season represented a step forward for the program. Still, the program has fallen short of expectations since they hired Jim Harbaugh to coach his alma mater. If the Wolverines’ season comes down to one game, then the “revenge tour” was indeed a failure. However, programs have to be viewed in the context of all 13 games. Based on that metric, the Wolverines had a solid season. They defeated nearly all of their main rivals and embarrassed them in the process. They simply came up short against Ohio State, as they seemingly do every year. Michigan put five players on the All-Big Ten Team and linebacker Devin Bush Jr. won the Nagurski–Woodson Defensive Player of the Year award. Michigan fans should take heart that their team will perennially be near the top of the Big Ten.