I've been watching college football for 20 years and it's absolutely amazing to see how the landscape of the game has changed in two decades. In 1997, a year that was nirvana for Michigan fans there was a weekend late in the season that was hyped up by ESPN and ABC as "Judgment Day." This was a day when four of the top five teams in the nation played each other, all undefeated and No. 1 Nebraska playing what turned out to be a tough thriller against Missouri. At the end of the day, Nebraska, Florida State and Michigan all won to remain undefeated while Penn State and North Carolina were dealt crushing blows to a pursuit of a national championship. That was the "rule" so to speak: You don't lose late in the season, especially in November. It will kill your season.
Fast forward to 2016. Last weekend the Number 2, 3 and 4 teams in the nation, all slotted for the College Football Playoff, lost. To teams with 3 losses or more. Clemson lost to Pitt on a late field goal at home, Michigan played their worst game of the season in a 14-13 loss to Iowa on the road at night, and Washington got exposed at home by USC 26-13. The Huskies dropped from fourth to sixth, outside the playoff and Clemson dropped from second to fourth while Ohio State rose from fifth all the way to second.
Michigan stayed put at Number 3. I'll repeat that. Michigan LOST a BAD game to Iowa on the road and STAYED PUT at Number 3.
Alright, before we get into just how awesome this is for Michigan and what it means, let's get the obvious out of the way first:
Well Adam, and all others who share his ridiculous sentiment, here's the explanation from CFP committee chair Kirby Hocutt himself:
Yes, the committee is saying that wins over tenth-ranked Colorado and eighth-ranked Penn State mean a lot, especially when combined with a win over seventh-ranked Wisconsin, no matter how much you and others try to marginalize it. You've just literally been told that you are wrong by the people who make the decisions. Are we clear? Good. Now onto business.
The Iowa loss could be an incredible opportunity for Michigan for the rest of the season. Contrary to what a lot of Michigan fans have been spewing on social media for the past few days, it is DIFFICULT to go undefeated in college football. Alabama has only done it ONCE in the Nick Saban Era and that was his very first one in Tuscaloosa in 2009. It's far more common to see a national champion or even conference champion get tagged during the regular season instead of going completely unscathed.
As a team keeps winning with that zero sitting in the loss column, the pressure mounts on them and these are still 19 to 22-year old kids out there on that field. It gets tough for a team especially if they haven't truly faced adversity. No, the 21-7 deficit to Colorado and the struggles offensively against Wisconsin are not adversity. They were tough moments, but not something that could really put the team's back against the wall and force them to adapt. Even catastrophic injuries to cornerback Jeremy Clark and offensive lineman Grant Newsome didn't seem to slow them down.
Then came Iowa and the stunning upset. Now we have TRUE adversity for this team to deal with.
As much as the "backdoor" scenario of getting into the playoff in spite of a loss to Ohio State may have existed, who really wanted that? Seriously? As a Michigan fan you're telling me that if you don't beat Ohio State and you don't win the Big Ten but you still get into the playoff, you'll be just fine? I wouldn't. Not by a long shot. You'd then be talking about a 13 year drought since last winning an outright conference championship and worse still, losing 14 of the last 16 games and five in a row to the Buckeyes. You're not a Michigan fan if you're okay with any of that, playoff spot or not. Period.
But now that option is deader than a doorknob and Michigan must beat Indiana and Ohio State to win the Big Ten East and get to Indianapolis for a shot at the conference title, and thanks to the team's resume of wins against Top Ten opponents it still is in the driver seat for a playoff spot if it does everything it needs to do for the next two and hopefully three weeks.
So Michigan has literally been given a great opportunity here with one of the most incredible mulligan wake-up calls of all time. You lost a terrible game to a team you should have destroyed and it didn't kill your season. In fact, it did nothing. You get to regroup and move on as if it the game never happened aside from the "one" in the loss column for you. Now the pressure is off, so to speak. No more worrying about going undefeated, staying perfect, bracing yourselves for what might happen if you lose a game. You've done that now and you know how horrible it felt, and you were lucky enough that it didn't change your season drastically.
This is no different than when 2015 National Champion Alabama lost to Ole Miss last season, or when 2014 National Champion Ohio State dropped its second game of the year to Virginia Tech......except that those losses were early in September while this one is late in November, making it all the more an incredible opportunity. You've built a great season of success and got your wake-up call at the right time, just before it starts to get the toughest it's ever been for you against opponents.
And then there's the other X-factor from the Iowa loss: the possibility of John O'Korn getting his chance to shine on the biggest stage for Michigan at QB. From a fan standpoint, he's made an incredible leap from "presumed starter" to "who people wish was playing instead of Wilton Speight" to "guy we are terrified about now that he might be starting soon." Incredible in itself considering his two years as a starting QB at Houston and his two years in Jim Harbaugh's system at Michigan. By comparison, O'Korn is well ahead of players like Michigan State's Tyler O'Connor who was pressed into emergency starting last season for the Spartans at Ohio State, or Cardale Jones who took over as Ohio State starting QB in 2014 for the Big Ten Championship game and the playoffs.
And neither of those players had "The QB Whisperer" as their head coach. You know, the guy who turned Alex Smith into an NFL starting QB, "created" Colin Kaepernick's only success and got Jake Rudock drafted?
Imagine how much teaching and preparation the team has had this week just from the Iowa tape alone. We'll see how it translates starting this weekend against the Hoosiers, but the opportunity is certainly there for this team to really make it a special season for sure......after a loss to an unranked team on November 12.
Man, college football really has changed hasn't it?