Hand up. When I saw Michigan was matched up against Alabama, I pissed my pants a little bit. We all did.
It had only been a couple of weeks since our most recent (yeah, we’ve had a lot of them) embarrassing loss to Ohio State and I wasn’t sure I could take another a** kicking like that. But I’ve never been one to see the glass as “half-empty”, I’m a “half-full” kinda guy* and if you view this matchup through “maize colored glasses”, it’s the ultimate win-win scenario for the current state of this Michigan program:
*That psychology experiment is such bull sh*t, only an insane person would ever say a “glass is half-full”, but maybe I just look at it that way because I am a “glass-half-empty” guy. Damnit.
If we win, we beat Alabama.
If we get embarressed, this program and fan base is going to recieve a much needed wake-up call.
The “If we win” rational — Nick Saban and Alabama should strike fear into Michigan’s team and fanbase. The same fear a gazelle has when it sees a lion licking their chops. Why shouldn’t they? Alabama has been the gold standard for college football programs the past ten years and they have been dominating teams from the “Mitten” ever since Saban took over:
Jan. 1, 2011: Capital One Bowl — No. 16 Alabama 49, No. 9 Michigan State 7.
Sept. 1, 2012: No. 2 Alabama 41, No. 8 Michigan 14.
Dec. 31, 2015: Cotton Bowl — No. 2 Alabama 38, No. 3 Michigan State 0.
All BAMA does is beat down on Michigan teams, but here’s the thing — This isn’t your typical Crimson Tide team. They are already missing their Heisman caliber QB, Tua Tagovailoa, and wide receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith,* and running back Najee Harris, could all sit out of the bowl game as well.
*We better hope those wide receivers sit out because if they don’t they will run roughshod through this Michigan secondary, I don’t care if John O’Korn is playing QB for them.
There has never been a better time to play Alabama; They aren’t nearly as good as they have been in the past and they will be operating at less than full capacity on Jan. 1. “But won’t the win be discredited because Alabama doesn’t have everyone?” Yes, to a degree, it will. But I don’t care if every single starter sits out of this game if Nick Saban is on the sideline and if their jersey reads “Alabama”, this game will do wonders for this program’s psyche. It’s similar to beating the New England Patriots, sure they might not be as good as they were in the early 2010s, but they still have that mystique about them that makes a win against them mean something. By beating Bama, Michigan will have tons of confidence going into next season and the OSU loss will be simply be chalked up as an “unlucky” game. Everything will be forgotten and it will appear that Michigan has truly turned a corner (this time for real) heading into next year. Wouldn’t that be nice?
*Yes, it would. But it’s not going to happen, so let’s start formulating a spin-zone for “why it’s good that we got blown out by Alabama.”
The “If we get embarrassed” rational — “We don’t ever play good against Ohio State” or “It’s just an Ohio State problem if we could just beat them” or “It’s not fair to judge Harbaugh based on OSU, they have been on a historic run and this year’s team is one of the best ever” or my personal favorite “just a few plays here or there and we would have beat them”… The Michigan fanbase has a disease, we think the only problem Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines has is that we can’t beat Ohio State. So we try and rationalize it, but at the end of the day, Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Oregon, etc… etc… are just better than us. Plain and simple. And the sooner it gets through our skulls, the sooner this program starts to work harder and make some changes.
I get it – I get it. It does seem that every year we play OSU they seem to get every bounce and we just can’t be any more unlucky. But if Alabama drubbed us, that loser mentality would finally be washed from our system and we would receive a much-needed wake-up call as to just how far we are away from those upper-echelon programs.
For a few days, it would suck. Listening to Stephen A. Smith and Colin Cowherd bash on us on the national level for a couple of hours the following day is always rough, but it would be a positive in the long run. No longer would we hold this Michigan program to “unattainable” levels and more importantly, no longer would we think that “if we could just beat OSU, we would be okay”.
It would be an a**-kicking that Michigan didn’t want, but needed. It would be apparent that what we are doing isn’t working and it’s time for these players, coaches, and fans to start making some changes.
If Michigan wants any shot at beating Alabama, they are going to have to get pressure on Mack Jones, because if he has all day to throw he isn’t going to have any issues finding wide-open receivers. But as we saw against Ohio State the past couple of years, sometimes Don Brown’s defenses struggle to get pressure on the QB and if that’s the case, it’s going to be a long day for this secondary.
But Michigan can put up points too and this Alabama defense hasn’t been able to stop an offense with a pulse this whole year, giving up over 40 points (LSU and Auburn) twice in the past month. Shea Patterson has the opportunity to ride out of Ann Arbor if he can slay mighty Alabama and Nick Saban to end his career and if they want to have a chance, they are going to need him and his wide receivers at their best.
It’s funny, I think Alabama is the only team that could have made this “meaningless” game “meaningful” for Michigan… I mean what the hell even is a “citrus” anyway? But this game is going to be a great measuring stick for Michigan, not just in terms of talent, but in terms of toughness and heart as well. If they roll over and let Alabama beat them by forty, it will show us the giant talent and character gap we have compared to the best… But if we win, then maybe, just maybe, next year is our year.*
*One can dream, right?
***Made it this far? Enjoy this 20 minute highlight of Alabama absolutely demolishing MSU in 2011. It’s eye-opening and we can only pray that doesn’t happen to Michigan on New Year’s Day. I can’t stop watching this.