Monday, January 29, 2007
MZone reader Chad recently emailed us a suggestion that we should do a piece on the Top Ten Greatest Michigan Victories over the last ten seasons followed by the Top Ten Michigan Disappointments/Debacles.
With the 2006 season over and a lot of cyberspace to fill between now and September, we thought it was a brilliant suggestion. However, we decided to take it one step further and throw in 2 extra years so that it covers the entire Lloyd Carr Era, from '95 to the present.
The hardest thing for Benny and I about this list was defining what made a victory "great." Was it simply an exciting game? The importance? The expectations going in? What it did for the program? In the end, we think it is a combination of all of those. Of course, you might disagree which is the beauty of lists + a comments section.
So with that preamble out of the way, today we start off by presenting five victories which didn't quite make our Top Ten, but fell just short and thus are on the honorable mention list. Sort of like the "Also Receiving Votes" games of this list.
THE TOP TEN MICHIGAN VICTORIES IN THE LLOYD CARR ERA
HONORABLE MENTION (in no particular order)
1997 - #14 Michigan 27, #8 Colorado 3
Why this was a big win: Michigan had posted back-to-back 8-4 marks in Carr's first two years (including consecutive bowl losses) and the Michigan faithful were getting restless. Coming into this game, not many people gave Michigan a chance against the highly-ranked Buffs. But under first year defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann, Michigan unleashed a defense that would lead the Wolverines to a National Title and Charles Woodson to the Heisman.
Why this didn't make the Top Ten: As important as it was, CU turned out to be an average team this year that didn't live up to its pre-season hype. Of course, by the time the country figured that out, the psychological boost to the Wolverines and springboard for the season was already secured. But, in terms of some sort of "comparison" in the pre-BCS days, this average CU team took Nebraska down to the wire that year.
1997 #5 Michigan 28, #15 Iowa 24
Why this was a big win: As the #5 team in the country in mid-October, Michigan was in the thick of the national title hunt. Yet the Hawkeyes were proving to be as tough as they always are and led the Wolverines 21-7 at the half. But behind the Griese to Tuman TE "waggle" play, Michigan fought back for a tough home victory, keeping them on track for a title run.
Why this didn't make the Top Ten: Basically, the entire '97 season could have made the list. When you win a national title, each game is important. But there were bigger victories that year in addition to the fact that Michigan, playing at home, while the comeback was valiant, should not have struggled this much even against a good Hawkeye team.
2000 Orange Bowl - #8 Michigan 35, #5 Alabama 34
Why this was a big win: The first OT game in Michigan history saw Michigan eek out a victory against another storied program in a BCS game in front of a national TV audience. The victory capped the third consecutive 10 win season for the Wolverines, their third straight bowl victory and showcased QB Tom Brady's amazing coolness under pressure as he led U-M back from a 28-14 3rd quarter deficit. You might have forgotten, but Brady actually gave Michigan a chance to win in regulation when he 4 of 5 on Michigan's final drive, taking the Wolverines from their own 31 to the 'Bama 18. But Hayden Epstein's 36 yard FG attempt on the last play was blocked, sending the game into OT.
Why this didn't make the Top Ten: Unfortunately, in this day and age of the BCS, this game didn't mean much. Yes, it was exciting and yes it accomplished the things above, but it was just about pride, even more so than a traditional Rose Bowl game without title stakes on the line.
2002 #13 Michigan 31, #11 Washington 29
Why this was a big win: It was the first game of the season against a traditional power. And since each game means something in college football (at least until you lose), a win kept Michigan eyeing a big 2002 season. Kicker Phillip Brabbs connected on a 44 yard FG with :06 seconds left after Troy Neinberg had already missed three earlier attempts, including a 27 yarder with under two minutes left.
Why this didn't make the Top Ten: Missing three FGs, including a chip shot which would have saved the need for the last second heroics isn't exactly a good things. Couple that with the fact that only an illegal participation penalty against Rick Neuheisel's team got Michigan in FG range to begin with and thus here it sits.
2005 Michigan 27, #8 Penn State 25
Why this was a big win: After losing to Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Minnesota in its first six games, Michigan was reeling as it limped into this home game against Penn State, which had rebounded from a number of dismal seasons that had many Penn State fans calling for JoePa's head. Michigan took a 21-18 lead with 3:25 left on a Garret Rivas FG. But, as would be the theme of the 2005 season, Michigan's D couldn't stop PSU as they drove 81 yards to take a 25-21 lead with less than a minute to play. But following Steve Breaston's 41 yard kickoff return and the infamous two extra seconds the refs put back on the clock (which Penn State fans are still bitching about someone on cyberspace, we're pretty sure), Chad Henne found Mario Manningham in the endzone on 4th and 4 from the Penn State 10 yard line with no time left.
Why this didn't make the Top Ten: We're still doing all we can to erase the 2005 season from our collective memories. And, as stated above, if the defense makes a stop on the final PSU drive, the game doesn't come down to the end. Then again, if the defense made just one stop in each game, this 7-5 team wouldn't have been 7-5.