Wisconsin heads for the Rose Bowl for the ninth time in its history and third consecutive trip to Pasadena. Good for the Badgers, bad for Michigan fans suddenly wondering, "What do they have that we don't?"
Well, there are a few items, but two major ones, the first covering the past two Rose Bowl sojourns and the second accounting for the aberrant 2012 excursion. And here they are
The first produces all sorts of wonderfully effective benefits, the type that Michigan enjoyed in 21 seasons under Bo Schembechler and through 13 years of Lloyd Carr. Players know the system, teach other players, never deal with massive upheaval, etc.
That's something the current group of Wolverines has never known. Some of the fifth-year seniors committed to Carr, played for Rich Rodriguez, and shifted gears again for Brady Hoke and his crew.
Meanwhile, Bret Bielema was stockpiling 800-pound offensive linemen and running backs that could explode from behind them. (For you Nebraska fans, the Badgers just scored again).
When you play Wisconsin, you know what you're going to get - punished. Sounds like the old days with a crew much closer to Ann Arbor. It's what the Wolverines were (and likely will be again, with a higher level of talent).
Bielema has racked up three Rose Bowl appearances in his seven seasons as head coach, extending Wisconsin's school-record bowl streak to 11 games. Michigan announced at its Football Bust on Monday night the accomplishments of its seniors, including three straight bowl appearances.
Given the recent past, that's a big deal. Doesn't sound like much, though, compared to 33.
What Michigan desperately needs, and will receive under Brady Hoke and his crew, is a massive dollop of continuity. Not four defensive coordinators in five years. Greg Mattison every year, until he decides (maybe a decade from now, for you wishful thinkers) that he's had enough of the chess game.
The Wolverines need an offense that's versatile, but not of a forcibly split personality due to personnel. They're bringing back the brute squad up front, and that will automatically make the running backs better. When ball carriers see that, and understand Michigan's running game consistently consists of more than Denard Robinson's contrails, they will come.
The Badgers have gotten their Rose Bowls in bunches. They went in 1952, 1959 and 1962, took three decades off, then blossomed in the 1990s under Barry Alvarez, heading to Pasadena in 1993, '98 and '99.
This year makes it three straight under Bielema, who enjoyed strong system continuity from Alvarez's grinding attack. Meanwhile, Michigan went from Humvee to roadster to a pickup yearning to be a monster truck.
If the Wolverines win the Outback Bowl, that's 20 victories in two seasons of the latest retooling. Not bad, really, but they were so close to much more (and very close, this year, to much less, some rightly point out).
Hoke can't do what he wants to do without a strong running attack. The 2011 Wolverines enjoyed that, but injuries and losses up front forced a step back this season.
The way Michigan is recruiting, those steps back shouldn't show up as strikingly in the future. And then
well, the Wolverines require a little more in category number two.
Mention luck, and folks immediately begin screaming about excuses, etc. But anyone not recognizing the role the Lady played in Bielema's Pasadena Triple Crown makes Lou Holtz appear insightful.
The Badgers found themselves in the right place at the right time this season. They lost five more games than the divisional opponent that cheated its way out of postseason play. At one point, Wisconsin looked shaky enough to supply hope for Indiana's second-ever Rose Bowl appearance.
But when you're battling the Hoosiers, Boilermakers, and Illini for the division championship, it's best just to wait and allow for historical self-destructive tendencies to take over. The Badgers did, and that trio melted away flab on a fat farm.
Give Wisconsin credit - it won when it needed to win, and did so in convincing fashion. Even then, it faced a team that enjoyed no small share of good fortune in getting to the title game.
Nebraska trailed the Badgers, Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State by two or more scores in the regular season, before all of the above, in varying degrees, choked games away. The Cornhuskers played their most crucial half of football in 2012 with Denard Robinson looking on from the sidelines.
Luck played a role this year - a big role.
Michigan's job is to get back to a place where the Lady has less say in such outcomes. With the return of continuity, it will.
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