Expectations and Emotionally Satisfying Wins

Expectations and Emotionally Satisfying Wins

Submitted by Kevin Holtsberry on January 3rd, 2018 at 1:07 PM

As we continue to work through another ugly ending of the season for Michigan football, I thought I would explore an area I think contributes to the anger, disappointment and even ennui for fans.  Trying to find reasonable expectations and the impact of emotional wins.

The expectations game has been debated to death on the site, so I am not going to rehash that in detail.  Instead, I wanted to explore how emotionally satisfying wins help temper expectations and how Michigan's lack of such wins is in a significant way driving so much of the unhappiness.

My argument is basically that winning rivalry games and other high-profile games builds a reserve of goodwill that can be drawn on in tough times thus balancing out some of the fan dissatisfaction as a program has its natural ups and downs.

For example, Ohio State has had some inexplicable losses (Iowa 2017, Michigan State 2015) and some bad ones (Clemson 2016), but they have a National Championship, have dominated Michigan, and have 8 total losses in Urban Meyer's tenure. Michigan State had a disastrous year in 2016, but beat Michigan and Penn State and won their bowl game handily.  This overshadows losses to ND, Northwestern and an embarrassing loss to Ohio State.  Penn State had heartbreaking losses to Ohio State and Michigan State but won 11 games and ended with a win.

We do need to take a few minutes to discuss the expectations that should set the context for our discussion. If you thought Harbaugh was going to step in and bring Michigan to the level of Urban Meyer or Nick Saban in three years, I can't help you.  A cursory glance at the record of the schools for the last ten years would disabuse you of this notion.  Ohio State has been playing in title games and winning conference championships.  In contrast, even before RichRod and Hoke, Michigan lost 3-5 games with regularity.

Since 2000 Ohio State has averaged 2.27 losses a year while Michigan has averaged 4.22. So that should temper expectations.  Ohio State has consistently been better than Michigan for a couple of decades and the last five have been dominant. Urban Meyer has never lost more than 2 games at OSU.

And the program that Harbaugh inherited was not exactly trending upward.  RichRod had three consecutive losing seasons.  Hoke started great (11-2), had a season remarkably like this year (8-5 with a bowl loss to SC), before two losing seasons.  The two coaches prior to Harbaugh were a combined 41-35. 

And going back to Lloyd Carr things were not at Meyer or Saban levels.  Carr’s tenure at Michigan averages out to roughly 9-3. Obviously, the 1997 season stands out as the high point and the ending of the 2006 season as the start of the slide to mediocrity and below.  Heck, Bo’s record is basically 9-2 with a losing record (5-12) in bowl games and no national titles.

This background indicates that in his first three years Harbaugh has brought Michigan back to what it was in the 90s and early 2000s.  I would argue what he hasn’t achieved is some emotionally satisfying wins that would make this accomplishment FEEL better to Michigan fans.  This recap of recent history may seem redundant for fans but bear with me.


Harbaugh’s first season started out with a tough but in many ways understandable loss to Utah but then won five games by a combined score of 160-14.  The next game, however, was the heartbreaking and maddening loss to Michigan State.  The Wolverines won the next four games including a goal line stand to win against Minnesota, an OT win against Indiana, and a sold 28-16 win against Penn State in Happy Valley.  After a blowout loss to Ohio State in the Big House, Michigan thumped Florida 41-7 in the Gator Bowl.

Despite the pattern of painful losses to rivals, Harbaugh first season brought some emotional satisfaction. Ten wins and a blowout bowl win felt like a great start.  Plus, the wins against Minnesota and Indiana provided some excitement and confidence that Michigan could win conference games on the road.


Michigan reeled off 9 straight wins in 2016 and other than the comeback against Colorado and a three missed field goals game against Wisconsin, none of them were particularly close.  You know the story from there.  Painful loss on the road to Iowa, snow game escape against Indiana, and then heartbreaking losses to Ohio State and Florida State.

This is where the emotional damage was done.  A few plays, and one atrocious call, away from a playoff appearance and a great season; potentially one for the ages.  So much promise and potential and yet fans came away with nothing but heartbreak.

The ending was particularly rough not just because it robbed Michigan of a great season, but it erased satisfying wins against not only Colorado and Wisconsin, but also Michigan State and Penn State.  Win one of those three losses and the season feels very different.  To use a cliché, fans were deprived of the type of closure or ending that can make a season feel satisfying even if disappointing.  The end colors the whole season.


This year was the year of youth, particularly on defense.  But an opening win against what was thought to be a solid Florida team seem to portend good things.  The offense struggled but the defense was playing at last year levels despite losing a ton of talent and that was exciting.  A comeback win against Purdue on the road with John O’Korn at QB had fans thinking that the injury to Wilton Speight would not doom the season.

A sloppy loss in a second half monsoon to Michigan State at home drove home the indication that QB and OL play would remain an issue for Michigan; a turnover fest would spell doom.  The feeling of being snake bitten against Michigan State also continued.  The team managed to sneak past Indiana but then were blown out in the second half by a Penn State team who seemed to have it all figured out. 

Michigan went on to thump Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland with a suddenly quite good running game.  And it seemed as if Brandon Peters might be the QB that Michigan so desperately needed.  But a concussion against Wisconsin ended that possibility and the end of season losses followed.  This included a torturous loss to Ohio State at home that included a 14-0 lead at one point.  But the lack of a competent QB, O’Korn had lost whatever competence he once possessed, doomed the Wolverines to yet another loss in The Game.

So even before the bowl game, Michigan fans were struggling to make sense of the team and season. On the one hand, the defense seemed to be beating expectations given their youth and the running game come alive.  The offensive play calling against Ohio State was brilliant even if the QB couldn’t hit an open receiver with the game on the line.  On the other hand, the OL couldn’t protect the QB and seemed to find any stunt an unsolvable mystery.  The WRs were young and failing to help the QB when given the chance.

What the bowl game represented was a chance to reset the expectations and reach a plateau on which to build.  South Carolina was a bad team, worse than their 8-4 record.  This was a chance to prove that Michigan could beat a team with a winning record.  The Big Ten was undefeated in bowl games and had a chance to really stick it to the arrogant SEC.  Michigan was favored to win and most felt comfortable then would do so handily.

When you combine the incredible frustration built up in 2016 from being a few plays, and an atrocious call, from greatness with the continuing losses to our rivals in painful fashion (and the media drumbeat on this point), this was a pool of gasoline waiting for a match.

The last quarter and a half against South Carolina provided not a spark but a flamethrower. 

In the first half Michigan had the ball on the South Carolina 17, 8, and 27 and came away with filed goals each time.  SC had a muffed punt and a fumble but were only down 9-3.  Michigan looked poised to put the game away in the second half, however.  After a 7 play 72-yard TD drive and a SC interception Michigan was driving for a score to put the game out of reach.  Karan Higdon fumbled at the 4, seemed to recover it, only to have the defensive lineman rip it away.  The defense held but a chance to deliver the knockout punch slipped by.  Up 23-3 midway through the 3rd quarter would have been a great place to be.

The mistakes from there just multiplied.  SC drove for a TD aided by a stupid personal foul penalty.  Then facing 3rd and 1 at their own 23, Michigan ran the by now infamous play where TE Sean McKeon was lined up as a FB and promptly fumbled the handoff. The very next play was a SC TD and the collapse was on.

  • SC overcame a 3rd and 18 and then hit on a 53-yard bomb for their third straight possession with a TD. 
  • Trailing for the first time Michigan drove to the five only to have Brandon Peters throw an interception in the endzone. 
  • Donovan Peoples-Jones muffs a punt. 
  • The defense holds SC to a FG despite having the ball on the 14. Peters throws four straight incompletions and Michigan turns the ball over on downs. 
  • Again, defense holds, and SC misses a FG.  2nd and 2 at the 39 and Peters inexplicably slides instead of running for the first down.  Two plays later, interception to end the game.

The litany is familiar: five(!) turnovers, 23 unanswered points, results in a blown 19-3 lead midway through the third quarter. An embarrassing loss. The only Big Ten team to lose a bowl game (to an SEC team).

I recap all of this, not because you are not aware of what happened but to try to capture the emotional rollercoaster and how it likely destroyed any semblance of balance and rationality many Michigan fans had.

In 2016 Michigan fans were deprived of the opportunity to prove they could be great.  Instead, a season on the precipice of greatness was cruelly snatched away by the thinnest of margins and by a fate that seems intent on punishing Michigan repeatedly.

Having digested this pain, well mostly, Michigan fans simply wanted to believe that a very young team was still competent enough to win games they were supposed to win.  After coming tantalizing close against quality opponents, they wanted to beat a winning team, hold up their part of the Big Ten reputation and slap down the SEC.

Instead, they got an epic collapse.  Players they had hoped were coming into their own in the 13th game of the season made critical mistakes.  Players they thought were the future, looked unable to handle the spotlight.  And the coaches seemed unable to stop the bleeding or find a way to win.

You can say that Michigan’s history of failing to hold a lead in important games is not relevant to whether Harbaugh knows how to coach or the talent level on the 2018 team.  You can say this year was roughly what was expected.  But the history is there emotionally, and it FEELS important.  Monday made it feel like that history was destiny, that Michigan would forever be the underachieving team. Without a great season to fall back on the future feels like a continuation of heartbreaking losses and mediocrity.

So where do we go from here?  I think you must acknowledge this history and understand that it warps expectations and exaggerates the emotions.  Living in Columbus, I know what winning once in 15 years against OSU feels like.  You can’t have a hyped, media dominating, coach who gets paid ungodly sums, and a coaching staff who are also paid among the highest in the country, and not have expectations grow. And you can’t just wave away the emotions and baggage.

But you also need to realize that Harbaugh is digging out of a hole in terms of recruiting and winning.  And he is doing this at a time when Ohio State is one of the best programs in the country, when Penn State is recruiting at a high level and Michigan State has a coach whose life goal is to beat Michigan even if that is all he accomplishes.  This is an uphill climb. 

It is also important to note, that Michigan isn’t trying to get BACK to the level of Meyer or Saban or Dabo.  It was never at that level.  Those programs have five years of top five recruiting classes under their belt.  They have climbed to the highest level and stayed there. Michigan is trying to build a foundation from which they can reach that level.

That said, 2018 has the feel of a turning point.  Michigan will need to find a way to give fans some significant wins so that they can feel like all the money and hype means something. Another season of losses to rivals and missing the conference championship game will drive the angry voices to newfound heights. 

The good, and bad, news is that Michigan will have plenty of opportunities to get big wins.  As everyone is aware, the schedule is not easy.  Games against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State on the road and visits from Wisconsin and Penn State.  10 wins, including wins against ND, MSU and/or OSU, would be quite an accomplishment.  It would also give fans enough satisfaction to look to 2019 with excitement. A 4 or 5 loss season would seem to put even Harbaugh on the hot seat.

OT: Nebraska vs Oklahoma rivalry to resume

OT: Nebraska vs Oklahoma rivalry to resume

Submitted by MikeCohodes on November 30th, 2012 at 11:19 AM

Nebraska and Oklahoma have announced a home and home series for the 2021 and 2022 football seasons, renewing their rivalry.  (LINK)

Now that teams are setting up games that far out, who would you like to see Michigan try and schedule a home and home for in the Big 12?  We haven't really played too many teams from that conference in a long time.  I personally would love to see us take on Texas in a home and home series, I've always wanted to travel to Austin.  Any other ideas?

Musings on Notre Dame and the Rivalry

Musings on Notre Dame and the Rivalry

Submitted by DanRareEgg on September 26th, 2012 at 12:19 PM

I posted this over at a blog for which I occasionally write, but it's not a Michigan-centered blog and I don't get much feedback there so I thought I'd share it with the MGoCommunity.

Salty Sam Throws You on a Railroad Track

Being born in 1983 in Ann Arbor to a pair of Michigan alumni was the perfect storm for hating Notre Dame. For my entire life as a minor, Michigan State and Ohio State would occasionally jump up and bite the Wolverines, but they were largely just fodder for Michigan whether the coach was Schembechler, Moeller, or Carr. Notre Dame, however, was in the midst of selling its soul under Lou Holtz who was himself in the midst of getting his second of three straight schools at which he coached in hot water with the NCAA (Minnesota before and South Carolina after ND). Ethics aside, Holtz was a darn good coach which made his bizarre personality and speech pattern all the more obnoxious. At least John L. Smith has the decency to be nothing but comedy relief.

Holtz took the reigns in South Bend in 1986. After losing his first game against Michigan (and debut as Irish coach), 24-23, Holtz then led the Irish to 4 straight victories over Michigan, a stretch that included the 1988 national title for the Irish as well as the "stop kicking it to Rocket Ismail, please" game in 1989 when the Irish and Wolverines were ranked 1-2 to start the year. During this time I ranged in age from 4-7 and my father, like any true Wolverine would, grew an intense distaste for Holtz and the Domers, which I of course fully absorbed. I needed no other reason to hate Notre Dame, but then NBC made it even easier with their absurd TV contract. Half of my Michigan-Notre Dame viewing experiences have featured Tom Hammond (honorable mention in terribleness to ABC/ESPN for subjecting me to Brent Musberger for the other half)

Anyway, 1991 rolled around and in came the Irish to Ann Arbor looking for an unfathomable fifth straight win over the Wolverines.  Michigan fans are rightfully (much of the time, anyway) noted for their arrogance, but in 1991 if there was one fan base that could out-smug the Wolverines it was Notre Dame.  I was already destined to be a Wolverine slappy, but this cemented me for life:

That play and Remy Hamilton's winner in 1994 are the two that most stand out to me in my early Michigan football memories (of the positive ones, anyway. Don't even mention Miami in 1988. Crap, I just did). Holtz "retired" following the 1996 season. There still isn't a stated reason why. Holtz said "it was the right thing to do." Irish aficionados will tell you it was because the school's brass didn't want Holtz to surpass Knute Rockne's all-time wins record of 105. The likely reason became clear in 1999 when the Irish were hit with probation by the NCAA for failing to report improper benefits and academic fraud during the tenures of Holtz and his successor, Bob Davie. In any case, Holtz was gone and the first of many mediocre coaches to roam the sidelines in South Bend had taken over, so life must have been dandy for the Maize and Blue, right? Not so.

The Irish kept managing to defend their home turf despite fielding lousy teams and despite things like the hilarious hiring gaffe of resume doctor George O'Leary.  The "Return to Glory" and "Field Goal Jesus" jokes were always funny, but not as funny as they should have been because Notre Dame still found ways to maintain some relevance by beating ranked Michigan teams.  It wasn't until Charlie Weis' "decided schematic advantage" and then Brian "Grimace" Kelly that Michigan was able to put more than one consecutive win together against the Irish.  The three most recent saw the Wolverines snatch victory in the waning seconds (I think the first two were by design; Rich Rodriguez didn't know how to win any other way) and the two most recent saw jaw-dropping offensive numbers from Michigan's quarterback, Denard Robinson.  The 2012 game brought an opportunity for Michigan to win four straight against the Irish, matching the Irish's streak at the end of the 80's.  Notre Dame is Salty Sam, always up to no good until, just when you thought all hope was gone, along Comes Jones in the form of Denard Robinson.  There are three verses to the song.  This would be Robinson's third and final game against the Irish.  The thought of a third thrilling victory for Robinson was just delightful.  The idea for this post came to me on Thursday, but I didn't dare say anything about it for fear of the jinx.

This game would be played in South Bend, however, and other than a couple blips on the radar South Bend has been the Bermuda triangle for Michigan.  Whether it be an errant pass somehow still completed in 1990, Carlyle Holiday fumbling on the 1 and still getting a touchdown in 2002, or the 2008 slop-fest, good things don't often happen for Michigan in Notre Dame Stadium.  The Ghost of Irish Past reared its ugly head again on Saturday and Robinson, with a little help from his friends, had the worst day of his Michigan career.  5 interceptions and a fumble and Michigan still only lost by 7 points.  You can make a case that the better team has lost in this game for four straight years now.  I was mad, but if you've watched enough of Denard Robinson it's impossible to really be upset with him.  He's seen more in his 22 years (oh yeah, Saturday was his 22nd birthday) than most will in their lifetimes.  His humility is equally evident in victory as well as defeat.  So, instead of seething over this game for two weeks (Michigan has a bye on Saturday) like I would do pretty much every other year, I'm going to try damn hard to get past it because there are only 8-10 opportunities left to watch Denard Robinson in a Michigan uniform.  Sure, he's a feast-or-famine kind of player, but when it's been feast I haven't had as much fun watching football since Charles Woodson donned the Maize and Blue.

As for Notre Dame, they've decided to opt out of the rivalry after 2014 due to joining the ACC scheduling issues.  The good news is games like Saturday's won't happen so much, but I'll still miss the rivalry.  To me Notre Dame will always be Salty Sam, trying to saw Michigan all in half.  It sucks when they succeed, but there's nothing sweeter than when Jones comes along and saves the day.  Michigan-ND was a game I looked forward to more than any other; it was better when it was the first game of the year, but sadly Lou Holtz put and end to that by scheduling warm-up games in the early 90's.  There's no doubt Bo was right ("To Hell with Notre Dame!"), but it was always truer when Michigan sent them there.

Men's Basketball: What is the biggest rivalry game?

Men's Basketball: What is the biggest rivalry game?

Submitted by profitgoblue on January 14th, 2011 at 9:32 AM

I am curious about your thoughts as to what the current biggest rivalry game is for the men's basketball team . . .

Back in my day (1993-97), I think the majority would say that the Duke game in December was the biggest rivalry game.  (It seemed to get the most attention and draw the biggest number of students sleeping out and lining up to get first-come, first-serve seats.)  After the Fab Five left, it seems like the Michigan State games became the biggest rivalry games.  Now, being further removed from the program, I'm not sure as to what the general sentiment is on campus.  Is Michigan State the biggest rival?  Ohio State?  I'm interested in reading your thoughts.

North-South Divisional Alignment For Big Ten?

North-South Divisional Alignment For Big Ten?

Submitted by kb9704 on June 15th, 2010 at 3:48 AM

Thinking Outside the Vertical Split

So I'm sitting here reading how the Big Ten is going to split up the conferences and I'm noticing something. The way that most people have it set up is for a east-west alignment. Which makes sense. Its a lot easier to split up. I personally like the 4 division set ups better. But that does get complicated and if the Big Ten will not use a 4 division set up. Why not go North-South? This way, you get to keep the Michigan-OSU rivalry and have a chance at having a UM-OSU Big Ten Championship Game. We all know that would bring in the most money and definitely the most T.V. air time. The way i look at it, we could split the divisions up like this.

North South
Big Ten Divisions
Michigan Ohio State         
Michigan State Purdue
Wisconsin Penn State
Minnesota Nebraska
Northwestern Indiana
Iowa Illinois


Now with this setup, the first thing you will notice is that this is not at all even. North has Arguably 1 mediocre team while the south has 2-3. The only way i can think of to make sure that this evens out is to make each division play the other division. This is very different but could completely even things out.  ALL the teams in the North would play ALL the teams in the south, and vice versa.

 How Will This Work?

Whoever has the Best record against the other division, is the winner of the division, and will get to play in the Big Ten Championship Game. This way. OSU and Nebraska (the presumable winners of the South) have to play the exact same teams, and you can compare the records equally and will have no dispute over who had a weaker schedule. Now this only leaves 6 games, which means we have 3 left. 3 divisional games, 3 random teams within the division. (Assuming that we move to 9 conference games for this setup)

What If They Both Go 5-1?

 If two or more teams have the exact same record against the other division, then we look at record within the division. If that is the same, then we look at if the two teams played each other. If they did, then the winner of that game goes to the Big Ten Championship Game. If they didn't, then we see what the average points that the teams won by was(against the other division). Whoever won by more points is that divisions winner.

 In addition this also ensures that UM and OSU play EVERY year, and that UM-OSU Big Ten Championship Game is possible every year..


  • The UM-OSU rivalry will take place every year, no matter what
  • There is a chance at a UM-OSU Big Ten Championship Game every year
  • There will be no reasonable argument for someone winning there division with an easier schedule
  • Not too complicated


  • The South will more than likely be an easier division every year (if people really want to argue about that)
  • Some rivalry's may not take place every year
  • People will still argue someone having an easier road to the Big Ten Championship Game
  • It is out-of-the-norm for divisional splits

Why Not Have South Play Teams In The South And North Play Teams In The North?

Thats thinking in the box, not out of the box, which is the point of this post.

Redundant threads/Polling station

Redundant threads/Polling station

Submitted by wlvrine on February 15th, 2010 at 9:02 PM

This problem is getting out of hand. Most everyone knows what I am talking about: Threads that ask the same tired questions over and over again.
Like: How many wins will we get this year?
Or: Will Devin Gardner start as a true freshman?
It is now only February and the frequency of these threads will only increase the closer we get to September. We need to stop the madness.
We do not need another discussion. We need a poll. A place where every joe-six-pack with an opinion about who will start at quarterback, can make their voice heard without bogging down the best message board in the universe.
I doubt this will put an end to the problem completely. But if it stops even one more thread from being created about how many wins it will take for R.Rodriguez to keep his job, then it will have been worth it.

Big Game Rooting Interests

Big Game Rooting Interests

Submitted by bigmc6000 on October 16th, 2009 at 11:40 AM

So I was wondering what the general feeling is amongst the MGoUsers about the rivalry games this weekend. I'm torn as to the USC-ND game but don't really have a rooting interest in the UT-OU game (other than my girl being a UT fan I guess that answers that question).

As for the USC-ND game I'm obviously conflicted (I think most are) on one hand we have ND and we hate them and they suck and *insert we hate rival verbiage here.* However, on the other hand, should ND win that means Front Butt might not get fired (woo!) and, almost as important, Clausen might be viewed as one of the top QB prospects in the land and considering the rookie salary cap starting next season (most likely) would be likely to leave and that would be awesome so we don't have to deal with him next year.