The Michigan Wolverines were "back" in 2011. Eleven wins, Sugar Bowl win, thrilling win over Notre Dame and, most importantly, a victory over Ohio State. That counts as "back," right?
Well, the smoldering remains of Michigan's program sitting there on the Cowboy Stadium floor after Alabama's 41-14 demolition on Saturday night would suggest otherwise. And now that Michigan has been exposed as a team that just cannot hang with a top SEC squad—even with a true freshman getting most of the carries for the Tide—it's time to use the "F" word to describe the 2011 Michigan season.
Michigan isn't very good this year. We saw that in their season-opening loss. Alabama ran up a 31-0 lead, and then coasted to the 41-14 win. Yeah, Alabama would beat most teams about as badly in that situation. But if we're already left to comparing Michigan to "most teams," then the Wolverines aren't very good.
And it's not as if this is even a much worse Michigan team than last year. It's not. Kyle Meinke of MLive.com said this is a better Wolverines squad than the 2011 version, and still predicted Michigan to go 8-4 on the year. So if a team improves on paper and still manages two or three fewer wins than the previous season, what does it say about the merits of that previous season?
Michigan was a startlingly average team that managed to get 11 wins last year, and the flaws of that team reared its ugly head again on Saturday night. Away from Michigan Stadium, Denard Robinson and the Wolverines just aren't very good. The best true road win of Michigan's season last year was either at Northwestern (a 6-7 team) or versus an Illinois team in the middle of a six-game meltdown that would cost Ron Zook his job.
In fact, those were Michigan's only true road wins last year; trips to Michigan State and Iowa ended in losses, and Michigan managed to keep its entire non-conference slate at the Big House. And there, Denard Robinson was great.
But college football is littered with teams that can't get the job done on the road when it counts, and Michigan looks like just another one of those teams. Even the much-celebrated Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech was marred by questionable refereeing in Michigan's favor (and we're suggesting incompetence here, not malice or conspiracy), and Virginia Tech wasn't exactly an elite opponent to begin with.
Shall we go on? The win over Ohio State wasn't particularly special either. The 34 points Ohio State scored in the loss were the most they scored against any team with single-digit losses. The Buckeyes ended the season 6-7, their first losing season since 1988—before any of the current Buckeyes were even born.
And that Notre Dame comeback was spectacularly exciting, but many of Denard Robinson's big throws versus the Irish (the last two excepted, for what it's worth) were 50-50 jump balls that a real secondary would have punished. And yes, I am saying Notre Dame had a fake joke of a secondary last season. Watch Gary Gray play defense. It's quite an impression, but it's nowhere near the real thing.
There was nowhere for Michigan's flaws to hide this time around. Alabama's quite good. The Crimson Tide just may repeat as national champions. But a good team—a No. 8 team, as Michigan was in both polls—ought to be able to give a team like Alabama close to 60 minutes of competitive football on an ostensibly neutral field.
But the way it looked Saturday, the game was over before the first quarter even ended. And it's hard to imagine things would have gone any differently in 2011, either.