Michigan is still considered to be a national football power even though it hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2004.
When Michigan last won a conference championship, the iPhone didn’t exist, Facebook had just moved out of Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room and the only “tweets” people knew about came from birds.
The world has changed drastically since then, and Michigan has struggled to make the transition as college football has evolved.
When most fans think about Michigan, they recall the period from 1969-2004 when the team could legitimately stake a claim as an elite program.
|I-A Winning Percentage (1969-2004)|
2004 marked the last time Michigan won or shared the Big Ten title.
The Wolverines competed for another Big Ten title in 2006 (falling to Ohio State in an epic 42-39 battle in Columbus), but since then, the program has plummeted both nationally and among teams in its conference.
|I-A Winning Percentage 2005-2013|
And how far has Michigan slid since 2004?
|I-A Winning Percentage 2005-2013 (Big Ten top 6)|
Imagine you’re a 17-year-old recruit. The last time Michigan won a national championship (1997) was the year you were born and the last time the team won the Big Ten title you were in grade school.
Up until last November when Michigan lost four out of five games, Brady Hoke could make a tenuous case the program was on the rise. But because of his last two seasons (7-6, 8-5) the success of his first season (11-2) might be an aberration.
That’s why this season is absolutely critical for Hoke. His predecessor, Rich Rodriguez, was fired for finishing 7-6 in his third season. So far, Hoke has the support of athletic director David Brandon, but fans in Ann Arbor are growing restless.
Over the last ten years, football ticket prices have steadily risen, and the Michigan athletic department has instituted seat licenses for season ticket holders. Michigan Stadium has also been upgraded with private suites and premium seating areas. All this adds up to increased pressure for the team to get back to the top of the Big Ten and beyond.
Brandon has broken with Michigan tradition by taking a very active and public role in oversight of the football program. He moved methodically replacing Rodriguez after concluding the program wasn’t moving in the right direction. Another lackluster season, and he may conclude another change is in order.
The 2004 season
Michigan finished the 2004 season 9-3 (7-1 Big Ten) as Big Ten co-champions with Iowa. The team lost to Notre Dame (28-20), Ohio State (37-21) and suffered a bitter last second defeat to Texas (38-37) in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan's three losses all occurred away from Michigan Stadium. The highlight of the season was a 45-37 triple overtime win over rival Michigan State in Michigan Stadium.
Notable Players from 2004
The 2004 team featured future NFL players like quarterback Chad Henne, offensive tackle Jake Long, running back Mike Hart and wide receivers Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston.
Henne was the surprise starter as a freshman in 2004 after a preseason injury to Matt Gutierrez. Henne set numerous passing records at Michigan and was initially taken in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft by Miami.
He currently plays—along with another former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson—for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
After winning numerous national awards at Michigan, Long was selected by Miami as the overall top pick of the 2008 NFL draft and currently plays for the St. Louis Rams.
Hart left Michigan as the top rusher in school history with 5,040 yards. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL draft by Indianapolis and retired after three seasons. He currently is the running backs coach at Western Michigan University.
Edwards had a spectacular college career at Michigan but is probably best remembered for his role in the 45-37 triple overtime victory over rival Michigan State during the 2004 season. He was selected as the third pick in the first round by Cleveland in the 2005 NFL draft. He played for five NFL teams before retiring after the 2012 season.
Avant was Michigan’s second-leading receiver in 2004 and was selected in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft by Philadelphia. He currently plays for the Carolina Panthers.
Breaston left Michigan as the career leader in returns (127 punt returns for 1,599 yards) and (81 kick off returns for 1,993 yards). He was drafted by Arizona in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL draft. He appeared with three NFL teams but has not played since the 2012 season.
All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.
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