Forty Years Out of the Desert: Michigan's Success Unparalleled

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Forty Years Out of the Desert: Michigan's Success Unparalleled

After 40 years in the desert, Moses encountered a burning bush telling him to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land.  How does this relate to Michigan football?

Well, when Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez last December, there wasn't quite a burning bush, but it anointed him to lead the program into the Promised Land of college football supremacy.  The problem, however, is that Michigan wasn't in the desert.

When you're the winningest program in college football, you're expected to compete for championships every year.  But what gets lost in the shuffle is that Michigan has been the most spoiled program in the nation the past 40 years.

During the Bo Schembechler/Gary Moeller/Lloyd Carr era, Michigan posted a winning percentage of 77.3.  Only Nebraska had a better record during that time, and rival Ohio State matched that percentage during that time period.  Michigan had three more wins and one more loss, but holds a 20-19-1 lead over the Buckeyes during that time.

Compare those winning percentages with the other top college football programs during the past 40 years, and it makes me proud to be a Wolverine.

1. Nebraska: 395-104 = 79.2%
2. Michigan: 372-109 = 77.3%
3. Ohio State: 369-108 = 77.3%
4. Oklahoma: 357-113 = 75.9%
5. Penn State: 366-120 = 75.3%
6. Alabama: 346-123 = 73.7%
7. USC: 349-129 = 73.0%
8. Tennessee: 347-134 = 72.1%
9. Texas: 346-134 = 72.1%
10. Florida State: 347-136 = 71.8%
11. Georgia: 336-141 = 70.4%
12. Notre Dame: 331-141 = 70.1%
13. Florida: 331-148 = 69.1%
14. Miami: 329-159 = 67.4%
15. LSU: 307-166 = 64.9%

During that time, which started with Michigan's last losing season (4-6 in 1967), Michigan had only one non-winning season (6-6 in 1984).  Nebraska has had losing seasons in two of the last four seasons, as well as a 7-7 season in 2002.  Ohio State had a 6-6 season nine years ago and went 4-6 in 1988.

Oklahoma had three straight losing seasons (1996-98) and two non-winning seasons preceding those.  Alabama had 6-6 seasons in 2004 and 2006 and three losing seasons (1997, 2000, and 2003).  USC had three losing seasons (most recently in 2001) and four 6-6 seasons.

Tennessee had four losing seasons (most recently in 2005) and one 5-5 season.  Texas had five losing seasons and two non-winning seasons.  Florida State had four losing seasons.  Georgia had four losing seasons and five non-winning seasons.

Notre Dame had seven losing seasons and one 5-5 season.  Florida had three losing seasons and two non-winning seasons.  Miami and LSU each had 11 losing seasons and one non-winning season.

I've heard Michigan fans complain about Lloyd Carr, and other college football fans say that Michigan is no longer an elite program.  Yet they have been the second-best program in the country the past 40 years and haven't fallen as far as Nebraska (the only team ahead of them) has this decade.

In a "what have you done for me lately" world, the argument against Michigan doesn't have much traction either.  The records during the Lloyd Carr era (1995-2007) are as follows.

1. Ohio State: 130-33 = 79.7%
2. Florida: 127-38 = 77.0%
3. Texas: 125-39 = 76.2%
4. Tennessee: 124-39 = 76.1%
5. Florida State: 124-40 = 75.6%
6. Michigan: 122-40 = 75.3%
7. Nebraska: 122-43 = 73.9%
8. Miami: 116-42 = 73.4%
9. Georgia: 118-44 = 72.8%
10. USC: 116-45 = 72.0%
11. LSU: 115-46 = 71.4%
12. Oklahoma: 114-49 = 69.9%
13. Penn State: 103-56 = 64.8%
14. Notre Dame: 95-62 = 60.5%
15. Alabama: 92-67 = 57.9%

During the Lloyd Carr era, Michigan's winning percentage from the last 40 years fell just two percent.  He still managed to win a National Championship, five Big Ten championships, get to a bowl game every year, and coach a Heisman Trophy winner.

Each of the five teams ahead of Michigan in winning percentage during this time also has a National Championship.  Each has been to a bowl game every year.  Each, except for Tennessee, has a Heisman Trophy winner.  Only Florida State (nine) and Ohio State (six) have more conference titles than Michigan.

Let's narrow it down a little further, to the Jim Tressel/Pete Carroll/Mark Richt era, which began in 2001.

1. USC: 76-14 = 84.4%
1. Texas: 76-14 = 84.4%
3. Oklahoma: 78-16 = 83.0%
4. Ohio State: 73-16 = 82.0%
5. LSU: 73-18 = 80.2%
6. Georgia: 72-19 = 79.1%
7. Miami: 65-22 = 74.7%
8. Michigan: 64-24 = 72.7%
9. Tennessee: 63-27 = 70.0%
10. Florida: 64-28 = 69.6%
11. Florida State: 58-32 = 64.4%
12. Nebraska: 55-34 = 61.8%
13. Penn State: 50-35 = 58.8%
14. Alabama: 50-38 = 56.8%
15. Notre Dame: 48-37 = 56.5%

During this time, Ohio State, which was at the top of the list for the previous time period, actually increased its winning percentage by 4.7 percent compared to the last 40 years, but LSU had a 15.3 percent increase.  Texas shot up the charts with a 12.3 percent increase, USC with an 11.4 percent increase, and Georgia with 8.7 percent.

Michigan, meanwhile, fell another 2.6 percent and dropped to eighth-best during that time frame.  Compare that to Florida, which fell 7.4 percent.

Finally, let's break it down to the Urban Meyer/Les Miles/Charlie Weis era (2005-2007):

1. USC: 34-5 = 87.2%
2. Ohio State: 33-5 = 86.8%
3. LSU: 33-6 = 84.6%
3. Texas: 33-6 = 84.6%
5. Florida: 31-8 = 79.5%
6. Georgia: 30-9 = 76.9%
7. Penn State: 29-9 = 76.3%
8. Oklahoma: 30-10 = 75.0%
9. Michigan: 27-11 = 71.1%
10. Tennessee: 24-14 = 63.2%
11. Alabama: 23-15 = 60.5%
12. Notre Dame: 22-15 = 59.5%
13. Nebraska: 22-16 = 57.9%
14. Miami: 21-16 = 56.8%
15. Florida State: 22-17 = 59.4%

Michigan's winning percentage fell another 1.6 percent compared to the last 40 years, but it didn't drop any spots in the winning percentage rankings. Compare that to Tennessee, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama and Florida State, which have fallen much farther in recent years.

As we can see, Michigan has hardly fallen from the ranks of the elite programs.  Sure, they have lost six of the last seven to Ohio State since Tressel took over, but Michigan went 7-2-1 in the '90s before Ohio State rebounded to the success they presently have.

Despite losing to Appalachian State a year ago, Michigan finished 9-4 and beat Florida in the Capitol One Bowl (for the second time in five years).  The year before that, Michigan was three points away from the National Championship game.

I'm excited to see the impact that the Rich Rodriguez era can make on college football once he gets the players he needs and his offensive system takes hold in Ann Arbor.  But I, for one, am not looking back with disdain on the Lloyd Carr era.

Was it time for a change?  I think so.  But were we really as bad off as some would lead us to believe?  Absolutely not.  Carr kept the program in good shape and did it in a way that upheld the integrity of the university.

While other schools have gone through major coaching changes every five, 10, or 15 years, this is Michigan's first in nearly 40 years.  It's uncharted territory for those who weren't around to see Schembechler come from Miami University in 1969.

Only Florida State and Penn State haven't had major coaching changes during that time, but they haven't sustained the success that the Bo/Moeller/Carr era did.

While I look forward to the future in the Promised Land, I won't forget the past 40 years that kept Michigan out of the college football desert.

It's great to be a Michigan Wolverine.

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