Gator Bowl: Mississippi State 52, Michigan 14. At the beginning of the day, Rich Rodriguez's immediate fate as Michigan's head coach was a complete mystery, and most likely not one that hinged on the final score in Jacksonville. Whether or not Jim Harbaugh is on his way from Stanford to take over the job at his alma mater after he finishes his season in Monday night's Orange Bowl, the deal was likely done (or not done) before Saturday. But that was assuming a game in the ballpark of the three-point point spread. In reality, by mid-afternoon, Mississippi State had turned the proceedings into an impromptu wake.
This was the worst bowl loss in Michigan history, by far, and it was an all-purpose collapse: The high-octane offense joined the perpetually sad-sack defense in the depths for the first time this season, failing to score at all over the final three quarters as the Bulldogs rang up 42 unanswered points. Quarterback Denard Robinson was out-passed by Chris Relf, and the Big Ten's No. 1 ground game was out-rushed by 125 yards. Not Ohio State. Not Penn State. Not Florida State. Mississippi State. A team that happense to be tickled pink right now with its sharp turnaround under a second-year head coach.
That's how Rodriguez's third season, by all accounts a make-or-break campaign, comes thudding to another grisly end: With another second-half collapse that sends the Wolverines home losers in six of their last eight, with consecutive losses by margins of 20, 30 and 38 points. With the worst defense in the Big Ten, and an offense that, in the end, was shut out in eight of the final 12 quarters of the season. With a marquee conference win over middling Illinois, in a 67-65, triple-overtime escape. And finally, with the sobering realization that whatever sense of progress accompanied the return to a .500 record and a Jan. 1 bowl game, however modest, was an illusion. This team, like Rodriguez's first two, is defined by stagnation in the most toxic swamp anyone in Ann Arbor can remember.
That doesn't necessarily mean he's going to be led to the guillotine on Sunday morning, or Monday, or even after Harbaugh is in play on Tuesday. But if he is, there will be far more partisans there to jeer as he's fitted for the hood, and far fewer defenders – assuming there are still any defenders even left after Saturday's debacle. If first-year athletic director David Brandon was uncertain at all about dropping the axe, the decision became a much easier one Saturday night. By now, even the sympathizers are bracing themselves for the thumb's down.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.