‘It’s a start’ — Jim Harbaugh, Wolverines vow Michigan’s 2021 season is just the beginning

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·5 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It may have been Michigan’s year, but on the last day of 2021, it wasn’t Michigan’s night.

As Georgia was getting up on the makeshift stage to receive the Capital One Orange Bowl trophy and celebrate its advancement to the national championship game, a handful of young Michigan players refused the leave the field, watching what they missed, presumably soaking in this moment, pre-visualizing being in the Bulldogs’ shoes next time around.

That’s all they get, for the moment. Because the Wolverines faltered mightily in the now-season finale, with Georgia reclaiming the mantle of the elite, while the maize and blue have to but wonder how much further it will take to reach similar heights.

Make no mistake: Michigan belonged here. It eviscerated nearly every opponent, every step of the way. It vanquished Ohio State. It won the Big Ten Championship. Its best was excellent enough most days to destroy most of the teams in its way, but on Friday at Hard Rock Stadium, these Wolverines learned it’ll take more than what they’ve got. Perhaps it’s a valuable lesson learned.

Friday featured an uncharacteristic set of circumstances for the maize and blue. While the offense came out aggressive, it didn’t result in points. It turned the ball over with regularity, with two interceptions and a lost fumble. Georgia was the one that got out to a fast start, scoring the first 17 points before the Wolverines got a field goal, getting one of the touchdowns in a similar fashion (a running back passing the ball) to Michigan’s second vs. Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. The defense couldn’t stop the Bulldogs until the second half, and while it only allowed one touchdown in the final 30 minutes, the damage was done. It was too much against too vaunted a defense.

But, as Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said initially after the Ohio State game, he reiterated the same after Friday’s College Football Playoff loss: this is the start more than an untimely end.

“Yeah, it was a great season. To me it’s one of the best seasons in Michigan football history,” Harbaugh said. “We were trying to make it greater. We were trying to make it greater tonight. But it was still a great season. This team won’t be together fully next year. It’s still a beginning for this team. This is about when our guys Josh Ross to my left here and Cade McNamara to my right, that’s when it began last year, and it’ll begin anew this year. Start of a new year.

“Proud of them, the way they kept fighting. I could say they were — there’s never any quit in these guys. It’s a very resilient – ton of resolve with this football team, and as I said, to me it feels like a start. Feels like a beginning.”

“Yeah, we climbed mountains this season that no one thought we could,” edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson said. “We did some things that nobody expected this Michigan team to do. I think we set the standard for the future of Michigan football and we really helped this program tremendously for the future.

“All those young guys, they got this scar tissue now, being in the playoffs, losing, having to feel this. I know they’re going to bounce back next year and give ’em hell.”

Some teams build on their success. Others crumble at their failures. Michigan has a road to choose and it intends on taking the former.

But in order to do that, it’ll need some revitalization, unfortunately. Hutchinson, a team captain and heart of the team, has put on a winged helmet for the last time. He, among others, was the catalyst for a stunning turnaround from 2020 to this season’s 12-2 campaign.

Hutchinson has already worked on passing the mantle, noting that he believes the program is in good hands.

“We got a lot of guys on this team coming back that they listen to us leaders this year, they learn from us,” Hutchinson said. “I mean, they’re with us through the thick and the thin.

“I know Michigan football will be in good hands next year with one of those guys. I mean, they’re going to step up. Already started talking to a couple of them that I know are going to be leaders next year. Michigan football will be in good hands. They’ve learned this whole season what leadership is and how it’s supposed to be.”

But, naturally, that will take some work. As Harbaugh sees it, though the outcome wasn’t what this team wanted, it’s a starting point.

“Keep building and attacking,” Harbaugh said. “I think our ballclub was in position to do it and weren’t able to get it done tonight, but always building and attacking at the same time.”

So were Blake Corum, J.J. McCarthy, Donovan Edwards, Mike Morris, and Andrel Anthony watching the trophy presentation because they were preparing for a future where Michigan was in the same position? Or were they merely watching their betters on Friday receive their award?

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until next year to find out. But having seen, tasted, and witnessed what it takes to reach this point, it’s no longer a pipe dream as it perhaps has been in the recent past.

List

What Jim Harbaugh said about Michigan football's loss to Georgia