The first college football program to 900 wins is bound to have its share of high moments. Or an entire decade on top.
A Michigan Man, therefore, knows good football when he sees it. Any Michigan Man — or Michigan Woman — in Ann Arbor through the 1970s would have seen the best of modern Michigan. If Ohio State weren’t there to spoil otherwise undefeated seasons, Michigan would have been unstoppable.
The first generation of Michigan fans, though, knows a few things about unstoppable. As in, beating a team 128-0 unstoppable. Those were the kinds of results Michigan saw from coach Fielding Yost at the start of his 55-1-1 run at the turn of the century.
But Michigan fans, after being able to buy bowl tickets every year from 1975-2007, finally learned what it’s like to be on the other spectrum of college football when Rich Rodriguez led the Wolverines to an unthinkable 3-9 season in 2008. It got better, but not by much until recent seasons.
Picking the best times to be a Michigan fan, despite all their success, was actually pretty easy. Nearly the entire Bo Schembechler era fits, bookended by Yost’s “Point a Minute” teams and Lloyd Carr’s title-winning team in 1997.
The worst times, unfortunately for Michigan fans, are just as easy to identify.
Here are the best and worst time to root for the Maize and Blue.
BEST TIMES TO BE A MICHIGAN FAN
National championships: 0
Coach: Bo Schembechler
Notable players: Dan Dierdorf, Jim Mandich, Dave Brown, Rick Leach, Reggie McKenzie, Tom Curtis, Anthony Carter, Mark Donahue
The Wolverines had been treading water before hiring the coach who would become the quintessential Michigan Man in Bo Schembechler. In 1969, Schembechler led Michigan to the Rose Bowl in his first season, setting up a string of 10 consecutive top-10 finishes in the AP poll. With a physical brand of football built up front thanks to linemen like Dierdorf, Michigan won at least a share of the Big Ten title eight times in Schembechler’s first 10 seasons, including a 41-3-1 run from 1971-74. Unfortunately for Michigan, that 0-3-1 came at the the hands of Ohio State. Despite the heartbreakers against Ohio State, By the end of the decade, Michigan finished with the fourth-most wins during the ‘70s.
National championships: 1
Coach: Lloyd Carr
Notable players: Jon Jansen, Charles Woodson, Jarrett Irons, Brian Griese, Tom Brady, Anthony Thomas
Michigan fans soured on Carr by the end of his tenure, but Carr revived the Wolverines after the lackluster late years of Gary Moeller. The high point was the 1997 season when Michigan won its first national title since 1948. Woodson won the Heisman in ’97, but he wouldn’t become the best pro out of this group — that would be two-year starter Tom Brady in ’98-99.
National championships: 4
Coach: Fielding Yost
Notable players: Willie Heston, Neil Snow
Before the turn of the century, the Ivy League ruled college football. That changed with Fielding Yost’s five-year run starting in 1901. Michigan won four consecutive pre-AP national championships from ’01-04. The “Point a Minute” Michigan teams outscored opponents 2,821-42, but no team was more impressive than the 1901 squad that defeated opponents by a combined score of 550-0.
WORST TIMES TO BE A MICHIGAN FAN
Coach: Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez
On paper, Lloyd Carr’s final season in 2007 wasn’t bad — 9-4 and a win over Heisman winner Tim Tebow in the Capital One Bowl for a top-20 finish. But the season started with one of the most embarrassing losses in school history against Appalachian State. After Carr, Michigan attempted to shake up its approach by hiring a non-Michigan Man in Rodriguez from West Virginia. The experiment was a disaster. Rodriguez led Michigan to a 3-9 year in his first season for Michigan’s first losing season since 1967. Rodriguez modernized the offense to the spread with Denard Robinson, but by then, the defense was a sieve. Rodriguez was fired with a 15-22 mark to become the only Michigan coach with a career losing record.
Coach: Harry Kipke
Michigan went 15-0-1 in 1932-33, but the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion. Credit Kipke with consistency, though: He went 1-7, 4-4, 1-7 and 4-4 in his final four seasons. The Ohio State rivalry was in its pre-Woody and Bo stages, but the Buckeyes defeated Michigan by a combined score of 114-0 during these four years.
Coach: Bennie Oosterbaan, Bump Elliott
Michigan went 9-1 with a Rose Bowl win in 1964, but that was the outlier in this lost decade for Wolverines football. Otherwise, Michigan finished fifth or lower in the Big Ten every other season during this span, including a last-place finish in 1962.
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