New Year's Day Bowl Games

Who's got it better than Michigan? Everybody!

Jim Rome
January 02, 2020 - 10:37 am
Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban

USA Today


There was a time when New Years Day was an absolute bowl extravaganza. It’s not anymore. And hasn’t been for a while. But I’m not going to go old guy “get off my lawn” about it. Not when yesterday involved a trip to the Rose Bowl. The actual bowl. And it was awesome. There is a reason why the Rose Bowl is special, actually there are a ton of reasons.

And yesterday lived up to all of those. Wisconsin-Oregon. Being in the building. Talking with Badgers icon Pat Richter. Talk about a living legend. And a guy with stories for days.

And then there was the game. And as you know, I don’t root. I don’t. That was a great game. A great game with a horrible call. Oregon was leading late in the fourth quarter 28-27. Wisconsin has the ball. 3rd and 6 at their own 28. It’s an absolutely huge play. A first down keeps the drive going, a stop pretty much ends the game. And the refs call a horrible PI on Wisconsin.

That was a truly terrible call. And that’s not some homer or some Badger honk saying that. That was a lot of people saying that, including Sunday Night Football rules analyst Terry McAulay tweeting it:

'That is not OPI against Wisconsin. The receiver is trying to get into his route and the defender grabs him and prevents him from releasing. #orevswis'

A terrible call at a terrible time. But no, Badger fan, as much as you hate to hear this, that didn’t cost you the game. The four turnovers did. The four turnovers that Oregon turned into 21 points. And Justin Herbert coming up with one clutch play after another. That’s what cost you the game. The officials didn’t beat you. Oregon did. And you beat yourselves, but not taking care of the football and by committing too many costly penalties. 

But those turnovers don’t change the fact that it was a brutal call. Nor do they change the fact that somehow, officiating seems to be getting worse by the game. Look, bad calls are going to happen, but how are they happening so often? Is it too much to ask that we get through a game, any game, without a ridiculously awful call? Can we do that in any game at any level, college or pro?

But it feels like that might be too much to ask. Just like it might be too much to ask Michigan to show up in a big game away from the Big House. 

Going into yesterday’s Citrus Bowl all the talk was about Michigan v. Alabama, Jim Harbaugh v. Nick Saban, and which team would show up with more fire and more passion. And on the opening kickoff, Michigan returned it 50 yards to midfield. 

When your program has been questioned for consistently no-showing in huge games, that is how you want to respond. That is how you want to start the game, with a statement kickoff return and then getting on the board immediately.

Except Michigan didn’t do that. They started with the ball at midfield and then went incomplete pass, two yard run, incomplete pass, and punted. 

And on Alabama’s first play from scrimmage, Jerry Jeudy went 88 yards.

7-0 Alabama. But to their credit, Michigan didn’t crumble. They came back and tied it at 7, then took the lead 13-7, then Alabama took it back 14-13 and then Michigan hit a huge field goal to take a 16-14 lead going into halftime. 

A very impressive showing from Michigan in the first half. They ate a punch, got up, kept swinging, and had the lead. They didn’t fold in the first half. They didn’t take when they got punched in the face. 

Nope. They saved that for the second half. Because on the fourth play from scrimmage in the second half, Alabama scored.

21-16 Alabama. And it only got worse from there. Alabama made it 28-16. And then got the ball back in the fourth quarter and all they needed to do was run out the clock. But that’s not what they did. They drove 73 yards down to the 2-yard line with less than a minute left. And instead of taking a knee, Nick Saban went for the jugular when he didn’t have to, and Najee Harris scored from 2 yards out.  

Bam! Have some. Was that payback for those comments about the camps a few years back? Or just Nick Saban being Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh being Jim Harbaugh.

Because the most incredible part of that sequence wasn’t Saban going for the touchdown with seconds to go, it was Harbaugh trying to return the favor by clocking the ball with one second left to take their own shot at the end zone. 

And watching his guy throw an interception in the end zone. That whole last sequence was a brutal way for Michigan to end the game and the season. But was so typical and so predictable of Michigan under Harbaugh.  And so were the complaints from Michigan about Bama running it up on them. 

Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone had some thoughts on that final Alabama touchdown: “It was kind of a smack in the face. But it is what it is. It’s football, we’ve got to be ready all times, and we weren’t ready that play.”

The first part of that take was terrible, the second was better. You do have to be ready to play at all times and that team wasn’t ready in the second half. At least the offense wasn’t. Because it did nothing. Outscored 21-0. And offense is supposed to be where the head coach shines. He was brought in to be a quarterback whisperer, but quarterback has been a huge problem ever since he arrived.

So has competitiveness in big games. Michigan has been outscored 91-43 in the last two games. 

Getting hammered in a big game. Again. We’re getting to the point where it doesn’t feel real anymore. 

Is it really true that yesterday was Michigan’s 16th straight loss to an AP Top 15 team away from home? Is it really Jim Harbaugh’s 10th straight loss like that? There’s no way that’s possible, right?

Just like there’s no way that other stat that was floating around last night is true, right? There’s no way that Rutgers has more bowl wins in the last 20 years than Michigan, right? That has to be a misprint or a prank, right? 

I still can’t believe that Rutgers one, but I do know that it’s four straight bowl losses for Michigan, which ties Harbaugh with Lloyd Carr for second behind Bo Schembechler for most consecutive bowl losses in Michigan history. That is not the kind of history that Michigan men were hoping for when they brought back this Michigan Man. 

Who’s got it better than us? Everybody!

After it was over, Nick Saban said he was looking to make a statement. Normally, a beatdown of Harbaugh and Michigan on New Year’s Day would be considered a statement and a signature win for most programs.  But if everyone smashes harbaugh when it really matters, how much can it matter all. Answer: it really doesn’t.  It comes with the territory. Territory being, harbaugh and Michigan are exactly who you want to face on the big stage: because they’re never ready for it and apparently never will be.