It was maddening, but it wasn't surprising.
On Saturday afternoon, Michigan football lost to Michigan State (again) in what was perhaps the best game in the history of this rivalry. As I said in my postgame video, it was about as good as a college football game can be. It was another excruciating loss for a program that has experienced too many over the last decade or so. Michigan did not embarrass themselves as they have done in this rivalry before. They didn't rush for -48 yards. They didn't plant a spike in the middle of Spartan Stadium and then lose by three touchdowns. They didn't make a backup quarterback look like an NFL Hall of Famer like they did last season. U-M went out and played their asses off, and Cade McNamara, Michigan's much-maligned quarterback, played the game of his life. Almost 24 hours later, the most challenging part of this defeat was accepting that Cade McNamara had to be a part of a losing effort. Michigan left Spartan Stadium with their dignity, but they didn't leave with the one thing they desperately needed to leave with, and that's an undefeated record and the ability to control their destiny.
I thought Michigan State would win this game. I felt like they were a better team. Now, if you would've told me before the game that Cade McNamara was going to throw for nearly 400 yards, I would've been ecstatic, and I probably wouldn't have believed you. As incredible of a performance as it was, it makes the pain of this loss hurt even more. I fully expected that this year's Michigan/Michigan State game would reflect everything the Jim Harbaugh area has been. Instead, it became a reflection of everything that the Jim Harbaugh era has NOT been. Michigan lost yesterday, not because they didn't play hard, not because they weren't well-coached, and not because they weren't prepared. Michigan lost because when it mattered most in the fourth quarter, Michigan State made all the plays that Michigan could not make. Poor fourth-quarter execution doomed Michigan the same way it has so many times in the past.
Michigan football now finds itself in the most awkward spot that a college football program can be. They are not bad enough to stink, but they're not good enough to be great. When you lose a game of this magnitude, you have to look at the bigger picture, and the bigger picture for Michigan football right now is not a particularly pretty one. Mel Tucker and Michigan State are not going anywhere. Even if Ryan Day bolts to the NFL, Ohio State will still not be going anywhere. We're nearly seven full years into the Jim Harbaugh tenure, and they find themselves in the same place that they were when Michigan hired him in December 2014. They are still looking up at the programs above them, desperately hoping that they can find a way to knock them off of their pedestal. And so many of these issues are not exclusive to the Jim Harbaugh era. Since 2008 Michigan State has been 10-4 against Michigan. They've won two outright Big Ten titles, and they won a share of another back in 2010, and all of those came before Mel Tucker. Losing to Michigan State is not just a thing of the present. It's a thing of the past as well. What makes this one that much more frustrating is that Jim Harbaugh has attempted to adapt. He's brought in different personnel, and he has not become complacent. Michigan didn't run the ball 50 times for two and a half yards a pop yesterday. They didn't lose because of coaching malpractice. They adapted, and it still wasn't good enough.
One day these severe losses will be distant memories. One day, Michigan football will find a team that clicks, beats their rivals, wins the Big Ten, and makes it to the playoff. It took the Michigan basketball program nearly 20 years of scraping the bottom of the Big Ten barrel until they found their way off the mat, and as of today, they have one of those stable programs not just in the Big Ten but in the country. I am confident that they will come for Michigan football, but the hard part is that I cannot for the life of me figure out when the hell that day is going to be because right now, it feels like it's very far away.