In Fiesta Bowl, Michigan can go from great to college football’s pinnacle

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The love and admiration came right away, mere moments after the Michigan football team landed at nearby Sky Harbor International Airport on Monday.

During an introductory news conference where Jim Harbaugh fielded questions about returning to the College Football Playoff, his team’s opponent in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl, Texas Christian, and the throng of new players coming into the program, a young fan  — hoisted on top of his father’s shoulders — had one simple message for his favorite coach.

“Coach Harbaugh, you’re my hero.”

With that, the Wolverines were off and running for what has been described as a business trip by players and coaches, an alleged departure from a year ago when Michigan, following an improbable run to the Big Ten championship, by extension playoff, was just happy to be in this moment.

“People go a lifetime without the opportunity like our team has,” Harbaugh said this week. “And through our talent and through our hard work, we’ve created this for ourselves.”

This time around, they say, there’s a different feeling. Michigan (13-0) ran roughshod through the conference, upending every opponent put in front of them — including rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, winning both games convincingly — en route to back-to-back Big Ten titles.

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy has won over the hearts and minds of the program and its fans, Blake Corum picked up where Hassan Haskins left off (and Donovan Edwards filled in the gaps when called upon), and the offensive line remains the best in the country.

More: With Blake Corum out, Jim Harbaugh declares: Donovan Edwards ‘saved our team’

A program that just two years ago was trending toward the days of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, with Harbaugh on the ropes as his contract hung in the balance, has fully resurrected itself.

“We love each other,” McCarthy, who won the starting job over incumbent Cade McNamara in Week 2, said. “This isn’t just a football team where we come from different places and just try to win football games together. We want every single one of us to succeed, no matter who it is.”

On the defensive side, with questions hanging over the start of the season following the departures of high-profile NFL drat picks Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo and Daxton Hill, the Wolverines are arguably better than ever. The unit ranks top-5 nationally in many of the key statistical categories without the household names or game-changing edge rusher.

Instead, first-year defensive coordinator Jesse Minter has found a way to galvanize a group of players eager to prove their worth, strike the right balance of who to play and when, and offer the proper second-half adjustments to close out games.


Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy is congratulated by teammates Kechaun Bennett (52), Ryan Hayes, left, and Zak Zinter (65) after throwing a touchdown pass during the second half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game…

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Read More: In Fiesta Bowl, Michigan can go from great to college football’s pinnacle 2022-12-31 11:15:00

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