The 42-3 win over Iowa on Saturday was the Wolverines’ first Big Ten title since 2004, and it came after a season in 2020 where Michigan went 2-4 and critics could be found everywhere.
Harbaugh praised his team as a group he loves and went so far as to say that there is no team he loves more. He said he loved the way they came together and how this group embodies a mantra carved into the walls of Schembechler Hall.
“To get past the sign, we all walk past – ‘Those who stay will be champions’ – to make it valid and true,” said Harbaugh. “So that the guys really live in Schembechler Hall forever. I want to say, [Aidan Hutchinson’s] photo is going to be up there on the All-American wall. All the guys on the team in the team photo will be up there as part of the Big Ten champion.
“We have a banner at Glick Fieldhouse that will say Big Ten champion. “
Prior to this season, Harbaugh hadn’t beaten rival Ohio State, taken his team to the Big Ten Championship game or the College Football Playoff. This team has now completed all three with Saturday’s convincing victory over the Hawkeyes.
The criticisms leveled at Harbaugh and the team over the past few seasons regarding the inability to beat the Buckeyes and the lack of hardware in the trophy case, not to mention the debates over the past offseason over Harbaugh’s return to the Michigan, were erased as confetti flew off rafters and the Michigan team lifted the Big Ten Trophy.
The players have committed all season to try to reach the top. Hutchinson returned for his senior season to try and change his Michigan heritage and culture. He wanted to get a ring and the players, knowing the criticism Harbaugh received last year, wanted to win for him.
“One of the first things I thought about after we won was Coach Harbaugh,” said quarterback Cade McNamara. “It happened against Ohio State, it happened again here. After last season it was so difficult, not just for us the players but also for Coach Harbaugh, and we know there isn’t a person who cares more about Michigan than the coach. Harbaugh.
“This team, we have come together. We also want to win for Coach Harbaugh, and we’re so happy we were able to give him that joy back because he deserves it. “
Michigan has been playing as the underdog all season and had a chip on its shoulder due to outside discussions about the 2020 season and low expectations heading into 2021.
Last week, players learned that early season predictions give the Wolverines a slim chance of winning the Big Ten. They used this as extra motivation to push until the clock hit zero and they came out on top.
“The start of the year, the odds, I don’t know anything – there was a 2% chance that we would win the Big Ten Championship,” said offensive lineman Andrew Vastardis. “These were preseason predictions. I don’t know how it goes, but we believe in each other. We believe in ourselves, but there is always a little external motivation. So internally motivated, bring every guy in, but sometimes just a few of the stuff that’s out there, just take it and roll with it and fire it up. “
That wasn’t the only motivator for Michigan on Saturday. Players wore ‘O’ block patches with the initials ‘TM’, the No.42 and four hearts to honor the victims of the Oxford High School shooting that took place on Tuesday.
The four hearts represented Hana St. Juliana, Justin Shilling, Madisyn Baldwin and Tate Myre, the four students who were killed. Myre’s initials and number 42 he wore for the Oxford football team were featured on the patch, and it was Hutchinson who approached Harbaugh to honor the community of Oxford.
Myre’s parents were honorary captains of the draw to open the game, wearing white T-shirts that read “Oxford Strong”.
Michigan won the game with 42 points, the same as Myre’s. It wasn’t on purpose, but when Harbaugh noticed the significance, he stopped and took a breath.
“It’s a community that needs all of our prayers, every one of them,” Harbaugh said. “And we just wanted to deliver that. We wanted to offer our prayers… and also honor Tate Myre and her bravery, her courage. “
There was a lot to celebrate for Michigan on Saturday night. Honor the victims, win your first Big Ten Championship in 17 years and secure a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The standings are yet to be released, but with Michigan starting the week at No. 2 in the standings, there’s a chance the Wolverines will be in No. 1 for semifinal games.
When asked if they deserve the top spot, Michigan running back Blake Corum insisted on where he thinks his team belongs. “I think so,” Corum said. “42-3, you tell me. I think so. ”