There haven’t been too many great days as a Michigan fan over the last few years. The football team just capped off one of its worst seasons in school history and hasn’t beaten Ohio St. since 2003. The basketball team hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 11 years and, well, you know. The day John Beilein was hired was certainly a great day. Ditto Rich Rodriguez. Michigan’s win over Florida in the 2008 Capital Bowl was a great day. The two respective days that Michigan beat Duke and UCLA last December were certainly off the charts. Still, to be counting “great days” on two hands is not the most ideal situation. While yesterday doesn’t quite equal the day that both Charles Woodson won the Heisman and Michigan beat #1 Duke at Crisler, or any number of dates in 1997, it was one of the most enjoyable days I can recall to be a Michigan fan.
Thursday was great for two very different reasons. First, Michigan hammered down a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Seinfeld went off the air. The only way Michigan was going to miss the tourney was to lose to Iowa and then receive a whole bunch of bad luck via conference tournament upsets. So, Michigan’s win essentially “clinched” a bid even though one may have been imminent anyway. We’ll still have to wait until Sunday for the formal announcement but Michigan’s status is so concrete that the question has moved from “will Michigan get a bid?” to “how high will Michigan be seeded?” Today’s matchup against Illinois will not be easy. I don’t think Michigan matches up against the Illini particularly well but a win is not out of the question. In fact, most neutral observers would probably call this game a toss-up. The Illini will be without Chester Frazier which could tip the scale slightly into Michigan’s favor. A win over Illinois puts Michigan easily into an 8/9 matchup. Considering that means a second round matchup against a #1 seed, maybe a win over Illinois is not advisable. Still, Michigan has the potential to play through Sunday and seems to be in peak position entering the NCAA Tournament. Thursday was the culmination of 11 years of high-level frustration. That is a sign of a good day.
The other reason for celebration is the commitment—or what now can be described as pre-commitment—of top in-state quarterback, Devin Gardner. I generally pay attention to the overall strengths of a recruiting class rather than focusing on individual players but in this case, I certainly will make an exception. I don’t think there has ever been a player that I wanted to play for Michigan more than Gardner other than maybe Terrell Pryor. Even then, I think I rooted more for Gardner’s commitment. Gardner is an in-state kid. Michigan State apparently owned in-state recruiting last year. Too much noise has been made about the supposed in-state power struggle on the recruiting trails between Michigan and Michigan State. No player in the state means more to a program than Gardner means to Michigan. In fact, that statement could probably be expanded to include the entire country and be more accurate than not. Gardner is the Terrell Pryor/Vince Young of the 2010 recruiting class. He is 6’4 and deceptively fast. Swinging and missing on Gardner would’ve meant a lot more than just losing a good prospect. Five years ago, Gardner would not have been a fit for the Michigan football program. Sure, Lloyd Carr managed to reel Antonio Bass to Michigan but he was not brought in as a QB. He was brought in as a player who could play a multitude of positions. Gardner is unquestionably a quarterback and the old regime would’ve had no use for him. With the spread in town, Gardner is the perfect fit for Michigan. If Rodriguez wouldn’t have been able to land the consummate spread quarterback from just 20 minutes down the road, that would’ve ramped up the in-state criticism even more. The fact the Gardner committed—and committed early—is huge for a number of reasons. First and most obvious, it gives Michigan six years of stability at the position that was its downfall (or at least, most responsible for its downfall) in 2007. Second, it puts a stick of dynamite in the mouths of the people spouting off about Michigan State’s in-state recruiting dominance. Thirdly, it should give Michigan momentum for the recruiting class moving forward. More importantly, it puts one of the most gifted and dangerous athletes in the country at the helm of Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense. In my book, that is also a sign of a good day. Not to mention, yesterday also brought everyone possibly the greatest basketball game ever played. Go Blue!