The reviews of the football and basketball seasons of conference schools continues into the state of Michigan today, as Big Ten Country looks back on the years of the Wolverines & Spartans.
Football season started with a stunning and historic loss to Appalachian State on Labor Day weekend. The regular season ended with a fourth straight loss to Ohio State. In between the Wolverines played some good football. They continued their mastery of Penn State. They won at BCS-bound Illinois. But a loss at Wisconsin in the second-last game with Chad Henne hurt cost them a share of the conference title and set an ominous tone for what would go down in the following week's championship showdown with the Buckeyes.
The losses to OSU were finally the end for Lloyd Carr, But before leaving, the old coach had one last hurrah up his sleeve, pulling an upset of Florida in the Capital One Bowl. An era ended in the hiring process as UM went outside the system and brought in West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez to juice up the offense. The early days of the new regime have been awash in controversy and players leaving. Michigan's record of success speaks for itself and Rodriguez is a proven winner, but there's big challenges ahead in the short-term, as the program makes the transition to a spread offense.
The basketball team produced exciting freshman guard Manny Harris, but not much else. They lost at home to Northwestern, in the only game the Wildcats won in Big Ten play. Fans are hoping the rebuilding program of John Beilein accelerates next year.
MSU was one of the more successful overall programs in the league when you consider both sports. The football team began a new era under Mark Dantonio and started to shed its reputation as one that fell apart down the stretch. The early and mid-season was marked by tough, frustrating losses to Wisconsin and Michigan. But the Spartans began to surge in November and they capped it off by rallying from 17 points down to beat Penn State in the regular season finale. Then they turned in a noble effort in the Champs Sports Bowl against Boston College and its possible #1 draft pick in Matt Ryan.
The future is bright for Dantonio's program. The only cautionary note is that similar enthusiasm was found in East Lansing after one year under John L. Smith. MSU still faces the burden of overcoming its recent past, even in good times.
Tom Izzo's basketball team had a good year, although it wasn't what anyone associated with the program expected. National title hopes were in full bloom when practice started last fall. And non-conference play gave legitimacy to those hopes, with a big win over Texas being the highlight. But Big Ten games didn't go quite as well. The Spartans still defended their home floor, beating Purdue and hanging 103 points on Indiana in East Lansing. But they lost to both contenders on the road and they lost to eventual league champ Wisconsin on the road. Worst of all, they lost at Penn State & Iowa.
The NCAA Tournament was more of the same. They had a decent run, beating Pitt and making the Sweet 16. But their season-ending loss to Memphis was a rout. This program is still the best in the conference until further notice and can be expected to be back. And their season was hardly a bad one. But it could have been more then it was.