MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — One by one, they disembarked the team busses oozing a newfound cool. Perhaps emboldened by their pummeling of Ohio State and their ravaging of Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, or perhaps entranced by the trappings of a week on the beach in South Florida, these Michigan football players were imbued with College Football Playoff swagger.
They were clothed in fresh white Jordan brand tracksuits designed especially for the occasion — a date with third-ranked Georgia in the Orange Bowl — and many of them debuted the types of sunglasses befitting rock stars or rappers. Some stopped to sign autographs and play catch with fans between warmups prior to kickoff. It was clear that these Wolverines, who spent the week assuring reporters a trip to the national semifinals alone wouldn’t quench their thirst, firmly believed they belonged on the sport’s grandest stage.
BOOK IT: Celebrate Michigan football’s historic season with this new Free Press book!But a team that captured its first league title since 2004 and retooled its brand to radiate the rugged demeanor of its hyper-competitive head coach, Jim Harbaugh was quickly indoctrinated on the differences between good teams and great teams. Between a program that recruits well enough to compete for national titles and one that usually finishes second fiddle to an archrival. Between a roster littered with NFL prospects and a nucleus of formerly unheralded prospects who have thoroughly — and impressively — overachieved.
What unfolded during the 34-11 stoning at Hard Rock Stadium was an embodiment of the chasm atop college football, where teams like Georgia and Alabama seem to be playing a different game than everyone else. An eye-opening speed and talent disparity between the Bulldogs and U-M was made worse by mental mistakes, rotten coaching decisions and an inability to win the line of scrimmage that only widened the gulf. In a matchup that required Jim Harbaugh’s team to play flawlessly…