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EMU the bright spot in football for Michigan

John U. Bacon

Two weeks ago, Michigan football was ranked 14th. Michigan State was ranked 11th. The Detroit Lions were supposed to improve with a new coach, and Eastern Michigan was expected to slide back to mediocrity ways.

Well, what a difference a couple weeks make.

After Michigan lost a hard-fought opener to Notre Dame, the Wolverines bounced back Saturday to crush Western Michigan, 49-3. They did just about everything they hoped to do, right down to playing their third-string quarterback. Yeah, they were playing Western Michigan, not Ohio State, but after losing four straight games by 14 points or less, the blowout was just what the doctor ordered.

In Michigan State’s opening weekend, the Spartans struggled to beat Utah State at home. Not Utah, mind you, but Utah State – the Aggies. Then the Spartans had to fly across the country to take on a resurgent Arizona State team, at night, in 100-degree heat.

The Spartans established a 13-3 in the third quarter. That’s normally more than enough for head coach Mark Dantonio, whose teams combine a sound running game with a tough defense – just what you need to hold a lead.

But the Spartans forgot to run the ball, allowing the Sun Devils to sneak past for a 16-13 victory.

Then we have the Lions. Under the leadership of 92-year old Martha Ford, the franchise recruited its first highly qualified general manager in years, Bob Quinn, from the New England Patriots’ dynasty. Quinn then hired New England’s defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia. It looked like the Lions just might be serious.

Then the team lost three of its four pre-season games, including a drubbing by the Cleveland Browns. Yes, the Browns are the guys who lost every single one of their games last year, and usually look like they’re trying to equal that mark. Now, the NFL pre-season doesn’t mean anything if you win, but it might mean something if you stink. And the Lions stunk.

They carried that over to their season opener at Ford Field against the New York Jets. On the big stage of Monday Night Football, the Lions announced to the football world that they’re every bit as horrible as they’ve ever been.

The Jets, who won only 5 games last year, are led by a rookie quarterback whose first pass was intercepted by the Lions for a quick touchdown. The Lions, on the other hand, are led by 10-year veteran Matt Stafford, who was once the highest paid player in the league.

No matter. The rookie mopped up the veteran, 48-17, earning boos from the Lions’ fans.

Fair enough. But getting mad at the Lions for losing is like getting mad at Canada for being cold. Winning exactly one playoff game in 60 years isn’t a cold streak. It’s a state of being. No matter who’s playing or coaching the Lions, this is who they are, and this is what they do. So fans need to attain a Zen level of acceptance. The Lions are something you cannot change.

But then, I used to say that about the Eastern Michigan Eagles, who aspired to mediocrity for decades -- and rarely achieved it. But after 38 straight losses to Big Ten teams, going back more than a century, last year the Eagles beat Rutgers – which is technically a Big Ten program.

This year the Eagles had a taller order, playing their second game at Purdue, a team that had finished third in the Big Ten West Division last year. But on the last play of the game, the Eagles’ freshman kicker, Chad Ryland, kicked a game-winning field goal – something he and his parents will likely remember the rest of their lives.

Of these four teams – Michigan, Michigan State, the Lions and the Eagles – only Eastern Michigan is undefeated. You have never heard that before.

Which all goes to show that the football is pointy, and no one knows which way it’s going to bounce.

Unless, of course, you’re the Lions.

John U. Bacon is the author of ten books, six of them national bestsellers. His latest, Best of Bacon: Select Cuts, is out now. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or its license holder, the University of Michigan.

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
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