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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

Bacon: After 2021's highs, the future is bright for Michigan and Michigan State football

Michigan Wolverines football team faces the Georgia Bulldogs
ROGER HART/E. Bronson, Michigan Photography
U-M Photography
The University of Michigan football team loses to Georgia, 34-11, at the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Dec. 31, 2021.

Michigan football fans had hoped the Wolverines’ season would carry over into 2022, but it came to a less-than-dramatic end on New Year’s Eve when Georgia knocked off Michigan in the College Football Playoff.

Michigan State fans, on the other hand, saw their team end the year with a win over Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl.

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon talked with Michigan Radio's Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about the end of the 2021 season and the future for Michigan and Michigan State.

Doug Tribou: Michigan never got into a rhythm on offense or defense against Georgia in the Orange Bowl. Starting quarterback Cade McNamara threw two interceptions after only throwing just four all season before then. The Wolverines were down 27-3 at the half. Why did Michigan look so out of sorts?

John U. Bacon: Well, I think it's a very simple equation here, Doug. They played a much better team. If you're a Michigan fan, you can barely be angry about this one. If you boil it down, it comes down to this. Georgia has got 20 five-star recruits on its team, and Michigan has three. And at that point, you're simply outmatched. The effort was there. They did not play their best, but that was mainly because Georgia was in their face all day long. They lost to us simply a better team. So, hats off to Georgia.

DT: With the caveat that sports fans can always find a way to complain, Wolverines fans had a lot to be happy about this season. What have you heard from the Michigan faithful now that it’s over?

JUB: Well, sadly, Doug, my most famous line, probably when I die, it will be, "Some Michigan fans aren't happy unless they're not happy." They're really good at finding things to complain about. And yet the response after this drubbing has been quite a bit of perspective, which frankly, is the trait least common among college football fans. They had a great season and a bad finish. They played a great team, but Michigan was 12-2 this year. They were 2-4 last year.

Last year, Jim Harbaugh, the head coach, was on the hot seat. It was not clear if he was going to get fired or be re-signed, it to come back. They changed six out of 10 assistant coaches and they just turned in the best season this century. And as we know from New Year's, the century is no longer young. So amazingly, the fans have taken that perspective by and large, and appreciate what they've got.

DT: College players have until January 17 to declare for the NFL Draft. How strong does Jim Harbaugh’s 2022 roster look at this point?

JUB: Hard to say exactly until you know who's going to declare for the NFL draft and who isn't. But by and large, we've got a pretty good sense. On offense almost everybody comes back. So next year's team will probably be more offensive dominated than defense, unlike this year's. But they should be a top-10 team next year as well.

DT: Michigan State trailed Pittsburgh 21-10 in the Peach Bowl. Then the Spartans put up 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win the Peach Bowl. How does the future look for [head coach] Mel Tucker and the Green and White?

JUB: Incredibly bright. And by the way, for the Michigan fans out there, they know exactly how Pittsburgh feels, having put up a 16-point lead and then lost that game. The Spartans are tough under Mel Tucker. They're mentally tough and they are physically tough. They've shown that all season long. He's done a phenomenal job. They lost 14 players from last year's team who transferred elsewhere, and he brought in 20 transfers from elsewhere as well. So recruiting looks good for Mel Tucker, but his transfer wizardry is what is the key.

DT: When Alabama and Georgia play for the national title, it will be a rematch of the SEC Title Game. The Crimson Tide rolled over the Bulldogs in that game. Who wins it all next week?

JUB: For the record, let's just say the Bulldogs because I was very impressed by what I saw [against Michigan], but I've got to say that is a big-time heavyweight title match. That's a different level of football and you'll see that on Monday.

Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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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