INDIANAPOLIS — The University of Michigan returns to the College Football Playoff with the experience of failure and the confidence of better outcomes ahead.
The No. 2 Wolverines pulled away from Purdue early in the second half Saturday to win the Big Ten title game 43-22 and capture back-to-back conference titles for the first time since 1991 and 1992.
Michigan was perfect this season and continued to dominate, outscoring opponents by 347 points, the best regular-season margin since 1905, when Michigan led by 495-2.
But after hoisting the Big Ten championship trophy, singing “Mr. Bright” and celebrating on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Wolverines immediately turned their attention to CFP. Their motivation throughout the offseason wasn’t to beat Ohio State and win the Big Ten in 2021, but to lose 34-11 to Georgia State in the CFP semifinals, which was never competitive.
“I like our chance,” quarterback JJ McCarthy said. “Last year, it was kind of bright, everything was new, the Big Ten championship, the College Football Playoff. But going into the offseason, it gave us so much momentum. We knew we could get there, we could come back. The whole This offseason, it’s all about earning it.
“Everything that happened today is good, but the work is not done. We have bigger plans.”
McCarthy, who threw for 161 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Purdue, was Michigan’s backup in last year’s CFP semifinal. He completed seven of 17 passes for 131 yards that day, the team’s only touchdown.
But the loss inspired him and his teammates to return to college football’s biggest stage.
“It got me so emotional that this win tonight really didn’t feel like anything,” McCarthy said. “It’s really hard to pull off. I mean, back-to-back Big Ten titles are amazing, but we That feeling from last year, just making sure it doesn’t happen again.
“It’s just an impulse and a fire that’s just been lit inside of us, and it’s still burning.”
Michigan State will learn about its CFP position and opponents later Sunday, but the Wolverines will likely need to win the semifinals to beat defending champion Georgia State again. If Michigan remains the No. 1 seed, it will likely face TCU or perhaps archrival Ohio State, which the Wolverines defeated 45-23 on Nov. 11 in Columbus. 26.
“Please, please, take it,” McCarthy said. “It would be a blessing if we had the opportunity to play those boys again.”
Tight end Luke Schoonmaker, who had 56 receiving yards and a touchdown against Purdue, said the CFP’s rematch with Ohio State “could go down as one of the best ever.” Any opponent is ready, not even Georgia, after losses that have left a “sour taste” throughout the offseason.
“We’re a different team this year,” Schoonmaker said. “We have a group of playmakers on both ends. Even better, we can play together and bring out all the great talents.”
Michigan had to improve after a season-ending injury to star running back Blake Corum, who underwent surgery Friday and missed the Big Ten championship game. Without Corum, the Wolverines relied on Donovan Edwards, who had a 216-yard rushing performance against Ohio State and 185 rushing yards and a touchdown against Purdue.
Edwards won the championship game MVP honors. He became the first Michigan running back to rush for 400 yards in two games since Mike Hart, the team’s running backs coach in 2004. The last Michigan player to do it was quarterback Denard Robinson in 2010. Edwards said he “made it for the big moments.”
“The guy comes alive in the big games,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “His entire career, whether it was high school or college, he just shifted gears. He flew to another level.”
Harbaugh, whose job is in jeopardy heading into the 2021 season, said he hasn’t changed his approach, which has been appreciated by players during Michigan’s transition. The team’s goal now is to turn its game around and try to claim its first national title since 1997.
“We want revenge. We want to make up for what we lost last year,” Schoonmaker said. “I know everyone thought of this. It was fantastic, I have nothing to say tonight, I’m so proud of everyone. But in the back of everyone’s mind, we know what we need to do.”