The Michigan Wolverines are preparing to compete in the College Football Playoff after capturing their first Big Ten Championship since 2004. The title-clinching dominant victory over Iowa was preceded by the program's largest win in a decade, after No. 5 Michigan knocked off No. 2 Ohio State in Ann Arbor for the first time since 2011. Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines are now searching to keep their dream season going. A semi-final playoff matchup against the fierce Georgia Bulldogs in this year's iteration of the Orange Bowl looms large.
When the Wolverines exit the tunnel for the largest showdown in the Harbaugh era, they'll do so with the comforts of knowing they possess the best player on the field. Elite pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson has been at the center of what's been a historic run for the Wolverines in recent weeks. In Michigan's much-anticipated victory over Ohio State, Hutchison played the best game of his collegiate career, equaling his season-high marks in both total tackles (seven) and sacks (three). It catapulted a dreamy stretch for the storied Wolverines program. Hutchinson isn't taking their recent success for granted.
"These last two weeks have been insanely crazy for Michigan football and my own personal achievements," Hutchinson said in an exclusive conversation with The Draft Network. "That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s been so great. Being able to beat Ohio State at home in the Big House was so memorable. It was really a legendary moment in Michigan’s football history. It’s something that will lead to more success for the program in the future. We put the cherry on top by winning that Big Ten Championship. It’s been a perfect two weeks for us."
It's truly difficult to put into words what an ever-important victory in "The Game'' meant for Hutchinson and the rest of the program. Ohio State and Michigan combine to make up college football's greatest rivalry, one that remarkably dates back to 1897 and has been renewed on an annual basis before the COVID-19 pandemic robbed us of the 2020 iteration. Maize and Blue flows through Hutchinson's veins as a second-generation Wolverine. The son of Chris Hutchinson, who played for the Wolverines from 1989-1992, Aidan can’t help but find solace in Michigan’s recent triumphs. So excuse Hutchinson if he can't help but take a friendly jab at Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud over the phone while reminiscing on Michigan's all-time victory.
“Sacks just come to you sometimes, and I’d classify that [Ohio State] as one of those games," Hutchinson continued. "I was really just playing my game. C.J. Stroud was holding onto the ball for longer than usual and he gave me some opportunities to fill out the box score with some sacks. It was a good day. I was very productive, and it was a legendary day for me."
Hutchinson now turns his attention to a fierce Georgia squad that will make for a difficult opponent in the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs are largely considered the favorites to defeat Michigan and earn a spot in the National Championship Game. It’s both familiar and unfamiliar territory for Michigan, who are used to being the underdogs, while also competing in the playoff for the first time under its current format. Arguably college football's most talented defensive unit, Georgia's stingy defense is powered forward by its ability to stop the run. The Bulldogs have allowed a mere three rushing touchdowns on the season. Captained by first-round hopeful Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt, Georgia feature a haunting front seven that seek to impose their will on the opposition. On the other side, few programs run the football like Michigan does and has. The Wolverines are currently averaging a staggering 223.8 rushing yards per contest. What occurs when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Something has to give. It promises to be a rugged and physical affair between two old-school, blue-collar programs built on the foundations of hard work and belief.
Oddsmakers largely expect Georgia to reign victorious, as the Bulldogs are favored by more than a touchdown. Hutchinson is used to witnessing his Wolverine teammates embrace their underdog status. Dec. 31 will bring more of the same.
“We’ve been the underdogs since day one. I think this team loves being the underdog. We thrive on it. We love being slept on. I saw the point spread for the game and I legitimately got happy. I know it will motivate every single player and coach in our locker room. We really embrace that underdog mentality. We can’t wait to play Georgia.”
Further proof of Michigan’s eagerness and mindset is completely unnecessary. They are starved to prove the nation wrong as the bulletin board material keeps presenting itself in bunches. Georgia will encounter a surging Wolverines team that’s plenty motivated to deliver glory to one of the greatest and most passionate fan bases in all of college football. Their efforts have led to several unexpected victories in recent weeks and the desire to keep the program advancing forward has delivered a yearning feeling inside what Hutchinson describes as a “tight-knit locker room.”
Make no mistake, Harbaugh will have this team prepared to compete until the last second. After all, Michigan fans should expect nothing less.
“Michigan fans can expect everything I have. I’m going to put my best foot forward and give it my all and I know my teammates will do the same. We’ve made it this far. We’re in the playoffs and every single person on our team is going to sell out regardless of the results. If we win, great. If we lose, we’re going to have to live with it, and we will because we know we gave it our all.”
Nobody expected Michigan to be here, but no one expected Hutchinson to be at the top of draft boards at this point in the process, either. Now that they’ve both arrived in stunning fashion, they’re hoping to continue to prove the naysayers wrong. Count them out at your own risk.