National title or bust for Michigan? Depends on who you ask

By Aaron McMann |
Blake Corum has been beating the drum for months now, openly talking about Michigan’s goal to win a national championship in his final season of college football.
It was the Heisman Trophy contender who first went in front of the crowd at Crisler Center in February, after announcing his decision to return, and open declared: “we’re gonna win the national championship and go down in history.”
Those comments certainly didn’t come out of left field. The Wolverines have captured back-to-back Big Ten titles and made just as many College Football Playoff appearances, suggesting the program is on the cusp of reaching new heights. And Michigan is picked to win the Big Ten again this fall.
But they’ve also generated a steady stream of headlines and helped set a lofty set of expectations, prompting some, including Corum, to characterize the 2023 season as an all-or-nothing proposition.
“For me, I have high standards,” Corum said last month at Big Ten Media Days. “So yeah, it’s win or bust. And I think the guys know that. But we don’t have to say anything. We know what it is.”
Corum, the Big Ten’s running back of the year in 2022, did his best to couch the comments, saying “talk is cheap” and that Michigan still must focus on what’s in front of it.
Others, including head coach Jim Harbaugh, have done their best to downplay the comments. Harbaugh called it a ‘media-driven slogan’ and not one they emphasize internally, reiterating the program’s goals remain the same.
“Bust? What does that mean? That doesn’t mean anything to me,” Harbaugh, who enters his ninth season as head coach of his alma mater, said. “That’s not real. Same as we always are — the way we go into every year, our goal is to win the (Big Ten) championship, the national championship, to beat Michigan State, beat Ohio State, beat Penn State.
“We have so many good teams that we play — so many football fights.”
Corum touted his return to Michigan, a decision made back in January as he was rehabbing a torn meniscus, as chasing “unfinished business” — a statement that inferred he was coming back to win the ultimate prize. Since then, several teammates have backed him up, unafraid of saying they were laser-focused on not only getting to the national title game this year, but winning it.
“I hold my teammates, myself, and the coaches hold us to a high standard,” Corum said. “We’ve been working our butts off this summer and I believe in my guys. I believe the camaraderie, the brotherly love that we have within each other, is crazy right now. But what the coaches are telling us and I’m telling the guys right now, it’s just day-to-day. We’ve had enough dreaming, enough talk about the national championships.”
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It’s been a steep climb up the mountain in recent years for Michigan, a program at a crossroads at the end of the 2020 season. Harbaugh quickly turned things around after infamously declaring his team would “beat Ohio State or die trying,” leading Michigan to its first Big Ten championship since 2004 and first-ever CFP appearance.
Not only did the Wolverines pull a 180, they did it with a smash mouth, ground-and-pound identity offense that helped flip the Ohio State rivalry.
“I don’t think that winning a national championship or not determines the future of this program,” Michigan defensive back Mike Sainristil said. “I think the most important thing that we need to understand is, we don’t know what a national championship looks like. So our focus shouldn’t be national championship, because we have to focus on the day-to-day process of what is going to get us to a national championship.
“What haven’t we done in the past two years that didn’t get us over the hump?”
Michigan enters 2023 as a title contender nationally, with the Wolverines beginning the season with a No. 2 ranking in the coaches’ poll, and bring back lots of talent on both sides of the ball. Corum headlines an offense that includes his running back sidekick Donovan Edwards, quarterback J.J. McCarthy, several players from the Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line, and a tight end (Colston Loveland) considered a star in the making.
Defensively, the Wolverines hope to fill the void left by departed playmakers Mazi Smith and D.J. Turner, leaning on a beefed-up Kris Jenkins, healthy linebacker Junior Colson and young stars in the secondary.
While the title-or-bust talk continues, players insist they aren’t looking beyond their schedule. Michigan opens play against East Carolina on Sept. 2.
“That talk is always going to be there, and obviously that would be a big goal,” Jenkins said. “Our main focus is eliminating complacency and becoming a better football team every day. Because how you work on your craft in the next 24 hours, that’s going to help dictate what type of football team you’re going to be in the future. We can’t look ahead until we focus on what’s right in front of us.”

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