In no place does the clock tick louder right now than in Ann Arbor. This is a season of urgency for the Wolverines, an autumn in which "1948" will be muttered even more than usual. Not since that year has Michigan won the national championship.
The fates have converged this season: The Wolverines have their best chance in years to defeat archspoiler Notre Dame, and this is the last time around for Michigan's best running back ever. So when Jan. 2 comes, coach Gary Moeller & Co. will look back on the season in only one of two ways: as bliss or disaster.
On paper, anyway, the planets have lined up nicely for the Wolverines. Not only did Tyrone Wheatley (page 40)—who with a solid season will become the school's leader in career scoring, touchdowns, rushing and all-purpose yards—shock everyone by returning for his senior year, but the team also begins '94 on a roll. After struggling to a 4-4 start, Michigan won its last four games, outscoring opponents 153-24 over that span. Fourteen starters are back, including quarterback Todd Collins and most of the offensive backfield. The defense should be revitalized with the return of linebackers Steve Morrison and Matt Dyson, who were hampered last fall by injuries. They'll rejoin preseason All-America cornerback Ty Law.
If the Wolverines do win the national title, no one will accuse them of having traveled an easy road. Six of their opponents finished in the Top 20 last season. Before September is over, Michigan will have faced Notre Dame and Colorado. How they do against the Irish will set the season's tone. The Wolverines have won just two of their last eight meetings with Notre Dame, and more often than not the Irish have been the team spoiling Michigan's title hopes. "It's always in the back of our minds: That Notre Dame team, we've got to beat them," says senior fullback Chè Foster. "This is my last year. I would love to beat them. It's important." All the more so because after this season the series lapses until 1997.
A loss in South Bend will most likely mean business as usual for Michigan. But a Wolverine win will signal a shot at the best Ann Arbor autumn since 1948.