The city eats, lives and breathes an authentic college town experience. Some would say there must be a bit of an unbalance for 110,000 to pack the Big House and continue to support a program that comes up short under Jim Harbaugh. Nonetheless, Ann Arbor, Michigan, ranks sixth on our Top 100 College Football Towns of America Countdown.
To celebrate 100 days until the start of the college football season, HERO Sports is counting down the Top 100 FBS College Football Towns in America. Each day, through Aug. 24, a new city will be revealed. We will analyze the city, the program, the good and bad of the city as well as the bottom line. If you got a problem, @me on Twitter.
6. Ann Arbor, Michigan — Michigan
[credit]With a stud quarterback and an intimidating defense, is this the year Jim Harbaugh finally leads Michigan over Ohio State? (Photo: Michigan Athletics) [/credit]
Michigan is one of the most iconic programs in all of college football. From the winged helmet to slapping the giant
"Go Blue" banner during every home game, the Maize and Blue have spent 140 years–winning. The Wolverines have the most wins all-time, the best winning percentage and 11 national championships.
Nine coaches patrolled the sideline from 1900-1989. All nine coaches are in the Hall of Fame. The last of those is probably the most revered.
Bo Schembechler spent 21 years in Ann Arbor. During his tenure, he won 194 games and 13 Big Ten titles. Despite all that success, Schembechler was unable to capture the biggest crown, a national championship. That empty feeling has become an unfortunate tradition in Ann Arbor. After winning 10 national titles in 47 years, Michigan has won one over the last 70.
That was supposed to change when Jim Harbaugh came back home in 2015. He reinvigorated a program and a fan base that had grown frustrated after seven years of mediocrity and unmet expectations. While Harbaugh succeeded at the pep rally, he has failed to deliver on the field. Michigan, under Harbaugh, is 0-3 in The Big Game against Ohio State, with a -42 point differential. The Wolverines have also lost their last two bowl games.
There is renewed hope in 2018 in Ann Arbor, however. Quarterback transfer Shea Patterson is expected to be the quarterback who finally can repeat the offensive excellence Harbaugh had achieved at every other spot before Michigan. Defensive ends, Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, along with linebacker Devin Bush anchor a defense that was ranked third nationally. When you combine that with every starter returning in the defensive backfield, and this may finally be the year they hoist some hardware in Ann Arbor.
While some other programs on this list may be the engine that makes their respective towns great, in Ann Arbor, it is the collective that makes it the number six college football town. Residing just 45 minutes from Detroit, Ann Arbor lies in stark comparison to the Motor City. For the main part, the commercial community is void of national chains. Almost everything is unique to the area.
In the offseason, Ann Arbor is home to a variety of festivals, more festivals than one can count, from papier-mache puppets to the blues. The outdoors are nearby for a quick getaway. Places like Bird Hills Nature Area can set you up with peaceful hikes with towering, lean trees surrounding your every step. The Huron River provides the city's soundtrack, as it lazily meanders through beautiful lush, greenery.
The food is as eclectic as a Saturday crowd at the Big House. Tables and chairs line the sidewalks as people mingle freely in the 112,000-person town. Being home to a renowned university that it is, there are plenty of cultural fares to whet your appetite. There are art galleries and museums, playhouses and concert halls. You can check out the Grateful Dead on a Thursday and see Les Miserables on a Friday– until the frenzy begins.
No matter what time game day starts, the Maize and Blue faithful get up early. Whether their preferred morning fuel is with or without alcohol, things get ramped up pretty quickly. Head down South University or State and Packard, the energy starts at an 11 and stays that way well past the final whistle.
What pizza is to New York, and taco trucks are to Los Angeles, Zingerman's Deli is to Ann Arbor. The cathedral to sandwiches sits right outside downtown Ann Arbor and seats around 600 guests at a time. Even then, the place is always at capacity–and for good reason. Eating a sandwich at Zingerman's is akin to feeling the roar of a '68 Ford Mustang for the first time. The Mustang is still being made in Michigan, just like these beautiful sandwiches.
Living in Ann Arbor, means you are close to Detroit, which means you have to live with a level of "suckyness" that no one deserves. The Red Wings have been bad the last two years, the Tigers even worse the last four years. The Lions are a perpetual dumpster fire. Outside of being swept two years against Cleveland, the Pistons haven't been to the playoffs in 10 years.
When you add to that Harbaugh's abysmal 1-7 record against Top 10 opponents and four victories in 11 tries against Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin, and you gotta ask yourself what's a Michigan sports fan supposed to do with year-round failure.
Ann Arbor is one of the finest towns in America and a great college town. There are very few places that have enough character outside of football to stand on equal footing, but who can also put 110,000 butts in the seats every Saturday on game day. Sometimes, though, you gotta ask why.