These has been the longest of seasons for us diehard Michigan fans. The news today of additional players opting to leave the program comes at strange time in that we're in the last week of the season and usually players don't make the decision to leave mid-year or this late in the year. Some people choose to see this as a further indictment of the current staff, but I think it's just a continuation of the process required to build a program.
Many say that the program was decent shape after last season and the outcome of this season is more attributable to the new staff and their perceived shortcomings, but I think it goes much deeper than that. What is changing about the program more than the offesive and defensive philosophies is the mental make up of the players in the program itself. If one had the pleasure to know both Bo and Lloyd, they would know that Bo and Lloyd were as different as two people can be. Bo was as tenacious and demanding as any football coach I have ever known, but after he left coaching, he was potrayed as this lovable grandfather figure who had a snappy wit and penchant for telling great stories. The man was as intense as any person ever was on the football field and he recruited his type of players. Lloyd was fiery and he was competitive, but he was more reserved and introspective than most men you'd think coached college football. His demeanor was that of a banker more than a football coach at times. There is no right or wrong to their personalities or their style of coaching, but there was a distinct difference. When Bo recruited a kid to play for Michigan, he cared less about 40 times and squat numbers than he did about the fire in the person and the mentality of the player. The culmination of the recruiting process with Bo was the one on one with him in his office where he fired off questions that would make the toughest HR person in the world squirm in their seats. He basically threw Chris Spielman out of his office in disgust after Spielman showed up with torn jeans and snuff in his lip and acting like it was Bo who should be in awe of him. Lloyd was effective in recruiting, but his approach was much different in that he sold Michigan to recruits and their parents whereas Bo sold greatness and there is a difference. People who relentlessly strive for greatness have a certain mental make-up and that is what Bo sought. In today's game with the limited number of scholarships, Lloyd had a tougher road to travel and may not have had the luxury of evaluating the mental aspect of all of his recruits that way Bo did.
With that said, I think the process that Rich Rod has embarked on is one to restore the mental toughness of the players who play for Michigan. There is a process of building a program at all levels of football and the process is virtually the same. Rich Rod has to find the type of players that fit his philosophy, which has less to do with the workings of a spread offense than it does with their mental make-up. Rich Rod from what I can tell is an intense coach and he wants a certain type of athlete in his program. If you've seen the images of the facilities lately, you'll notice every wall has a sign hanging. Every sign is a challenge to the players to be great. "Those Who Stay..." is about striving for greatness and I think these new signs are also a call for people to strive for greatness. Look at Owen Schmitt for example, here is a guy who looks more like the guy driving the Budweiser truck than a football player. A guy who played Divsion III football beause he did not have the athletic pedigree to warrant offers from bigger schools, but the one thing not recorded on any film or any scouting report is the person's willingness to defy the measurables due to their desire to be great. Owen Schmitt was not afraid to strive for greatness and he found a coach who wasn't afraid to let him try. Yes, we've had some great players like Mike Hart that did the same, but Mike Hart was more the exception than the rule, IMO.
Sam McGuffie is an excellent athlete and with more experience, he'll be a good RB, but if he doesn't want to be at Michigan for whatever the reason, then it's better that he leaves the program. I don't like anyone leaving Michigan, but I certainly understand all of the factors that can affect a young man. I wish him well. Rich Rod has to find men that want to be here and want to be great. He has yet to have that opportunity here at Michigan except for the last few weeks of last year's recruiting class. I think RR will need at least 3 years to get this program built the way he wants it to be built with the type of players that he wants. Let's give him that time and keep our expectations realistic going forward.
I am not happy about the season, but it is easier for me to understand because I have played and coached football for almost 20 years and I understand to some small degree what RR faces. He needs to stay the course and keep building his program despite all the criticism and second-guessing that we as fans tend to offer. I am not giving him a free pass, which is currently the most popular accusation on the message boards, but rather I am tempering my expectations of him due to the state of the program. Once he gets two of his recruiting classes into the program(last's years was the continuation of LCs class) then my expectations will be raised back to the level of greatness. I think mental toughness will again be a focal point of the program. I think Rich Rod will recruit his players and you'll see the attrition curbed greatly as his players will have the same mental make-up as their head coach. There aren't guru ratings that measures those sort of things in recruits, so you'll have to trust that RR knows what he's looking for; how else does a school with the occassional 4 star player beat a team always in the top 5 of recruting in a BCS game?
I will not discredit the nay-sayers as they have the right to be upset and disgruntled about the season. They have the right to voice their opinions about the coaches, players, and sky falling, but don't count me amongst them insomuch as I see the process unfolding before me. At this point, people are saying we should be seeing the improvement on the field, so these coaches must be terrible, but I don't think that is where we are in the process. We are still in the infantile stages of the process. We have yet to get to the point where we can get RR's players on the field to compete. By this time next year, the nay-sayers will have pitchfork in hand as I think we're still in the .500 range give or take a lucky break or two. The process takes time and there are no shortcuts to do it right. For every player that leaves, there is another opportunity to fill that scholarship with a player with the attributes RR wants and that's not a bad thing; even if that person cannot leap over tall safeties in a single bound.
Have faith my friends and understand that greatness is not something one achieves in 10 months no matter how much we wish it to happen.
I've been a fan of Michigan football since I was 10. I started watching during the 1996-1997 season. I remember sitting in the car, listening to Michigan beat OSU 13-9 on the radio because my parents were helping a friend move, and they wouldn't leave me at home alone. I watched the next season, as Michigan slowly, but surely gained steam and worked their way to the top of the college football world. I remember Michigan going into Happy Valley and laying a beating on Curtis Enis (which I laughed a lot about) and the Lions. I was in India, visiting relatives for the OSU game, but got a letter in the mail from a friend back home with the good news. I made it back in time to watch the Rose Bowl with a bunch of college students, and had the time of my life. I was in.
When we came out in 1998, I was pumped. We had almost everyone back, and there was this kid called Brady playing QB. And then Notre Dame happened. Ok, we can beat Syracuse. And the Donovan McNabb happened. I still remember him running circles around the Wolverine defense, once scrambling for a touchdown with only one shoe. But we regrouped, and eventually, as our defense woke up, we made it to a decent bowl game and won. I listened to most of those games on the radio. My parents didn't buy cable (as I'd spend too much time parked in front of the TV if they did), and there was no high speed internets back then.
1999 was special, as it was the first year that I had season tickets. That Notre Dame game to start the season is still one of my favorite to this day. I went with my dad, who probably stood through 30-40 football games with me, with minimal understanding, but coming along just to spend time with his son. I watched the Michigan state game and kept wondering, "Why hell isn't Brady in the game? Take Henson out!” I loved Tom. My season tickets were actually my dad's, and a friend of his wanted to buy a pair for one game. I decided to give up the Illinois game. And what a disaster that turned out to be, with Kurt Kittner, Rocky Harvey, and Brandon Lloyd tearing us apart after Lloyd took the starters out too soon. The OSU game was especially sweet, as we got to keep the Bucks out of a bowl. The 'Bama game was just as fun, watching David Terrell rally the troops back against Shaun Alexander. The missed PAT was anticlimactic, but awesome. And then Brady was gone.
2000 was a sad look at what could've been. Henson was too injured to start the season. Enter Jon Navarre. He looked great against two inferior opponents to start the year (why don't we play Rice anymore?). And then came the Pac-10 games out west. I hated playing out there - we always lost. UCLA was no different. Henson had to bail us out against Illinois, gimpy ankle and all. A last second loss on a FG by Travis Dortsch against Purdue was a heartbreaker, but the worst was yet to come. The insanity of the Northwestern game, and Damien Anderson, and that last fumble by A-train. Still, it was great to see the players walking out of Ohio stadium, gesturing that they were getting championship rings, and the Bucks weren't. In spite of having one of the best offensive lines ever in Michigan history, we only managed 9-3. We were 10 points away from an undefeated season. It was sad. And then Henson left. I felt betrayed. I still haven't forgiven him.
2001 was more of the same. An early loss to a Pac-10 team out west. A string of good games against mediocre Big 10 competition, and then a heartbreaker. This time it was Spartan Bob and the clock. After that game, I went up to my room, punched the door, and cried. I had been robbed. We had been robbed. I felt cheated. And then OSU happened. On a cold, dank, drizzly day, I watched UM lose in person for the first time. I hated Jim Tressel.
2002 was exciting. The Washington game, with Brabbs making the last second prayer was a memory I will never forget. So was the OT win against Penn State. But Iowa game was a debacle. I remember it especially, because I had passes to the press box for the game, and shook hands with Mary Sue. And as the score got worse, I saw the Iowa fans unfurl a banner saying: "Squeeze Mary Sue Blue.” I still hated Jim Tressel.
2003 started off great! The Notre Dame game was one of the most efficient performances I'd ever seen out of a Michigan team. But then there was another loss to a Pac-10 team out west. The buffalo stampede was also fun. The win against OSU was great. I was there, watching, taking it all in. I watched the students storm the field, and smiled. And then we ran into an angry USC team. And just like that, it was over.
2004 was weird. I showed up at Michigan stadium, excited to see what Matt Gutierrez could do. He'd never lost a game in high school. And the Chad's announced as the started. What the hell was going on? As I watched those first few games, I couldn't help but wonder, who's going to step up and run the ball for us? I was hoping it would be Mike Hart. I'd read about him on rivals, about how he was the all-time leading rusher in NY. I couldn't understand how he wasn't more than a 3-star recruit. Plus, he had a really cool name. We made it past the Notre Dame game, had the epic Braylon Edwards show against Sparty, and but couldn't close the deal against OSU. I really, really hated Tressel. The Texas game was amazing, but I wanted Braylon to go out with a win.
2005 was the year of pain. I made it to first two games, and managed to see Michigan lose in my last game before going to college. That Notre Dame game was tough. I didn't attend the University of Michigan, one because I lived right next door, and I needed a change of scenery, and two, because I'd been admitted to one of my dream schools (academically), and I just couldn't turn it down. So I moved out to Pasadena, and made friends with a Texas fan, an OSU fan, an FSU fan, and a USC fan. And they had too much laughing at me my frosh year. I finally had facebook (this was before they opened it up to everyone) and I made the Michigan Football Fanatics group at Caltech. I was the only member. When groups were allowed to go global, I did. I drew people in by keep the group clean, updated, and informative. It was one of the first major groups to link to Mgoblog and other Michigan blogs. That group is now one of the biggest UM FB groups on facebook. We have over 9,300 members now. The Minnesota game was a heartbreaker. I ran around my dorm yelling for half-an-hour after the Penn State game (which I'd update online as ABC was showing USC on the west coast). I never heard the end of it after the OSU game. And I still really hated Tressel. I came home for winter break, and watched the Alamo Bowl with my high school friends. I also really hate the Sun Belt, especially their referees.
2006 started off great as well! I got to go to a few games. A bunch of us got together for the Notre Dame game, and we decided to play football first. I, of course, was the A-train of the game - the guy who was too big to be brought down by the small quick guys, but too fast to be brought down by the big slow guys. I was running over and around people on offense, and plowing through linemen and sacking QBs on defense. Then my finger got caught in a guy's jersey, and it broke. My friends drove to St. Joe's, dropped me off, and went home to watch the game. My dad came by, the docs did an x-ray, and told me I had a spiral fracture on the second bone of my right index finger. I needed a cast. So a quick cast later, I left the hospital, and turned on the radio only to hear that the rout was on. I watched the rest of the game with my friends. The rest of the season flew by. I even started my own blog! It eventually failed because whenever we lost, I just couldn't find the inspiration to write. It sapped the life out of me. The Ball State game got a bit hairy, but we managed. Then Bo died. I sat at my computer that morning, dazed and lost. I didn't cry, I wasn't sad. I was just shocked. Bo had always been there, and now he was gone. And then came the game of the century. And we all know what happened there. I really despised Tressel. I hoped and prayed for teams to lose. I went nuts when UCLA won. And then Gary Danielson and his CBS bullshit. I really hate that guy too. But the plus side was that Michigan was coming to the Rose Bowl! I got my parents to change my ticket so that I could get back on the 31st. A few of my friends road tripped down and stayed with me. The Rose Parade was two blocks from my apartment. We walked to the Rose Bowl, watched the pain, and then left.
And then came the horror. I was in Ann Arbor for a few weeks, and the only game that I could make it to was the opener. I bought a ticket and went with friends, expecting a blowout, some tasty pizza from Howie's on the way back, and a general good time. I was left with nothing but shock and disbelief. The Oregon game the following week did nothing to help. Winning the cripple fight against ND was nice. I watched most of the games with my RA, who'd grown up in Detroit. The Illinois game was great with the WR pass from AA to MM. The MSU game was great, and I loved the little brother comments, especially after D'Antonio's douchebaggery. I hate him too. The OSU game was tough to swallow. We were so close, except for Chad's arm. And then Lloyd did what we were all expecting, and he retired. It was bittersweet, as I was excited for the future, but Lloyd was the only coach I ever really knew. It was fun to watch his grumpy face and angry demeanor with the media, and even better to see him smile once in a while. Getting into the Citrus Bowl was lucky, but we showed that we earned it. And I wondered, "where the hell was that all season?” And then, Mike, Chad, Jake, Mario, and Adrian were all gone.
Which brings us to this year. And there isn't much to say. It's been tough. But I must admit, I haven't been anywhere as emotionally invested in this team as years past. Love is something you feel, and with this team, and these players, I feel, well, very little. It's all just very numb and very quiet. Even my friends who normally heckle me to death whenever Michigan loses, just don't bother any more. I guess I'm just looking for something to hold on to, something to love. There's no single facet of this team that's made me emotionally invested, like there had been. And so I realize, that it’s really the players who make this team what it is. Yes, Michigan will always be Michigan. The block M, the Victors, the Winged Helmet, the Big House, they'll all be around forever, but they're set, inanimate commodities. You can be in awe and respect them, but you can't love them. You can't find an emotional attachment to them. For that you need a human face - players and coaches. In 1997, I had Chris Howard, Jerame Tuman, Tai Streets, Sam Sword, Glen Steele, and of course Chuck Woodson. In the Brady/Henson/Navarre years, I had of course ol' Tom, A-Train, Marquise Walker, Marlin Jackson, Chris Perry, Tony "Fat Elvis" Pape, BJ Askew, Bennie Joppru, Kevin Dudley, and Braylon. Then came 2004, and Chad, Jake, Mike, Mario, Adrian, along with the older guys like Lamarr Woodley and Dave Harris. These were my favorite players, the one's I'd love to get an autograph from. The players whose jersey's I'd happily buy. And then you have the coaches - Bo, Lloyd, RonE. Bo and Lloyd were Michigan men through and through. Their love was boundless and unconditional. Just watching RonE on TV scared me, his intensity was something I had never seen the likes of.
So when I look at this year's team, searching for my hero, I come up empty. RichRod hasn't been around long enough to be an epic figure like Lloyd or Bo. Barwis has lots of good stories told about him, but something's missing. Threet and Sheridan just don't fit. Mathews and Odoms are too young. Minor and Brown never captured my heart. DW and BG on defense have come close, but have yet to pick this team up on their backs and carry them, like Lamarr and Charles once did. I thought Sam McGuffie was going to fill the void left my Mike, but now he's leaving. I'm glad I didn't get too close so that I'd get hurt. But really, there's no one on this team who can step forward and act as the face of the program. This team has no identity, and that's why myself, and so many others, are having so much trouble loving it like we did in the past.
But I look to the future, and I see light. I have hope. I love this offense. It’s fun, quick, effective, and dynamic. It just needs the right players. It needs the right faces. I'm sure they'll be faces we'll all come to love and identify with. But we need time. Until then, there's a few ways to cope, to hold on. Some people will suggest coming out in full force regardless of what happens. Those are the younger folks. They're the ones who haven't been fans for so long. This is not an indictment against them by any means, but they just haven't developed the attachments the rest of us have. It's a bit tougher for us older folk, the more mature and seasoned fans, to move on. We might hunker down and withdraw a bit. It's because we're just trying to weather this storm, and at our age, we've fought too many battles to be able to ride out gung-ho all the time. Because it really hurt to put yourself out there 100% emotionally, just to have your heart ripped out. It takes a toll on you. So a simple request to the young, bold fan - be patient with us veterans. Because one day, you'll be in our shoes.
ANN ARBOR - November 16, 2008 - As legislators prepare for the impending debate in the lame-duck Congressional session over a potential bailout package for the Big Three US automakers, another of Michigan's foundational and once-proud organizations is preparing to ask Congress for assistance. The state's flagship university, the University of Michigan, has watched its biggest investment, its football team, falter in recent weeks and come dangerously come to default. The potential collapse of the winningest program in college football history does not bode well for the already-beleaguered and depressed state.
Most blame the program's devaluation to a risky credit default swap that the university's athletic director, Bill Martin, executed last December. Martin swapped the risk that existing coach Lloyd Carr would experience a losing season in the coming years, which Carr has never experienced, for the risk that Appalachian-born coach Richard Rodriguez, who has had 4 losing seasons in his career, would not lead the program into depths that it has never experienced. Unfortunately, the unregulated 'swap' did not pan out for Martin and UM, as the program has now sunk to a subterranean-level akin to the depth of the coal mines in Rodriguez's native state. Rodriguez's previous firm, a boiler room known as West Virginia University, was known not only for it's 'spread option' offensive attack, but also for introducing the world to such future rainmakers as Chris Henry and Adam Jones. Before WVU, Rodriguez's other executive positions were as the 'Gordon Gecko' of Glenville State University and Salem College, which folded after Rodriguez's first season at the helm where he went 2-8.
Market watchers now worry that Michigan might experience a similar fate if they are unable to unload one enormous toxic asset. UM recently agreed to pay $2.5 million (US) per year for the next six years, for an asset that many are valuing somewhere close to a sub-prime loan. Like a sub-prime loan, some market analysts say the application for this pay-out was woefully inadequate and the university failed to do their due diligence in investigating the potential beneficiary. "State Street got drunk," President Bush recently commented, "and now Main Street is paying for it," referring to the real possibility that errors in decision-making occurring in UM's State Street athletic offices are most drastically felt by UM fans who flock to Michigan Stadium on Main Street.
Nonetheless, Rodriguez claims that the "fundamentals of the spread option are strong." When pressed to explain the recent woes, Rodriguez blamed the weather, the fact that games are played on Saturday instead of Tuesday, and particularly that the NCAA does not allow Rodriguez to submit statistics from UM's intra-squad scrimmages for its official record books. Rodriguez remains firm in his convictions: "I believe in the free market offense, a.k.a the spread." "The spread is the answer, not the problem," Rodriguez continued from the film room where he was watching a highlight reel of dimunitive freshman wide receiver Martavious Odoms make spectacular catches, all for 5 yard losses. "I suppose I could just run the ball, but's that kind of like a treasury bond, it's not exciting," Rodriguez commented. "Plus, it's very un-spread-like."
UM fans are prepared to ask Congress for an un-precedented 'do over': a nullification of the $2.5 million 6-year liability and a forced executive restructuring. Proponents of the proposal claim the government will be repaid with a return to some semblance of comfort and familiarity in the Big Ten and future assurances that this American institution will not bolster the status of French-Canadian quarterbacks who represent weaker firms. (Insert CJ Bacher picture) Former VP candidate Sarah Palin told reporters that "this is just an example of what happens when you try to spread the wealth around" in the 40th interview of the week to be conducted in her kitchen.
Meanwhile, the Michiganders who are hardest-hit by UM's recent plunge are wondering what they will do during this year's bowl season. Some claim that because they are so accustomed to travelling to watch UM in a bowl game, they might leave their homes out of involuntary habit. Some are planning to set up a "Martin-ville" shanty towns just outside Pioneer High School, others plan to don fedoras and trench coats and wait in long beer-lines at local sports bars in hopes to catch a glimpse of other teams playing in bowl games. "It's not about winning and losing," one long-time Wolverine fan commented, "It's about the humiliation of saying 'we need help.'"
(Note: This is a joke - don't call Martin's office about a future credit default swap.)
I was taking my son to visit colleges last weekend and since we were at Stanford, we took in the USC game. Some general and disorganized observations (and obviously personal opinions):
The USC and Stanford band contrast was awesome. I am the first to admit, I'm not a band guy. Much like competitive cheerleading, I appreciate the dedication and talent but its just not my thing. However the dichotomy was fun to watch. The USC band is huge and takes the field methodically to that tune that they play over and over at games. They take themselves so seriously. The Stanford band, in what seem to be smoking jackets and fishing caps, along with various members poorly dressed in X-men costumes, scattered onto the field into formations with the theme that was basically, "How George Bush can screw up in his remaining days in office."
I thought that the contrast made the USC band look ridiculous, but admittedly I am a fan of irreverence. I am sure that Stanford has a fight song, but it seems to be replaced with Free's "Alright Now" which they play after every score, accompanied by their dancing tree mascot.
The crowd was at least half USC fans. If there is such a phenomenon as 'Walmart Wolverines', there has to be a much larger contingent of 'Target Trojans'(OSTTE). Most appeared as though they had never set foot near the USC campus. They had many annoying traditions (verbal trumpet noises and goofy hand gestures). I had no stake in the game but given the above, and my love of the underdog, I pulled for Stanford.
As far as the game, Stanford totally outplayed USC in the first half in every phase of the game except kickoff coverage. By the end of the 3rd quarter USC had pulled even in pass and run yardage. Ultimately, they had too much talent for Stanford. I left fairly unimpressed with USC. My impression of Harbaugh's team is that they are well coached. I have not been a fan of his public statements and he was not ready for a stage like Michigan, but I think someday he will be a player. I hope, of course, that we are then several years into the RR reign of awesomeness. Rich will then turn the program over to coach Hart who then gets a chance to stick it to old man Harbaugh for his past sins.
I was hoping to see a repeat of last year and it certainly was no SEC experience, but it was a good time.
I was able to talk with Michael Rosenberg, the Detroit Free Press columnist and author of War As They Knew It, at an event here in Columbus back in September. And after our chat Michael was gracious enough to agree to answer some questions via email. I figured Ohio State Michigan week would be a good time to take him up on that offer. I posted Ten Questions to him regarding his book (see above) over at Collected Miscellany, but wanted to focus more on football in this set of ten.
So here they are:
1. How did the rivalry between Bo and Woody change Michigan football?
Michigan is the all-time wins leader, all-time win percentage leader and plays in the greatest rivalry in college football. So naturally, Michigan fans like to think the program has been one of the best in college football since its inception. That is largely true, but in the 1960s, Michigan State surpassed Michigan on the field and in fan interest. If Bo had not succeeded and MSU had hired a fabulous coach to replace Duffy Daugherty, who knows what would have happened?
Bo put Michigan football back at the forefront of college football, where it has remained ever since. He also gave the rivalry incredible life - even if you didn't care about Michigan or Ohio State, you knew Bo and Woody. It created a momentum for Michigan football and the UM-OSU rivalry that has never really abated.
2. Is it fair to say that Michigan has underachieved in the years following the 1997 National Championship?
No, I don't think that's fair. Michigan never had a losing season, won an Orange Bowl, played in three Rose Bowls and won several other January bowl games in that period. Were other programs better? You might be able to find five or six. You won't find 10. So I don't think "underachieved" is a fair term.
3. What do you think is behind the apparent weakness of the Big Ten when compared with SEC or Big XII? Is this just a cyclical thing with recruiting, etc. or has the Big Ten lost its edge in fundamental ways?
I think it is cyclical. Contrary to popular opinion, the SEC is not far ahead of every other league every year. The Big Ten held its own in bowl games against the SEC. That's just a fact. People concentrate on the national-title games and ignore all other evidence.
Having said that, I do believe the Big Ten is down this season. Almost every program is in transition in some way. Let's see where the league is in three years.
4. Was hiring Rich Rodriguez a mistake in your opinion?
I don't know yet. I think it's a strange fit and Rich should have won more games with the talent he had this year. I think he has given himself a thin margin for error with some of his actions. But I also think he is a bright coach who has a great track record, and of course he deserves time to turn this around.
5. What was his biggest mistake and what has been his best decision so far?
His biggest mistake was not settling that lawsuit against West Virginia. He got very little out of fighting it, except some embarrassing depositions involving him and his agent and bad publicity (some deserved, some not). It just wasn't worth it. He dug his heels in, and Bill Martin encouraged him to do so, instead of finding a way to end the ugly mess. I don't see how anybody can look back and say it was worth it for him.
As for his best decision, that's hard to say right now. Rich is sticking by his gut, though: recruiting who he wants, implementing his system, doing everything exactly as he wants to do it. I would say (and I think he'd agree, actually) that his best decision probably won't be clear until two or three years down the road. Maybe it's the decision to recruit somebody or a hire he has made that will pay off later.
6. How long do you think it will take for him to build a competitive program?
It was a competitive program when he showed up. It should have been more competitive this year, though obviously there are talent issues. I think it's reasonable to expect a winning season next year and contention for a Big Ten title in year three or four. I don't see how this team contends for the league championship next year with a freshman quarterback and so many losses on defense.
7. Has the Ohio State dominance of late reduced the luster of the Ohio State rivalry?
The rivalry has always seen stretches like this. Bo once went four years without beating Ohio State. It happens. I don't think the rivalry is in any danger of going away or losing importance. It has always been incredibly important in Columbus, and if anything, OSU's dominance has made it more important in Ann Arbor.
8. When was the last time Michigan was this big of an underdog going into The Game?
As far as I can tell, the answer is 1934. Michigan was 1-5 entering the game and had scored 15 points all season. Ohio State won 34-0. This shouldn't surprise anybody - it's rare to see Michigan this bad, Ohio State this good and the game in Columbus.
9. If you had to pick one early indicator of a possible Michigan upset, what would it be?
Um ... an extra week of eligibility for Tom Brady? I really don't know. Michigan's best chance to win a battle is with its defensive front. If that happens, and U-M forces Terrelle Pryor into some freshman mistakes and the Wolverines make a play or two on special teams ... stranger things have happened. But not many.
10. If they were to pull off the upset, where would it rank in terms of the rivalry?
I checked the history, and couldn't find one instance when a team as down as Michigan faced a team as good as Ohio State, especially on the road - and won. This would be the biggest upset in the history of the rivalry.
Warning: Long post
So, one thing that a lot of us have noticed is that Michigan has had a tendency to give up big plays this season. Our defense has been pretty good until the 3rd and really long situations in which they implode or when they miss key tackles.
I wanted to go back and quantify what I have seen this season, so I started out by looking at the number of yards for the touchdowns scored this year against us. I found the following numbers for the season so far (if they are off, it is because I counted them in notepad)
18 rushes for
16 passes for
18 fgs (I didn't bother with yardage because it doesn't help prove my point)
What I found disheartening was that half of passing TDs against us are for 20+ yards and just under 1/3 are from the opponents' territory. While that isn't exactly where we would like it to be, that alone won't cause problems in our season.
So, I spent a couple hours on ESPN looking at the play by play to determine how many of those scoring drives contained 20+ yard plays or where they started in Michigan territory to set up the TDs and FGs. I am going to count assisted points as points in which they got a 20+ yard play or started in Michigan territory due to a fumble/int on the scoring drive. I am doing this based off of turnovers and long plays because those have been our weekness this year. Long returns, safeties, punt blocks, etc are not counted because I am assuming that they are more random than due to problems in our systems.
55 yard pass on 3rd and 19 to set up a 8 yard run
21 yard pass on 2nd and 16 to set up a field goal
39 yard pass on 3rd and 7 to set up a field goal
Int to start at MICH 37 to set up a 19 yard pass
25 yard pass on 3rd and 5 to set up a field goal
39 yard pass on 3rd and 7 to set up a field goal
Fumble at Michigan 11 to set up a 2 yard run
Fumble at Michigan 14 to set up a 10 yard pass
48 yard pass on 1st and 10
60 yard pass on 2nd and 8 to set up a 1 yard run
Fumble returned for TD
46 yard rush on 3rd and 1 to set up a 5 yard run
20 yard pass on 2nd and 17 and
29 yard pass on 1st and 15 to set up a 22 yard pass
Fumble at Michigan 27 to set up a field goal
Fumble at Michigan 27 to set up a field goal
46 yard pass on 3rd and 1 to set up a 6 yard run
57 yard pass
77 yard pass
21 yard pass on 2nd and 12 to set up a 2 yard run
50 yard rush on 3rd and 2 to set up a 1 yard run
Fumble at MICH 16 to set up a 2 yard run
23 yard pass on 3rd and 13 to set up a field goal
Interception a MICH 40 to set up a field goal
Interception for TD
PSU (Safety, blocked punt points not counted as assisted)
44 yard run
25 yard pass on 2nd and 7 and
21 yard rush on 1st and 10 to set up a 1 yard run
Fumble at MICH 19 to set up a 1 yard run
80 yard pass
23 yard pass on 3rd and 16 to set up a 61 yard pass
64 yard rush on 1st and 10
44 yard pass on 3rd and 12 to set up a 4 yard pass
Interception at MICH 40 to set up a 7 yard pass
Purdue (3-3-5 game, points from fake punt not counted)
23 yard pass on 1st and 10 to set up a 2 yard run
35 yard pass on 1st and 15 to set up a 7 yard pass
20 yard pass on 1st and 10 to set up a 28 yard pass
26 yard rush on 3rd and 6 to set up a field goal
21 yard rush
20 yard pass on 1st and 10 to set up a 17 yard pass
53 yard pass
As you can see for yourself, only 3 teams managed to score touchdowns on us on drives that did not start in our own territory due to turnovers or long plays due to breakdowns in our defense. So far this season, only 78 points on such drives have been scored on us which is about 7 points per game.
I am not saying that those teams would not be able to score on us, but I am saying we handed over almost all of the points this season. If our defense were somewhat competent this season and we assume that teams only score half of the assisted points due to us holding them to field goals or them scoring half of the TDs (you can think about it however you want to), then the scores look something like this:
Utah 23-15 W
Miami (NTM) 16-3 W
ND 17-17 W (because we played better than them)
Wisconsin 27-15 W
Illinois 24-20 L
Toledo 10-6 W
PSU 35-17 L
MSU 21-21 L (because they played better than us)
Purdue 41-38 W
Minnesota 29-3 W
NW 14-10 W
I know this isn't the most scientific piece of evidence, but all of a sudden, those close losses become close wins, and those beat downs become close(r) losses. We would be 8-3(5-3), which is where I think a lot of us expected us to be at the end of the season.
Next season, with our offense having a full year of maturity and our OLine gelling a lot more than this year, I expect our turnover margin to be much closer to 0 and hopefully in our favor.
I am also hoping to see Graham, Martin, Campbell, Van Bergen, Ezeh, Mouton, Warren, Cissoko, Stevie Brown, Brandon Smith, and Woolfolk in a 4-2-5 so that we can hopefully try to minimize the long yardage plays.
*Speculation from here on out*
Looking to the schedule next year, I hope to see wins against Western and two other "cupcakes", a win against another blowhard ND team at home, a win against Indiana, and a win against MSU without Ringer to start the season. Considering the way this season has gone I may be entirely wrong, but I would bet that we make it to 6-0 next season. Possibly 5-1.
We then are at Iowa with a Senior Shonn Greene. With momentum from the 6-0 start, I expect a win here, but it is iffy. 7-0 or 5-2, I bet 7-0
We then have a Bye before hosting PSU. I think we might pull a win here because we are at home, JoePa will probably retire, and Clark will be gone. It could go either way. 8-0 or 5-3, I bet 7-1
Illinois. Juice Williams = Senior, Benn = Sophomore, Dufrene = 5th year senior, @Illinois. Loss. 8-1 or 5-4, I bet 7-2
Purdue at home, they will be rebuilding, revenge. Win. 9-1 or 6-4, I bet 8-2
Wisconsin, @wisconsin, revenge, still no quarterback and only a running game. Could go either way but most likely theirs. 10-1 or 6-5, I bet 8-3
OSU, @home, they graduate almost an entire team. Could go either way, but I bet in our favor. 11-1 or 6-6, I bet 9-3
So, anyway, I think next year we see some real improvement. I hope that they stick with the 4-2-5, and that improvements will limit the long yardage plays that have killed us this year. I also hope that our offense can play 4 quarters like they play in the first quarter of most of their games, but more importantly, I hope that we don't hand them the ball in the redzone. If all or most of these hopes come true then I think RR will have a lot more breathing room by the end of next year.