"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
As we sift through the ashes of the 2008 Michigan Football Season we’re all wondering what this new era will bring. How do you set expectations for future seasons? What do you do on New Year’s Day when there is no Michigan football to watch? Even though you know it is prudent to give Rodriguez time to mold the team, how much patience will you be able to show when Michigan loses to an inferior opponent in 2009?
So I set about trying to figure out how optimistic we can be for next year. I’m trying hard to find reasons to get excited for next season as opposed to bracing ourselves for another bowl-less finish. (Note to reader – your health and sanity would probably be better off if you set your expectations low for 2009 and even 2010.) Personally, I was a skeptic when they hired Rodriguez and was thinking 6-6 as the over-under for win-loss record but I got pressured into optimism by pieces like this before the 2008 season. So take this with a grain of salt:
Reasons for Optimism:
1. Time – Year number one in a coaching change is always going to be hard, no matter what school, coach, or system you’re running. This year was going to be particularly tough with the returning talent level and the radical change in system. Another year in the program for the players will only help.
2. Depth Chart – When you’re basically starting six freshman on offense, you’re bound to fail. This isn’t basketball where you can get away with that. In football experience counts for a LOT, especially on offense. They return EVERYONE (sorry Pat Massey) from offense. If you look at every position group you’ll see that the only one that clearly suffers a loss is at DL. In twelve positions five of them should get definitely better and only two will likely be worse. That’s reason for optimism.
• QB – IMPROVED.
Threet is more experienced, Sheridan never sees the field again, we have more than one division 1 quality QB in the depth chart. Forcier and Beaver are freshman, but they’re division-1 talent, unlike Feagin and Sheridan.
• RB – IMPROVED.
Assuming no one leaves, the top six running backs return. The top four backs all lost significant time due to injury. That’s not going to happen two seasons in a row. Even losing McGuffie wouldn’t be the end of the world with three freshmen coming in.
• WR – IMPROVED.
The three starters return, two of whom will no longer be freshman. Robinson and Hemmingway should have been significant contributors but sat out the season hurt.
• TE – SLIGHT IMPROVEMENT.
Koger will be improved as a sophomore and full-time starter, but the depth chart is thin.
• FB – NO CHANGE.
Moundros was arguable the best offensive player this season and will be around again.
• OL – IMPROVED
The top thirteen, that’s right – THIRTEEN offensive lineman return. While some of them may be mediocre, a year of experience never hurt anyone. And now all of those red-shirt freshmen are available to challenge for playing time.
• K – SLIGHTLY WORSE
Unfortunately Lopata wasn’t as good in 2008 as he was in 2007, but he was still competent. Turning the duties over to a true freshman or Bryan Wright is likely a downgrade in this position….but not definitely so. Lopata was only 10-15 and that’s not a difficult percentage to match.
• DL – WORSE
Anytime you lose three and maybe even four starters you’re in for a rough transition. Vanbergen and Martin showed excellent potential, but they’re still young and raw. The freshmen will be asked to contribute and that’s not always a good thing at this position. If Graham does stay the down grade won’t be significant, however.
• LB – NO CHANGE
Mouton got better as the season went on and will be a starter from day one. Ezeh is still mediocre, but he won’t be any worse and might get a little better. The third spot is a wild card, but Thompson won’t be hard to replace.
• CB – NO CHANGE
This was the most disappointing position on the field in 2008 so it is hard to think they could get worse. Warren should be better and Cissoko showed promise – at least as much as Trent. The nickel spot could be a wild card.
• S – NO CHANGE
I suppose this could get worse with Stewart and Harrison departing, but I can’t believe this unit could possibly play worse than they did in 2008. Our favorite punching bag will still be around and probably not any better, but there’s hope that he learns from 2008. The other spot is a total wildcard, but it wouldn’t take much to match Stewart’s level of performance.
• P – NO CHANGE
Is there a way to extend Zoltan’s eligibility?
3. Turnovers – It simply cannot be possible that Michigan can match the turnover problems of 2008. If so, that will be the best ever documented proof that there is no all-powerful God. I honestly think that if Michigan would have performed at league average in the return game that they would have won two more games. The previous six seasons Michigan lost an average of 10 fumbles per year. This year they had 18. Imagine picking any 8 fumbles from 2008 and pretending they didn’t happen. The parade of fumbles returning kicks cannot, and will not be repeated in 2009.
4. Schedule – It is hard to say what the level of competition will be in conference, but in 2009 Michigan won’t be playing a top ten Utah team and will be playing Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State at home. MSU loses their workhorse running back and doesn’t have much else going for them. We replace Northwestern and Minnesota with Indiana and Iowa – probably an even swap.
5. Luck – This is a general term meant to summarize Michigan’s performance in close games. In 2008 Michigan went 1-4 in games that came down to a couple of plays. They could have easily won the Utah, Toledo, Northwestern, and Purdue games. Assuming 2-3 more wins from these types of games is not unrealistic. On top of that, the Notre Dame and Michigan State games were decided by 5-8 plays and it isn’t a stretch to think that Michigan could have won one of them. That leaves only the OSU, PSU, and Illinois games as blowouts. In all of those three games Michigan was within a touchdown at half time. Going 9-3 is highly unlikely, but looking at the 2008 you can see how 7-5 is possible.
Those are some fairly convincing arguments for why 2009 could be a fairly dramatic turnaround. The ceiling is probably 8-4, but the floor isn’t 3-9 it is probably 6-6. But before you start looking for hotels on New Years Day, there are a couple of big reasons for pause:
• Beaver and Forcier are significantly better than Feagin and Sheridan, but they’re still going to be true freshmen and that’s never a recipe for success in big time college football.
• It is sadly quite likely that there will be unexpected defections by players who were going go be counted on to contribute in 2009.
• The defense was supposed to be solid in 2008 and was frankly quite bad. A year of experience by the coaches and some modest improvement at LB and S should help, but it is hard to make an argument that the defense will improve.
• Expecting improvement by the OL and WR is very realistic, but they were so inconsistent and poor in 2008 that it is hard to expect them to become above average by 2009.
What other reasons for optimism can you think of? Am I looking too hard at this, are there more reasons to be worried?
Imagine starting a new job in an office and your job duties include generating 25 page expenditure reports for 12 clients that are critical to the survival of your company. You started the job on Monday, and are expected to have it completed by Wednesday afternoon. You are given a pen and paper instead of a calculator, and a typewriter instead of a computer. Now Imagine you are a construction worker and you start a new job where your duty is to move 100 yards of dirt from one job site to another by the end of the day. You are given a shovel and wheelbarrow instead of a dumptruck. Now Imagine you are Jon Bon Jovi and you are supposed to put on a concert in front of 173 rabid Sparty fans and instead of having Richie Sambora in your gay band you have Randy Marsh. Congratulations!!! You have now walked a mile in the shoes of RichRod. I am so incredibly disgusted by the shit this guy has had to take this year I could go on a puking binge until 2009's spring game. I am embarrased to have so many ignorant piles of ass calling themselves Wolverines. It is pathetic and sad the way people have abandoned and shit on this coaching staff and team. People wonder why McGuffie and others are going to transfer. What have people shown them this year to make them want to stay??? People throw shit talk around about RichRod getting fired. Why the hell shouldn't the man quit????? Criticism is one thing, but the personal attacks on coaches and players is beyond absurd. Wake up folks, Jesus Christ himself could not win games with the quarterbacks we had this year. Plain and simple. You can't win division I football games with less then Division III talent. This will be turned around, I have zero doubt. We will again be on top, and I don't want to see 1/2 of you bastards around when that day comes.
WARNING: Very long and there is not much gold left to mine from this season anyway, but I'll break it in two since 1st part is most global and second more personal whatever.
Anyway, it was a perfect storm of crappiness this season. The coaches were nearly impossible to evaluate given what they were working with, and the same will prob be said for '09 too. I think RR's offense will be unstoppable once they have the right QB to run it, I think he'll get the right QB to run it post haste, but that QB isn't on campus yet. RR has continued to recruit well against an avalanche of negative pub dating all the way back to his WVA break-up, so that is a good sign, and RRs opening up a FL pipeline is prob the most underrated story of his tenure.
UM's biggest obstacle over the next 2 years will be guarding against allowing the losing to infect the team. This IMO is what has happened to the FSUs and Miamis (better examples than Neb or ND IMO for multiple reasons). They were consistently outstanding for so long due to talent and consistently high QB level. They run into a few years where QB recruits are getting tossed and/or not panning out, and the result is some losses they never would have suffered. The ship didn't right quickly and now both programs (despite elite talent) continue to not only post poor records by their standards, but suffer multiple head-scratching losses per season. Why?
In the HBO mini-series "Band of Brothers", in one of the episodes where Easy Company is Bastonge, the first sergeant comes across a private attempting to scratch out a foxhole in frozen ground with his finger nails. He gets that guy off the line immediately and to the rear, commenting that fear is something they all deal with but must be done so in their own way, its a delicate balance as that outward fear can infect even a hardened combat unit.
The analogy I draw here is how players and programs react to lossing. These players are going to have to live with this losing and all the negative pub and shit surrounding it for the next year. The coaches are going to be on watch for the type of bad attitudes that can infect the team, and those guys will have to be run off or not offered a scholarship for their final season. Most of the team is going to stick it out and stick together and work harder than ever so that it never happens again. Problem is, its probably going to happen again next year. Not 3-9, but 5-7 or 6-6. Losses to OSU and who knows, maybe ND and MSU too. They'll have to hear all the shit about "is UM dead? RR isn't the right guy. Dantonio" etc. They'll have to go through absorbing another 5, 6, or 7 losses. Who among these players will have the strength to keep that hatred of losing burning white hot when they've been forced to deal with it so often (esp the young guys), and who among them is going to subconsciously relax just that little bit? Who in 2010 will be saying "here we go again"?
This is RR's biggest challenge. Not the recruiting. He's good at that, its M, and players want PT. Its not implementing the system. You could see the offensive system implemented fairly well this year. But breakdowns in execution along the OL, and no passing accuracy in the short game, and no running QB = death for this offense. It maybe able to over come 1 of those 3, but certainly not all of them.
RR's task of motivating these players and keeping that fire is what will be his biggest challenge. And if he rides these guys the wrong way, at what point do too many of the player start to buck and the team is lost to him? The bottom line is that there is only so much RR can do, 90% of it has to come from within. There is only so much he can do and the rest is a crap shot, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence. The good news I believe is that the bounce a coach and program gets off a positive is much greater than the help other intangibles like tradition and coaching charisma can provide in bad times. Should these players pull it off over the next two years and bring home at least part of a Big 10 championship in 2010, I think things will be well on their way to being better than ever. Its just going to suck waiting for it all to play out.
Its times like these (Lions working on a 18 game loosing streak, UM 3-9 season with second worst loss ever to OSU and 5 game losing streak) when I like to step back and take a peek at the all time scoreboard.
Since I came in in '76, I've witnessed the following championship seasons:
Tigers - 1984
UM Hoops - 1989
UM Football - 1997
Pistons - 1989, 1990, 2004
Wings - 1997, 1998, 2002, 2008
Shock - 2003, 2006, 2008
(ok, for the purposes of this, lets take the Shock out of there). That's 13 titles. In addition, we've had the following finals appearances:
Tigers - 2006
UM Hoops - 1991, 1992
Pistons - 1988, 2005
Wings - 1995
So since the time I was 8 years old, my teams have generated a shot at the title every 1.2 years and delivered every 1.8 years. Not many can come close to that. NY I think has 10 or 11 titles and Boston I believe has 8 titles in that span.
Without that perspective this would be a soul crushing sports year (even with the Wings/Stones poised to do major damage), with UM posting its worst football season of all time and the Lions working on their worst of all time, and by definition, one of the worst seasons in the history of the NFL. The Lions jumped out to a 17 pt lead at home, then surrendered the next 38 in a 38-20 loss. They've lost every way imaginable this year. Blown out early, blown out late, running out of the back of the endzone for a safety in a 2 pt loss to the Vikes. Amazing.
UM was down 7-14 at the half v. OSU. They failed to get any points the early INT and Odoms about to field a punt on OSU's side of the field, which he instead fumbled to take our amazing field position and give it to OSU. Taylor was comically held on Wells' touchdown run. Jamison literally had his jersey ripped off of him without a holding call against OSU all damn day.
But even if all the things that could have or should have gone right did, it wasn't going to be M's day. The M defense was just called on to answer the bell too many times dealing with terrible field position. It goes back to 4 things that are going to kill ANY team:
1. Starting a walk-on QB that didn't even have a MAC scholarship offer. What would Alabama's record be starting Nick Sheridan at QB? This occurred because Henne starting as a Fr scared recruits, Forcier then transferred when Mallett came in after Mallett scared off all good QB recruits for 2 classes, then Mallett left. That left one Fr. who was a top 10 drop back passer in his class, but drop back passers are useless in this offense.
2. 9 baby offensive starters. Starting QB, RB, C, and WRs all FRESHMAN.
3. Freak turnovers out of the coaching staffs' control.
4. Horrible special teams with the exception of the punter. Too often UM was forced to go 80+ yards to score and that is insanely difficult given 1-3 herein. Inability to return KOs and punts resulting in poor field position. On sat. McGuffie got killed on on KO return after a couple yards, Cissoko muffs and only gets out to the 17, Odoms fields 2nd half KO at the 13 and gets only to 24, Cissoko fumbles KO in second half to OSU. They took a 2nd half KO back 80 yards. Toss in a missed chip shot field. All-in-all, your average day at the office for M special teams. How many games you gonna win with 2 TOs in the kicking game and a missed FG?
Knowing all this, what is the coaching staff's culpability here? Long view, they could have tried to keep Mallett around. Did RR and staff's arrogance hurt them there? Hard to say. Mallett was widely considered something between malcontent and team cancer last year, and LC's last year was country club compared to RR's first. Instead of kissing Mallett's ass and hoping for the best, RR choose to use it as a message to the team (if you don't want to be here we don't want you) and forced the decision early in an effort to get Pryor. Prob right move. I also think the special teams blocking on returns was horrible all season which you could put on the coaches. As far as the fumbles, they worked on it like crazy and rotated players (all of whom couldn't hang on). You can't coach catching the ball back there and when you go through everyone and they all suck, it can't be on the coaches.
Short view, UM couldn't run or pass in the first half v. OSU, but Sheridan was so awful. They passed too much. After he bounced the first 5 passes of the turf they should have just said "screw it" we're going to try and run it at them all day. In fact, they should have gone that route from the jump before watching his bounce-pass clinic. At least the run has a chance of getting some positive yards (and shortens the game), as were you knew Sheridan's pass attempts were futile or worse (sack, int). He's been god awful all season outside of the Minni game. And what was with all the rollouts? I understand they must be passes he completes well in practice because they called so many. But they were terrible (longest loop on a rollout you'll ever see, he had to throw 15 yards down field just to bounce it to the LOS). If I was RR, I would have gone 70% run, 15% swing/screen pass, and 15% deep ball. Grind the ball and some clock, try to keep the CBs rolled up, and try to hit some big plays over the top where a miscue is either a inc or deep int. Loosen the S a bit and give yourself a shot at more big plays. We may as well make our INCs 35-40 yards down field rather than 1-3 yards off the LOS.
Also, when M got that INT in the 1st quarter, what should they have done? I love aggressiveness, but you've got to get pts there (and consider your QB). Once Brown went out I was just praying for 3. Try run it in and you're either in or get the FG. Instead, Sheridan losses yardage on 2nd down. After that I said just run it toward the middle of the field to make it an easier FG. Instead, Sheridan throws INC and Loppata misses a 35 yarder from the right hash. I think that's on the staff (not that it would have mattered).
This is my first blog entry ever. I feel strongly enough about things this year that I had to put some of this down. If you do make it all the way through, thanks for reading. It starts with general thoughts, many of which have been in other posts on this site. It ends with questions for the future. As a fan, I hope they all have positive answers. As a realist, I just don’t know.
It’s been mentioned on several other posts, but is this season the burning that must occur before the Phoenix can rise from the ashes?
Got a fortune cookie on Friday that said “You must taste the bitter to appreciate the sweet.” (or something like that) Is that what’s happening now? Is this Angry Michigan Hating God’s way of showing us how spoiled we’ve been? A lot of fan’s think we’re entitled to 8-10 wins per season just because we’re Michigan. They get pissed when we don’t win the Big 10, or the national championship, or go undefeated. Maybe they needed to be shown that it takes a LOT to have the kind of success Michigan has had over the last 30 (or even 129) years. I know that seeing how the other half lives really does make you appreciate what you have. I joined the army after college (enlisted infantry early 2001, I was in basic during 9/11) and spent some time in Afghanistan and Iraq. And being there did more to make me appreciate life here in the USA than anything that I could have possibly experienced here. So, yeah, maybe you do have to be down before you can truly appreciate how great it is to be up.
On a related note, this season has made me a better fan. During the previous years, I’d casually watch games, and not know much more about the team than whatever ESPN or the News or Free Press would tell me. But ever since about mid way through 2007 I’ve been listening to sports talk radio (not necessarily a good source of info, but they sometimes get good stuff, plus hearing what other “fans” have to say is always interesting), reading any scrap of news I can about Michigan online (Rivals (whatever they have for free), newspapers, ESPN, CBS, Yahoo, MLive, and my new favorite MGoBlog). I think I’m doing this mostly because things are changing so much, and I want to know whatever I can. The knowledge that Michigan may take a while to return to glory helps temper my expectations, and dull some of the pain of losing.
Typical Michigan fans – I know a few people that are what most people would call a “typical” Michigan fan. They expect to win, no excuses. They have said that they expect RR to be fired after this year. They said he’s brought the program down. After the OSU game, they said “there’s another bad record he just achieved.” They think recruiting is going to fall apart because of 1 bad year. They don’t know enough about the program and the players to understand that this year was going to be bad no matter who the coach was. I try to explain it to them, but they just won’t listen. If Michigan is less than 8-4 next year, they’re going to be a pain to deal with (even more so than now). Hell, even if RR wins multiple national championships, they may never forget or forgive this year.
On a related note, those “typical” Michigan fans are kind of delusional anyway. Yes, Michigan has been THE model of consistency for any college football program. 33 straight bowl games, etc. However, we’ve won only 1 national championship in the last 50 years. We’ve always been on the cusp, but never (except once) reached the peak (and had to share that, so sparty and bucknuts won’t give us credit for it). Over 50 years. And over the past 10 years, we’ve only been close once (2006). Did we want to continue that trend? (be really good-great, but only occasionally elite, and never “the best”) Or did we want to do what it takes to get over the hump? Do what it takes to win it all? Finally get the “living in the past” monkey off our backs?
Expecting the loss – (I know jfs52 did a whole diary entry on this, but it’s been on my mind, so I’m putting my own thought on it here)This is another thing I’m hoping will be in the past soon. Even when Michigan was good-great, I (any many/most fans) expected the loss. To anyone, especially the underdogs. Michigan favored by 20? Yeah, they’ll blow it. Michigan ranked #2 in the preseason? They’ll probably lose to Northwestern. Or Indiana. Or Illinois. Or anybody else that they have no business losing to. I was a freshman at Michigan in 1997. As great as we were that year, I was expecting something to happen every game. I was waiting for the collapse. Thankfully it never came (at least until the first 2 games of the 1998 season). But I’ve lived with that fear every game that Michigan was favored. I hope to let go of that soon.
What could realistically be called “success” next year? (6-6 may be realistic, but nobody would consider that “success”. 12-0 would be success, but nobody would call that “realistic”)
How good will the offense be next year? (Debated ad nauseum, I know.)
How much can you rely on a coach’s history when he goes from a mid level conference to a big time conference? (Remember the offensive genius of John L. Smith at Louisville?)
How good will the defense be next year? (Losing the best part of the defense. The returning players are mostly “meh”)
Does this team have the mental toughness necessary to win big? Have they been damaged by this year, and will there always be some doubt in their minds? (I ask because they’ve been up in most games, but blew it most of the time. They looked good in the 1st half against the top teams, but got blown away at the end.)
Is EEEEE Barwis not as good as advertised? If they’ve been up and blown it, is it because they’re not as conditioned as we thought? (For the record, my hope is that he tore them down so much at the beginning of the year that they never fully recovered, and next year they’re going to be fully recovered and blow the doors off the place)
Is RR still an “innovator?” (He invented the spread years ago, and he’s taught it to every coach willing to listen. Does he have something new in the pipe? His play calling has been even more predictable that Lloyd. Hopefully just because the team was learning a new system.)
What recruits step in and play next year?
How much does not having the extra bowl game practices hurt?
How does the rest of the Big 10 shake out next year? (MSU=overrated, look good because conference is down. They’ll drop some next year. OSU=??? When they’re supposed to be up, they fall (08) when they’re supposed to be down, they go to BCS title games (07). Illinois = supposed to be on the rise, but they stumbled this year, does it continue. NW and Minn = ?? lucky this year? Improving?)
Ok, that season sucked.
Bill Martin hit the reboot button and RichRod performed like Windows ME.
How do we define success going forward?
Martin's goal (as I divine the tea leaves) was to reinvigorate Michigan football and set it on track for another period of extended success. In other words, he needs better results than he would have gotten by staying within the tree and hiring Ron English or (the much-maligned at this time last year) Brady Hoke.
So far, his plan has gone in the wrong direction.
Rodriguez's goals (again, as I divine the tea leaves) were 1) to get out of the loonie bin that is WVU football politics and then 2) be a winning football coach at Michigan. Mission accomplished on item #1. With regard to #2, I give him credit for being what he says he is, a guy who's a football coach, without the megalomania that seems to be an occupational hazard.
Now, we have to add a third goal for RichRod, which is to restore his reputation. (Unless he gets it together, Mike Brown is not going to be putting together any shakedown packages.)
So getting down to brass tacks: given this definition of Martin's and Rodriguez's goals, what constitutes success and what constitutes failure? We talked about this in another thread. Some candidate reference points:
Average 9 wins per game over 6 year contract period = 54 wins, 51 to go, that's 10.2/year for the next 5
Average 8 wins per game over 6 year contract period = 48 wins, 45 to go, that's 9/year for the next 5
Hit the 10 wins/year mark and stay there with either no or very few deviations.
Win a national championship. Does we forgive all if he is @ .500 for years 2-5 and then wins a NC in year 6? If he averages 8 wins/year and gets one NC, is that any better than Lloyd Carr?
Added: Beat OSU at least twice in the contract term (that's improvement).
Added: Beat MSU 4 times out of 6.
Added: Beat Notre Dame 3 out of 6. (I personally don't really care that much about the ND rivalry.)
I swear I saw it. I watched very closely, and even with my crappy internet feed of the game, I am 100% sure it was there. From the smoldering wreckage of Saturday, November 22, 2008, from the still-warm ashes, from the wanton destruction contained with the walls of Ohio Stadium, I saw a phoenix rise from the charred remains of this Wolverine football team. Amidst headlines proclaiming the death (or at least great fall) of this once-proud program, long-bitter ill-wishers reveling in the moment, and close friends protecting themselves under a sheet of sarcasm, this phoenix rose, unnoticed. And as the hate poured in regarding the "lost" season, its will grew stronger.
This was not the first time it had risen, after a passing. Previous occurrences took place in 1901, 1938, 1968. Each time, this phoenix has brought years of success and prosperity to the Wolverine program.
Once again, shall the Wolverines rise from the ashes. Once again, from the wrong end of jibes and ridicule, from idiot sportscasters and moronic rivals, shall the Wolverines shine again.
Patience and hope. Keep them close. A reward awaits from those who stay.
Michigan might be down, but she is not out.