So what do we see for this year? Here's the schedule, home games in caps:
Sept. 4 ~ CONNECTICUT
Sept. 11 ~ Notre Dame
Sept. 18 ~ MASSACHUSETTS
Sept. 25 ~ BOWLING GREEN
Oct. 2 ~ Indiana
Oct. 9 ~ MICHIGAN STATE
Oct. 16 ~ IOWA
Oct. 30 ~ Penn State
Nov. 6 ~ ILLINOIS
Nov. 13 ~ Purdue
Nov. 20 ~ WISCONSIN
Nov. 27 ~ Ohio State
This is the same conference schedule as last year, in the same order. Only the stadiums are changing.
One key difference is all the non-conference games are on the front end. No baby seals on the menu in the midst of conference play. I see that as a good thing. It definitely didn't help last year -- the feast just seemed to leave the team lethargic the next week against Penn State.
Win or lose, UConn is a great way to prepare for ND the following week. The Huskies are probably about right in competitive terms for a hungry UM team coming off a disappointing season, so it should be a good, hard-fought game. Just what the doctor ordered. I give the Wolverines the edge at home.
Notre Dame is an unknown. New coaching staff, star quarterback and running back gone. Two very good seniors gone on the offensive line. Sound familiar? Nonetheless, they open against Purdue at home, so they will be primed and ready to go when UM comes in the next week. But I like having a tough early road game. Last year, the first road game was the first loss. There were no road wins. Four home games in a row is not a good way to start a season.
So even if Michigan goes 1-1 in the first two games, the team will at least know the drill when they go on the road to Indiana to start the Big Ten season. IU will be out for revenge, but let's say we score enough points to win going away, like 40 or something.
Thus, like last year, it's not inconceivable the team could have three wins going into Big Ten play, and four when they play State. The big difference being that this time Michigan will have the experience of a gut-check road game in South Bend under their belts, and after Indiana we are looking at back-to-back home games against State and Iowa. This is a much better outlook than last year, which was the opposite.
Iowa is homecoming, followed by a bye week and then a five-game grind beginning at Happy Valley and ending in the Horseshoe. This is a tougher way to finish the season than last year, but if we play Penn State at 5-2 again it will be a more seasoned, mature 5-2, with at least a few more wins to be expected. [That is, more than none!] Plus, there was no bye week last year. The team played every week. An extra week to heal at mid-season should help matters.
I doubt 9-3 is realistic, but 7-5 or even 8-4 seems possible. I expect a lot of carnage (i.e., parity) in the Big Ten this year, much like last year (UM's dismal results notwithstanding), so even 7-5 could mean a decent bowl berth.
Lots of bad press out there for Rich Rod. Calls for him to be fired, large factions of Michigan supporters who are negative about him, et al. There are even comparisons being drawn between RR and John L. Smith (!!!!).
The prevailing idea is that UM must be better in order for him to keep his job. My question is: how much better?
Given that the preseason predictions (before the 4-0 start blew all rational thought and expectations out of the water for many/most) for the 2009 squad were in the neighborhood of 5-7, 6-6 and 7-5 and the team basically met those (overall record-wise, anyway), where does the team need to finish, record-wise, for Rich Rod to come back another year?
Here's the scenario:
Date Opponent Location My Prediction
9/4 UCONN H L
9/11 Notre Dame A L
9/18 UMASS H W
9/25 Bowling Green H W
10/2 Indiana A W
10/9 MSU H W
10/16 Iowa H L
10/30 Penn State A L
11/6 Illinois H W
11/13 Purdue A W
11/20 Wisconsin H L
11/27 OSU A L
IMO, this isn't enough for the powers that be. I think, in order for RR to keep his job, Michigan has to beat MSU and get that 7th win somewhere. I feel like an upset over UCONN, Iowa or ND is the best chance for that. If they go 7-5 with a win over MSU he stays. If not, he goes. The x-factor situation is a 6-6 or 5-7 season with a win over OSU at the end. That would be a HUGE shock (especially in Columbus) and might be enough to get him through to one more year.
That said, I am a supporter of RR and he should stay until the end of his contract as I believe the team to be on the right track. All indications are that the defense will be troubling again next year, but, if they can get through 2010, the future will be bright. Unfortunately, I just don't see it playing out that way.
DISCLAIMER: These predictions do not factor in any attrition other than graduation from all teams. Clearly, this is not reality, but it's fun to speculate anyway. :)
Based on the first 3 games, the season looks brighter than I ever anticipated.
However, I suspect that in 2010, I think we are only looking at an improvement to 9-3 or 10-2. Why? Because our offense can't win all our games, and it will probably take at least two years for our defense to improve significantly. The problem is I don't see sufficient stud defensive recruits, at least so far. The caveat is that the jury is still out. But TomVH has suggested that even with the improvement this year, it will have a limited affect in bringing in better recruits this season. Our secondary recruits look possibly decent, depending on what happens at corner. I'm not as optimistic at linebacker. And even if supposed studs come in, they will still be freshman.
2011 is where I see us playing close to the top tier. By that time, the offense should be fearsome, firing on all cylinders. The Oline will be solid, the QB and receiver corps feared, the RB's continue to be great. By 2011, our defense still won't be great, but it will be adequate and much improved, keeping us in almost every game. 2011 could be the mirror image of 1997: the offense will be awesome (just as the 97 defense was awesome,) and the defense won't lose games, (just as the 97 offense didn't lose games.)
2012 is when we begin to really compete regularly for the MNC. By then, Forcier is a senior and the offense is unstoppable, and the defense is good to great.
Of course, this crystal ball stuff gives you plenty of opportunity to look really stupid. But my point is that Michigan Koolaid will NOT massively improve the defense in just a year. It will take sev. years to restock the cupboard and to develop good defensive starters and plenty of depth.