Over the last few weeks, I’ve spoken to a number of people
who’ve been wanting to place blame on the success – or lack thereof – of Michigan’s football team
this season. Those who are casual football fans or network pundits blame Rich
Rodriguez – his spread offense is too big of a change for a pro-style team.
Those who know a bit more about Michigan football blame Lloyd Carr – he left
the cabinet dry with only two starters returning on offense and plenty of
out-of-shape players. But who is really to
blame? To take a logical look at the situation, let’s start from a novel place.
Check who exactly makes up the Michigan
offense, and then let’s start looking at blame.
Capital One Bowl Starting Line-Up:
Skilled Positions: Mario Manningham(jr); Carson
Butler(jr); Chad Henne(sr); Mike Hart(sr); Mike
Massey(sr*); Adrian Arrington(sr*)
Line: Jake Long(sr); Adam Kraus(sr); Justin Boren(so); Steve
Schilling(so); Alex Mitchell(sr*)
* Still had remaining eligibility
Initial 2008 Starting Line-Up Before Transfers and Early
Departures (accounting for 3-receiver set):
Skilled Positions: Mario Manningham(sr); Carson
Butler(sr); Ryan Mallett(so); Brandon Minor(jr); Greg Matthews(jr); Adrian
Line: Jeremy Ciulla(sr); Mark Ortmann(sr*); Justin
Boren(jr); Steven Schilling(jr); Alex Mitchell(sr)
Actual Starting Line-Up For Toledo (Using 3-receiver set):
Skilled Positions: Greg Matthews(jr); Kevin Koger(fr);
Steven Threet(fr); Sam McGuffie(fr); Toney Clemons(so); LaTerryal Savoy(jr)
Line: Perry Dorrestein(so); Mark Ortmann(sr*); David
Molk(fr); David Moosman(jr); Steve Schilling(so).
Okay. So screw “returning starters” – of which we only
started one. Let’s look at “projected starters” – players who were in the
pipeline to start but never ended up starting. Three. Three. That’s it. Yes, those who aren’t here all have their
reasons, but the fact of the matter is that we had one returning starter on offense in the Toledo game, and three people starting who would have started the day after the
Capital One bowl.
So who's to blame? You can't fault Rodriguez and his staff for coming into a program which has a roster looking like that of a low-tier Mountain West team. He's doing his best with what he has - which, as we can see, isn't much. You can't fault Lloyd Carr because although we wouldn't have had the Hart, Henne, and Longs of the world returning, we would have had a blue chip QB, a decent (read: non-sieve) offensive line, and some legit playmakers at the skilled positions. It would have been a down-ish year anyway. You can't fault the players - they didn't ask to get put in a starting position without the experience, skill, or surrounding talent to succeed. They're getting their asses busted by Barwis as the toll to merely strap on the winged helmet.
So who's to blame? Blame yourself. If you're looking to place blame here, blame yourself for taking your school's football prowess for granted, for having out-of-this-world expectations for the first year of a regime change, and for not studying your team enough to know that your expectations were out-of-this-world. We have a starting quarterback who backed up Reggie Ball at Georgia Tech (who had a 44% completion percentage in his senior year). Half of our skilled players were playing in their high school homecoming games at this time last year.Our line... it's porous at best, filled with inexperience and a lack of top-notch skill.
I've quoted Bo before in this space, but I'll do it again, "When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft. On the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing." Stop being soft. Take some lumps. Keep wearing your Michigan apparel. Keep loving our tradition, our University, and our team. If you want to jump ship, I'll pack your bags for you, but don't come back when this team - and this program - rights itself. Don't boo this week when you were cheering after the Wisconsin game.
To sum things up, I turn to Mike Hart on how it feels to represent a team during tough times:
"I don't regret anything at all. I'm glad I'm on this team. This is my team. I'm the leader of this team. It's crazy to say, but deep down at the end of the [Oregon]
game, I was telling myself, 'I wouldn't rather be on any team right
now. I wouldn't rather be getting paid.' It's going to test me as a
person, a player and a leader. I've never been a part of something like this in my life. It's going to test me, and it's going to make me a better
person. I know we can turn this around. At the end of the season,
when I look back and we come out with a great record, I'm going to say, 'Don't ever quit."'