The upcoming Michigan - Michigan State game has a certain life all its own inside my brain right now. There are weird images (a feral MSU linebacker with no facial features except glowing eyes gnawing on Denard's bad knee after a tackle)...
...uninformed thoughts (why doesn’t GERG use press coverage when blitzing?), stark colors (radiant maize, cerebral blue, chyme green and an ink cloud of black despair waiting to descend, hovering just out of view), graphic sounds (Fight Club quality bone crunching, the Victors after the winning touchdown, a cartoon whoosh whoosh whoosh sound in my mind that accompanies every Denard breakaway), numbers (200/200, 120, 0.73663, 480, 9-3, 877, 16, 4) and a whole lot of emotions; quite honestly, more bad ones than good ones. All this wraps up into an ill-defined knot inside me as I both anticipate and dread the opening kickoff.
It occurred to me that 25 years ago my impressions of Saturday's contest would be so different as to be unrecognizable. I was just as big a fan back then. Yet, today, my love of Michigan football has so many more data points as to render my 1980s fandom a primitive, low-tech thing resembling Ken Mattingly in Apollo 13 sweating inside a simulator with a flashlight between his teeth trying to figure out how to splash down a spaceship on 20 amps of power.
All this data has, I think, distorted our view of the game. We have analyzed our way into believing that Michigan State is an emerging power that inevitably must eviscerate a statistically helpless Michigan defense.
I say hogwash.
Two decades ago, I would be moving about my week calmly expecting a Michigan victory, because two decades ago it would be the résumé that mattered, not hyper-analysis of data that promotes fear and generates such concepts as RPS-3, Chappellbombing and PAN. My understanding of the team would be that we have a great offense with a great quarterback and a schizophrenic defense, but that we were still winning. I would never have tried (and failed) to figure out a Cover-2 zone or known our national pass defense ranking or even known where Greg Robinson had coached before.
But I would know the résumés, and based upon the résumés, I would have concluded that an oddly unbalanced, uncharacteristic Michigan team nonetheless possessed the strongest résumé of any team in the Big 10.
Say what?! Prove it.
No numbers; we are in a variable-free zone and channeling both 1985 and common sense at the same time.
Michigan Wolverines Résumé
Michigan has beaten two major teams back to back, the second one on the road. The first was a beatdown of a bowl winning team from the year before with almost everyone back. The second was an always talented and very emotional Notre Dame team at home with an unexpected bonus: a competent coach. Michigan won its first Big 10 game, an away game against a serious offense. A shaky squeaker against a good FCS team mars the résumé.
Ohio State? Four home games with a solid win against a charitable Miami team, three cupcakes, and a lackluster win over a bad Illinois team. Fail.
Iowa? Not bad, but they lost to Arizona. Fail.
Wisconsin? Three cupcakes, a squeaker and a beatdown. Fail.
Northwestern? Five cupcakes with extra icing, cherries, sprinkles and a cream filling. Fail.
And Michigan State? Five home games, three cupcakes, a less impressive win against a common opponent at home, and a solid win against an overrated Big 10 “power.” Fail.
If preseason polls were outlawed and this year’s Big 10 teams, like 11 sprinters in the blocks, were off at the sound of the gun, Michigan would be in the lead. That’s what I would have known.
I am going to finish my week calmly expecting a Michigan victory.