Let's look back. This was our preseason rank from CFN as of January 17 2008:
21. Michigan 2007 Record: 9-4
Expect a step back to take a big leap forward, at least offensively. There could've been one of the nation's best passing games with Ryan Mallett throwing to Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington, but they all took off. Who's the quarterback? Georgia Tech transfer Steven Threet? He's a passer, but Rich Rodriguez will want a dual-threat playmaker meaning Terrelle Pryor, the nation's top recruit, could be coming to Ann Arbor, or Carlos Brown could step in from the running back corps. The defense takes a big hit, but DT Terrance Taylor should be a strong anchor to build around.
This didn't exactly pan out. What it shows is that after we beat FL (using a spread offense), after Mallett and MM and AA were already gone, before the destination of TP was known, it wasn't unreasonable to guess that we would have success in 2008. In the months that followed it became apparent that UM would not be a top 25 team. Even so, expectations remained high, Alex Wang from June 2008:
Though the question marks are there—and they are numerous—I believe this team will be better than what most the prognosticators have projected. Most rumblings have Michigan as either a six or seven-win team, some even stating that the streak of 33 consecutive bowl games is at risk.
While that situation is a distinct possibility, I envision a minimum of seven victories, and if everything goes Michigan’s way next fall, I see this team with the potential to win eight, maybe even nine games, and make a return trip to the Capital One Bowl come New Year's Day.
This didn't exactly pan out. But again we see a willingness to project UM with a fair amount of wins. And why not? You have a team that has enjoyed 40 years of success who just got what is supposed to be an upgrade to coaching and to the S&C program.
Let's assume the default projection from 2008 was 6-6. We all know how 2008 turned out - a good win at Minnesota, and two almost accidental wins against Miami OH and Wisconsin. Of our losses, the four closest losses were Utah, Purdue, Toledo, and Northwestern in that order. Three of these were home games. Assuming we win any three of these four games we end the season 6-6, go bowling and there is less gnashing of teeth. The losses against Purdue (4-8 in 2008) and Toledo (3-9), were losses against teams that RR should have beat.
At the beginning of this season, based on what we saw last year 6-6 seemed to be the default preseason estimate. Then we went 4-0, showed signs of competence, and even were a ranked team at some point. The two losses that followed were close games where we still looked like a servicable team. Delaware State doesn't count. PSU showed it is again a much better team than we are. So far nothing really unexpected.
Then Illinois and Purdue happen.
Both Illinois and Purdue currently have losing records and will probably end the season with losing records. In both games Michigan had the halftime lead. Again, two losses against teams we should have beat.
Assuming we beat Wisc in Madison and beat tUoOS at home (this confluence hasn't happened since 1999) then RR will have proven something. For the first time in his tenure, he will have given us results that we can point to as proof of our hope for the future. I will agree that even if we come away with one win RR will have demonstrated that he can overcome adversity. However, the more likely outcome will result in the second year of two where RR couldn't get his team to overachieve or even meet expectations.
The argument in favor of RR is that in time he will make us a consistent top 5 team. That may be so. The trouble I am having accepting that argument is that so far RR hasn't demonstrated he can live up to any expectations.