After much debate, hand-wringing, and a barrage of angry emails, we now know who, where, and when Michigan will be playing over (at least) the next two years. While popular sentiment among the Michigan (and OSU) fan-base indicated a strong (if not universal) desire to see the aforementioned rivals placed in the same division with their annual showdown preserved as the marquee/final game of the Big 10 regular season, it appears our athletic director wanted something different. In his comments before and after the decision to divide the Big 10 was announced, Dave Brandon repeatedly emphasized his desire to see Michigan and Ohio State eventually meet in a Big 10 Championship Game. I, for one, also find it much easier to believe that Brandon, a powerful former CEO with strong political aspirations who once burned a letter from Subway on national TV backing one of the biggest brands in all of sports, got exactly what he wanted, rather than to assume that the combined clout of Michigan and Ohio State was unable to influence this decision, especially when what they wanted (or at least should have wanted) appeared to be the most beneficial arrangement (or at least not a harmful one) for the conference as a whole.
At first glance, more Michigan-Ohio State, higher stakes Michigan-Ohio State, and ultra-hyped Michigan-Ohio State in super-primetime may seem like a good thing. Who doesn’t want more of a good thing? If one Game is good, two is better, right? Why not make the Game bigger and better and take it to a whole new level if we can? Sadly, however, this is the kind of juvenile, short-sighted enthusiasm that brought you Caddyshack II, four bajillion books/shows/movies of wildly varying quality about vampires, and the latest Van Halen album featuring their eleventieth lead singer.
In essence, a potential U-M/OSU rematch in the Big 10 Championship Game is a McRib. While potentially appealing at first glance, it is not a good thing.
It stands out, boldly, above all the bland items on the menu. The crisp, tangy pickles. The bigger than average bun. The slow-roasted pork goodness slathered in succulent BBQ sauce (What chance do the traditional ketchup and mustard we’ve enjoyed since the dawn of time have against such competition?), with just a few fresh-sliced onions for balance. Add in the limited availability, the once in a blue moon novelty, and every one of us has at some point succumbed to the temptation of the McRib.
Then reality sets in. The flimsy pickles have the consistency of used condoms. Most of the seats at the sterile, NFL domed stadium are occupied by corporate sponsors and disinterested local dignitaries, meaning that the fans will have access to roughly 1/10th of the tickets they would get in a traditional Michigan-OSU game. The barbecue sauce appears to just be ketchup with the subtle addition of more brown. See the Block M used to spellout “Michelin” or “Midas” or some other automotive giant. Watch as the guy who sold the most mufflers in Minneapolis gets to “dot the i.” Wait a minute, this bun was baked in 1974! Is that Joe Theismann down there in a bomber jacket, waiting to throw a football through a surreal-sized can of Mr. Pibb? You look at his face on the gargantuan jumbo-tron and wonder what has received more surgical treatment, the knee LT demolished or the frighteningly alert-looking face that is the same shade as the football in his hands. You examine the “pork patty” (there are no actual ribs involved in a McRib) and realize it is nothing more than a water-logged rectangle of pressed pork gristle, powerful preservatives, and what appear to just be big globs of fat seemingly injected in for the hell of it. And what about that prior meal (i.e. the annual regular season finale between Michigan and OSU)? It is rendered as insignificant as a single pickle that has escaped its bun, eaten as an unsatisfying appetizer. All that matters is the McRib (as your time on the toilet will soon illustrate).
Some say, who cares? “I never order the McRib, and besides, it is hardly ever even available.” I say, that is the genius of the McRib. It makes itself scarce, it disappears for a year or more at a time and when it returns we have all but forgotten what happened last time. We see the picture that so little resembles the product and we are again powerless to resist. Even if we regularly avoid the danger, the fact that it is even on the menu makes it certain that some day we will be stuck with the explosive diarrhea that is a meaningless regular season finale followed by an atrocious corporate-sponsored rematch.
In 2011, the Wolverines return a bevy of talented players on both sides of the ball. OSU, always formidable, will be led by a senior Terrelle Pryor. In short, we may very well end up eating our first McRib next December. When it makes us all sick, hopefully Dave Brandon (with his extensive experience in the food service industry) will see the error of his ways and keep this crap off the menu.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that this is a talent deficient team, especially on defense, people continue to gripe that the coaches must be doing something wrong because "we certainly have more talent than Illinois or Purdue" (which is of course completely untrue, as I document in the "current" board post linked above). Rodriguez has also takent heat (or it has just been assumed) that he is "not a defensive coach." So I decided to look player by player at what this team is working with on defense and just how well Rodriguez and his staff have developed players to give us some indication of what to expect when this staff is finally competing with a full deck. The results are encouraging and eye opening. I divided the players by Rivals star-rating to give some sense of what our realistic expectation levels for these players should be and I excluded any freshmen who haven't seen extensive game action to this point.
Brandon Graham: In two years playing under Rodriguez, Graham has tallied 18.5 sacks and 41 TFL to go with 4 forced fumbles, two blocked kicks, and a defensive TD. He will almost certainly be an early (if not first) round NFL Draft pick.
Donovan Warren: As a Junior playing in his 2nd season under Rodriguez, Warren leads the team with 4 INT's, as many as any Michigan DB since Todd Howard in 2000. He projects to be a mid-to-high round NFL Draft pick (in part depending on whether or not he decides to leave school early).
Summary: The two non-freshman blue-chip prospects on the defensive roster have played as well as can be expected of any prospect. Both are high level college football players who will play on Sundays.
Stevie Brown: Signed as a safety, where he played his first three years at Michigan to much fan groaning, Rodriguez and his staff moved Brown to a more comfortable outside linebacker position where he has developed into a competent starter and the team's leading tackler during his senior season.
Adam Patterson: Patterson, a RS Junior, has struggled much of his career at Michigan and has spent much of this season behind a walk-on on the d-line depth chart.
Jonas Mouton: Signed as a safety, RS Junior Jonas Mouton continues to struggle with the mental aspect of the game in his second season as a starting inside linebacker and was benched in favor of RS Sophomore JB Fitzgerald during the Purdue game.
Mike Martin: A true Sophomore signed by Rodriguez, Martin is in his second year as a starting DT, where he is one of the best young players at the position in the country, despite playing out of position and being forced to eat double-teams due to roster limitations. He will almost certainly be a four year starter on the defensive line.
Ryan Van Bergen: RVB has recorded 5 sacks and 4 PBU's in this his RS Sophomore season (both good for second on the team). He will almost certainly be a three year starter on the defensive line.
JB Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald has started in one game at linebacker in this his Sophomore season after getting the nod over the much more experienced Jonas Mouton. In that game he recorded 5 tackles including 2 TFL against Purdue.
Mike Williams: A RS Sophomore recruited as a nickle/fifth defensive back, Williams has struggled in his first year seeing extensive playing time as a starting safety. He was forced into action this year because he is the only safety on scholarship in the Sophomore, Junior, or Senior classes.
Craig Roh: Roh has started every game this season as a true Freshman on the defensive line, recording 2 sacks, 7.5 TFL, and an interception. He will almost certainly be a four year starter on the defensive line.
Summary: Out of eight players (one of whom is a true freshman), four are very solid contributors already (of whom three are underclassmen on the defensive line). Two are sophomores who have either seen limited action so far (Fitzgerald) or have struggled after being thrust prematurely into the starting lineup (Williams). If any one of Mouton, Fitzgerald, or Williams develop into solid contributors in their remaining years at UM, this staff will be batting well over 50% in turning 4-star recruits into high quality defensive players by the time they graduate.
Troy Woolfolk has been a competent starter at CB after a mid-season position switch from safety (where he had been playing out of position due to roster limitations at that position).
Sagesse, Banks, Watson and Herron provide solid if unspectacular depth along the defensive line. All are behind productive and more heavily recruited players on the depth chart so should not be expected to crack the starting lineup.
Obi Ezeh has struggled as a veteran starter at linebacker and was benched in favor of walk-on Kevin Leach during games against Purdue and Illinois.
Summary: Of the two guys in a position to be asked to start, one has played admirably and one has struggled despite extensive playing experience.
Jordan Kovacs, a RS Freshman coming off knee surgery, is third on the team with 66 tackles including 4.5 TFL. He has also forced two fumbles (tied for the team lead with Brandon Graham) and intercepted a pass (tied for 2nd on the team).
Kevin Leach, a RS Sophomore, has seen extensive action at linebacker in two games (essentially playing starter minutes) and recorded 36 tackles on the season to go along with a sack and an interception.
Simmons, Van Slyke and Heininger have occupied spots on the two-deep throughout much of the season.
Summary: When forced to throw non-scholarship players out there, this staff has gotten a lot out of their less talented players.
Click on the "future talent" board post I linked to earlier. Compare that defensive depth chart with the current one that has only 16 non-freshmen on scholarship. If current rates of development (which are still skewed against the current staff because of the youth of this team) hold true, Michigan should have a very good defense in just a couple of years.
For those who still want to criticize the coaching staff, I challenge you to find one example of a team with a more depleted depth chart that had success, or a coach with a better track record for developing the talent at his disposal.