Using this article from the Wall Street Journal (hat tip to Adam Rittenberg's Big Ten blog on ESPN for pointing it out), and knowing that Michigan is locked in to at least one "name" non-conference opponent for the foreseeable future, what kind of opponent, were you given your druthers, would you like to see for next season's 12th game? Similarly, do we know if the season can begin on August 29th or must Michigan, if wanting to play the 12th game, must use its Big Ten conference schedule bye week in October?
For those who don't want to read the WSJ article, it's a well-argued complaint about the lack of data points via which to compare teams in different conferences. I agree with it totally.
On to the questions: Michigan must fill its bye week this year. As far as who that should be, that's obvious: the worst team they can find. Northern Colorado. Coastal Carolina. Some reclassifying provisional I-AA team from Spain. Some team that would take one look at Nick Sheridan and say to themselves "damn, I wish we had that kid." Michigan's already done well to get Eastern in for a (God, let's hope) drubbing.
I say this because of the media environment around Rodriguez and the state of the roster. Everyone adores Beilein now because he's beating UCLA and Duke; the football team is not likely to turn around so nimbly.
If basketball programs, with their 13 scholarships and rapid turnover, are Ferraris, football programs are dump trucks. Sometimes you get remarkable season-to-season turnarounds but in cases like that it's often random stuff—turnovers—obscuring a more gradual improvement. See Minnesota, 1-11 and possessors of one of the nation's worst turnover ratios in 2007, bouncing up to 7-5 on the strength of a +12 TO margin. Minnesota is still more than 50 yards per game worse than their opponents and is going to get its head caved in by Kansas; they're not much better than they were a year ago, but no one knows it.
So the football team is likely to be pretty bleah next year, too, especially with uncertainty at quarterback, and something like Toledo redux is a possibility. See: Minnesota, again. If that happens and Michigan misses a bowl again Rodriguez might actually find himself in serious hot water, which I think would be the worst thing that could happen to the program.
So: do not schedule a team that could possibly beat Michigan. This is shameless and I feel vaguely guilty about it, but that's life. If the media isn't going to go any deeper than surface level, surface level is what we shall give them.
More generally, I'm resigned to at least two cupcakes a year, one in the opener and one in the Big Ten bye week. Notre Dame is the third spot and that's fine. What rankles is that fourth game, which looks to be yet another cupcake unless Michigan accidentally schedules a top ten Utah team. Michigan should be scheduling competitive programs from various BCS conferences and playing the occasional road game in there. Utah is fine. BYU or Boise or TCU would be fine. Clemson or South Carolina or Oregon State or Rutgers or Cincinnati or Stanford or Kansas State or would be fine. Games against actual opponents that, in most years, Michigan will be solid favorites in.
There is zero chance of this actually happening, of course.
I noticed that after last year we had a major void in depth on the D-Line after not landing any DE's last year. This year, we have commitments from LaLota, Roh, Schofield, Graves, Jones, and we look very good for Pernell McPhee, very good for Big Will, and good?(not sure) for Taylor Lewan. Quite an impressive list of Lineman commits, including that we look alright for Sam Montgomery and Quinton Washington.
With all these excellent lineman, do you think any will move to O-Line(big will? Lalota? as both project to O-line as well..i think..)? Also, i think it is good to note that football is won in the trenches, and this is building a great foundation for especially the Offense but also the Defense(as long as we can pick up some viable Linebackers..hopefully Jelani, but i dont know).
In a word: no. While the offensive line was so thin last year it necessitated John Ferrara's move from defensive tackle, Michigan loses no one this year and now has a fleet of six redshirt freshmen to add depth and challenge for starting jobs. Offensive line suddenly has a two-deep.
The defensive line, however, is extremely thin. The departure of Kates and Slocum leaves only Mike Martin and Renaldo Sagesse at DT. The DE whiff last year leaves Ryan Van Bergen as the only underclass DE. Everyone Michigan is bringing in on the defensive line is going to have to stay there.
I know lots of sites seem to track what school is in the running for what player, but going back to last year, when RichRod used the snake oil for a lot of last minute commits : Did yourself, or any other recruiting sites, track that UM was in the running for any of these players (ie Shaw, or Roundtree) and don’t you think that RichRod may use the snake oil again and pull in some last minute recruits that no one seems to be tracking?
Last year was a special situation, as Michigan suddenly found itself sporting a different coach, different offense, and different priorities. This naturally changed the opinions of various recruits and, with some prodding, resulted in a number of snake-oil heists.
Example: Michael Shaw was offered by Michigan as an "athlete", not a running back, and decided on a place that recruited him as a running back. When Rodriguez came that changed his status in Michigan's eyes, and, eventually, vice versa. If Rodriguez had been around for the whole year Shaw probably would have committed to Michigan in the first place.
So we're probably not going to have the flood of signing-day decommits; players that want to go to Michigan are more likely to just commit to Michigan. On the other hand, "commitment" gets to be a shakier word every year, and Michigan is recruiting a number of guys who are technically committed to other schools. The difference is that we have a good idea who these guys are (McPhee, Stokes, etc) already. I think you'll see a surprise or maybe two; four is highly unlikely.
This next is just something to read:
As a WVU fan, I am struck by your description of the ten-year drizzle cloud lifting from the Michigan hoops program. The state of Wolverine basketball in the beginning of the second year of the Beilein administration is eerily analogous to that of the WVU program early in Beilein's Morgantown tenure. To wit:
- The last four years of Beilein's WVU predecessor, Gale Catlett, were an abject horror. You have little reason to know anything about this, so Google "Jonathan Hargett", "Drew Catlett", "Coliseum asbestos", or "Gale Catlett routinely wore a leather blazer during games". Michigan had post-sanctions stress disorder and was choked by Tommy Amaker's turtlenecks.
- Beilein's first season at each stop was interminable, featuring attrition galore. In WVU's case, the departed players would have improved that season's record, but had they remained, the youngsters who spent the season potty training (Jo Herber, JD Collins, Pat Beilein, Tyrone Sally) would not have received the season necessary for to make them the nucleus--after adding Gansey and Pittsnoggle--of the 2005 and 2006 NCAA runs. It sounds like M will come to rely more on guys who weren't meaningfully around last year, but the early returns for '08-09 sure seem to indicate that last year's nuclear aftermath of a season was not in vain. Plus, there may be a pithy comparison to make between Lucas-Perry and Gansey.
- In the second years, each team stole wins over highly touted foes: WVU beat Florida (thought to be really good at the time but turned out to be just good) and a meh Maryland, whereas Michigan beat UCLA (thought to be really good but would project to turn out better than just good) and lies in wait for the next conquest.
- Second-year NIT berths--should Michigan fall short of 65 next March--following barrel-bottom first seasons.
Whether the result of the Taylor-Traylor-Amaker calamity or of hoops not being football, it seems that you don't like Michigan basketball so much as tolerate it because you crave a major-sport, maize-and-blue squad to root for in the winter. I identify with the hoops toleration and both motives. Because of Beilein and the similarities in the rat nests he inherited at WVU and UM*, I feel a kinship with Michigan fans. (Gasps understood, and no, I don't take your vomiting personally.) And trust me, you will love rooting for Beilein's teams.
The successes will sneak up on you. When Beilein's teams are hot, they are exhilarating. Even his best teams--though I suppose his hypothetical, great M teams may change this--will inspire frequent rending of garments. But I am roughly your age and, before Rich Rodriguez and JK Rowling gave birth to Pat White, watching Beilein's 2005 and 2006 teams on their tournament runs was the greatest sports-fan experience of my life. Sure, the athletic traditions of Michigan and West Virginia are comparable only to facilitate the demonstration that Michigan's is far richer, but still. You will love Michigan hoops under Beilein, and the leaps forward will happen sooner than appears possible and drown out by far the maddening aspects of his regime like rebounding and fickle substituting. The conductor is only rehearsing now, but the symphony will open without notice, and you will be mesmerized.
* What is the preferred, abbreviated nomenclature, dude? Is "U-M" just an unfortunate freep.com sports-page construction?
As to the question: AFAIK the standard abbreviated nomenclature is UM, with the dash some editor's affectation. I actually prefer just "M," which plays off Michigan's iconic block M logo and prevents confusion with Minnesota and Miami.
As to the point about my personal relationship with basketball: no, I don't much like Michigan basketball, but that's more a function of the uniquely soul-crushing miasma that lingers over the program a full decade after any funny business went down than anything inherent in college basketball*. And the turnovers. Jesus holy God, the turnovers. I don't think anyone really liked Michigan basketball in the Ellerbe/Amaker eras because it was unlikeable. They played hideous basketball and they lost. Ellerbe stacked his teams with jerks (Ingerson, Gaines, Searight, Moore, Taylor, Traylor, Bullock). Amaker didn't have that problem, but you try watching this:
Even when they were pretty okay, Michigan was a brutally coached team. That gets to you. Couple that with a funereal atmosphere at Crisler and, well… it's not an attractive product. However, I did go to about half the games last year and plan on getting to that many this year. And I'm not defensive about this at all.
*(Well, okay, I will admit that the shot clock is too long and the three point line is (still) too close.)
In the last mailbag there was some discussion of Georgia Tech and why they didn't suck nearly as hard as Michigan did. Nate Fowler, GT fan and erstwhile blogger, provides the GT perspective:
Saw your mailbag comments on the PJ/RR comparison ... and the Nesbitt v. Sheridan/Threet/DEATH rotation was certainly a huge difference in the two teams. Couple of other comments I had:
#1 - GT came into the season with far better personnel than UM did, not just "for the system" but overall.
The defense has 3 and possibly 4 future 1st/2nd round draft picks (Morgan Burnett - S, Michael Johnson - DE, Derrick Morgan - DE, Vance Walker - DT) and they won games for GT during the first half of the season as the offense found it's legs. I never got the impression that Michigan's defense was capable of carrying the team to wins the way GT's could/did.
The offense as well had plenty of young talent that had all had some experience to boot. Jonathan Dwyer is Beanie Wells on steroids [isn't Beanie Wells "Beanie Wells on steroids"? –ed] and had rushed for 9 TD's as a true freshman backup, he was ready to breakout in a big way. If you are a run based offense, having one of the 5 best RB's in the country on the roster is a huge trump card for you.
Demaryius Thomas was an athletic 6'3" 230lb WR who already had a season as the #1 WR under his belt. Even Nesbitt had taken snaps as a true freshman and was ready to step in full time. Michigan had no RB's even close to Dwyer's class, and had a lot of inexperience across the board on offense, especially at the skill positions. Chan Gailey's 2007 recruiting class was ranked #15 overall. It was clear even by the end of last year that that class was more like a top 5 overall class with the way everyone panned out, and that group of sophs carried this GT team in 2008. I know what the rivals/scout rankings for the past 5 years say about the talent levels, but my eyes tell another story - I wouldn't trade GT's roster in 2008 for UM's under any circumstances - GT was more talented across the board.
I think Michigan did find a pretty good running back but it took them half a season to do so because of unfamiliarity and a host of nagging injuries that held Brandon Minor out (and, of course, Minor got knocked out a couple weeks after establishing a hold on the starting job, allowing Carlos Brown to have a standout game against Northwestern).
#2 - Johnson recruited well as soon as he took the job. Even with Nesbitt on the roster, he went out and got another QB who could play - and play right away - in Jaybo Shaw. Good thing he did, because Nesbitt missed all of 2 games (Mississippi State and Duke) and parts of several others. Shaw played well in his absense and won a couple of games for GT. When he got hurt too and we had to play the 3rd stringer - we saw a frightening glimpse Sheridan/Threet hell with Calvin Booker and nearly lost to Gardner-Webb.
I think that Rodriguez really dropped the ball by not finding a QB anywhere, somewhere he could lean on if he had to. Shaw was only committed to MTSU when Johnson got him, but he was an option QB and a smart kid who could step in and beat Duke if he had to. That was key to the season. Johnson also got a couple of other kids (Cooper Taylor and Marcus Wright, in particular) who stepped in as true freshman and were big time contributors. His recruiting from the very moment he stepped onto campus filled some very important holes.
Rodriguez's failure to acquire a passable freshman quarterback is the biggest failing in his Michigan career to date, but he did try. Feagin didn't work out and BJ Daniels went to South Florida after Michigan hurriedly backed away; GBW hinted at shenanigans, which is pretty common, but when Rivals suggested the same thing in no uncertain terms that's eyebrow-raising. Then, of course, Pryor: Rodriguez's focus on a guy who, in retrospect, was just playing with him was fatal to this season. That was a major error.
#3 - Johnson is just a heck of a coach. The dude has been a monster winner everywhere he's been, and I doubt there's anyone else who could have pulled off a season like this under the circumstances. Comparing him to most every other college coach isn't a "fair" comparison. I can't say enough good things about the way he totally changed the entire GT football program and culture in under 12 months. The man is a magician.
#4 - As a side note - don't bash the ACC schedule - GT played 7 bowl teams, 5 of which were on the road (@BC, @VT, @UNC, @UGa, @Clemson, FSU, Miami) and won 5 of those games. The ACC was a better and much deeper league than the Big 10 this year.
"Bowl teams" is such a goofy metric these days, but Nate's last point does stand: Sagarin has GT's schedule #32 and Michigan's #24. There's not a huge gap there.