I'm out for the fourth tomorrow. See you Monday.
I get an email that starts like this about every week:
So I'm searching for reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming football season.
I got the first one ten seconds after Manningham, Mallett, and Arrington all lit out for the NFL or Arkansas. Each one drips through my consciousness, leaving a residue of paranoia. We can't really lose to Utah, can we? Or Minnesota? Or Notre Dame?
SMQB says... maybe!
The main reason I'm so much more skittish about the Wolverines, maybe the sole reason, is because of their nearest parallel entering the season: 2007 Notre Dame. This is not a logical comparison based on probabilities. ND was in the same kind of woeful shape, personnel-wise, heading into last season, and everybody knew it; the Irish didn't get a vote in anyone's preseason top 25, either, off back-to-back BCS games. Losing a slew of quality career starters will do that for a team. But it won't necessarily result in the worst record in school history, or one of the worst offensive performances of all time; there are no demerits for failure to predict depths so completely outside of anyone's experience. Applying the same pessimism to Michigan based on one nearby, at-the-ready example is beyond hyperbole, if for no other reason than the Wolverines won't be facing ten straight bowl teams to open the season; even if they did, two of them would play in the MAC and another from the Mountain West. It's not the kind of schedule that will let any halfway respectable outfit bottom out that quickly.
The incredibly incompetent Notre Dame team of last year also pops up in the season prediction of Nittany White Out, though as a Penn State blog that actually posts things like "Rich Rod is a traitor and a snake" their opinion must be taken with a grain of salt large enough to encompass a decade-long losing streak.
This is what every emailer that starts off with some plea to reassure him wants to know. Nobody expects to beat Ohio State or even make a New Year's Day bowl, but Jesus, did you see Notre Dame last year? Humans are exceptionally good at modeling others' emotions, especially when said others are rivals of yours, and it takes little cognition to arrive at the conclusion that Notre Dame 2007 was Not A Good Time.
Under a pale November sky in Palo Alto, Jimmy Clausen accepted a snap from center, trotted back a step or two, and dropped his knee to the ground, sending the final dozen or so seconds of the game clock spinning off into the history books. A strange, sullen silence draped itself over the Irish fans in a crowded bar on the north side of Chicago as it slowly dawned on everybody that the season was finally over. Thank you, sweet merciful Heaven, I thought to myself, taking a long swig from my tenth or fifteenth beer of the night, this godforsaken season is finally over.
Michigan fans appear to be kept up at night by the spectre of that emotion at year's end. And it's not just the Notre Dame parallel that many of the college football digerati draw that bothers. No one outside of East Lansing and Ann Arbor paid it any mind, but the Michigan basketball team just hired an offensive genius from Morgantown, bestowed upon him a rickety roster that was a poor fit for the genius's genius system, and had a Notre Dame of a season.
After a midweek game against Minnesota that saw 100 weirdly enthusaistic Gopher fans outcheer the entirety of a dismal Crisler arena, I wrote a post titled "It's Only Dark In Your Hearts" that concluded like so:
I have four more tickets sitting at a drawer at home; I don't know how many more of them I'll use. [I turned out the answer was 'all of them', by the way. I'm a sucker. -ed]
The idea of feeling like that after a football game against Minnesota haunts many.
So why won't this happen? First... it might. Michigan is unlikely to sink to the horrific depths Notre Dame did solely because of math -- hooray Gaussian distributions -- but failing to reach a bowl would be a real blow to the internet argument capabilities of Michigan fans. And that's totally within the realm of possibility, especially since the Big Ten mandates all 7-5 teams have to be picked before 6-6 teams. So this is not a "ha, that won't happen, you are stupid for attempting to predict the future because my ability to predict the future is much better than yours."
HOWEVA, I don't think it will. And I think so for these reasons:
1. Rich Rodriguez is not Charlie Weis. Charlie Weis is an immensely overweight sociopath who had never coached a team stricken by youth or, really, accomplished anything whatsoever without the aid of the opponent's defensive signals. Rich Rodriguez forged West Virginia into a national power despite operating with recruits far less highly touted than the ones Michigan has at his disposal.
This is by far the number one reason available. Outside of ludicrous pipe dreams like Urban Meyer or Mack Brown or Pete Carroll, Rich Rodriguez was perhaps the bar-none top candidate for any college looking for a coach. The only reason he was not a ludicrous pipe dream was the poisonous relationship Rodriguez had with West Virginia's dysfunctional leadership. He is proven. Over seven years at West Virginia he took a program that had fallen considerably during the last few years of Don Nehlen's tenure and turned them into West Fuckin' Virginia, and he did it with his system and his coaches and his players as the head coach. Charlie Weis was a below average offensive coordinator who left his team no worse off after he left.
Raise your hand if you think the Bill Stewart era is going to go well at WVU. Yeah.
How did Rodriguez do this? I don't know. I do know that some people can relate to the sort of people who end up as really serious college football players, can motivate them and organize them and inspire them, and that this is a real skill possessed by a very small number of very rich people.
Weis, meanwhile, implemented a half-ass version of the spread 'n' shred he would abandon a quarter into the season, neglected fundamental things like teaching people how to block, and alienated his players to the point where several of them bolted the team midseason despite plenty of opportunities for playing time. It was without question the most abysmal coaching performance at a BCS school since John Mackovic experienced armed insurrection at Arizona. It was three standard deviations below the mean.
2. Lloyd Carr was not Tyrone Willingham. Notre Dame fans' favorite excuse for the failings of Weis E. Coyote -- Tyrone Willingham likes golf -- was legit. The 2004 Notre Dame recruiting class was almost impossibly atrocious:
|SIGNED LETTER OF INTENT||Pos||Stars||Ht||Wt||40||RR|
Take away the names and this could be Michigan State or Oklahoma State or any crappy team that manages a couple of good athletes and backs it up with garbage. It gets worse when you consider that two of the very few contributors were the first rats to flee the Good Ship Weis: Darius Walker entered the NFL draft early (in the same way I could enter the draft: he was undrafted) and Ronald Talley decided he'd rather start at Delaware than start at Notre Dame.
But wait! It's still worse: in reality the class was worse than that as a lot of the guys in it got overrated because they committed to Notre Dame. There is one area in which recruiting sites do fudge rankings, IMO, and that's with the tail end of the class at big deal schools. Almost anyone who commits to Michigan as an unranked or two-star player will end up with three stars if the services have time to rerank them. Normally this is a small effect, but when ND starts bringing in a full class of questionable recruits the big school bump becomes a major factor.
These guys were the seniors and fourth-year juniors on last year's team, and the class after them -- the Willingham-Weis transition year -- was hardly better. Michigan's recruiting has never been close to that dire. The 2005 class was #6 nationally; 2006 was #13. Even with the outflux of talent to the NFL and Ohio State's bench, Michigan has far more talent than Notre Dame did last year. The Willingham classes started out with hardly any talent and then experienced major attrition; at least Michigan is starting from a lofty perch.
The magical 2007 Notre Dame season was a lethal combination of awful coaching and awful talent. Michigan has excellent coaching and okay to good talent. I'm not saying you should make plans for New Year's Day, but this ain't gonna happen en route to 3 and 9:
Clearly, there will be growing pains. A season like Tressel's initial foray at Ohio State -- a bleh 7-5 that would have been 6-6 without JohnNavarre's exceptional generosity -- is well within the realm of possibility. And by that I mean "is the most likely outcome."
This should be fine with you. Michigan needs a year to pupate, and then?