2009 - Reasons for Optimism?

Submitted by AC1997 on November 24th, 2008 at 2:57 PM

As we sift through the ashes of the 2008 Michigan Football Season we’re all wondering what this new era will bring. How do you set expectations for future seasons? What do you do on New Year’s Day when there is no Michigan football to watch? Even though you know it is prudent to give Rodriguez time to mold the team, how much patience will you be able to show when Michigan loses to an inferior opponent in 2009?

So I set about trying to figure out how optimistic we can be for next year. I’m trying hard to find reasons to get excited for next season as opposed to bracing ourselves for another bowl-less finish. (Note to reader – your health and sanity would probably be better off if you set your expectations low for 2009 and even 2010.) Personally, I was a skeptic when they hired Rodriguez and was thinking 6-6 as the over-under for win-loss record but I got pressured into optimism by pieces like this before the 2008 season. So take this with a grain of salt:

Reasons for Optimism:

1. Time – Year number one in a coaching change is always going to be hard, no matter what school, coach, or system you’re running. This year was going to be particularly tough with the returning talent level and the radical change in system. Another year in the program for the players will only help.

2. Depth Chart – When you’re basically starting six freshman on offense, you’re bound to fail. This isn’t basketball where you can get away with that. In football experience counts for a LOT, especially on offense. They return EVERYONE (sorry Pat Massey) from offense. If you look at every position group you’ll see that the only one that clearly suffers a loss is at DL. In twelve positions five of them should get definitely better and only two will likely be worse. That’s reason for optimism.

Threet is more experienced, Sheridan never sees the field again, we have more than one division 1 quality QB in the depth chart. Forcier and Beaver are freshman, but they’re division-1 talent, unlike Feagin and Sheridan.
Assuming no one leaves, the top six running backs return. The top four backs all lost significant time due to injury. That’s not going to happen two seasons in a row. Even losing McGuffie wouldn’t be the end of the world with three freshmen coming in.
The three starters return, two of whom will no longer be freshman. Robinson and Hemmingway should have been significant contributors but sat out the season hurt.
Koger will be improved as a sophomore and full-time starter, but the depth chart is thin.
Moundros was arguable the best offensive player this season and will be around again.
The top thirteen, that’s right – THIRTEEN offensive lineman return. While some of them may be mediocre, a year of experience never hurt anyone. And now all of those red-shirt freshmen are available to challenge for playing time.
Unfortunately Lopata wasn’t as good in 2008 as he was in 2007, but he was still competent. Turning the duties over to a true freshman or Bryan Wright is likely a downgrade in this position….but not definitely so. Lopata was only 10-15 and that’s not a difficult percentage to match.
Anytime you lose three and maybe even four starters you’re in for a rough transition. Vanbergen and Martin showed excellent potential, but they’re still young and raw. The freshmen will be asked to contribute and that’s not always a good thing at this position. If Graham does stay the down grade won’t be significant, however.
Mouton got better as the season went on and will be a starter from day one. Ezeh is still mediocre, but he won’t be any worse and might get a little better. The third spot is a wild card, but Thompson won’t be hard to replace.
This was the most disappointing position on the field in 2008 so it is hard to think they could get worse. Warren should be better and Cissoko showed promise – at least as much as Trent. The nickel spot could be a wild card.
I suppose this could get worse with Stewart and Harrison departing, but I can’t believe this unit could possibly play worse than they did in 2008. Our favorite punching bag will still be around and probably not any better, but there’s hope that he learns from 2008. The other spot is a total wildcard, but it wouldn’t take much to match Stewart’s level of performance.
Is there a way to extend Zoltan’s eligibility?

3. Turnovers – It simply cannot be possible that Michigan can match the turnover problems of 2008. If so, that will be the best ever documented proof that there is no all-powerful God. I honestly think that if Michigan would have performed at league average in the return game that they would have won two more games. The previous six seasons Michigan lost an average of 10 fumbles per year. This year they had 18. Imagine picking any 8 fumbles from 2008 and pretending they didn’t happen. The parade of fumbles returning kicks cannot, and will not be repeated in 2009.

4. Schedule – It is hard to say what the level of competition will be in conference, but in 2009 Michigan won’t be playing a top ten Utah team and will be playing Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State at home. MSU loses their workhorse running back and doesn’t have much else going for them. We replace Northwestern and Minnesota with Indiana and Iowa – probably an even swap.

5. Luck – This is a general term meant to summarize Michigan’s performance in close games. In 2008 Michigan went 1-4 in games that came down to a couple of plays. They could have easily won the Utah, Toledo, Northwestern, and Purdue games. Assuming 2-3 more wins from these types of games is not unrealistic. On top of that, the Notre Dame and Michigan State games were decided by 5-8 plays and it isn’t a stretch to think that Michigan could have won one of them. That leaves only the OSU, PSU, and Illinois games as blowouts. In all of those three games Michigan was within a touchdown at half time. Going 9-3 is highly unlikely, but looking at the 2008 you can see how 7-5 is possible.

Those are some fairly convincing arguments for why 2009 could be a fairly dramatic turnaround. The ceiling is probably 8-4, but the floor isn’t 3-9 it is probably 6-6. But before you start looking for hotels on New Years Day, there are a couple of big reasons for pause:

• Beaver and Forcier are significantly better than Feagin and Sheridan, but they’re still going to be true freshmen and that’s never a recipe for success in big time college football.
• It is sadly quite likely that there will be unexpected defections by players who were going go be counted on to contribute in 2009.
• The defense was supposed to be solid in 2008 and was frankly quite bad. A year of experience by the coaches and some modest improvement at LB and S should help, but it is hard to make an argument that the defense will improve.
• Expecting improvement by the OL and WR is very realistic, but they were so inconsistent and poor in 2008 that it is hard to expect them to become above average by 2009.

What other reasons for optimism can you think of? Am I looking too hard at this, are there more reasons to be worried?



November 24th, 2008 at 4:33 PM ^

could prove the opposite--that there IS a God and he freaking hates us.

Fine post, thanks. I'll bookmark and read it over and over during the dark winter days to come.

J. Lichty

November 24th, 2008 at 4:44 PM ^

I think your floor is a little high. 4 wins is probably the floor - six wins is likely - seven possible. Also playing at home may not provide any advantage against teams like OSU and PSU, despite the turnover they will face.

Of course the huge factor that portends improvement in record is betting that the turnovers evening out. Along with improvement at each position, and Graham staying there are some reasons for optimism.

I'd say we are still two years away from being able to pencil in a bowl game (any bowl game), but as close as we were in so many games this year, I expect we'll win some of those close ones next year.

I think the conference will be down again which should help.


November 24th, 2008 at 5:59 PM ^

Lopata was only 10-15 and that’s not a difficult percentage to match.

It gets worse. LoPata went 5-5 in the Metrodome, and 5-10 when he had to kick outdoors. A really disappointing season for him.

One nitpick: we could not have "easily won" the Utah game. We were massively outplayed in that game. We got a million breaks in that game to keep us in it. I don't look at that game as a missed opportunity.


November 24th, 2008 at 5:57 PM ^

also, more experience and more time means opening up the playbook a little more. i'm guessing we were using maybe 40% of the plays. if forcier or beaver do end up taking over eventually, then we have even more offensive plays to pick from


November 24th, 2008 at 8:11 PM ^

Well... LB will increase, OBI will be even better, top LB in the country prob. With others improving..

CB will improve drastically. Trent was horrible. Cissoko and Warren shud do solid.

DL is iffy, maybe our DL was overated this season? Mike martin, Campbell if he committs, brandon graham.. Thats one sick DL. Might i add if campbell committs hes enrolling early.

S could improve, maybe our previous were overated? We got burnt on alot of deep balls all season, Safties shud help out.


November 24th, 2008 at 8:14 PM ^

Forcier and Beaver run the spread option. There goin to be working witht he 1's the first time there on campus. There both enrolling early to michigan to adapt to the college life, get workouts, and add muscle mass. Get way more practice than those who wud come in in June.


November 24th, 2008 at 9:08 PM ^

6-6 next year with a bowl win makes us 7-6. I will be very happy with that. 2010 will be an optimistic 9-4. We wont get to the bcs until 2011 or 1212 but we will have a slow steady climb back to the top. by 2013 I will be back to being pissed off when we dont win by 3+ TD's.


November 25th, 2008 at 1:01 AM ^

The oline is kind of a wildcard. I think they could possibly be above average. They were playing with the deck stacked against them this year - almost no experience, new offensive system and almost no passing game so the defense just concentrated on stuffing the run. They seemed to make progress as the year went along.

Next year, they will be more familiar with the system and depending on if any redshirt freshmen move into the starting lineup, most will have a decent amount of game experience.

If UM somehow manages to get improved QB play, that will go a long way to improving the oline play. A QB who can keep the backside of the defense honest in the running game will help the oline, as would a QB who can be fairly accurate on the downfield throws.

I'm not expecting next years oline to remind me of the UM olines in the 70'/80's and 90's, but I'd like to think that they are going to be improved - it's just a matter of how much improvement we see.


November 25th, 2008 at 9:57 AM ^

I think I've worked out the season like this: 2 losses due to the transition and general confusedness of the players (ND and Utah), 4 losses due lack of talent (Ill, MSU, PSU, OSU), and 3 losses that just went the wrong way (this could have happened w/ Wisconsin, too BTW). Overall, the way things came together, we were somewhere between a 2-10 and 6-6 team depending on those coin flips.

We could have just as easily won Purdue, Northwestern, and Toledo. But, we didn't. This team had no idea how to win.

Maybe next year we get rid of the 2 confused losses, perhaps lose only 3 due to lack of talent, and go 50-50 on four tossups. Not having a Utah team that goes 12-0 on our schedule as one of our "patsies" might help as well. That would mean 7-5 and much better feelings about progress and RichRod's future. Given those tossups, you'd have a range of 9-3 to 5-7; the 5-7 would be tough to stomach, but feels like a more realistic floor than 6-6.


November 25th, 2008 at 10:54 AM ^

Just a quick hit. Should we go 6-6 next year. Can you really claim that as a solid improvement when we play EMU and WMU? That leaves only 4 wins vs "BCS division teams". I don't think I would classify an additional win vs EMU or WMU as a marked improvement over this season (should we go 5-7 or something). I just don't like counting wins over crappy teams and saying that we are a dramatically improved team. If you give me a win or two against psu, msu, nd, osu (for the most part top 25 teams) then I can see the argument for improvement. Just don't beat EMU and say that since we have more wins that we are "improved." This is Michigan, you know, that school with higher standards...


November 25th, 2008 at 3:23 PM ^

GoBlue00 are u serious with the Obi comment? How could u possibly even begin to suggest the possibility of him being a top linebacker? do u watch the games or just look at the tackle numbers? He was absolutely horrible this yr, after showing good potential in 2007. Huge disappointment. i think hes lucky we dont have any other tru mlb's on the depth chart, otherwise hed have to fight for his spot.

as for the db's, i think trent is garbage and im glad to see him go. the biggest hurt will come from the departure of harrison, who was prob our only decent saftey this yr. im just hoping that mike williams can step in and perform. and brandon smith will be seeing the field for the first time (yes!!! love inexperience).