(Note: I was just about to post this prior to Brian's post about the "fickle" fans. I actually think this relates very closely to that discussion and doesn't even bring the obvious financial impact into the debate.)
It probably won’t surprise any readers of this site when I say that I’ve had many a debate with fellow fans recently about the way this season has unfolded. One such recent debate with my brother centered around why everyone seems so frustrated and is writing off the OSU game entirely. His argument was that we never used to feel that way under Lloyd Carr – even though Carr had more seasons with 3 or more losses than he did with fewer than 3. The initial theories we debated for why we are so more negative this season were:
- In the information age it is easier to be an arm-chair coach with the advanced metrics, easy to obtain video, sites like MGoBlog, etc.
- We’re headed into year 7 of frustration and are just less patient than we were under Carr.
- Brian Cook is like the pied piper of negativity for his readership and we should all stare at videos of cats and feel better about ourselves instead of letting Brian corrupt our minds.
- Perhaps Carr wasn’t very good and “This Is Michigan” really means “We’re likely to have 3-4 losses and shouldn’t be surprised like we are right now."
That last point got me to thinking – why can’t I remember heading into an OSU game prior to Rich Rodriguez being hired where I felt there was zero chance of winning or that the season was a failure like I have so many times since then? John Cooper obviously helped that perception, but that wasn’t all of it. Why are we so bitter now but weren’t even in Carr years with 3 losses?
Prior to doing the research my hypothesis was that we stayed optimistic as fans because we ALWAYS played close games when Carr was coaching. No matter who we were playing, we had a chance. Our frustration with Carr at times was that he was so conservative that we played down to lesser opponents and that resulted in narrow victories or the occasional surprising upset. But no matter who we were playing, we felt we had a chance.
So I created a chart of Carr’s final decade of coaching. I only went back to 1997 since MGoBlue’s records only go back that far and this is the portion of his career where his reputation was built and what earned him a lifetime contract:
|1998||8-2||7-0||8-3||@ND (36-20), Syr (38-28), @OSU (31-16)||2|
|1999||8-2||5-2||9-2||@MSU (34-31), ILL (35-29)||0|
|2000||7-3||5-2||9-2||@UCLA (23-20), @Purdue (32-31), @NU (54-51)||0|
|2001||8-2||6-1||8-3||@Wash (23-18), @MSU (26-24), OSU (26-20)||0|
|2002||9-2||6-1||9-3||@ND (25-23), Iowa (34-9), @OSU (14-9)||1|
|2003||9-2||6-1||10-2||@ORE (31-27), @Iowa (30-27)||0|
|2004||9-1||7-0||9-2||@ND (28-20), @OSU (37-21)||1|
|2005||7-3||5-2||7-4||ND (17-10), @WI (23-20), MN (23-20), OSU (25-21)||0|
|2007||8-3||6-1||8-4||APSt (34-32), ORE (39-7), @WI (37-21), OSU (14-3)||3|
First, a comment on the chart: I admittedly ignored bowl games in this analysis. I did this because I’m measuring whether fans were still interested, happy, and optimistic leading up to the end of the regular season. Bowl games are a black mark on Carr’s resume, but that’s a separate discussion.
I think I’ve proven the hypothesis to be true. In the span of a decade Carr had only SEVEN games where we lost by more than 10 points. If you throw out his swan-song season of 2007 that number drops to an amazing FOUR. Think about that - in a full ten years we were blown out just four times! This includes trips to Oregon, UCLA, Washington, OSU, MSU, and Notre Dame just to name a few. In Brady Hoke’s three seasons we’ve had as many blowout losses as we had over a ten-year span during Carr’s career.
With Carr we may have had a couple of frustrating losses in a season, but we never entered a game knowing we had no realistic chance to win. THAT is what we’re longing for as fans and why this season feels so different when we look at the OSU game.
But there’s more!
While looking over that chart something else dawned on me that added to the conclusion. Look at the conference record heading into the OSU game. Not once did we enter the OSU game with more than two conference losses. Never!
If you go back to the previous statement that from 1997-2006 we had just four blowout losses you’ll see that two of those were following the national championship season. Yet immediately following those two losses we went on an 8-game winning streak and entered the game against OSU with a 7-0 conference record and chance for a title. So the one season in that period where we looked vulnerable still resulted in the OSU game having immense meaning and hope.
Not only did we compete in every game we played in, we almost always were still in contention for that conference title that Hoke talks about.
When Brady Hoke or any member of the fan base talk about getting back to what defined Michigan, this is what they mean. We were never the national juggernaut that Alabama has become – so dreams of undefeated regular seasons are probably misguided. But what we were for nearly Carr’s entire career (and that of Moeller and Bo before him) was a team that would compete in ANY GAME. We were a team that would get to the end of the season with something on the line more often than not and knew we could compete with OSU every year.
The reason we’re so frustrated and bitter this season is not just because we can’t win the conference title or are still bitter about RichRod – it is because we know we have no realistic chance of competing with OSU. Making matters even worse, we’ve already proven we have no realistic chance of beating our other main rival and get to watch MSU play for a title against OSU.
While I agree with Brian 100% on the financial aspect of the red jerseys we'll see in the stands Saturday, I also believe that if our team was capable of upsetting our undefeated rival the stands would be full of blue jerseys. Just as they were for all of those Carr seasons, despite knowing we weren't headed to the national championship game.