Friday, August 29, 2008

Wolverines Blogging: I Am Not Ready For Some Football

The college football season kicks off - for this Michigan man, at least - tomorrow when the Maize and Blue take on the....

Uh, actually, I don't know Utah's colors. I guess I'll find out tomorrow but they're pretty much a mid-conference cupcake so I'm not going to bother right now. Although, look how well the attitude of superiority worked out last year with, sigh, Appalachian State. So, far be it from me to say that the team should steamroll tomorrow.

Anyhow, I have low expectations for this year. Which is to say, I don't expect that the Wolverines will struggle to reach a winning record.

For all the problems - and there are problems - this is still Michigan. The program still draws the blue chip recruits. And they still play in the Big Ten and against a non-conference schedule loaded with tune-up games. They'll be fine. College football is a game where the talent gap is shrinking, especially when it comes to the skilled players, but not enough that a nationally known program like Michigan can't take advantage. Especially when they only have a few tough games a year and play the rest against inferior teams. This isn't the NFL. It's not any given Saturday. It's more like once every decade.

Sigh. Appalachian State flashback again.

That loss is just going to haunt the program for the next twenty years and be remembered for the next hundred...

But, no, when I say I have low expectations I mean that I think the Wolverines are going to run up an 8-4, maybe 9-3 record, losing to at least a few biter rivals along the way. For most teams that might be an accomplishment (*cough*State*cough*) but not for UofM. To have a successful season they need to be competing for the Big Ten title. To have a season to be proud of they need to be competing for the national championship.

That sounds harsh but those are the stakes they decided to play for when they hired Rich Rodriguez. No more mediocrity. No more excuses. They're playing to be among the best teams in the nation, consistently.

For all the travesty of last year's coaching search and its aftermath, they had better win. And win something that matters more than a game against Central Michigan. They might be in a rebuilding year but that just means they slip to the middle of the pack, not to the basement. Heading into this season, the offense has been gutted, the defense mostly returns although given last years underwhelming showing that's not exactly a good thing. Oh, yeah, and we still don't have a quarterback. It's looking to be a gameday decision and probably a platoon system through the year.

But, still, it's not as important as who starts the season at quarterback as who finish it. As the saying goes, if you have two quarterbacks, then you don't have one. Neither Sheridan or Threet is really capable of running the RichRod spread - they don't have the speed. But one of them will step up and claim the spot over the course of the season - or they'll know they have to thump the brush for a real bluechip prospect to start grooming next year. Either way, the quarterback situation will clear up by next year. And next year is really what the Wolverines are playing for anyway.

Looking over their schedule, though, it's hard to see them winning more than 8 games. There are basically three categories of games - the ones they should win handily, the ones they might win or they might lose, and the ones they're probably not going to win.

Most of their opponents fit squarely into the first category. But there are at least five games in the later two. Those are the games to pay attention to, if you want to see how this season and, indeed, this program is going:

Not Going to Beat

OSU - November 22nd
The Buckeyes are loaded - again - this year and they're a favorite to reach the title game once again. Oh, and the game is at the Horsehoe, too. Of course, that means they're going to crash and burn, disappointing everyone as the college football hierarchy shakes itself out over the year. But Tressel puts so much emphasis on beating his northern rivals that it's hard to see his win streak coming to an end. Not this year anyway. A win here would be monumental and cement Rodriguez at Michigan for as long as he wants. But it's next year when the series shifts to the newly renovated Big House that's the real make or break game.

Wisconsin - September 27th
If there's any team that's going to challenge the Buckeyes for the Big Ten title this year, it's the Badgers. Wisconsin is a solid program that perennially flies under the radar, managing to post a solid record and get to a decent bowl - too good to be properly called a sleeper but not good enough to be really dominant. They've been doing it for a good decade now but they've never quite made the leap past the Big Two. With Michigan having a down year and Ohio State ripe for some karmic payback, this just might be their year. Michigan plays them early - they're the Big Ten opener - and the outcome of that game could really set the tone for the rest of the season. But UofW is just too stacked on offense and defense for me to believe they can pull off a win here.

Might Get Beaten

Michigan State - October 25th
The saving grace here is that this is a home game. The damning feature is that this is a (rare) year where MSU could be better than UofM. The Spartans are going for their second straight winning season under their new coach and with their stud running back, Ringer, they just might make it. I think they're mid-tier bowl bait at best but, then, I hate State with a passion that surprises even me (It harkens back to those old school days of picking out teams based on school allegiance. It wasn't UofM/MSU every year, it was every day.). There's no denying, though, that Michigan is having a down year and might just be ripe for the picking. The Spartans haven't had a win in this rivalry in a while and, worse, they know it. They'll come ready to put a hurting on the wounded Big Blue. They just might. They just might as well implode completely but, then, that's State for you.

Penn State - October 18th
Penn State is the pick du jour as the Big Ten's sleeper this year. And, indeed, they figure to have a great defense - a callback to the old Linebacker U days. And if OSU stumbles, they could very well ride that to a conference title. But they've also been hit by a string of preseason injuries and suspensions that make their fortunes a bit of a headscratcher. by the time they play Michigan they might be riding high after righting the ship early or they might have crumbled entirely after some early setbacks. It's too early to say but I have a bad feeling about this game - Michigan's owned PSU in the past few years and that's a streak that's got to snap sometime.

Notre Dame - September 13th
The Irish aren't going to be very good this year. Then again, neither are the Wolverines. And ND is coming off a humiliating defeat at the hands of Michigan last year. Playing at home, looking to salvage Charlie Weis's legacy, if not his career, and out to avenge that loss, they'll be fired up. And I'm not sure Michigan can handle that. The combination of a shaky team playing their first big rival and the Golden Dome shaking down the thunder and I think this game bounces funny. A little of that old Irish magic and I think it bounces Notre Dame's way.

They go 0 for all those games and they're 7-5 and scrambling for a bowl bid (Michigan, by the way, has the longest string of appearances in the postseason. It doesn't get talked about much because, you know, half of it are things like the Citrus or Alamo instead of the Rose but there's no way they're going to let that streak die easily.). I think they can get at least one of them. Maybe even two. It'll take a close-fought game or even an upset or two but they can get to 8 or 9 wins. That means, though, they're likely going to get 4 wins, too. And while that might feel like an accomplishment this year, it wasn't too long ago that people were calling for Coach Carr's head when he was regularly posting that kind of season. And it won't be any less disappointing this season, either.

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