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A Michigan Man Joins FanTake

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We're thrilled to add our friend Wolverine Nation to the FanTake network. We'll be launching the blog in the next week or so. In the meantime, here is Wolverine Nation's inaugural offering.

Send it to your Maize and Blue friends.

- S.R.

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2010 SEASON PREVIEW

It’s that time again. The calendar has turned to September. The kids are back in school. The first signs of an autumn chill are in the air (at least in some parts of the country). It’s football season. And with all due respect to the classic Christmas carol, THIS is the most wonderful time of the year. Forget about contract holdouts and obscenely overpaid punks who refuse to practice or even stay in shape (I’m talking to you, Albert Haynesworth), we’re talking about college football – the only sport that matters.

For the Michigan faithful, this is shaping up to be an extremely critical season. In fact, I would venture to say that never has there been more at stake. Not because we are BCS contenders (we wish), but because if Rich Rod doesn’t show significant and meaningful improvement this season, he will undoubtedly be shown the door … and rightfully so (more on that later). This would mean that the unprecedented amount of embarrassment and pain that Wolverine Nation has suffered over the past couple years would have been for naught, with only dark skies ahead for the foreseeable future as a new coach would have to come in and undo the current mess. We can only hope that this does not come to pass.

In years past, I have sent out my half-assed musings to my Michigan friends – a more macro-level view for those who didn’t want to waste as much time as I did obsessing over every detail I could find about Michigan football. This year – thanks to an introduction made by my good buddy, Mike "Networking Smart" Jung – I am going live on the Internet with my thoughts, for whatever they’re worth. After this season preview, I will follow up with additional analysis and commentary, as warranted. Not reports on every detail or event, not in-depth analysis of every play or every recruit – which are already being done very ably by others – but bigger picture stuff. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the 2010 team and what the season might have in store.

2009 RECAP

First, let’s take a brief, painful look back at last year. After the debacle that was 2008, I think all of us felt that things could only get better in 2009. After all, we had started ‘08 with a quarterback who should have been playing in the Ivy League or Division III, not for the winningest college football program of all time. We had suffered a tremendous amount of attrition due to the coaching change – including the loss of the Mother of All Douchebags, Justin Boren, who was admittedly a very good player – and we were implementing an entirely foreign offensive system. There were a lot of reasons why ‘08 was going to be a rough year, although I don’t think anybody expected the kind of history that was made that year (i.e., the wrong kind: the worst season in Michigan football history, the worst defense in history, the snapping of the longest bowl streak in college football, etc.). And that is why ‘09 was such a bitter disappointment, because we went from a dismal three wins in ‘08 to a whopping four wins last year (no, I am not counting the gimme against Division I-AA Delaware State – it was embarrassing to even have them on our schedule). Where was the improvement? Where were the meaningful signs of a turnaround?

The offense improved with more competent quarterback play, but that was primarily a function of being so god-awful in ‘08 that they really could only go nowhere but up. The defense, on the other hand, was an unmitigated disaster. After making history as the worst Michigan defense ever in ‘08, one had to believe that last year’s unit would be improved with no significant losses to graduation, an additional year of growth/maturity and a better defensive coordinator. However, with the notable exception of Brandon Graham – one of the biggest defensive studs ever to walk the streets of A2, who deserved much better than to be part of last year’s atrocity – the defense was beyond putrid. Anyone watching our secondary getting repeatedly burned or seeing our linebackers constantly unable to make plays wanted to scratch their eyeballs out. It would have been comical if it wasn’t so excruciatingly painful to witness.

Probably the worst part about last year was the complete and utter collapse in October and November, with zero Division I-A wins. Obviously, the season started out very well, with a 4 – 0 record in September that included an inspiring win against Charlie "Dumbo" Weis and Notre Dame. Although the strong start was a very welcome turn of events after the disaster of ‘08, it was clear even at the time that the talk about BCS bowls or Big Ten championships or Tate Forcier-for-Heisman was way too premature. The prevailing thought going through my head at the time was that classic movie line from Harvey Keitel in "Pulp Fiction": "Let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks quite yet…" (followed immediately by Nuke LaLoosh in "Bull Durham": "That don’t make me queer, does it?? Nah."). But I had no idea that the team would fall off a cliff like it did during the Big Ten season. Granted, Forcier’s shoulder injury certainly was a factor in his declining performance, and the second half of the schedule was much tougher than the first, but come on. In fact, there really is no point in belaboring all of the negatives from last season any further. Let’s move on.

2010 RECRUITING

This year started with the second complete recruiting class of the Rich Rod era. Overall, it was a good class, but not a great one. On offense, the headliner was Devin Gardner, a 6-5 Vince Young clone who was rated the #1 dual-threat quarterback in the country coming out of high school. He should be a good one, although it will be a bad sign if we see him play meaningful minutes this year. There was more talent signed from the South, especially Florida, as that strong trend continued. Guys like Cullen Christian and Marvin Robinson are highly-rated defensive backs who will definitely see time this year, given the losses that unit has suffered. In fact, as many as 12 true freshmen are expected to see game action this season, an alarmingly high number that reflects the fact that this program is still very much in transition from a talent standpoint.

My principal thought about this recruiting class is that it is indicative of a potentially larger problem: the seeming inability or unwillingness of Rich Rod and his coaches to get the elite high school talent. The coaches seem to think they’re still at West Virginia, having to stockpile sleepers and other diamonds in the rough, instead of being at one of the very few schools that can recruit elite talent nationwide. This year’s freshman class is dominated by 3-star recruits. There is nothing inherently wrong with 3-stars – studs like Braylon Edwards and Mike Hart were 3-star recruits, after all – and player ratings must always be taken with a grain of salt. But they are the only meaningful metric we have to determine the best, most coveted recruits. Historically, Michigan has always gotten more than its share of elite talent, but under Rich Rod the trend has been moving decidedly in the direction of the 3-star level. In fact, Rich Rod has yet to successfully recruit and sign any 5-star recruits since he’s been at Michigan. The only 5-star player who has been part of any of Rich Rod’s signing classes, William Campbell, actually had committed to Lloyd Carr before he retired. Real commentary on recruiting will need to wait for another day, but this is an emerging trend that bears watching, especially since it seems to be even more pronounced in the 2011 class.

OFFENSE

There is legitimate reason to believe that this year’s offense will be good. We actually have multiple options at quarterback, a stable of running backs from which at least a couple guys should emerge, a whole slew of quality receivers and a solid and deep offensive line. And there is a good amount of speed across the board – even the big hogs up front can move. This offense should be able to put up some points. We just have to hope that they’ll put up enough points to overcome our deficiencies on defense.

Quarterback

  • By now we all know that success in the spread offense begins and ends with quality quarterback play, and for the first time in the Rich Rod era we have a capable quarterback with considerable starting experience in Tate Forcier. He had some sublime moments last year when he really did seem like a precocious phenom, and his overall numbers for the year were solidly in line with the freshman seasons of past top college quarterbacks. At the same time, however, he also had plenty of moments when he played like the true freshman he was. Fumbles (lots of fumbles), a number of poor decisions executing the zone-read option, a worsening case of happy feet (although the deterioration of the offensive line over the course of the season, especially after David Molk’s injury, had a lot to do with that), and, most concerning of all, an increasingly big head. The attitude issues seem to have carried over into this year, as he was singled out this summer as one of the guys who was not as committed as he should have been (even having his winged helmet taken away by the coaches in practice and replaced by a plain blue one – he has since gotten the wings back). Forcier is reported to have gotten his act together during August practices and is supposedly back on track. With a year of starting experience under his belt, and hopefully added maturity, it’s reasonable to assume that Forcier will continue to develop and build upon the accuracy and ability to throw on the run that he displayed last year.
  • However, the real news at the quarterback position has not been about Forcier, it’s been about the emergence of Denard Robinson as a true dual threat. Now, like everyone else I was incredulous at first when I heard the rumblings last spring that Robinson was really stepping up as a legit QB – my head was filled with images of Robinson repeatedly playing catch with opposing defensive backs last year on the few occasions when he actually threw the ball. However, at the spring game he displayed vastly improved throwing ability, including a perfect 30-yard strike to Roy Roundtree that ended up being a 97-yard touchdown. And the buzz over the summer has continued to grow. Word is that Robinson has become one of the real leaders of the team, being one of the most committed guys to summer workouts and earning the respect of everyone in the locker room. Players talk about him as if he is The Man. Rich Rod is comparing him to Pat White. Obviously, it’s way too early to anoint Denard as the Second Coming, but if his throwing ability has improved anywhere close to the level that people think (and hope), then he really could develop into something special given his elusiveness and 4.3 speed.
  • The coaches have not yet announced the starter for UConn, but it is widely expected that Denard will get the call – the Rich Rod spread really needs a true running threat more than a true passer in order to be optimally effective. Regardless, expect both guys to play significant minutes, and the complementary skills that they bring to the table will be a challenge for opposing defenses. Much has been made about the quarterback controversy in A2, but frankly it’s a position that I am not too worried about. If Denard has indeed become a real dual threat, then we would have two legit options at the position. That’s a hell of a lot better than the past couple years. I don’t expect that poor quarterback play will be the reason we lose games.

Running Back

  • At this point, it’s hard to predict who the feature running backs will be on this team, but there are a number of candidates. None of them came to A2 with a ton of hype – there are no 5-star or high 4-star recruits in this group – but this is still a decently talented bunch. Sophomore Vincent Smith and junior Michael Shaw are the top two backs to start the season, but the position has a very fluid depth chart. Smith is small (5-6) but strong and very tough to bring down, something of a shiftier-but-less-powerful version of Mike Hart. He suffered a torn ACL against Ohio State last year, but is supposedly fully recovered from the injury. Shaw is a speed back who has had a fairly non-descript career so far. Still, he was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school who decommitted from Penn State to come to A2, so he has some talent. We’ll see if he steps it up this year. Redshirt sophomore Mike Cox – a speed back with good size (6-0, 211) and a decent amount of buzz this summer – and highly-touted redshirt freshman power/speed back Fitzgerald Toussaint (great name) are the other backs who could emerge.
  • Running back competitions are notoriously hard to predict, with preseason buzz often proving to be less than accurate once guys get into live game action. Case in point is 2004, when David Underwood was supposed to be The Man entering the season, only to see ineffectiveness and injury in the first two games allow Mike Hart to step in and never look back on his way to becoming Michigan’s all-time leading rusher. One thing for certain is that we are witnessing a return to the tailback rotations of the Bo and Mo years, when two or three backs shared the load. Given the demands of the Rich Rod spread offense, it is highly unlikely that we will see a reversion to the type of "ride one horse till he drops" philosophy of Lloyd Carr (of course, when you have backs like Hart, Perry, A-Train and Biakabatuka, it’s hard to find fault with that approach). I’m not expecting a superstar to emerge, but I do think there will be sufficiently competent production out of this unit so as not to be a weakness.

Receivers and Tight Ends

  • Akin to the running backs, the receiving corps offers a lot of decent options, with enough depth and talent in this group to offer reasonable hope that a couple guys will take their games to the next level. In the slot, redshirt sophomore Roy Roundtree emerged as the go-to guy during the second half of last year. As the entrenched starter now with a year of playing experience under his belt, we can expect him to continue to develop. Terrance Robinson, Kelvin Grady and possibly Jeremy Gallon are also names you’ll hear at the slot receiver position. On the outside, junior Martavious Odoms is a solid-but-not-spectacular player who was an effective slot receiver his first two years and is now moving outside to make room for Roundtree. The real guy to watch is junior Darryl Stonum, who has gotten a tremendous amount of buzz this summer. He was the guy who had a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Notre Dame, but otherwise didn’t make much of a mark a year ago. However, he’s a fast, talented player who was a coveted recruit (choosing Michigan over USC and Oklahoma, if memory serves), and many believe he is ready to make a big jump. We can only hope. Redshirt junior Junior Hemingway and sophomore JeRon Stokes should also see meaningful playing time.
  • At tight end, junior Kevin Koger is the starter. He’s a talented but inconsistent player with a penchant for dropping balls. Martell Webb backs him up, but he’s more of a blocker than a receiver. If neither guy steps up, this position could end up being marginalized by Rich Rod, much like it was at West Virginia.

Offensive Line

  • At this point, the offensive line is the best unit on the team, with both quality starters and quality depth. If the conventional wisdom holds true that success in football starts on the lines, then this bodes well for us. The starting interior linemen – David Molk, Stephen Schilling and Patrick Omameh – are all excellent. Molk’s injury last season was a major contributor to the offense’s struggles during the second half of the season, and he’s back at full strength. Schilling was a 5-star recruit who has had a good-but-not-great career so far in A2. Hopefully, his 5th year will be the one where he really steps it up. Omameh could end up being the best of the bunch. He was not heavily recruited in high school because he was undersized, but he is very quick and has now bulked up to 299 pounds. Unlike pro-style offenses, where the tackles are paramount, the interior linemen really set the tone in a spread offense. The strength of this interior unit will be the foundation for any offensive success we have.
  • At tackle, the guys to watch are redshirt freshmen Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Lewan in particular should end up being The Man by the second half of the season – he is drawing comparisons to Jake Long at this stage. Lewan and Schofield are currently battling with the returning starters, Mark Huyge and Perry Dorrestein, and the ongoing competition should result in a legit 2-deep at both spots regardless of who starts.

DEFENSE

If you lie awake at night dreading the thought of another brutal football season, our defense will be the reason why. The defensive line should be solid, even after losing Brandon Graham to the NFL. The back seven, however, are full of holes and question marks. The secondary in particular has suffered devastating losses in personnel due to injury, attrition and poor decisions. The continuity at defensive coordinator with the return of Greg Robinson will help a little in terms of player improvement over last year, but probably not nearly enough to offset the apparent weaknesses. There’s been a decent amount of talk about the switch to a 3-3-5 scheme – which Rich Rod used at West Virginia – but frankly that’s much ado about nothing in my mind because of Robinson’s use of hybrid defensive end/linebacker and linebacker/safety positions. I think you’ll probably see as many 4-man fronts as 3-man – it’ll just depend on the situation. Defensive scheme will not determine our defense’s fate, personnel will. And we just don’t seem to have enough talent that is ready to play at this point. If this defense is going to be adequate enough to give us a chance in the majority of our games, they will need to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback so as not to expose our depleted secondary. If that doesn’t happen, then it’s 2008 – 2009 redux, and God help us.

Defensive Line

  • Despite the loss of Brandon Graham, this year’s defensive line should be a relative strength. It certainly is the best unit on the defense, although that’s not saying a whole lot. There are three returning starters – junior nose tackle Mike Martin, redshirt junior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen and sophomore hybrid end/linebacker Craig Roh – who are all poised to take their games to the next level after solid years in ‘09, especially Martin if the buzz surrounding him proves out. He should be the next big stud on our D-line. Roh started as a quick but woefully undersized true freshman last year, and he held his own for the most part. One year and 20 pounds of muscle later, he should be a major contributor.

Linebackers

  • In my opinion, the fate of the defense, and hence our season, will rest on this unit. The front seven will need to really take charge if this defense is going to be even halfway decent, and while the D-line should be able to hold up its end of the bargain, the ability of the linebacking corps to do so is a serious question. The two senior leaders who will really need to elevate their games – Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton – both failed miserably at the task last year, even though they were entering their second years as starters in ‘09. Ezeh was so ineffective that he was benched for part of the season in favor of a walk-on. Mouton had had a very promising finish to the ’08 season and seemed poised to break out in ’09, but instead he looked utterly lost all year and did not take the next step. Word on him this summer has been very positive, though, while Ezeh is rumored to have lost his starting job to another walk-on who just switched over from fullback, Mark Moundros. Not a good sign. Meanwhile, we will be starting an unheralded true freshman, Carvin Johnson, at the hybrid linebacker/safety position that Stevie Brown ably filled last year (in one of the season’s few pleasant surprises). This could get very ugly, very fast.

Secondary

  • This unit is the living embodiment of Murphy’s Law. Last year, we started the season with elite talent at the corner spots – 5-star recruit Donovan Warren and high 4-star recruit Boubacar Cissoko – and the fastest guy on the team, Troy Woolfolk, at free safety (who would later play well as a cover corner). Fast forward one year later: Warren unwisely chose to forego his senior year and went unpicked in the NFL Draft, Cissoko made some very unfortunate choices in his life and is now in jail (a tragic story if there ever was one), and Woolfolk broke his ankle a couple weeks ago and is out for the year. Meanwhile, cornerback JT Turner – the #1-rated player in Ohio last year and supposedly the next Charles Woodson – transferred a week before Woolfolk went down. And earlier this summer, the most highly-touted defensive recruit of this year’s class – Demar Dorsey, an immensely talented but extremely controversial cornerback from Florida with a checkered past – was denied admission to the school after having committed at the start of the year. Unbelievable.
  • First up among their replacements is JT Floyd, who started all of 2 games last season and looked hopelessly overmatched during them … folks, he is now our #1 cornerback due to Woolfolk’s injury, not to mention our most experienced corner. Our #2 cornerback is now either James Rogers, a converted wide receiver who has yet to start a game, or true freshman Cullen Christian, a 4-star recruit but a raw freshman nonetheless. Our starting safeties are Jordan Kovacs, a former walk-on who showed good tackling ability but also an uncanny knack for getting burned repeatedly in coverage, and former wide receiver Cameron Gordon, who has gotten a lot of positive buzz this summer. True freshman Marvin Robinson is a top-rated recruit from Florida who is supposedly pushing to replace Kovacs in the starting lineup. Redshirt freshman Vlad Emilien, another 4-star recruit from Florida, has the potential to be another contributor at safety but has yet to step up.
  • It’s a pretty grim picture in our defensive backfield. My prediction for this group (and for those who have to watch them)? Pain. The constant breakdowns that we suffered through last year could easily repeat themselves and lead to the season’s demise. The only real hope we have is that the young talent grows up really quick. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

SPECIAL TEAMS

As if the news couldn’t get any worse after discussing the secondary, we must also replace our All-American punter from last year, Zoltan Mesko, as well as a fairly reliable kicker. True freshman Will Hagerup was an All-American punter in high school and has been impressive in practice. Hopefully he’s up to the task. Unfortunately, the news is not as promising at kicker, where redshirt freshman Brendan Gibbons has yet to live up to his high school ratings. He is still locked in a battle with a walk-on, with neither player distinguishing himself yet.

The outlook is somewhat better for the return units. Daryl Stonum was very solid last year as the kickoff returner – his touchdown return against Notre Dame was one of the highlights of the season. No one has stood out yet as a punt returner, despite the plethora of seemingly able slot receivers and running backs who have been given opportunities, but there’s reasonable hope that experience will facilitate improvement.

SEASON PREDICTION

After reviewing the entire squad, there’s only one thought that comes to mind … I need a drink. This could be a long, agonizing season. Truth be told, however, this season is utterly impossible to predict. We all know we won’t be competing for a Big Ten championship or anything remotely close to it, but exactly where we’re going to fall on the spectrum is anyone’s guess at this point. There is talent and speed and solid, experienced lines on both sides of the ball. The offense should be significantly improved. But much of the talent is still unproven. And the deficiencies in the defensive back seven are too glaring to overlook, not to mention the huge question marks in our kicking game. There are any number of ways that this season could go off the rails.

In looking at our schedule, there are land mines galore. We start with two tough games: first against a solid UConn squad that won eight games last year, including a bowl win over South Carolina, and is one of the favorites to win the Big East; second at Notre Dame. There are only two real gimmes on the schedule: September 18 against Div I-AA UMass and the following week against Bowling Green. Even the game at Indiana on October 2 is fraught with peril, as the Hoosiers will be seeking revenge at home for the perceived injustice at the end of last year’s close loss. And the rest of the Big Ten schedule is a veritable Murderer’s Row for our less-than-stellar squad: Michigan State, Iowa, at Penn State, Illinois, at Purdue, Wisconsin, at Ohio State. Of the Big Ten slate, the only games in which we will most likely be favored are the Indiana and Illinois games. If we fail to start the season strong and lose to both UConn and Notre Dame, then we could very plausibly be looking square in the face at a 3 – 9 or 4 – 8 season. Even 2 – 10 is a possibility if Indiana exacts their revenge.

[Let me pause for a moment to express how unbelievably painful it is to even be talking this way about Michigan football. 3 – 9 or 4 – 8? Not favored against Purdue? Possibly losing to Indiana and Illinois? Are you kidding me? Before the Rich Rod era, I don’t think any Michigan fan ever imagined talking in such dismal, pessimistic terms. But such is the reality. These are sad times indeed.]

On the other hand, if we do take one of the first two games, probably against UConn, then we would most likely end September at 4 – 1, with a certain amount of confidence entering the meat of our schedule. In this scenario, it’s hard to imagine a repeat of last year’s meltdown, given the greater experience we have at the skill positions and along the lines. There are still given losses to Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin and OSU, but also relative toss-up games against Michigan State, Illinois and Purdue. Even if we win all three of the toss-ups, that leaves us only at 7 – 5. The absolute best case scenario would seem to be 8 – 4, which would only happen if we can pull off a fairly big upset (most likely against Penn State or Notre Dame). Realistically, though, I’m guessing that we’ll end up somewhere in the middle of the range, 5 – 7 or 6 – 6. A fast start to the season would go a long way towards getting us on the positive side of the range, which is why so much is at stake against UConn.

RICH ROD

If the season unfolds along the lines of a .500 record, then I think that Rich Rod has to go. Frankly, I have a hard time seeing him save his job unless he gets to eight wins, unless it’s a seven-win season that includes a signature victory (like Ohio State, pipe dream that it is). However, as new Athletic Director Dave Brandon has said, it’s not just about wins and losses. But that’s exactly the problem for Rich Rod – so far, he has brought nothing but embarrassment to Wolverine Nation, both on and off the field. The worst football seasons in the last 50 years. Major NCAA infractions for the first time in the history of the program. That ridiculous legal battle against West Virginia, when he insisted on fighting a buyout clause that was clearly in his contract – claiming that the truth would vindicate him – and dragging Michigan through the mud for months as it played out, only to cave in the end and pay WVU every cent that they were seeking (with Michigan’s help). The constant finger-pointing and "woe is me" attitude – bemoaning how the cupboard was so bare when he got to A2 and refusing to take full responsibility for the infractions that happened under his watch. He wants the fame and compensation and perks that come with being head coach at a blue blood football program, but he doesn’t seem willing to accept the scrutiny and accountability that are also inherent. In truth, he has yet to give us any reason to believe that he is up to the job of succeeding as Michigan’s head coach.

Honestly, I just don’t think that Rich Rod gets it. I don’t think he truly understands what sets Michigan apart and makes it special. It’s not just about the wins. This is not the SEC. It’s about winning the right way. With unimpeachable integrity. It’s about succeeding at the very highest levels of the sport as part of an elite institution that succeeds at the very highest levels in every arena. Athletically. Academically. Scientifically. Professionally. No other blue blood college football program can lay claim to such ideals.

He came to A2 like a bull in a china shop, cleaning house with a "my way or the highway" attitude. He acted like he was a savior who was going to take a middling, piss-poor program and make it successful for the first time. He seemed to forget, or simply never realized, that he was becoming part of something so much bigger than himself. The most successful program in college football, with a tradition and history and record that are unparalleled. You don’t take a sledgehammer to something like that. You have to respect it and preserve it and figure out how you can contribute to make it better. We all knew that the transition from being the most incestuous program in college football – with an unbroken coaching chain that stretched back 40 years – to a 21st century power would have its share of bumps in the road. We were all prepared for the idea of having to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. But we’ve taken so many steps back at this point that where we were before is not even in sight. Ironically, the underachieving 9 – 4 and 10 – 3 seasons of Lloyd Carr that most of us complained about in the 2000’s are but a sweet, distant memory.

The primary reason that the pundits and fans continue to believe in Rich Rod is that he is "a proven winner". Just wait, they say, he knows how to win, and he will get it done once he has his players fully in place. I hope that’s true, but a closer look at his record gives reason for pause. In point of fact, Rich Rod did not start dominating the Big East and turning his squad into perennial BCS bowl contenders until after Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College left the conference for the ACC in 2004. His record during his first four years at West Virginia, from 2001 thru 2004, was 3 – 8, 9 – 4, 8 – 5, and 8 – 4 (including three straight bowl losses). A pretty solid record, but not nearly good enough to buy you a ticket to A2. Indeed, it wasn’t until the 2005 emergence of Pat White, a transcendent college football player who was ideally suited to the spread offense, that Rich Rod’s record really went to elite levels. From 2005 thru 2007, the seasons that cemented his reputation and got him the Michigan job, his teams went 11 – 1, 11 – 2 and 11 – 2. But was Rich Rod really that good during those years? Or was he just really lucky to have Pat White directing his offense and a depleted schedule that no longer included the traditional conference heavyweights? The truth, as in most things, is probably somewhere in between. However, being in between does not mean he necessarily deserved to take over the winningest college football program in the nation. And it certainly does not mean that he deserves to have much benefit of the doubt now when all the evidence to date has been so negative.

Don’t get me wrong, as harsh as I may sound right now, I want Rich Rod to succeed. I have nothing against him personally. I applauded his hiring at the time. I had said back then that while it was not a slam dunk he would succeed in A2, he was an innovative coach whose hiring was a high-upside move that could conceivably return Michigan to the college football elite. Nothing would please me more than to be proven wrong about my current pessimism and see the team rebound strongly this season. I want the pain and suffering we’ve all been enduring to be worth something. I want all of us to have reason to believe that the last two years were merely bumps in the road in Michigan’s return to relevance. I don’t want to see him fired and have the football program undergo yet another painful rebuilding process with a new coach. The turnover on the roster would be significant, especially since a new coach would most likely not be a spread offense devotee who wants to stock the roster with 5–9 slot receivers and the like. This would virtually guarantee that the agony of the last couple years will continue for at least another few years – an absolutely unbearable thought for those who love Michigan. But the time has come for Rich Rod to prove that he has what it takes to get the job done as our head coach. He needs to show the Michigan faithful that he has this program on the right track. No more excuses.

Unfortunately, I just don’t think this year’s team can accomplish that goal. Nevertheless, I think we all need to hope against hope that this team will come together and find its way. That the young talent will step forward. That the offense will fulfill its promise. That the defense will somehow emerge from the depths and overcome its perceived deficiencies. The stakes are simply too high to hope for anything else.

Go Blue