Another long Autumn for Wolverine fans

August 29, 2009

Coach Rich Rodriguez leads Michigan out of the gates in his second season at the helm.

Coach Rich Rodriguez leads Michigan out of the gates in his second season at the helm.

Opening day for college football is right around the corner, and as a sports nut and a devout fan of Michigan football, this is usually the time of the year that excites me most. But for the second year in a row, questions and concerns swirl around the once-proud program. Instead of hopes of competing for a conference championship and national title, the Wolverines just hope to be competitive in each game, something that they could not achieve last year when they hit rock-bottom and set an all-time record for futility.

3-9. First losing season since the 60s. The nation’s longest consecutive bowl streak snapped. First ever loss to a MAC team. These

Things  will be better this fall, but not by much.

Once again, the keys to the offense will most likely be handed to an incoming freshman. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are highly-touted athletes, but it remains to be seen how quickly they can make the jump from high school ball to the big stage of powerhouse college football. Not only is there a big difference in the talent level, every aspect of the game is faster, louder, harder, more intense and more intricate. The offensive line should be improved, led by four seniors highlighted by Stephen Schilling, which will help whatever fresh-faced kid coach Rich Rodriguez throws under center. The running backs and recievers will be solid, but there is no visible playmaker or go-to guy in the clutch. Or at least none of stepped up to fill that role yet.

Even a bigger question mark will be the defense, which last year was supposed to be the anchor of the team, but instead gave up more points throughout the season than any other Michigan defensive unit did before them. Running attacks gashed the front seven and passing attacks cut the secondary apart on a weekly basis. There are few bright spots, however, in end Brandon Graham and linebacker Obi Ezeh, both who should be up for All-Conference honors.

The only player garnering any All-American attention heading into the season is punter Zoltan Mesko, who did make the Playboy team. I will say that again – the best and most consistent player on team is the punter!

A lot will be known after the season’s first game against Western Michigan, but if memory serves me right, Michigan did not fare well in its last opener to a MAC team. The Broncos have a star quarterback in Tim Hiller who will pose problems for a defense that will be searching for its identity early in the season. If WMU pulls of the upset, it could be a long, cold fall for Wolverine fans. A victory over their I-94 rivals could give the Maize and Blue a huge confidence boost heading into the following week’s matchup with Notre Dame, who are poised to finally have a breakthrough season after going through their own growing pains. This matchup looms large for both squads and will be a make-or-break game.  The last time the Irish played in Ann Arbor, they failed to score a point and turned the ball over six times. But both teams are vastly different now, and both teams seem to be heading in opposite directions. ESPN analyst and former Irish coach Lou Holtz actually has pontificated that ND will play for the national title. But anyone who follows college football even in the slightest knows that a) this will most likely not happen and b) Holtz is a kook.

The schedule actually lays out well for Michigan, with eight home games on the slate, including contests against conference heavyweights Penn State and Ohio State on friendly grounds. If the Wolverines can get out to a quick start in non-league games and pick off a team or two on the road, a bowl game is a certainity. But on the flipside, tripping up early would have awful consequences for a team that needs its confidence and its wits about them to have any hope of having a winning season. Being on the front end of a .500 record would prove to be a successful campaign for most fans, but traditionalists are accustomed to playing for a Rose Bowl year in and year out, and anything less than double-digit wins is a disappointment.

Prediction: 7-5, 4-4 conference

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