I am willing to bet that 95% of Michigan fans are as pissed as they’ve ever been after Saturday’s opening loss to Division I-AA Appalachian St.—and they have every right to be. I am only slightly pissed, however. In the grand scheme of things, I believe that more good will come from this loss than would have ever come from a win. I’m not going delve into the particulars of the loss too much or the poor preparation and game-planning that caused it. It’s the same kind of half-assed preparation and refusal to put the “pedal to the metal” against weaker opponents that has been going on for years. If you want to read my thoughts on that stuff, then read this post that I wrote in 2005. What I wrote was true then and it is true now. Unless the administration chooses to go in a different direction after Lloyd Carr’s retirement—whenever that may be—it will be true 10 years from now. Instead of rehashing that stuff, I’d like to look at how the loss may be a blessing for a program that has been coasting for far too long. In the short-term, this loss isn’t so good. Michigan will be the laughing stock of college football for the rest of the season and—depending on how people remember the game—possibly for all-time. That’s not good in any regard. However, this loss has an opportunity to be much more important to the Michigan program than a last-second win would have been.
My contention that this loss will end up being better in the long run for the Michigan football program is based on a lot of things one of them being the fact that Michigan had no chance whatsoever of winning a National Championship this season. We obviously know that now but it was a virtual impossibility even before yesterday’s game. If Michigan played USC ten times, it would lose ten times. So that complicates things. Michigan would be at a significant disadvantage against any team it would face in the BCS Championship game in the coaching department. Stale game-planning is a precursor to a guaranteed blowout in a National Title game. Losing to Appalachian St. cost Michigan nothing more than a little bit of pride. It still has the same chance of winning the Big Ten and consequently the same chance of making it to a BCS game. Michigan’s chances of winning the remaining games on its schedule are no worse now than they were before the season started.
Had Michigan squeaked out a win in the waning seconds as it has against similarly-inferior opponents in the past, the win would have gone down as just that: a win. Six weeks from now, nobody would have cared that Michigan only beat a I-AA opponent by one-point. A narrow escape against a non-I-A team would have been “slipped under the rug” the same way every Michigan near-debacle has been in recent years. Michigan's 34-3 thumping of hapless Indiana last season all but erased its narrow win over Ball St the week before (which would have been an even bigger upset than losing to Appalachian St.). In 2004, Michigan narrowly escaped at home against a terrible San Diego St. team (24-21). Michigan followed that with eight-straight wins making everyone forget about that abysmal performance. In 2002, Michigan again nearly lost in a near-monumental upset to a bad Utah team at home, 10-7. Michigan won three in a row (and seven of nine) after that and again that sort of performance was all but forgotten. By losing to Appalachian St., Michigan guaranteed that this historically bad performance will not be forgotten. Unlike the past, people will be held responsible if not immediately, then down the road when positions become available. Near-losses to Utah, San Diego St., and Ball St. weren’t enough for people to be “held to the fire”. There is nowhere to hide now. John Borton (UM writer and biggest “homer” you will ever come across) and his incredible shrinking team of head-in-the-sand minions can’t even spin this game to reflect the current regime in a positive light. Game plans, preparation, strategies, and player development have all been exposed in the biggest possible way. Those things didn’t just magically become deficient last week. As I wrote two years ago, this stuff has been going on ever since Carr took over in 1994 sans one miracle/magical season in 1997.
Michigan has been teetering on disaster in these types of games for ages. A combination of terrible game-planning, underutilization of talent, and a total disregard for the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent are why Michigan lost to Appalachian St. and nearly lost to Ball St., San Diego St., and Utah. The talent differential between Michigan and those four schools is enormous. If you put a coach like Mack Brown or Bob Stoops—coaches who seem to count “scoring a lot of points” as a goal for each game—in charge of the Michigan team against any of the above four teams, Michigan likely would have won each of those games by four touchdowns. It all comes down to coaching. While Brown and Stoops likely enter each game with the goal of scoring as many points as possible, Carr enters each game with the philosophy that Michigan will play its own game regardless of the opponent and rely on superior athleticism and strength to propel it to victory. In short, that means Michigan is more concerned with being Michigan than trying to score as many points as possible or throroughly dominate an opponent. For a team that consistently executes as poorly as Michigan, it is border-line insane for Carr to continue a game-plan based on out-executing the opponent. Michigan couldn’t execute a simple field-goal block on two occasions in the last two minutes of the game against a non-D1-A opponent. The worst teams in college football can perform a simple field goal block flawlessly and repeatedly. Michigan consistently struggles to block during field goal attempts. In fact, Michigan consistently struggles to execute in just about every facet of the game. Michigan still hasn’t figured out how to handle a blitz. You’d think that would have been the number one priority in the program after USC destroyed Michigan with constant blitzing in the 2004 Rose Bowl. Michigan still has problems with defending a running QB and tackling. Michigan still mysteriously becomes the worst defensive team you’ll ever see when the opposition has the ball on a potential game-winning drive. These things have been going on virtually ever year. In some seasons, the talent is strong enough to make the problems less obvious than in other years. Don’t be fooled, these coaching-deficiencies have always been there.
This loss also pretty-much eliminates any chance of Ron English or Mike DeBord being named the next Michigan football coach. The English-support was a misguided attempt by some Michigan faithful to preserve the “Michigan Man” lineage with a seemingly different philosophy. English was always a stretch to say the least. It has long been rumored that Carr has been pining for DeBord to be named his successor. “Lloydball” clearly doesn’t work with Lloyd so I think it’s obvious that it won’t work with DeBord. The loss doesn’t eliminate the possibility of some other “Michigan Man” succeeding Carr but it significantly reduces the odds. I have no idea what Bill Martin had in mind for Carr’s successor. This is obviously 100% conjecture on my part but I get the feeling that he would like to look at candidates from all backgrounds but feels an inherent pressure to continue the Schembechler-lineage. Michigan has clearly underachieved over the last decade or so but no program has been more consistent. Martin has never had a license to criticize. Michigan—and Carr—was just good enough to avoid any “reasonable” criticism. The fans were up in arms on occasion but it was just the sort of mild success that a well-respected Athletic Department could not devalue or criticize. Now, Martin has every right to explore all options. Being ill-prepared and underachieving with respect to talent levels might not have been enough to offset Michigan’s lukewarm successes, but becoming the first ranked team in college football history to lose to a DI-AA team opens the “flood gates” for criticism. Martin will not publicly criticize or ridicule anyone. He won’t insinuate that the current coaching staff isn't cutting it. Martin values the high standards that the University of Michigan holds which will keep him from being anything but supportive in the public. However, in the same way that he kept an open-mind after giving the guarantee that as long as he was the UM AD, Tommy Amaker would be the basketball coach at UM, Martin will file this into his memory bank for further examination when the time comes to hire the next football coach. Martin knew the basketball program needed outside influence. He made a radical hire in terms of style-of-play. John Beilein runs what many people would call a “gimmick” offense. That sort of thing didn’t deter Martin. Now that Michigan has suffered the pinnacle of all embarrassments on the football field, I don’t expect Martin to bow to any internal pressure to keep the lineage alive either. Martin is his own man. Don Canham hired a young, passionate coach from Ohio State named Bo Schembechler in 1969 to reinvigorate the Michigan football program. Martin will have the same chance to put his stamp on the program when Carr retires. To view a list of candidates that I think Michigan should seriously consider, click here.
Other game-related stuff:
Carr will never be fired
It is amazing to me just how many people from the national sports media think that Lloyd Carr’s job is in jeopardy. Just today on ESPN, Jesse Palmer said that Carr must win the Big Ten Championship, beat Ohio St., and win a BCS-game to save his job. His co-host seemed to agree. That is laughable. The exact opposite is true. Carr could not win the Big Ten Championship, lose to Ohio St., and lose a bowl game and he would be no closer to losing his job than after he won a National Championship in 1997. Carr will either retire on his own terms (not a forced retirement) after the season or he’ll be back regardless of how Michigan finishes the season. Most die-hard Michigan fans know this. However, it occurred to me over the weekend that the vast majority of “fringe” Michigan fans do not know this. I heard from a number of the “fringe” fans after the game and the consensus was something to the effect of “Carr is going to lose his job after this game”. There is a 0% chance that Carr will be fired. You can lose to Appalachian St. at Michigan and keep your job. It’s not necessarily like that at other schools. Michigan is different. I’m not sure I think Carr should be fired anyway. He has earned the right to leave on his terms. The overwhelming importance is not whether Carr gets fired rather it’s what Bill Martin does once Carr retires. Martin made a great hire for the basketball team. I think he’ll do the same for the football team.
No more I-AA opponents, please (for anyone)
I hope this loss puts an end to Michigan’s brief foray into scheduling I-AA opponents. Division I-A teams should not schedule I-AA teams under any circumstances. It should be forbidden by the NCAA. It’s an insult to the program and the fan-base. There is absolutely nothing to gain from playing a I-AA team with the exception of money. If it is money a school is after, then it should pick one of the other 118 I-A teams. If you beat a I-AA—even a team as good as Appalachian St.—nobody cares. If you lose to a I-AA team, you are the laughing stock of college football which Michigan now is. Season ticket-holders don’t want to pay big money to watch Michigan play Eastern Michigan let alone a I-AA opponent. I understand that “everyone else is doing it” but when has that excuse ever been acceptable? I don’t blame Michigan any more than I blame every other I-A school. The first weekend was a disgrace because of the number of big-time teams who played I-AA opponents. Other than Michigan, six top-25 teams opened up the season against a I-AA team for an average score of 53-6. Those games are just a waste of everyone's time and money. It's bad enough that we have to watch Penn St. beat Florida International 59-0 or Oklahoma beat North Texas 79-10. Let's not encourage such ridiculousness by allowing I-AA into the fray.
Not the biggest upset of all-time
Lost in the ridicule of losing to a I-AA opponent is that Michigan actually played in an “instant classic”. Obviously, Michigan had to fail miserably in every facet of the game for it to even be close but nonetheless, it was entertaining for all non-Michigan fans. You probably won’t get too many people to admit this because it’s part of our culture to partake in “feeding frenzies” and hyperbole parties but this was hardly the biggest upset in college football history. It may be the biggest upset in name but surely not talent-wise. Yes, Michigan became the first ranked team to lose to a I-AA opponent but the talent differential between Michigan and Appalachian St. was nowhere near the talent differential between Virginia Tech and Temple in 1998. Appalachian St. would have destroyed that Temple team. So, the debate as to whether this was the biggest upset in college football history should end right there. The fact that Appalachian St. could and would beat half of all I-A teams should also end the debate. I don’t mind putting this loss into perspective. It clearly was an upset of monumental proportions. In terms of talent differential, though, this was not nearly the biggest upset in college football history. It is talent-differential that makes an upset an upset.
Comcast can stick it
Not that this game sealed it or anything but I’m dropping Comcast for Direct TV. Brian at mgoblog has covered the whole Comcast/Big Ten Network thing beautifully for anyone who needs/wants some background. Comcast has insulted every sports fan in America with its ridiculous “fighting for the fans” angle. If Comcast was truly fighting for its fans, it would not force its viewers to pay for channels like versus or the golf channel or twenty other channels that nobody wants to pay for. Comcast is trying to mask greed by trying to con its viewers into believing it’s fighting for them. I hope Comcast pays down the road for essentially hijacking the first weekend of college football for college football fans in the Midwest.