I was as surprised by the outcome of the Penn St. game as I was that the calendar read “October” when I woke up this morning. I predicted a 28-point Michigan loss before the game and the final margin ended up being 29 points. In the second quarter, I predicted that Threet and Co. would not score another point after they hit 17 and—true to form—they ended up with 17 points. I wish I could claim uber-intelligence but unfortunately it’s much simpler than that. I was right because we’re living through a maize and blue version of Groundhog’s Day. I feel like Phil Connors. Every game has been identical and—like Phil—I started to pick up on things. The only difference from game to game has been whether Michigan will play well in the first or fourth quarter. If you want to know what’s going to happen in the next game, just look at the last game. It’s far less annoying when you know what’s coming. Although, knowing what’s coming can eventually drive you mad as Phil Connors can attest to. Hearing “I’ve got you Babe” (lyrics in post title) for the millionth time drove him to the brink of insanity.
I realize that the players are busting their butts and RR and his staff are working tirelessly to clean things up. I don’t want to minimize the work they are putting in. However, in terms of predicting future success, nothing that happens on the football field the rest of this season will have any impact on whether Rodriguez has success at Michigan. Steve Threet will not be Michigan’s starting QB next year. Michigan’s offensive line will hopefully have at least three new starters. The spread is entirely predicated on the respective abilities of the QB and offensive line. With all due respect to Steve Threet’s future in a non-spread offense, “Freshman Threet” is the worst starting scholarship QB in Michigan football history. Yes, I realize that means I think he’s worse than “Sophomore Navarre.” To be fair, Navarre didn’t have to run the spread. Had he been asked to, Threet might not be at the bottom of the list. Likewise, this is the worst O-Line in Michigan football history. Neither is going to change this season. I’m sure if you got out your maize and blue microscope and looked real hard, you might be able to find an atom-sized level of improvement in execution at one or two positions. That said the net gain in competence through seven games has been zero. This team is as good as it will get this year. It's not Lloyd Carr's fault. It's not RR's fault. It's not the players's fault. This is what we signed up for when we wanted to make the transition to a spread offense. Everyone needs to stop acting as if each game tells us something we don't already know. The coaches are stuck. The players are stuck. Consequently, fans are stuck. Nobody can do anything about it until next season. So, chill.
Thankfully, this team will get major upgrades at crucial positions in the off-season. This team is clearly ill-equipped to run the spread and Rodriguez is doing something about it in a major way. I like to make the analogy that recruiting is like a download. Clearly, one download at Michigan was not enough for Rodriguez to have success with his system. In fact, I’m not sure we can even call the first download a full one. The majority of RR’s first class was recruited by Lloyd Carr. While many of those players are talented, they are really no different than the players recruited by Carr who were already on the team. Only half of RR’s first class was recruited to play in the spread. Rodriguez will find a place for some and some will transfer. Still, the first class will probably not fit RR’s scheme as well as the classes that follow.
The important question at this point is whether the second download will have enough of an impact to make 2009 a successful season. Despite Michigan’s miserable performance to date, Montavious Odoms, Mike Martin, Boubacar Cissoko, Sam McGuffie, Kevin Koger, and Darryl Stonum have been impressive. If download #2 includes a similar crop of early contributors, then there will be some major talent on the field next season. The most important feature of the 2009 class is much-needed competency at the QB positions. That will help immensely leaving Michigan’s major problem on the O-Line. The good news is that Rodriguez is currently redshirting six offensive linemen from the 2008 class. The bad news is that if they don’t beat out the current starters, then things are going to be ugly next season.
It’s important for Michigan fans to remember that it will be four years (five if you count fifth-year seniors) before Rodriguez fields a Michigan team fully-equipped to run the spread. Right now Rodriguez is trying to run the spread with essentially one half of one recruiting class. As obvious as it seems that Rodriguez needs 2-3 seasons at a minimum to get his product running at or near an optimum level, it is amazing just how many “fans” (I’m using this term as loosely as possible) have already given up on him. Don’t worry. Pockets of extreme ignorance are not a problem specific to the Michigan fanbase or even college football. You’ll probably see the same thing in the NBA when Mike Dantoni tries to run his up-tempo offense with a roster more in common with pack-a-day smokers than the pre-Shaq Phoenix Suns. There has never been a roster in the history of the NBA less equipped to run Dantoni’s high-octane offense than the New York Knicks. Sound familiar? His first season will not be pretty (Don't sleep on David Lee, though). Even though everyone knows this, some Knicks fans will call his offense a joke and demand his removal.
The best advice I can give to Michigan fans (and Knicks fans if you’re out there) who get more disenchanted with each loss is to stop watching. Despite insistence to the contrary, each loss does not make things worse. They are inevitable at this point. I’ll slightly amend an analogy that has already been used many times in the Michigan community. Michigan Stadium is currently in the middle of a big renovation project which is, of course, analogous to the fact that Michigan football is also undergoing a “renovation” project. Does it make sense to go to the stadium every day in the off-season to see how things are going? We know the stadium is under construction. We know it won’t be finished until 2010. Because we know this, we don’t drive to AA everyday to see if that is, in fact, happening. We also don’t speculate that the renovation is never going to be completed because construction has been halted during the football season and through the winter. Think of the construction of the Michigan football team as being halted. The Rodriguez-led renovation of the team will start up again in the off-season. If you can’t handle the losing, do everyone a favor and come back next season. The future of Michigan football is being carved out on the recruiting trail. That’s where improvements are being made. Stop criticizing RR for what’s happening on the field and start praising him for what’s happening off. If you don’t follow recruiting, then you probably think Michigan is turning into Indiana. If you follow recruiting, then you probably think Michigan is turning into Florida. So, I suggest you follow recruiting.
A final note on programming: My goal is to avoid having my blog turn into a spinoff of Groundhog’s Day by saying the same things about the same games every week. So, I won’t be posting as much about on-field events. However, I will likely talk a little bit more about recruiting at some point. Go Blue!