Before it gets too far into my rearview mirror, I’d like to write a few things on the departure of Sam McGuffie. Most of you will remember that McGuffie was perhaps the most hyped—not best—recruit in the history of Michigan football (apologies to Drew Henson who was not an internet phenom). McGuffie’s Youtube! highlight video was sick. His junior year high school stats were even sicker. A lot of people had a lot of expectations. That’s not to say they were unreasonable expectations. McGuffie was a highly rated recruit coming out of Texas. He spurned offers from USC and Notre Dame to head to the frigid winters of Ann Arbor. It wasn’t an easy decision. In fact, it almost didn’t happen. As Signing Day came to a close, Michigan had received all signed letter of intents from its verbal commitments except for one. McGuffie was torn. He repressed his second-thoughts long enough to officially sign with Michigan but they clearly never went away. McGuffie transferred to Rice last month. His career at ‘M’ didn’t live up to the “hype” but he showed more in one season than most players show in a career.
Obviously, there will be critics. I was lucky enough to receive three separate comments—starting the first week of the season!—from someone who apparently loves criticizing 18-year olds for being pretty good. I realize that one opinion is an insignificant sample size but I do think there are some people out there who mistakenly feel McGuffie was a bust. I’m not quite sure how a rational-thinking person gets to that conclusion and I really don’t care. If you’re dumb enough to think McGuffie was a “fraud”, then you might as well stop reading now.
Nobody expected McGuffie to start as a true freshman. In fact, most knowledgeable Michigan fans wondered if there was even a future for him as an every-down back at Michigan. Needless to say, his rapid ascent up the depth chart was unexpected. Michigan was atrocious on both sides of the ball in the opener against Utah but McGuffie managed to find the end zone in his first game. Michigan’s offense was equally pathetic in its second game against Miami (OH) but McGuffie picked up 118 total yards. He followed that up with a stellar performance at Notre Dame in which he totaled 185 yards and a touchdown. By the third game of the season, McGuffie was clearly the best player on a poor offensive unit. After the Notre Dame game, he went for 80 yards and a touchdown against Illinois and he had 154 total yards against Toledo. Through six games, McGuffie had 612 total yards and four touchdowns leading ‘M’ in both categories. His 3.9 YPC was also impressive considering how poor Michigan’s offensive line had played. McGuffie was anything but a disappointment through six games.
McGuffie’s running style is furious. He looks like a chicken that just got its head chopped off. That style is what makes him effective but it’s also what sets him up for brutal collisions. I’ve been watching football for quite a few years and I’ve never seen one player take so many vicious hits in one season. It was tough to watch at times. Clearly, Michigan’s offensive line didn’t help matters leaving McGuffie prone to violent hits behind the line of scrimmage. The combination of poor line play and McGuffie’s reckless running style contributed to multiple concussions. His season—and career at Michigan—all but ended against Michigan State after a yet another devastating hit lead to a concussion. Through the first six games, McGuffie had 109 carries. Over the last six games he had nine carries. He managed to make it back for the Ohio State game only to suffer a second concussion on a brutal hit on a kickoff return. It would have been easy for him to sit out the season after the Michigan State game. He seemingly had every plausible excuse imaginable. Family problems? Check. Concussions? Check. Likely transfer? Check. Sit out the rest of the season? No check. McGuffie wasn’t just good in ’08, he was resilient.
It’s easy to rip on a player for deciding to transfer in the face of family issues. It’s easy to call a player a “bust” for not being an All American as a true freshman. Apparently, it’s also easy to be a moron. It remains to be seen how McGuffie’s time at Michigan will be remembered by non-morons. I get the impression that most ‘M’ fans appreciate his contributions and wish him luck. However, I’m not sure how many understand that he was pretty darn good as a true freshman. His year at Michigan was admirable for a number of reasons. He didn’t want to sign with Michigan but stuck with his word. He won the starting running back job as an 18-year old freshman. He was Michigan’s best player through six games of the season. He suffered a concussion and still made it back for the OSU game which only left him with another concussion. If that makes someone a fraud, then I want to be a fraud (minus the concussions and family issues).
McGuffie’s departure will not hurt Michigan on the field. There are plenty of capable running backs on the roster to fill his void. Rich Rodriguez is putting together monster recruiting classes which will make the McGuffie chapter in Michigan history a fleeting memory. Still, his toughness and perseverance on the field cannot be questioned and should not be forgotten. If the concussions don’t become a lingering issue, there is no question in my mind that he will thrive in Rice’s high octane offense. For the second time in less than a year, McGuffie might be the most hyped recruit in the history of a football program (apologies to Nick Fanuzzi who also was not an internet phenom). This time, though, it’s unlikely that he’ll get criticized for being good.