If you looked at Michigan's football schedule before the season and tried to predict wins and losses, it is very likely that you marked down "loss" next to road games at Michigan State and Iowa among others. Winning on the road with an inexperienced team against quality opponents in the Big Ten with a true freshman quarterback is a near-impossible endeavor. Before the season, it seemed that virtually everyone was in agreement on Michigan's chances in those two games. Well, the Michigan State and Iowa games have come and gone and Michigan lost both as expected. Yet, the response from a good-sized contingent of the fanbase has been vehement in its criticism of both Rich Rodriguez and the program he is building. What changed?
Michigan beat Notre Dame. That's what changed. Before Michigan beat Notre Dame, I cautioned against raising expectations to an unreasonable level based on one victory. After Michigan beat Eastern Michigan to climb to 3-0, I cautioned again against raising expectations. Rich Rodriguez is in the midst of building a program. The last thing he and his players need is to be burdened by the irrational exuberance of people who, for the most part, have very little understanding of the game of football. Apparently, there are a lot of people out there who think that iswhat the team needs. That's the only way to explain how two losses that were mere formalities before the season could be viewed as colossal failures during the season. There was a lot to criticize about Michigan's performances against both Michigan State and Iowa. Yet, it went to overtime on the road against Michigan State and came within two points of beating a top ten team on the road. Both are blatant signs of Michigan's progress from last season to this. Both are also evidence of just how close this program is to breaking through. Last season, Michigan went on the road to play a top-ten Penn State team. Michigan played well and still lost by 29 points. This team has improved more in one season than could be reasonably anticipated. Yet, you'd never know by the response from some fans and most of the local media.
Michigan went 3-9 last season. After next weekend, it will be 5-2 heading into a big-time matchup with Penn State. Instead of celebrating progress and potential, fans are demanding more and more like selfish toddlers. Except, toddlers have an excuse. In many ways, Rodriguez would've been better off losing to Notre Dame. His reward for winning that game has been a rapidly increased timeline and the removal of any and all patience and perspective. It would be one thing if the undermining was confined to the local print media that is trumpeting up Michigan's every misstep in a last ditch attempt to avoid death. As pathetic as that is, that by itself really isn't a threat. However, combined with a big enough contingent of ignorant fans, Rodriguez is facing quite an obstacle before he even steps foot on the field each week. The truly stupefying thing about all of the criticism is that it comes in the face of remarkable improvements.
Evidence of progress is everywhere. Yardage is up considerably. Points are up considerably. Competitiveness is night and day from last season. Everyone knows that Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are true freshman. Everyone knows that 75% of the team is freshmen and sophomores. Yet, after two noble efforts on the road against two quality opponents, all the Detroit News can muster up is a lousy hack job claiming that the team is starting to unravel? If I didn't know any better, I'd think the News has an agenda. If it were any other team in the country coming off a 3-9 season, it would be lavished with praise for coming such a long way in just one season. Instead, all anyone wants to talk about is everything but the progress. Before the season, charts chronicling Rodriguez's improvements from year one to year two at other schools were the rage. Vast improvements occurred at every previous stop including Glenville St., Tulane, Clemson, and West Virginia. Fans and media alike wondered if the same would happen at Michigan. After six games, it's possible that he is in the midst of the biggest first to second year jump of his career.
Nobody expected things to be as bad as they were last season. Rodriguez has received more than enough criticism for that. Everyone expected a huge improvement this season and Rodriguez has delivered. So, where is the praise? The only thing he has ever asked out of anyone is to respect the process. That seems to be the only thing people aren't willing to do. The hacks from the print media will continue creating stories until the papers die. That's not going to change. However, that stuff would be irrelevant if Michigan fans stopped giving credence to those reports. There are a lot of fans who are on board with Coach Rod and his program. The problem is that as long as there is a sizeable contingent willing to criticize every move, the News will have an audience for its fiction. The most frustrating thing about all of this is that the people who support Rodriguez will continue to support him and the people who are trying to undermine him will continue to undermine him. For some, this isn't about results. This isn't about logic. This is about ideology and preconceived notions. The fact that Rodriguez is progressing at Michigan is irrelevant which, unfortunately, means that he'll be running into resistance for a long, long time. It's kind of a sucky conclusion to reach but it's the sad reality of a sad situation.