Posts Tagged ‘big ten conference’

h1

Michigan Football Deserves Better From Fans

12.11.10

Michigan fans at the moment generally consist of two separate camps: those who are skeptical of head coach Rich Rodriguez’s ability to win but are willing to give him another year to see; and those who have zero confidence in him producing a competitive team ever in Ann Arbor.

Both parties want the same thing: to win.  It seems that the different lies mainly in patience.

Joe Okubo at Bleacher Report writes his piece as if he’s from the former group, but he really is a member of the latter. His main point is that RichRod has not had a single signature win nor has he fielded a team that competitive in big games once in his three seasons coaching the Maize and Blue:

How do you let a walk-on QB with a plethora of injuries to almost five starters still pass for 250 yards and look like a Heisman candidate?  How do you let a team you know is going to run the ball torch your defense for six TD’s and almost 600 yards on the ground?  These are just a few things that have been bothering me and we’re only talking about this year.

It’s extraordinarily frustrating how we managed to lose to both Penn State and Wisconsin this year, I agree.  As a Michigan fan, it was difficult to watch and tougher to stomach afterward.  The thing is, though, the issues that Joe brings up are both results of the same issue that affected the team all year: the ridiculously green defense. So when Joe says that these are just a few things that have been bothering him, he’s really saying this is the one thing that’s been bothering me all year long.

It’s one thing – admittedly, a big thing – but one, nonetheless.  It wasn’t as if Michigan inability to stop Wisconsin once during their 30 straight running plays in the second half of that contest was due to Rodriguez not expecting Badgers coach Bret Bielema to run Clay/Ball/White up the gut; it was because the freshmen-led, smallish Michigan defense was no match for the bruising front line and bowling ball halfbacks from Madison.

You could argue that the 3-3-5 defensive scheme is deeply ineffective, and I would agree — though, would any formation have made our rag-tag group of barely-out-of-high-schoolers any better at stopping opposing offenses?  I doubt it.

The fact of the matter is with Rich Rodriguez at the helm we are not competitive.  It was never more apparent than in this year’s OSU game.  A friend and I were talking about what adjustments he could make to have a fighting chance of winning this game.  We had none.  Sure there are injuries to some key players, I understand that.

The teams’ performances against OSU over the past three years have been abyssmal.  We had a decent first half this year, but failed to capitalize on our rare defensive stops and couldn’t put it together on offense either.  But, basing the team’s level of competitiveness based on one game isn’t fair.   We can point to other games where we were clearly competitive, notably both games against Iowa this year and last.

Back in Iowa City in 2009, against a formidable Hawkeye squad ranked 14th in the nation, our true freshmen quarterbacks not only kept us in the game, but nearly marched down the field to a last-minute win if not for an ill-advised interception toss to seal the deal.  It was an extremely entertaining game; and also one in which we had a shot at winning the entire time.  Fast forward to this year against much of the same returning Hawkeyes who were now seniors and ranked 15th in the nation and, while the Maize and Blue started off rusty and got down early, they rallied back within striking distance until — again — interceptions sealed their fate.  Wolverine mistakes kept them out of the “W” column, but not for lack of trying.  Both games could’ve been won.

Same for the 2009 game against Michigan State — we lost in OT.  The 2008 game against Wisconsin, where we managed to actually secure a win, which didn’t happen much that season.  They’ve also beaten Notre Dame two of the past three years under RichRod (a team that ended up being quite competitive in their own right, finishing strong this season).

But for fans like Joe, none of this matters.

For those of you who think he’s winning 9 games next year, great, I appreciate your optimism.  But unless he’s beating MSU, PSU, Iowa and of course OSU, I won’t be happy.

Nine wins and a solid bowl game victory with a bunch of sophomores and juniors should be something we all are happy about. It would mean national title aspirations for 2012, something every Michigan fan wants to get back to.  Joe and I want the same thing; except he seems to want this current young squad to be there already, or, at the very least, no later than next year.  And hey – anything is possible; our offense went from flashes of excitement to 5th in the nation from last year to this year — maybe our defense will make a big leap, as well.

Also, his wishlist for wins is admirable — we’re well overdue for wins over all of those opponents, especially MSU and OSU — but, it’s an extraordinarily tall order even from an experienced, 10-win squad like the 2003 Wolverines who beat OSU, MSU, and Notre Dame… but dropped one to Iowa.  That team went to the Rose Bowl following at 10-win season, pretty much what Bo Schembechler dreamed for every single season.

That said – I’d love to see Michigan beat all of those teams he listed.  It’s been 13 years since a Wolverines squad beat all of them in the same season, not coincidentally also the same year that they won the national title.  I don’t imagine our team will be quite there next year, and if they don’t, I won’t consider it to be a total failure like others.  Nor should they.  If Joe had said that he wanted to see us competitive in all of those key games, I’d have stood behind his words wholeheartedly.  But no good fan can rationally expect a national title every year, calling anything less to be a disappointment.

Advertisements
h1

A Rational Argument in Favor of Rich Rodriguez Keeping his Job

11.29.10

Another year, another loss to Ohio State. It’s not something that any Michigan fan can stomach, let alone the seventh straight defeat at the hands of our bitter rivals. But what’s the solution? Many are saying – and have been for some time now – that it begins with firing head coach Rich Rodriguez. But, I’m still not ready to jump on that bandwagon.

To blame Rich Rod for all of our woes is failing to see the entire picture. I liken it to those who blame President Obama everything that’s going wrong in our country today. Americans in general have become extraordinarily impatient and short-sighted, with a side of selective amnesia fueled by nostalgia. For Republicans, that means forgetting all about President George W. Bush’s shortcomings and military and economic policies. For those clamoring for Rodriguez’s prompt dismissal, it’s about forgetting that our streak of futility against the Buckeyes started long before his arrival — Lloyd Carr brought us a national title, but he also went 1-6 against Jim Tressel’s crimson-and-gray squads.

Speaking of Carr, there were plenty who were ready for someone new by the time that he stepped down. 1997 feels like a dozen lifetimes ago and this is clearly a “What have you done for me lately?” environment. His inability to take down Mr. Sweater Vest himself, even with the number two team in the nation and a roster of future first-round NFL draft picks coupled with a similarly putrid record in bowl games didn’t do much to solidify his reputation amongst the restless Michigan fanbase. But at least he had the impossible-to-refute response of: “I won a national title, ninjas.” Rich Rod’s best is: “I almost went to the title game but I lost to Pitt one year. I owned the Big East, mothertruckers!”

People will say, the facts are the facts. RichRod is 0-3 versus both Michigan State and Ohio State. He holds one of the worst season records in Michigan history (3-9, his first season at UM). His squads had back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in Michigan history since the 60s. He’s 0-11 against Big Ten teams with winning records at the end of the season.

And I concede these facts. But, the important part is to look at context.

He was hired relatively late in the recruiting season back in 2008, not giving him much time to get the kids he needed for his system his first year — namely, a quarterback who could legitimately run his offense.  That ended in a 3-9 season.  A total debacle.  I give him a mulligan on that one though because of the circumstances: new coach, new scheme, player attrition due to coaching change that was inevitable when going from a pro-style offense to a spread, shortened recruiting time.  It was worse than we’d all hoped, but given what we had, it’s not quite as surprising looking back on it.

So last year was his true first year and he went 5-7.  You know who else went 5-7 in his second season as head coach?  Yup: Jim Harbaugh.  Now, I don’t mean to say that one coach is better or worse than the other, only that for those who think that hiring Harbaugh will instantly make our defense like our old squads we had that were tops in the country with the same roster that we currently have, you’re clearly smoking some good herbal refreshments.  I bring it up because, for many programs going through massive change like the Michigan is going through, there is a curve of excellence.  It takes time to get things moving.  (Also note: that Harbaugh’s first season he went 4-8, not much better than RichRod’s inaugural run.)

Granted, we got smoked in the Big Ten, losing to our main rivals – again – and didn’t finish strong at all.  But remember again: this wasn’t like we had all-Americans all over the field here or something.  It wasn’t like we were underachieving based on the players on the field (which could definitely be argued for Lloyd Carr’s final squad who was full of NFL starters yet couldn’t beat our archrival nor win a bowl game until the last game of their careers.)  Our current players were and have been playing their hearts out every single week.  But they were mainly freshmen last year!  Both of our starting QBs – Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier – were true freshmen leading that offense, which showed flashes but sputtered because, well, they were barely out of high school trying to take on the junior/senior led teams of the Big Ten.  It wasn’t going to happen — save for that miracle against Wisconsin in RichRod’s first season.

And now that brings us to the 2010 campaign. We finished 7-5 in the regular season and made a bowl game for the first time in three years.  We lost to Michigan State and Ohio State again, extending our futility streak even longer.  But, 7-5 is what was pretty much expected of us by just about everyone.  I had hopes for an 8-win season, and I still hold onto that hope because I believe we’ll win our bowl game, making us 8-5 on the year.  You know who else went 8-5 in his third season?  You guessed it: Jim Harbaugh!

The reality is that some vocal Michigan fans haven’t liked Rich Rodriguez since the very beginning.  They wanted change to happen overnight and they wanted to just close their eyes, stomp their feet, and cry about having Michigan football back to the way it was with the click of their heels.  Change doesn’t happen like that.  It’s sometimes long and often hard.  But think about it this way: the worst is over!  The change has happened. The offense was ranked 5th in the nation this year — up until the OSU disaster — and was run by mainly sophomores; the leaps and bounds they made since last year was incredible.  Now, everyone can agree that the defense needs serious help.

But look at the reality there: we lost our two starting, senior cornerbacks (arguably the more porous aspect of our D) Troy Woolfolk and Donovan Warren — one to season ending injury in the beginning of the year and the other because he thought he was ready for the NFL and left early only to not even be drafted.  In an ideal world, those two would’ve been in our secondary and you could argue that thing would’ve been drastically different.  Instead we had true freshmen playing against veteran QB-WR combos like Pryor/Sanzenbacher and Stanzi/Johnson-Koulianos — and, well, we all know how that went.  Our front three were decent and our linebackers are improving.  But when you play sometimes eight true freshmen on a defense in the Big Ten, there’s just not going to be the stout response that we’d like from a maize-and-blue squad.

Short story long: Rich Rodriguez deserves another year. It’d be foolish to pull the plug at this point and change everything over again to a whole new coach and new system when things are noticeably improving.  The kids love the coach.  The kids trust the coach.  And the coach has our kids playing hard.  They never quit even during the embarrassment in Columbus on Saturday when the game was totally out of reach.  I mean, of course they wouldn’t: they’re Michigan men.  And those who stay will be champions.

(And for the record, in Jim Harbaugh’s fourth season, he’s currently 11-1 and has Stanford in the top 5 of the BCS rankings, poised for a big money berth.  I’m not predicting that success for us next year — we’re a different, younger team with a totally different roster — but 9-10 wins is clearly in our sights and attainable.  And, who can honestly be upset with a 9-10 win season?  Are we really that arrogant?)

Image courtesy of larrysphatpage’s Flickr Photostream.

h1

To Michigan Fans Still Unhappy Even After a Win: Get Over Yourselves

11.13.10

Michigan won back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time in recent memory by defeating Purdue 27-16 on the road today.

This comes after a monster win over Illinois, smothering the Illini’s two-point conversion attempt on the last play of the game that needed three overtime periods to determine the winner amongst two teams that kept waiting for their defenses to make that one stop that would give them the victory.

Surprisingly: it was the Maize and Blue squad that provided that one crucial goal-line stand after having not done hardly anything of note for… well, pretty much the last two-plus years.  And, it was one of the most thrilling and maddening games I’ve seen the Wolverines play.

After a three-game skid that threatened to look like the futility of the past two seasons, the Wolverines are 7-3, bowl eligible, and even winning games because of their defense (rather than in spite of).

There are fans out there who haven’t been happy with Rich Rodriguez since the day he was hired.  Well, they were probably unsure at that moment but they were for sure unhappy when UM started out his first season with a loss and went on to having an embarrassing 3-9 record.  And it’s been hard to convince them since.

Michigan fans are extremely proud of their school, their football program, and – possibly even more importantly than anything else – their winning tradition. I get it.  I went to Michigan.  I love that we have the winningest program in all of college football history.  I love that we have the biggest football stadium in the country.  I love that we have 11 national titles, 42 conference titles, and 3 Heisman trophy winners. I love that we have had the longest active streak of going to a bowl game.

It’s what’s made these past two seasons that saw only three wins in the Big Ten and no postseason berths (not to mention extending the losing streaks against rivals MSU and OSU) even tougher pills to swallow.  No one likes losing. But when you’re not used to losing more than three (four, tops) games a season, you get spoiled.  You get a sense of entitlement.

Since we’re Michigan, we must be great.  Since we’ve always won a ton of games, we should continue to win a ton of games.

After last week’s win, I saw all kinds of comments on Facebook and on news articles from Michigan fans angry over the win.  Despite the fact that Big Blue scored one in the ‘W’ column after a three-game losing streak and became bowl eligible for the first time in three years (and hopefully starting a new record-breaking streak), people were still calling for RichRod’s head for the fact that the team allowed 65 points to be dumped on them.

People in the comments sections also bemused that anyone would bother being excited for a win over Illinois — you can practically taste the lack of respect dripping off the words, as if beating even an arguably solid (UI has had a defense that ranked in the top-20 in the nation) Big Ten team was below them, because historically we’ve had Illinois’ number so therefore they’re always unworthy of beating us.

Larry Lage described the excitement as such:

“The Wolverines, meanwhile, celebrated as if they had clinched a Rose Bowl bid instead of just a trip to some second-tier bowl. Forcier jumped and screamed as he ran off the field, then slapped hands with fans along the tunnel before racing to the locker room.”

Why shouldn’t everyone rejoice? I’m sure if I had been there, wrapped up in the excitement and intensity of the game, rolling with all the ups and downs of the inherent drama, going from crushing defeat when Forcier lost a fumble on his first play to total elation when the defense stopped Scheelhaase’s pass, I’d have been beside myself, celebrating with my fellow Michigan fans in every way I knew how.  It’s why you go to games.

And, of course, after this week’s win, the Michigan fans that I saw on Facebook and even with whom I texted throughout the game, the messages were all negative and pessimistic.  They declared it an ugly win; as if it were still embarrassing and unacceptable to not play a flawless game despite winning by 11 points, on the road, in the rain and wind, and holding Purdue to not a single offensive touchdown. How cynical and impossible-to-please are we when all we do is focus on the negative in a victory?  Sure we had five turnovers on offense, for the second week in a row.  But, c’mon: leave that for the coaches.  They’re the ones who are supposed to never be happy, even in a win — but not us fans.

I say to those cynical people: get over yourselves.

I think it’s because many of these people aren’t fans of RichRod, so they have to justify their dislike even in the face of his success.  We won?  Well, yeah, but look at those turnovers.  Our defense held Purdue to only field goals?  Great, but they still racked up nearly 300 yards against us.  We outlasted Illinois in triple-overtime?  Did you see the score, though!? At this point, they’re too proud and have been too vocal in their opposition to Rodriguez as head coach that they can’t now admit that our team is improving.  So they have to just focus on the negative and miss the entire joy of watching a team grow before our very eyes.

The fact is that we’re 7-3.  We’re .500 in the Big Ten.  And we’re going to a bowl game.  We are improving.  Our offense is ranked 5th in the nation.  Our rushing offense is set to break all kinds of Michigan records — a school known for its rushing prowess.

To not enjoy these past two victories is to miss the fun in being a fan of a team.  The point of being such a huge fan is that your day is either made or broken by the outcome of this weekly game.  Winning brings euphoria; losing drives you to bitterness and finding yourself irritated by anything anyone does around you all day.  Winning – for us fans, not for the kids who play the game – is everything.  There are no moral victories against your arch-rivals.  There is no consolation in almost.

And, these past two Saturdays in November, we won.

So, let’s enjoy it.

Image courtesy of larrysphatpage’s Flickr Photostream.