Now that I have your attention let's consider Michigan's prospects for 2009.
The doom and gloom predictions are out in full force from the pre-season rags to sundry early rankings from various publications and networks. Let's face it, they are all in the business of selling magazines or whatever their medium may be, and a headline of 'Michigan to have average results” just doesn't sell. Something more sensational is required, perhaps along the lines of even comparing Michigan's singular rebuilding year to Notre Dame's decade of futility.
Here's how I see things.
You may safely ignore any prediction from a pre-season rag regarding Michigan or the rest of the Big Ten. If you investigate their accuracy, you'll find them notoriously poor with regards to our conference. The reason why can be left for another time. It's enough to know that most of those predictions have little weight.
This year is more difficult than usual to predict given the coaching changes, new offense, new defense, etc... On the surface we have little to go on beyond Rich Rod's second season at West Virgina (9-4). Still, I believe there are some important indicators that point to success in `09.
We can start with an overview of the past decade of Michigan football. Throwing out the high and low marks (11 & 3 wins), Michigan has averaged a little better than 9 wins per season. While the transition last year was a train-wreck in many respects, the results do not necessarily reflect on the over-all talent level of the team (other than quarterback). This is still Michigan and talent does not just suddenly evaporate. Assuming this team has even just average ability for the Wolverines, we should expect a mark in the range of 9 wins +1/-2.
In '08, Michigan didn't have a Big Ten caliber athlete under center, and it showed. Threet and Sheridan are to be lauded for their effort but under normal circumstances neither would have ever seen the field.
Tate Forcier on the other hand may be the most talented Michigan has had in years, as those who saw the Spring game will attest. Yes, he will be a true frosh and was a little on the skinny side, but he has had the advantage of enrolling early,was the primary QB in spring ball & will have 9 months in Mike Barwis' S&C program before he sees the field. Word out of Ann Arbor is that Tate has bulked up a great deal as of June. This is not your typical true freshman situation.
As for the rest of the offense; ten returning starters (the most of any team in the Big Ten) augmented by a great deal of red-shirted talent & incoming freshmen. Hard to find anything wrong with that. Starting new young talent in '08 should pay off in spades in '09.
The obvious weak link for the Wolverines is defense with only 5 returning starters however this is nothing new. The defense has been trying to find itself since 1997. If the offense can generate some yards and control the ball, taking pressure off this young, developing unit in the early going, which is reasonable to expect given how Rich Rod's second seasons have gone in the past, Michigan should be in decent shape. In short, the defense probably won't be a strength this year, but neither should it prove to be an albatross around this team's neck.
Coaching is improved over the prior era in nearly every respect. Part of this means the staff is dedicated to a singular offensive style, a new style that Big Ten defenses will have to figure out how to stop once it starts hitting on all cylinders. We should see that yet this year.
The strength and condition program, besides being among the most advanced in the country, has had a year to take hold. It take s while to successfully move from High Intensity Training (HIT) to Periodization Training. They are very different animals. We are due to see dividends from all that work this autumn.
Also working in Michigan's favor is the home schedule. Notre Dame, PSU & tOSU at home can only help matters.
In short, expect good things this fall. Expect results more in line with Michigan of the past few decades. This is a young but very talented team with a great deal going for it on the sidelines and up in the box. A 9-3 regular season mark seems about right with with a loss to a team it should have beaten in a game where nothing seems to go right paired with a wild upset for the ages (vs Ohio State in Ann Arbor) to close things out and send the Wolverines off to a sunny bowl location on New Years Day.