2008 marked a new era in Michigan football. Lloyd Carr was absent from the campus of Ann Arbor and a new brand of football, under Rich Rodriguez's guidance, swept through the locker room and playing fields.
To say 2008 was a transition year is a serious understatement.
The Wolverines' 3-9 record marked the worst record by a Maize and Blue team since the 1962 season under Bump Elliot. It was also the first season since 1975 that Michigan failed to qualify for a postseason bowl game. The 243 points scored was the lowest total in 25 years and the team allowed the most points by its opponents in school history.
Thank goodness Rodriguez had a "get out of jail free" card handy. He received the free pass because a complete overhaul of the roster and staff was in order and assumed when he arrived on campus.
He ushered in a new era with a rocky start. However, the 2009 season looks to be much brighter for the Wolverines.
Rodriguez has three potential quarterbacks at his disposal—and of Rodriguez mold—and has a plethora of other weapons to use as the season begins.
If last season wasn't one big lesson, I'm not sure what is and everyone knows the consequences if another season ends with Michigan near the bottom of the standings.
Believe it or not, but Rodriguez will ride his sure-handed and experienced running backs and talented defense in the early games of 2009. This should help give the young quarterbacks confidence to succeed early on.
The schedule isn't any easier than 2008 and perhaps is a little harder with Western Michigan—a team that took out Illinois a year ago—strolling into Ann Arbor for the first game of the season. They'll certainly be licking their chops again this year at the prospect of taking out another Big Ten foe.
Playing six out of the first eight games at home, however, will be beneficial. With 110,000 or more screaming fans, the Maize and Blue definitely won't fear for lack of support. The backing of the home crowd should never be underestimated in Ann Arbor.
The first four games are at home, and if Michigan triumphs over Notre Dame in the second game, the squad could be running into East Lansing confidently with a 4-0 record.
The rest of the schedule—save Delaware State—looks tough, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll fold under the pressure.
Most of the team is a year older, a year wiser and can still feel the battle wounds from last year under their pads.
The offensive line is experienced, as most, if not all five positions are expected to be filled with upperclassmen.
Seniors Brandon Graham, Obi Ezeh, Jonas Mouton and Stevie Brown lead a defense that expects to be leaps and bounds better than the horrific one that took the field in 2008. The secondary should also be much improved with speedsters Boubacar Cissoko and Donovan Warren manning the corner spots.
True freshman William Campbell—rated one of the top defensive players in the country coming in—could also be a force on the defensive line.
The skill positions seem set and poised for a monster year.
Wide receiver is stacked with players who dazzle with speed and ankle-breaking cuts. The tandem of Greg Mathews, Martavious Odoms, Junior Hemingway and Daryl Stonum, among others, should be among the top groups in the Big Ten when healthy.
Kelvin Grady, a former Michigan basketball player, should also see time in the Michigan offense and could be very dangerous if he gets the ball with space.
The running back position has depth with Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown and up-and-coming stars in Michael Shaw and Vince Smith.
Minor is expected to rush for over 1,000 yards and Brown and Shaw are no slouches when they enter the game. The backs should help the young quarterbacks, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, get a feel for the offense in the early going.
While the young quarterbacks will most likely go through some growing pains, it's not impossible to think one of the two will be able to handle the offense going forward, especially since they are quarterbacks designed for Rodriguez's offense.
And perhaps the best Michigan player isn't on offense or defense.
Zoltan Mesko, the senior punter, has the chance to become one of the best college punters in history. He offers Michigan a deadly weapon in the field position game and that shouldn't be overlooked.
Looking at the talent and potential the Maize and Blue have for the 2009 season, it isn't hard to see how the squad could potentially be fighting for one of the top spots in the Big Ten. The championship might be unreachable, but a bowl game is certainly not out of the question.
Just when Michigan football looked destined for a few years mired in mediocrity, suddenly the future seems bright and it all starts in 2009.