As allegations and controversy swirl around the Michigan football program and head coach Rich Rodriguez, something seems very certain.
The season opener against Western Michigan University is a monumental game.
For Rodriguez, it could be the biggest game of his life—even bigger than bowl games that he coached in while at West Virginia.
Should his team fold under the pressure and drop the game to the Broncos at the Big House, it could spell the beginning of the end for Rodriguez's coaching career in Ann Arbor. Should he lose, he could find himself out of one of the most historic programs in college football history and ultimately, out of a job.
No, he probably won't lose the position immediately, but it could be a big factor when Bill Martin and the rest of the brass decides whether to bring him back after the 2009 season.
Entering the yearly showdown against Notre Dame 0-1, and then potentially 0-2 if the Wolverines drop the contest against the Fighting Irish, Rodriguez would have a mammoth job to get his team to rally to six or seven wins.
Anything less than that victory plateau for the second straight season could be enough alone to give him the heave ho.
Throw in the allegations, miscues, and transfers and there is enough of a reason why he would be absent next spring on Michigan's campus.
This is why Rodriguez must, absolutely must, defeat the smaller school from just down the road in Kalamazoo on Saturday.
Rodriguez fell at the hands of the University of Toledo last season and should they fall to another Mid-American Conference school, it would be detrimental.
These are teams Michigan is used to beating. Wait, no that's incorrect.
They're used to stomping these teams.
Under Lloyd Carr, the Wolverines routinely ran over the smaller schools such as WMU, Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio), and Central Michigan with double-digit victories.
It's tough enough to go through a Big Ten schedule unscathed, so every other game on the schedule is a must win and that is especially true in 2009. Michigan has dates against Delaware State, Eastern Michigan and the Broncos and these are definitely all must wins.
Anything less is a huge disappointment.
The schedule isn't any easier as the Big Ten will be competitive just like every season. Even though the Big House is hosting a lot of games this year, Michigan can't rely on home field advantage to get wins.
The mindset has to be one thing: domination.
Rodriguez and his staff must respect Western Michigan, but they also must look to harness the bullying swagger Michigan teams are known for. It may take some time, but that has to be the attitude.
For Rodriguez, a big start to the 2009 campaign is a must. The public and media could potentially push the allegations out of their minds if Michigan starts the season 4-0 or even 3-1 with a loss to Notre Dame. The team must be on the upswing headed into East Lansing against Michigan State.
The season is always full of ups and downs, but for Rodriguez and his squad the 2009 season has to start with an emphatic victory.
His job depends on it.