Prior to every college football season, Michigan fans analyze their team and determine whether this year's team belongs in one of two categories: potential Big Ten Champion or potential National Champion. Generally, these expectations were more than realistic.
In a sharp contrast, the 2008 season is filled with talk of how potentially bad this team could be, with a new coach, a drastically altered system, and none of last year's stars returning for this year's campaign. The two choices Michigan has for quarterback are a freshman (although Chad Henne worked out pretty well) and a walk-on.
Ohio State is currently miles ahead in all aspects of the game, and for once it looks as if the team down the road in East Lansing may have a better early season outlook.
I'm not going to be the one to say Michigan has nothing to worry about, that no matter what the circumstance nine or ten wins is still likely. Rich Rodriguez is a combined 6-23-1 in his opening seasons at new programs.
This year Wolverine fans are in the rare situation of not being able to expect to be the leaders and best.
That being said, the nation should make no mistake—this is not an all-is-lost situation. The 2008 Michigan Wolverines are far from the 2007 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Regardless of whether or not they are ideal for the system, the Michigan players are all part of annual top ten recruiting classes.
These kids are good at the game of football, however it is being played. All this “transition year” means is that the same caliber talent is put on the field with less experience and a little (well, maybe a lot) more creativity.
That means that Minnesota, Northwestern, all those MAC teams, and especially Notre Dame need to stop licking their respective chops. Michigan is still putting a better football team out onto the field and will most likely exit as the victor.
Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin need to watch out too, because in this year’s matchup with Michigan, all the pressure is on them to win. Michigan has a tendency to relish in the role of spoiler (see ’93, ’95, and ’96, Buckeye fans).
Another reason for optimism is the fact that Rich Rodriguez’ first year statistics are based on him assuming the head coaching position on previously awful teams. He has never had anything close to the resources and talent Michigan has to offer.
Wolverine fans need to prepare themselves for a type of season they have never seen before. The obstacles this team must overcome to be successful are more prominent than ever before.
Opponents, however, need to brace themselves too. After all, this is still Michigan.