The Haters smell blood in the water. They're rubbing their hands in amusement and anticipation, enjoying each new article proclaiming the imminent fall of the Michigan Wolverines football program.
Their vindication comes with each new preseason ranking listing the Wolverines at a mediocre No. 24 or *gasp* unranked.
Those Spartan, Buckeye, Irish fans—the list goes on and on—are giddy because this is the year that Michigan finally finishes under .500.
This is the year that the proverbial cupboards are bare.
Their five-star rated sophomore quarterback? Gone to Arkansas. Their top returning offensive lineman? Gone to Ohio State.
Their top quarterback, running back, offensive lineman, and wide receivers from 2007? Gone to the NFL. Heck, they don't even have a finished stadium to play in!
So this will be the year that mighty Michigan goes the way of Nebraska, Miami, Notre Dame, Florida State, and any other great, storied, program that's fallen on hard times.
Or will it?
There's an often-quoted line at Michigan. I'm sure by now everyone is sick of hearing it, but it hangs around because a legend once said it: "Those who stay will be champions."
Of course, Bo Schembechler said this when he took the coaching job at Michigan nearly 40 years ago. He had 140 players at the start of his first training camp and a mere 75 by the end of it.
Much like Rich Rodriguez and Mike Barwis, Schembechler's camp was grueling and a drastic change of pace from the previous regime. His words held true though. Each one of those players won a Big Ten championship during their four years at Michigan.
I'm not saying Michigan is going to come out and win the Big Ten championship this year. But within the next four years? I'll be shocked if they don't.
In fact, it's safe to say we expect a national title game within that span.
We're talking about this year though.
Michigan has a very young offense, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet. The starting running back could be anyone, from junior Brandon Minor to junior Carlos Brown to true freshman Sam McGuffie.
On receiver they will be led by junior Greg Mathews, who has some experience, two standout sophomores in Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway, and finally, true freshman standout Darrell Stonum.
The offensive line is where the biggest question marks lie. With the departure of Justin Boren, returning sophomore Steven Schilling is the lone starter on the O-line with any significant game experience.
The defense, however, is a different story. The secondary in particular could shine this year, with sophomore standout Donovan Warren, senior Morgan Trent, and highly-touted true freshman Boubacar Cissoko at corner.
Seniors Brandon Harrison and Charles Stewart lock down the safety spots with, junior Stevie Brown factoring in the mix as well.
No doubt the college football world will be watching the debut of the new Michigan football team when they open the season on Aug. 30 against Utah. Utah isn't exactly a powerhouse, but they sure aren't a cupcake either. They've also been running the spread offense a lot longer than Michigan has.
Truth be told, Utah could give Michigan trouble. It will fall on the defense to step up and hold things down until the young offense can gel. Fortunately, Michigan will get a bit of a breather in their second game against Miami (Ohio).
Michigan will have those two games to develop some chemistry before a tough three-game stretch against Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Illinois.
I see Wisconsin, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State as the rubber games for Michigan this year. Three of those games are on the road, so to be fair we'll call all three of them losses for now.
Michigan figures to lose one to a Michigan State, Illinois, or Purdue as well.
I see an 8-4 season as a safe bet for this team, all things considered, 7-5 at worst.
I've tried to look for ways Michigan could go 5-7 or even 6-6, and I just don't see it. The offense is young but very talented. The defense is experienced and returns many starters.
Michigan has had some bad seasons in the past, but to almost every Michigan fan out there today, a bad season is 7-5 or 8-4. Sub-.500 just doesn't compute for Michigan.
In fact, the last time Michigan had a losing record was 1967. The last time Michigan didn't play in a bowl game was 1975. Both streaks are current NCAA Division I-A records.
This team has been through harder times then the recent offseason and persevered through them. A little mudslinging and a couple of players leaving aren't going to end a streak that has stood for over 40 years.
With Michigan bringing in another top 10 recruiting class so far for 2009, don't expect the team to take a nosedive any time soon either. The Wolverines aren't the all-time leader in Division I-A victories for nothing.
There is a different standard in Ann Arbor. When Notre Dame rebuilds, they have a 3-9 season. When Michigan rebuilds, they play in the Alamo Bowl instead of the Rose or Citrus Bowl.
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