It will take more than you think to take Michigan down in 2011.
In 2010, Michigan had the country’s 110th-best defense and starts 2011 with an entirely new coaching staff.
As a result, my devoted Irish faithful have let me know in no uncertain terms that Notre Dame will crush Michigan like I crush a Styrofoam cup after an inspiring round of beer pong.
And yes, I know that it's an empirical fact that if Dayne Crist doesn’t check into La La Hotel for a half, Notre Dame walks all over Michigan last year.
I also know that as the year wore on, Notre Dame's defense improved dramatically as Michigan's went spiraling over a cliff, dragging coach Rich Rodriguez down with it.
With all the turmoil in the program, there’s every reason to believe Michigan will be an easy mark.
Make no mistake, Michigan will be one of ND’s toughest outs in 2011, and I can tell you five good reasons why.
Brady Hoke is the new Michigan man, that grew up in Ohio and went to college in Indiana.
Despite popular belief, new head coach Brady Hoke is not the Jim Harbaugh consolation prize. OK, maybe he is, but he's a great second choice. All right, third. But he may just be the best damn third ever.
Hoke has all the right skills for the Michigan job. He’s tough, he's experienced, he knows what he’s doing, and although I never personally understood why it matters, he has the right coaching bloodlines to appease the beleaguered alumni.
And don’t be deceived by his 47-50 career won-loss record. He took over a Ball State program that was so bad, watching it made whole crowds physically ill. He left after a 12-0 season.
He took over a 2-10 San Diego State team that liked cotton summer dresses and long walks on the beach and turned it into a tough-as-nails 9-4 bowl team in two years.
Trust me, the only other guy I know who could get a 12-win season out of Ball State had a side job handing out loaves of bread with a side of fish.
Hoke brought offensive coordinator Al Borges and his 33.7 points a game with him from San Diego State, so they’re already familiar with each other’s morning breath.
Unlike U of M's 2010 standard game plan of 67 consecutive "read options," Borges' offense is an effective amalgamation of a West Coast system and the “Air Coryell” one-back offense.
His multiple offenses are predicated upon a conceptual passing game, mixed in with zone running, all wrapped in a tasty burrito.
More importantly for the current Michigan roster, over his career he has been extremely adept at adjusting his system to his personnel, and has a ton of experience tweaking his offense whenever necessary. If there's a knock on Borges, it may be that he has too much experience.
After faithfully serving his country, Borges got his first job as an offensive coordinator about a week or two after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, which, if I remember my history, was the year 1986.
He has been an offensive coordinator for teams in three major conferences (the PAC-10 at Cal, the Big 10 at Indiana, and the SEC at Auburn), and when he’s had the talent, he’s had elite offenses.
In 2011, he has the talent.
Watch some film of his team; the football is so beautiful, you’ll want to buy it a drink and take it home with you.
Denard Robinson wasn't easy to catch in 2010.
Michigan returns everybody but the left guard and one of the stadium ushers from the sixth-best offense in the country.
A talented receiving corps that accounted for 167 catches, 2,362 yards and 17 touchdowns is back intact.
Oh, and the big knock is that their fastest player and Big Ten offensive player of the year might have trouble learning the new offense.
Borges will have roughly two months of practice time to figure that out, but even so, it's an even bet sophomore phenom 6’4”, 215 pound Devin Gardner can run it if Robinson can't.
Be that as it may, we all know Michigan’s “spread” players are too light to play in Borges’ pro-style offense anyway.
After all, last year’s San Diego State O-line averaged a massive 6’4” 298. Going into the spring, Michigan’s offensive line averages a minuscule 6’4 ½ “ 295.
So will somebody please tell me, what part of this offense is going to suck?
Michigan's secondary ran around in a lot of circles in 2010.
OK, when your defense finishes somewhere below whale crap, everywhere you look is up.
Michigan’s 110th-ranked defense in 2011 is best visually characterized as a pre-snap steel coil that springs into a comedy troupe which suddenly gets hit by a beer truck, then rolled by a band of hobos.
And it got worse on second down.
In a stroke of pure geniousityness, RichRod ordered defensive coordinator and plucky sidekick Greg Robinson to put in that goofy-ass 3-3-5 scheme.
To his credit, in his 35-year coaching career, Robinson had never actually seen or coached a 3-3-5 defense, but had heard rumors of it while sleeping at a Holiday Inn Express.
Compounding the confusion, UM's secondary often had four freshmen on the field trying their very bravest not to pee themselves on national television.
In contrast to the youth and inexperience across the board in 2010, nine starters return for 2011, and some of them aren't even that horrible. Stud defensive tackle Mike Martin returns to anchor a front seven that should be much better in a more conventional 3-4 scheme.
After sitting out 2010 with a foot injury, their best corner, Troy Woolfolk, returns to a much more seasoned secondary. J.T. Floyd, their other senior corner, returns after missing the second half of 2010 with a bad ankle.
Oh, right, one more thing: they hired one of the better defensive coordinators in the country in Greg Mattison.
Michigan's defense will be much improved; the only real question is when.
Coach Rich Rodriguez wasn't the brightest bulb in the Big House.
Michigan’s biggest improvement in 2011 may be addition by subtraction.
After three years of conscientiously blaming everything on everybody but himself, the dingaling circus otherwise known as head coach Rich Rodriguez has left town...on a rail.
By all accounts, offensive guru Rich Rod sure knew his one play...the read option, and the spot pass, slant, fade, skinny post, and go-route off the read option, and...uh, well...I guess that was pretty much it in the guru department for the Richster.
To stave off any potential criticism, Rodriguez made it abundantly clear to the UM alumni and local media that he had absolutely nothing to do with silly little details like defense and special teams.
While he was at it, he also captured the collective hearts and minds of the Midwest press with his constant use of the word “ain’t.”
He is now gone, but not forgotten. I for one will fondly remember the Chinese fire drills on crack big Rich loosely referred to as “field goals.”
Kickers that couldn’t boot Snooki’s big ass if she bent over right in front of them are a rare find in today’s college football.
Notre Dame needs to ruin Mr. Robinson's neighborhood in 2011.
Yes, Michigan is in a transition year, and yes, Notre Dame is also returning a much more experienced and talented squad.
But the new Michigan staff has been through this dance before, and they’re not going to wait until 2012 to get Michigan’s talent back to doing what it does best.
Let me go on record that I do think that, since last September, Notre Dame has developed into a much tougher, more disciplined team.
Absent untimely shots to both Crist's and Rees' coconuts, Brian Kelly's second-year offense should manage to exploit UM's newly structured defense.
ND's more experienced defense should be able to slow the Michigan offense enough so my dear old Mom doesn't hit the whiskey and beat the dog half to death again.
But mark my words, Notre Dame will have to bring its “A” game to Ann Arbor on Sept. 10or Irish Nation will be flying its flag at half-mast for the third straight year.
ND should win, as long as we make no mistake about just how tough that will be.