As the 2009 Michigan football season approaches, fans and critics across the country have given a wide range of predictions on what to expect from this year's team.
Some anticipate another 3-9 season. Others boldly predict a 9-3 turnaround.
No one can argue that 2009 will be absolutely crucial in determining the future of this new era of Michigan football.
Rich Rodriguez, having narrowly escaped the wrath of the Good Ol' Boy Network, now must prove his worthiness to the sea of pseudo-liberal alumni who quietly hold their judgment until a later date. Just how much later depends on how this year goes.
We all know how much pressure is on Coach Rodriguez. But in my opinion, Greg Robinson is the man with the heaviest burden when September comes.
For so long, Michigan fans had been spoiled with stingy defenses. Even when the Lloyd Carr playbook (more like a pamphlet, really) failed to produce much offense, we could always count on the defense keeping the Wolverines in the game. We were almost desensitized by how dependable it was.
All that came to an end about midway into the 2008 campaign.
Now it's up to Mr. Robinson to tighten all the loose screws and whip the Big Blue defenders into shape. Like all the great defensive teams of the past—the more we don't notice the coach, the more we don't talk about him, the brighter his future will look on the Michigan sidelines.
As far as player expectations go, it's a no-brainer.
Tate is great. He's a Forcier to be reckoned with. May the Forcier be with you. Michigan has rewritten the Charles Dickens classic: Tate Expectations.
Feel free to send in your own corny headline. Any way you put it, the true freshman will have all eyes watching him when he steps under center.
The coaching staff might try to downplay his importance and say that every quarterback on the roster will have a chance to compete for the starting job. Make no mistake about it--he is Michigan's best option.
The spread offense is a lot like how a basketball team is led by a point guard. If your point guard can shoot well, he will be shadowed by the man guarding him. If he is quick and can drive to the hoop, the defense will generally back off and stay in the paint.
However...if he can shoot the lights out as well as drive and score, it's a difficult thing to stop for any defense.
Tate Forcier must be the point guard who can hit his receivers, and also escape the pressure with his quickness when he needs to. Otherwise, the Wolverines can expect another long Christmas break with their families at the end of this year.
In addition to the new Rich Rod recruits, there must be a strong core of upperclassmen to step up and lead this team.
Look for Brandon Minor to be a more vocal leader on and off the field. His consistent running power was one of the few bright spots from last year's dismal season.
On the other side of the ball, Brandon Graham has the potential for a dominant year at defensive end.
His performance speaks for itself, but if the Michigan defense is going to come together as a strong unit, he must become another assistant coach for his teammates, especially on the heels of a chaotic season of scheme changes and bruised egos.
Michigan fans must continue to be patient as the Wolverines progress through their schedule. The non-conference opponents are not world-class powerhouses by any stretch of the imagination, so don't be surprised if they go into the Big Ten stretch with a 2-1 or even 3-0 record.
The real litmus test will come on November 21. The Maize and Blue must show they can put a sizable tear into the Sweater Vest if there's any chance of seeing Michigan at the top of the Big Ten standings once again.
Michigan must be competitive. And if a win against Ohio State doesn't happen this year, at least leave us with confidence for the next time.