Even though I am a huge Ohio State fan, I want to make it abundantly clear that I have tremendous respect for the University of Michigan as a higher institution of learning as well as for its storied football program. Year after year, Michigan has been one of the premier football programs in the country, and its battles with Ohio State have earned THE GAME with the reputation of being the top rivalry in the country. If you haven't done so yet, I highly recommend reading these books on Bo Schembechler. Not only are both books very informative and entertaining, I believe you can truly grasp why Bo Schembechler was Woody Hayes' prize disciple. Even more importantly from a Michigan perspective ~ you actually learn the depth of respect and love Bo had for Woody Hayes, and how Bo built the Michigan program along the lines of Woody Hayes' Ohio State teams.
Now let me address the subject at hand - Michigan will struggle in 2008. I do not believe they will have a winning record, ending their consecutive bowl appearance at 33. I may be wrong, but even if Michigan does make it to a bowl game, it will not be a New Year's Day bowl game. The probable destination would be the Motor City Bowl.
I can feel the e-mails lining up as I write this. Let me elaborate and explain why Michigan is going to struggle:
Point 1 ~ The personnel is not in place to run the spread option: Yes, Coach Rodriguez is a good coach. He turned around West Virginia, and he will do a great job at Michigan once he gets his personnel in place to run the spread option offense effectively. Please reread the italicized line again ~ once he gets his personnel in place. The personnel on hand for multiple generations was recruited to play Bo Schembechler-type football.
Let's look at this key point further. Spread option offense 101: The quarterback gets the snap from center in the shotgun formation, and fakes the ball to the running back. This movement will keep the linebacker from committing to the quarterback, in the event of a play action pass or the quarterback will keep the ball themselves on a waggle or bootleg around the end. Sounds just like Pat White of West Virginia, right? Here's the problem for Michigan this year - the probable starting quarterback (Steven Threet) is not very mobile. If I am a linebacker on the opposition, I am going to sell out against the run because I am either going to tackle the running back or get to the quarterback. The lack of a mobile quarterback makes the spread option offense much easier to defend.
If Terrelle Pryor had signed with Michigan this year, the spread option offense would have been that much more effective. Michigan fans point out that incoming recruit Justin Feagin may win the starting job, but that's asking a lot of a true freshman to come into Michigan and lead a brand new offensive scheme that is lacking...
Point 2 ~ An offensive line that is familiar with the spread option offense: This was going to be a problem even before Justin Boren left Michigan in the spring (Before Michigan fans start with all of the traitor comments, remember something - Boren was honorable mention All Big Ten last season. Don't pretend that the kid all of a sudden became a stiff because he left Michigan for Ohio State.). Steven Schilling returns as the lone offensive line starter from last season, and Ohio State's Vernon Gholston made the guy look like a turnstile for most of the game. With an inexperienced quarterback, running back, wide receivers, and offensive line struggling with a new offense, that is going to lead to...
Point 3 ~ Pressure on the Michigan defense: There is a tremendous amount of optimism with the new Michigan defensive staff. While there is talent on this side of the ball, and I believe the new strength and conditioning coach will have the entire Michigan team in better shape than before, even the best of defenses get tired out if they are continually on the field. For points 1 and 2 above, I am predicting lots of three and out offensive series for Michigan this coming fall. Michigan will need to rely on its defense to keep them in the game, but even the best defenses get tired when they play against...
Point 4 ~ Quality Opponents: Here is where the predictions start to come into full circle. Let's look at Michigan's opponents, one by one, and you'll see why I am predicting 4-8 in 2008 for Michigan...
Game 1 vs Utah: Utah is a MWC contender with a quality returning quarterback with hopes and dreams of crashing the BCS. The Rich Rodriguez era starts off with a loss due to the lack of offense in The Big House. 0-1.
Game 2 vs Miami (OH): While Miami (OH) should contend for the MAC this year, I look for Michigan to eke out a close one in The Big House in the 4th quarter. 1-1.
Game 3 @ Notre Dame: This is a tough one to predict. I am leaning towards Notre Dame purely on the home field and revenge factors. 1-2.
Game 4 vs Wisconsin: Wisconsin will be coming off a bye week and looks like the kind of team that will just wear the Michigan defense down with their power running game. 1-3.
Game 5 vs Illinois: While Illinois will struggle with the loss of Rashard Mendenhall, the Illinois defensive speed will be too much for the Michigan offense to overcome as it is still struggling to assert itself. 1-4, and the natives are getting ansty about their bowl eligibility that Minnich predicted would be in jeopardy.
Game 6 vs Toledo: Redemption comes in the form of Toledo. Michigan wins this one on depth alone. 2-4.
Game 7 @ Penn State: Penn State is eager for this one. The annoying Nittany Lion roar that occurs seemingly every thirty seconds only adds salt to the wound of ending the long steak of Michigan dominance over Penn State. 2-5.
Game 8 vs Michigan State: Look out for Coach Dantonio. The true Jim Tressel disciple, he has been counting this one down since last year's choke job in East Lansing and he wants this one bad. 2-6, and Michigan is now on life support for bowl eligibility.
Game 9 @ Purdue: Joe Tiller smells the blood in the water. He will savor his opportunity to end the bowl streak in his final game versus the Wolverines. 2-7, with the Rich Rodriguez/West Virginia lawsuit now in full force in the courtrooms.
Game 10 @ Minnesota: Purely for pride...Michigan wins The Little Brown Jug over Minnesota. 3-7.
Game 11 vs Northwestern: The last home game of the year, Michigan wins over Northwestern in a close one. 4-7.
Game 12 @ Ohio State: THE GAME takes on even more significance next year when Coach Rodriguez gets talent better suited for his beloved spread option offense. This one will be over by mid-3rd quarter but Ohio State fans better savor the flavor, because next year Coach Rodriguez will be ready. THE GAME takes place 141 days from July 3rd. Michigan ends its season 4-8.
I am sure the Michigan fans will be all out in force for this post - again, this is written with tremendous respect for Michigan's program. Will Michigan once again be The Victors? Certainly, but that year is not 2008.