Is Michigan Back?

by Paul Grossinger
(Baltimore, Maryland)

Of all the major storylines of 2009, maybe the most shocking was the 3-9 season that the Michigan Wolverines suffered through. Indeed, while few were surprised that college football’s winningest program went through a transition period following the installation of the spread offense, the magnitude of that transition, especially following a respectable 9-4 season and Capital One Bowl win, was shocking. Indeed, it was so traumatic for Michigan fans that it, combined with NCAA investigations to begin this season, led to calls for an early sack.

However, less than a month after embattled coach Rich Rodriguez suffered, in his own words, “the worst week of my coaching career,” Michigan sits at 3-0 and is ranked for the first time since midway through 2007. And, after a Week two win over a talented and ranked Notre Dame team in the Big House, it appears that bigger and better things may be on their way.

For those seeking to dismiss Michigan as a fad that will fade over the season, I would point to three factors that I think weaken that argument: her young but capable roster, her schedule, and her status as a program. Unlike last year, where Michigan could barely find a player to take a snap, Rodeiguez seems to have found a talented QB who is a perfect fit for his spread offense: the rising Tate Forcier. Forcier is complemented by a solid running game and receiving corps and protected by an underrated line.

However, while there are many talented teams out there with young spread QBs, Michigan is different. This is, of course because we are discussing the Michigan Wolverines, still one of the most historically illustrious programs in college football history, and this particular edition has quite an easy schedule. The Wolverines are unlikely to lose to a woeful Indiana team this weekend, which should seem them to 4-0, and a seemingly un-winnable visit to Michigan State in week five looks much more do-able after the Spartans failed to take care of business at home against an Irish team the Wolverines have already knocked off.

After that, besides games against Penn State and Ohio State they are unlikely to win, only a visit to the Hawkeyes seems remotely difficult. If Michigan can pull off wins at Iowa and Michigan State, both unranked teams who are hardly unbeatable, and win their tune ups against the likes of Delaware and Perdue, they would finish with a 10-2 season and, being Michigan, would receive an invite to a major (if not BCS) bowl.

Indeed, even if they were to lose at either Iowa or Michigan State, they would still finish with a mid-level bowl invite at worst. Knowing all of that, it seems like it would be fair to say that a great program that was plumbing the depths only a few months ago is on its way back to greatness. We’ll have to see, but perhaps it can bring the struggling Big 10 with it.

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