Let's face it, the opener against Utah was a close game that Michigan really should have taken. Too many opening-game mistakes plagued us. I mean, we were a ranked team (#24) and we only lost by 2. Sheridan and Threet split playing-time...which was really a mistake to begin with. Utah turned out to be a pretty good team last year...so a loss to them isn't as bad as it was to some.
Game 2 versus Miami of Ohio was more of the same. Threet saw more of the action in this game, but mistakes and poor offensive play all-around hurt us badly. Hanging only 16 on a MAC school hurts...especially when you're Michigan playing at home. But a win was a win, and we were 1-1.
I thought we played much better in week 3 at Notre Dame. Weather was an issue with torrential downpours...which led to fumble after fumble...but the offense showed signs of life in the first half (before the rain). Down 17-28 at halftime wasn't great, I thought...but it could be worse. Especially at South Bend against a decent Irish squad. I expected this game to show up in the loss column...but maybe if we came into this contest 2-0...we might carry some confidence and momentum. But it was not to be.
Week 4 against Wisconsin was by all accounts, the biggest win of the 08 campaign. A huge come from behind win against what was still a good Wisconsin team should have catapulted Michigan to at least a moderately successful year. But when Illinois came to town...Juice Williams had maybe his best game of a disappointing 2008. And we were torched 45-20.
The rest of the season was more of the same. Turnovers and inconsistent defensive play (mostly due to being on the field too long) killed any sort of momentum that we could've had. The following week's loss to Toledo was the back-breaker. There is simply no excuse to lose to a MAC school in your own house.
But things looked brighter the following week when we strolled into the Penn State locker room at half time with a 17-14 lead. Unfortunately they hung 32 points on us in the 2nd half.
But by this point in the season, I thought we'd be sitting at 3-4. An expected loss to little brother the next week sent us into November at 2-6. I expected a win each of the next three weeks at Purdue, at Minnesota and back home against Northwestern. But only one of those turned out to be true.
The finale against tOSU was a total dismantling of our defense and a collapse of any offense we had left. Sheridan was thrown into an impossible situation with Threet injured. No way he was going to command this offense in Columbus on the door-step of the worst season in Michigan football history. The players were fed up with playing, and it showed with a minor fight that broke out on the Michigan sideline during the game that may
Either way, things spiraled out of control for Rodriguez and his staff in 2008. They probably had no idea what they were getting into...and this makes me awfully cautious about going into 2009. Maybe they have a tighter rein on the players and how things are supposed to run. But I think Rodriguez learned very quickly this this isn't Morgantown. And the Big Ten ain't quite as much of a pushover that the mainstream media may have you believe.
So with that, where do realistic expectations fall for the 2009 season?
It's easy to think that the failures of 2008 will plague this team for at least another season. We are back to not having a proven QB heading into the season. We have depth concerns on defense. We still have a relatively green coaching staff...including another first year DC.
But even with those concerns factored in...I am still blindly hopeful for at least a winning record in 2009. Let's briefly look at the schedule game-by-game.
Week 1 (0-0): Western Michigan
Not a usual question mark for Michigan most years. But 2009 won't be most years. WMU is an upper-class MAC team. They have a ton of play-makers who can do exactly what Toledo or Appy State did to us the past 2 seasons. They're an in-state opponent...so many players will know each other. Somehow that can level a playing field.
I think Michigan wins this game but it will be close going into the half. I count on things like lessons learned from recent stumbles against inferior opponents and hopefully having much better conditioned players to lead us past WMU in the second half. Maybe a 10 or 14 point win...
...or a crushing 3 point loss. Who the hell knows. But we're going to count this as a "W".
Week 2 (1-0): Notre Dame
This game is going to be a tough one. In one hand, we've done well against the Irish at home lately. But this will be much closer than 2003 or 2007. ND is a much more poised squad than in recent past. Their pretty-boy QB Jimmy Clausen can actually wing the ball around the field pretty well.
Last year we were able to move the ball decently in the first half before the rains came. I'm trusting that Rodriguez has studied the tape from last year and will put super glue on the hands of our kick-returners this year.
This sucks...but I'm going to throw this game into the loss column. The Irish have a good offense with Clausen and Tate. The defense is a little iffy...but will be enough to make our young QB throw some bad passes.
I'll say Irish by 10.
Week 3 (1-1): Eastern Michigan
Off the heals of a tough defeat to ND...we get another MAC squad into the Big House. This time, one coached by former Michigan DC and one of my favorite coaches out there Ron English. Eastern will be a good team under English...eventually.
Michigan should roll in this game. I expect...nay...demand at least a 20-point victory. I want to see us break the 30-point threshold for the first time in this game.
Week 4 (2-1): Indiana
Our 4th straight home game to open the 2009 season will most certainly end with a victory. Hard to find a team that struggled more than we did in the Big Ten last season...but Indiana was it. They will continue to struggle this year. This is homecoming in Ann Arbor, and what better way to welcome back the alums than with a big win over an over-matched opponent?
Week 5 (3-1): @ Michigan State
Hoyer is gone. Ringer is gone. Half the line is gone.
But crazy old Dantonio isn't a bad coach...and he does return 8 starters on defense. He has Sparty believing that greatness is possible in E. Lansing. This game will be close. But I think Sparty might be in for it in this one. Speed is one thing MSU has always had an issue with. And hopefully speed is something we'll have in spades.
We win a close one.
Week 6 (4-1): @ Iowa
Iowa on the road at night...no thanks.
We saw Penn State blow their BCS title hopes in Iowa City last year. Unfortunately, we also get to play there under the lights in prime time. I really think Iowa is going to be the sleeper in the Big Ten this year. So does many other bloggers...so maybe less of a sleeper and more of a likely contender.
In order for them to do so...they must win this game. This is a huge one for Iowa. And we're going to have our hands full with a defense (especially at linebacker) that might be the best in the league.
Greene is gone from the RB spot...but they still bring back 7 on offense. And they are good.
Week 7 (4-2): Delaware State
Ahh...what would a schedule be with out a FCS squad on it?
If we don't win this game...we might as well not suit up for the following game against...
Week 8 (5-2): Penn State
It's true. We did OWN Penn State. And until the 3rd quarter last season, we could still say that.
Penn State is likely the favorite to win the league...or at least come in 2nd. But why? They only have 6 returning starters on offense, and a measly 4 on defense. Of course, those guys coming back are RB Evan Royster, QB Daryll Clark, DT Jared Odrick and LBs Hull and Bowman. Not bad.
The O-line and D-ends have been gutted...and the defensive backfield is a question mark.
I want to say this could be like 2005 when we handed them their only loss in a last second miracle from Henne to Manningham. I want to say that...but who could predict such things? I'll throw this one into the loss column.
But damn...this game has the potential to be a really close one.
Week 9 (5-3): @ Illinois
Last year we sucked against Illinois. I know...I was sitting in the Illinois fan section.
Anyway, I don't know if Juice Williams will actually play like we know he can or not...so it's tough to predict this one. If he is on like he was last year and somehow Morgan Trent comes back to play one more game for us...and this game is at night, then we're screwed.
But if we can keep him off the field with better offensive output...than we might have a shot. This game will be close...but I'm going to throw it into the win column.
Week 10 (6-3): Purdue
If we blow another one to Purdue like the way we did last year, then we might as well not even get on to the bus to go to...
Week 11 (7-3): @ Wisconsin
Oh Bret Beilema...what happened? You had such promise going into 2008. A steady decline in winning percentage since that great 06 season has Badger Nation concerned. And the way you lost in Ann Arbor last year was simply awesome.
Since we beat you in 08...I'll throw the 09 game into the loss column. Why? Because the game is in Madison in the middle of November. It will probably be played at night and we're just never that good in Madison.
This game really could go either way. And maybe I'm just being cautious...but we'll error on the side of a loss on this one.
Week 12 (7-4): tOSU
I hate tOSU with the heat of a thousand burning suns, and I am so tired of losing to them that I won't even come close to thinking realistically about this game.
Michigan will win.
I don't care. We will win. We must win. For all that is holy and true in this world we must win this football game.
So there you have it...we will end the season with 8 wins and 4 losses. And for those keeping score at home, 5-3 in the Big Ten. We'll make a bowl game. Likely a pre-New Year's Day bowl. Maybe the Alamo Bowl or something along those lines.
So what do you think? Too modest? Too hopeful? Add your thoughts.