Michigan (5-2, 1-2) at Penn State (4-3, 1-2): Simply put, this is the biggest game of Rich Rodriguez's Michigan tenure. Rodriguez and the Wolverines come off of a bye week and need a win to stem talk of a 2009 redux. Penn State got the win it needed at Minnesota, but surrendered 433 yards. The Lions will be tested by Denard Robinson and co., while their quarterback situation remains unsettled after Rob Bolden's apparent concussion.Covering nothing but Michigan football week-in and week-out, and typically only paying close attention to Michigan blogs/media outlets, something I lose sight of how the outside media sees Michigan/Rodriguez.
To me, the MSU game was probably the biggest game to-date for Rodriguez. Going into the game undefeated was certainly a huge bonus, but the result of the game only turned up the heat, and reminded fans of what that awful losing feeling was like after 5-straight wins to start the year.
I mean lets face it, the success of Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense in those 5 games had shielded some fans honest feelings of the embattled coach. When you're starting QB goes from not knowing if he's the starter to Heisman front-runner in 2 weeks, and your offense is averaging well over 500 yards per game, it's easy to see things through rose-colored glasses.
But after two-straight losses, to very good teams I might add, the glow of the 5-game winning streak has definitely worn off. There were those that questioned our good start, saying that we had really not played anyone, and that the Big Ten schedule would reveal our shortcomings. But I will say that while both MSU and Iowa are very good teams, it was not coaching (at least offensively) that lost those games. We all knew before the season began that we would not be contending for the Big Ten title this year, and losses to MSU and Iowa proved that we're not quite at that level...but we're getting there.
The next 3 games will prove me either right or wrong. I think these next 3 games (@Penn State, Illinois, @Purdue) are very win-able.
I will politely disagree with Adam that this week's Penn State game is Rodriguez's most important game yet. I do think it's a very important game for this team, but I think Rodriguez's job is safe (baring a total meltdown that results in a 3rd straight bowl-less season) If anything, a win will prove that we are getting better, and that 2010 is not 2009. Happy Valley is a terribly tough place to play, especially at night. I don't care how vulnerable Penn State is this year, and they are definitely that. But a road game at Beaver Stadium is a good place to see what your team is made of.
Why do I think Rodriguez's job safe? Because until Dave Brandon says otherwise, he's safe in my book. Brandon has come out and said that it's not going be just wins and losses that judge Rodriguez at Michigan. And I think that's probably fair. He's proven that his offense can work here, which is what he was hired to do. He's proven that he can recruit well. And I think that he's proven that he can handle the scorn of the media and fans that truly hate him. Dave Brandon knows that wins can cure everything, but patience is virtue, that frankly, I think it's a trait that is maybe Brandon's best quality.
If Brandon came out and said "Coach needs to win x-amount of games to keep his job...", or something like that, then I'd be worried. But it seems to me that Brandon is letting Rodriguez coach his team. After the season, we'll see where we're at. But for now, it's not about wins and losses. I think it's a combination of many things. Are we running a clean program? Are our players going to class and graduating? Are we getting better each week? Is this team trying it's best? Are our mistakes to be blamed solely on coaching?
I think those are the kinds of criteria that Dave Brandon is using to judge Rodriguez. At least I hope so. Is this week's game a huge one for Rodriguez? Of course, but it's not any more important that the one after that, and the one after that. For Rodriguez, and the rest of this program, each week is the most important game of the year. It's been like that all season...so why stop now? When you're trying to rebuild something like we are at Michigan, that's how it works. All that you can adequately measure, at least at this point, is your own patience...which like we've said before, is a virtue.