|Karsen Welch King|
Football is nigh. We must discuss it.
2013 was a rough ride. Safe to say if we did a best case/worst case a year ago, reality would've more closely resembled the latter. So in the spirit of killing time while we await football, lets get it on!
No, this is not a championship caliber team...right now. However, neither was Michigan State at the start of 2013, and I'd say things worked out pretty well for them. They became a championship team as the season went on. Michigan, in a best case scenario, can certainly do the same. They probably won't have the #1 defense in the country, but in any scenario that has Michigan returning to glory, it will be led by the defense emerging as a shutdown unit. And they are certainly capable.
A best case for 2014 will have Michigan sweeping the non-conference slate...obviously, and entering B1G play ready to rumble. And I'm not talking about like a year ago when Michigan limped into the conference schedule undefeated but with two close wins against Akron and UConn. No, we're talking the kind of comfy wins (sans Notre Dame) that Michigan fans expect.
Of course, Michigan will take care of business in the Big House as the home schedule is complete with winnable games from top to bottom. The Wolverines aught to be favored in each of their 7 home games.
Now comes the fun part. Conference road games.
Despite having an up and down record over the years at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio has always had his team ready to play Michigan. The Wolverines make their second trip to East Lansing in as many years for easily one of the biggest games on the B1G schedule. Right now in July, its almost impossible to see Michigan going into Spartan Stadium and pulling out a victory. But a lot can happen in the next 3 months leading up to October 25th.
That said, I need to see it on the field before I can call Michigan State a win even in the bestest of scenarios.
And as you would assume, my best case has us beating Ohio State because of course it does.
11-1. Best case scenario. Could end up in Indy depending on what Michigan State does. And if you win in Indy, that's probably going to land you in the college football playoff. From there, its a dream season.
Welp, there's a flip side to that happy coin and it feels very similar to 2013.
Pretty much take every major road game, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State and call them a loss. There's 3.
You could make an argument that maybe 1 or 2 home games could be losses. Penn State is an easy choice. Maybe Utah…Minnesota…or (gasp) Indiana??? If Michigan is struggling, it could happen. Even Rutgers and Northwestern could be tough road games. The Rutgers trip already has a ominous UConn feel to it.
A conservative worst case scenario would see at least 4 losses in the regular season and a more liberal approach would see probably 6. Much like how losing leads to further losing (see: 2013), sometimes players can mentally throw in the towel when there's really nothing left to play for.
So the worst case scenario would be...ugly. Painfully ugly. Let's just leave it at that.
What would 4-6 losses do to this program going forward?
Immediate impact? You mean besides the rioting and looting? Probably not much. I doubt Hoke or either coordinator would lose their job. Brandon has said numerous times he's behind his coach and will give him the time to build the program. Unless the defense gets bludgeoned week after week, I think Mattison is safe. Obviously Nussmeier is good.
Odds are, if losses do start to mount, they won't be ugly losses...which helps in term of trying to build a program. Michigan had a number of close games last year that didn't go their way.
Where Michigan really feels the pinch with a worst case season is the long-term impact. There's already a sense nationally that Michigan is not Michigan™ anymore. They'll likely begin the season unranked in both polls. They let Notre Dame slip by in all-time winning percentage a year ago (.733 vs .732). And in a time when their two biggest rivals, Michigan State and Ohio State are seemingly pulling away from the rest of the league, Michigan will find itself further in a position as second-class B1G citizen.
That's not going to sit well with the Michigan faithful. Hardcore fans, donors even, could find better things to do with their time than supporting a program that's heading in the wrong direction. Ticket sales, merchandise, donations could all start trending negatively.
So, yes, there's a lot riding on 2014.
Its almost impossible to really expect the best-case scenario. And its far too scary to even think about the worst case. The more realistic reality will probably land Michigan somewhere in the 2-3 loss range. If you look at the overall talent of this team against the overall talent of their opponents, on paper Michigan has the edge against the bulk of the schedule.
I do think Hoke gets the big road win monkey off his back this year. Notre Dame is vulnerable but its never wise to be overconfident going into South Bend. However, a win against the Irish I believe will get the positive energy and probably a 7-0 record going into East Lansing on October 25th.
As far as the showdown in Columbus, its way to early to get a gauge on that game. I think Ohio State is far more beatable than the media gives them credit for. I get that they're the favorite going into 2014, but that defense last year was far from championship caliber. That said, Urban is Urban and Ohio State is loaded with talent, so.
But if Michigan can start strong and build some positive momentum, there's no reason to rule out a championship-type season. The talent is there. But there are some big challenges for this team. Where Michigan really suffered last year was with senior leadership. You can go back to almost any great Michigan team and point to great senior leaders. Those guys this year need to be Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan and Frank Clark…the leadership of this team representing Michigan at the Big Ten media days in Chicago right now. It all starts with them and fall camp starting August 3rd.