Thoughts on 2011 Start With WMU

A football season is just a list of games in the months leading up to fall practice. Fans, bloggers and media members pour over each opponent, looking for which games are win-able, should be close, and will probably not go our way. It's a natural thing to do. It keeps us busy while basketball, hockey and baseball try to fill the void that football leaves behind.

We base these opinions on the upcoming season on the results of the previous year, and how we feel the team might have progressed/regressed during the off-season. This off-season, however, was not the typical off-season for Michigan. Yes, it's our second coaching change in three years, which you would assume would mean the program is in shambles, but thankfully that's not the case. Oddly, Michigan looks to improve on 2010 with a bevy of returning starters and leadership almost everywhere you look.

In almost every way possible, the Brady Hoke transition is a complete success so far. The minute Brady Hoke stepped on campus, the air around the program instantly became clearer. That is reflected in the way he's been able to attract top talent to his football program...both coaches and players, assembling what many experts consider the top 2012 recruiting class in the country.

The players Hoke inherited, by-in-large seem to be singing the current coaching staff's praises. Some of which have dealt with constant coordinator flux their entire careers...mainly on the defensive side of the ball. But for reasons which I cannot explain, the coaching staff now just seems to be a perfect fit. Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison, Al Borges and their position coaches seem as if they've been waiting their whole lives to coach at Michigan. I'm sure this isn't the case for all of them, but at least it feels like it.

And there's a lot to be said for that.

There is a lot of emphasis on beating our rivals this year. Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State are the games that all Michigan fans have circled on their schedules. And I get it. Those opponents are sexy. Those games define your program. They tell you where you are. I am so excited for all three of these games.

But not so fast.

It's fun to look ahead. But right now, the entire emphasis of this program is on beating Western Michigan on September 3rd.

I don't know Coach Hoke personally, and I don't know his assistant coaches, but I can tell you that every one of them are preaching to these players that the most important game of the year is the next one on the schedule. No one in this program is looking past WMU to Notre Dame. And as fans, we shouldn't either.

I get asked a lot how many wins I think Michigan will have this year. Experts in Vegas put the over/under at seven. I don't have a problem with that. But honestly, for me, it's not about a win total. The most important thing I care about for this team this year, is to improve overall in every game.

During the RichRod era, we regressed both offensively and defensively in each of the last 3 seasons. Especially in the last two, we came out of the gate flying. But right about the time we encountered some resistance in the Big Ten schedule, the team, and the season fell apart. That's not lack of talent...that's bad coaching.

To watch Michigan flying around making huge plays against Notre Dame, and then fall into a funk four weeks later was tough on many levels the last two years. Say what you will about Lloyd Carr, but his teams got better as the season went on...for the most part. Unfortunate injuries impeded that improvement in the later years, but the one thing you could always trust was that the Michigan that took the field against OSU would always be the best Michigan team that year.

These last three seasons, the Michigan team that took the field against OSU never stood a chance. Why? Many reasons. Total lack of confidence and swagger. Opposing defenses knew what to expect. Our defense would be shuffled into a hodgepodge of talent being wasted by playing brutally out of position in schemes that a high school offense could score willingly on.

Fill in the blank with your reasons. But the point is, we never took steps forward as a team during the season. We always got worse. By the midway point of the year, we'd be starting from scratch on defense...which never worked in our favor. Sixty-five points given up to Illinois?!?!

So when people ask me how many wins we should have this year, I don't give them a number. All I say is, I just want to see measured improvement from the first game to the last game. If we can do that, by the end of season, we'll be in a good place.

But it all starts in 23 days with Western Michigan.

1 comment

  1. Good article, Brad. An appropriate mixture of optimism and skepticism. Let's not count our chickens before our eggs hatch.

    As much as Brady Hoke wants to, and as much as I believe he's ultimately taking this program in the right direction, I can't see us winning the Big Ten this year. I can see us snapping the losing streaks to OSU and MSU, but going all the way to the title and winning it?

    Hoke has given us a lot of confidence and made us feel really good about this season. But I was pretty rosy in Rich Rod's third season, where I thought 2010 would be the year everything changed. As it turned out, it was. Just everything changed in a way I didn't expect.

    So yeah, I agree, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Michigan will be very good very quickly. I look for them to compete legitimately for the Big Ten title in 2012, and of course with all those stellar recruits coming, the future looks very good. But for right now, let's just get through this year and not go 3-9.

    P.S. Hope to see more articles like these.