Note: I wrote this before the Detroit Free Press published its curiously-timed report about alleged violations committed by the program. Since then, the more I've been reading about the activities possibly cited as "violations" and the shoddy work that the two "journalists" responsible put into it, the less concerned I've been about it. So while I personally am feeling more at ease than when I initially heard about it, I still worry about how this will affect the season. And mostly, it pisses me off that some people seem to be working so hard to sabotage Coach Rodriguez.
"When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft. On the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing." - Bo Schembechler
This Saturday, college football begins a new season.
For the Michigan Wolverines, it will begin at 3:30 against Western Michigan University, a team that many say shouldn't be taken lightly.
Nowadays, I don't think Michigan will be taking anyone lightly. Exhibit A: The Horror that opened the 2007 season. Exhibit B: the first ever Wolverine loss to a MAC team last season when they faced Toledo.
That's been the story of the past few seasons: disappointment. Heartbreak. Rebuilding. Three seasons ago, Michigan was contending for a national title. Two seasons ago, they perhaps believed their own hype too much and got pantsed in their very first game. Last season, barely anything went right under a new coach implementing a new philosophy with a patchwork bunch of guys who 1) had rarely, if ever seen the field, 2) were Carr recruits who just weren't buying in, 3) were injured. A big comeback win over Wisconsin and a secured Little Brown Jug was all they had to show for it by late November. That's to say nothing of all the wrong kinds of history that was made: a snapped bowl streak, snapped winning streaks over Penn State and Sparty, Toledo, the longest losing streak ever to You Know Who, and the worst record in half a century.
And yet here we are, at the cusp of a brand new year, and so many things have changed. Many starters return on offense, now with more experience and a full off-season to practice and condition. Quarterbacks, while true freshmen, have arrived who know how to run the system. The running game features a lot of depth, including a senior determined to make up for 2008. Defense, while starting many newcomers, will feature an acclaimed defensive end who will find his way into your backfield and eat you. The entire team is said to be noticeably more fit and beastly. And I'm willing to bet that they're angry.
Angry over how everything went last year.
Angry over everything that the media has been saying about them.
Angry over the jeering from Columbus, East Lansing, South Bend, and University Park.
Angry that many aren't giving them much of a chance this year, either.
Angry that their head coach constantly has to deal with so freaking many detractors within their own freaking fanbase.
This is still a young team, and there are still plenty of concerns heading into this new season. But this isn't the same team as last year. I anticipate this season with cautious optimism, unable to shake recent embarrassments and knowing current worries, but also knowing that it will not turn out the same way. Whether they go 6-6, 7-5, 8-4, or just plain shock the world, it will not turn out the same.
I'm taking Bo's advice, and I'm going to keep believing. I can do no other.
I'm all in.