Michigan did not receive a single AP Top 25 vote, but they remain one of the most interesting teams heading into the 2010 season, and not only because I went there. If the Wolverines are terrible, they are an attractive train-wreck. If they are great, it’s a fantastic redemption story. Even if they are irrepressibly average, we will debate whether it is enough to save Rich Rodriguez’ job. What other team could win three games or ten without shocking anyone? Whether it is through success, through schadenfreude or through sanctions, the Maize and Blue will infect your college football consciousness. Here are five questions to consider before they kickoff against Connecticut.
Who will start at quarterback? Michigan’s three-way quarterback race remains undecided. Last September’s Chuck Norris, Tate Forcier, earned his wings (has Rich Rod earned his block M?), but the prudent bet for starter seems to be speed merchant Denard Robinson. Ballyhooed freshman Devin Gardner has also been lurking in the background. Rich Rod will settle the situation by feel, meaning the decision could change on a whim from game to game or even series to series. Competition motivates, but persistent paranoia can cripple someone. The offense was explosive in spurts last season, but they won’t be consistent until the quarterback job is settled.
Can Michigan’s defense stop anyone? Former Syracuse flameout Greg Robinson was brought in last season to coach up the defense and Michigan held one D-I team outside the Mitten under 30 points. The post-adjustment second halves were atrocious. Michigan is switching to a hopefully more adaptable 3-3-5. The key will be getting to the quarterback without overcommitting. Craig Roh must step up to replace Brandon Graham’s pass rushing threat. If opposing quarterbacks have time, Michigan’s feeble secondary will be exposed.
Will the schedule hinder them? Michigan has a rough route. They have away trips to Columbus and Happy Valley. Three close games from last season (ND, Indiana and Purdue) are on the road. On merit they would be home dogs against Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Connecticut. UMass and Bowling Green should be wins, but they need four more just to be bowl eligible. Four of their last six are against Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Even playing well they may struggle to keep their heads above water.
Is this Rich Rodriguez’ last year? Fortunately for Rich Rod the athletic department has been supportive, otherwise the plastic on the hot seat would have melted. The malfeasances have been embarrassing. The losing has been unacceptable. Rodriguez has a 3-13 conference record. A disappointing Lloyd Carr team would go 5-3. Carr built Michigan to play in the Big Ten. That’s important when you play in the Big Ten. Rodriguez must show legitimate progress. That means not only a better record, but signs they can regain status as an elite program. What would guarantee him staying? I’m guessing nine wins and a Top 25 finish. That might be too much to ask for this team.
Will moving “The Game” diminish the rivalry? Without question. The Michigan-OSU rivalry has been an immutable and perfect denouement. It defines the season organically, for both schools. Moving the game to October, with the two teams not even in direct competition, it will only be the TV networks assuring us it matters. Yes, they may play twice, but the first meeting will have the meaning apart from sentiment removed. The potential second meeting would be a soulless clash in Indianapolis. Tradition is only valued when it is valuable monetarily.
[Photo via Getty]