Friday, August 29, 2008

Michigan Football: A New Era Begins

With all the work/home nuttiness of the last month the fact that college football season is about to get under way has snuck up on me. I didn't realize until today that they kick off the season against Utah on Saturday. Figures that a keeper fantasy football league I'm in has their annual screw session and rookie/FA draft that afternoon. Thank goodness for DVRs. (A "screw session," if you're wondering, is when we try to steal players from a competitor's team by offering a better "salary" then they're currently getting. There's no actual fornication involved.)

With the first significant regime change at Michigan in 40 years, the program's under a great deal of scrutiny. There's a lot of doom and gloom from the ever-chirping (and rarely correct) talking heads on TV. I've long ago tuned these people out. Is this going to be a down year? Truthfully, I'm not sure what constitutes a down year when you've only beaten OSU once in the last however many years and have only won a couple of bowl games during that same stretch. I mean can it get much worse than The Horror of losing to Appalachian State? (Technically, yes, but that would require the kind of collapse that would qualify as unprecedented in Ann Arbor.)

Personally, I think we're still looking at an above .500 team that'll go to a Bowl Game. Beyond that, I'm not making any bets. The offense and defense are both in transition and Michigan's lost a lot of good players to the draft. (Sorry, Boren and Mallet, but nobody with half a brain gives two shits that you guys transferred.) So that doesn't bode well. On the other hand, Michigan's gameplans have been as predictable as they come for a long, long time and the fact that that's sure to change this year ought to make things a smidge tougher on the other teams.

The conditioning program at Michigan has also been reported to have been wildly inadequate, something born out with a lot of 4th quarter collapses over the years. There's been a lot said about the new strength and conditioning guy, Mike "Eeeek!" Barwis, but the notion of an inadequate S&C program isn't among them and the players who stayed are already converts of the Barwis gospel.

Given all that, I think Michigan's going to be capable of surprising people if they can somehow manage to execute all their new gameplans in a way that doesn't involve unloading both barrels of a shotgun directly at their feet. (Time will tell, I guess.)

In any case, I think Michigan football is going to be incredibly fun to watch this year just because we're going to see such a radically different product on the field.

I should note, though, that as much as I seem to be knocking Lloyd Carr and the past, that's not my intent. I'm a big fan of what Lloyd Carr has meant to Michigan. I think he brought *a lot* of incredibly valuable assets to the Michigan program over the years and a lot of memorable seasons. I know his national reputation is that of a curmudgeonly, grumpy son of a bitch, and some of that may be true, but there's a lot more to the guy than, for example, those times he was rude to a press contingent whose opinion couldn't have mattered less to him. That said, I'm hardly in the minority in thinking that the team he put on the field these last few years didn't live up to its potential and that the gameplanning left a lot to be desired. It was simply time to go, which is something I think he also understood and something for which I give him a lot of credit. As always, MGoBlog sums it all up best.

There is something to the sometimes annoying “Michigan Man” thing. There is a mindset, an attitude, some characteristics that are shared by enough people that they characterize a program and a fanbase. (The annoying part is when people pretend all these things are positive.) Carr was of this and in more than a decade came to define some of it. Kipling and Into Thin Air and The Long Walk were part of the fabric of the program.

Few outside of Michigan fandom understood this or anything about Carr. How could they? Opposing fans took the opportunity provided by Carr’s cantankerousness at press conferences and one inopportune photo after a loss against Oregon to label him classless. Neutrals just thought he was a crab, because they experienced him as a crab. A month after the Bo memorial service at which Carr spoke, I found myself in a conversation with Orson Swindle of EDSBS fame. At some point I forwarded the video (part one; part two) of Carr’s speech to him. The response: “It's enthralling, actually. Lloyd is downright eloquent.”

The surprise was evident.


I’m happy that the empire of the fallen has finished its long slide into the sea. I’m happy it’s been replaced with something young and vivacious and very likely successful. But on Saturday something that lived for forty years sees the last shovelful of dirt on its grave, and I wish it hadn’t come to this.

True that.