The calendar turned to December and Michigan’s football season was already over. That’s still hard to believe. But after a 3-9 season that was disappointing even for the most cautious Wolverine supporter.
They fell well short of my 6-6 preseason forecast. They lost to Toledo and were humiliated by Ohio State. They lost an unthinkable five games in the Big House and six games against the Big Ten.
There were very few bright spots during coach Rich Rodriguez’s debut season in Ann Arbor. The historic comeback against Wisconsin to open the Big Ten season was one highlight, but Wisconsin was clearly overrated back then as they needed overtime to defeat Cal Poly and finished the regular season 7-5.
The biggest concern for Michigan has to be inconsistency from virtually every position on the field. No quarterback looked like he had a firm grasp of the offense. The defense surrendered 35+ points on five occasions. And turnovers were a season-long plague.
No one expects another losing season in 2009, but it won’t be easy for the Wolverines to get above .500. After all, a 6-6 mark next year would mean doubling the team’s win total.
While the focus will be on recruiting this year and what kind of players Rodriguez can land after a 3-9 campaign, player improvement will be the real test for the coach. A new bunch of freshmen can’t be expected to turn the program around all on their own next year. How will the players who have now been in the system for a full year show improvement in 2009? If they don’t get any better, that’s a serious cause for concern.
Michigan has already seen several players depart the program (in addition to graduating seniors), so it’ll also be interesting to see who steps up as a leader of this team. Running back Brandon Minor seems to fit that mold, but he shared carries with several backs during his junior year. Will be step up as a senior to restore pride to the maize and blue?
On defense, all eyes are on Brandon Graham. The defensive end led the team with 10 sacks this season. He could enter the NFL Draft, but if he returns, he would give the Wolverines a great anchor on their defensive line.
When it comes down to it, expectations will be low again next year. Undoubtedly, Rodriguez will feel the pressure, especially if Michigan struggles out the gate. But no one seriously expects them to contend in the Big Ten next year. What they have to do is so progress and not in the form of a one- or two-game improvement.
The program and coach Rodriguez deserves a one year pass. It would’ve been tough for anyone to overcome the loss of Jake Long, Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Ryan Mallett, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. But next year, there’s no excuse to miss a bowl. After the worst season in the history of Michigan football, Rodriguez better improve in a big way. Otherwise people will be calling for his head. Patience is short in the what-have-you-done-for-me-now world of college football.
For more information, visit MattHubert.com.