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Welcome to Year Four

The 'bag rolls on toward '06, with a few twists

Posted: Wednesday May 3, 2006 11:51AM; Updated: Wednesday May 3, 2006 1:30PM
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Is this the season running back Michael Hart and the Wolverines break through and make a run at a national title?
Is this the season running back Michael Hart and the Wolverines break through and make a run at a national title?
Al Tielemans/SI
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Welcome to another year of the College Football Mailbag. Now entering its fourth season, the Mailbag admittedly has a ways to go to catch up with Will and Grace -- but it's already doubled the life span of Joey.

As I do every year, I will start by laying out the ground rules of this column for any newcomers and/or anyone who needs a refresher course. This season, however, I'm implementing some exciting new changes that are sure to have you giddy with anticipation ... so don't skim too far.

First, the old standbys:

1. Do not bother asking the generic "How do you think my team will do this season/this weekend?" question. The Mailbag prides itself in selecting only the finest in creative, intellectually stimulating questions for publication. Of course, once I run out of those, I settle for just about anything.

2. Please keep your submissions short and concise. Try not to take this one personally. I realize there are a lot of closet writers out there dying for the opportunity to write a 2,500-word treatise about Penn State's special teams play. But please, try to understand -- I have a lot of e-mails to read. If you simply can't do it in 50 words or fewer, may I suggest getting yourself a blog? They're handing them out like candy these days.

3. Finally, please, for the love of humanity, do not send me your revolutionary idea for a college football playoff. Not to burst your bubble, but I absolutely, positively guarantee you that someone else has already thought of it. And if you're convinced I'm wrong, then send it to BCS coordinator Mike Slive. I'm sure he's got a lot of downtime.

Now then, here's what's new for 2006:

1. Though this column remains first and foremost a college football question-and-answer session, I will be mixing in the occasional non-sports question. Feel free to solicit my opinion on whatever might be on your mind these days. I don't pretend to be a qualified expert on any of it, but I figure if Florida State cowgirl Jenn Sterger can offer relationship advice on SI.com, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to offer the occasional seafood recipe, CD recommendation or marriage tips. Don't let the fact that I barely cook, haven't bought a new CD in 14 months and have never been married stop you.

2. In an effort to humanize the Mailbag community, I'm inviting you to include more than just your name and hometown when submitting questions. Feel free to add information such as your age, occupation and any other relevant facts that will help us get to know you better. I'll start: Stewart Mandel, age 30, journalist, New York City, showers daily, enjoys softball (playing, not watching) and prefers Blimpie's to Subway. Hopefully by soliciting similar information from you, the readers, we'll be able to break down barriers and attain a level of writer-reader interaction unprecedented in mainstream journalism. I've been operating under the assumption for quite some time now that 99 percent of my audience is middle-aged males. That may still prove to be true -- but who knows, maybe there are intellectually advanced 8-year olds, retired schoolteachers or random goth chicks scattered amongst you.

3. Finally, let it be known that the Mailbag has officially dumped longtime celebrity crush object Mandy Moore upon reaching the undeniable conclusion that Ms. Moore is an absolutely horrendous actress. She single-handedly sucked the life out of the otherwise brilliant show Entourage, bumbled her way through a guest spot on Scrubs and was a major contributor to the worst movie I've seen in a theater in several years, American Dreamz. Nominations for her replacement are currently being accepted.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, what do you say we talk some actual college football?

Last year you lamented that Michigan is often ranked too high in the preseason. This year you are playing it safe by putting them in your top 10 -- but just barely. Is there any chance, just a hair, that the Wolverines might actually surpass expectations and contend for the national title? Look at both sides of the ball and you'll find an experienced and dangerous team.
-- Luke, Muncie, Ind.

I find it more than a little amusing that I feel better about the Wolverines' national-title chances than I have in years, even though they'll likely start lower in the preseason rankings than they have in quite some time because of their disappointing record last year. Like you said, this team is loaded with experience on both sides of the ball. With Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Mario Manningham, Steve Breaston and Tyler Ecker, they will have no shortage of weapons offensively. Jake Long is one of the best linemen in the country. And besides nosetackle Gabe Watson, the defense welcomes back nearly all of its key cogs. I think the offense will become less predictable under new coordinator Mike DeBord (who held the same position during UM's 1997 national title season), and new defensive coordinator Ron English is highly regarded.

Because the Wolverines went 7-5 last year, however, I'm guessing most pundits will automatically discount them. That would be a mistake. It's always wise to look beyond the record in assessing a team's season. It'd be one thing if four of those five losses were 20-point blowouts, which would mean they've likely got a long way to climb. On the contrary, the Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State and Nebraska games all went down to the final gun. Michigan also dealt with a lot of injuries at key positions. I'm not saying Lloyd Carr's team doesn't have question marks, but you can see why they may be a potential sleeper. Remember, that '97 team wasn't highly ranked to start the season either.

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