Rich Rodriguez's Year 2 forecast, unveiling Mailbag Crush, more
Rich Rodriguez's system isn't Michigan's problem -- but a lack of talent is
The nation's fifth best team, impact transfers and Duke's bad health luck
The new Crush is an up-and-coming star who is fiercely loyal to LSU
Roughly 20 months ago, West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez was nearly universally regarded as a "hot" coach. But between a disastrous 3-9 debut at Michigan and a slew of controversial headlines involving his ugly departure from West Virginia, critical comments from players who left the program and an ugly story recently about a player found to be dealing cocaine, Rodriguez hasn't done a whole lot to inspire confidence -- even among his team's own fans.
Rich Rodriguez is asking for patience and is speaking about playing multiple quarterbacks. Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel all won national championships in their second seasons at their respective schools. Isn't Rodriguez just trying to spin 2008's disaster by saying his system is so complicated that it will take time? What if it just can't work?
I am a born Michigan fan. I think dad sang The Victors to me in the womb. But I am hard-pressed to see anything but a 3-9 season this year. Michigan is young, thin at the skill positions, kind of slow and not that talented. How does SI pick it to go 7-5?
I assume the "system" Jonathan refers to is Rodriguez's spread-option offense. Not only is it infinitely less complicated than most pro-style schemes, it seems to be working pretty well for Florida and Oregon, whose coaches (Meyer and Chip Kelly) both employ the same shotgun-run principles Rodriguez first popularized as Clemson's offensive coordinator nearly a decade ago.
It's not the system that's the problem -- it's the players. The three national championship coaches Jonathan mentioned all followed renowned recruiters (John Blake at Oklahoma, Ron Zook at Florida, John Cooper at Ohio State) who handed over a core of young talent in need of proper grooming. Lloyd Carr didn't necessarily leave Rodriguez with an empty cupboard, but there's no question Michigan's recruiting fell off in his last couple of years (due in large part to lingering uncertainty over the coach's own future). In 2004 and '05, Rivals.com pegged the Wolverines' classes fifth and sixth, respectively. In '06 and '07, the classes fell out of the top 10, a fact made worse considering about a third of the players in those classes -- most notably quarterback Ryan Mallett and offensive lineman Justin Boren -- are no longer in the program.
Meanwhile, Michigan produced just two NFL draft picks last spring (fourth-rounder Terrance Taylor and sixth-rounder Morgan Trent), its lowest number since 1994, and next year's class might not be much better (though defensive end Brandon Graham should at least be a high pick).
I watched excerpts from Rodriguez's Media Day press conference last Sunday, and his team's youth caused him to express restraint on several occasions. He made a point of reminding the reporters his freshmen -- a whole bunch of which Michigan will be relying on this fall -- are "still freshmen," and lamented having just two senior starters on defense.
So why would anyone predict the Wolverines will improve by four wins this fall? Simple: confidence in Rodriguez. For one thing, big second-year improvements have occurred everywhere he's been before (Tulane went from 7-4 to 12-0, Clemson from 6-6 to 9-3, West Virginia from 3-8 to 9-4). And because Rodriguez's offense is fairly simple -- long story short: create mismatches in open space -- it's easier for a true freshman quarterback like Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson (who plays with untied shoelaces?) to step in and run it. It also makes it more plausible freshman skill players like standout running back Vincent Smith can make an immediate impact.
(Incidentally, I don't buy Rodriguez's "three quarterbacks" statement. Maybe all three will play in the opener if Michigan builds a lead, but it will likely be the two freshmen from there, with one eventually taking the reins.)
Obviously, Michigan needs at least one more solid recruiting class to return to its customary talent level, but breaking .500 seems like a reasonable goal for this year. A year ago this time, SI predicted the Wolverines to go 5-7, causing my in-box to fill with angry missives from Maize and Blue faithful unaccustomed to such pessimistic forecasts. A year later, apparently we're being too optimistic.
But let's be honest: preseason football predictions are largely a crapshoot. If you hit better than 50-50, you're doing all right.
When it comes to Celebrity Crushes, however, few can dispute the Mailbag has gone 3-for-3 in identifying sweet and beautiful under-the-radar starlets. Will the streak continue?
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