Michigan No National Power After Five-Loss Season
By Joe Coughlin
You put the right spin on anything and it takes flight.
A lot of fans in Ann Arbor aren’t happy with the 2012 season produced by their beloved Wolverines, but they are told not to worry because four of their team's five losses came to top-10 teams — and all five losses were away from The Big House. There is hope.
Plenty of Wolverines faithful are still dizzied from the heavy spin. But don’t be so quickly fooled by a more favorable schedule. The real problem wasn’t the who and where, it was the why.
To paraphrase the poignant Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are. And when your goal is to be an elite program contending for a national title, top-10 teams are exactly who you want to play and want to beat. That's not Michigan. Despite the popular block "M," the loyal following and prestigious history, Michigan is not a national power any more.
It is, however, Michigan’s goal to get there; so to me, Michigan has to be wondering why it cannot compete with the country’s best. I don’t know exactly what the answer is, but I know it lies somewhere between a dominant SEC, an unstable Michigan program during the last decade and a free-falling Big Ten talent pool. As Michigan wavered between mild success and mediocrity and coaches rotated, recruiting and the future of the program was affected. Head coach Brady Hoke has done some stellar things to right the ship, winning 11 games in 2011 and securing top-10 national recruiting classes each of the last two years. While things are looking up in Ann Arbor, Michigan is still not where it wants to be.
You can look at Michigan’s 2012 season and say they lost five games on the road to very good squads, or you can be realistic and say they lost five games. Despite a relatively simpler 2013 schedule, the Wolverines still have plenty to overcome. They lost their best player in Denard Robinson to the NFL. Three starting offensive lineman graduated. In fact, Michigan returns the fewest number of starters (11) in the Big Ten.
With Devin Gardner behind center, the Michigan will rely more on passing yards. Gardner is a dynamic athlete, but does not have he burst or elusiveness of Robinson. That being said, Gardner has a better arm and is also an All-Big Ten talent.
The Wolverines also have a terrific freshman class, so expect a reloading at many positions. But also expect some growing pains. Add everything up and I don’t see Michigan cracking the nation’s top 20. I expect more wins, but not a better ranking.
Michigan doesn’t have to play Alabama, but still has to prove itself. Notre Dame will come to visit in the second game, giving the Wolverines a season tipping point early. The Irish will field another BCS contender, and a road test at Michigan will be plenty meaningful for the visitors as well. The result could loom large for both team’s seasons.
The Wolverines do get Ohio State and Nebraska in The Big House, but road games at Connecticut, Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern are not walks in the park. There will be a loss or two in those four games.
I can see 10 wins and I can see seven. Michigan could compete for a Big Ten crown, but it won’t be in the national hunt, leaving an ever-growing gap between Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten. Some like to say, in the conference, there's Ohio State, Michigan and everybody else. That's not true until Michigan proves it.