Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Coach Rodriguez...Take Notes

January was supposed to be a month to cleanse our souls from the evils of the 2009 Michigan football season--one that began with a quartet of promise and ended in conference contempt. College football has given way to hoops and hockey, although many Michiganders are busy commiserating over the Pistons, Red Wings, and Wolverines. But as the weather turns, I'm left reflecting on a football season gone awry and the prospects for improvement in 2010.

Football's 2009 Big Ten conference is largely reminiscent of basketball's Big Ten conference the preceding season. They came in with relatively low expectations and, by the end of the season, appeared to be a conference on the rise. The bowls have become a huge source of optimism for fans of college football's longest standing conference, with the Big Ten winning its four most prominent bowl games:

Champs Sports Bowl: Wisconsin 20 - Miami (FL) 14
Capital One Bowl: Penn St. 19 - LSU 17
Rose Bowl: Ohio St. 26 - Oregon 17
Orange Bowl: Iowa 24 - Georgia Tech 14

Perhaps most notable about the Big Ten's bowl dominance was the fact that each Big Ten team in the four games listed above was an underdog (Penn St.-LSU was nearly a pick'em game) in Vegas. The Big Ten, by all accounts, vastly exceeded expectations, and nearly went 7-0 in the bowl season (Michigan State led in the fourth quarter against Texas Tech, Northwestern lost in overtime against Auburn, and Minnesota lost by one against Iowa State).

And let's be clear; these games were a clash of styles. Wisconsin beat the athletes at the "U." Ohio St. beat the Pac-10 spread. Iowa took care of a gimmicky, option offense. And maybe--just maybe--while Rich Rodriguez presumably watched the Big Ten compete with the nation's best, the thought crossed the embattled coach's mind that Michigan was doing something right before he got here.

Maybe, just maybe, a team can win in the Big Ten with the type of players used by Lloyd Carr when Michigan thoroughly dismantled Tim Tebow and Florida at the 2008 Capital One Bowl. Maybe, just maybe, throwing out the playbook used by Yost, Crisler, and Schembechler was not the brightest idea. Maybe, just maybe, it was not the best idea to stop recruiting the likes of Chad Henne and Mike Hart--the top-flight NFL prospects whom Michigan could attract with their cold-weather grind-it-out style of play.

The problem with Michigan football fans today is that we are so faithfully devoted to the winged helmet that we are willing to move the bar each year for a coach who has yet to win more than two games in the Big Ten. When he got here, we expected to win the Big Ten in 2010. After a three-win 2008 season, we just wanted to reach a Bowl Game in 2009 and compete with the class of the Big Ten in 2010.

Now, we'd be content with a seven-win season against the likes of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Bowling Green. Now, we simply roll our eyes when Tony Grimes eschews the Wolverines for Maryland, Mississippi, or some school with a warmer climate than Ann Arbor. Now, we hope that our defense couldn't possibly be any worse, even after losing Brandon Graham, Stevie Brown, and Donovan Warren.

Is Rich Rodriguez the best coach for the current Michigan team? Absolutely. Would any available coach win more games for Michigan in 2010 than Rodriguez? Probably not. But that's not my question today, as I reflect on 2009.

Are we building a championship program?

I surely don't think so. And if you don't, after 2 seasons and nearly two complete recruiting classes, it may be time to begin thinking about competing with the rest of the rising Big Ten.


Andy said...

I'm reserving judgement until after this year. He's still putting his system/athletes in place, and the defense will still be extremely young and questionable, but we need to see results this year. AD Brandon will have a lot of pressure to give RR the boot if he doesn't turn in a 7-8 win season, and rightly so. Lesser coaches have done more with less.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that every other big time college coach can turn a program around in 2 years? (Stoops, Meyer, Saban, Miles, Carroll, and Trssel) But our Bozo of a coach needs more? Give me a break. I'll be happy when Brandon fires this clown.

Anonymous said...

Kudialis, get off the internet.

Heide said...

Love the post

Markus said...

I suppose Urban Meyer's spread option offense "gimmicky" too?
And that of Greg Davis at Texas?
Kyle Wittingham's Utah?

I don't understand why people refuse to leave their prejudices against certain offensive schemes at the door.

The championship college football programs you're asking about in this post frequently do not field the best offenses at all. This explains why a Nebraska Cornhusker program can dominate the nation in rushing 7 out of 8 years and never win a national title.

College football dominance is all about defense. Just look at the national champion the last 7 or 8 years (or go back even further) and then ask yourselves whether it was the offense that made the difference. It's defensive play that wins championships hands down. This is why Alabama 2009 can field an offense ranked 27th in the land and still win a NC in such convincing fashion. They had the No. 1 defense against the score and No. 2 in total offensive yardage playing superior competition. Now check Saban's LSU NC team. LSU's situation was identical to Alabama's in 2009: No. 1 scoring defense, No. 2 total defense. This is where Michigan needs to find itself in order to win national titles in football again.

As far as the Big Ten is concerned, PSU and OSU will continue to rule the roust because they recruit and develop players (Tom Bradley, Jim Heacock) on that side of the ball very effectively so that they easily reload every year. Michigan used to do this too, but UM has been way too busy lately frantically trying to overcome 4 years (2005-2008) of recruiting incompetence and very bad fortune in the form of massive player attrition, transfers, career ending injuries and washouts.
Michigan lost 27% (2004), 52% (2005), 21% (2006), 40% (2007), 21% (2008) and 5% (2009) of it's recruits to these reasons. Some attrition every year is normal. But these numbers ain't normal.

RR may indeed deserve to be fired, but most certainly not for running the "wrong offensive" scheme. Michigan IMPROVED offensively by leaps and bounds statistically in 2009. If championships are the goal, then RR deserves way more criticism for his defensive staff selections and performance. Michigan actually got worse defensively in 2009.

And for the record, the highest octane offenses in college football last year were either pass-centric or run-centric spread offenses. Only Stanford and Notre Stain were in the top 10 in total yards per game and scoring per game running conventional, pro-style offenses. The rest of the "traditional pro set style" Debordian, Malonian, Moeller offensive systems languished far behind 20th place.

Personally, I don't care one way or the other. Throw RR's spread option playbook in the dumpster if you want to. It doesn't change the fact that Michigan will not win another Big Ten title until it starts playing the best scoring defense in the conference.

Kudi said...

Dude I just saw this today... I love how when somebody else uses the word clown that I'm automatically associated with it. Although I must say whoever that guy is trying to pose as me has a legitimate point

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