Ignorance Is Bliss
We might not know how good Michigan is for a while. That's okay.
SITE NEWS: As I teased on this week’s podcast, I’m soon going to be monetizing the newsletter, which—yes—means subscriptions and taking most of my posts behind a paywall. The weekly podcast will remain free to all, though I’m also planning to introduce a subscriber-only bonus podcast (this week’s will be free and should hit the regular podcast feed tonight).
I’ll have more on this next week. I didn’t want the changeover to come out of nowhere. Thank you to everyone who’s signed up so far. I hope you’ve enjoyed this enough to subscribe when the time comes. Tell your friends!
Do you remember when Scot Loeffler beat Ohio State?
No, I’m not referring to his time as a Michigan backup quarterback from 1993-1996, nor his tenure on the U-M staff for all but two seasons from 1996-2007.
I’m talking about 2014. Ohio State entered the season with a top-five ranking, though there were concerns about replacing injured quarterback Braxton Miller with redshirt freshman JT Barrett. September brought the worst-case scenario: after a sleepy 34-17 win over Navy, the Buckeyes lost to unranked Virginia Tech at home.
The Hokies exposed OSU’s offense. With defensive coordinator Bud Foster deploying a bear front that flummoxed Urban Meyer and Co., the Buckeyes totaled only 327 yards and Barrett completed 9-of-29 passes with three interceptions. Loeffler’s offense, uh, did enough to earn a two-score win. The lede is technically correct, which is the best kind of correct.
Do you remember the exposed, pitiful 2014 Buckeyes?
You should! They won the national championship, scoring at least 40 points in all but two of their 13 remaining games, including the final three games started by preseason third-string QB Cardale Jones.
That VT squad, meanwhile, finished 7-6. The week after knocking off OSU, they lost to East Carolina. They didn’t surpass the 35 points they scored against the Buckeyes in 2014 and matched it only once, against Western Michigan.
September lies to us. See also: pretty much every Michigan-Notre Dame game ever played.
What did we learn from Michigan’s throttling of Western? Little of much use, at least until we add to the sample. I shed tears of joy in the student section after Tate Forcier led a comeback win over a top-20 Notre Dame team in September 2009; after a year in the wilderness, Michigan was back.
For two more weeks. Then they went 1-7 in the Big Ten.
I don’t regret crying, though. If you don’t feel strong emotions after experiencing this in person, you’re dead.
In a similar vein, I yelled something joyfully profane when JJ McCarthy’s pass hit Daylen Baldwin in the hands last weekend. I didn’t cry and declare Michigan back, in part because I’m allegedly wiser and in part because the opponent was WMU instead of the hated Irish.
Is the offense finally clicking? Does Michigan have not just one, but two good quarterbacks? Do they have the best backfield in the Big Ten? Is the defense going to hold up against Big Ten offenses? I have no idea. I can only say that game was promising, and sometimes that portends great things, and sometimes you get 2009.
Michigan now ranks 7th in Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings; not in the Big Ten, in the whole damn country. If you don’t know what to do with your hands, you’re not alone.
Michigan’s schedule looks a lot less daunting than it appeared two weeks ago. Throw on the maize-tinted glasses and you can talk yourself into a hell of a season:
The marquee non-conference opponent, Washington (SP+ #20), lost to FCS Montana at home while playing inept offense. U-M gets them at home.
The two games after that: Northern Illinois (#108) and Rutgers (#70), both at home.
Wisconsin (#18) dropped 12 spots in SP+ after losing a hideous “defensive battle” to Penn State. Their offense looked awful.
Scott Frost needs a huge turnaround to save his job at Nebraska after a Week Zero loss to an Illinois squad that had to turn to Rutgers castoff Art Sitkowski in the first half after Brandon Peters got hurt. The Illini followed up their upset by losing at home to UTSA.
Northwestern (#99) also has a putrid offense, so much so that they lost by 17 to Michigan State. The Spartans (#34), who follow NW on the schedule, might have a salty defense but still aren’t projected to be able to move the ball with any consistency. Michigan also owes their in-state rival one, to say the least.
Indiana (#51), which comes to the Big House, had all the wind taken out of their preseason sails in a 34-6 loss at Iowa. Michael Penix Jr. played nothing like the All-Big Ten quarterback he’s supposed to be.
Sure, Penn State (#5)(!!!) shut down Wisconsin, but we just talked about how the Badgers looked awful. Also, they’ve already designated another game to be the White Out night game.
Maryland (#37) played well in a six-point win over West Virginia, but remain Maryland.
Even Ohio State (#3) looked mortal against Minnesota, trailing 14-10 at halftime and not taking full control until the Gophers lost star running back Mohamed Ibrahim to a season-ending injury.
Which opponent is going to tell us whether Michigan is good or not? Wisconsin? MSU? Indiana? We could get to mid-November without having a good read on this team—and this is college football, so getting a good read on a team is difficult even in the most controlled of circumstances.
I’m allowing myself to give in to the excitement. No, I don’t expect Michigan to charge into the OSU game undefeated. But, hell, it seems like it could be on the table, which is more than I would’ve said last week. The optimism will continue until morale improves.
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A defense with a pulse still scares me. Unless the QB is actually involved in the run game or they scheme around an unblocked end they could have trouble. As good as Corum and Haskins are they can’t rely on the backs making something out of nothing and be a good offense.