Well, it's time for Wisconsin's Big Ten opener. Since I haven't said much of anything about the Badgers, I figured this would be a good time to talk about...
Bucky invades A Large Structure this weekend. Normally, certain death awaits. Instead, Wisconsin appears to be favored. By a touchdown. Eesh.
Anyway, since I haven't seen much of Michigan's games, and I was woefully unimpressed by what I did see, I thought I'd touch base with Brian Cook, God of Michigan football blogging.
We call it VEQ: Vicious Electronic Questioning. Here's the Michigan-centric version. I invite you to check MGoBlog for the Wisconsin look-see whenever Brian posts it.
As always, we thank him for his participation. It's kind of a dumb game but it's normally enjoyable, and it's a learning experience if you're one of those who is so Badger-centric that you don't watch much of the other teams.
The Ciskie Blog: Were Michigan fans really, truly ready to see this team struggle out of the gate? Are they still holding out hope for conference record somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-2? Is that realistic?
MGoBlog: I can't speak for everyone, but personally: I expected the team to be better than it is but was not surprised that they appear to be as bad as they are. If that makes any sense. Michigan has one viable quarterback, maybe six or seven viable offensive linemen, a new system, and some obvious holes on defense. There was always the possibility they would just be flamingly bad, and while I don't think they've been flamingly bad they've been close and have already blown the two major swing games this year.
At this point I think Michigan fans are skeptical of getting to a bowl game, and I'd be shocked if you could uncover anyone predicting a 6-2 year in conference.
TCB: Have they recovered from the shock of their school hiring a spread offense coach? Or was that "culture shock" part of the hire overblown to begin with?
M: Again you are asking me to answer something only scientific polling could really answer. I live on the internet, where everyone wanted the cutting edge and shed no tears at the departure of the "Avalanche" offense of Mike DeBord. After The Horror, the internet craved culture shock. All the bler bler bler in the papers about Rodriguez's culture shock may be relevant inside the athletic department and with tottering old people; I have not experienced any of it.
I think the spread offense is an excellent system that will serve Michigan well as long as Michigan finds guys who can pass a bit; the recruits coming in seem to have that ability.
TCB: Does Threet have any potential to stick in this offense?
M: If he plays like he did against Notre Dame minus the presumably correctable fumbles, yes. He's obviously not Pat White but his decision-making is extremely advanced for a freshman. Rodriguez's system requires a lot of post-snap reads and Threet's gotten just about all of them right to date. His accuracy is the thing that will hold him back: since he can't jet for 44 yards, he's got to bring something in the passing game.
He'll start for the rest of the year, at which point two freshmen will come in and fight him for the job. He'll have two years on them, one of which he's spent as a collegiate starter. I wouldn't write him off yet.
TCB: Is there anyone on offense besides McGuffie who is worth cowering in fear over?
M: I dunno, maybe? Michigan's got a wide array of receivers who might be pretty good. Greg Mathews has been the top target so far; he's not Manningham but is closer to Avant. He dug out a bunch of balls two weeks ago and almost had a spectacular diving touchdown. Freshman Darryl Stonum was a major recruit and started picking out some downfield balls last week. Freshman Martavious Odoms is Michigan's version of Darius Reynaud, a bite-sized slot guy who will be the recipient of screens and reverses and whatnot; he was frequently deployed on wheel routes against ND to good effect. Also, another freshman tailback, Michael Shaw, has gotten his share of hype. His playing time has been limited by a nagging injury but he's supposed to be healthy.
We just don't know outside McGuffie. Michigan has six to eight guys who might make an impact, or might do nothing. I tentatively suggest there will be one or two guys you are very frustrated about because they will do things they probably shouldn't be able to do.
TCB: How did Michigan's linebackers get so freaking bad?
M: I don't know, but I plan on going back to the recruiting over the last years of the Carr regime to figure out. It says a lot that Michigan brought a JUCO linebacker last year. Austin Panter was Michigan's first JUCO player at any position in ten years; the coaches obviously perceived a great cavernous need there.
As for the current team: Michigan has almost no depth or experience. Ezeh is a returning starter but is still just a sophomore. WLB is fought over by a sophomore and a redshirt freshman, neither of whom played at all last year despite having Chris Graham in front of them. SLB is fought over by Panter, who didn't play at all last year, and Johnny Thompson, who lost his job to a then-freshman (and *bad*) Ezeh a few games into last year. The LB recruiting classes have been bad, bad, bad.
TCB: What are the expectations on defense? Is the unit going to get better or will this be a season-long problem?
M: I don't think they've exactly been terrible so far; a large number of the points they've given up have something to do with the offense's ineffectiveness and turnovers. Since the first half of the Utah game they've been pretty good when not backed up against their own goal line.
The D-line, IMO, has been about as good as they were hyped up to be, and the corners have been tough. Safety and linebacker have come in towards the bottom of the range of possibilities, though, and it's hard to see those improving radically as the season goes along. Maybe Ezeh gets better, but I have a hard time seeing the OLB situation as anything but dire. Stevie Brown... well. I suppose it's possible the first four games of his career (including the Horror) are nerves or inexperience or a fluke, but I doubt it.
TCB: The Big Ten. What are you looking for in the conference schedule?
M: I'm hoping Michigan squeaks to 5-3 and slides into a crappy bowl game but that doesn't seem realistic at this point. 4-4, I think, and a 6-6 record that gets them left in the cold because Indiana and Northwestern are scheduling the University of Phoenix Phoenixes.
TCB: What do you know about Wisconsin?
M: What's to know? You've got a functional-esque white quarterback with acceptable mobility, thumping tailbacks, a cow-sized fullback, and offensive linemen that blot out the sun. You are Wisconsin, and this is what you will be forever and ever amen.
TCB: Am I missing something with this team, or am I right in thinking they're really not that good? I still think they're going to get exposed on defense, even if it isn't by Michigan.
M: Dude, put yourself in my shoes and interpret "not that good." To me, Wisconsin's "not that good" is 9-3: an impossible dream for Michigan this year. Are they a top ten team? Almost definitely not. Are they top twenty? Almost definitely. I think your concerns about the defense are a little extreme, especially given this excellent scouting report from the MGoDiaries.
If you've got your hopes set on a BCS bowl I think that's a bit much, but it's not out of the question.