So far, I have broken the season down from the easiest game to the most difficult thusly:
12. Eastern Illinois
Some new quarterback changes have come to light since I first ranked these. Syracuse will be led by Greg Paulus, former Duke point guard that will now play for the Orange. And Eastern Illinois will be directed by Iowa transfer Jake Christiansen. Let’s check the new numbers . . . probably going to have some effect . . . nope, not so much.
Moving on . . .
The wolverines, or THEM to readers who are not familiar with my label (as in THE M, that big block M that marches down the field, the team with the ugly helmets that’s too sexy for their shirts, the team whose fans think the college football world revolves around THEM, the only team that apparently counts when ratinmg the strength of the conference, you get the idea), is a team that can only improve after a 3-9 season that featured such epic games as a 13-10 loss to the Toledo Rockets. ( I know, I know. Toledo beat PSU in 2000 when the Rockets went 10-1, winning their conference and their bowl game. Contrast that to last year’s team that went 3-9 in the same MAC conference and stayed home for the holidays. In reality, that loss was even worse than the Appalachian State loss because at least Appalachian State was one of the best teams in their division.)
Anyway,THEM went 3-9 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since like Lincoln was president. As I said, things appear to be poised for improvement, but how much is the key question.
The wolverines have been riddled with transfers since Rodriguez took over. Outsiders look at that as a sign of problematic issues with the new regime. Die hard fans, though, are quick to jump to RichRod’s support–the transfers are just normal growing pains and the program is better off without Carr’s recruits that “didn’t fit” into the spread system. Isn’t that convenient. . . or perhaps . . . . Satan? You decide.
And while the mightly wolverines made a game of it last year for thirty minutes, clinging to a 3 point lead at half-time, the final score of 46-17 was a better indicator of the disparity of these two teams.
Penn State will return a veteran signal caller. THEM will debut the power of the Forcier, a freshman who was highly heralded, but was aided by the transfer of Threet and an injury to Sheridan. Did he actually win the job or was this the product of addition by subtraction?
The one thing that worries me about this game is the venue. We have not played well in Ann Arbor since like 1994 (we played well in 2005 but got screwed, but let’s not go there yet.) But quite frankly, I don’t fear Rodriguez the way I feared that shifty, beady eyed Carr, most often caught smirking on the sideline or giving the patented drive-by handshake after a loss.
I still fear the refs, but I don’t think Rich Rod has the same rapport (or influence) as Carr did.
Greg Robinson has moved from Syracuse to Ann Arbor to be the defensive coordinator. Yeah, that scares me. Holy crap? Did Syracuse even have a defense? Syracuse was 101 out of 119 teams in total defense last year. Is there a coaching position that he is even less qualified? Oh yeah, Syracuse was 114th in total offense, so offensive coordinator wouldn’t have been a good choice either.
Personally, I think the whole Rich Rod hiring was a mistake. I think he will continue to struggle for a couple more years, but I just don’t see him returning the program to the success that Carr had, which included a national championship. I wasn’t that impressed with his coaching at WVU–he recruited well and competed in a weak conference, and still managed to lose the occasional key game. I may be wrong, but I don’t think he will survive at THEM.
The wolverines have a functional bye week before we play them, with a game against Delaware State on October 17th. They face a road trip to Illinois the week after. They should have four wins (Indiana, Eastern and Western Michigan, and Delaware State) and will also have faced the Irish, their cross state rivals, the Spartans, and Iowa on the road. I’m thinking 4-3 here. With Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio State still ahead, this could be a make or break game for a bowl bid. Of course, if I’m wrong, and they beat Notre Dame and Sparty, the swagger will be back and that would be a dangerous thing. 7-0 and I will start to sweat. A lot. And forget that whole Rich Rod not surviving thing. It’s like I didn’t type that.
As for Penn State, we will be coming off ahome again against the gophers, and be facing an away game at Northwestern, which if you haven’t noticed, hasn’t appeared on the list yet. Northwestern is the trap game du jour for this year, even though many fans and sportswriters are fearing Illinois on the road.
Bottom Line: If Forcier is truly a force to be reckoned with, the wolverines will hurt some people this year, maybe even Penn State.
Most Likely scenario: Forcier will have growing pains like all athletic freshmen, with falshes of brilliance tempered by stupid plays at inopportune moments.
This will be a close game either way.