An early look at the Michigan Wolverines.

Michigan Wolverines
Last meeting: 11/11/2006 (Michigan 34, Indiana 3)
Last IU win: 10/24/1987 (14-10 in Bloomington)
Series: Michigan leads 50-9
Coach: Rich Rodriguez
(2nd year, 3-9)

College football's all-time winningest programs are Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and USC.  Before 2008, Michigan stood alone compared even to those elite programs and really as the only program in college football that had avoided even a single disastrous season in the last 30 years.  Before, 2008, Michigan's last losing season was in 1967, and the Wolverines had last missed a bowl game following the 1974 season (back when Big Ten teams went to the Rose Bowl or nothing at all) . Last season, under the leadership of first-year coach Rich Rodriguez, Michigan endured its worst season since going 2-7 in 1962. 

Rodriguez, a West Virginia alum who left his alma mater to go to Ann Arbor, won over 70 percent of his games at WVU, including a 32-5 record in his last three seasons.  It has become a bit fashionable to gloat about Michigan's misfortune and to predict doom and gloom for Rodriguez, and it is hard to believe that a program that recruits so well could fall so far in a single season, but I'm not on the anti-Rodriguez bandwagon.  I'll certainly be glad to eat my words, but I think he'll be fine.  His 3-8 record at WVU in 2001 was the school's worst record since 1978, but he righted the ship quickly.  I certainly wouldn't mind seeing Rodriguez and the Wolverines wallow in mediocrity or worse for a few more years, but I'll be surprised if it happens.  Rodriguez has worked his was on to a number of "coaching hot seat lists," followed by incredulity by those who follow the program.   

IU and Michigan last played on November 11, 2006.  In the post-1997 (national championship) era, the Wolverines probably have never been in a better position than they were on that day.  The Wolverines were #2 in the nation, right behind rival Ohio State, and easily beat the Hoosiers in Bloomington.  The next week, OSU beat Michigan, then the Wolverines lost the Rose Bowl to USC, and then they dropped their 2007 opener to I-AA power Appalachian State.   Despite a win over Florida in the Capital One Bowl at the end of the 2007 season, the Michigan program really hasn't been the same since.

Here is the NCAA's summary of Michigan's 2009 season.  Michigan was uniformly bad, but particularly on offense.  The Wolverines ranked #109 in total offense, #108 in passing offense, #67 in total defense, and #84 in scoring defense.  Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan shared time at QB last season, but all of the preseason attention is focused on true freshman QB Nate Forcier (Threet transferred and Sheridan seems to be far down the depth chart).  At running back, Brandon Minor, who ran for only 533 yards but averaged over 5 yards per carry, probably is Michigan's best returning player.  Leading receivers Matravius Odoms and Greg Matthews return.  On defense, DE Brandon Graham, with 10 sacks last year, returns, as do leading tacklers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton.  It's odd to compare Michigan's football program in any way to IU's, but much like the Hoosiers, Michigan returns a number of key contributors, but those players contributed to a bad team.

Obviously, this is a very initial look at the Wolverines, and I will have more as the week four game approaches.  Michigan has owned the Hoosiers for as long as the two programs have played.  IU last beat Michigan in 1987 and last won in Ann Arbor in 1967.  As bad as Michigan was last year, the Wolverines probably would have beat the 2008 Hoosiers by 2 or 3 touchdowns.  Most prognosticators, based on Michigan's youth and poor 2008 performance but mindful of the talent on hand, predict about a 6-6 season for Michigan.  That means that if the Hoosiers are going to find a way to win 6 or 7 games (it's August, indulge me), the Michigan game should be on the could-win list.  I expect IU to be a double digit underdog in this game, but a win at the Big House is not out of the realm of possibility for a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team.  If 2008 is any measure, IU is a long way from the middle of the pack, but that goal should remain within reach when these teams play September 25.

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