Monday, July 12, 2010

2010 swing games

After devouring Hail to the Victors over the last week, and reading through the staff roundtable last night (which included everyone's predictions for the season), I figured I'd run through my general impressions of the schedule and more importantly, the games that I think will end up determining whether or not Michigan is looking at a 5-7 or a 8-4 record.

First, I'm functioning under a number of assumptions. The first might be too optimistic given the past two years but I feel comfortable enough making it: Michigan will clean up against the bottom of the Big Ten and will beat its push overs. It may not be pretty, but 2010 is the year that the Purdue's of the world stop beating Michigan. The other assumption is that Wisconsin and Ohio State are probably out of the question as wins, and that Penn State and Iowa are probable losses, about which more later. So in easy to read list form...

Wins: UMass, Bowling Green, Indiana, Illinois, Purdue (5)
Losses: OSU, Wisconsin (2)
Probable losses: Iowa, Penn State (2)

... which leaves the team with a base record of 5-2--with the two probable losses looming--and the three swing games, UConn, @Notre Dame, and Michigan State, the fates of which may very well seal (at least in the immediate future) the job security, or lack thereof, of Rich Rodriguez.

The first thing that may strike you is that the first two games of the season are both swing games. This is a good news/bad news situation. The good news: Michigan is still a young, developing team with a whole lot of stuff they haven't shown in-game (e.g., against Notre Dame last year: Tate Forcier scrambles, no one knew Cissoko was terrible at football). With the nominal move to the 3-3-5 defense, Michigan is going to be able to surprise at least UConn with a defense that they haven't seen before and won't have on film. Combine that with the possible implementation of Denard Robinson at quarterback, and you've got a completely new schematic team that UConn has little preparation materials for.

The bad news: Michigan is a young, developing team with a whole lot of stuff they haven't shown in-game. Early-season jitters, a possible new starting QB, and failure to get off to a hot start are all very real things that could send a 2-0 start down the drain. Emotions will be riding high against UConn--rededication of the Big House, pivotal season for RichRod, etc.--and erratic play could doom the team. The other bad news is that when Michigan travels to South Bend this year, the Fighting Irish will be in a similar position to Michigan last year, with a new starting QB, a new coach, and a new scheme. Michigan could very well find itself surprised by a marginal team with new gadgets.

The third game is the in-state grudge match with Michigan State and looks to be the most winnable of the three. In the past two years, Michigan took MSU to overtime during the first road start of its true freshman quarterback in 2009, and played them competitively with the worst offense in the history of history in 2008. Getting the Spartans at home this year, along with more experience on offense should prove to be a very winnable game. But then again, we're still yet to see if there has been defensive improvement (my guess: yes) and Kirk Cousins is exactly the kind of quarterback who could feast on Michigan's depleted secondary.

So what does it all mean?
A split in the first two games is acceptable; lose them both and the team could be in very hot water. Aside from an 0-2 start and the media firestorm that goes along with it, that leaves Michigan with zero wiggle room when it comes to the teams they should beat. The team also drops to 5-4 with PSU, MSU, and Iowa left to scratch out at least one win (two of which Michigan will be playing as the decided underdog). But if they can get out to a 2-0 start, a 7-5 record is almost assured. Dreams of 8-4 and 9-3 then become something to aim for. And yes I remember our 4-0 start last year. Also I hate you.

Of the two nominal upsets Michigan might pull off this year (Iowa and PSU), both seem exceedingly winnable, despite the ugly 35-10 shellacking by PSU in the Big House last year. Penn State is going through something of a quarterbacking crisis the likes of which could very well bury them, not to mention the loss of some key defensive players. If I were to guess, though, I'd say PSU pulls this one out at home.

Iowa, on the other hand, who is going to start the season ranked in the top 10 nationally, is going to struggle this season and looks to be a game Michigan could pretty handily win. Despite being a night game on the road (and only the second road game of the year), Michigan lost to Iowa by only 2 points and was driving for the win before Denard threw an ill-advised pass--that I'm still not entirely convinced was all his fault--and ended Michigan's hopes. Combine that with Iowa's offseason losses of Moeaki (MOEKAI!!!), a first-round pick left tackle, and a number of other key players, Iowa looks exceedingly vulnerable. Not to mention, Ricky Stanzi is still their inconsistent quarterback.

So yeah, what does it all mean? In a perfect world where people think I'm smart and this blog occasionally gets things right, Michigan ends the regular season 8-4 with losses to PSU, OSU, Wisc, and either ND or UConn. But since we've all been alive for the last two years, we know we don't live in a perfect world and I very seldom get things right. Michigan will almost certainly slip up against the likes of a Purdue or Illinois or Indiana. Neither UConn nor Notre Dame are anywhere near locks. Kirk Cousins could shred the Michigan secondary for 500 yards. And everything else that's terrible that Michigan has endured the last two seasons could happen.

But my vote is in: 8-4.


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