With the season less than a week away, a sort of eerie trepidation has crept over me like an early morning fog. It's not worrying in the sense that something bad is out there, it's just there. Temporarily blocking my vision, keeping me in a kind of limbo until it dissipates. Like I said, it's not that something bad's out there, it's that I don't know what's out there. Sure I've got ideas what's there. A tree. A house. A car. Maybe a raccoon or two. But past that, anything could be out there. Bad or good.
Talking with friends, no one seems to know what to make of this team. Some are unusually optimistic, almost like Notre Dame fans expecting the improbable. Others might as well be in a nursing home waiting on death's relieving touch; they're pessimistic beyond all logic. But most are lost in the fog with me. A week out, we really don't know what's awaiting us come the start of the season.
Looking at the 2010 Michigan Football season a week before kickoff, I can honestly say I don't have a clue what's going to happen this year. For every thought of a shock the world type year, I have another reminding me why the pundit have so much lead to weigh the program down with. There are so many question marks and there are so many reasons to be excited. It's such a mixed bag that the only way I could sleep was to a fraction of those thoughts and insecurities down on paper.
I think the offense will be leaps and bounds better than the bunch that posted 30 points a game last season. And not just better in terms of points. Better in terms of ball possession, both on the clock and turnover-ish. I think the coaching will be better. On defense Jay Hopson's gone, so that's a win. I think Mike Martin is going to be All Big Ten and a Second Team All American by year's end. I think Mike Cox and the rest of the running back crew will be outstanding. I think Michigan Stadium is going to be beyond awesome for the opener on September 4, 2010. I think I'm honestly going to cry when I see Brock Mealer lead the Wolverines out of the tunnel.
But I don't know what to expect from our defense. I can't tell you how our secondary is going to perform above "awful" this season. I don't know who our starting quarterback is, even if I think I've got a pretty good hunch. I can't tell you whether our linebackers will be any better than the assignment challenged bunch we saw flailing around last season. I can't tell you how Michigan will replace Brandon Graham, Stevie Brown, and Donovan Warren. I can't tell you if this team will start 4-0 or 2-2. I can't tell you if Michigan will finally break even in conference play, or, God forbid, be better than that. I can't tell you if we'll play in a bowl game or not.
Other than the 2008 season, I can't remember a team that I felt I "knew" less about. Scratch that. I "knew" that the 2008 team would win at least 7 games. This team could win 10 games or it could lose 10 games. Or it could be just about anywhere in between. I don't know.
That's been the biggest change in my fandom since 2006, the willingness to admit that I "know" very little about what will happen on the football field week in and week out. Sure I'll put together a "preview" of the coming schedule and attempt to prognosticate the outcomes of twelve different games over a 14 week season, but it's not like it'll be anything more than a semi-educated guess. I "know" very little this year for certain.
But there are some things I know for certain. I know and believe very fervently that Michigan Head Football Coach Rich Rodriguez is not only a good man, but a damn fine football coach. I know that he has recruited good kids, and not just as athletes and students but as human beings. I know this team believes in him. I know that this season isn't going to be easy. I know it's going to drive me to states of euphoria and clinical depression, sometimes within minutes of one another. I know I'm going to drive my wife crazy by yelling at the TV and incessantly yammering about football for the next four months. These are some of the very few things I "know" about this season.
Finally, I know it's going to be an exciting season.
For the first time since Rich Rodriguez arrived on campus, he has a quarterback that's spent more than a month in his offense. In fact, he's got two. Michigan has a veteran offensive line that could be one of the best in the conference this year. Complimenting them, the skill positions are loaded with speed, shiftiness, talent, and depth. We're finally going to get a true taste of what Rich's offenses are capable of this season. And that's a really exciting thing to think about.
On defense, despite the turnover and the loss of three outstanding performers, Michigan returns six starters and finally possesses needed depth in it's front seven. Mike Martin is healthy. Ryan Van Bergen is the team's leading returning sackmeister. Greg Banks, Adam Patterson and Renaldo Sagesse are seniors who will not just contribute on the defensive line, but provide steadying depth and minutes. At linebacker Craig Roh is poised for a All-Big Ten season. Jordan Kovacs will provide stability and sure tackling at Stevie Brown's old hybrid position. Jonas Mouton finally has a real linebackers coach in and certainly has the athleticism for a breakout year. Between Mark Moundros, Obi Ezeh, and Kenny Demens someone's gotta provide a steady hand at MIKE, right? Don't answer that.
There's little anyone on the Michigan staff let alone the media can tell you about this team with any certainty. With five days ahead of us, we're going to have to wait the fog out together. Wait for those first rays of light when the season kicks off on Thursday, and watch the haze burn away as college football rises again.
And when the college football sun shines down on Michigan September 4, 2010, we'll finally have the chance to see if what we know and what we think match up.