Thursday Happy Hour sets the bar

Back to lead the charge. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

I'm not sure where exactly the majority of fans stand on this upcoming season. Of course it is well known that the schedule will be incredibly difficult, there is little proven production at wide receiver and on the defensive line, and 2011 brought a few fortunate bounces that may have helped to inflate the record. However, on the other side of the fence it is hard to deny that having Denard Robinson back for his third year as a starter -- second in the Borges offense -- while returning a thousand yard running back and nearly the entire defensive back seven should help.

We are still a ways away from the season, and even the predictions we as fans make in August will just as quickly evaporate into thin air once the games get played and reality sets in. But what won't disappear with the coming of games are our expectations for the team.

I spent my youth reading Michigan football previews in August, seeing the lofty preseason rankings and lists of returning starters, and gearing up for a very successful season. Most of the time I spent November slightly annoyed at a disappoint finish or inexplicable non-conference loss. These things we say about our team in August don't matter to anyone but us, but to us they end up mattering a whole lot more than we like to admit. More often than not it isn't the results on the field that color our perception of the season as a failure or success, it is what we long ago decided, in a vacuum far away from the myriad of circumstances and bad bounces that govern sport, that ultimately lays down the line between success and failure.

So when I read the Scout.com 2012 preview, tinged with worry and steeped with caveats for the success of 2011 and what it could mean for the coming year I feel somewhat comforted. Last year was an incredible story of redemption for a hard working and dedicated group of seniors, a defense that had wilted under mismanagement, and an offense that everyone said couldn't sustain itself without the man behind the curtain pulling the strings. But it was also a season where things just happened to go Michigan's way.

That doesn't mean this is a bear market for Michigan football, or that we should give up hope now. It is just important to realize that when the coaches are talking about the possibility of two true freshmen earning playing time because of a lack of depth on the offensive line, that this game of football that we love so dearly is far too complex to live within the realm of our expectations. College football is a cruel random game where the fun is in the ride, not the destination.

But at the same time that Scout preview states that anything less than a Legends division championship and a win over (presumably) Wisconsin in the BTCG will be an utter disappointment.

When people said Michigan football was back, I didn't think they meant back to being crushed under the weight of outsized expectations. What else could being back possibly mean?

Would you like some links?

The Tale of Rodriguez and Hoke - Because we haven't had a good "Hoke vs. Rodriguez" flame war over here in a while. Good analysis from the other side of the rivalry.

Scouting Report: Jordan Wilkins - Now that Ty Isaac is off the table, Michigan is focusing on other running backs for the 2013 class. Magnus over at Touch the Banner takes a look at one such prospect.

Report: Rob Bolden staying at Penn State - Because of course he is. Rob Bolden is probably still going to be considering a transfer six months after he graduates.

What's the next step for Fighting Illini football? - An interesting look at the future of Illinois football from the guys over at Hail to the Orange.

How Gene Smith continues to be employed is beyond me.

Pro Combat Goes B1G: Purdue Edition

Over the years, football has managed to extend its appeal to a variety of demographics: females, teens, female teens, minorities, soccer moms, lacrosse step-dads, and even South Korean pop super groups. But there has always been one demographic that has escaped the clutches of football advertisers: toddlers.

These BHGP Pro Combat mock uniforms just keep getting better and better.

The Curious Case of Brian Ferentz - What would the off season be without an Iowa fan trying to talk himself into the offense taking a step forward with more outside the box thinking? Last time I checked, Ferentz the elder just brought in Greg Davis to run the show. While it is amusing to consider Brian Ferentz as the voice of reckless youth in the locker room ("come on dad, don't punt from their 40-yard line, all the cool kids are going for it on 4th down"), I'm not sold on his ability to significantly influence things just yet.

Life As A Notre Dame Fan: Evidently It's Been Better - Nobody can self-loathe like a Notre Dame fan can self-loathe.

Thirty years after Bear Bryant's final season, the man who knew him best

Something important is being lost. Each rising sun takes a little more from the couple who live in the small brick home southwest of downtown. Billy Varner has been married to Susie for 57 years, and as her life was once spent waiting on him to get home from a job that didn't know hours or days off, now it's spent managing his dementia. Each day brings its own reality. On the worst, Billy, who is 76, doesn't recognize Susie. He'll dress in the middle of the night and try to leave, his pajamas rolled up in his hand. Regularly, he refuses to believe that his old boss isn't at home waiting for a ride. Billy was Bear Bryant's driver, bodyguard and valet, one of the few remaining people who knew him as a human being. As Billy's memory fades, that knowledge disappears with it, widening the gulf between truth and imagination.

Billy tells Susie that he talks to the coach. Sometimes Bryant visits.

"Coach Bryant isn't dead," he'll say. "Don't tell me he's dead."

"Billy," Susie tells him, "yes, he is."

This is absolutely phenomenal. Wright Thompson is without a doubt on the short list of the best people out there writing about sports, and this may be the best thing I have read all year. Drop everything and read it now.

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