Here we are friends, 10 days out to the first Saturday of the college football season. There are smoldering corpses of programs and mountains of NCAA investigation papers littering the offseason, and the launch of this season, more than any, is going to feel good when Michigan and Alabama get underway in Arlington, Texas.
Michigan won the 2012 Sugar Bowl, and I, like many, still don't know how they did that. This season will be the real deal, where expectations are in the clouds and anything short of an appearance in Pasadena will be...not as good. As I count down the final 10 days, there is a lot to get excited about before Michigan and Alabama take the field, and it will go thusly:
The arbitrary preseason polls have Michigan somewhere around 8th, behind some teams they are better than and in front of others they likely aren't better than. Each new season in the BCS era that will soon be history itself, the calls for getting rid of polls get louder, yet there they are. Some guy gave Michigan a first place vote, because sports.
I am not good at analyzing sports. Neither are half the people voting in these polls. Why not start each team at rank 0 and then wait for a game to be played to validate your hunch that USC might go all the way this year (Lane Kiffin would want you to since he admitted he isn't very good at voting in polls either). LSU lost its best defensive player after the polls were released, so their punishment in the polls will be harsher if they happen to lose in September. Rece Davis said on ESPN's "Scott Van Pelt Show" (paraphrasing) that moving a team down doesn't usually jive with the quality or timing of their loss. Essentially, if Michigan loses to Alabama by 10 points, they'll likely get slammed down into the teens, yet most of the voters are expecting Michigan to lose that game.
Why the disparity? Simply withhold judgment until after the first week, or start off a team in the 10th spot and only bump them down a couple notches when they lose the game you are expecting them to lose. Besides, Michigan will have different uniforms forthe contest against Alabama, so automatically move them down two additional spots for having too much maize ontheir jerseys.
Michigan has had a much more measured approach to the Pro Combat and Tech Fit craze gripping the nation, and justifiably so. There's nothing wrong with many of the traditional powers' uniforms...there's just an impetus to make each school look like they rented out a Halloween store's inventory for the weekend (I'm looking at you, Notre Dame). College football is supposed to be about the contest on the field, not the fashion show in the locker room. If Dave Brandon or any other athletic director were legitimately concerned about revenue, they'd have a different uniform every week.
Instead we get one or two weeks of minor shame during special games, and I grow more fearful for the day Michigan comes out of the tunnel in maize helmets. Instead, the attention should be on the players wearing the uniforms and what we can expect from them this year.
I don't imagine I'm going out on a limb in saying the success of team 133 will live and die by the success and health of Denard Robinson. Greg Mattison may have to prove he's worth all that dough more than last year because his defensive line is almost an entirely new one. But any year without Greg Robinson is deemed an instant success. The offense has senior leadership to make up for the crater left at wide receiver (please, football gods, protect Roy Roundtree), and the endless supply of running backs will help Denard not have to do everything. And for one player who can make a big difference in offensive production, look to Jeremy Gallon. When he was a wee pup under Rich Rodriguez, he was incapable of catching kicks, and generally caused Michigan to have to send its defense back out onto the field. No more though, as he is a different man, and will be a star.
Historically, this team appears to have 2007-like potential with a smidgen of 2006-like experience in key positions. A senior Denard is a blessing in itself, but with a tough road schedule and a defense and offense that both know how to win by the seat of their pants, it's going to be a wild ride, I'm sure of it. Remember the moment when the 2007 team stepped out onto the field against Florida in the Citrus Bowl? (Yes, it's still the Citrus Bowl to me. Take that, corporations!) Chad Henne lined up in the shotgun and suddenly every Michigan fan saw what a modern offense looked like. I see that kind of Ah-ha! moment happening this year with Al Borges having a second full off-season to tinker with Denard in his crazy, mad offensive scientist place. When the team is clicking, it will be glorious, and when it's not, well, that probably means Michigan lost the game. 2012 Michigan is capable of a lot, and when the first snap is taken in Arlington, it will become clear just how far they'll go.