ANN ARBOR, MI - APRIL 16: Head football coach Brady Hoke talks with his team during the annual Spring Game at Michigan Stadium on April 16, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
For the first time in what seems like forever, I don't have an overarching narrative for the coming football season. There's no slick storyline or great analogy for the season I can weave into my normal tapestry of overwrought prose and internet memes. There isn't a recent book or song or movie that I can play off of. There's really nothing that fits.
I suppose there's a reason for that. I'm no longer concerned about an embattled coach probably on his way out the door. I'm not worried about a new coach trying to change a culture, repair years of dysfunction, or being called upon to prove his worth. There's no losing streak to your biggest rival prematurely defining the season. There are no sanctions Michigan must overcome. There's no cloud of negativity among the press and fanbase. There's no embarrassing bowl loss, or lack of a bowl, that Michigan must prove won't affect the coming season. All is strangely quiet on that front.
Instead there's talk of a potential top ten team making its mark on the national scene. Talk of a Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl bid. Debates about the men in the trenches, the talent at tailback and quarterback, the stupid things college students do when they're college students that keep them out of games, the seniors we're going to miss like they were departing family members. You know.... normal stuff. All the things we used to talk about before a season began not so long ago.
It seems like forever ago, doesn't it? To me it does.
I don't know if you remember, but this will be the sixth season since the Appalachian State debacle hastened Lloyd Carr's departure and Rich Rodriguez' arrival. Seems like yesterday, to be honest. But what happened afterwards feels strangely distant.
Measuring the damage done to Michigan since Rodriguez hire is an easy, yet horribly depressing task, made all the worse by the simple fact that Rodriguez was a good and decent human being. But what happened speaks for itself. The embarrassments, the losses, the sanctions, the second-half collapses, the losing streak. Then there were the displaced loyalties, the internal coverups followed by harsh and necessary discipline, the former players avowing their love for the school but bashing its coach all at once. Each of these unsightly things seemed to glom on to the other like some massive snowball rolling downhill. With every changing season and every new indignity the snow boulder grew in size and weight. The result was a fractured fanbase that was all but eating itself, a fractured team, and seasons we'd all rather forget.
Going in to last season, the fanbase was more split than ever. There were those furious that Rodriguez had not been given a full four years to prove his worth, those that questioned the hire, and those that gleefully welcomed the coach simply because he was NOT Rich Rodriguez. Chaos would have been preferable to the self-cannibalism that existed in and around Schembechler Hall and the fanbase.
I say these things not to pile on, or to open wounds, but to remind everyone where Michigan was at this time last year. The infighting. The internet bitching. The press out for more blood. The fanbase wanting to know why Jim Harbaugh, Les Miles, (insert coach here) wasn't hired. Four years of insanity had turned the tiny snowball into boulder that threatened to crush the program. It was with all that hanging over the program that Brady Hoke accepted the job as Head Football Coach at the University of Michigan. The weight of that snow boulder Hoke inherited must've rivaled that of the weight of the moon.
He didn't seem to care, much less notice the gravity of the task in front of him. The snow boulder he'd inherited had melted into a puddle by mid-season as win follow win. All of a sudden Michigan's sub-par recruiting over then last four years was a distant memory as Hoke reeled in a top five recruiting class in his first full season at the helm. When 2011 was all said and done, Michigan had 11 wins to show for its 2011 season, a Sugar Bowl trophy, and a fan base ready to canonize him.
All this brings us to 2012.
Going in to Saturday's game, people are talking about Michigan's depth at tailback and linebacker. They're talking about a potential All-American quarterback. The pundits are discussion what challenges Michigan faces to compete for a national title and conference championship. They're talking about Michigan as a top ten team. They're talking about Michigan Football as we used to experience it.
Maybe we've forgotten about it, but this is the way it's supposed to be. There is no drama surrounding this team or its coach. It's just Michigan Football that's on our minds. This is the way it was for us as kids, or for you youngsters the way it was before you were born. This is the way Michigan is supposed go into a season. A united fanbase. A team and players we all care about and want to succeed. A head coach that is not just the face of the program, but a man we actually want teaching our sons and daughters life lessons.
While the pundits debate whether Michigan is "back", I can assure you it is. But in a different way than College Football Live would discuss. Michigan is back because its fanbase is no longer a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde version of itself. Michigan is back because the man running the program understands what that Block M really means and how important it is that representing the wings on the helmet outweighs any personal issue or aspiration the wearer may have. Michigan is back because after years of neglect and singular focus, Michigan has an Athletic Director who understands the commitment to ALL Michigan sports and student athletes, and understands the football arms race far better than anyone would like to admit.
Most importantly, Michigan is back because this season everyone is talking about how the football team will perform. And that's it. All of our energy, all of our focus is on the Team. Nothing else. This is how it used to be. Spirited debates about personnel, offensive packages, breakout players, the defense. People are excited and nervous all at once. But with a strange confidence that no matter how the season turns out, things will be fine.
Things are.... well.....normal.....
Nice, isn't it?