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Big Ten Media Day Roundup

Each year, the Big Ten holds its preseason media event in Chicago, and each year, Lloyd Carr and three handpicked Wolverines show up to talk about having a special year, atoning for the shortcomings of the previous season, and making sure that the rising seniors leave UM with a legacy of which they can be proud.

That was all true again this year, although the haunting shadow of last year's abomination still engulfs the program in a darkness not easily warded off with the shining light of preseason optimism. And not even Carr and his players could pretend otherwise.

From the Ann Arbor News:

But there were no growls or glares. No offense taken at any question, actually. The University of Michigan football coach was a little bit philosophical, a little bit funny and pretty plain spoken about the bottom line.

"Part of being a champion is, even when things aren't going your way, to keep the focus, to keep the confidence, that it takes to fight your way out of adverse situations,'' Carr said. "One of the great things about coaching at Michigan and playing at Michigan, is the expectations, the pressure. It's also one of the toughest things.

"We're all disappointed. There is nobody in our program who is happy with the results.''

The tone was different from the past, when both the coach and his players sometimes stubbornly insisted on only looking forward, an approach that seemed to attract more attention to the negative rather than defusing it.

The last paragraph is especially true. In some ways, it was refreshing to read that Michigan will not pretend as though last year didn't happen or that it was acceptable.

That said, I am always leery about buying into the August Michigan rhetoric of determination and resolve and attitude. We hear and read such ultimately empty declarations each year; it's as though Patrick Ewing were a twentieth-year senior. And thus, despite notions that:

Failure can be as instrumental as success in shaping a program. It's human nature to take things for granted until you start missing them.

To keep doing what you're doing until it doesn't work any more.

Every program has ups and downs. One year after 4-7, Penn State was a defensive stop away from the national title.

And the last time folks were grumbling this much around here, Michigan was going into the 1997 season.

"We were coming off four four-loss seasons, and there were a lot of things being said and being written that weren't fun to listen to,'' Carr said. "That team did something about it.''

Maybe this one will, too. In August, every fall is an unwrapped gift; that's why we keep coming back.

We do keep coming back each fall. That's true. But how many times have we heard a Michigan team mouth off about positively channeling the emotional energy born of disappointment? How many players have failed in LaMarr Woodley's circumstance after proclaiming that he was back to write a better history for himself? Everyone is slimmer, Henne is smarter, Hart is healthier, Breaston is focused--we got it. They're all gonna play within themselves, let the game come to them, and take it one game at a time, too. We all know all the cliches.

As is my custom, I will believe all this when I see an improved product on the field. But it is a positive start that the rhetoric of the late summer has come in new packaging, adorned with an acknowledgment of the legitimate problems that need addressing.

Media day was largely uneventful save for news about Antonio Bass. Lloyd said that Bass will soon be undergoing some sort of test that will largely inform if he will ever play football again. But Antonio Bass's father intimated that said "Do You Have a Future in Athletics?" test was already moot:

"They test the feeling in the leg, and everything came back fine," the elder Bass said at his home in Jackson. "Antonio came out of it with a smile on his face. He won't play this year, but it's not career ending."
Apparently Bass's future has already been assured? I don't know what to make of these conflicting accounts, although I will say: 1) Bass's father's comments make me think that the mysterious knee injury was some kind of standard ligament tear coupled with some sort of nerve damage; 2) Carr is likely to be more realistic, and less optimistic, than Bass's father. I hope things work out for Antonio, but if they don't, good thing that he chose Michigan instead of Virginia A&M, huh? again used the Big Ten Media Expo to produce one of its more popular annual features--the one in which an anonymous play from an opposing team gives an honest assessment of Michigan. The most notable answer given by the player who scouted the Wolverines' offense ($) regarded play calling:

"They are probably one of the easiest teams to scout, in terms of formations and knowing what they're going to run. Maybe last year with the injuries they didn't have superior personnel to everyone else and that caught up to them. But when they're healthy they can get away with it, if they do have superior personnel. They can run it down your throat. It will work. But with the injuries they maybe could have done a better job mixing stuff up."
No one ever accused Lloyd Carr of being a great coach or even an above-average tactician, but this is embarrassing, not least of all because this isn't a new charge. USC players were saying the same things after the 2004 Rose Bowl. You'd think Michigan might worry about this--and maybe it has tacitly acknowledged it by changing offensive coordinators--but that's just lame.

As for defense, the most interesting answer given was probably this:

"It used to be playing them and Ohio State was the same way. They had that same swagger and you almost had to feel lucky if you had success against them. The moment the ball was snapped they just pounded you so hard and snapped at you that you feared them. But they've kind of lost their edge.

"Ohio State had that quality about them last year that even before you stepped on the field you knew it was going to be a long day. I don't know if they'll have that same respect this year because of what they lost. With Michigan, they've got the athletes to shut us up, but until they go out and do it this year everyone is going to think they can have success against them."

"Swagger" is an amorphous emotional quality that lends itself to lazy analysis, and this is regrettable because I think it's also an undeniable part of college football success. Intimidation and psychological warfare are parts of the game, and while they can't consistently compensate for things like poor execution, bad coaching, or less-talented players, they can make a difference when a number of factors are otherwise equal. I have long said that Michigan should be a more demonstrative, emotive team. I think that a culture in which emotional displays were accepted if not condoned would help the team play looser and derive more strength from success.