You'd think that in the midst of a 2-5 season and coming off a 29 point loss to Penn State in Happy Valley, the members of Michigan's football team might be a tad bit humbled. Maybe even quiet.
You'd be wrong.
Confidence has never been a problem at Michigan. Even during the Fallow Years, Michigan's always managed to keep it's head high and it's sights set on success rather than merely competing. Hell, even after an 0-2 start last year, Mike Hart was predicting victories and turn arounds to anyone who hold a microphone within a mile of his mouth. Confidence. Brashness. Arrogance. Success. These are all trademarks of Michigan football. If you think Michigan was happy just hanging around for the first half against a much better Penn State squad, again, you'd be wrong.
But one of the things that was also a trademark of Michigan football was keeping your mouth shut. For all that confidence, brashness, arrogance, and success, Michigan's players were generally careful enough to keep from putting their quotes on the opposing team's bulletin board. Unfortunately, over the past two decades or so, this annoying habit of spouting off to the press has become more prevalent.
My favorite/least favorite in this little trend was Walter Smith announcing to the World that they were playing Ohio State with the intention of getting John Cooper fired. (HT: The Realest)
"We want to get (Ohio State coach) John Cooper fired. That's what I want to do. I want to keep on beating that team until he's no longer there."
-- Former Michigan wide receiver Walter Smith before the 1992 Ohio State-Michigan game which Ohio State won, 22-6
A few guys have made good on their guarantees, like Jim Harbaugh or Mike Hart. But it doesn't make them right for doing it. Hart and Harbaugh were electrifying players in their own right who were basically soundbites with two legs and a pulse. Like moths drawn to bright light, they couldn't avoid a camera or a microphone and sometimes the things that came out of their mouths landed them on the front page of a sports section or the lead-in for College Football Live. As nice as it was to see Michigan the front and center story, more often than not the question becomes "will this team be able to back that statement up?"
Personally, the idea of guaranteeing anything where sports are involved is plain, oldfashioned stupid. There are too many intangibles. Too many things the guarantor can't control. And when a team is 2-5 the only thing you should be guaranteeing is that you'll tackle better.
But sometimes you've gotta say what's on you mind.
During post game interviews following Michigan's 29 point loss to Penn State, Junior defensive end Brandon Graham was quoted as saying the following:
"We are not going to lose to State. That's just, we're not going to lose to State. We're going to work hard. We're going to win."
That's a bold prediction from a guy that didn't notch a sack and managed only 3 tackles against PSU. But it's out there. And his teammates are backing him up, whether they want to or not.
In some ways you can argue it's truly Graham's prediction to make. He's arguably the most talented guy on the defensive line. He's the sack machine. He's the guy who's stats are a direct indicator of whether Michigan won or lost the football game. When you consider that Michigan will face a non-spread team, a relatively statue-esque quarterback, and a traditional pro-style offense, everything kind of reminds you of the Wisconsin game. So maybe Graham's thinking about all those factors before making his prediction.
But I doubt it.
This is a kid who's sick of losing. He's tired of coming close yet coming up short. He's tired of the mistakes. He's tired of everyone offering condolences on the season. He's trying to ignite his team, and if that's the way he thinks they'll respond, then I'm all for it. At least I think so.
Sometimes confidence is just a mask for any number of other emotions. This Michigan team is a prideful bunch, and in a season of inexplicable losses and too few wins, that pride has taken a beating. He probably subconsciously thinks, and I don't blame him, that the best way to regain some of that swagger is to show it on the outside, even if you don't feel it after a loss to Penn State. To be a leader. To lead by example, voice, and effort. Maybe Graham knows that the way to be a leader is to be confident, even when you're not, and show that confidence to you teammates. Get them to believe. And then push them to turn that confidence into execution.
Regardless of Graham's intentions, deep thoughts, or impulses, his quote is out there in the ether. Floating around. Pinned up in the MSU weight room right next to Mike Hart's little brother quote and right next to the piece of paper reminding the Spartans they haven't beaten Michigan in 6 years. And come Saturday he's going to have to make good on that promise.
It's all a confidence game. And in some ways it is heartening to know that despite the season from hell, the team's confidence hasn't flagged.