Michigan Fans Need to Scale Back Expectations…For Now


-By Mario DiCicco

A year ago at this time there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Michigan football program. Head coach Brady Hoke was still the new guy in town, bringing in a new philosophy of football on offense and defense, and dealing with players who were more suited for the previous regime running the spread offense. Six months later on January 3rd, Michigan completed a redemption season, which included an overdue win over Ohio State, with a victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech. Now fast forward another six months, coming off of an 11-2 record from last season, everything’s rosy again in Ann Arbor. Expectations for the first time in five years are high, with Wolverine fans hoping, and in some cases, expecting a trip to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten title in December and a spot in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

It’s one thing to be excited again for winning football in Ann Arbor, but to expect nothing but a conference (in some cases national) championship after one successful season under a new coaching regime is not a very wise thought process. (You may go ahead and start leaving your expletive-filled remarks in my comment box.) Why is it bad to think that way you ask? I’ll single out the reasons so you can read them reallllyyyy slow.

Look at the schedule.

Look at the lines.

Last season, college football magazine guru Phil Steele had Michigan’s schedule ranked 17th in the country, and the team benefited greatly from having eight home games. The biggest ones of note: Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State.

This year however, the tables turn.

Phil Steele has Michigan’s 2012 slate rated as the fourth toughest in the country, with defending national champion Alabama waiting for the Wolverines right out of the gate in Dallas on September 1. And those three aforementioned games that were played on home soil a year ago? Those now turn into plane rides for the Maize and Blue, with Notre Dame and Nebraska being night time road tilts.

Last season Michigan only had to go on the road four times, with the aforementioned eight home games. This season? Only six home games, five road games, and the neutral site opener with Alabama. It’s one thing to play and win big games at home, it’s a totally different animal to play big games and try to win on the road in hostile environments.

The biggest reason why the Wolverines rediscovered their winning ways was due to the significant improvement on the offensive and defensive lines. Both units had very good pieces in place, like center David Molk, left tackle Taylor Lewan, defensive end Ryan Van Bergen, and defensive tackle Mike Martin. They just didn’t all come together until Brady Hoke and his staff arrived. The improved play from the gentlemen listed above helped make the rest of the team better.

However, heading into this season only Taylor Lewan remains, as the others have graduated/moved on to the NFL. Michigan will also be without the services of right tackle Mark Huyge and defensive tackle Will Heininger. The pressure falls on the following replacements: true freshman Kyle Kalis, (replacing Huyge) senior Ricky Barnum, (Molk) much-maligned senior Will Campbell, (Martin) junior Jibreel Black, (Heininger) and senior Craig Roh. (Van Bergen) This group of young men will be replacing All-Americans and stout leaders and that’s not always easy to just duplicate from previous players.

Everything may not fall into place right away. It’s something this year’s team can’t afford with the tough September slate, but the chance of that occurring exists. Unfortunately, there’s also a chance the injury bug strikes someone of importance during fall camp. (see Troy Woolfolk in 2010)

What this writer is telling you, the people, is that it’s perfectly fine to be excited and full of optimism about this upcoming season. It’s the way things used to be around here and hopefully it’ll be back to being that way for a long time. But to simply expect nothing less than a conference championship with a team that’s still forming its new identity under a (relatively) new coaching staff and needing to replace some big beef on the lines is asking for a lot. Expectations from fans haven’t been this high since the last season they started on September 1. I don’t think I need to remind you of how that season unfolded. (“cough”App. State)

Just sit back, cheer on your team and enjoy the ride of another brand new season. There’s no point in putting the cart before the horse, because every season has many twists and turns that can propel your team to heights you didn’t expect, or turn it into a major disappointment. I don’t want you to be majorly disappointed by the time you have to visit the in-laws for Thanksgiving. Otherwise, you’re on your own and I won’t be responsible for the damage you cause from Wolverine frustration.

Mario DiCicco is a long time Detroit sports fan who writes stories primarily on the Detroit Red Wings and Michigan Wolverines, and on occasion the NFL. He can be found on Facebook, and on Twitter. Follow his Twitter handle: @Italian_Beast89