Michigan fans have never seemed so divided about their boys in blue - are we hopeful for this season or dreading it? And some of the hopes have nothing to do with Michigan turning in a winning season and earn a bowl bid - there is a large contingent of fans who want to see RichRod crash and burn and earn his ouster.
The fact is this game is still played by 18-23 year-olds who will don the same uniforms as Tom Harmon, Dan Dierdorf, Rick Leach, Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson. They're our guys and you've got to support them. And let's just give AD Dave Brandon the benefit of the doubt that he's a pretty smart dude - he doesn't seem like he'd be the type to coddle any personnel he didn't agree with. I think if he'd wanted RichRod out, he would be out by now.
So could 2010 become the season to exorcise the demons? Tradition says hell yes - they can't be so bad three years in a row. Reality says let's hope so.
There are still a lot of unknowns with this team starting with who will be taking the snaps from center David Molk. The coach staff did not annoint Tate Forcier this year's starter despite starting every game last year. He was reintroduced to having to earn his spot. I think this is a good thing because no one from a 5-7 team should feel that comfortable.
The Bright Spots
Quarterback play will be so much improved from 2009 and may catch much of the league off-guard. Forcier has 12 starts and lots of Big Ten experience under his belt. Denard Robinson has full year of learning in the RichRod system and seemed poised to unseat Forcier at the end of last year. Both are freakishly athletic and should have a firm grasp of the system to go with their natural ability. Waiting in the wings is Devin Gardner who I'd love to see redshirted, but he may be too talented to not include on this year's squad.
The offensive line has more experience in this system than you might give them credit for. Stephen Schilling has been around forever and played very solidly toward the end of last year. I've long regarded David Molk and his play at center as vital for the success of the line. Patrick Omameh and Mark Huyge played in seven and nine games respectively, many of them as starters. Freshman Taylor Lewan is earning a lot of praise in camp and is expected to play a lot. This line has experience and should give Forcier/Robinson lots of time to make plays.
Roy Roundtree became the go-to receiver in the last few contests of 2009. He led the team with 32 receptions and 434 receiving yards - these numbers will go up significantly. With a cast of slot receivers led by Roundtree, expect Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady to also run through lots of defenses. That should open up some room for Kevin Koger at tight end and Junior Hemingway to become true impact players. Roundtree is the key to the passing game and should be significant contributor to the offense.
The defensive line quietly built up lots of depth last year while all the attention was paid to Brandon Graham. These seven players all saw significant time on the line last year: Craig Roh, Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, Will Campbell, Greg Banks, Adam Patterson and Renaldo Sagesse. That depth should make them a solid group and with Van Bergen's leadership, you'd like to count on them for less flash than last year (without Graham) but with more consistency.
Troy Woolfolk may not be the "shutdown corner" Donovan Warren was, but he seems to be getting the attention of his teammates. The defense needs a vocal leader and Woolfolk seems to be the guy - he's already called out Forcier for not working out enough and earned his bona fides playing wherever the coaches put him last year (he played six games at safety and six at cornerback).
The coach staff should be a bright spot this season. Greg Robinson has had a full year to implement his system on defense and Calvin McGee and RichRod have a full complement of "their players" on both sides of the ball. Players seem to have genuine adoration for RichRod and while that's hard to quantify, I don't think anyone will argue that you work harder for someone you care about.
And that's the unceremonious end to the "bright spots." So as you might imagine there are plenty of uncertainties: who will play tailback, who will play linebacker, who will play in the secondary and who will kick?
There's some depth everywhere but kicker so hopefully these questions will get settled over the next three weeks during camp.
The countdown is on and let's all hope for a great season (and that means more wins than losses, folks).