Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Preparing for Mediocrity

Brady Hoke pointing. Always pointing.
Now that we're in the heart of fall practice, predictions for the season are rolling in. Everybody has an opinion: some as high as 10 wins and others as low as 4 with a mean somewhere around 7.26 (totally official). An off-season filled with uncertainty will bring an understandably wide range of predictions. But in line with a select few attempting to lower Hokeamania-level expectations, I am preparing for mediocrity.

Mediocrity. What a shitty word. It embodies what we've always been taught never to strive for--certainly unacceptable when attached to Michigan Football. Hoke has already dismissed the notion, calling for B1G championships, as he should being the head coach of the team and face of the program. Optimistic fans concur and point to the schedule, arguing the stars could align. And they may; college football can get weird. But in all likelihood, Michigan won't win it's first Big Ten championship since 2004 under a first-year head coach trying to revive a 110th-ranked defense. And that's reasonable.

Though it pains me to describe Michigan in less than ideal terms, mediocrity this season may not be such a bad thing so long as it's the right kind. Mediocrity can come in many forms depending on the trends attached. Through RichRod's tumultuous 3-year tenure, he finally reached "mediocrity" or 7-5 in his final season but consistently trended in opposite directions: upwards in offense, downwards in defense. Had he been retained, it probably would have continued that way. Many people argue the offense could not have gotten any sweeter or the defense could not have been worse. I disagree: the offense had potential to be 2010 Oregon-level this year with a much improved turnover margin and everybody thought the defense bottomed out in 2009 before we saw 2010. There are 120 Division-I FBS teams and Greg Robinson seemed determined to see how hot hell really is. Ultimately, RichRod met his mediocre mark but Dave Brandon realized the trends were unsustainable. Exit RichRod.

Yes, Greg Mattison wears a knee brace.
Enter Hoke. The common thread in all these season predictions is that Hoke will likely reverse existing trends, one willingly and one not so much. In terms of defense, people just point to Greg Mattison, smile and say "OK, next". In terms of offense, applying Denard to a Pro-Style offense will, almost by definition, decrease Michigan's production in terms of yardage. The result is a bunch of reviews basically canceling each other out via trend reversal, spitting out last year's record of 7-ish wins. Hoke will be given, and should be given, a pass at first-year mediocrity so long as these trends uphold. It is in 2012 or 2013 we'll demand upward trends: a consistent offense and a defense that we can finally be proud of. Hopefully then we won't be calling it mediocrity either.

I generally agree with this approach; it's the most reasonable and careful conclusion. Michigan fans must understand that these things take time, which is asking a lot from a fan base that has already endured a seemingly lifetime worth of patience during the RichRod era. But we must also consciously separate our expectations with Hoke's rhetoric. To transplant his recruiting success to how the team responds in practice or plays on the field would be misguided. RichRod left Hoke with a much better group of players than he received, giving Hoke a better chance to avoid a historically bad 3-win inaugural season. Yet the talent and timing just isn't there for Pasadena.

Borges explaining MANBALL to Devin Gardner
So bring on the mediocrity. It's not something I'm advocating nor particularly desire; I want Michigan to win as much as any other fan. But don't let Hokemania turn us all into Rex Grossmans. Ohio State may have disintegrated but into what? As sad as it is, their 2nd or 3rd string offense could probably put up enough points to still beat last year's team. Other perennial powers lost some key players but this is still the Big Ten. And the addition of Nebraska is nothing to breeze over. Every team runs the gauntlet and Michigan is the least likely candidate to come out the other side with a smile.


  1. 10-3 minimum..... book it!
    We win the close ones with "toughness",kicking(!) and "This is MICHIGAN."
    FEI Defense ranking <40
    FEI Offense ranking <25