Sunday, October 09, 2011

No Pressure

Devin Gardner, doing Devin Gardner things.  We aren't sure what they are yet, but we like them.
AP Photo
So Michigan's 6-0 after six games of the 2011 season thanks to last night's comeback win in Evanston, a nice bit of second half magic* that was almost so routine in the workmanlike nature of the adjustments and the like, Denard settling in after a first half of "Oh no!" to become a second half of "Oh wow!" and Jordan Kovacs continuing to be everyone's favorite scrappy former walk-on.  Michigan is bowl eligible on the earliest date it could possibly be and is now a Top 10 team heading into East Lansing for a Legends Division showdown with Michigan State.**

Uh oh, Mr. Persa hears footsteps.
Photo from

*-From USA Today: "The Wolverines have outscored opponents 62-7 in the fourth quarter."

*-I'm sorry Big Ten, I tried using the new vernacular, but it just feels wrong.  Not just the name, but the notion of divisions is utterly foreign and confusing to me.  I'm sure it will grow on me, but the notion that for two weeks in a row, on some level, I should be rooting for Ohio State because they were facing teams in Michigan's division just felt wrong as well.  But nevertheless...

But there's something else going on with this Michigan 6-0 start and I want to toss out a theory.  This is not a residual of the "Summer of Hoke" lovefest, or the "Anyone but Rodriguez" notions of others.  My working thesis is simply this: Michigan is 6-0 and, outside of Michigan's core fans, very few people in Metro Detroit care right now.

Why is this?  Well, blame the Lions, and blame the Tigers.  The fact that the Tigers are still playing into October, at least for another week, has drawn many of the column inches and focus of the sport talk radio callers. * And that might be enough, but then the Lions being 4-0* for the first time since 1980 and the NFL can trump all when your team is winning, especially in Detroit, where we've waited so long for something resembling competence in our NFL franchise.  You only have so much you can focus on as a sports fan, only so many free cycles you can allocate, and Michigan isn't getting them from your "average" Detroit sports fan.

*-I had my wife's car on Friday to get the oil changed after work.  She does not have Sirius like I have in my car, so I was listening to 97.1.  After deciding I hated myself, I realized that sports talk radio just edges out local newspaper online comment section as the worst thing in the history of ever that doesn't actually involve people dying.

**--Going into Monday Night Football, the Lions are 4-0, Michigan  is 6-0 and Sparty is 4-1, so that's 14 of the 22 available wins for the year.  If this keeps up, we're going to party like it's 1999.

OK, fine, so the "average" Detroit sports fan doesn't care, but what about the college football world?  Surely someone has noticed the Michigan football renaissance?  Well, yes, several have, there's no way to say it's been ignored, but let's just take for the sake of argument that Michigan really is the 11th best team in the country right now.  Look at the ten teams ranked ahead of them: LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Boise State, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Clemson, Oregon, and Arkansas.  In each case, they have at least one great story that can be discussed, be it a Honey Badger, the greatest defense in the history of the world, the implosion of the Big XII, Russell Wilson's War, the Rodney Dangerfields of the BCS, Justin Blackmon, Andrew Luck, how the heck is Clemson in this mix, the spread and shred Ducks, and the fighting Petrinos.  This doesn't even count Ohio State's continuing NCAA troubles or conference realignment also eating into the timeline.  Michigan has some compelling angles from a national sense, the Brady Hoke Secret Service angle, the Brady Hoke hat thief angle, the wither Denard Robinson? angle, the Greg Mattison angle, the return to Michigan being Michigan angle, there's a lot of possibilities, and as you can see, they are getting some run.  But the smoke and mirrors feel of this, the notion that Michigan is 6-0 by luck more than skill or design, especially as they needed comebacks against the two "real" teams that they have faced (Notre Dame and Northwestern), well, there's a lot of reason that Michigan might only be the 11th best team in the country yet, and even then everyone is still not sure if they are.

So this Saturday becomes the first real test of Michigan's 132nd team, a trip into the dark recesses of this state's soul, a place where they know they are hated with a deep and bitter passion that stems from a combination of envy and frustration*, where the team in black and bronze will try to send a senior class off with four straight wins over Michigan, one where Brady Hoke will try to do something that Bump, Bo, Mo, Lloyd, or RichRod couldn't do, beat Big Ten member Michigan State in his first season as coach.**

*-If you're a Michigan State fan, it has to gnaw at your very soul that you have your best team in decades in 2010, and you don't get to go to the Rose Bowl because of the tie-breaker rules, you don't get to go to a BCS bowl because Ohio State gets picked ahead of you, you get killed by Alabama in your bowl game, and then Rodriguez's dismissal and Hoke's hiring and the the OSU issues, steal all of the off-season headlines.  Michigan State is 4-1 and they just got back into the AP poll this week after the Notre Dame loss in Week 3.  The lack of respect is arguably palpable and tangible, and yet, it doesn't seem like they can do anything about it.  The best press Michigan State has had all season is from Kirk Cousins' speech at the B1G kickoff luncheon.  What's worse is that because of the Lions and Tigers, Michigan State, which already doesn't get the Detroit area coverage that Michigan does, will potentially be a smaller story and if Michigan State wins, right or wrong, a lot of the focus will end up being on why Michigan lost rather than how Michigan State won.  Sorry Sparty, I don't make the rules, and remember, there's a reason that "Sparty, no!" is a meme.

**--Rich Rodriguez, 2008, L 35-21
Lloyd Carr, 1995, L 28-25 (DAMN YOU TONY BANKS!)
Gary Moeller, 1990, L 28-27 (DAMN YOU EDDIE BROWN!)
Bo Schembechler, 1969, L 23-12

Bump Elliott, 1959, L 34-8
(Every coach from Yost (State Agricultural College) to Little (Michigan Agricultural College) to Kipke (Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science) to Ooosterbaan all beat what we no know as Michigan State. Yost's Michigan team didn't play SAC in his first season at Michigan.  He made up for beating the Aggies 119-0 in 1902.)

So in locker rooms in East Lansing and Ann Arbor, a pair of countdown clocks each wind toward the inexorable conclusion at noon on Saturday.  A pair of teams whose destinies are intertwined.  The build up is immense, and yet, it nothing like it might have been in a different year.  But hey, no pressure.

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