Saturday, November 03, 2012


"Jug security is always at a premium." --Brady Hoke, 2011 (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)
I have a very dear friend from my quiz bowl days who works in the national sporting media.  He's a B1G fan as a he's a Northwestern alumnus and in our discussions about college football, he said something that I agree with wholeheartedly:

"College football is almost always about the past, and about the future.  It is rarely about the present."

He's right.  Because college football stands aside baseball as one of the two sports in American life with over an actual century of history and relevance, its history is a grand part of its mass appeal.  Michigan's connection to Fritz Crisler, 75 years ago, is seen in the helmet design it wears to this day.  Michigan's connection to Fielding Yost is seen today in the Little Brown Jug. A century after it was first competed for in 1909, it's still a prize to be won, to be defended, to be celebrated.  On the flip side of that, college football's obsession with recruiting, with who's next, with what is on the horizon, with projecting what can be, the future is bright, especially because in the depths of a lousy season, there's always next year.

I think one of the hardest things college football fans have to reconcile is the ephemeral nature of players.  When you consider depth charts, redshirting, and the like, we may get about three years with them at most, four if we're really lucky.  We get to know them, we come to appreciate them for what they can do, and then, like that, as quickly as they came, they are gone, leaving only memories, and occasionally questions of what might have been.

We knew Denard was leaving us, just as in 2007, we knew that Mike Hart, Chad Henne, and Jake Long were leaving us.  We had high hopes for these senior years, but we knew there would be challenges.  2007 went in a bizarre direction, obviously, but what makes me sad about it is not even "The Horror" or "Sucks Unlimited".  No, it's seeing Mike Hart in a toque against Illinois, or Mallett playing against Wisconsin because Henne couldn't go.  We lost out on a last great season of Henne and Hart because they were injured, and even the great ride off in to the Florida sunset of that Citrus Bowl win still left "what might have been."

So that brings us to a cold November day in Minneapolis, where, for the first time in 11 trips, that actually mattered against the Gophers.  Denard was getting better all week, improving, and would be good to go today.  Except for the part where he wasn't and that was "optimism" on Coach Hoke's part (wishful thinking, or "signals intelligence" ploy are also acceptable.) and Denard gave way to Devin Gardner.  You know, former 5-star quarterback recruit Devin Gardner.  Unfortunately, rust never sleeps, and Devin's first quarter made Michigan fans nervous that we were in for another long day.  And then,

3rd and 17 at MINN 45Devin Gardner pass complete to Drew Dileo for 45 yards for a TOUCHDOWN.

Those words do not do justice to what Devin Gardner did there, and suddenly, when he launched the ball, and the camera panned over to find Drew Dileo standing wide open in the end zone, watching "The Threat" looking it in and suddenly like that, the game was tied, and Michigan never looked back.  Thomas Rawls ran for a score, a beautiful Gardner pass to a leaping Jeremy Gallon, and a nifty Fitzgerald Toussaint touchdown run later, Michigan kept the Jug and became bowl eligible.

This was pretty cool by Fitz.  (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Before Jon Falk had even unlocked the equipment case that carries the Jug, there was already discussion about feeling better about next year, about a potential quarterback competition in next fall's camp (with a quarterback that isn't even on campus yet.), about what this means for the future. This is not unreasonable behavior, but it also is the one thing that I so hate about college football.  Michigan's three losses mean we're already looking forward to next year with three games still to go (and at that point, had Michigan State beaten Nebraska, still a chance at playing in Pasadena.  Probably shouldn't have hitched our wagon to that star.  Nope.)  It's the nature of the beast.  It saddens me though, because in doing so, we're almost fast forwarding through the end of Denard's career, and it paints in stark reality just how ephemeral, just how fleeting a college football career truly is.

The one positive for us, I suppose, is that Denard will move from the future to history, where he'll be revered in song and story for future generations, where the interceptions will be overlooked in favor of the dynamic runs, this program and its history will shortly become the care of another team.  To them and their posterity will we commit our future.  We will stand at the intersection of past and future and we will hope that the former is instructive of the latter. No time like the present to understand the future.

Bullet pointy things:

  • I like Jerry Kill (native Kansan, coached at my dad's alma mater of Pittsburg State), but man, kicking the 19 yard field goal to make it 28-13 with 5:17 to go in the fourth was a poor choice.  I appreciate the notion of bringing yourself within two scores, but a touchdown and extra point makes it an 11 point game, and if you don't make it, you have a reasonably defensive position.
  • That said, the most Minnesota thing was being offside when Brendan Gibbons missing the extra point, giving him another shot at it.  As someone on Twitter suggested, too much Scandinavian heritage in the Minnesota crowd, not enough brunettes.
  • Gardner really spread the ball around today, but the fact that Gallon, Dileo, and Roundtree all had a long catch of 45 yards or more is kind of neat.  Spread the ball around, go long when you need to do so.  If that's the Borges game plan, I can live with that.
  • Hagerup looked a little shaky today.  I hope we can go back to find the booming Hagerup in the next couple of weeks.
  • Getting ahead of this for next week: On November 10, Michigan's Fitzgerald Toussaint faces a team coached by Pat Fitzgerald.
  • The officiating was interesting, but honestly, it all evened out.  The pass interference calls were sketchy, sure, but they were sketchy both ways.  34 of Minnesota's 69 yards on their drive in the middle of the fourth quarter came on PI calls.
  • And now, to completely undermine my entire post, does anyone think, for a moment, that with bowl practices, spring ball, and fall camp, in addition to anything else he does on his own, that Devin Gardner won't be in fantastic shape to be the starter next season?   He's still a little raw, but practice makes perfect, right? The five 2013 road games aren't of the monolithic difficulty that the 2012 road/neutral slate was on paper (at Connecticut, at Penn State, at Michigan State, at Northwestern, at Iowa).  Challenging, for sure, (the November slate is a bit of a nightmare) but provided the O-line comes together, there could be good things to come.

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