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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Prediction – Gator Bowl Preview

December 31, 2010

Just a few random thoughts before the bowl game tomorrow.  Not so much a preview as much as a pre-game Good, Bad, and Ugly of the relevant issues.  And of course, a Prediction…

THE GOOD

  • Healthy at Last – Though there haven’t been a lot of practice reports, the one constant murmur coming out of the bowl practices is that the team, especially the offense is finally healthy.  While we all knew that Denard Robinson wasn’t at 100% after about the 5th game, its apparent now that he wasn’t just ailing in one area.  His hands, shoulders and knees/legs all were banged up, and it showed in his performance with errant throws and less explosive running.  The comments coming out of bowl practices are that it’s “the old Denard” and “he hasn’t looked this good since Bowling Green week”.  As you’ll recall, at that point in the season, Denard was the runaway favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.   I still believe that a healthy Denard Robinson cannot be stopped in this offense.  Beyond the ability to rest other guys too, Michigan should also get an unexpected bump from the return from our best blocking wide receiver, Martavious Odoms, who will play tomorrow.  Odoms was hurt in the MSU game, and was not expected to play again this year.  Getting him back is a nice bonus.  I’m not sure how much being healthy really helps our defense, but I expect to see the same explosive offense that put up 500 yards per game early in the season. 
  • An Equal Opponent – Michigan is exactly what you’d expect from a 7-5 team – able to beat average and bad teams, competitive with decent teams, and not in the same league as the elite teams.   Miss. State is largely of the same ilk.  While they were competitive in 2 of their 4 losses,  they lost by 20+ points to LSU and Alabama.  They did give Auburn and Arkansas a scare, but their “signature” win was beating a 7-5 Florida team.  It was their only win over a team with a winning record.  Similarly, Michigan got toasted by the good teams on their schedule, but did manage to beat two teams with winning records, Big East Champ UConn and Notre Dame in South Bend.    Neither of these teams are world beaters, but they should be competitive with one another. 
  • Time to Prepare – While Rich Rodriguez has his flaws, one of his greatest strengths is coaching in a game where he has a month to prepare.  His 3 season openers at Michigan were blowout wins over WMU and UConn, and a competitive game against a Utah team that would go unbeaten, while Michigan finished 3-9.  In his last 2 bowl games at WVU, Rich upset Georgia Tech and Georgia, and though he didn’t coach the game in 2007 against Oklahoma, his staff led WVU to another upset win against the Sooners in the Sugar Bowl.  With a healthy and prepared team, Rich Rodriguez is a very good football coach, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a different Michigan team than we’ve seen most of the year tomorrow. 

THE BAD

  • No Backup QB – As you may have heard, Tate Forcier was sent home from Jacksonville for failing to meet academic standards.   I think its safe to say Tate’s days in Ann Arbor are numbered.  But in the short term, this means that if Denard goes down (and he’s missed at least 1 snap in every game this year), Rich Rod will be faced with the choice of letting Devin Gardner burn a potential redshirt for a few plays in the bowl game, or looking to former high school QB turned fumbling return man Jeremy Gallon to take some snaps.  The other option is walk-on Jack Kennedy, who was behind Nick Sheridan on the depth chart before Sheridan gave up football.   It’s an awful choice for RR to have to make.  Wasting a year of eligibility for Gardner on a few plays is a huge waste in my opinion, even to win the bowl game.  But if Denard is injured enough that he can’t return, I expect that’s what RR will do. 
  • A Road Game – From all accounts, the Michigan fans just weren’t that excited about a trip to Jacksonville to face Mississippi State.  When you’re used to Rose Bowl’s against USC, this game just doesn’t stack up, even if we haven’t been bowling in 2 years.  For MSU, its their first bowl since 2007, their second since 2000, and first New Year’s Day bowl game since 1998.   To top it off, they get to play a historic school like Michigan.  Not surprisingly, their fans are out in full force, and they apparently brought along their cowbells.  Michigan has played at places like OSU, PSU, and MSU, so I don’t expect the Miss. State crowd to give them too many problems, but it will still feel like a road game.  
  • Distractions – The other reason many feel like this bowl game is meaningless is that there is a strong belief that this will be Rich Rod’s last game as coach at Michigan.  No matter what happens, I have to believe that all of the questions about RR’s job security has been a distraction for the team.  By most accounts, these players love RR, and would probably be sad to see him go.  That has to weigh on them.  Beyond the players, this must be a huge distraction for the coaching staff, as most would probably be looking for jobs if RR is let go.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were quietly interviewing for positions during the last month.  And I wouldn’t blame them – they have families to think about, and if you’re not certain your current job will be there in 2011, you have to do your research and see what else is out there.   Bottom line is that while I’m sure the players and coaches have done their best to focus on the game, I also expect that this game hasn’t gotten the same time of preparation attention as it would have if RR’s job was secure.

THE UGLY

  • The Harbaugh Mess – At this point, you’d have to be living under a rock to not know the deal.  Rich Rod has yet to get a vote of confidence or support from Dave Brandon, leaving most to speculate that Brandon will be hiring a new coach once the Gator Bowl is over.  While Iv’e said from the outset that Brandon’s role has to be to find the best coach, I do feel a little uneasy at the way RR has been left hanging in the wind.  For all intents and purposes, Brandon has neutered him as a recruiter, as he can’t honestly tell recruits he’ll still be there next year.  Worse, while all of these other head coaching positions become available, Rich is coaching a Michigan team that few believe he will be coaching one week from today, which will leave him without the chance to pursue other head coaching jobs should he be fired.  The constant speculation about Jim Harbaugh has not only gotten tiresome, its a little embarrassing.  I understand Dave Brandon has a plan, and I trust him, but I cannot wait until Monday so that we can finally get some closure to all of this.

THE PREDICTION:

I’ll be honest, I don’t know a ton about Miss. State as I only watched part of 2 or 3 of their games this year.  They managed to navigate the SEC to an 8-4 record, but did so with only beating one team with a winning record.  They don’t pass the ball very well (93rd in the country) and rush it very well (16th in the country).  They have a decent defense that only gives up 20.3 points a game, but is ranked just 53rd in total defense.

Ultimately, I think it depends on which Denard Robinson shows up.  If it’s “91 yard touchdown with shoelaces flapping in the wind against ND” Denard,  I REALLY like Michigan’s chances.  But if its bum knee and bum shoulder Denard, it will be a long afternoon. 

The reports are that Denard is healthy, and that’s good enough for me.   Despite the distractions, and those damn cow bells, I think Michigan gives us our first Happy New Year since 2007.

MICHIGAN – 38

MISSISSIPPI STATE – 27

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