Michigan Fan Expectations

The University of Michigan, the Wolverines, the Maize and Blue, the Winged Helmet, the Big House, the ‘MGoBlue” banner, the Victors, Desmond Howard’s “Hello Heisman”…it’s a national brand, a true college football treasure.

Michigan’s football program has a history to be quite proud of, one full of tradition, and such excellence that has allowed them to be well-known as one of the more successful programs from an all-time standpoint. These fans are very proud of their program which has 11 national titles, 42 Big Ten titles, 3 Heisman trophies, and not to mention the most wins of all time.

The most recent history of Michigan Football has been colorful, full of ups and downs, much like a roller-coaster. A lot has changed in Ann Arbor since 2008, but one thing that hasn’t changed would be the fan-base’s expectations for the program year in, year out.

Last Saturday, Michigan was upset by their in-state rival, MSU, in the Big House and fell to 4-1 on the season. Judging from the initial reaction to the loss on the Internet, on TV, on the radio, etc. you’d think that Michigan hasn’t won a game this season. Was it an ugly loss? Absolutely, this team, primarily the offense, evidently has work to do. I think the bizarre reactions would be ones that include fans calling for Harbaugh’s job.

As of late, Michigan hasn’t been the “leaders and best”. After seven seasons of mediocrity, three with Rich Rod, four with Brady Hoke, it’s no secret that Michigan fans are becoming inpatient with not beating their rivals, not winning Big Ten titles, not making the playoffs, and not winning a national title.

Michigan hasn’t won a conference title since ’04, and also hasn’t won a national title since ’97. The Wolverines have beaten their arch-rival, Ohio State, just three times this millennia (2000, 2003, 2011), current Buckeye head coach, Urban Meyer, is 5-0 in this rivalry game. MSU head coach, Mark Dantonio has beaten Michigan in eight out of eleven meetings, 2-1 against Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan program.

The thought of Harbaugh, the former Michigan quarterback, leaving the NFL to come back and coach his alma-mater was something for this fan base to dream about. Well, that dream is now a reality, and the reality is that whether you like what he’s done thus far or not, the man is a helluva football coach, and that’s not a question.

Through 31 games at Michigan, Jim Harbaugh is 24-7 with two ten win seasons, 1-1 in bowl games, 1-4 against rivals. Clearly the rivalry record isn’t ideal, and I’m sure that Harbaugh and his staff would agree.

Michigan has entered the 2017-18 season as the least experienced team in the nation based off losing over 40 seniors, and 11 NFL draft picks. Of course they’ve recruited well, Michigan is one of the easiest recruiting jobs in the country, but this is a young team, a talented young team, but still a young team. This is not an excuse by any means, it’s just a hard soil fact.

It’s fair to be critical over Harbaugh’s play-calling, the tenacity his teams bring to rivalry games, and the incompetence of the offense in year three. I’ll be the first one to tell you that if Jim Harbaugh doesn’t start winning these rivalry games, his seat is eventually going to get hot.

Right now, through 31 games, after he’s been the biggest reason for Michigan becoming nationally relevant once again, it’s not fair to say that his job is on the line. We’re allowed to have high expectations, but we need to have patience because building an NFL-machine, national title-winning, powerhouse of a program takes time.

The wins will come, and hopefully so will the conference/national titles. As a fan-base, let’s not run Jim Harbaugh out-of-town, criticize him when he may deserve it, but we can’t throw our coach under the bus. Any team in the country, college or pro, with an open slot at head coach would be thrilled to take Harbaugh off our hands, and that’s not what we want.

Michigan fans will always have high expectations, but keep in mind how bad their recent history has been, and also keep in mind that this program is trending upwards in terms of national relevance, recruiting, and winning. Patience is everything.

 

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Honeymoon Over, Time to Win

In late December of 2014, Michigan fans had just suffered through, yet another, head coach’s tenure which consisted of mostly unwatchable, non bowl-eligible caliber football. The fan-base of the winningest program in college football history needed a change.

Bring in Jim Harbaugh: former Michigan quarterback, lengthy playing career in the NFL, the guy who resurrected the Stanford football program, the Super Bowl 47 runner-up, respected name in the coaching carousel.

Doesn’t get any better than Harbaugh, right? He’s been keeping Michigan in the headlines, he’s hysterically obnoxious on the sidelines, recruits in very unique ways, and he’s a Michigan man.

The head coach’s first two seasons with the program were simple: put UM back on the national relevance map, make waves on the recruiting trail, build a powerhouse program. 20-6 in the first two seasons, 1-1 bowl record, 1-4 in chief rivalry games (only win over a 3-9 MSU team), and back-to-back top ten recruiting classes.

You won’t find a head coaching job in America that expresses the importance of beating your rivals the way Michigan does.

Jim Harbaugh is 4-1 in early October for the 2017-18 season; after an ugly loss to in-state rival, MSU, some of the fan-base has officially began to give constructive criticism on their beloved head coach. Play-calling was a big issue in the eyes of many: the decision to throw the football as much as they did in a monsoon, failing to target Zach Gentry in the passing game, or giving Karan Higedon just 12 touches despite being the most productive back for Michigan (5.4 YPC).

On the defensive side of the ball, there really isn’t much you can ask for. When your offense turns the ball over five times and your defense only allows 14 points, that’s a championship defense.

In Jim Harbaugh’s third season, wouldn’t you think that Michigan should have, at the very least, a quarterback and an offense who can give enough ‘run support’ to win a football game if your defense shuts out a team in the 2nd half?

Michigan was out-coached, outplayed, and flat-out did not deserve to win this football game. Jim Harbaugh, and his staff get paid far too much money to lose a game like this one, there is no excuse to justify what happened in the Big House on Saturday.

For me, it wasn’t just that they lost, the way they lost is what really stung. Repeatedly shot themselves in the foot offensively, and could not capitalize on the opportunities given to them time after time. Michigan is a team that is evidently more talented that Michigan State — it’s obvious, look at the recruiting classes. Michigan isn’t a poorly coached team, but they were simply out coached by Mark Dantonio and his staff.

Michigan has everything needed to be a national powerhouse: a top-tier coaching staff with years of NFL experience, multiple top ten recruiting classes, endless hype and publicity that most programs strive to have. What is the missing recipe? Why can’t Michigan win these big games?

The seat isn’t hot for Jim Harbaugh, but how long before it starts getting warm? Beating Ohio State in November would change the picture, but a loss would mean Harbaugh’s rivalry game record falls to 1-5. When you’re paying a coach nine million annually, you expect them to win more than one rivalry game per every three seasons.

Maybe I’m part of the fan-base that’s overreacting, and maybe I just need to give Harbaugh’s program more time and have patience. Michigan fans demand a lot, they have very high expectations and standards; we’re all growing at least a little impatient after watching Michigan football from 2008-2014.

Bottom line is that pressure to win is more real than it’s ever been for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. I won’t be able to stomach another off-season of Harbaugh making headlines for doing weird, quirky, recruiting tactics if he’s 0-3 against the Buckeyes. If you want to go to Rome, climb trees, sleep at recruit’s houses, jump off a diving board into a pool fully clothed, have a podcast, and to separate yourself from the other CFB coaches in the media…beat a rival, win a big game, win a Big Ten championship, make the playoffs.

 

Michigan Stadium Best Venue in CFB, According to Fan Poll

On Thursday, USA Today Sports released a College Football Fan Index Poll that resulted with Michigan Stadium, “The Big House”, receiving 33.33% of the votes, taking first place. Ann Arbor’s top venue holds a capacity of 107,601 seats, but holds records for the most people to attend a football game (115,109), a hockey game (105,491), and even a soccer game (109,318).

Ohio Stadium, and Kyle Field tied for 2nd place in this fan poll, receiving 16.67% of votes each.

The original capacity of “The Big House” was around 72,000, but of course there have been numerous renovations, and upgrades to enhance the stadium’s atmosphere, expanding most recently in 2010.

Michigan has hosted just three prime-time slot games at the “Big House”, 2011 vs. Notre Dame, 2013 vs. Notre Dame, and 2014 vs. Penn State. The Wolverines have satisfied their home crowds with three wins whilst playing under the lights. Rumor has it that 1-2 night games are in the works for the 2017 regular season.

To this day, college football fans recognize Michigan Stadium as a top atmosphere for college football, and crowds of 100,000+ will continue to pack the seats for many years to come.

 

Wilton Speight on the Struggle Bus

After two wins over #25 ranked Florida, and Cincinnati, Michigan has climbed to #7 in the latest polls.

If you looked at the twitter-feeds, online chat-rooms, and all other media speculation: you’d believe that Michigan is 0-2. All this negative feedback comes from one specific, singular, player — Wilton Speight. The quarterback who through nine games in 2016, looked like the best in the Big Ten conference.

After injuring his throwing shoulder in early November against Iowa, Speight would go onto lose the rest of his starts. Of course, he had that excuse at the time; no quarterback with an injury regarding his throwing shoulder, or arm, should be expected to deliver the same, tight, spiral as he could before said injury.

His performances caused for him to lose trust within the fan-base, a good amount of fans wanted anyone to start but him come 2017. If you’re like me, you saw him lead a team to 9-0 in an impressive regular season stretch, and knew that it only made sense for him to keep his job as the starting quarterback.

Now we’re here, after Wilton Speight made the first two starts, and people who were supporters of him weeks ago are now calling for his job.

Throwing back-to-back pick sixes, and under 50 percent completion percentage against Florida were just the beginning. Against Cincinnati, on paper, it doesn’t look like Speight had a horrible game. He tossed two scores, threw for 221 yards, close to 60 percent completion, and was interceptionless on the day.  However if you watched the game, you’d know that the tale of the tape certainly went in the opposite direction, and Speight did everything but impress.

On Saturday, Speight played like a true freshman quarterback. Disregarding downfield, open targets, horrid inaccuracy on very make-able throws, making bad reads, and his pocket presence that we normally notice, was non-existent. I started to watch his eyes every time he dropped back just to see what he was looking at, and I noticed that he doesn’t use his eyes — Speight has a target in mind every play, and more times than not, he sticks with his desired target despite other open options. He doesn’t look around, he doesn’t look down-field, he doesn’t use his eyes correctly. It baffles me to know that a Jim Harbaugh coached quarterback makes a classic rookie mistake of that caliber.

Jim Harbaugh took to the media on Monday to remind everyone that Speight is “the starter”, and he also went onto note that redshirt freshman, Brandon Peters, is “progressing”.

Are Michigan fans overreacting to these early season passing-game struggles? Do we need to give Wilton Speight more time to create chemistry with his young receivers? Do we criticize Jim Harbaugh? In this Michigan offense, you don’t have to be a Tom Brady to succeed. I think it’s important for Harbaugh to remind Speight that he is replaceable, and we need to expect more out of him because the way it’s being looked at right now: he’s the sole road block to a championship season.

John O’Korn came in for a series or two against Florida following the pick six fiasco, and it felt as if Harbaugh wasn’t comfortable with him in. Wilton Speight likely is the best quarterback we have on this Michigan roster, scary thought for fans everywhere.

As of today, my vote would be to trust the coaching staff, trust the process. If this trend continues, take affirmative action, and bench the kid. Fortunately for the Wolverines, they have a bit of time at this point in the schedule to work out the kinks before playing in a big game. The excuses are slim — the play-makers around Speight are young, but solid, the defense will do their job. It’s time for Wilton Speight to produce, and it needs to happen quickly, or Michigan will have to move on.

Michigan Ranks No. 11 in Preseason AP Poll

Today around noon the Associated Press released their official college football 2017 preseason rankings:

  1. Alabama
  2. Ohio St.
  3. Florida St.
  4. USC
  5. Clemson
  6. Penn St.
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Washington
  9. Wisconsin
  10. Oklahoma St.
  11. Michigan
  12. Auburn
  13. LSU
  14. Stanford
  15. Georgia

Michigan landing the #11 spot will force them to earn a playoff contending rather than be given one prior to the season.

Three Big Ten teams cracked the top ten on Monday, Ohio State no. 2, Penn State no. 6, and Wisconsin no. 9. In the 2016 season, Michigan was 2-1 against the same three teams, only losing by three in an overtime thriller to Ohio State.

 

Harbaugh’s Fake Quarterback Competition Part 3

Jim Harbaugh is somewhat of a great football mind, and he’s proven that time after time. The former Michigan QB’s football IQ is off the charts, and that’s normally the case for a vast majority of head football coaches. He’s known to primarily specialize in quarterback play, and is credited with the emergence, and the success of multiple quarterbacks in the NFL.

The third fall camp for the Harbaugh era at Michigan features a very familiar headline — a quarterback battle. It’s a good thing though, right? In my own opinion, competition brings out the absolute best in everyone. I also believe that there has never been a real competition at Michigan under Harbaugh yet to date.

I personally believe that the Wolverine head coach knows exactly whose job it is to lose going into every season, and he likes to make them feel like their job isn’t secure, so that they have motivations to up their level of play. I would go as far as to say that if you asked Jim Harbaugh who the 2017-18 starting quarterback was going to be on December 31st of 2016: he would’ve said Wilton Speight.

Speight is, and has been the clear-cut, obvious, most-experienced, candidate for the starting job this coming season, and the prior talks of RS-freshman Brandon Peters taking on the starting role were ridiculous. Peters is talented, great potential, likely one of Michigan’s future, down the road, starting field generals; he’s not ready for the spotlight just yet, Speight will be the starter this season, and depending on draft stock — the redshirt junior will be back for 2018-19 to start.

I went into 2016 hoping to see finally eligible, Houston, transfer QB, John O’Korn, take the field against Hawaii in the season opener, after-all he was more experienced, had entertaining highlights from his freshman season, seemed poised to win the job. After watching every game a season ago, including the Indiana game, I have not a doubt in my mind that Coach Harbaugh made the right call with his man, Wilton. A lengthy, strong armed, 240 pounded quarterback with elusive, smart, pocket escape ability is the exact type of guy that a pro-style offense, which Harbaugh runs, needs. Jim had his primary eye on Wilton from the get-go if you were to ask me.

The 2015-16 “quarterback competition”, between Jake Rudock, and Shane Morris, was about as fake as it gets. The talent, and experience deficit at the time between the two was massive, but if it weren’t for Rudock’s transfer decision: Morris would have started in 2015, and potentially could have saved his career at Michigan. Nothing against the former 5 star quarterback, very talented, and I’m very happy that he’s found a new-home in Central Michigan with the expectation of winning the starting role. Jake Rudock came to Michigan with a great deal of experience to work with, I compare his playing style to a certain former Michigan QB named Tom Brady. Shane Morris will only be remembered at Michigan simply for this mess. There’s a reason Jake Rudock chose to come play for Michigan, he knew he’d be the starter, and so did Jim Harbaugh.

This tactic isn’t exclusively to heighten the play of his quarterbacks, but it’s also done for the media, and to cause uncertainty in the week one match-up preparation.

It’s done for the media to simply keep Michigan in the headlines — to keep his program in the minds of recruits.

Lastly, it’s done to stir up the week one preparation, in other words: he’s playing mind games. Why let Florida know who to prepare for? Instead, let them prepare for a possible 2-3 quarterbacks, and keep them guessing. It’s not exactly a standout tactic, but it’s just genuinely smart, and I have a hard time understanding why teams are so quick to reveal their starter.

A majority of the seasons in Harbaugh’s tenure will very likely feature a supposed “QB competition”, and this is not a bad thing by any means. You’ll find out who Jim Harbaugh’s starter is after Michigan’s offense takes the field. Wilton Speight will be the starter in 2017 because the best quarterback will always take the field for a Jim Harbaugh coached football team.

Just keep in mind next time you’re in a Michigan Football blogger chatroom, a twitter thread, or a Facebook comment section arguing who you think the starting quarterback will be: Harbaugh’s likely known for months, and the competition that you’re so educated on, is all smoke and mirrors.

Jabrill Peppers Rookie Sensation; Turning Heads in Cleveland

On Monday, former Wolverine linebacker, Jabrill Peppers, put on a show in his first practice as the Cleveland Browns starting safety.

Browns head coach, Hue Jackson, shared that he believes that Peppers is “showing he can play anywhere.”. Words that sound similar to a Michigan fan’s ear due to how much of a versatile, do-everything, type of role which the first round NFL draft pick had during his time in Ann Arbor (defense, offense, special teams).

The rookie safety reportedly broke up back-to-back passes in a two-minute drill led by Brock Osweiler. During the same drill, it also was reported that Peppers intercepted one of Osweiler’s balls on 4th & 24. It goes without saying that Jabrill Peppers made a strong case for a starting role whilst getting first string reps; Ibraheim Campbell, normally the starting strong safety, was concussed against the Saints.

A good amount of hype comes with Peppers, he was nearly worshiped at U of M. The former Heisman trophy finalist dons a very unique skill set. If any team is willing to utilize every ounce of what this young man has to offer, it’s the Browns: what do they have to lose?

A lot of people have mindset of assuming that Peppers’ career was over the minute he was drafted to Cleveland, I see it as a potential blessing for him. After signing a four-year rookie contract deal, it allows the safety plenty of time to earn his solidified, starting role, potentially attempt to rebuild the current worst franchise in sports, showcase his maximum talent, and enter free agency in four seasons as a hot seller.

The sky is the limit for this former Michigan Wolverine, even if he’s in Cleveland — his future is still very bright if anything at all. You’ll be hearing Jabrill Peppers’ name this Fall, and the one after that, and so forth.