Year after year. Blue-chip recruit after blue-chip recruit. Promise after promise. Where is the big payoff? The National Championship we pine for each year only makes us crazy. No player on the roster has seen better than a 3-0 start to a season. Lately, the race has been over before it's started. In 2000, it was UCLA. In 2001, it was Washington. In 2002, it was Notre Dame's return to glory. In 2003, it was Oregon and their crowned field.
Yes, 3 out of 4 of these were west coast trips. We don't have one of those this year.
Yes, 4 out of 4 of these came with a (being nice here) less-than-clutch (save Minnesota 2003) quarterback at the helm. He graduated.
But since 1999, the Wolverines have not once strung together more than 6 straight wins in any one season. Running the table in the Big Ten has been a big enough challenge, let alone an undefeated season. And now, entering the 2004 season, we are left with question marks at THE two skill positions, QB and HB. As much as I look to him as the savior of the team, Matt Gutierrez and his undefeated high school career is unproven at the collegiate level. David Underwood has never looked like a gamebreaker in mop-up action for Chris Perry, but he will get the nod when the season starts.
Mix in a few losses in the trenches and that should be enough. Enough to slap the "rebuilding year" monniker on the 125th edition of Michigan Football and call it successful when we lose four games and head to the Outback Bowl.
But then you look at the media's top picks for the Big Ten and you'll find that each of the teams listed are sporting new QB's this year. And none of these new QB's are throwing to a more talented group of receivers. Edwards, Avant, and Breaston. You'll look back in a few years and say those names together, amazed that all of them played on the same team at the same time.
And then you look at successful Michigan seasons of the past, namely 1997, and you'll notice that a running back mix can be more successful than just a single running back. And we are deep at this position, very deep if freshman Max Martin makes his mark.
And then you bask in the reloading power of the Wolverines on offensive and defensive line. Competition breeds success, and word out of camp is that spots are still up for grabs with less than two-weeks to go.
Finally, you become optomistic. If you listen to the prognosticators, defensive captain Marlin Jackson will be leading one of the nation's top defensive squads. Michigan is a concensus top-10 pre-season team. Michigan is picked to repeat as Big Ten champions. By default, that puts the Maize and Blue in the National Championship hunt as long as they survive the non-conference schedule. We will be building on last year, when the Wolverines had inexcusable early season losses. Oregon should not have beaten us, and a 14-0 first quarter lead at Iowa should have put them away. Senior leadership will make this point. We CAN avoid the early upset.
But how will these Wolverines handle the spotlight if they enter Big Ten action undefeated? They have the talent, they have the seniors, they have the schedule. But do they have the swagger, the x-factor we are looking for to satisfy our 7-year itch?
15 short weeks from now the story will be told. Miami or Tampa? South Beach or Mons Venus? Two destinations so close in proximity couldn't be further from each other with respect to college football.
How do I get by? Well, get your leis out. There's at least seven trays of cheesy potatoes to eat before these Wolverines solidify their legacy.
X-Box Says: "Deja Blue"
I will now present the unbiased predictions of the X-Box and NCAA Football 2005.
Michigan will go 9-3 on the season, winning the Big Ten title outright once again, but falling short in any National Championship bid. They end the season ranked #11. The Big Ten standings have Purdue, Ohio State, and Minnesota following the Wolverines.
Steve Breaston earns first-team All-American honors with 2000 all-purpose yards and 10 all-purpose touchdowns. Gutierrez, despite missing a game with an ankle injury, comes in 2nd for national QB of the year, and joins Breaston and Edwards as All-Big Ten first team honorees.
Carnell Williams of Auburn wins the Heisman trophy. Florida State wins the National Championship, defeating Kansas State in the Orange Bowl. The final top 11 in the country are:
Game-by-game x-box scores will come on a weekly basis as the season goes on.
Up Next... Miami of Ohio Preview