The States of College Football: Michigan
Posted By:Ashton Williams - Clinton, SC Tags:
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The names may change, but the route stays the same. The routes I'm talking about are the roads to the Big Ten and Mid American Conference Championships. They run through Michigan, USA. Today, on our journey through the States of College Football, we will take a look at whats going on up in the Great Lakes State.
Weather the storm. That is what Rich Rodriguez and his staff look to do after coming off an extremely rocky 2008 season. Unless you've been under a rock, then I am sure ESPN has engraved into your heads by now that 2008 was the worst football season in the University of Michigan's storied history. Speaking of weathering the storm, mother nature allowed the Wolverines to practice outside on the first day of spring practice. That doesn't happen very often with the normally cold conditions in Michigan this time of year. Maybe this is a sign of brighter days for coach Rodriguez. One thing is for sure, it can't get any worse. The Wolverines are coming off a 3-9 season. This is due to the vast difference between the type of players Lloyd Carr used, and the type of players Rich Rod needed to run his style of spread offense. Rich Rod's track record at Glenville State College and West Virginia University suggests that he can put a team on top once he gets his recruits settled in and seasoned. My suggestion for Wolverine fans is to look at Rich Rod's track record and realize that he didn't have his team in his first season. Thats easy for me to say. With a renovated stadium in the works that will hold over 108,000 people and a nationwide fanbase thats been compared to the likes of Manchester United, opinions are wide and various. One thing for sure is that Rodriguez isn't looking into the past. He doesn't have time for that. He is looking into the future with a superior recruiting class, topped off by dual-threat quarterback, Tate Forcier (Scripts Ranch High School, CA). The defense, which was suppose to be the strong point for the Wolverines last season, will now have a brand new defensive coordinator in Greg Robinson. Robinson has NFL experience, but you may know him best for his pathetic head coaching job at Syracuse. Hey, head coaching isn't for everyone. Robinson does have 2 Super Bowl rings. Kind of hard to argue with that, but can he help Rich Rodriguez end the arguments on if there is any promise in the future of football at U of M? Only time will tell, and time is the key.
Up in East Lansing, the grass is a lot more "green". The green and white of the Michigan State Spartans that is. Under former head coach, John L. Smith, the Spartans had a reputation of starting seasons like a bull out of the gate, but dramatically collapsing in the second half. Then came University of South Carolina alum, Mark Dantonio. The defensive minded Dantonio's impact was felt immediately. In his first full season of 2007, he took Sparty to its first winning season in 4 years, and an appearance in the Champs Sports Bowl. In 2008, all he did was improve, and almost landed right into Big 10 greatness by coming a couple games short of reaching a conference championship and the Rose Bowl. The Spartans are now able to finish complete seasons. Coming up in the 2009 season, the Spartans do have some yards to make up. A little over 1,600 yards to make up that is, due to the loss of AP First Team All-American, Javon Ringer, to the NFL. Make no mistake about it though, MSU has their share of talent at the tailback position. Look for the quick little Andre Anderson to see more carries and largely fill the throne that Javon Ringer once held. Their quarterback situation is quite opinionated. Some Spartan fans are happy to see Brian Hoyer to be graduate and move away from the team. The others feel that his inconsistency was the offensive line's fault. Either way, they have to move on to a new era at the QB position. Whether it be sophomore Kirk Cousins, or sophomore Keith Nichol, Sparty can't afford to look back now. Lets remember, they have to compete with the recruiting machine that is Ohio State, a rapidly improving Minnesota, and you can never, ever, overlook Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions of Penn State.
Surprisingly, the best and most popular football player in what some call the "Wolverine State" doesn't even attend classes in Ann Arbor. He must be in East Lansing then, right? Wrong. You will have to drive north to Mount Pleasant to find him. His name is Dan LeFevour, and you can catch him playing what seems like his 10th season for the Chippewas of Central Michigan University. The 6'3", 229lbs LeFevour is one of the most NFL ready quarterbacks in the nation. Pro scouts will certainly have a close eye on him throughout the season, as he should easily top 10,000 career passing yards. The Chippewas are led by head coach Butch Jones, who coincidentally use to work for current Michigan head coach, Rich Rodriguez. Although pretty much every game they played in the 2008 season was extremely close, they managed to end games on top. However, the season ended with a thud that could be heard all the way in the Upper Penensula. They lost their final two regular season games to Ball State, and a collosal upset by Eastern Michigan. The loses knocked CMU out of a shot at the MAC Championship Game. This young and very talented team will look to correct their mistakes from last season. Their go to running back, Ontario Sneed won't be around anymore, but CMU has a stable of young running backs eager to run in 2009. Expect the Chippewas to jump right back into the race for the conference title in 2009.
To find the state of Michigan's most improved team of 2008, you have to travel back down to to the city of Kalamazoo. There you will find CMU's arch rivals, the Western Michigan University Broncos. In 2008, The Broncos were just one game short of pulling off their first 10 win season in school history. Coached by Bill Cubit, who just received a well deserved contract extention, the Broncos were a very well balanced football team offensively and defensively last season. The defense loses their NFL calibur safety in Louis Delmas, but the main concern of Cubit is that WMU will have 25 seniors graduating in May of 2009. That is a huge hit, but Cubit equaled it out by bringing in 25 recruiting signees from 11 different states. This recruiting class is topped by a pair of highly talented wide receivers, Ansel Ponder (Chatham, VA) and Chleb Ravenell (Milledgeville, GA). The brightest spot of the 2008 season was the Broncos 23-17 victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini on Ford Field in Detroit. WMU looks to keep up with the Big Ten Jones' once again in the 2009 season. They start the season in Ann Arbor to take on the University of Michigan, then on September 12th they travel to Bloomington to take on the Hoosiers of Indiana University. WMU will finish off their attempt at invading the Big Ten on November 11th with a road game against Michigan State University. All dates are subject to change.
Last, and most certainly least, I will take you to Ypsilanti (pronounced ip-seh-lan-tee). There, you will find Eastern Michigan University. I will share a stat with you, but you may want to hide your children. This is something you wouldn't want them to see. Since 1990, the Eagles have only had one winning season. Ouch! Thats already enough to keep the seats empty, but there is a double whammy to the poor ticket sales. Ypsilanti is only about 10 miles away from Ann Arbor. If you have a choice of hanging out in Ann Arbor for Michigan vs. Notre Dame or hanging out in Ypsilanti for Eastern Michigan vs. Temple, where would you go? Yeah, exactly. Giving credit where credit is due, the school has been getting more night games scheduled to accomidate with the Michigan Wolverine day games. Also, they've been pushing for Thursday Night games to help with attendance. 2 former Michigan Wolverine affiliates have been selected to try to get this program into shape. Ron English, former defensive coordinator for U of M, was hired for the EMU head coaching job in December. English has hired former Wolverine running back, Tyrone Wheatley as an assistant. I wish them good luck at turning around a program that is more than 80 games under .500 since their last conference championship.
This concludes our trip through the state of Michigan's football scene. It almost feels like we're getting ready to watch at lot of different types of movies. You have your drama film with the Michigan Wolverines. Sparty is looking like a feel good story if they can keep up the good work. If those are too commercial for you, check out a great book from the CMU Chippewas entitled, "The Autobiography of Dan LeFevour". If you like a David vs. Goliath style of story, you could watch Western Michigan stand up to the Big Ten with a rock and a sling, but I can't promise it will turn out pretty. Finally, Eastern Michigan football is as close to a good comedy as you can in Michigan. One thing is for sure Michiganders love their college football just as much as anyone in the country. Whether you're talking to fans of the Spartans, Broncos, or any of the other Michigan FBS programs, they'll tell you that the 2009 college football season can't get here soon enough. Enjoy the show.
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