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College Football 2014: The End
Sunday, 2014 September 28 - 12:36 pm
Back in 2008, I stopped blogging about football midway through the season. Michigan was in Rich Rodriguez's first year, glumly looking at a 2-6 record, and struggling with a couple of earnest but untalented quarterbacks. To some degree the struggles were understandable: there was a major schematic shift in the offense, and the quarterback cupboard was left bare after Ryan Mallett transferred. Michigan limped to a 3-9 record that year, and I thought it was the nadir of Michigan football.

The next year was a disappointment as Michigan went 5-7, but there were glimmers of hope with two extremely talented freshman quarterbacks in the system, Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier. The offense began to put up gaudy numbers, but the defense failed to keep pace.

After that was more incremental improvement as Michigan went 7-5 before losing their bowl game. Rich Rodriguez was fired after that season... he was fired after demonstrating improvement each year; he was fired after molding the offense into one of the top scoring and top gaining units in the country. A lot of us were left wondering how good Michigan could have been if just had a middling competent defense.

So we got Brady Hoke. By all accounts he's a good guy and he's passionate about the game. He's a defensive-minded coach. But let's look at what's happened since. In his first season he went 11-2. Great! But those were Rodriguez's recruits and they largely still ran Rodriguez' system. The next season Michigan went 8-5. In 2013 they went 7-6 and offensive coordinator Al Borges was fired; the main reason was that Michigan proved incapable of putting together a running game.

Now Michigan is 2-3 and the offense looks spectacularly incompetent, ranking near the bottom of the country in most categories. The defense is solid. But that's not enough to win games. It's the mirror of what was there with Rodriguez; a middling competent offense would be enough to let Michigan win games. But instead we have... this. It's entirely possible that Michigan won't win another game this season.

And you can't chalk this up to a transition. Hoke is in his fourth year, playing with mostly his own recruits. There are bona fide NFL-level athletes on the team. The offensive coordinator has changed, sure, and the offensive line is young... but the team can't even seem to execute the simplest of pass plays, and I can't recall seeing this level of incompetence at any level, much less at Michigan.

The team has gotten worse every year. And as bad as Al Borges was, we haven't exactly seen stellar results under Doug Nussmeier either. We haven't seen that the quarterbacks have been taught to read defensive coverage. We haven't seen receivers getting separation, either by individual effort or by play design. We haven't seen the play-calling punish the defense for over-aggressiveness. I'd grade Nussmeier a "D" for his performance so far.

It feels worse now than it did under Rodriguez. This is a program on the decline, not one that is incrementally improving. Dave Brandon is certainly no help, having turned the game-day experience into a corporate one, and alienating the students with ticket prices and seating policies. Remember, those students will someday become the alumni and the lifelong fans who keep this program alive. Or maybe they won't.

In the loss to Minnesota, Michigan started backup QB Shane Morris instead of Devin Gardner. There was no improvement; in fact, things looked much worse. Shane Morris took a hit to the head and looked woozy; Hoke left him in. Gardner came in on the next series. When Gardner had to sit out a play because his helmet came off, Michigan sent Morris back in, possible concussion and all. Hoke said he didn't know what Morris' condition was. Maybe if he actually talked to his quarterbacks, or put on a headset once in a while, miscommunication like that wouldn't happen.

You have to ask yourself what value Hoke brings to the program. I suppose he's a father figure who at least keeps a firm moral hand on the team, recruiting upstanding athletes who won't tarnish the Michigan brand. But what this team needs is leadership, accountability, and a coach who is willing to change his thinking when circumstances warrant. Hey, maybe running a zone read with Gardner isn't the worst idea. Hey, maybe a spread punt formation wouldn't result in punt return touchdowns. Hey, maybe going up-tempo would help keep defenses off-balance. Not everything about Rich Rodriguez's system was bad... it feels like Hoke is determined to throw the baby out with the bathwater, just to prove that "This Is Michigan".

As much as I hate what another coaching transition would bring, it's time. Rodriguez was fired for less than this. Let's go and build for the future. While we're at it, let's axe Dave Brandon too; his short-term profit-driven corporate policies are not what Michigan needs. Michigan needs to build its future fan base from the student section up. I guess this simple bit of logic is lost on a guy who's used to reporting results once a quarter, instead of looking twenty years into the future.

I don't know what kind of coach Michigan could attract at this point. As I mentioned a few days ago, there's talk of one of the Harbaughs, or even Les Miles. Miles, even if he would come to Michigan, is 60 years old and pushing retirement. The Harbaughs, even if they would come, would probably bolt back for the NFL if given a better offer. So I'm not confident in any of those choices.
Who else? Dave Doeren from N.C. State? ECU coach Ruffin McNeill? Dan Mullen? Jon Gruden?

I don't know. It hurts my head to even think about it. What I can tell you is this: this will be my last football blog post for this season. I'll still watch the games and root for the team, because the players are clearly the ones who are hurt the most by this situation, and they still deserve our support. But it just pains me too much to write about it. I feel bad for the guys over at MGoBlog who will still have to break down each game; that must feel like grading a college essay written by a third grader. At what point do you just circle the entire thing and stamp it with a big "F"?

For me, that point is now.

p.s. N.C. State had a pretty good outing against #1 Florida State; they held a lead for much of the game, but Florida State proved to be just a bit too much at the end. But unlike Michigan, N.C. State has good reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season. Must be nice.
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