I have nothing particularly useful to say today, but since I was in Chicago for a conference this weekend, I didn’t have much time to spend in front of a television set, or a computer.
Which is good, as it turns out, because I am a University of Michigan alum.
I have been meaning lately to write something about Steve Phillips’ bad and ever-changing predictions about who’s going to make the baseball postseason. For example, two weeks ago he declared that the Yankees and Mets would both miss the playoffs. Then, one week ago, he declared the Mets a “lock” to win the division. Then they went out and lost four in a row to the Phillies. (they’ve since steadied themselves a bit). He gave high praise for the Mariners pitching staff and offensive balance just before they lost nine games in a row and said the Yankees would not make the playoffs because of their pitching even though, on balance, it’s been slightly better than the Mariners’ this year.
But, making predictions of this sort is hard – baseball’s pretty unpredictable, especially over short stretches of games and the most honest answer, but not the most interesting one for television, is to admit that you have no idea what’s going to happen in the next six or four weeks.
So, why I am blabbing about predictions after having acknowledged that I am Michigan alum? If you answered “to change the subject” – you’d be partly right.
But, I also wanted to recount here what I said to some friends on Friday night, when they asked what I thought of Michigan’s chances this season. I made two general assertions:
a) Whenever Michigan is highly ranked to start a season, they always seem to disappoint. Conversely, they often do really well when they’re not expected to. The 1985 team, coming off the worst season of the Schembechler era, and with a relatively untested Jim Harbaugh at quarterback, finished the season 10-1-1, with a Fiesta Bowl win against a powerful Nebraska team and the No. 2 ranking in the country.
b) The 1997 team, which ran the table and won the national championship, began the season ranked outside the top ten, coming off a mediocre 1996 campaign and also with an unproven QB (Brian Griese) at the helm.
c) The 2006 team, coming off a dismal 7-5 2005 campaign, was a juggernaut – at least for the first eleven weeks of the season.
In any event, ever-the-pessimist, I predicted a four-loss season for Michigan, since this was not a year in which they would sneak up on anybody. Nothing scientific about that – just a feeling that, beyond the high-profile skill position players (and I’ve always considered Henne an over-rated QB), this team wasn’t as good as predicted.
2) I said that we had no defense, as far as I could tell, having lost the majority of our starters from last year’s team.
I did not, by any stretch of the imagination, predict that we would lose to ASU.
Everyone who lives in the state of North Carolina and follows sports knows all about ASU. They’re a great story – a two-time defending national champion in the division formerly known as I-AA – playing in a stadium about a seventh the size of Michigan’s. They played NC State competitively in the 2006 season opener in Raleigh. So, I knew that they were to be respected. But feared? I didn’t see that coming.
As soon as I saw the final score, I thought about Lloyd Carr’s job status and that has become a major topic of conversation. On the one hand, Carr’s had a great record in twelve seasons at Michigan, including a national championship, and runs a relatively clean program with good graduation rates. On the other hand, he’s beaten Jim Tressel just once in six tries, and the program has re-contracted an illness that we appeared to have kicked two decades ago – the can’t-win-a-big-bowl syndrome. Furthermore, there is a growing feeling that the Wolverines’ whole has been less than the sum of its parts the past few seasons.
Anyway – I’m not going anywhere in particular with this. But, there is a tendency to make too much out of one bad week in sports. It’s a historic upset, no question, and UM’s hopes of winning a national championship are, of course, dead (I never took those seriously, so this is not particularly devastating to me). But, the funny thing about all this is that Michigan could still win a weak Big Ten and play in the BCS. I’m not saying they will, because I have no idea what to make of them right now, except that they were, it turns out, obviously over-rated. But, having lost this week doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about what will happen in the coming weeks.
At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.