Why Michigan 2008 isn’t Alabama 2007

Dan Wetzel on the Rich Rod at Michigan and Nick Saban at Alabama analogy. I’ve done posts before where I analyzed why Michigan’s popular comparisons to other teams was a little off, if not completely bogus. Ohio State 2004=Michigan 2005 was one, and so on. Essentially, the point is that you shouldn’t, on the basis of all the available evidence, expect Michigan’s 2009 season to be the success that Alabama’s ’08 ended up being.

In 2007, Alabama had a season that can only be described as “trying.” In Nick Saban’s first year, the Tide went 7-6, which was not exactly a historical low in comparison to other recent years, but was far from the expectations among fans in Tuscaloosa. However, Saban righted the ship in 2008, blistering out to a 12-0 start before succumbing to Florida in the SEC championship game and finishing 12-2.

Saban, however, had a much better framework in place for second year success than does Michigan (perhaps through no (or little) fault of Rodriguez). First, let’s take a look at the most obvious: the way season 1 turned out:

Saban’s Crimson Tide started 6-2, before losing their next four. In the bowl game, they got a bit of redemption by beating Colorado. Michigan, on the other hand, started 2-4 through the easy part of their schedule. The rest of the year would have been a scramble just to make a bowl game, whereas Saban’s team had one locked up a little more than halfway through the year. Of course, both Rodriguez and Saban failed in their first attempts against the team’s #1 rival in the last game of the regular season. Making a bowl at all, however, is a huge positive for a first-year coach. It establishes a baseline of success, and more importantly, it give him another month to install his system to the team. Rodriguez doesn’t have that luxury, and from the offense’s performance over the course of the year, he could have desperately used it. Alabama, while disappointing, was more ready for success the next year than most acknowledged coming into this season.

Another key factor is that of personnel. Both Rodriguez and Saban fielded fairly young teams in their first year at their respective schools. However, it looks like Saban may have the edge here as well:

Rodriguez will return a redshirt sophomore quarterback who started most of 2008. However, Steven Threet is regarded to be an imperfect fit for the Rodriguez offense, and two highly-touted freshmen are coming in for spring ball, and are expected to challenge for playing time, if not a starting role. Saban, on the other hand, returned a two-year starter (who also got playing time his freshman year) in senior John Parker Wilson. The Tide’s offense also returned four starters along the offensive line. While Michigan also returns several starters along the offensive line, their performance through 2008 certainly indicates that there will be changes, likely including some redshirt freshman starters next year. Alabama had highly-recruited players ready to step in, whereas Michigan lost nearly all of its best linemen (including the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft).

Defensively, the Tide returned few starters in 2008. Two players in the secondary and one each in the linebacking corps and along the defensive line is nothing to champion. Michigan, on the other hand, will likely lose at least 3 of its defensive linemen (the undoubted strength of the team), one linebacker, and its #2 corner. It appears as though Michigan’s defense, though it is looking to experience significant losses, may be depended upon to carry the team again next year. Of course, with a change in the defensive coordinator position, a sense of continuity from the defense cannot carry the team.

Regardless of returning personnel, Saban was more able to recruit immediate help with junior college players, a luxury Rodriguez will have in a much more limited capacity, if at all.

Aside from perhaps John Parker Wilson (a returning multi-year starter at QB – the most important position on the offense) or freshman phenom WR Julio Jones, Alabama’s MVP in 2008 was Terrence “Mount” Cody, a junior college transfer who stepped in and played a huge role for Alabama on the defensive line. Michigan may have some instant-impact players in their 2009 recruiting class, but they are undoubtedly less proven commodities than Cody, and are all but guaranteed to be less productive.

Coaching philosophy plays a role as well. Saban and Rodriguez have their similarities, but there are key fundamental differences as well.

Rodriguez is a believer in his system above all else, and believes he can win with whomever is on his team. Down the road, this may work well, especially once he gets some of his recruits in place. Saban, on the other hand, is a strong believer in “recruit, recruit, recruit” as a method for achieving success. Saban’s philosophy is less dependent on developing players and (especially when combined with the JuCos mentioned above) is more ripe for achieving instant success. Rodriguez’s different philosophy may in fact be more sound for long-term success, but it doesn’t mean the same thing for quick turnarounds that Saban’s does.

Alabama’s 2007 was less difficult than Michigan’s 2008, and the Tide were far more primed for second-year success than are the Wolverines. Don’t expect a miracle turnaround next season in Ann Arbor.

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3 Comments so far

  1. umjgheitma says...

    Am I crazy or did Alabama lose to Utah and ended the season 12-2?

  2. the truth says...

    Utah, a great team for some for early season warming up. Keep em coming Bill Martin. Maybe in 2010 we can bring in Boise State or Texas Tech?

  3. Tide Fan For Life... says...

    you’re correct…and possibly a lil’ crazy too..not sure on that one…but yes..Bama did lose to Utah…however, as confused as I am on that on myself I will say that Utah has a great team…and without seeing it I’d have said that they’d have put up a good fight but not beat the Tide…and as corrected as I would stand now had I said that I must also stand for the Tide and say I think our guys just came out completely underestimating Utah…..let’s see how the 2009-2010 season looks at High Tide this year my friends…………Roll Tide Roll……..

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