Notre Dame and Michigan’s 2007 and 2008 seasons, respectively, were somewhat similar. Does that mean Michigan is doomed to follow in the Irish’s footsteps and finish 6-6 in their next season? Let’s take a look at why or why not. First, there’s a comparison between the actual teams. As Brian explored on MGoBlog, despite the same record, Notre Dame’s season of terror was much more… terrible… than Michigan’s. So, although this post is primarily predictive, it’s important to note that Michigan’s year was nowhere near the disaster that ND’s was.
Another key difference between the two teams: 2007 was Weis’ third year in South Bend. He was playing with mostly his recruits (after doing all of his winning with Willingham’s oddly-lamented recruiting classes), at least the ones who hadn’t left after committing to Weis, spending two years in his program, earning starting jobs, and STILL hating the whale enough to ditch his program.
Michigan’s offense, though significantly better than Notre Dame’s, was full of first-time starters (every single player except for one – Steve Schilling), many of whom were never expected to contribute. The offensive line, in particular, didn’t have the accolades or experience of Notre Dame’s comparable unit, and they still managed to perform much better (as in “didn’t give up an NCAA record in sacks”). When you take into account that every single offensive player who had a meaningful role on the team (except Sam McGuffie, who missed much of the year with injury and was out when the offense started to, like, function) is back, and Notre Dame didn’t have quite that luxury between 2007 and 2008, it’s certainly a good sign for Michigan.
Michigan’s defense was supposed to be its strong suit in 2008, and that didn’t quite come to fruition. However, Michigan will be returning some of its most talented players on defense – defensive end Brandon Graham, corner Donovan Warren, and linebacker Obi Ezeh – and they are loking to build on that success.
The quarterback situation for Michigan coming off 2008 is much wore than Notre Dame’s was the previous year. Though Jimmy Clausen had a horrible first year in South Bend, he was still the #1 overall recruit in the nation for a reason. Steven Threet, on the other hand (should he choose to stay) is a more limited, though still talented, player. If Michigan has to start a true freshman (or even a sophomore Threet), it will be a step down from a sophomore Clausen.
Michigan also lost its defensive coordinator, which can be seen as a blessing and a curse. Scott Shafer’s defense wasn’t the world-beater it was built up as before the season, but Michigan’s defense will still have to learn from its third coordinator in as many years, which certainly increases the likelihood of missed assignments, etc. Of course, GERG did beat the Irish in their house last year.
Halfway through last year, emulating ND’s two-year stretch might have been a pretty good goal for Michigan. The head-to-head win in the series, and a path to an 8-4 record (and therefore, ridiculously, a BCS bowl) seemed to be well within ND’s grasp. Then, of course, they fell flat on their faces, getting GERGed and not even registering a first down against USC until the third quarter. Rich Rodriguez’s noted track record of success and actual support (in the form of opinions) from people in the know would certainly seem to imply that the Wolverines aren’t headed for an extended down period like the Irish may be.
With Michigan’s fairly unique situation last year, particularly for a first-year coach, they were set up for a pretty special kind of suck. Notre Dame’s 2007 team, in all honesty, shouldn’t have been. With a year under the RR regime, a hell of a lot more experience, and some new recruits coming in, the Wolverines should be disappointed with a season like Notre Dame’s. Of course, expecting much better might be setting up unreasonable expectations (8 winsis a reasonable goal).