In spite all the evils floating over Ann Arbor this season, Michigan fans entered the day with hope.
Beat Ohio State and we can end this miserable campaign on the highest of high notes.
But instead of curing the Wolverines' ills, the 105th installment of The Game further confirmed that Rich Rodriguez's first team is the worst in Michigan's 129-year history.
Ohio State earned its fifth straight win over the Wolverines with a 42-7 throttling at Ohio Stadium, and Jim Tressel improved to 7-1 against "the school up north." But with all due respect to the Buckeyes, this game was not about Ohio State's dominance. This game was about the complete ineptitude of the winningest program in college football history.
Although Ohio State easily covered the 21 1/2-point spread, this Buckeyes bunch just didn't wow me. What wowed me was Michigan's complete failure to sustain any type of offensive flow in the 12th game of the season. What wowed me was UM safety Stevie Brown looking completely lost in pass coverage and taking absurdly bad angles on runs. What wowed me was Michigan's continued inability to just TUCK ... THE ... FRIGGIN ... FOOTBALL.
So, the season mercifully ends for UM. The Wolverines finish at 3-9 and 2-6 in Big Ten play -- one win better than last-place Indiana. The obvious question is: Where does Michigan go from here?
Let's begin with the potential backlash after such a disheartening season. The most logical scapegoat is first-year defensive coordinator Scott Shafer. With a deeply talented D-line and two shutdown corners, this group was supposed to carry the Wolverines during the transitional phase. But the Wolverines came into today with the Big Ten's second-worst scoring defense and proceeded to give up countless big plays to their archrival. If there's a head to roll, it's that of Mr. Shafer.
Anyone truly calling for Rodriguez's job is misguided. After taking in all 12 of Michigan's games, it's obvious that this offensive-minded coach inherited a wholly inexperienced group on the offensive side of the ball. If Rodriguez doesn't have a QB -- which he definitely did not this season -- his spread-option offense is doomed. Plain and simple. As of right now, Rodriguez has verbal commitments from a pair of four-star signal callers -- Tate Forcier (San Diego) and Shavodrick Beaver (Wichita Falls, Texas) -- who are perfectly suited to run the spread-option. Also, one of the positive byproducts of this season is Rodriguez was able to give heavy playing time to a number of underclassmen. Therefore, the bulk of this offense returns next season. Let's see what RichRod can do with a quarterback who can actually execute the zone read and a surrounding cast with one year under its belt.
That being said, this appallingly bad season has definitely reduced Rodriguez's grace period. The Wolverines set school records for losses (9) and home losses (5), and defeats to Toledo and Purdue are simply unforgiveable. RichRod's candid demeanor through it all certainly didn't help matters, either. Although his recent "get a life" comments were blown out of proportion by the media, you just cannot tell Michiganders of all people to "look at the economy." Rodriguez's '09 team must go to a bowl game at the least. And it sure wouldn't hurt to get off to a nice start. (If Rodriguez thinks fans are overreacting now, imagine how they'll feel if Michigan has a 1-3ish start to next season.)
At the end of the day, most Michigan fans will reluctantly accept one down season in a rebuilding process. But if Rodriguez's team does not notably improve in Year 2, all bets are off.
Michigan Stadium is currently under construction. As part of the renovation, 83 luxury suites and 3,200 club seats will be unveiled for the 2010 season. Combining this historically bad season with Michigan's historically bad economy, there are still plenty of seats available.
Needless to say, the 2009 season will go a long way in defining the future of Michigan football. And after the worst season in program history, that has to be a bit disconcerting for Wolverines faithful.