Michigan Football 4-0: Deja Vu or Bowl Game Bound?

I am lucky in that the two teams I follow most closely—the New York Mets and Michigan football—have very strong blog communities. I reached out to seven prominent Michigan football bloggers to get their takes on the Wolverines now that, just like 2009, the team is 4-0. Below are lightly edited (and, in some cases, abridged) versions of many of the responses.

Before the season started, you predicted a X-X record. Given the 4-0 start, is it fair to adjust that expectation? (Blogger’s preseason prediction, if one was made, appears before their answer.)

Greg Dooley, MVictors: (6-6) It’s definitely fair to adjust preseason expectations after watching Denard through four games. I didn’t expect us to get through both UConn and Notre Dame unscathed. But I’m really not convinced that the defense will pull them them through the Big Ten schedule.

Brian Cook, MGoBlog: (7-5) Yes, for a couple of reasons. They won two games that were considered coin flips (or thereabouts) before the season, so that’s a game right there. And then Denard is probably worth another game even accounting for the goofy defense. I’m now on the 9-3/8-4 borderline.

Dave Nightingale, Maize n Brew: (7-5) Honestly, no. I fluctuated between and 8-4/7-5 record because of Michigan’s defense, not because of the performance on offense. Going into the game against Indiana, I’m petrified of the Hoosier’s offense and our ability to defend it. When you’re dead last in pass defense and eighth in rush defense (in the Big Ten) going into conference play, I’m not so sure it’s prudent to start dreaming big.

Bob Agno, Big House Blog: (7-5) Yes you can. Before the season we had two big question marks: How would the defense hold up and who would be Michigan’s QB? I still think there are a number of questions on defense, but the offense is much more explosive than I expected. I expect Michigan to go 8-4 with the high still 9-3. The big test will be to see how Michigan plays against a defense like Iowa’s on October 16.

Chris Gaerig, Burgeoning Wolverine Star: (8-4) I think Michigan has a chance to win nine games this year. Every game aside from Wisconsin and Ohio State at the end of the year looks winnable and in several of them, Michigan should be the favorite. The 2-0 start was critical and gives them a bit of leeway for the eventual defensive apocalypse that will cost them a game against a Big Ten bottom feeder.

Lance Callihan, UMGoBlog: Before the season, I said we could beat or lose to anyone, yet I didn’t have much hope against Wisconsin or Ohio State. Now, anything truly can happen.

Brad Muckenthaler, Maize and Blue Nation: I guess I sort of predicted seven or eight wins, but I never picked individual games. After four weeks, and four wins, I don’t feel any need to adjust that prediction. The Big Ten season is a whole different animal, and anything can happen.

How much does last year’s 4-0 start and subsequent collapse affect how you look at this year’s team?

Dooley: It’s a heavy weight for me. I think we’ll know after the Michigan State game whether this defense can hang.

Cook: Not much. The 2009 team was getting outgained (yardage-wise) and still winning; this team has a huge yardage advantage.

Nightingale: Remembering just how bad Michigan’s been on defense the last three years (this year included) is what keeps my expectations grounded. Last season, more than anything, taught me not to overlook obvious flaws in a team just because you root for them.

Who doesn’t like watching Denard Robinson play football?

Agno: I think the offense is more explosive than it was in 2009. Even with Michigan’s fast start last year you saw the offense sputter at times. This year, Michigan’s offense has been consistently been moving the ball. It’s hard to say that the Michigan defense is better in 2010 without Brandon Graham, Donovan Warren, and Troy Woolfolk, but this defense seems to be playing smarter through four games. The other positive is that Michigan already has a road win this year. With that said, the collapse in 2009 is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Fans will hold their collective breath until Michigan has qualified for a Bowl game.

Gaerig: It’s hard to shake the feeling of last year’s team especially with the defensive collapse against UMass. Whether or not Michigan can win against the more potent offenses of the Big Ten (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana) is going to be the question.

Callihan: The differences between last year and this year are huge. This year the offense comes at you in waves, while last year there was no depth.

Muckenthaler: This team is its own team. I look at this team, especially the offense, as the beginning of what a Rich Rodriguez-led Michigan team should be. I think 2009 taught this team, and its fans, to take the season one week at a time. We got a little ahead of ourselves last year thinking we were better than we really were. Those lessons are still fresh in the mind of this year’s team. I don’t think early success this year has clouded our memories. This team seems to be as focused as ever.

Is there anything about this team that leads you to believe it will avoid the fate of the 2009 squad?

Dooley: The offense is better almost top to bottom. Kicking and punting are way down and will cost us at least one game. The defensive line is a push, the linebackers are maybe slightly improved, the secondary is worse but holding up. All told the team is at least slightly better, with the X-factor being Denard who’s obviously off the charts. If Denard is healthy Michigan is better and should win more games.

Cook: Yardage. Non-freshman quarterbacks. An offense that can do all kinds of stuff.

Nightingale: Offensive depth. Last season our offense was paper thin and injuries completely destroyed its production. Flash forward to 2010: Michigan has actual depth on the offensive line. I can’t name a deeper receiving corps than Michigan’s right now in the Big Ten. At tailback, Michigan has five guys capable of carrying the mail. Relying on an offense to outscore everyone is a dangerous proposition, but against the lower tier of the Big Ten it will garner some wins that were close losses last season. But without continued improvement from Michigan’s linebackers and a pass rush, their margin for error is pretty slim.

Agno: Yes, the defense seems to be better coached with another year under Greg Robinson. On the other side of the ball, it’s clear that as long as Denard stays healthy Michigan will have a chance to win every game they play. I also believe Tate Forcier will win at least one game for Michigan this year.

The bloggers aren’t as high on the defense, which has allowed too many of these (touchdowns).

Gaerig: Aside from Denard, no. The defense is still barren, the offense lacks true playmakers, and the schedule is arguably more difficult this year than it was last year. Michigan is going to be in a fight in a lot of these games, and winning them will depend largely on the turnover battle. Though I think 7-5 or 8-4 is more likely, I wouldn’t be at all surprised by a 5-7 or 6-6 result.

Callihan: Offensive depth. The offense needs to be the strength of this time and it will be. I’ve told people for the last two seasons to stop hoping for the defense to bail out this team. Having the defense lead the way goes against Rich Rodriguez’s philosophy.

Muckenthaler: We have a few things going for us this year that we didn’t have a year ago, like perhaps the most explosive and talented offensive player in the country. But I think the biggest thing is depth on offense. This offense thrives on lots of backs and lots of receivers. That style has created depth at those positions that Michigan has never had before. We’re going to be able to hang with anyone we play this year. That’s something that we didn’t know four weeks ago.

So what can we conclude? First of all, bloggers are smart. Nobody said, “4-0 BABY! BRING ON ALABAMA!! DENARD 4 HEISMAN!!1” In fact, the reactions were far less optimistic than I would have thought. Even for those who claim 2009 means relatively little, I have to imagine it’s fresh in their minds given their cautiousness.

A constant in nearly all responses was offensive depth. An injury to any starter—particularly on defense—would be terrible, but last year it was crippling and was a main factor in the collapse. This year it will take a lot more adversity to prevent Michigan from getting to seven wins.

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