Smooth Sailing [Jan. 14, 2006]
Season schedule is Vander-built
As the dust settles on an unsettling season, capped by a bowl game that epitomized everything wrong with the season, the Athletic Department at the University of Michigan seeks to restore glory to a tarnished program. It may not seem like much, but several key decisions in January 2006 should (should being the operative word) lay the groundwork towards putting Michigan back on course with a National Championship.
The coaching decisions
A verdict has yet to be finalized as to the re-structuring of the coaching staff by Mr. Classic, so we here at the cannery will withdraw from adding any speculation and rumor to the fire. At this point Bill Martin has made it known that Classic will be back for at least one more year and any further decisions regarding the staff will be left up to Classic to make. Moreover, one point that should not be overlooked through all of this, is that the successor to Classic will be appointed by Mr. Martin and not Mr. Classic.
The schedule - meat and potatoes
The big news regarding the schedule as we all know is the addition of playing Vanderbilt at home to open the season, which in turn bumped the Ball State game (also a home game) to the week after homecoming against Northwestern - looking at the schedule am I the only one who finds it odd that Homecoming is listed for a home game that happens a week after another home game?
However, I digress. I must admit, adding Vandy to the schedule is a stroke of genius, playing a BCS conference team, but one that did not make a bowl - was Tennesse unavailable? My only qualm with it is the fact its a home game. If you're gonna schedule an SEC bottom-feeder in the year you have road games against 3 BCS teams - Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State (in that order) - then you need to properly prepare the team for a road environment. Instead, we continue the tradition of opening on the road against a BCS conference team or Notre Dame, having only prepared by beating up on lowly MAC opponents - for all intents and purposes Vandy should be in the MAC (at least they'd have a better shot of making a bowl that way) - at home no less.
That said, there's no way we make it through the season with less than two losses barring an act of God, and last I checked he roots for the Irish. Add Minnesota to the list of road games, and winning the Big Ten is no small feat either. Having said all that, I feel Bill Martin has set us up beautifully for 2007. The BCS opponents of 2006 suddenly all convert to home games; we bring back the Ducks from Oregon and play them at the Big House because we owe them one; and we get MSU in yet another rebuilding year in East Lansing and Wisconsin in year two of the Bielema project.
What makes 2007 even more tantalizing is the way 2006 sets us up for success. Scenario one: Tressel bushwacks Classic again and he all but seals his fate as he rides off into the sunset to be replaced with fresh blood to reinvigorate, properly motivate and lead this program. Scenario two: Classic somehow does the unthinkable and beats Tressel in the horseshoe and that's surely has to mean our team only lost at most two games and builds us up for a successful bowl game, which propels us into a run at the National Championship.
My only caveat at this point about 2007 is the fact that we only have 11 games on the schedule. Since we added Vandy to make 12 this year, we will surely look to add someone for 2007. In my perfect world we add an away game at Nebraska the first week of the season (the Huskers have it open) to get us up for the season and bump our hosting of Eastern Michigan down to our bye week Oct. 6 to fill out the schedule at 12. Just imagine this scenario, a game our players will get up for to start the season instead of waking to the doldrums of the MAC - no offense MAC. Even though many will argue that the schedule would be way too loaded, that's the way I'd like to see it. Look at the flip side of what that does for recruiting, especially when we open a season 4-0 by beating Nebraska in Lincoln, then rolling off Ws against Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn State. Plus, we owe them Huskers a royal beating after that Alamo Bowl fiasco.
This should further reinforce the fact that not only is Michigan a premier educational institute, but also a premier program in college football. One that transforms our mentality of entitlement we seem to take into every game and make it one of pride and honor and proving why we are the winningest program in college football history. We should continue to set the standard on the field and in order to do so, it must start off the field, and that responsibiliy falls to the hands of Bill Martin, who has seem to taken the first step to proving he's capable of making the leap back into the elite.