Wednesday, January 3, 2018

It'll end or it won't

The season came to an end Monday, not with a bang or a self-propelling jolt but a sad, timid whimper.

I watched the game from the U.K., and the figurative distance between myself and the game eventually matched my literal distance from it — that is, a feeling of increasing detachment built with each second-half mistake.

As the mistakes snowballed — no need to recount them here, nor is it really necessary to talk about the game itself much at all — it became obvious that something had broken. Whether it was the cosmic good will brought to South Carolina via #FryinNanni or something else, Michigan's will withered like an unwatered plant.

At first, I was irritated. The Wolverines blew a big lead and a game they were about five yards away from sealing for good before a Michigan fumble gave the Gamecocks, who trailed 19-3 at that point, new life.

The game ended, and I wasn't mad, really, but annoyed. First, at the result itself. Then, at the fact that I, like many other Michigan fans, considered the bowl game a slam dunk — South Carolina wasn't very good, after all. Unfortunately, they still aren't very good; Michigan was just bad, too.

While my expectations for this season weren't very high — I figured 8-4 or 9-3, and that was assuming Wilton Speight played the whole year — but concluding on such a note is undeniably disappointing.

With that said, life is about nuance, even if nuance is being increasingly whittled out of existence. The sky isn't falling, but 2018 doesn't necessarily offer the prospect of a significantly improved Michigan team, either.

Many, many words could be devoted to a Big Picture assessment of where the Michigan football program is at, but I don't think too many are required to get at the heart of the thing. There are two camps — those expecting Alabama/OSU results right away and all the time versus those who don't. There is no doubt that you could argue Michigan should want better results given Harbaugh's salary (and Michigan's resources, in general), but it's funny how quickly we forget where Michigan was not too long ago.

As a student from 2007-2011, I had a four-year ticket to the beginning of Michigan's descent, when it broke through the floor of mediocrity on its way to a state of being simply bad. I was there for Appalachian State, for Toledo, for every frustrating loss against supposedly lower-level conference foes (not to mention against the upper echelon of the conference).

Things were bad. Jim Harbaugh took a 5-7 team and won 10 games with it the following year, and quite nearly took Michigan to the playoffs in Year 2. Sure, an 8-4 regular-season mark in Year 3 is frustrating, but look at Dabo Swinney's track record (etc. etc.). Things could be much worse than two 10-win seasons and an 8-win year during which just about everything went wrong.

If you weren't expecting a step back this year, that's on you.

It's also on you if you think the bowl game matters in any way (it doesn't, honestly). A 2017 Michigan season that concludes with a bowl win over a not-very-good South Carolina isn't much different than the one that actually happened.

Criticism, however, is justified.

While Michigan's offense was hampered by injuries, offensive line shuffling and inexperience, it would have been nice to see more improvement throughout the year. The power-running game had its stretches, but, overall, Michigan's offensive attack was once again lacking oomph. The coaches should be given credit for a fairly brilliant game plan against Ohio State, especially in light of Michigan's severe limitations, but that sort of schematic advantage was decidedly not with Michigan for most of the year, it seemed.

One would think a wide receiver coach would be a targeted addition. As for the offensive braintrust? Well, it's hard to look at 2017 and not think that some sort of change is needed there. Then again, who knows — maybe an offensive line that couldn't be dubbed "patchwork," a quarterback that can make plays (Patterson?) and more seasoned receivers could make the same guys look smart next season.

As always, every decision has its pros and cons. Just in case you didn't read this sentiment 1,000 times already, but the 2018 offseason will be the most important one for the program in quite some time. Michigan now enters an uncertain void; who knows what will emerge when the Wolverines hit the field in South Bend.

This year has been a busy one for me. From getting married to work to a host of other things, I've had less time for this here blog. I didn't even get to write a recap for every game, which I've enjoyed doing for a while now, whether these things are read or not.

As I've said before, I know the traffic numbers here aren't blowing anyone away, nor is anyone coming here first for Michigan analysis. As such, the venture had better at least be enjoyable to me, or there would be no point.

The exercise of writing is still a joy to me, like watching a Denard Robinson keeper unfold or Don Brown's defense in pursuit, blitzers flashing across the screen like mischievous electrons.

The overall experience of fandom, however, is growing more and more tiresome. The sheer amount of bile from fans, the lack of nuance, the negativity — all with respect to a game played by college kids — is wearying.

I don't care about jokes from rival fanbases — I mean, who cares? That is easily ignored. It's more difficult, however, when it is Michigan fans themselves making the fan experience less pleasant. Sure, the losing doesn't help; at a certain point, though, you've got to just grow up.

Of course, the internet has an overwhelmingly negative role to play in all of this. I have no idea how large-scale fan negativity manifested itself in pre-internet days, and if it was as intense but simply unrevealed. I don't know.

What I do know, though, is a lot of people need to seriously think about what this game means to them, and why it means that, and how those answers inform their reactions to the results on the field. It's a futile hope, I think, but that's what needs to happen.

In 2018, everyone has to be better. Jim Harbaugh, the players ... and you. We all have to be better.


  1. I love how you parrot Brian's end of the season piece which chastised all the so-called "negative fans" I think it's quite the opposite: The Michigan brand is, and always has been overblown.
    First, the 90's, with the exception of 1997, were just another decade of mediocrity. The only thing that saved Michigan from becoming irrelevant that far back was somehow being able to stumble into the Ohio State game with the usual 2-4 looses, then upset them.
    Michigan fans were fooled by those games--fooled into thinking the program, the PROGRAM was better than OSU and elite. Not so. All OSU had to do was--well, we all know what they had to do because the DID it.
    And when Michigan did what it had to do--it was after two failed experiments and a ton of program malaise and infighting.
    So now when the negativity far outweighs the rose colored glasses kool aid crowd, you, Brian, and the other parrots are so above it all.
    Quit trying to tell people how to be fans. You know why? I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and play along that you atually went to Michigan.
    But probably 98% of those who pretend to have gone there, and create an internet identity based on that, and base their identity on football teams--well they're the reason the negativity is so vociferous and so loud now. THEIR team is letting them down, and their false identity is suffering. They've tried so hard--googling campus life, Ann Arbor life, quads, pretending to have met athletes and coaches, pretending to have met recruits, etc--and all while sitting in their basement tucked behind a computer, going nowhere that UM football doesn't take them.
    You nor Brian are above anything. You guys started up blogs and pretend to be writers. UM football, this blog, it is about you and Brian--not about football. That's how above it all you guys are.
    Fans will root how and when they want--telling people to be better, all while they are pretending to be someone and something they're not--is fruitless and hypocritical.
    And I think one thing else is to be considered--there is probably not any more negativity than ever--but their is certainly more people who get their feathers ruffled by it. But that's because, again, they have the internet to create a false identity and pretend to be something other than what they are--and that is a sensitivity to tough to handle.

  2. Hello there, Anonymous (clearly you couldn't be bothered to attach a name to your silly comment). I rarely check the comments here, but it is more than a little ironic that you are telling me, a fan, what to do while telling me not to tell other fans how to act (which is a pretty disingenuous interpretation of what I wrote, but whatever). This is, if course, ignoring the fact that the thrust of what I wrote was all of us should strive to "be better" (also known as "don't be an insufferable jerk") — hardly a controversial idea, let alone one I would need to "parrot" from Brian or anyone else. As for being "above it all," if being level-headed and not personally attacking college athletes — often anonymously, much like your inane comment — or not raging about a season that was supposed to be a rebuild means I am "above it all," then I'll take that.

    Also, thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt regarding my Michigan degree. All this time I was waiting for your seal of approval. By the way, if you're going to suggest someone is "pretending to be a writer," perhaps you should proofread your own commentary (a charitable term for what you wrote).