Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
By Bryan MacKenzie
First off, I’d like to welcome Raj to the stage. I’m looking forward to seeing what brush strokes Raj can bring to the insane Dadaist art gallery that is college football. And, spoiler alert: having read the Counterpunt below… yeah, he’s gonna fit in juuuust fine.
Marcel Duchamp’s famous interpretation of college football, “Zach Smith Descending a Staircase”
I would also like to say a heartfelt thanks to Nick for his years of Counterpunting greatness. For those of you who don’t remember the days of the free programs handed out outside Michigan Stadium, you are probably a Millennial, and therefore are probably responsible for killing the free programs, but stick with me anyway. Preferably without killing anything else.
Every week, Nick and Ken outlined the backstory of each game’s eventual narrative before toe ever met leather. They represented the yin and yang of Michigan fandom. The optimism and the fear. The braggadocio and the fatalism. The worry and the cackling of knowing glee. They put words to that feeling in our gut that we felt only as exhilarating nausea. We sat quietly, reading that week’s article about the nineteen sixty-whatever team piece, glancing over the roster for Northeast Central Arkansas State, and reading Nick and Ken predict the outcome.
But what they did wasn’t really about telling us you would will win and who will lose. What they really did was to explain the universe in which outcome occurred. They put words in the mouths of the angel and the devil on the shoulders of the of college football Fates. And they were remarkably good at it.
Our job is a little different than in prior decades. No longer are we two lone voices speaking to a captive audience awaiting kickoff. In the digital age, there are legion voices trying to explain the game before it happens. A thousand voices explain what will happen, and why it will happen. Each tries to be louder, and righter, than the others. And we are left with a cacophony of noise. But in the debate over film breakdown and insider reports and analytics, one thing is often lost:
College football is stupid.
I don’t mean that derisively. It’s a feature, not a bug. College football is great because insane things happen. For every Texas-USC Rose Bowl, there are scores of stupid games that turn on random, inexplicable events. A funny bounce. A dropped pass from a sure-handed receiver. Some weird weather. The general bloodymindedness of the Universe.
And Michigan-Notre Dame games are, on average, stupider than most. The 2008 fumblefest? Stupid. Charlie Weis’s inexplicable clock management in 2009? Stupid. The stuff Denard did in 2010? Okay no that was awesome but 2011? AWESOME BUT SO SO STUPID. Vincent Smith throwing an interception in 2012? Borges-level stupid. Throwing a bomb out of a goal-line set on 4th down, and having it work? Even if you’ve got a Heisman trophy winner, c’mon man.
I think Michigan is a better football team than Notre Dame right now, and I can give you a dozen good reasons. But they are not so much better than Notre Dame that they are immune from a dumb thing changing the outcome. And this is a night game in South Bend. If you can find me a place where stupid is more likely to come home to roost (other than Bloomington), I’m all ears.
Notre Dame 17, Michigan 14
[After THE JUMP: The IRS knows him as Raj. You know him as @internetraj, because we’ve been imploring you to follow him for years. From here on out we’ll call him every week for gameday perspective.]
There’s nothing as strikingly simple yet breathtakingly full of possibilities as a 0-0 college football team. For those precious, fleeting moments before the spheroid-shaped-random-number-generator is kicked off the tee on Saturday night in South Bend, Michigan’s season will still be a canvas so blank you could mistake it for Urban Meyer’s text message inbox. As the season unfolds, however, the brushstrokes of fate will color that canvas with shades of exuberant triumph, crushing failure or (worst of all) M00N-ish mediocrity.
[photo by Bryan Fuller, edit by Seth]
But for now, unchained from that inevitable destiny, we can all momentarily gorge ourselves on misplaced optimism and irrational fantasy. Me? I am already conjuring images of Jim Harbaugh gloriously lifting a 24-karat gold, bronze and stainless steel trophy on January 9, Shea Patterson pumping an exalted fist in the air in New York next to a beaming Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson, and of course myself—laughing maniacally and blissfully unaware of how pitiful my life has become—scrolling through an 87 page RCMB thread entitled “Why Us Oh God Why Is It Always Us?”
And that’s why I love this time of year. Because once the games are played, the inevitable losses accumulate, the 19-game parlay required to keep Michigan in Playoff contention does not come to fruition, and the grim reality of an upper-middle-tier bowl game against South Carolina for the 19th consecutive year sets in, we will no longer find ourselves admiring our self-styled Rembrandt of Harbaugh stiff-arming Mark Dantonio at midfield during the post-game handshake. Instead, as Michigan fans that have endured the last decade-plus know all too well, we are more often than not left staring blankly at an MS Paint rendition of the Outback Bowl Bloomin’ Onion.
But who knows? Maybe this year will be different—the singular beauty of college football is that every season presents its own unique Large Hadron Collider of possibilities, and this one begins with a renewed rivalry against a foe led by a familiar face. Brian Kelly is somehow back for his whopping ninth year, (which, if Perry Ellis is reading this, might send him down memory lane of his junior year at Kansas). Despite his success at Notre Dame, Kelly enters Saturday with a decidedly lackluster record of 48-33 during his tenure and is fresh off a disappointing finish to what was an otherwise a promising 2017 season.
If that wasn’t enough, Kelly has been beset by controversies both on and off the field. On the field, he has presided over a quarterback controversy that he finally resolved in favor of Brandon Wimbush, albeit with the decisiveness of a Greg Robinson-coached linebacker filling a gap.
Brian Kelly asked if Brandon Wimbush is still the guy or if Ian Book has closed the gap. Said game plan set to Wimbush’s strengths and “we’ll play them both if we need to.” Wimbush will start.
— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) August 23, 2018
Off the field, Kelly is now entering year four of his highly public and bitter infringement lawsuit against Yahoo! for his continued unauthorized use of their trademark-protected signature shade of purple.
[ED: Raj, let’s have a talk soon about how we use the art department’s resources]
Making matters worse, the notoriously volatile Kelly has to be crushed by recent reports that the CIA offered the vacant Guantanamo Bay position he’s been rumored to covet to DJ Durkin. And I don’t see things improving much for Kelly or the Fighting Irish Saturday night. It’s going to get uglier than an endzone decorated with dumb MSDOS backslashes and it doesn’t take much fancy football analysis to say why: Rashan Gary and company will destroy Wimbush, Ian Book or whatever other quarterback that center-of-an-extra-rare-steak-lookin-ass head coach trots out there faster than it takes for Rick Pitino to pull a wet wipe out of the pocket of his Dockers crumpled on the floor of his favorite Italian bistro. Pundits commonly insist that a quarterback must have a “short memory” if he is to be sufficiently poised to overcome a defense as vicious as Michigan’s, but unless Brandon Wimbush has access to Urban Meyer’s medicine cabinet, he’s going to be in for a long night.
After a loss to Michigan, will Brian Kelly officially be on the “hot seat”? I wouldn’t go that far, but let’s just say he’ll be perched precariously atop a 50-foot hydraulic scissor lift in 40+ mph wind gusts. The good news for Kelly? No matter how ugly the scoreboard gets, he can always draw inspiration from the Church, turn a blind eye and look the other way.
Michigan 42, Notre Dame 10
I don’t have a photo of 2Punt