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
This is the way it should be. Dawn brings a sense of excitement and a vague, distant murmer. Both the excitement and the noise slowly coalesce, first around tables and truck tailgates and front lawns, then into South Campus, then finally at Michigan Stadium itself, where it joins into one living, breathing entity. Months of abstract anticipation are suddenly replaced by the very real sights and smells and crush of humanity. A hundred thousand sit under a warm, sunny fall afternoon sky and roar as the ceremonies of their youth unfold in the traditional manner. The 225-member Michigan Marching Band plays the hymns and performs the rituals. The tunnel. The players. The banner. The fluttering of hearts and the twirling of hats until the ball is kicked. And then that brief hush as the ball arcs through the air, a moment of silent prayer to the football gods for fair winds and bountiful harvests.
Unfortunately, this year, before any of that happened, some shit dun’ already gone wrong.
I’m not saying Michigan shouldn’t play Notre Dame. I’m also not saying they shouldn’t play road games. There are already far too few true home-and-home non-conference series between high-level teams. But there is value in opening at home. The cache, interest, and excitement of a “home opener” is not the same as that of an opener at home. But beyond that, it seems to make a difference for the actual prospects on the field as well.
[After THE JUMP: Fire-Spittin Internet Raj.]
Michigan has now opened away from Ann Arbor two years in a row, and four of the last seven years. Let’s review the home openers in those seasons:
- 2012: After getting curb-stomped by Alabama at Jerryworld, Michigan beats a 6-7 Air Force team by 6 points.
- 2015: After a Thursday night loss at Utah to open the Harbaugh Era, Michigan played a generally sluggish game before pulling away late against a 2-10 Oregon State team before pulling away in the 4th quarter.
- 2017: After soundly beating Florida at Jerryworld, Michigan led a 4-8 Cincinnati team by 3 points until late in the 3rdquarter before again pulling away.
Compare that to the years in which Michigan opened at home:
- 2009: Michigan beats WMU 31-7
- 2010: Michigan beats UConn 30-10
- 2011: Michigan beats WMU 34-10
- 2013: Michigan beats CMU 59-9
- 2014: Michigan beats Appalachian State 52-14
- 2016: Michigan beats Hawaii 63-3
I don’t offer any specific cause. Perhaps there is an emotional letdown; losing obviously has a bit of a hangover, but even if you win, it’s hard to get as “up” for a Week 2 game against a mediocre opponent after spending eight months thinking about Week 1. However, for whatever reason, in the last decade Michigan’s three worst home opening performances occurred in Week 2.
While there is truly no place like home, can we talk about how Dorothy can wear socks with ruby slippers, but if I walk to the mailbox wearing socks and sandals my wife practically disowns me?
And sure, that could all be coincidence. But while I do not have concerns about Michigan’s ability to beat Western, I do have my doubts as to whether they will pull away in dominant and aesthetically pleasing fashion. After Notre Dame, Michigan will likely be doing some tinkering. A pile of young guys will get their first snaps, including many true freshman who would otherwise be redshirting. There may even be less of an incentive to take the squad for a full test drive, and to use real game reps to ‘work on some stuff.’
Michigan wins this game, but don’t expect any prose to be written about it.
Michigan 31, Western Michigan 17
By Internet Raj
Originally airing on ABC on November 12, 1993, the eighth episode of the fifth season of the sitcom Family Matters provides a watershed moment for its iconically “uncool” character Steve Urkel. The episode begins in a milkshake shop, where we find Urkel—an employee of the shop—clumsily attempting to thwart a fellow patron’s romantic advances on his unrequited love interest, Laura. In what should not be a surprise to even to the most causal Family Matters viewer, Urkel’s efforts predictably backfire. But, even for a character whose entire narrative arc is defined by his spectacular social failures, what follows is particularly brutal.
The flirting patron not only ignores Urkel’s threats, but goes so far as to rip his pants off, which in turn causes Urkel to trip and spill his tray of milkshakes all over Laura. Covered in milkshake and seething in rage, Laura ignores Urkel’s profuse apologies and instead berates him, punctuating a tirade that touches on everything from Urkel’s clumsiness to his social ineptitude with a final barb whose simplicity only accentuates its cruelty:
“Why are you the way you are?”
Some variation of these words constantly rang through my head as I watched Michigan’s offensive line this past Saturday against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish defense all but pantsed our tackles on their way to hurrying, pressuring, hitting and metaphorically dunking Shea Patterson into a vat of milkshake.
“Why are you the way you are?”
Steve Urkel swiftly determines that the answer to Laura’s existential rebuke rested in his DNA and, half-nude and thoroughly emasculated by the love of his life, Urkel uses those words as fuel to embark on a literal transformation. Employing his notorious scientific knowhow, he concocts a smoking blue elixir he dubs “cool juice.” “Cool juice,” it turns out, is made entirely of isolated and purified “cool genes” that, once ingested, mutates Steve Urkel’s DNA and turns him into his smooth-talking, effortlessly coordinated and suave alter ego we come to know as Stefan Urquelle. Almost instantly, Stefan sweeps Laura off her feet.
“Why are you the way you are?”
For Michigan’s offensive line, the answer to this once angrily-shouted but now demoralizingly-whimpered question lies somewhere within the messy interplay of recruiting failures, coaching failures and execution failures (with a healthy dose of good old fashioned cruel misfortune sprinkled on top for good measure). But causes, explanations and excuses aside, it’s undeniable that, like Steve Urkel, there is something deeply and fundamentally wrong with the offensive line’s DNA.
Whether Jim Harbaugh can retreat to his own lab and similarly concoct a feasible long-term and permanent solution remains to be seen. In the short-term, however, the Wolverines can look forward to their own dose of “cool juice” on Saturday, albeit one that will likely not be as strong whatever fills the syringes marked “Linebacker Development” in the S&C training room in East Lansing: the Western Michigan Broncos. Make no mistake about it: the Wolverines will look smoother than Stefan when they easily dispatch the Broncos and win by multiple touchdowns. Hangover gloom from the Notre Dame game aside, it’s important to remember that this is a Western Michigan team that gave up 334 rushing yards to Syracuse, so Michigan could probably replace the entire offensive line with a pack of Antonio Cromartie’s expired Trojans and still rush for 100 yards. If the final score on Saturday doesn’t look like The Ratio of a Graham Couch tweet, then Wolverine fans should rightfully be sweating.
If this game is close, Michigan fans should be sweating like Sean Miller when NCAA investigators search his duffle bag labeled “Definitely Not For Recruits” at an AAU tournament.
Ultimately, this is the dangerous allure of September cupcakes in college football. In the face of vastly inferior competition, your favorite team’s flaws and deficiencies are seductively masked, much like Hugh Freeze at a masquerade-themed kink club during a recruiting trip. Who knows how long it will last? For Coach Freeze it all came crashing down with a FOIA request for his text messages. For Michigan, its reckoning could come in two weeks, when Nebraska could very well force the Wolverines to revert to their Urkellian ways.
But for now? Kick and back and enjoy the “cool juice” of a classic September beatdown. And that’s why I’m going to confidently dust myself off after predicting a big Michigan win last week and do the same damn thing again this week.
And if I’m wrong? I got four words for you:
Michigan 52, Western Michigan 17