Friday, August 31, 2007

The light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train

We skip ahead in our pre-season thoughts to the tough three game stretch that ends Michigan's regular season: @ MSU, @ Wisconsin, & Ohowihateohio State in A Squared.

Other people have captured the essence of Spartan Football better than I could ever hope to, so I won't say a whole lot about our little green neighbors to the north.

I think that the potential exists for this to be a bad season for MSU, even by their relaxed standards. The talent that John L left behind doesn't really mesh well with Mark Dantonio's no-nonsense style. They are very thin on the defensive line and at linebacker. They have an offensive line that will have to learn a new style of blocking. Their defensive backfield last year made the Maginot Line look impenetrable. Their schedule, while not impossibly hard, does include trips to ND, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa, Purdue and visits from Michigan, Pitt and Penn State.

I'm not sold on Dantonio. It seems like the best quality that each new Spartan coach has is that he's not like the last one. So while John L was crazy and always entertaining, Dantonio makes Al Gore look animated. John L was an offensive minded coach, Dantonio is defensive minded. John L's teams were among the nation's leaders in penalties, Dantonio's teams are disciplined. John L ran a creative, maybe even innovative offense. Dantonio will run a vanilla package.
So will Dantanio be successful? If successful means getting to a bowl game every other year or so, maybe. Tom Izzo successful? Given the last 40+ years of Spartan football, I wouldn't bet on it.

So now, On (to) Wisconsion. This game worries me more than any other this year, mostly because is on the road, and because it is likely to be a night game with 80,000 rowdy (and well hydrated) Badger fans making it difficult on the vaunted Michigan offense. While the Badger offense is pretty plain, it does return 9 starters, including four of five Olineman and freshman all-american PJ Hill. Meanwhile, the Badger defense will be among the best in the country. Jack Iwannkillareceiver is one of the best CBs in the conference, if not the country. The front 7, which returns almost entirely intact, allowed just over 100 yards per game rushing last year.

The schedule is not as cupcake laden as last year, but it is eminently manageable. One tough game in September, Iowa at home. One tough game in October, at Penn State and the two top games back to back in November, @ OSU and at home against Michigan. On paper, this looks like it could be a good year for Bucky.

That being said, I can't get away from the feeling that this Badger team will lose a number of games they aren't supposed to, and will fail to live up to their lofty ranking. I think that in college football, there is a regression to the historical norm for most teams in a given year. That is to say, that if a team outperforms their historical norm in one year, the chances are they will come back down the next year, barring the emergence of some new dramatic force that will upgrade their program. Now, Brett Bielema might be one of those rare coaches that can elevate a program from good to very good, or very good to elite, but if I would have to guess I would say that he is an average to above average coach who had a lot of things break his way last year.
If I had to guess, I would say 10-2 or 9-3 with a win over either OSU pr Michigan (but not both) and another trip to Florida for New Year's Day.

OSU preview coming up later on Friday.