Will, if you’re gonna get so bent out of shape by a Sports Section staffer dominating the Sports Section tournament pool — and by the way, you still owe me five dollars — then you’ll just have to stop recruiting brilliant analysts like myself to work with you. It’s a two-way street; if you want the kind of superb and topical insight that I provide, you have to deal with being humiliated by the stunning accuracy of my crazy long-shot prognostications like “a top-seeded team from college basketball’s most successful program may win the NCAA championship.” Although, to be honest, I really thought it would be Kansas or Kentucky like everyone else.
A quick moment of relevance before the self-indulgence: The thing I’ll remember most from this tournament, besides the utter devastation I inflicted on the rest of the entrants in our pool, is the image of Bob Huggins emotionally consoling a despondent Da’Sean Butler in the moments after his knee injury during Saturday’s game. I’ve always dismissed Huggins as a sleazy character, and for a second I was forced to contemplate the idea that my habit of demonizing certain individuals, both public figures and personal acquaintances, ignores the fact that someone can make many mistakes in life, even intentionally pursuing ends that I find objectionable, and yet not be completely devoid of positive human qualities.
It was a heavy thought, with many implications for, like, life, so I soon went back to drinking and playing free online poker.
And now, with a tip of the cap to Andy, Tim, Brian, Justin, Adam, Shane, Josh, Brad, and the rest of my fall Saturday crew, here is the Sports Section’s official preview of the University of Michigan football team’s April 17 spring scrimmage.
The Wolverines headed into spring practice this year after two years of utter disaster under the leadership of new coach Rich Rodriguez. While Rodriguez has been hamstrung by the youth and inexperience of a roster that had seen the departure of numerous critical players after the retirement of former coach Lloyd Carr, even the most reasonable observers agree that he’ll almost certainly have to put up a winning season this year to keep his job. Most essential to that task will be (1) continuing to develop a talented but inconsistent and mistake-prone offense; and (2) assembling a defensive lineup that can achieve even the most basic competency. After last year’s brain-melting disaster, we’ll take anything.
Crucial to the first will be the progress of Michigan’s two sophomore quarterbacks, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Forcier got most of the snaps last year, but early reports from spring say that Robinson is drastically improved and could push him for a starting spot. Meanwhile, the starting running-back position is wide open, and any of four aspirants could get the job. The receiving corps is stacked with several explosive players at the slot position, but returning outside-WR starters Junior Hemingway and Daryl Stonum need to become more adept at hauling in the deep passes the team needs to stretch the field. And in the trenches, it would be nice if some of the team’s highly touted underclassmen could step up to replace some of the more underwhelming returning starters.
Tight end Kevin Koger needs to stop dropping the damn ball.
Defensively, the team seems set on the line, but needs to fill a hole at outside linebacker left by graduating senior Stevie Brown; meanwhile, senior inside-LB starters Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton have been aggravating fans with missed assignments for the past two years. Will long-awaited consistency at the defensive coordinator position — Michigan switched DCs each of the last two years before this one — help them get their problems worked out? In the secondary, some highly hyped freshmen will get chances to win a starting job at cornerback, while the safety positions remain in flux. Will the deep safety spot be locked down by the awesomely named Vladimir Emilien, or will former wide receiver and reputed top spring performer Cameron Gordon surprise everyone by immediately stepping into the starting lineup on D?
We’ll be watching all these players and position groups closely when Michigan’s spring scrimmage kicks off at 1 p.m. next Saturday in the Big House (it’ll be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network). Go Blue!