Michigan Football Preview 2016

2016 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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6 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2016 FOOTBALL PREVIEW " S ooner or later, we all realize, a down period is going to happen. On the flip side, you know sooner or later, things are going to get back to the norm." — Former U-M All-American Jon Jansen Those words breathe life back into once- wearied Michigan football fans, like Hurricane Jim making landfall 18 months ago breathed fury back into their favorite obsession. Just as Michigan fans grow dewy eyed at the dream of "Michigan becoming Michigan again," the very concept causes others to recoil. Many Ohio State mavens feign ignorance of anything BT (Before Tressel, an unholy advent after which lying and cheating accrued reward beyond measure). Michigan State fans grow apoplectic over the notion of the Michigan "norm," instinc- tively fulminating about the 1960s and how they've returned for good. They can be for- given for the affliction commonly known as Norm Denial, since it summons up flashbacks of ruined autumns over most of their lifetimes. There was a norm, though, before Michi- gan's Big Blue Locomotive went hurtling off the tracks in the fall of 2008. It's as undeniable as James Joseph Harbaugh's intent to refashion a monster inside The Big House. From 1969, when Harbaugh's old coach rolled into town, through 2007, when the last of Bo Schembechler's disciples rolled out, the following held true: • Michigan stood tall against its chief rival, going 20-17-2 versus Ohio State. • The Wolverines dominated Michigan State, winning better than 75 percent of the time (30-9). • At least every other year, Michigan earned a Big Ten title (21). Obviously, results in those three categories since 2007 appear as normal as Mike Hart at the Dantonio Thanksgiving celebration. That's why Harbaugh is here. He came to reclaim what was lost, and take some more. Those who watch him in action, and know him well, see it coming. Former Michigan All-American Dan Dier- dorf witnessed in 2014 a crew he insists forgot what it takes to win football games. Harbaugh changed that dynamic like a NASCAR pit crew changing tires. "He needed to completely turn this football team around," Dierdorf insisted. "That's what really impresses me with his skills as a foot- ball coach. He changed the entire mindset of every kid on that football team. In a relatively short period of time, they became a confident football team. "They took the field expecting to win. When you as a coach can change the direction of 80 or 90 kids that quickly, it's a hell of an ac- complishment. You can't heap enough praise on Jim Harbaugh and what he did with that football team last year." Dierdorf also issues a word of warning. Harbaugh's team hasn't beaten the Spartans or Buckeyes yet. Until they do — and a tight- lipped coach knows this better than anyone — there's no room for talk. "We have to beat Michigan State, and we have to beat Ohio State," Dierdorf stressed. "Until we do that, it's nothing but headlines and publicity and pundits talking. "High rankings are all nice and dandy, but we have to compete and we have to win against teams like Michigan State and Ohio State. Un- til we do, every step we take is going uphill." Former Wolverine player and coach Bob Thornbladh insists last year's losses to OSU and MSU burn inside the head coach's ster- num. "He is a very competitive, combative, pas- sionate and emotional guy," Thornbladh ob- served. "He does not like to lose. He doesn't accept it well. And he remembers it. He's mo- tivated to do better." In Thornbladh's mind, the No. 1 job of new defensive coordinator Don Brown involves slowing Ohio State's power spread, a task the Wolverines will work on obsessively until Nov. 26. Harbaugh plays hardball harder than anyone else, and 50-plus stops on the satellite camp tour — including Hawaii and Samoa — un- derscore that fact. If you don't like it, try to keep up. "Jim is a coaching machine," Dierdorf said. "I know there are people that maybe Jim rubs the wrong way with his personality. I couldn't care less about that. Too bad for them. Get over it." The more he wins, the more he'll irritate. That's fine with Jansen and a host of U-M root- ers aching for the norm, and more. "You know what?" Jansen said. "I'm not playing. I'm not coaching. I'm a talking head now, so I can irritate as many people as I want." Hurricane Harbaugh appears unmoved by what competitors think as well. That means the storm is still brewing. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH JOHN BORTON Taking Abnormal Leaps To Normality Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at jborton@thewolverine.com and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine. Jim Harbaugh has taken the college football world by storm since accepting the challenge of leading his alma mater back to its former glory on the gridiron. PHOTO BY BRANDON BROWN

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