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1:04 pm EDT 78°F (26°C) in Bedford, OH
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I have reached another milestone here. You are reading the 300th update in the 6½-year history of this section, and this is the 50th update in the time period where I have also been publishing an RSS feed of this section. It only took me five months and change to get from 250 to 300 updates here, as #250 was posted this past March 22. It’s almost hard to believe that I’ve been at this (doing a web site) for nearly seven years; in fact, the seventh anniversary of the birth of Larry’s Phat Page is coming up on November 24.
It’s that time of year again — yes, Michigan football has started up again, with a 33-17 victory over the Northern Illinois University Huskies this past Saturday at Michigan Stadium. This season, I’m feeling a lot more confident about the ‘Blue’ offense, as a pair of star sophomores, quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart, return after great freshman campaigns. Jason Avant is stepping right into the large shoes left at wide receiver by Braylon Edwards, so Michigan is going to have a lot of offensive threats for opponents to contend with. Where I still have to worry a bit is on the defensive side of the football; with Marlin Jackson and Markus Curry gone, the secondary in particular is pretty thin when it comes to experience, and in fact, NIU came up with a few big plays when it had the ball on Saturday.
I think Michigan still has an excellent shot to win the Big Ten this year, because some of its primary conference competitors lost important pieces of their teams to graduation, but as always, it’s not going to be anywhere near a walk in the park. The Wolverines are going to have to avoid the special-teams blunders that plagued last year’s team, and the kind of defense (or lack thereof) exhibited against Ohio State and Texas isn’t going to fly at all. One X-factor to consider in the Big Ten is Purdue; the always-strong Boilermakers do not play either Michigan or Ohio State this year, which means they should have a (relatively) easy path through the conference.
I see four big tests looming on Michigan’s schedule: this upcoming Saturday at home against Notre Dame, October 1 against Moo U in East Lansing, October 22 in Iowa City against the Hawkeyes, and November 19 hosting the Suckeyes in Ann Arbor. Notre Dame and Iowa are always tough, and Moo U can be especially dangerous against Michigan in the cow pasture, er, Spartan Stadium. They have beaten us in four of the last six meetings in East Lansing, although the 2001 victory required the assistance of “Spartan Bob,” the clock operator, who held the game clock at 0:01 for several seconds until the Sparties could get to the line of scrimmage and spike the ball. This allowed them to run one additional play, upon which they scored the game-winning touchdown from Michigan’s 1 yard line. As for the Suckeyes, well, beating Jim Tressel isn’t the lock that beating John Cooper used to be, even in Ann Arbor; while Ohio State ran up an 0-6 record in Ann Arbor under Cooper, Tressel beat Michigan in his very first visit to the Big House in 2001.
(The Sparties can really only beat us by cheating in any event. Michigan is 26-7-0 in the last 33 meetings in the series, but legitimately should be 28-5-0 considering the “Spartan Bob” affair in 2001 and the infamous non-call on the final play of the 1990 meeting in Ann Arbor. Trailing 28-21 late in the game, Michigan drove the length of the field, and as time ran out, Elvis Grbac connected with Desmond Howard for a touchdown that made the score 28-27. Now Michigan had been ranked #1 entering this game, and Gary Moeller, probably a bit too concerned about maintaining the #1 ranking, opted to go for the two-point conversion and the victory. (There was no overtime in college football in 1990; games simply ended in ties at the end of regulation.) Dropping back, Grbac found Howard three yards deep in the end zone; just before the ball got there, somebody from Moo U more or less smothered Howard from behind, preventing him from making the catch. The blatant pass-interference penalty was not called, the conversion attempt was called no good, and unranked Moo U snuck out of Ann Arbor with an illegitimate 28-27 upset “victory” over the top-ranked Wolverines. Michigan would not regain the #1 ranking again until after defeating then-#3 Penn State in 1997 on its way to the national championship.)
Well, I’m off to go pick up my next load, across the state from here in Lima. From there, I’m headed back to Arkansas again, before heading back home next week.