September 3, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Michigan needs to beat Western Michigan

Coach Rich Rodriguez has had a lot of questions to answer lately, some of them actually about Michigan's upcoming opener against Western Michigan. (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)

This is huge, as big as it gets for an opener, a scintillating matchup of in-state rivals from opposite ends of the college football spectrum.

At one end you have Western Michigan, a conference favorite with a snazzy quarterback, just looking to get tuned up for the Mid-American showdowns ahead.

At the other end you have Michigan, a Big Ten also-ran with about 17 untested quarterbacks, desperately trying to pull the upset and show it belongs.

The Wolverines are so worried about their chances, I heard they've put in lots of extra practice time. Yep. Apparently, it's caused quite a stir, and now Michigan and Rich Rodriguez have to convince the NCAA that "voluntary" workouts don't technically mean "um, sort of voluntary."

I'll let the serious-looking people in black-rimmed glasses sort through that. It really wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment, except to note the program's famous slogan has been slightly updated from "Those who stay will be champions" to "Those who stay really, really late will be champions."

(Note: I get paid by the cheap shot, in case you were wondering.)

Ah, let's revisit a few numbers:

  • 9: Michigan record for losses, set last season

  • 347: Michigan record for points allowed, set last season

  • .05: Average number of Michigan's game-day hours that should have counted as productive work last season (well below NCAA limits)

  • 645,329: Number of e-mails I've received suggesting Michigan deserved its comeuppance, and the loss to Toledo literally was the funniest thing they'd ever seen on television that didn't involve a kid swinging a bat and accidentally striking someone in the groin

  • 645,327: Number of those e-mails that originated in Columbus or East Lansing

    As you might have guessed, this is a big season for Rodriguez, and by "big season" I mean, "he'd better not lose the opener." The thing is, Western Michigan is better than Toledo and actually might be better than Michigan. The Broncos have a senior quarterback, Tim Hiller, who probably looks at film of the Wolverines' defense and drools all over his face mask.

    There are, however, reports -- unconfirmed at this hour -- that Michigan defensive players now are being instructed to direct opposing players to the ground with force, instead of gentle pushing. Good idea, because Rodriguez is testing the patience of the Michigan faithful, even the ones who didn't personally witness the days of Fielding H. Yost.

    Changes not so good

    Rodriguez changed a lot of things when he got to Ann Arbor, including the tired tradition of attending bowls. I'd at least have kept alive the practice of winning nine games and beating Penn State and Michigan State every year, but hey, that's me.

    Near as I can tell, the public is evenly, rabidly split on Rodriguez.

    Pro-Rich Rod people: He's fresh and different and his offense will be great if it ever stops fumbling. Give him a chance! (Unless he pulls that 3-9 garbage again.)

    Anti-Rich Rod people: He's always stirring trouble and he talks funny, and what was wrong with the time-tested off-tackle run on third-and-11? He couldn't spell Bo if you spotted him the B!

    A turnaround can only start with a shocking victory over a MAC powerhouse.

    Pick: Michigan 27-19

    bob.wojnowski@detnews.com">bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

    Pigskin picks

  • Montana State at Michigan State: The Spartans are coming off a 9-4 season and considered a Big Ten sleeper, but all is not rosy. First, Mark Dantonio has to explain why his team doesn't work nearly as hard as Michigan. Then, he has to realize every piddlin' little opponent thinks it can be the next Appalachian State. Michigan State 37-13
  • Navy at Ohio State: In a nice touch, Buckeyes fans are pledging to be respectful of their visitors from the armed forces. Expletives will be limited to three per family, per quarter. Jim Tressel also will ask Terrelle Pryor to run a little slower. Ohio State 38-9
  • Nevada at Notre Dame: Charlie Weis has become a big target in South Bend (I mean, bigger than normal) and now the pressure is really on. Lou Holtz and Beano Cook have predicted the Irish will play for the national title, shattering NCAA limits for ridiculous hyperbole. Notre Dame 27-20

  • Stunner of the Week

  • Central Michigan at Arizona: Ah, it's time to catch Dan LeFevour fever. The Chips quarterback will wow a middle-of-the-pack Pac-10 team. Central Michigan 29-26