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Michigan faces big challenge

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Associated Press
November 10, 2009
— Rich Rodriguez has to lead the University of Michigan’s football team to an upset at Wisconsin or in the Big House against arch-rival Ohio State to earn bowl eligibility—and perhaps patience from fed-up fans.

“The University of Michigan is not used to this, but neither am I or my staff,” Rodriguez said Monday. “We’re all kind of going through this process.


“We’re not daunted by the challenge. It’s just a bigger challenge than a lot of people think.”


Rodriguez says his roster includes 70 or 71 players who came to the school on scholarship, putting more than a dozen former walk-ons on full rides and turning some of them into starters.


He insists that’s not an excuse for starting 4-0 and falling to 5-5, but those facts lead to lingering issues that can’t be fixed in one or two seasons.


The problem is, Michigan is not used to rebuilding.


The Wolverines enjoyed a postseason streak that lasted three-plus decades before it was snapped last year with a school-record nine losses in Rodriguez’s first season in Ann Arbor.


Junior safety Troy Woolfolk said it would be “really sad” if the seniors on the team ended their careers without going to a bowl game in two straight seasons.


“The main thing I would want for our team, No. 1 is to beat Ohio State,” Woolfolk said. “Wisconsin, we want to be them too, but we haven’t beaten Ohio State in five years. That would be a good accomplishment.


“As bad as the season is going, I think it would be redeemed if we beat Ohio State.”


College football’s winningest program had a lot of great years and some good ones after Bo Schembechler took the program over four decades ago. It cruised consistently for the most part under Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, both of whom were Schembechler assistants.


When Carr retired after beating the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators in the 2008 Capital One Bowl, offensive tackle Jake Long, quarterback Chad Henne, running back Mike Hart along with receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington moved on to play in the NFL.


Quarterback Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) and guard Justin Boren (Ohio State) were among the many players who have transferred since Rodriguez was hired away from West Virginia, creating more holes—especially on offense.


Michigan’s defense has been bad for a second straight year with a third coordinator in three seasons. The unit has recently had linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton, who have combined to start 50 games, replaced by inexperienced players as it searches for answers.


A reporter told Rodriguez some defensive players following Saturday’s 38-36 loss to Purdue said they’re clueless sometimes because they forget what they did in practice.


“That’s disheartening,”


Rodriguez said.


Rodriguez, though, says his players know they still have a shot at earning a bowl bid.


The Badgers (7-2, 4-2) are a 10-point favorite to beat Michigan, which has won only one of eight road games under Rodriguez. The Buckeyes (8-2, 5-1) also will be expected to win next week in Michigan Stadium.


While on-the-field challenges loom at Michigan, other potential problems are lurking. The school is bracing for possible bad news from the NCAA related to an investigation into whether rules regarding practice hours and offseason workouts have been violated.


Rodriguez acknowledged losing games is wearing on him, coaches, players and fans.


“But what are you going to do? You don’t have a reset button,” he said. “Just got to learn from it, move on to the next one.”



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