It's been over a week since the Outback Bowl disaster. Yes, it was a disaster. Even the most eternal optimist among Michigan fans has to admit that to themselves, one would think.
If you don't, you really don't have to go far to find a fellow fan that will remind you of it.
Michigan's 26-19 loss to South Carolina in the 2018 Outback Bowl was the rotten cherry on top of what was at best a disappointing 8-5 season in Jim Harbaugh's third year as head coach. To say that the Michigan faithful are beside themselves at this point would be an understatement. Emotions are somewhat understandably all over the place, ranging from those who are remaining patient until 2018 when the roster is full of nothing but Harbaugh-recruited upperclassmen for the most part, to those who are calling for Harbaugh's head and proclaiming this to be just as bad as The Dark Times of Rich Rod and Brady Hoke.
If I'm leaning toward either of those extremes, it's the former one for certain. I've mentioned before that the eight recruiting defections before Harbaugh was even hired coupled with the two weeks he had to recruit at all in 2015, effectively robbed him of a true "Year 3" like James Franklin at Penn State, Urban Meyer at OSU and Nick Saban at Alabama to name a few enjoyed. The 2017 Michigan Wolverines Football team featured far more inexperienced underclassmen on both sides of the ball than upperclassmen, and the season featured more than a few growing pains along the way.
Yet now in the offseason, much the fanbase is screaming at Harbaugh and the coaching staff for the most part because of how putrid the offense was all season. Inexperienced or not, many think that even a very young team can do much better than 96th in total offense, 49th in rushing yards per game and 111th in passing yards per game. Honestly, they would be right. Even with an offensive line that still featured at least three of Hoke's recruits and injuries at running back, wide receiver and quarterback, the offense should have been demonstratively better than the bottom third of the nation's teams.
Was all of it purely because of QB injuries? Well, as easy as it is to pin everything on Wilton Speight and later Brandon Peters going down, it's hardly the whole picture. John O'Korn was simply not good in relief outside of the Purdue game and it was major gaffes by the O-Line in the first place that even got Speight and Peters hurt as it is. The prospect of burning Dylan McCaffrey's redshirt wasn't even a consideration and just like that, Michigan had a major depth issue at QB. Again, many are calling out Harbaugh for that based on the "Year 3" principle.
On the one hand, you can see the point from a perspective of time, but on the other hand it's not like he didn't try to get a QB in his first and only two weeks of recruiting in 2015. In fact he did get one, Zach Gentry who was later converted to tight end. After that, we're looking at a progression of transfers in Jake Rudock and O'Korn and actual recruits with a grand total of five games of experience between them, so it's also easy to say the jury is still out on Harbaugh's QB recruitment. It really is.
This is why the Shea Patterson transfer is so important, not because it's an indictment on Peters or McCaffrey's abilities, but because of numbers. Now that O'Korn is graduating and Speight is transferring, you're left with two QB's on your roster that aren't true freshman, one that will be in Joe Milton and another in Kevin Doyle that is being asked to attend prep school for a year. Michigan simply needs numbers at the QB position and if Patterson is likely cleared to play in 2018, they'll have three capable players at the position.
But what does all of that matter if the coaching problems still exist on offense? It's painfully clear that Michigan's offensive identity for most of 2017 was "ineptitude" and while it was easy for fans like me to blame that on youth, it became clear that the play calling and coaching were beyond suspect most of the time, the Outback Bowl arguably being the most egregious example.
Under no circumstances can 2017's horrid offensive numbers ever be repeated. Ever. In Everdom. This is likely why former Arkansas offensive coordinator and former Michigan State QB Dan Enos has been brought aboard, reportedly as WR coach and offensive assistant. Now we're all waiting to see what happens with the rest of the staff and it's just not happening fast enough for most fans right now. The notion of either Pep Hamilton or Tim Drevno returning as part of Michigan's offensive coaching staff in 2018 is beyond repellent to Michigan fans after this season, even if in a diminished role.
In my opinion, I think Enos' hire means the end of Pep's short time at Michigan, but Drevno could still remain in another capacity. The only way I'm okay with that is if the responsibilities of the offensive coaching staff are streamlined. No more "running game coordinator" and "passing game coordinator." That time should be over. Have someone be THE offensive coordinator, even if it's Harbaugh himself. If it's his offense and he is unwilling to delegate that responsibility to someone else to create Michigan's offensive identity, then he needs to take it over himself and be the bearer of that responsibility. Having several hands in the process didn't work. Clearly. If it did, we wouldn't be in the position we are in now.
Michigan fans want a pound of flesh for this season's disappointment, as well as the 1-5 record against the rivals that the nation has been trumpeting for a while now, and for still no B1G title game appearance even in the first three seasons of Harbaugh's tenure. This is tough because as a fanbase, we aren't just dealing with the past three years with regard to disappointment. We're dealing with more than a decade of it in terms of winning the B1G championship and being 2-15 against OSU since 2001 and 3-8 against MSU since 2007 is just extra stinging salt in the gaping wound.
Of course, all is not lost. Not by a long shot.
Changes have already happened and are further coming with the coaching staff. Enos is aboard, Al Washington from Boston College is aboard and already recruiting along with Sherrone Moore from CMU, and while there is still uncertainty about Chris Partridge's future we at least know he turned down a job at Alabama. Here's hoping he stays on that defensive staff for sure.
It's difficult to believe that Jim Harbaugh isn't aware of how much needs to be fixed with the offense, or that he's not hearing the howl of the wolves in the fanbase and among the alumni that want his head on a platter. He simply has to know that there is much to fix and now it's just a question of whether or not you trust him to fix it. Either you treat 2017 as a "down year" just before the rise we have all been waiting for, or you no longer trust Harbaugh and you're ready to move on if 2018 isn't a drastic improvement from even how 2016 ended. Plenty of Michigan fans sit on either side of it but time will tell which side is going to be louder when it all shakes out. Right now the trust level is waning at best, eroding at worst. 2018 and its ensuing off-season certainly looks to be the year that BIG things better happen for Michigan Football, or else that scrutiny that is happening now among the fanbase is only going to get worse. A lot worse.