With the season opener against Alabama just eight days away, Wolverine247 began a series on Friday examining eight reasons why Michigan will - or will not - win the B1G in 2012. Be sure to stay tuned, as we will be revealing one reason every day leading up to the opener.
REASON NUMBER THREE WHY MICHIGAN WILL - OR WILL NOT - WIN THE B1G IN 2012: THE FAMILIARITY THAT COMES WITH THE COACHING STAFF ENTERING ITS SECOND SEASON IN ANN ARBOR
Will: There is always a certain feeling-out period whenever a new coaching staff arrives in town. It takes time for the coaches to get to know the players - both on a personal level and in terms of their strengths and weaknesses on the field. As the coaches get a better idea of what the players can and cannot do, they must adjust their system accordingly.
Likewise, it takes time for the players to adjust to the new coaches. They're starting over from scratch in terms of building a relationship with the coaches off the field, and that doesn't happen overnight. Also, every coaching staff has different rules that the players must abide by, so that takes some getting used to as well.
On the field, the players must adjust to new drills, new practice formats, perhaps a new style of coaching by their position coach, coordinator or head coach, and last but certainly not least, the players must adjust to the new scheme. All of the returning players in 2011 had been recruited by the previous coaching staff, so it's certainly possible that it was somewhat challenging for the players to adjust to a new scheme that may have required a different skillset than the previous scheme did.
There's an old saying that you don't practice until you get it right, but instead you practice until you can't get it wrong. Once game day arrives, every player must be 100% confident in knowing what to do in every situation that might arise. If not, that is one of the quickest ways to get beat. So while the players may have thought they knew the new system cold, you never really know for sure until game day arrives and the bullets are flying from every direction. How long this feeling-out process takes, both on and off the field, depends on a variety of factors. With some new coaching staffs, it may be a relatively smooth transition, while it may take several years with others.
The great news for Michigan entering the 2012 campaign is that this is no longer an issue for the upperclassmen. Greg Mattison seemingly turned around Michigan's defense overnight. What can he do with another full offseason working with players who are now comfortable in his system? And offensively, while Denard Robinson's skillset doesn't really fit what Al Borges generally likes to do on that side of the ball, they've now had a full year of working together to iron out the kinks.
Just having this new level of familiarity leads to more efficiency in all aspects of the program, from the weight room to the meeting room to the practice field to the Big House. This may give the Wolverine players and coaches that extra mental edge needed to take the next step as a program in 2012.
Will not: While it will definitely benefit the Wolverine players and coaches in general to have another year of chemistry working together, it remains to be seen how much that will actually translate to improvements on the offensive side of the ball. Borges and Robinson both have a much better feel for each other now, but is it still a case of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?
In other words, if both sides (Borges and Robinson) are trying to adjust what they want to do for the good of the team, will either one actually put their best foot forward? This is especially crucial this year, because as we explained yesterday, the success of Michigan's 2012 season largely hinges on how Robinson plays. If Robinson still isn't 100% comfortable with the system, or if Borges still hasn't figured out exactly how to utilize Robinson in every situation that may arise, those little things may cause the Wolverines to drop some close games against a more difficult schedule.
If Michigan can solve this issue, then the 2012 season could potentially become a great one. However, if it isn't completely solved, and that leads to a slow start out of the gates, how will this coaching staff and group of players collectively respond to adversity? Michigan bounced back nicely from both losses last season, and finished the season strong. But the Wolverines had already built up some momentum before that first loss, making it a little easier to respond. This year, it may be more challenging to do the same if the Wolverines find themselves 2-2 heading into conference play, especially if the Alabama game turns into a lopsided loss.