Embracing The Suck: Part I -- Acceptance

It hasn't been the smoothest ride with Rich Rodriguez. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A few weeks ago Hopkins Horn and I were tossing around column ideas that would capture our sense of hopeless optimism in the face of a worsening season. Texas was 4-3. Things were looking relatively pretty good at the time. With five losses this season Texas has equaled the loss total of the last three seasons combined, and with three more losses this season (a depressingly distinct possibility) Texas will have the same number of losses as it had from 2005 to 2009. Even if it wins out, Texas in 2010 sucks.

When you think about it on a macro level, what's shocking is not that Texas is hitting a rough patch, but that Mack Brown's program has made it the entire decade at such an incredibly high level. Hopkins suggested the fantastic idea of talking to fans that have been through the rough patch before, which is pretty much every major program over the last decade. For some -- like Oklahoma in 2005 -- it was a single bump. The bump lasted a little longer for Florida -- 15 losses in 3 years -- before they got back on track. But every program except ours has had this suck that Texas is now enjoying.

Two teams, Michigan (3-9) and Tennessee (5-7), were hitting their suck as Texas fans enjoyed their run in 2008, so I asked Brian of MGoBlog and Scott Kushner, Tennessee grad and author of Tulane's #1 recruiting website The Wave Report, how they dealt with the suck. Both programs have made some progress but neither is anywhere near the greatness they enjoyed for much of the 90s and 2000s. Scott and Brian were kind enough to share their experience, and the exercise appears to have been so cathartic for them that I had to split it up into two parts. Check back tomorrow for part II -- moving forward. After the jump, accepting your team sucks from Michigan and Tennessee fans.

When did you realize Michigan/Tennessee was BAD, unlike other rough patches?

Brian (Michigan):

It was immediately apparent at the beginning of 2008. Michigan had limped through 2007 (The Horror, getting housed by Oregon right after that, gaining under 100 yards against Ohio State) with ever-widening fissures that were papered over by an excellent set of skill position talent. Then all that talent left, as did the only plausible quarterback.

No one was expecting great things with a redshirt freshman and a walk-on competing for the starting quarterback job, but as a perpetually hopeful fan you have to see the suck to believe it. Michigan managed to make it competitive against Utah late but it was fluky and I spent the next two weeks talking about how the Notre Dame game was "critical for bowl eligibility." I think that qualifies as BAD. If it doesn't, then it would be the week after the Notre Dame game when Michigan lost to Toledo, a terrible MAC team, and I threw an empty water bottle at some guy booing the players.

Scott (Tennessee):

Sitting in the Rose Bowl in the 2008 season opener and watching a noticeably bad UCLA team (sound familiar) shut down Phil Fulmer's offense over and over again in the second half. The Bruins overcame a seven-point defecit and four interceptions. At that point, it was clear the issues didn't rest in a single player or position but a team which just no longer had a swagger to it.

That 2008 team finished 5-7, lost to Wyoming at home, got Fulmer fired yet featured current NFLers Arian Foster, Eric Berry, Dan Williams, Jonathan Crompton and Robert Ayers.  For the first time, that game drove the mesage home - to even the most ardent supporters - that just because the "Power T" was on the helmet, it didn't mean you were better than anybody. As a student I attended tight, gutwrenching wins over Alabama/South Carolina/Georgia/LSU/Florida etc.. and was in the Orange Bowl when the Miami Hurricanes' 39-game home winning streak was ended. I always felt like Tennessee would find a way to win close games, and for the better part of 15 years, it usually did.
 
When things came crashing down early in 2008, on the not-so-distant heels of a losing season in 2005, it was obvious that just being Tennessee meant nothing anymore.
 
Now, the 2008 season seems like glory days. The Vols are on their third coaching regime in three seasons, Tennessee is fighitng off years of recruiting kids who either: transferred, failed out of school, never got into school, robbed students at a gas station with a fake gun or beat up an off duty cop in front of a campus-adjacent bar.
 
The talent is still there is spots, but the depth is completely barren. Fulmer started the slide by taking a few questionable characters, Lane Kiffin accelerated it by semingly taking them exclusively. Now Derek Dooley is trying to compete in the SEC with about 60 scholarship players, most of whom wouldn't have seen the field for at least two years under normal circumstances.

 

When did it hit you that things weren't going to turn around (at least not that year)?

Michigan:

Toledo was the final dagger. With Michigan is was blazingly obvious that there was no talent. Past the QB situation, they had seven offensive linemen, one of whom was a guy playing DL in fall camp. The receivers were all freshmen and the running backs were injured. There was nothing.

Tennessee:

In late September of 2008, when Tennessee lost 14-12 to Auburn and totaled 191 yards and nine first downs on offense, thanks to Jonathan Crompton completing a rousing 8-of-23 passes. The Volunteers spent nearly the entire fourth quarter with starting field position inside Auburn territory, trailing by two points. But they couldn't get the 10-20 yards needed to even set up for a field goal.

 
Eventually Auburn got a first down, putting the horrific offensive display to bed and leaving the Vols 0-2 in the SEC for the first time in 10 years. As expected, both teams turned out to be terrible, and both schools fired its coach. But, as the trend goes, Tennessee was worse.
 
A few weeks later, the Vols were 3-7 and no one was really surprised by it.
DId you think 2008 would be a one year aberration or did you think you were in for a long rebuilding?

Michigan:

2008 was something that obviously took time to dig out from. You don't go 3-9 without having several very good reasons for it. After that Utah game I said the program was "under construction" with a completion date of 2010... so I thought it would take some time but I didn't think it would take this long. Rodriguez has extended the timeline by making some very bad choices with his defense and suffering a ton of misfortune, some of his own making.

You don't dig out from Michigan's thing after a year. I think Texas is in a much better situation if only because they will have an upperclass quarterback, no matter how incompetently coached, and a roster that has around 85 scholarship players (Michigan was operating with a USC probation like 67 by the end of last year and is still short by 5 or 6) who have been hyped to the moon. There was literally nothing that could have turned Michigan's offensive talent into anything good in fewer than two years; Texas has the raw material to make a swifter turnaround.

Tennessee:

Most people thought Lane Kiffin was turning the program around until his abrubt departure. He was working on a top-5 recruiting class, turned in a bowl season and had people fervently excited about the future. Then he suddenly left for USC, people burned his t-shirt in effigy and Derek Dooley became a panic hire when Will Muschamp and others wouldn't leave their gigs for Knoxville.

 
Further attrition hit the roster and soon enough it was quite obvious that Tennessee wouldn't be considered the biggest game on anyone's schedule for a long time. Showing up in Baton Rouge this year and seeing LSU fans flat-out not care about seeing Tennessee on the schedule was a massive statement about where the program had fallen to.
 
In 2000, LSU stormed the field when it beat 1-2 Tennessee. Ten years later, tickets were going for $5 before kickoff.

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