Brian's gotten into an interesting exchange with a curious reader who wonders if Michigan's oft-purported "talent edge" is perhaps overstated. The ancillary question (perhaps equally important, actually) is whether Michigan's middling (at least to expectations) performance of late might be cured by a new coach.
You can't be a daily reader of MGoBlog without picking up on the weaknesses of Mr. Carr - his seeming inability, for example, to protect a late lead. But running beneath Brian's analysis is always a certain hesitancy to string up Lloyd Carr for a lynching. Part of that, it appears from this vantage point, is a general aversion to mob mentality. (One never gets the impression that Brian would be one to pick up a pitch fork to join a blood thirsty mob.)
I can think of several reasons you'll never find Brian in a group like this one.
But a bigger part of it seems to be a belief of Brian's that Lloyd Carr's weaknesses ought not be analyzed in a vacuum - which you are free to read as: without appreciating what he's good at.
Lloyd Carr appears to recruit well (more on this momentarily, as we will not assume what we are asking), his players are rarely in the news for off-field incidents, and his won-loss record speaks for itself. 1997 wasn't that long ago.
Add it all up and Brian is among the more rational crazy college football fans out there. Rabid, sure. But level-headed.
Which brings us to the question at hand: is the Michigan talent gap a myth? And is Lloyd Carr failing to get the most out of his players?
I'm taking the time to write about this because, well, Texas fans are in a pretty good position to comment on it. (As you can see, I already have.) Texas reached the summit in 2005, but all you heard about before Texas won it all was what Mack Brown couldn't do well. Never mind the high winning percentage: Mack Brown didn't know what he was doing, damnit!
We also heard that Texas' players were overrated because NFL scouts didn't drool over them, or in the cases where they did, they didn't pan out as elite NFL players. And we had our own nasty little losing streak to a certain hated rival.
What was the reality, though? I'll be the first to concede that Mack Brown is not the Ultimate Gameday Coach. I can list a dozen guys I'd take in that particular regard over Mack, just off the top of my head. But there are two important things I'd immediately add.
1) Even coaches with the reputation of being Brilliant on game day goof all the time. The great Peter Carroll, purported master of the college football universe, pretty much laid an egg in the Rose Bowl. No two ways about it.
2) There's just so much more to being a head football coach these days then gameday management. Sure, you can't be inept, but when you're the head of a program like Michigan or Texas, there's as much to be said for being the "Head of State" for the program as anything else. Especially when you consider that Michigan and Texas are universities of academic esteem. You can't just take the Auburn route and do whatever you feel like.
And this gets me to my larger point, and to part of the answer to Brian's question. Some players just aren't big time winners. Chris Simms was awfully talented, but he was not a big game quarterback. He wasn't a title-winning quarterback. Chad Henne is... well, he's a junior. It even took the great Vince Young three years to win a Big 12 title.
And while I'm not in the position to judge whether or not Michigan's talent gap is exaggerated, I'm confident in saying that there's enough talent to win Big 10 titles. (I'd add that Brian did a nice little review of Rivals not so long ago, concluding that their scouting was reasonably in line with future player performance). With Ohio State, and as solid a top-to-bottom conference as any in the country, winning the Big 10 title each year isn't particularly realistic. And it's certainly worth noting that the Wolverines have two outright conference titles since Lloyd Carr arrived, and split another two.
Ohio State, we note, has not won the conference outright since 1984, and no matter how frustrating the current streak of losing is, it's probably just a blip in the cyclical, frustrating history of collegiate football. Teams rarely enjoy sustained success - even the big boys. USC was in the gutter just a half-decade ago. Texas floundered in the middle of the college football pack for a good two decades. Even Notre Dame had to hit rock bottom before it could dig its way back up.
Lloyd Carr, for his part, has kept Michigan at or near the top of the Big 10 conference since he's arrived. And before we grab pitch forks and join the angry mob, we should probably emphasize that this is a good thing, and undoubtedly not an easy thing. And while flags fly forever, the reputation and image of the state's premier academic institution is more important, even, than football titles.
There will always be angry mobs, but it's a good thing that there's fans like Brian. Words for the wise, Texas fans. We will lose again. Including some games we should win. Steady yourself. Appreciate what we have.