Being without internet in my empty apartment, I wandered down to the Michigan Union the Saturday of the first game. I knew of a few iMacs tucked away in an alcove on the 4th floor because I worked in an office around the corner (obligatory SORC shout out). I went up there mostly to pass time, but also to see what nuggets of information ESPN might have for me. I read about the team, and about the game, but I wasn't really interested.
The game was largely an afterthought. "Appalachian who?" I smugly thought. Teams from Div. I-AA are just warm ups. I had seem enough early season cupcake games in my last four years of in the student section to feel I knew the script. UM scores a couple early touchdowns
Nobody writes off I-AA teams anymore, at least nobody but Houston Nutt. Some of these small programs have built themselves into powerhouses of the FCS division on great coaching, schemes, and players who fall through the cracks at the highest levels but can be very productive in the right system. Then the big dogs from the FBS come calling for an easy win with a big paycheck in hand. Four I-AA teams beat I-A teams last week. The week before Jacksonville St. beat Ole Miss with two of the most exciting final plays I have ever seen, a 4th and 15 pass to the back of the end zone for a touchdown, then a miraculous scramble and shovel pass for the go ahead 2-pt conversion in the second overtime. So much for easy wins.
I spoke with a friend of mine who is a VA Tech alum late Saturday and I could sympathize. I knew exactly how me felt. It wasn't supposed to happen like that. After Boise State had crushed the dreams of a MNC for Tech fans, JMU single handedly crushed the season.
In my life I have never left a Michigan football game when it was in doubt. I have walked out in the waining minutes of the 4th quarter with teams thoroughly buried, but never before then. Certainly not at halftime. Yet there I was, trudging through the sea of cars parked outside Crisler Arena, heading back to my apartment to listen to the game on the radio as the first half ended and UM was down 28-17. I wasn't mad at the team, I was mad at those around me. I have never been a big fan of the obnoxious Greek crowd who rolls in near the end of the 1st quarter and leaves sometime before the end of the 3rd, talking about anything but the football game for the entire duration of their stay. Or the obnoxious fans who spend the entire game yelling obscenities at Chad Henne, refs, and anyone else they can find a flimsy excuse to pin blame on. I couldn't take it. I wanted to be alone.
Even as I walked out I never questioned Michigan's ability to win the game. I was sure that they would storm out at halftime and regain the lead en route to a ten point victory and a massive sigh of relief from 110,000 people. So I laid down on my air mattress in an empty second floor apartment across the street from Schembechler Hall. I left the doors and windows open so I could enjoy the weather and hear the sounds of the game. Michigan marched back slowly, just like I thought they would. When App St. scored to go up by two I was worried, but was quickly comforted when Manningham reeled in a 46 yard pass. Everything would be ok.
I-AA games don't matter. Until they do.
I feel guilty as I write this. The letdown from the past two weeks is palpable. The UConn game was the first test of a new season, a glorious victory over a team many thought was solidly better than UM. And nobody who has ever put on the Maize and Blue needs an excuse to get up for the Notre Dame game. The addition of Denard Robinson's exciting Heisman race coming out party has only added to this. After the excitement of the first two weeks the build up to Saturday has felt almost tame.
I have thought a lot about this as I made the rounds today to read the previews. Nobody expects this game to be close, or even remotely competitive, but at the same time no one wants to say so. I myself can't even get around to writing even a half preview (Key Match up: Michigan vs. APOCALYPTIC MELTDOWN!1!1!).
That doesn't make me any less nervous for the game. I have been here before. We all have. Nobody in the UMass locker room tomorrow is going to concede defeat. Playing in the Big House isn't worth two touchdowns anymore. The games are won on the field by the team that wants it more. This much is comforting. I don't think I have ever watched a team weather as much adversity as this Michigan team, and by all accounts it has pulled them closer than ever and focused them more intently on their goal of winning every time they step on the field.
As for me, I won't be as excited tomorrow at noon as I have been the last two weeks, but I certainly won't feel comfortable either. We can all thank Appalachian State for that dose of reality.
If you want something more, um, concrete for your game preview, head over to mgoblog for the always excellent game preview. Ace over at The Wolverine Blog talks with a UMass blogger about the Minutemen. The M Zone has returned and has put together a great Know Your Enemy post to fill you in on all the non-football related factoids a fan needs. Finally, if those previews don't satiate your appetite, head over to Maize and Brew for Beauford's take on the game.
I'll be back Monday with my thoughts on (hopefully) another glorious victory in the Big House.