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Too Late To Change Predictions? Michigan Might Be Better Than Originally Believed

The Michigan football team seemed to take a cue from their head coach's calm sideline demeanor on Saturday night. Had so much gone wrong early against Notre Dame that the team felt confidence in things eventually going right?

So is it too late to amend some of those preseason football predictions?

Or maybe this weekend was a reminder that I just don't know as much about football as I thought I did. (Too much time with my nose buried in baseball, perhaps.)

When the SB Nation Detroit staff was asked to predict Michigan's won-loss record for the season, I was the outlier, picking them to go 7-5. That prediction was largely based on how I thought the Wolverines would perform against Notre Dame.

Did I buy the preseason hype being heaped on the Fighting Irish? Maybe so. But I was more of a believer in Brian Kelly. The guy has won everywhere he'd been prior to South Bend; Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

Sticking in my mind was something I'd been told frequently while working on a magazine story on GVSU back in 2006. Kelly had moved on from Allendale to Mount Pleasant two years earlier. Yet he was still casting a prominent shadow over the Lakers' football program. And why not? As impressive as Chuck Martin was as his successor, it was Kelly who built GVSU up into a Division II powerhouse.

"Keep your eye on Brian Kelly," I was told by more than one person. "He's going to do big things."

Leading Cincinnati to a 12-0 record and Sugar Bowl berth in 2009 could be seen as one of those big things. But that was a step to one of college football's biggest stages. If Kelly was truly going to do big things, Notre Dame is where he'd do them.

15 games into his tenure with the Fighting Irish, it sometimes looks like Notre Dame could be too big of a job for Kelly to handle. Of course, it's far early to say for certain. But Kelly may have shown that the pressure was getting to him with his purple-faced tirades against South Florida.

We saw a much calmer Kelly on Saturday against Michigan, though he couldn't completely contain his exasperation at times with quarterback Tommy Rees. Especially when Rees wasted timeouts in anticipation of Michigan bringing the blitz.

But Kelly must have been screaming inside over all the mistakes his team made on Saturday night. I can only imagine what the film sessions will be like this week, as the coaching staff rehashes the Irish's five turnovers. The worst of them being Rees' fumble at the Michigan seven-yard line with six minutes left in the game. Notre Dame could've put that game away with a score. Instead, they gave it right back to the Wolverines.

Luck of the Irish? If it wasn't for bad luck, Notre Dame might not have had any luck at all on Saturday.

All the good luck seemed to fall Michigan's way. One of the desk drawers in Brady Hoke's office must be filled with rabbits' feet. Or he performed some act of kindness or courage earlier in life that bestowed loads of good karma upon him. (Would taking the head coaching job at Ball State qualify?)

Hoke's calm demeanor in the face of the chaos taking place on the football field was one of the most striking visuals from the game for me. That's not to say he was emotionless. He seemed to be wearing a definite look of worry as Notre Dame's offense was moving the ball with ease against Michigan's defense. Irish receiver Michael Floyd was making the game into his NFL showcase. Running back Cierre Wood was slicing easily through the Wolverines' front seven.

As I watched Hoke, I had to wonder what was going through his mind. Was it apparent to him that his team was overmatched? Did he then realize how big of a job it would be to reshape the Michigan football program into his vision, the vision that so many other Wolverines fans share and yearned for after Rich Rodriguez was fired?

Or was Hoke's poise a sign of his confidence? It's hard to imagine, given how thoroughly Notre Dame had dominated the game for most of the first three quarters. But maybe he really believes all that coach speak about playing until the clock reads 00:00. Maybe he was confident in Al Borges adjusting the offensive game plan to better suit Denard Robinson's skills.

Maybe Hoke knew that Michigan just needed to play better than they had been, and they'd get back into the game. The deep balls that Robinson had missed on in the first half wouldn't keep missing if both quarterback and receivers made adjustments. Robinson had to put some more air under his throws to allow the wideouts to make adjustments. And in turn, the receivers had to push the Irish defensive backs down the field, so they could turn back and make a play.

(Was Robinson intentionally underthrowing his long passes, as Kirk Herbstreit said on ESPN's telecast? I'm a little bit skeptical, but given how much better the passing game was working, perhaps that analysis was dead-on.)

On the defensive side, maybe Hoke and his coaches looked at the tape and saw gaps that his lineman and linebackers would eventually fill, pass-rush lanes to the quarterback that were there to attack. Getting into Rees' face, giving him different pre-snap looks, and forcing him to rush some throws would lead to mistakes. If that was the game plan, it worked.

I could be giving Hoke and his staff too much credit. Michigan just may have been really, really lucky in beating Notre Dame, 35-31. That's certainly what I've been saying to friends since the game ended. But as the saying goes, it's better to be lucky than good. And that might supersede whether or not Michigan deserved to win that ballgame.

After watching Michigan keep its cool and the head coach maintain his composure, I might have to re-evaluate those preseason predictions. These guys might be better than I thought they were.

I might say the same thing about the Detroit Lions, following their impressive 27-20 road win at Tampa Bay. That's a game I figured they'd lose. But that's a whole other post. Maybe next week, after the Lions beat a Kansas City Chiefs team that looks to be worse than I believed.