Because my last 700-word commentary completely covered every subject in the sports world that occurred in 2013, my editor thought, “Hey, why not preview the year in sports in January?!”
Why not? Because I have no idea what’s going to happen, that’s why. Nobody does. That’s why we watch sports: We don’t know how it’s going to end. It’s also why we shouldn’t watch pregame shows: everybody is just guessing.
Nonetheless, if The Chronicle wants to pay me to make wild, unsupported guesses – then doggonnit, that’s what I’ll do. Just one of the many duties that come with being a hard-hitting investigative journalist.
Let’s start at the bottom. That means, of course, the Detroit Lions.
The Lions finished yet another season by missing the playoffs, and firing their coach. If you’re surprised by any of this, you have not been paying the slightest attention, and probably don’t know that the football is the one with pointy ends.
In my lifetime, the Lions have won exactly one playoff game – and I am no spring chicken. At this rate, if I want to see the Lions win the Super Bowl, I’ll have to live… several lifetimes.
In 1997, I wrote: “The Lions’ four decades of mediocrity beg more fundamental questions. Why did [the Lions] pick Wayne Fontes in the first place? Why have they been so patient with him? And why are the Lions so attracted to nice guys who finish third?”
Seventeen years, seven head coaches, and zero playoff wins later, we are asking the same questions. First wild guess: 17 years from now, we’ll be asking the same ones.
Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo has gotten the Spartans into the NCAA tournament every year, for 16 straight years. He once told me, as a joke, that maybe they should miss the tournament one year, just to remind their fans it’s not a birthright. Maybe, but not this year. The Spartans are 15-1, ranked fourth, and flying high.
Izzo has won seven Big Ten titles, been to five Final Fours and won the national title in 2000. But I’ve often said his best season of coaching was 2010, when they lost two-time Big Ten player of the year Kalin Lucas, and got to the Final Four without him.
By that measure, this could be Michigan head coach John Beilein’s best season, too. Last year they got to the NCAA finals for the first time since the Fab Five. They were expected to do big things this year, too. But then star center Mitch McGary had to bow out for back surgery. It was a colossal blow – to which the Wolverines have responded by winning six straight games, including their first four Big Ten contests. Do not count them out.
That brings us to the Detroit Pistons, for some reason. The Pistons made the playoffs for eight straight years until their owner, Bill Davidson, passed away in 2009. They haven’t made it back since, and they won’t this year.
The Red Wings, in contrast, are extremely well run, and proved it by making the playoffs every season since 1990 – a record that spans longer than the lifetimes of some of their players. Another wild guess: their streak will not be broken this spring, either.
The Tigers are in for an interesting year. After Jim Leyland retired, they hired Brad Ausmus to manage the team. Ausmus, a Dartmouth grad, might be the smartest, best looking manager the game has ever seen. And that will carry him right up to… opening day.
In college football, the questions are simple: Are the Spartans really all that? And when will the Wolverines return to being all that?
The Spartans went 13-1 last season, beating Michigan and Ohio State to win the Big Ten title, then followed up with a Rose Bowl win over Stanford – all with players those schools didn’t want. Can they do it again, and prove it was no fluke?
At Michigan, the Wolverines are trying to prove that the last decade was a fluke, and they still belong among the nation’s elite teams. The big story this month was not a big bowl win or a big recruit, but the firing of an offensive coordinator, and the hiring of a new one. Good move.
I’ve never seen a fan base so excited over the hiring of an offensive coordinator. And I’ve never seen that excitement so justified.
Will Michigan’s offense be better than last year’s? Well, as my dad so often told me as a kid, when you’re on the floor, you can’t fall out of bed. The best date on the schedule next year might be October 25, when the Wolverines travel to East Lansing to face the Spartans.
Be sure to tune in 11 months from now, when I will publicly deny making any one of these predictions.
About the writer: Ann Arbor resident John U. Bacon is the author of the national bestsellers “Fourth and Long: The Future of College Football,” “Bo’s Lasting Lessons” and “Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football.” You can follow him on Twitter (@Johnubacon), and at johnubacon.com.
The Chronicle relies in part on regular voluntary subscriptions to support our publication of columnists like John U. Bacon. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!