December 7, 2012
Who competes for a national title first? Hoops or football
It's a good time to be a Michigan basketball and football fan, with the hoops team poised for its best season in decades and the football future looking bright under head coach Brady Hoke. But which program will get to the pinnacle of collegiate sports first?
Basketball - by John Borton:
Football - by Michael Spath: The teams that will compete for this year's national title - Alabama and Notre Dame - have the two most important ingredients for success in common: coaching and talent. To achieve at the highest level in college football, programs must stockpile the best athletes and must have elite coaches to develop those abilities and make the game-winning decisions.
In college football, unlike college basketball, no one wins on a fluke or by getting hot at the right time. Look at the last 10 national champions - Alabama, Auburn, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Florida, Texas, Southern Cal, LSU (and Southern Cal) and Ohio State - and it's clear that talent and coaching are the key.
And Michigan has that in football. Brady Hoke has assembled a terrific staff, led by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, that has already proven in two years it knows how to develop its players. Hoke is a bit of a risk-taker, which won't always pay off, but he gambles because he believes in his team and that instills confidence in the Wolverines.
Talent wise, the Maize and Blue pulled in the nation's No. 7 class in 2012 and have the No. 5 class in 2013, and there's no reason to believe the 2014 class, which already contains two likely four-star recruits, will not be top-10 also.
Whether Michigan can put it all together and have a "special" season remains to be seen but its road to the top is far easier than basketball's.
True, only two teams will play for the championship in 2013, and only four when a playoff is introduced in 2014, and that makes it much harder to qualify for then the 68 teams that make the NCAA Tournament, but make it, and the odds of winning skyrocket compared to hoops, where upsets from lower-seeded teams are commonplace and six victories are needed to be crowned champion.
In football, you'll need to win just two games, with weeks of preparation for the semifinals and a week of preparation for the final. The four best teams in the country will make the playoffs and the best team will likely come out on top.
John Beilein is doing incredible things, but so much has to go his way over the course of three consecutive weekends, and even the first two weekends just to reach the Final Four.
Consider that in the history of March Madness the four No. 1 seeds have been the semifinals only once, in 2008, so rarely do the four best teams in the country play for it all. That won't be the case in football, where the formula for Michigan will be simpler: win the Big Ten title with a regular season of one-loss or fewer, and it's in.
Beilein's team may be ahead of Hoke's at the moment, but his road to the finals is much more complicated. Could U-M win the NCAA Tournament this year? Absolutely. Could it in 2014? Yes, and it should remain a contender for the next few years, but the challenge is greater. Football, meanwhile, should be ready to compete for the Big Ten championship in 2014 and if it wins, would be in the first playoff, giving it a 1 in 4 chance of taking the crown. Those are far better odds.
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