April 3, 2012

Football v. Hoops: Who will win NCAA title first?

Both the Michigan football and basketball programs are on upward trajectories after solid seasons in which the former went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl and the latter earned its first Big Ten regular-season title since 1986. But of the two, who is closer to winning a national title?

Football - By Senior Writer Michael Spath: By sheer numbers and odds, it is harder to capture a national title in basketball with 345 Division I programs compared to 120 in college football, while in college hoops the division between the have and have-nots is not as significant as it is in football, giving teams like Norfolk State and Lehigh, as No. 15 seeds, the chance to upsets No. 2 seeds Duke and Missouri, respectively, as they did this past year in ruining a perfectly good postseason run for even the most capable national powers.

The great thing about college hoops is 68 programs are afforded the opportunity to compete for the national championship every season whereas football restricts its postseason to two teams, selected arbitrarily by an inexact method of human and computer polling. In some respects then, college basketball paves a more direct path to the NCAA crown than football, however, one's regular season means next-to-nothing in a six-game, winner-take-all tournament.

In college football, on the other hand, streaks and luck, and the aligning of stars, do not have the same impact. Every week is the same - six days of preparation, and a single game. The bigger, stronger, and more talented team usually wins. And if you win your conference, and take care of business in September, you'll stand a strong chance of playing in the BCS Title Game.

And Michigan will soon be the bigger, stronger, more talented team. Three substandard seasons in which U-M became a national punch line could not derail this program's recruiting prowess, not with the right man at the helm selling everything the winged helmet has proudly represented for 133 years. Combine the Wolverines' burgeoning recruiting success with a coaching staff that may be the Big Ten's best overall and Michigan could be a legitimate national title contender in 2013 or 2014.

Its roster in 2014, especially, will be much more on par with an Alabama, building on standout offensive and defensive lines that will have both depth and outstanding talent; a linebacker corps that could include two seniors in Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan; a secondary with experienced, veteran impact players (Blake Countess, Jarrod Wilson, Raymon Taylor); better wide receivers than the current team returns (especially with a few more recruiting hits); and a stable of running backs. The only question is who will be under center.

It will take a basketball program handcuffed in the cellar - saddled by NCAA sanctions, scandal, and a decade absence from the NCAA Tournament - at least five more years to be on the level of the Syracuses and Dukes of college hoops. It would be unwise to underestimate John Beilein but the rebuilding of the basketball program is a 10-year process and we're only in Year 5, while football can be back among the elite as soon as Brady Hoke's 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes begin impacting a roster with enough veteran pieces to make 2014 a real possibility.

Basketball - By Staff Writer Andy Reid: Michigan coach John Beilein has built a successful career for himself around one idea: Do more with less.

He did it at LeMoyne and his other coaching stops. He certainly did it at West Virginia, where no one could have predicted consecutive appearances in the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 for a program that had been to two NCAA Tournaments in 13 years before Beilein showed up.

Throughout his career, Beilein's M.O. has been taking unheralded recruits and overachieving on the court.

And that was the case again in 2011-12. There wasn't a single pundit that predicted a Big Ten championship for the Wolverines, but guess who's hanging a banner?

Now with world-class facilities and the momentum of a resurgent program behind him, Beilein is recruiting at a new level.

Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nick Stauskas - all rated in the top 80 of the Rivals100 - are coming into the program next season. The Wolverines will be described less as "scrappy" and more as "championship-caliber."

Of course, the addition of those three won't automatically hoist Michigan into the upper echelon, alongside the North Carolinas and Kentuckys of the world - but it marks a significant point in the upward trajectory of the program.

With Beilein - a truly great game planner - on the sideline, and a roster that is continually getting better and more athletic, it's only a matter of time before the program takes another big step.

Success begets more success. More recruits will want to be a part of this thing, the expectation around Crisler Center will change, and Final Fours will soon follow.

The Wolverines may not catch Kentucky, talent-wise, in the near future, but they don't have to, because Beilein's system has an uncanny side effect of frustrating opponents and getting them out of rhythm. All it takes is one game.

On the other hand, as the Wolverine football team continues in its quest for a national championship, the road is only going to get harder. A basketball team can afford a few stumbling blocks or a rough patch and still win the game's ultimate prize. In the current system - or in a four-team playoff - a football team needs to be perfect all season to reach that goal.

And with the announcement of a Big Ten-Pac-12 partnership that will add a marquee game against a Southern California, Oregon or Stanford every season, Michigan's chances just got slimmer. Now, the Wolverines will have to successfully navigate a regular season that will include a top-tier Pac-12 team, Notre Dame and a full Big Ten slate, not to mention the conference title game.

The basketball team just needs to be playing its best basketball at the end. And - with the exception of this season - Beilein teams usually do.


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