I was walking through the Diag three days ago, half an hour late for my marketing class, my head down as I thought about how I could slip into my assigned seat in the middle of a row unnoticed. That’s why I didn’t see the four or five guys huddled together near the UGLi until one of them jumped in front of me and shoved a piece of paper in my face.

35-17.

The score of Saturday’s Michigan-Notre Dame game was scribbled in black pen. It was the only thing on the paper. I was so surprised that I started laughing, even though I didn’t break my stride. I heard them holler after me, “She knew what that meant! She knew what that meant!” And then, louder, “Michigan football SUCKS!”

Yes, I knew what those numbers meant. But I also know what they don’t mean, and they don’t mean that Michigan football sucks.

I’m not saying that as a fan, or even as an optimist — because really, I’m neither. I reacted pretty predictably when junior safety Stevie Brown told the media after the game, “In our hearts, we know that we’re the better team.” Are you kidding me? I thought.

But now that everyone has had a few days to cool off, it’s a little easier to believe that Brown might have had a point. Whether or not the Wolverines are really better than Notre Dame, they’re definitely going to look better the rest of this season than they did Saturday.

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez stuck up for his team at Monday’s press conference.

“The sky’s not falling,” he said. “I can tell you this: There’s a lot of positive things going on, too, that maybe the outside people, people that are outside our building, don’t see.”

He’s the coach — he’s supposed to say that. But apparently, he didn’t do a good job of calming people down. Some of the articles that came out after Saturday’s loss have headlines like, “Rodriguez a terrible fit for Michigan’s program” (The Monroe Evening News, 9-16-08) and “UM sold out by hiring Rich Rodriguez” (The Daily Cardinal, 9-16-08).

The talk is a good reminder that people love to panic — and fast.

That second headline is from the University of Wisconsin student newspaper. The column sounds off on how Rodriguez’s “lack of character” caused the Wolverines’ 1-2 record and includes gems like these:

“(Rodriguez) gave up a good thing in West Virginia to try and be the next great thing in the history of Michigan football. He got greedy.”

Yes, that’s exactly right. Rodriguez was offered the opportunity to coach at the winningest college football program in history and implement his system in a place where outsiders haven’t been allowed since 1969. If he didn’t take the chance, he would have been called crazy.

Now, because Michigan has just one win in three games, he’s greedy?

All of the Rich Rod hate columns would be funny if they weren’t so painfully familiar. Substitute “terrible fit” for “outdated” and “Rich Rodriguez” for “Lloyd Carr,” and you’ll have the columns and comments that appeared when the Wolverines were 1-2 at this time last year.

My personal favorite letter during last year’s early-season struggles was this complaint to the Daily from an alum after the Appalachian State loss:

“Please, in the name of all that Michigan football used to mean, rip all traces of maize and blue off of Carr and get him out of town and out of the state.”

And now, even after the Wolverines have been stripped of Carr’s offensive system and philosophies, people are just as upset.

But even after three mistake-filled games, it’s easy to see this:

The offense is exciting. Redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet is getting better every game — he posted career bests in yards and completions in a game with six turnovers. When the rest of the team learns how to hold on to the ball, he will look even more impressive.

Freshman running back Sam McGuffie, clearly the team’s best running back through three games, gained 138 rushing yards against Notre Dame and has incredible potential.

The defense is full of veterans. And though that hasn’t necessarily meant much so far, except during the Miami (Ohio) game, the defense should be able to perform well when it isn’t constantly up against a wall because of turnovers.

Sure, we’ve heard all this. But the learning curve in games should be starting to level off. The Wolverines have played at home and on the road. They’ve gotten their first win and they’ve had an embarrassing loss. They’ve played in pressure situations late, and almost pulled off a comeback against Utah.

The Big Ten season is when you should start seeing positive results.

What if that doesn’t happen?

Like it or not, you’re stuck with Rodriguez for now.

And watching Michigan football is always more fun when you still have a little faith.

— Courtney Ratkowiak is aware the fair-weathered fans probably don’t want to be told to chill out. She can be reached at cratkowi@umich.edu.

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