PASADENA, Calif. — We will now
begin boarding College Football Flight “Pecking order”
with our elite customers only. Elite customers only.

Kate Green

Suddenly, that damn Southern Cal. war chant started up again.
Duh duh, da da da da, da da da, duh duh! The people
in cardinal and gold strutted forward, looking at me as if I was a
bum in rags.

The Bayou Bengals followed right behind, carrying jugs of gumbo
and wearing “GEAUX TIGERS!” shirts. Needless to say,
they immediately began jockeying in line with the Trojan
faithful.

You could have guessed what was next. Oklahoma fans hobbled
forward. They didn’t feel like elite customers at all, but as
soon as “Boomer! Sooner!” began blasting from the
airport speakers, they forgot Jason White was the worst Heisman
winner since Miami’s Gino Torretta.

The Miami contingent rode to the front of the line in tanks,
dressed in infantry uniforms. All the passengers were glad to see
that the ’Canes were sitting up near the front; there would
be no terrorist activity on this plane. Not with Kellen Winslow and
his fellow soldiers on board.

I ran up to the flight attendant with my Rose Bowl T-shirt on
and held out my ticket.

You’re a Trojan then?

No. I’m a Wolverine.

Oh, hun, I’m sorry, but you’re just a Preferred
Customer.

No, you don’t get it, HUN. I go to Michigan. I am an elite
customer.

Young man, please calm down. After such a convincing loss to
USC, College Football Airlines isn’t willing to grant you
elite status. Now wait a few seconds, and we’ll board
Preferred Customers.

So, I waited there, stunned, frustrated and hurt. Winning an
outright Big Ten title wasn’t enough to push Michigan up to
first class? At least the Wolverines’ win over Ohio State
pushed the Buckeyes back down to a preferred program.

I got to thinking, as Tennessee, Texas, Florida, Florida State
and Georgia fans joined me for two bags of those new buttery,
twisty pretzels.

This trip out to Pasadena was not about winning a game, but
proving that Michigan was once again an elite program. Even an
inspired performance — you know, a seven- or three-point loss
— would have given the Wolverines that respect as Big Ten
champs. Instead, the Wolverines were outcoached, outplayed,
out-everythinged. Southern Cal.’s milkshake was ultimately
much more flavorful, thicker and just plain better than
Michigan’s.

The Michigan program hasn’t sat in first class since 1999,
and it still can’t see past the drape separating elite from
preferred customers on the long and grueling flight into next
season. And with the new year in front of us, it’s time to
make some resolutions that will help this program arrive where
every Michigan man and woman believes it should be: With its feet
up in first class, sitting next to Vanna White, looking back at all
the others.

1) Break up the monotony of life and don’t be afraid to
try new things.
It’s never a good sign when an opposing
defensive player flat out says he knew what was coming most of the
time.

“We knew what they were going to do,” Southern Cal.
defensive tackle Shaun Cody said. “Coach (Pete) Carroll came
up with such a great package today, blitzes and stuff he threw in.
He had them very confused.”

Yeah, Michigan sure looked it. The perfect example of how
well-versed the Trojans were on Michigan’s offense was their
treatment of the traditional Michigan screen pass. Every time the
Wolverines went to the well, the Men of Troy were waiting. And the
war chant played. Duh duh, da da da da, da da da, duh
duh!

Surely I’m not the only person who wants to scream
Macaulay Culkin-style every time Michigan goes to the shotgun and
four wideouts late in the game and immediately has a touchdown
drive. Surely, the laws of football would allow it to work
in the first half, too.

I’ve had John Navarre look me in the eye after the
Minnesota game (a game salvaged by success in the shotgun), and
talk about how no matter what, Michigan is going to try and
establish the running game and execute its offense. I admire his
loyalty to Papa Carr, but would it really hurt to come out in the
shotgun no-huddle in the first or second quarter just to shake
things up?

1a) Shake things up, but don’t shake them to the point
of explosion.
Anyone remember that afternoon in Iowa?
Quarterbacks are supposed to roll out, not kickers playing punter
for the afternoon.

2) Stay out of trouble and concentrate on your studies!
When’s the last time a season went by without a major
off-the-field problem? Who knows how Marlin Jackson’s season
would have developed had he not had his early-season brush with the
law. The Wolverines also have lost what could have been their
starting backfield in Kelly Baraka/Sean Sanderson because of
off-the-field issues.

3) Get out of Michigan and see the world. Right now, 46
of 108 players on the roster are from the state of Michigan. Not
that I don’t love Michiganders, but the state is not a hotbed
of blue-chip football talent.

Out of Michigan’s 25 starters, just five hail from a
location on “the hand.” That means that the majority of
Michigan’s best players are not in-state recruits. There are
Detroit natives such as Braylon Edwards and Ernest Shazors out
there for the taking, but the majority of the nation’s cream
of the crop lies in the South, the Ohio/Pennsylvania region and the
West Coast.

For that reason, it’s not something to be proud of when
half of a recruiting class is of Michigan descent. The coaching
staff should be heading all over the country to recruit the best
players at every position from every region. And don’t tell
me a lack of money or resources is a problem here. If it is, maybe
the team could chill at the Holiday Inn during the next two-week
bowl trip instead of the most chic hotel in Los Angeles, the Regent
Beverly Wilshire (“the hotel from Pretty Woman”).

In three years at Southern Cal., Carroll has fielded a more
talented team than Michigan. Obviously, Carroll’s defensive
scheme was brilliant, but as Michigan offensive tackle Tony Pape
said, the Trojans also beat the Wolverines in one-on-one
situations.

4) Don’t rest on your laurels. The difference
between a bowl game in Pasadena and Central Florida is one or two
key plays — just ask the last three Michigan teams.

So, you had a great season. You beat all your rivals. You were
Big Ten champs.

Enjoy it all, but remember one thing: Just because you’re
close enough to smell the steaks in first class doesn’t erase
the fact you’re still munching on a turkey sandwich in
coach.

J. Brady McCollough can be reached at
“mailto:bradymcc@umich.edu”>bradymcc@umich.edu.

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