How can a pair of two-point losses feel so different?

Said Alsalah/Daily

Last season, the No. 5 Michigan football team opened its season with a devastating two-point loss to Division I-AA Appalachian State.

Last Saturday, the 2008 Michigan football team opened its season with another two-point loss, this time to a very talented Utah squad — a team many are comparing to the undefeated Utes of 2004.

The scoreboard showed the same result, so why did the walk home from the Big House feel so much better this year than it did last year?

To cover the obvious first: Yes, Appalachian State’s win was a shock, perhaps the biggest upset in college football history and completely inexcusable given Michigan’s level of talent.

The loss to Utah was certainly a letdown, but let’s face it — this year the expectations are different.

The transition from the Bo, Mo, Lloyd triumvirate to the Rich Rod family has created a new reality. Frankly, we’re all a bit more realistic.

It used to be, every time a Michigan season rolled around there were doubters, but almost everyone felt the Wolverines had a legitimate shot to run the table.

Those expectations weren’t entirely unwarranted. Michigan has one of the best football programs in the country, no matter how much this year’s team struggles.

But there’s a problem that comes with too much success: The bar keeps getting higher and higher until it is unreachable. Which brings us back to the difference between the Appalachian State and Utah losses.

Last year under Lloyd, with Jake Long, Chad Henne and Mike Hart all in their final year of eligibility, nothing short of a National Championship would have been considered a success — at least not in the minds of most fans.

This year, Rich Rodriguez has brought a sobering dose of realism to a proud fan base. From day one, Rodriguez was honest enough to say he wasn’t sure what this team would be like. Lloyd used to offer the same caveats, but we were trained to brush it aside. Michigan still had to have the perfect season.

Michigan isn’t going to win the national championship this year. Winning the Big Ten title will be a stretch. But chances are pretty good that the bowl appearance streak will continue.

Whatever the result this season, Rodriguez has brought something to Michigan that it has sorely needed for a long time: perspective.

The reality is that the spread offense is new to everyone on the field. Prepare yourself for many more “What just happened?” moments in the weeks ahead.

The reality is, this team doesn’t have a quarterback ideally suited to its offensive scheme.

The reality is, it takes time for a coach to mold a program in his own image.

Like last year, the Wolverines are now 0-1. Their national title hopes are gone, barring some inexplicable events. There are a lot of unanswered questions.

But unlike last year, it’s easy to realize that Michigan is just one game into a 12-game season. It’s easy to realize that this loss was in a non-conference game, meaning a Big Ten title, however unlikely, is still reachable.

Most importantly, it’s easy to realize that in college football perfection is next to impossible.

Even those fans in Columbus know that.

— Sandals is feeling much better with the glass half-full approach. He can be reached at nsandals@umich.edu.

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