Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Rodriguez's gambit.

Well Michigan fans, it's time to play the waiting game. The anxiety we felt during the month between Carr's retirement and Rod's press conference may pale in comparison to the time period between now and February 6th.

Feb. 6th is, of course, National Signing Day - the day where grown men and overly-obsessed fans across the country put wayyy too much stock into the number of stars next to the names of high school kids signing on the dotted line for their respective schools.

This year, NSD has a slightly bigger meaning for Michigan fans: The first battle between Rich Rodriguez and Jim Tressel will be settled, as super-recruit Terrelle Pryor will announce where he will attend college. Pryor is a 6'6, 235-pound quarterback out of Jeannette, Pennsylvania who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds (that's pretty f'ing fast). For the longest time, it's been believed that Ohio State was the odds on favorite to land the nation's #1 recruit. In December, West Virginia began to gain ground in the race for Pryor - and then Rich Rodriguez left WVU for Michigan. Before the nation knew he was leaving though, he called Pryor and told him. Immediately after that, Pryor called those in charge of the recruiting sites like Rivals with a simple message: "Add Michigan to my list."

Since then, it's been a Michigan-Ohio State battle. Over the past 3-4 weeks both fanbases have experienced their series of ups and downs; the recruiting process is an insane roller coaster - just ask any Michigan fan about the Ronald Johnson saga from last year.

In a way, Michigan is now trying to do to Ohio State with Pryor what USC did to Michigan last year with RoJo - come on strong at the very end and steal the 5-star recruit from the team that was rumored to be favored for over a year.

Pryor ain't no dummy, either - recruiting is a game, and he's playing it. He showed up at the Army All-American Game last weekend in a Michigan sweatshirt, and played the game with a Buckeye sticker on his helmet.

But in the background of all this was the conflict going on involving players already on Michigan's team. The afterglow of the Capital One Bowl triumph over Florida is still there, but Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington are gone now, headed for the pros. Ryan Mallett is gone too, opting to transfer. I will reserve my thoughts on Mallett for another blog post, but based on Rodriguez's comments...

In Mallett's case, Rodriguez said he is not interested in listening or waiting.

"I don't care," Rodriguez said. "He's not playing for Michigan. I'm concerned with who's playing for Michigan."

...make it seem like there's something behind the scenes that none of us know yet. Rodriguez seems supremely confident that losing Mallett will not hurt Michigan as much as it could.

Of course there are so many questions swirling; lots of "chicken and egg" scenarios. Is Mallett leaving because Pryor is coming? Is he leaving because Manningham and Arrington are leaving? Are Manningham and Arrington leaving because they have no interest in playing with a new QB next year? Did Rodriguez sacrifice Mallett as another recruiting pitch to Pryor?

Regardless, the end result is this: All of Rodriguez's eggs are in Terrelle Pryor's basket now. Losing Mallett to transfer makes landing Pryor Pryor-ity (yeah yeah) #1. The alternative is David Cone or Steven Threet next season. With all the losses on both sides of the ball, anything short of Terrelle Pryor taking snaps in the spread option in the Big House in 2008 is an unimaginable failure, and the worst possible start to Rodriguez's tenure in Ann Arbor.

One has to believe that he knows this. At his introductory press conference, Rodriguez said he was not as well-versed on Michigan football as he would be in the future. It'd be a shame if he realized the magnitude of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry by feeling heat from the fanbase because he lost the prized jewel that is Terrelle Pryor.

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