Lloyd Carr was once in the safest position of all Big Ten coaches, but as the 2006 season approaches, his seat is becoming one of the warmest in the conference. Michigan has now played poor defense in three consecutive bowl games, and has committed the unpardonable sin--the Wolverines are just 1-4 against Ohio State since the arrival of Jim Tressel. Yes, it's fair to say that memories of Carr's national championship in 1997 are starting to go dim, as Ann Arbor folks recall defensive collapses against the Buckeyes, and then again in the Alamo Bowl against Nebraska. The head coach needs to re-assert control and have a big year quickly.
He's going to take the field with a team that really doesn't make you go "wow" on either side. The Wolverines have good talent at the skill positions. Chad Henne is back at quarterback and Michael Hart and Kevin Grady will make a nice 1-2 punch at tailback. Steve Breaston and Mario Manningham give Henne competent targets to throw too. But the offensive line must be re-tooled around junior tackle Jake Long. Defensively, the team loses five starters, but returns playmaking defensive end LaMarr Woodley. On balance, this is a Wolverine team that will legitimately contend for the conference title (when do they not?), but the lineup does not conjure up images of Tempe either.
So is 2006 a make-or-break year for Carr? I think that might be overstating it. He was forced to overhaul his staff in the offseason, and the games against Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State are all on the road. It's hard to see a program as stable as Michigan's making this type of year a "win-or-else" campaign. But it will set the tone for how the coach enters 2007, when he gets those games at home. A rough '06--which is defined as any season that does *not* involve winning at Columbus, or clocking in with fewer then nine wins--would surely make Lloyd's the hottest seat in town come this time next year.