While there are some rumblings that Rich Rodriguez could be out as head coach of Michigan if he has another year like last year's 3-9 stinker, there are some that argue that the self-proclaimed "Michigan Man" has next year to continue to mold the program to his liking without penalty.
Obviously beating the Buckeyes could save Rich Rod's job no matter what the end of season record is, but there are multiple things to look at when you are Michigan's athletic director, William Martin, come December 2009-January 2010 and need to make a decision on whether to retain Rodriguez for the future. These include season record of 2009 compared to 2008, development of "system" players, recruiting of quality "system" players, development of the team as the season progresses, and last, but certainly not least, their performance against Ohio State.
Looking at the 2009 season, Rodriguez needs (and I mean NEEDS) to improve upon 2008's 3-9 mark. If he matches the trio of victories or (gulp) does worse in 2009 he will almost certainly be gone. Not only will he be dealing with national media scrutiny, but the Michigan alumni will put Martin's office up in flames if RR fails to win four or more games. I personally think alumni will be unhappy if he can't go 6-6 and make a bowl, but a season of 5-7 could settle the fire as long as Rich Rod's system shows it can work in Ann Arbor.
Speaking of that system that worked so well in Morgantown, Rodriguez will need to show Michigan fans that he is working towards developing his players to run the offensive schemes he has in the playbook as good as Steve Slaton and Pat White did for the Mountaineers. Either Denard Robinson or (most likely) Tate Forcier will be the Wolverines' quarterback come November 21 when the Buckeyes make the trip up north and by that point one of those guys need to show that they can team up with the likes of Michael Shaw and other young backs of the Maize and Blue to run an effective spread attack for the next few years. The defense can be solid under guru Greg Robinson (formerly defensive coordinator of Texas before being canned as head man at Syracuse), but Rodriguez was brought in to run his offense and it needs to show development within the program if he wants to prove to Bill Martin that he can win at the national championship level for Michigan.
As much as it is important for the current players to show development, it is more important to see how the incoming freshmen and current and future members of Michigan's 2010 recruiting class will fit into Rich Rod's plan. If the guys that will be at Michigan the next 3-5 years can't cut it against the Buckeyes, Penn State, and out of conference programs that the Wolverines hope to compete against, then Rodriguez won't last. As much as the alumni will look at these players to judge Rodriguez in the coming year, this is actually an area that you can use as a reason for Rodriguez to stay. While it is very important to show that the 2009 recruiting class can fit in to the plans laid out, the success RR has had with the 2010 class could be a reason for him to get a third year.
The final season record in 2009 will certainly be an important factor to RR's future in the "glove state", the development of the team as the season progresses could be even more important. This Michigan team is still young and isn't expected to come together and win a ton of games early in 2009, but the team should show improvement playing together toward the end of the season. It's this type of thing that is scary come "The Game" for us Buckeye fans, but if last year's outcome coupled with a slight improvement of Michigan's squad is any indication of this year's outcome I think we'll be just fine. Either way Rodriguez has to show that he can develop this team within the season to be able to prove that when he actually does have the talent he needs to compete a national level he can have them peak at the right time.
Finally, the aforementioned game on November 21 in "The Big House". Ohio State will be coming to town with Rose Bowl and possibly National Championship hopes on the line and will be gunning for a (how good it sounds) unprecedented sixth straight victory in the annual rivalry game. Not many people are giving the Wolverines a chance in this game, and while history has shown the underdog loves to play spoiler in the rivalry, the reality is that Michigan is overmatched tremendously once again, at least on paper. Rodriguez doesn't necessarily need to win one over The Vest (although that would be automatic job security) in this year's game, but if Michigan plays a close one on Thanksgiving weekend it will give the alumni, students, and athletic department a glimmer of hope for RR's future in Ann Arbor.
The jury is out as of now on whether Rodriguez will last past year two up north, but all signs are pointing to Rich Rod getting a crack at year three to prove that the plan he brought to Michigan can bring the program back to national prominence. While I love watching the Buckeyes rule the rivalry in the Tressel era, it would be nice to at least see some competitive games a la the 2005 and 2006 classics. Rich Rodriguez has disappointed Maize and Blue Nation so far during his tenure at the helm in Ann Arbor and whether he stays or goes after this year, there is no question that 2009 is a big year for the University of Michigan Football Program.