Old school display at Michigan

Dan Wetzel

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – He has three Heisman trophy hopefuls, eight home games and, perhaps, just one season left in his coaching career, so as Lloyd Carr stood behind a lectern Monday at Michigan football media day, the potential topics were plentiful.

But rather than a bold statement about the future – winning a national title in his 13th and final season? – or pointed explanations for the past – four consecutive bowl losses, three defeats to Ohio State – we got classic Carr.

Consider his traditional invocation.

"We're excited to be competing again for Michigan," he said simply.

Carr, 62, might not be retiring at the end of the season, but he will someday. And when that happens, college football will lose perhaps its oldest school coach, the ultimate throw back to the grumbling days when coaches really, truly said nothing that might motivate an opponent or heighten expectations.

Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden might be older in age, but not in soul. This guy is straight out of the 1950s, only with a decidedly modern assemblage of offensive talent.

Which is why the aw-shucks talk about "just trying to compete" and hopefully getting "great leadership" is, while entertaining in its own way, too much to believe.

Carr knows this season is set up for the Wolverines, he knows that the veteran, high-octane offense, the near-perfect schedule and the hunger that comes from those recent late-season collapses has Michigan No. 5 in the preseason polls and eyeing No. 1 when it's over.

Not that he will admit to even establishing team goals.

"I assume they're going to be awfully big goals," he said.

Yes, the defense is a monster concern. So, too, is the Wolverines' recent habit of late-season losses.

But with the Chad Henne-Mike Hart-Mario Manningham offense, points should come aplenty.

And maybe most importantly, as long as college football uses the BCS to determine its champion, it is as much about whom you play as how you play. One of the many flaws of the system is it tends to reward teams from top-heavy conferences. It's not so much about who is the best team as who has the best chance to avoid an upset.

Southern California, Louisiana State, Florida and Texas are ranked ahead of Michigan in the preseason coaches' poll. And for all anyone knows, each is a vastly superior team to the Wolverines.

But none have the schedule set up like Michigan. Among BCS teams, Texas might be close, but only West Virginia (ranked sixth) could argue they have a better path to an unbeaten season – and a likely berth in the title game in New Orleans.

Michigan gets Oregon, Notre Dame, Penn State and Ohio State in Ann Arbor. Only Penn State could be considered improved from a year ago with the other three expected to step back somewhere between slightly and significantly.

The only dangerous road games come in November, with Wisconsin in Madison looming largest. At this point, Michigan should go off favored in all 12 games. And the Big Ten has no conference title game for that December slip up.

Is Carr excited about this or about any of those big early games?

"One of the keys to a great season is to win the opener," he said. "The opener is a critical game because every team goes in with great enthusiasm."

The opener is against Appalachian State. This is a Carr press conference at its finest.

Later he said he was "concerned" about the other Big Ten teams. This, by definition, would include Indiana, which Michigan hasn't lost to since 1987 and doesn't even play this year.

It was more notable what Carr wouldn't talk about Monday than what he would, namely his future. He didn't end speculation that he might retire, which is generally something that scares recruits and thus really scares coaches.

But Carr has a slew of top verbal commitments – including five top-100 recruits, according to Rivals.com – lined up anyway, so what's the difference? We'll find out eventually.

"What I'd really like to do is focus on this season," he said. "I'm going to try. I want to enjoy this season."

In what might be his last run, he might have his best run since winning a share of the national title in 1997. Lloyd Carr, old school as anyone, as bland a quote as ever, staring at a season with so much potential, so much at stake.

Sometimes things are so obvious that nothing needs to be said.