5 reasons dejected sports fans in Michigan are already looking ahead to football season
With Tigers struggling and drafts over, fans look forward to football
DETROIT – Detroit is one of the few cities in the country with teams in all four major professional sports and two upper-level college sports schools within 100 miles. So why does it feel like the next two months will be without any excitement?
Around the country, baseball fans are getting excited for the MLB All-Star Game, the trade deadline and the looming playoff race. Basketball fans have free agency heating up. NHL free agency is right around the corner.
In the state of Michigan, though, is it already time to look forward to football? Even though it's still more than two months away, that looks to be the case. Here's why:
1. College World Series hangover
Nobody in Michigan expected to get all that invested in college baseball this summer, but when the University of Michigan made an improbable run all the way to the national championship, most of the state was hooked.
The Wolverines took down No. 1 UCLA and a handful of other southern schools to get to the final. Big Ten teams rarely make any noise in the College World Series, so it was nice for fans in the area to experience something unique.
Now that it's over, and Michigan fell short of a championship, the bandwagon has completely emptied and people don't know what to follow next. There should be other teams to latch onto, but the next four points will address that void.
2. Detroit Tigers trending toward last place
The most logical option for fans in late June is to turn to the Tigers, and even though fans still care, it's hard to get invested in a team that has the second fewest wins in MLB, a terrible home record (11-26) and has lost 30 of its last 38 games.
Think about that. Over six weeks, the Tigers have posted a .210 winning percentage, which would translate to a 34-128 record over a full season. It's not that the Tigers are bad -- it's that the Tigers are hardly even competitive.
Right now, the only race that matters to the Tigers is the race for the No. 1 overall pick, and even that seems like a long shot because the Baltimore Orioles are so awful -- 6.5 games behind Detroit.
Even the trade deadline has lost its luster, as starting pitcher Matt Boyd gives up home runs in droves and right fielder Nicholas Castellanos has his worst offensive season in years.
At least every team gets an All-Star, right? Well, Detroit's representative is likely to be Shane Greene, who at best would pitch one inning in the All-Star Game and will likely be wearing a different uniform a couple of weeks later.
Yes, it's a rebuild. This is what a rebuild looks like. It's ugly. But that doesn't mean fans can't complain about it.
At least Jordan Zimmermann is back?
3. Casey Mize injury
It's been awhile since Tigers fans have had a truly elite prospect to get excited about, and that's exactly what they got in No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize.
Mize was dominating in his first professional season, allowing just eight earned runs in 78 innings while striking out 75 batters. He got promoted to Double-A and promptly fired a no-hitter in his first appearance.
MLB has moved him all the way up to No. 2 in the prospect rankings, and he's the No. 1 pitching prospect in the game.
Fans were hanging on Mize's every start with the Erie SeaWolves. It was probably more meaningful than the actual MLB team's results.
Then Mize got injured, and he's been out for two weeks. It's shoulder inflammation, by the way, so even though it's considered minor, it could flare up at any moment, and it will now be in the back of every Tigers fan's mind when they get excited about Mize.
It put a damper on the excitement surrounding the organization's No. 1 prospect and further magnified the major league team's struggles.
4. Steve Yzerman anticipation
The hiring of Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman as general manager re-energized the fan base, and their first real look at his plan came last week during the draft.
The next logical step would be to see what Yzerman can do in free agency, but the Red Wings aren't really expected to make many moves this year.
While the organization is starting to stock up on promising young players, it's still far from ready to compete for a Stanley Cup, and it might take awhile for Yzerman to put his plan fully into place.
If there was a possibility of a big free agent acquisition, Detroit sports fans would have something to look forward to. Unfortunately, the Red Wings are basically just farther along in a rebuild than the Tigers, however, it appears to be going much more smoothly.
5. The Pistons -- just no
As bad as it looks for the Tigers and Red Wings, no Detroit sports team is more wallowed in mediocrity than the Pistons.
After backing into the last playoff spot and getting blasted by about 1,000 points in four games, the team missed out on the NBA draft lottery and still has essentially the same group of players that hasn't done much for years.
The Pistons haven't been truly competitive since 2008. That's 11 straight years of terrible basketball and an 0-12 playoff record. They've whiffed on opportunities to lock up excellent players in drafts, instead going with the likes of Austin Daye, Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson.
It's one of the most exciting free agent pools the league has seen in years, and the Pistons won't even make a peep because they have no money to spend and no illusions of being a true contender.
Maybe the next 11 years will be better. Here's to the 2030 NBA champs!
Can football save Detroit sports?
Two months is a long time for sports fans to go without having any interesting story lines, but at least by the time we arrive, there appears to be some potential.
You can never count on the Lions to come through, as they have one playoff win in the last 62 years. But they have made the playoffs three times in the last eight years, and compared to the other professional teams in the city, that's ... something?
The Lions went all in this offseason, signing perhaps the most coveted player on the market in Trey Flowers, as well as Jesse James, Justin Coleman and Danny Amendola.
They also had the No. 8 overall pick, which they used to draft the best pass catcher in the draft in T.J. Hockenson, and then took four straight defensive players.
Detroit also finished in last place, so the schedule should be a little easier. Hey, they aren't Super Bowl contenders, but would it be that surprising to see them in the playoff race?
College football should definitely be exciting in the state.
Michigan is one of the favorites to compete for the Big Ten title after falling one game short last season and returning nearly the entire offense. Shea Patterson is back at quarterback and Josh Gattis is calling plays, so the boring, stale offense should be in the past.
Don Brown lost a lot of defensive talent, but he always finds a way to field a top-five unit. Oh yeah, and Urban Meyer, one of the best coaches in college football history, is no longer leading Ohio State. So that helps.
Michigan State is coming off a down year, which means Mark Dantonio is guaranteed to win at least 10 games, right? The Spartans have won double-digit games six of the last nine years, and the last time it looked like they were trending downward, they bounced back to go 10-3.
Is MSU a national championship contender? Probably not. Could it compete for a Big Ten title? It doesn't seem likely, which means it will probably happen. Dantonio thrives in these situations, and he's got an elite defense and solid skill players on offense. If Brian Lewerke can be closer to his 2017 self, this will be another tough MSU team.
Between the Lions, Michigan and Michigan State, there's a good chance sports fans will get at least one competitive team. At the very least, there will be legitimate reasons to be excited at the start of each season.
Sure, the rest of the local sports landscape looks barren, but hey, at least we only have to wait two more months.
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