I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
For the record:
(Sidenote: The announcement about his pending announcement was premium message board only 31337 stuff this afternoon. Which is, like... what? Eventually people are going to figure it out. It's on TV.)
There is a book:
This book contains some 15,000 words of mine on Michigan's coming season and their zone running game. The remainder of the words are the work of fine people like Dave from Maize 'n' Brew, Russ Levine of Football Outsiders and The New York Sun, Vijay from IBFC, Michael from Braves and Birds, Joel Pennington, author of the The Ten Year War, Brian Stouffer from The House Rock Built Matt Hinton of Sunday Morning Quarterback, Peter Bean from Burnt Orange Nation -- Mallett, natch -- and Johnny from RBUAS. It is a veritable smÃ¶rgÃ¥sbord of bloggy goodness in book form.
I can't reproduce the whole book for you, but here follow three excerpts to tantalize and amaze.
The Zone Stretch
My excursion into explaining our running game. With some sweet diagrams.
The most important thing on the stretch is to get all the "first level" defenders blocked. Normally these are defensive linemen, who can shoot into the backfield and force the running back to waste time before he gets to the line of scrimmage, but a blitzing linebacker makes himself a first level defender. And sometimes defensive linemen aren't considered first level, usually backside defensive ends who are suffered to run free so that the tackle lined up over him can instead block a second level defender. Our first play features a first level defender suffered to run amok.
It's Michigan's opening drive of the Notre Dame game. Michigan already leads 7-0 after Prescott Burgess's interception return touchdown. On first down, the Wolverines run a zone stretch to the left side of the line for four yards. Facing second and six, they line up in a three-wide ace set (for those who haven't wasted significant swaths of their lives playing EA NCAA Football, an ace set features one tailback lined up behind a quarterback under center as opposed to an I-formation, which has a fullback lined up in front of the tailback). They're going to run another zone left. Notre Dame sticks with seven guys in the box. Please see Figure 1 for the presnap alignment.
On a zone stretch the line moves in unison to one side or the other, blocking whoever they find in their area. But a rote adherence to this concept can leave first-level defenders unblocked. On this play, defensive tackle Derek Landri is shaded to the playside, lined up over the gap between the center and the guard. Asking a center to snap the ball and then get his helmet across a player who is already a step ahead of him is asking for a defensive tackle in the backfield. With the defensive end and outside linebacker shaded to the outside themselves, left guard Adam Kraus has no one in his zone. He could help out on Landri, but he doesn't, instead stepping left into his vacant zone and immediately going out to the second level to block the middle linebacker. Figure 2 shows the actions of all participants immediately after the snap.
Bihl's left alone to block Landri; this works about as well as you might expect. Landri shoots into the backfield, right into the path of Hart. Hart being Hart, he dodges the charging lineman, but the play's timing has been disrupted. The unblocked Abiamiri wraps Hart up for no gain. Figure 3 shows the play's result. It's not a good one. Michigan is stopped for no gain.
The frustrating part of this play for an offensive coordinator is that it was blocked wonderfully aside from the slip up on Landri. By the time Hart was being tackled, Trevor Laws, Notre Dame's other tackle, had been driven five yards downfield by the Riley-Mitchell double team. Riley then completed his zone block by peeling off and hit the outside linebacker. Kraus took out the middle linebacker... if he had just managed to get Landri sealed before he did so Hart would have had a major crease, as you can see in Figure 3.
On the ensuing third and medium, Chinedum Ndkuwe intercepts Henne and returns the ball inside the five, giving Notre Dame their one brief moment of hope in the midst of a wholesale beatdown.
One Last Run
I know this is cruel, to give you an RBUAS article and snatch it away mere paragraphs in, but baby needs to eat.
He sat in his chair with a posture his mother would have scolded him for, his shoulders slumped defiantly forward, his hands hidden beneath a table covered with silver and black tape recorders. He looked like he'd got a haircut recently (perhaps, because, like the first day of high school and dates with pretty ladies, games against Ohio State are worth going to the barbershop for), and though he was not there to talk about things I wanted to hear, it was comforting to see that he'd done so, to see that he revered and cherished this merciless game enough to look nice for it.
It was a little while after Michigan had lost to Ohio State by a score my fragile mind has chosen to forget, and Mike Hart was sitting in a room answering questions which only sought to explain why, specifically, it was that Michigan had lost the most colossally significant game of each of its player's lives â€“ to their nemesis, less than 48 hours after their monarch's heart had stopped beating.
Defeated men in this position choose to walk down one of two dusty paths. On one path he will sit motionless, his face still; so miserable that each question collapses to the ground like a paper airplane sailed into a stone obelisk. He is a man of a conquered will; competitive and visibly exhausted, and talking to a room of men he thinks have never played the game he bleeds for, never fought the men he just fought. It's useless, he thinks â€“ they don't understand. His responses are brief and he wants to go home and close his eyes. I think this is the man I saw when I would watch Lamarr Woodley talk after Michigan lost.
The other man will offer platitud
es lauding the other team and how "they were just a little bit better," than he was. He's detached from the game outside of the moments he's playing it and those he's preparing for it. He's far too content with his fate, and the fact that those who have defeated him know he thinks they are superior. To him, a battle is not necessarily lost, because the entire sport is in a struggle together.
But Mike Hart is not like either of those men. He will never give up on himself, and he will never submit to anyone else. It's doesn't matter to him that people know by now he's one of the best college football players in the whole damn country. Or that when his legs churn against the ground as hard as they do on every third and two you almost wonder if the Earth's rotation has slowed a bit. Mike's only known of a world in which he has everything left to prove; he's never known of anything he didn't have to claw for until his fingernails wore down to the cuticle. So you must understand that if someone had told me about a player in the press room who wanted a rematch and couldn't stop talking about how good Michigan was and how good Ohio State wasn't, I would have hesitated only to wipe the grin off my face. Because that man will always be Mike Hart, our Mike Hart.
Those Who Stayed Were Champions
Joel Pennington draws from his extensive interview sessions with Bo undertaken for The Ten Year War to review Bo's legacy.
Bo was born and raised in Barberton, Ohio. And although baseball was his favorite sport as a kid, his talents were better suited to football. "I always pictured myself being a major league pitcher," Bo said. "But reality took care of that. I was much better at football than baseball and wanted to be a tailback, but reality took care of that too. I asked my high school coach where he needed help the most and he said offensive guard. So that's where I played. I found out that I really enjoyed the intricacies and nuances of offensive line play and I worked my butt off trying to perfect my technique. Physically, I was only average at best. But my technique was good enough to get me a scholarship to Miami of Ohio to play for Sid Gillman."
Following his sophomore year at Miami, Bo's life was forever changed when Gillman left for Cincinnati and a man named Woody Hayes became his new coach. "It's hard to describe what an adjustment that was," Bo recalled. "Woody and Gillman were totally different. Woody was a brutal task master. But something just clicked between us and I ended up spending almost as much time with him as his coaches. He'd call me to play racquetball at all hours of the day or night or we'd spend hours looking at film. He was consumed by football, and I think he recognized the same trait in me."
After Bo graduated from Miami, Woody Hayes took over the Ohio State program and Bo followed him as a graduate assistant for one season before doing his time in the army. His army term was followed by stints at Presbyterian College, Bowling Green, and Northwestern under legendary coach Ara Parseghian. Finally, in 1958, Woody had a spot open on his staff and brought Bo back to Columbus.
"I learned so much as Woody's assistant." Bo explained. "I was like a sponge. I tried to absorb everything I could about how to organize and run a major program. Working with Woody certainly wasn't always easy, but it was an amazing learning experience. Those five years at Ohio State really cemented my relationship with Woody. In 1963, Miami was looking for a new coach and I told Woody I was going after it. He told me I couldn't leave because he would only coach for a few more seasons and then I would take over at Ohio State. Well, I really wanted the Ohio State job, but I knew Woody wasn't going anywhere soon. And I also knew that Woody wouldn't be able to just name his successor. So I went to talk to Dick Larkins, the Ohio State athletic director, and told him that Miami had offered me the job. He just said, 'You'd better win.' He knew that I wanted the Ohio State job and that this might be an opportunity to prove myself. But things didn't quite work out that way."
In addition to the above articles, the book contains:
- An extensive preview of the team, position-by-position, player by player, by moi.
- SMQB breaks down each of our opponents except ND and OSU, because...
- said opponents are covered in their own full fledged articles by Tom Orr and Brian Stouffer.
- Peter Bean's article on Mallett complete with comparisons to Paul Bunyan by local talent evaluators.
- Ten recruits you should know.
- Dave from Maize 'n' Brew's recap of the Henne era to date.
- Two ridiculously researched articles from Vijay and Michael; Vijay compares DeBord to Malone and finds evidence for the infamous "scoring offense" while Michael takes a look at the correlation between Michigan's experience and its on-field success.
- Christopher P. Anderson on Jim Harbaugh's rapid rise to the Stanford HC position, complete with speculation about whether he'll be the new HC here. Yes, written before his multiple outbursts. Still a great article.
- Russ Levine on Lloyd Carr.
- Joel has a second article, this one on the 1973 voting controversy that jacked Michigan out of the Rose Bowl.
- Lots of pretty pictures. Seriously, it's a gorgeous book.
You are probably asking yourself "just six easy payments of 19.95"? And, like, no way, man. That is way too much for a book. You have no idea how much books are supposed to cost. It is way less than that. You can find it at Maple Street's online store or (probably) anywhere fine football publications are sold. Sometimes people ask how they can help out this blogging endeavor; this would be a good way.
Game of the Century of the Year. We had a #1-#2 matchup last year that didn't work out so well. If voters see fit to place Michigan #2 to start the year, we'll have another: Appalachian State is #1 in I-AA. Slightly higher probability we come out on the right end of this one.
Meme of irritation. As mentioned over the weekend, the Michigan-ND series is taking a break in 2012. The exact quote that contains all knowledge about this AFAIK:
White said the Fighting Irish will take a short break from their Big 10 rivals in the future, replacing Michigan with Oklahoma for a two-year period, then facing Arizona State instead of Michigan State for two years.
It's explicitly two years and with a direct replacement. But this Irish fan in the comments says:
To back up ChrisND, supposedly UM wanted ND to play in the Big House two years in a row to shift to having ND at home and OSU away/ND away and OSU at home each year. The same thing could have been accomplished by playing two years in a row at ND, but that was not discussed. One thing as well, as this would have the same effect on ND with the UM and USC games (similar to UM's case). I enjoy playing UM, despite the recent blowouts in recent history, the series is relatively balanced over recent history. (NOTE: THIS IS NOT A CALL FOR SEVERAL FOLLOW UP POSTS RECALLING HISTORY FROM THE 1800s).
Chris Wilson also has this version of the story:
And here's MGo's rather comprehensive PSU preview, although there's little mention of the Wolverines basically forcing the Irish to drop them by asking for two straight games in the Big House.
The more insecure portions of the Irish blogosphere are repeating this ad nauseam as further proof that Michigan is the root of all galactic evil. I call BS. If ND was willing to accommodate Michigan's request to split the ND/OSU home-road rotation, the simplest solution is to take a single year off and then resume the series as before. Demanding two consecutive home games makes no the sense.
Where is this coming from? Does anyone have a link to someone reporting this or is it just a face-saving fantasy based on that old Bill Martin interview in which he said "we want to keep playing Notre Dame" and Notre Dame fans immediately assumed that meant we were going to back out of the series as fast as possible? The meme is spreading rapidly through the ND internet population and is poised to be an annoying urban -- er, rural Indiana legend as the series break nears.
Also, you can file this under "easily predictable": Kyle King flips out and renews his push for a Georgia-Michigan series. I would be up for that. Also, if Alabama's looking for a high profile opponent at around the same time...
Red quotes. I don't remember where I got these; apologies to whoever I stole them from. Probably WCH. Anyway, a couple weeks ago CSTV had some NHL draft-related articles that quoted Red. Red on goalies:
"You rarely find a 19- or 20-year old goalie playing in the NHL, whereas you will find the odd 18- or 19-year old forward," said Michigan head coach Red Berenson, who's seen Wolverine goaltenders Steve Shields and Marty Turco make it to the NHL since he took the reins at his alma mater in 1984. "The forwards, you can get away with their mistakes, and play them when they're younger. Defensemen, their mistakes are more important, and it takes them longer, and goalies' mistakes are critical. Look around the history of the NHL and find me a rookie goalie who's 18 or 19 years old who's on a winning team."
He maintains his longstanding opposition to early-entry:
Berenson's thoughts on that sort of development plan for a goalie don't differ much from his long-held views on skaters signing early when they aren't NHL-ready.
"Are you ready, as a college player, to give up your senior year to play in the American League?" Berenson asked. "If you are, then you're thinking differently than I am. If I were a goalie, I'd go to college, and I'd stay for four years, and I would get as ready as I can for pro hockey, but even then, I would expect I might have to play a year or two in the minors."
Elliot Olshansky also has this incendiary quote on his, um, slog(?):
"The NHL [teams] are becoming the biggest enemies of college hockey," Berenson said. "They're afraid of losing players that they draft, so they're signing them early whether they're ready or not. They're saying that they're going to take over the development - which the NHL hasn't necessarily been good at - but they're going to take over the development of these young players."
Rules and such. Also from a couple weeks ago was a whole bevy of potential rules changes coming down the pike for college hockey. Yost Built has summaries and opinion. In brief:
- A two-ref, one-linesman system starting in '08. Wha? Weird. Unless they're planning on slapping orange bands on several linesmen I don't know that college hockey has enough referees. I mean... there are referees out there but they're the sort of referees who would get fired from the never-ever league. See: Scott Hoberg.
- The elimination of ties starting in '08. Overtime would get modified to make scoring more likely in the extra session, possibly extended to ten minutes, and then a shootout would follow. I'm indifferent to this.
- They're thinking about changing the handpass rule but don't know how yet.
- The addition of an "embellishing" penalty that's supposed to be called concurrently with an opponent penalty; a dive should now only be called on its own. Won't have much effect on the game but will prevent my head from imploding when the dive-obstruction duo is called.
Yost Built, as mentioned, has more.
(Side note: Yost Built also offhandedly mentions that the NHL is implementing a new rule: all faceoffs come from one of the nine faceoff dots. This is an excellent change that gets rid of those silly faceoffs just inside the offensive zone that when "won" instantly put everyone offsides and force a dump-in. It also provides one fewer thing for the referees to track. College should follow suit.)
More Adidas. Since the shoe company is probably going to get a lot more mention amongst Michigan fans please note that it's not "adidas" even if the company refers to itself as that. It is a proper noun and should be presented as such. END angry grammar man section.
So, here's Nike with an offer they say would be the highest contract they have in college sports, and I'm still concerned, because these are long-term deals. How ever I set this up is going to impact this place for a long, long time. The long and short of it is, we were very fortunate with our timing. Adidas was hungry to have a major college bra
nd and they laser focused on us. If you look at their strategy, they take one or two schools in every conference, and that's it, whereas Nike tries to saturate the country with all schools. (Adidas) has Tennessee, Notre Dame, UCLA and Wisconsin. Everybody has said Notre Dame has the richest Adidas contract, but you can't get it, because it's a private institution. I know this contract exceeds it.
I'll name some of the unique features in this contract. There is a $6.5 million signing bonus. There is never a signing bonus. We're going to get it in two weeks. What am I going to use it for? I have to finish up this facility stuff and get Crisler going. If I had any spare bucks, it'd go into endowing scholarships. It's pretty simple.
We've got an annual (Consumer Price Index) escalator. Annual.
We got a most favored program clause. There's never going to be an Adidas school that gets a nickel more than us, either in product or money.
But wait, there's more:
The other thing we received is that ... you know, markets go in cycles. Eight years from now, who knows what the situation is going to be economically. The market may be way below where it is now. I've seen that happen in my business career. Well, guess what? We have the option to extend. It's no lose. If the market's gone up, we negotiate a new deal. If the market's gone down, we say we like this deal and we'll keep it another five years.
A sweet deal all around for Michigan. Whenever you sign a contract and one of your main rivals' message boards has a week-long conniption fit over it, you have done well.
There's some stuff about Crisler in there and then a discussion of this month's looming issue:
Q: You talked about Big Ten revenue. Are you concerned about the rough waters the Big Ten Network finds itself in? (The new network is struggling to get picked up by major cable operators in the Midwest)
Martin: We anticipated this. Jim Delany counseled us on this a year ago. Fox counseled us on this. Do I think it will get resolved? Sure I do. One way or another, we'll get it resolved. I feel very good about it. Long term, it's going to be tremendous, and I'm not thinking in terms of the money, I thinking about exposure.
We want it on basic (cable). We don't want it on a premium sports tier. The Golf Channel, Versus, they're on basic. What we're going to provide is much more exciting to our state and region.
Q: Are you prepared for a flood of angry e-mails if some football games aren't on the local cable outlet this fall because a deal hasn't been reached?
Martin: Join the list (laughs). I don't fret about that stuff. We'll be fine. This is exciting, what's happening in the Big Ten with that channel.
Q: Are you concerned it's become a public fight?
Martin: I don't like seeing it. I don't.
Negotiations with Dish Network do not appear to be going well. Their parent company has petitioned the FCC to get the BTN declared a "Regional Sports Network." Apparently there is some sort of arbitration process that RSNs go through with satellite providers or something. Argument:
EchoStar claimed that after three months of negotiations, it has been unable to strike a carriage deal with Big Ten Network "due to its insistence on unreasonable terms, including rates that are far above market, and its demand for nationwide carriage on EchoStar's basic tier."
The No. 2 direct-broadcast satellite provider claimed that Big Ten Network is trying to position itself as a national network, not an RSN, so that it can "evade the RSN classification so that it will not be subject to the arbitration provisions" of the News Corp.-Hughes order, which only applies to RSNs.
"Although the Big Ten Network has held itself out as a national network, its programming, pricing structure and other aspects of its business model are consistent with an RSN, not with a national network," EchoStar said in its filing.
"In particular, the pricing and packaging structure proposed by the Big Ten Network is comparable to that of a traditional RSN and bears little relation to the greatly reduced pricing structure of existing national college-sports-based networks, e.g. CSTV and ESPNU," the filing said.
The BTN counters by saying that it only wants the widely-cited $1.10 figure for subscribers in the BTN footprint and is asking less than a tenth of that for everyone else. Do we have an expert in the peanut gallery who can provide more detail on this? I'm not sure what all the implications are here.
The Hoosier Report also points out this Q&A with a Time-Warner exec from the same cable/satellite industry publication:
MCN: At this point, as you're looking at both of those networks, do you see them as being sports-tiered networks in terms of their value? You mentioned that you're not getting complaints with the NFL Network, but the Big Ten's a little different. You have systems that represent markets where Big Ten schools are and there might be a great desire among those subscribers [to be able to watch] that network.
BW: Well, I think that, again, it's a real assessment as to what we think the value is that the content brings to our consumers. There's no question that there are fans of the NFL, hockey, the Big Ten, tennis â€” there are fans of every sport you can find.
I think striking the right balance is the question. Of course, we're in the business of providing video content, so the most compelling offering is going to be able to offer our consumers everything they could possibly want. If bandwidth were unlimited, we would do that at the right price, and let the right people pay for it that want to pay for it.
So I think that â€” particularly for sports programming where they're looking for high payoff â€” we have to be responsible about figuring out who's going to pay for that. And I don't think that that burden should be borne by the breadth of customers.
Particularly, the Big Ten is an interesting one only because they've kind of cast themselves in a hybrid of a regional sports network and a national service. But you'd probably be hard-pressed to find a regional sports network with an eight-state core market. But we're still evaluating, and we have an open door with respect to every programmer who wants to do business we us, so we're talking to them and evaluating, and trying to determine where our customer sets are.
More BTN later today.
Etc.: Maize 'n' Brew previews the hell out of Oregon.
Sorry I'm late. I'm feeling under the weather.
Update 7/23: Linked to articles on NJ LB JB Fitzgerald, OH TE Kevin Koger, TX WR Darryl Stonum, PA LB Shayne Hale, IL OL Kurt Wermers, PA HB Christian Wilson. Removed OH LB Brandon Beachum (no offer; dropped us), AZ RB Covaughn Deboskie (dropped us). Moved OH TE Kevin Koger to committed.
There's also this article from a WVA paper about the Hale/Saddler package deal that is sort of horribly written.
Editorial Opinion: Not much going on this week other than the Koger commit. We were apparently looking at Beachum as a running back. He camped and was not offered. Michigan is moving in another direction. Deboskie listed us high for a while but has a final six we are not amongst. Possible McGuffie fallout?
This isn't on the board yet but is worth mentioning: the rumored Florida lead for Will Hill appears legit. There are a bunch of stories out there all saying Hill is close to committing to Florida. I haven't taken him off but he's a real, real longshot now.
JB Fitzgerald has a solid top five of Michigan, Florida, Rutgers, Iowa, and Georgia Tech. Michigan is still in a strong position:
"There's not too much not to like about Michigan," he said. "I love their tradition and I have a great relationship with their linebacker coach Steve Szabo. He's been recruiting me since January and I've gotten to know him really well.
"I also like their academics," Fitzgerald said. "They are some of the best in the country."
I think we lead.
Christian Wilson says Michigan, Clemson, and Rutgers lead. We are also in a good position here:
One of the many schools that Wilson visited this summer was Michigan and he was very impressed by the Wolverines. "I like their academics and their football program is always real good," Wilson said. "They are only like four hours away and I like the area a lot. There's a lot to do and it's a fun environment. Everybody really supports the team."
Also think we lead for him.
Shayne Hale on the much-discussed package deal with Cameron Saddler:
"It would definitely be fun, just to have someone that you grew up with and played in high school with," said Hale. "But I have still have to look at what will be good for me."
Hale, though, didn't rule out choosing the same school as Saddler.
"If a school that he and I have offers from is a good school for both of us, we'll probably both go there."
Saddler, on the other hand, says the two are going to the same school no matter what in every interview. Hale's keeping his options open but reconfiguring his final list to be M, WVU, UVA, and OSU implies that he's at least giving the idea some serious consideration. He was rumored to be an Ohio State lean early, FWIW.
Darryl Stonum is going to be an early enrollee. The Houston Chronicle has a meaty article with quotes from both Stonum and his dad:
"The people at Michigan suggested I try to get up there early, and it's going to give me an advantage on the other (2008) recruits, and even on some of the recruits from the class of 2007. They want me to get up there and work on things like returning punts and becoming a better receiver, and hopefully, I'll be able to work my way up the depth chart and be returning punts on Saturdays as a freshman."
Sam McGuffie doesn't have a set announcement date yet. This is bad since everyone says if he was going to commit today it would be 100% Michigan, but everyone remains confident anyway.
Garrett Goebel visited Michigan this Friday with both parents and expects to decide within the next two weeks. Like Koger, this is a Michigan-Ohio State battle. It appears very close. If you forced me to guess where he's going I'd say OSU but that's guesswork.
From, weirdly, somewhere in Alabama:
White said the Fighting Irish will take a short break from their Big 10 rivals in the future, replacing Michigan with Oklahoma for a two-year period, then facing Arizona State instead of Michigan State for two years.
Via Mark Snyder. From the tone of Press-Register article it sounds like this is more Notre Dame's choice than Michigan's. The Irish have signed a deal with the Big East that requires them to play three BE teams a year, which sort of crams things up when you're also playing Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, Navy, and USC every year and are trying to get seven home games a year, which requires the importation of service academies and the like. Michigan is likely to sign up a big name in Notre Dame's stead -- at least they'd better -- but this makes it highly unlikely we accidentally schedule ourselves into two interesting games in either of those years given the current climate of college football. Which sucks.
No matter Penn State's final record, every edition of the Nittany Lions as the Paterno era trundles to its end in the near (or possibly distant and zombie-run) future seems to be the same team: tough defensively, tough in the run game, inept with the ball in the air. The varying levels of toughness and ineptness produce either Big Ten championships and BCS bowl victories or, like, losses to Toledo. Last year "very," "moderately," and "immensely," respectively, combined to go 8-4 without impressing anyone or beating any team with a winning record save the fraudiest of delicious frauds, Purdue, until an unexpected victory over Tennessee in the Outback Bowl validated the Nittany Lions as a team that was not complete crap.
This seems like faint praise, but after Penn State's last fairly respectable season -- a 9-4 2002 squad that lost in OT twice and by narrow margins two other times -- Penn State did morph into complete crap, and how. Over the next two years Penn State scratched out a 7-16 record as their fanbase studied Oedipus Rex for brooch-wielding tips. So, yeah, they'll take it.
Now Penn State fans look at a couple returning all-everything guys on defense, a senior quarterback, and a wide array of the sort of unproven talent SMQB has aptly dubbed "alleged" and dream big. The natural tendency, at least around these parts that haven't experienced a loss to Penn State since the father-son combo in the White House had the last name Adams*, is to gently pat the excited on their adorable heads and fight back giggles.
But... um... while no one in their right mind is truly excited about Anthony Morelli, you are invited to consider this question privately: who, exactly, is the second-best quarterback in the Big Ten?
No, it isn't possible. Is it?
*(may be a slight exagerration. possibly.)
Not good. The departure of once and future "slash" Michael Robinson to the fertile grounds of the CFL or Arena football or wherever stripped the Nittany Lions of their best passer and (debatably) best running back simultaneously. While Tony Hunt's yeoman work in his final season was remarkably effective given the constraints he was working with, when paired with a pure pocket passer it was not enough to maintain the running game that propelled Penn State to the BCS in 2005. Penn State skidded from 14th to 43rd in rush yards per game. That would have been all right if Morelli had perked up the passing game, but he did not. Though yardage increased, efficiency plummeted along with total yardage, scoring, and sacks allowed.
Rating: 3. Anyone who's been reading these previews the last couple years can tell you what's coming next.
1. Rip on current PSU quarterback.
All the mockery extended here and elsewhere about Anthony Morelli's lack of mental faculty proved more than founded. The indelible memory from the first year of the Morelli era was the back-to-back pick-sixes he threw against Ohio State that turned a tight 14-6 game into a three-score blowout faster than Morelli can spell "dubble cuvrage." They were hideous, appalling, memorable, kind of hilarious -- everything you want as an on-the-record skeptic of a particular player. The rest of the year was not much better. Morelli completed 54% of his passes, averaged only 6.3 yards per attempt, and had a dire 11-8 TD-INT ratio. Five stars my ass. Though the problems in the passing game weren't entirely on his shoulders, 92nd in efficiency is 92nd in efficiency.
In The JayPa Era
2. Rip on Jay Paterno.
If Morelli was the only fly in Penn State's passing ointment, you could see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. But it wasn't Morelli that called the option play against Notre Dame that turned into a spectacular fumble and Irish touchdown. It wasn't Morelli's decision to blow his redshirt year for 13 garbage time attempts. It isn't Morelli responsible for the table at right. These things are the doing of the Penn State offensive brain trust, which has clearly been powering the unholy zombie body of Joe Paterno for the past half-decade instead of coming up with clever plays and stuff.
The rule here until proven otherwise is this: assume the Penn State quarterback is going to suck. Call this the JayPa Theory. Even in PSU's improbable '05 Orange Bowl season, Michael Robinson was a fairly crappy quarterback, completing 52% of his passes and finishing 57th in efficiency. Fortunately for PSU, Robinson doubled as a decent running back and the Nittany Lions were able to overcome their passing game issues with a top 15 run game. Last year they fell back to the pack and results dipped accordingly.
Except... dammit. I have a hard time picking against one of the few senior quarterbacks in the league this year. The one thing indicative of probable Michigan dominance more than any other is this list of experienced senior quarterbacks other than Chad Henne:
- Anthony Morelli
- Curtis Painter
That's it. And I think even less of Painter than I do Morelli, largely because Morelli was kind of competent against Tennessee -- though not very, let's not get ahead of ourselves, Penn State scored 13 points on offense that day -- and Painter was miserable in Purdue's bowl game against Maryland. Painter also had the luxury of a deep, varied receiving corps, the pass-happy Tiller offense, and a veteran offensive line. Morelli had none of these things.
So... what do you do? I think it's likely that one or two of the young guns pass him by year's end, but as of right this second he's probably the second best quarterback in the Big Ten. He will probably be above-average when all is said and done. If you have not seen London or France or the queen's undies, watch Penn State this year and you may well see something every bit as stupefying as you'd see in any of those other places: Anthony Morelli, All Big Ten. (Second team, of course.)
Tailback & Fullback
Rating: 3(?). The vastly underrated (by everyone, including me) Tony Hunt is gone and with him goes thumping fullback BranDon Snow. Into Hunt's shoes steps erstwhile blue chip recruit Austin Scott, a fifth year senior who took an unusual voluntary senior-year redshirt for the shot to be the Nittany Lion starter free and clear in 2007. The job is now his, virtually by default.
Scott's career has been one disappointment after another but does have one shining moment. It came when Hunt was knocked out of the Orange Bowl... well, let's let Penn State's hilariously overwrought official page do the talking:
Like an understudy in a Shakespeare play, Austin Scott learned his lines and knew them well. The curtain went up on the highly-anticipated 2006 FedEx Orange Bowl but, the play's lead at running back, Tony Hunt, went down in the first series with an ankle injury. Like any good understudy, Scott was ready in the blink of an eye to take his place on center stage and make sure the show did not skip a beat. He did not disappoint, as the only thing skipping beats were the hearts of Nittany Nation watching the thriller. Scott ignited the offense, carrying five times for 57 yards on Penn State's second drive and skipped [sic] untouched off left tackle two yards for the first score of the game. He demonstrated his multiple skills by rushing for a game-high 110 yards on 26 carries and scoring twice in the pulsating 26-23 triple-overtime win over Florida State.
I... wow. "Pulsating." Note to self: refer to coming Appalachian State win as "pulsating."
Anyway, yes, Florida State had a intimidating defense that year and Scott did have a nice game against them. He also has high school accolades few others do. But he's spent most of his Penn State career disappointing coaches and fans with substandard play and lackadaisical practice. A tendency to dance his way to pretty one-yard gains has not endeared him to Penn State's old-school coaches.
In short, he has talent that he's on the verge of squandering. At this point he could either be David Underwood or Chris Perry. If he's like Perry and motivation is the real issue, he could be a revelation as he enters a contract year of sorts. If he's like Underwood and the issue is an inability to play football, nothing will help. I lean towards the former given the Orange Bowl, but not much. Scott is one of the biggest wildcards in the league; much hinges on his performance.
It's thin, thin, thin behind Scott. Redshirt freshman Evan Royster is the top backup. A three star recruit out of Virginia, Royster had 45 yards on nine carries in the PSU spring game. Penn State fans seem inordinately enthused about this. This concludes all available information on him. Senior Rodney Kinlaw has spent three years tantalizing Penn State fans with his speed on kickoff returns (though AJ Wallace largely took over those duties last year) and doing nothing much in a structured offense; he might be the third down back. There are few options if Scott comes up craps.
Wide Receiver & Tight Ends
Rating: 3. This group was an enormous disappointment last year largely because the waxing star of former national #1 recruit Derrick Williams went back on the wane. The sophomore caught 40 balls last year, which is fine. Official Big Ten receiving Jesus Mario Manningham only hauled in 38. The issue is the yards per catch: Williams managed just 440 yards on his catches, a pedestrian 11 per. By way of comparison, noted non-deep threat Steve Breaston beat that by a good half yard on his 58 catches. If you remove his anomalous 62-yard touchdown against Indiana, he still ends up at 10.7 per. A less frequently deployed Steve Breaston is not what Penn State fans had in mind coming into the year; one touchdown does not a luminous star make.
Running mates Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood had similar seasons, both catching 40-some balls for several hundred yards and finding the endzone rarely (twice each). If there is a deep threat on the Penn State roster it's Butler, who managed 13.2 yards per reception. But there isn't, so ignore that last sentence except for the YPC data.
One problem the Penn State wide receivers have is they're all basically the same. All three are at least smallish, with Norwood and Butler checking in at plain old "small" -- the duo is listed at 5'10", which means they crack 5'9" on a good day. Williams is asserted to be six foot even, which is not quite smurfy but isn't exactly not. None of these guys are going to be Calvin Johnson or Braylon Edwards type threats on jump balls. For any of them to get open deep they would have to be Breaston-esque guys who can kill you with YAC and use a quick change of direction to get open deep. (Despite all Breaston's problems with actually catching the deep ball, holy Lord could the guy get open.) Unfortunately for Penn State, no one has shown that sort of ability. Compound that with Morelli's inaccuracy, Penn State's protection issues and the result is five touchdowns from your receivers. There is no quick strike in this unit.
Nor is there the sort of player who can fight through a jam and catch a slant on third and seven, at least not yet. This is where sophomore Chris Bell enters the picture. Bell had a downright Michigan freshman year, spending a year of eligibility to acquire five catches for 66 yards as he polished his blocking and route running. A highly touted recruit who chose Penn State over Michigan and a host of other suitors, Bell has the size (6'3", 210 pounds) to fill that Avant role. He's a good bet to move past one of the mighty mites.
Ha! I kill me.
Another third down target will be sophomore tight end Andrew Quarless, who picked Penn State over Michigan and others in 2006. He was a bright spot as a true freshman, catching 22 balls for 288 yards (a better per catch average than Williams!) and establishing himself as an up-and-comer.
This unit should be better than it was a year ago with everyone of note returning, but the two leading receivers from last year seem fundamentally limited players unlikely to discover a hidden cache of talent and Williams' stock is in a tailspin after his uninspiring first couple years. Quarless should be a major target and Bell is a good bet to emerge into an Avant-type possession receiver; a lack of big plays will still hamper Penn State.
Rating: 2. As a Michigan fan, my perception of this unit is hopelessly biased by the sieve job it put up against Woodley, Branch, et al., in PSU's 17-10 October loss. This is de rigeur:
img src="http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/1074/130/1600/269998421_fb32303bd7.jpg" />
Any game in which two quarterbacks were sent to the sideline with concussions does not reflect well on your blocking prowess. And that was with future top ten pick Levi Brown at left tackle, albeit with a scoped knee that wasn't quite right. With Brown off to the NFL, I probably can't find any way to predict this unit to do anything other than suck in heinous fashion. But let's try anyway.
Points in favor of the PSU OL: they return four of five starters (sort of... Gerald Cagoden started half the season before losing his job at LG and RT John Shaw has been moved inside to RG to battle with fellow returner Rich Ohrnberger) from a line that paved the way for a strong season from departed tailback Tony Hunt and his grinding ways. Hunt was a power runner of the sort that needs the designated hole to be in its expected location to leverage his strengths; his success necessarily reflects well upon the line that cleared the way for him. Center AQ Shipley was a fine starter all of last year and will probably be on the MGoBlog preseason All Big Ten first team, for what little that matters.
But, um... no. Earlier this summer Black Shoe Diaries took a crack at projecting the starting lineup this fall. It includes two returning starters not switching positions, two total unknowns who were ignored by the gurus (though it should be noted that offensive line is a notoriously tough position to rate kids), and a left tackle who a was not only a guard last year but one who "wasn't very impressive," losing his job halfway through the season. Holy heebie-jeebies, Batman. Outside of Shipley, there isn't a spot on the line that is settled. Steele says this is a "much more experienced" unit than last year's edition... I am not so sure.
Predictably badass. Virtually nothing changed from the Orange Bowl 2005 season, as you can see at right. The similarities go beyond the coincidental and into the eerie, with only one question remaining: WTF was up with getting smithereened by Notre Dame? Penn State finished sixth in sacks with 40 thanks in large part to heavy and effective linebacker blitzing but chose to play virtually the entirety of its September game against the Irish in standard seven- and occasionally eight-man zones. Brady Quinn, free of the pressure that made him whimper and implode against Michigan, USC, and LSU, had a field day against the passivity. This is yet more fuel for the idea that Penn State is no longer a particularly well-coached team, at least not at the top. Mark Bradley evidently has some chops.
But, but, but... the rest of the year! If you discount the two touchdowns gifted to Ohio State by Anthony Morelli, the only other team to crack 20 against Penn State was (weirdly) Minnesota, and their total of 27 was assisted by an overtime touchdown.
One thing that does not show up in the stats: Penn State's #7 ranked rush defense may have been significantly overrated. Granted, in several games they were dominant but they were also aided by some ridiculously pass-happy opposition. Brian Hoyer threw 61 times in the Michigan State game. Erik Angie had 37 attempts for Tennessee despite Arian Foster and Lamarcus Coker going for 101 yards on just 17 carries. Take a look at the better run games on the Penn State schedule last year:
|Good job but against the #72 rush offense; Travis Thomas had 44 yards on 3 carries. Probably depressed by a lot of obvious garbage time runs.|
|Owned. Wells 5 for 11.|
|Close to a push. Started out strong then faded down the stretch as their offense hung them out to dry. Live and on tape an impressive job thwarted by Hart's ineffable awesome.|
|!!! 79 yarder distorts, sure, but 13 carries for 80 yards still ain't good. Did control Williams, who had 19(!) rushes for 4 yards, though sacks were probably much of the losses.|
|Hill had a long of 16. Steady grinding PSU could not stop.|
|Fat man love to throw.|
A steady diet of sacks and some amazingly low RB utilization by opponents (14 RB carries for Purdue, 17 for UT, 6(!) for crazy-ass John L. Smith, 11 for NW) obscured a run defense that was pretty average when pressed.
Rating: 3. Gone is the, um, pulsating heart of the Penn State defense. Paul Posluszny is taking his ill-gotten trophies to the NFL, but that's another section; here we talk about the absence of Ed Johnson and Jay Alford, two of the best defensive linemen in the conference last year. Fortunately, the figuratively and literally enormous holes left by their departure will be filled with a host of guru-approved recruits.
Despite the presence of the heralded, It's the relatively un- Abe Koroma who is atop the depth chart at defensive tackle. His running mate is likely to be enormous Phillip Taylor, a run-stuffing space eater who hovered around 350 pounds as a high schooler (named "most likely to eat your baby," FWIW). The top backup appears to be sophomore Jared Odrick, a top 100 recruit in 2005 spent his freshman year as an oversized defensive end a la Ohio State's David Patterson, picking up four tackles and a sack in limited time. He's moved inside to his more natural position and will get a lot of time in the defensive tackle rotation, particularly on passing downs.
I am a little confused by the projected depth chart since Odrick has both guru approval and, seemingly, coach approval on his side over the Koroma, who redshirted as Odrick played. It wouldn't be surprising to see Odrick force his way into the starting lineup.
Last year the Nittany Lions struggled to generate anything from their defensive ends until they moved linebacker Tim Shaw to a weird but effective standup DE position; Shaw would pick up seven sacks by year's end. Now he's gone, leaving Josh Gaines, Maurice Evans, and the 3.5 sacks between them.
Traditional MGoBlog heuristics lead one to be skeptical of a major leap forward for Gaines. He was a meh recruit in 2004 who contributed little in his first year starting despite playing next to a couple of defensive tackles who demand more attention in the passing game than most and in front of an aggressive, blitzin
g linebacking corps. The picture painted is one of a lot of effective single blocking of Gaines by right tackles. He was a redshirt sophomore a year ago -- less upside than a guy in his first or second year in the program -- and started largely because the situation at defensive end was so dire it required the Shaw move. If Penn State can get a mediocre season out of him, it would be a small victory.
The player starting opposite Gaines is still unknown. Depending on who you ask it's either true sophomore Maurice Evans or a player whose name might be a slight annoyance to Michigan fans who follow recruiting: Chris Rogers. Evans was a moderately shirtless recruit who was forced into early action as a freshman, picking up a dozen or so tackles and a sack and a half. Rogers was a Michigan recruit in 2004 who redshirted before fleeing back to the cozy confines of central Pennsylvania. The common reason given was homesickness. Unfortunately, there was more than a little disappointment at his departure. The general impression gleaned from message boards was that the coaches felt he had potential to be a plugger in the mold of Rondell Biggs, a high motor guy good against the run with adequate pass rush ability. Rogers had three TFLs in the spring game and should be adequate to good.
Redshirt freshman Aaron Maybin is also in the mix. He probably needs another year of adding bulk before he is anything other than a pass rusher.
Rating: 5. Though this blog has often claimed Paul Posluszny overrated, those criticisms were specific to the very foo-foo awards he was granted by voters stunned into mute submission by PSU's admittedly rich linebacker tradition and were limited to "is not as good as AJ Hawk" and "is not the best defensive player in the country." Oh, and "you're crazy if you take him before David Harris." Mustn't forget that one. Anyway: his departure is not to be scoffed at.
...At least not entirely. Penn State, in keeping with that whole Linebacker U thing, is in fine shape despite losing its most decorated performer at the position since Lavar Arrington was leaping offensive lines in a single bound. Senior Dan Connor, a terror on the weakside when not suspended for prank-calling his own coaches, moves away from his quaintly-named "Fritz" position to Posluszny's vacated middle linebacker spot which probably isn't dubbed "Hun" but should be. Strongside -- "Jerry"? -- linebacker Sean Lee was a quiet revelation when I UFRed the Michigan-Penn State game...
Probably the difference between PSU and other defenses: Sean Lee, a sophomore linebacker, reads this very quickly, getting out on Butler and preventing much in the way of YAC.
...and his 90 tackles, 8 TFL, 5.5 sacks, interception, and two fumble recoveries indicate that the "surprisingly heady" Lee was not turning in a fluke performance. Racking up those numbers next to a pair of tackling machines like Connor and Posluszny is truly impressive; Lee may have been the best strongside linebacker in the conference as a sophomore. Insert grumbling about where they get these guys here.
So the only question is at the old Fritz position; even there Penn State has options. Tyrell Sales, Navarro Bowman, and Jerome Hayes will compete for the position. Redshirt junior Sales is the front runner. He has three starts to his credit because of the Connor prank calls and was the senior's sparingly-used backup in 2006. Eleven tackles in the spring game also help his cause. Bowman redshirted last year; he receives high praise from the coaches when queried. Hayes is evidently the top backup at middle linebacker, playing opposite Connor in the spring game, and may win a job if the coaches decide their best lineup has Connor on the outside.
(Side note: Wikipedia has a subarticle on offensive terms for various ethnicities and nationalities. This subarticle has a sub-sub-article on terms levied specifically at Germans. It includes six different English slurs plus nasty words from Austria, Croatia, Denmark, France (three), Finland (two), Italy (three), Luxemborg, the Netherlands and Belgium, Norway, Poland (four), Portugal, Russia (designated "unfriendly" instead of "offensive"), and Bavaria, which you will note is a part of Germany. By my count, Paterno could specifically enumerate different anti-German slurs for each position on offense and defense and have five left over for kickers and other special teamers. I fully support this effort, Joe.)
Rating: 5. Junior Justin King is the headliner. I hardly need to discuss him, do I? For those in the dark: King was the ur-disappointing cornerback "lock," a top ten player and five star supposedly ticketed for Michigan from day one. This did not occur. In retrospect, the only surprising thing is that anyone was surprised. King's stepfather is Terry Smith, formerly a diminutive but effective wide receiver for Penn State from 1988 to 1991. Smith was also King's head coach in high school. Result: Penn State commitment. Duh.
Anyway, King spent his freshman year as a two-way player, acting as PSU's nickelback and tooling around on the offensive side of the ball as Penn State searched for anything approximating offensive confidence. The nickelback thing provided an opportunity for this Nelson moment to transpire:
Ha-ha indeed. Everything was right in the world and King's decision was foolish. Then he dumped the wide receiver gig, focused full time on cornerback, and became one of the country's best cover corners as Michigan's secondary stood between it an a national championship game berth. The ha-ha was on us. Don't be fooled by King's somewhat scanty numbers (six PBUs and an interception). Offenses avoided him like the plague, instead choosing to test a capable Tony Davis. He is one of the country's premier cover corners.
The other returning star is safety/dispenser of vigilante justice Anthony Scirroto. Since Joe Paterno has decided to punish Scirotto for gathering together a posse and performing a daring nighttime raid on a party that contained someone who said or did something nasty to his girlfriend by instructing the rest of the team to clean up Beaver Stadium it appears he will dodge serious repercussions, though an FIU suspension seems plausible. Scirroto was probably the best of a weak crop of Big Ten safeties a year ago. His six interceptions led all defensive backs in the conference, and his 14 passes defensed is an impressive total.
Tony Davis was an adequate to good cornerback a year ago who moves back to safety. Yes, this is a position switch starter but it's way less sketchy when you move a corner to safety than vice versa. This one seems especially innocuous because it appears designed to get uber-recruit AJ Wallace on the field every down. Wallace was
the team's Designated Reverse Guy as a kinda-sorta two way player as a freshman; he'll try to follow in King's footsteps this year.
So this appears to be a hell of a starting secondary: the best corner in the league, the best safety in the league, another returning starter, and a highly-touted recruit entering the starting lineup as a sophomore. Beauty. There is a small catch: depth. Backup safety Spencer Ridenhour transferred away, leaving Penn State very thin beyond their starters. Past nickelback Lydell Sargent the situation at corner is similar.
Rating: 4. Frequently deployed Kevin Kelly returns for a third year at kicker. Kelly, 22 of 34 last year, is a version of Garrett Rivas with delusions of grandeur. Inside 40 yards, Kelly hit 80% of his attempts. From 40 and out he was 5/13, though three of those were from 50+. He's all right, but no Mike "Ted" Nugent.
Punter Jeremy Kapinos is gone. He was pretty good, averaging just under 42 yards a kick last year (34th nationally) and helping PSU to a respectable 37th in net punting. I know nothing about replacement Jeremy Boone, as befits a person who occasionally leaves his house. He will probably be marginally worse.
Penn State's return units should be above average as long as they get the right people the ball. Their overall rankings (40th and 43rd on punts and kickoffs, respectively) obscure better performances from their primary threats: Derrick Williams had a punt return touchdown and was 18th in PR average while AJ Wallace was 30th in KR average.
The theory of turnover margin: it is nearly random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are highly likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|2006||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|0.08 (55th)||13||12||3.08 (6th)||9||15||1.8 (47th)|
This heuristic doesn't tell us much about teams that are near zero, so take the following lightly, but: this category projects marginally worse in 2008 unless Penn State can keep up their prodigious sack rate. The interceptions against are much lower than you might expect largely because of the extreme conservatism of the Penn State offense. No throws across the middle of the field (according to fans more familiar with the predilections of the Nit offense than I), few chancy deep balls, and a decided preference for running Tony Hunt limited Morelli's turnovers but did little to actually help the offense move. Assuming the offense opens up, the line remains kind dodgy, and Morelli is still prone to mental errors, interceptions should go up, but a reduction in fumbles lost should help.
But this is all a long way to say: turnover margin treated Penn State fairly last year. Their results on the field weren't distorted.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
We have three. One trips our alarm bells: failed guard Gerald Cadogan moving to left tackle to replace Levi Brown. A second, shift of Tony Davis from corner to safety, is probably all right but might speak to a lack of depth in the secondary. The third, Dan Connor to middle linebacker, is not an issue.
Dumbest Thing In CFN Preview
The team will be far better if ... the offense starts to scores on defenses with a pulse.
Charlie Weis would be proud of that Grayson-Moorehead moment.
If you've never been to State College it's hard to imagine. You get off the freeway and there is a field and then there is a 110,000 seat stadium amongst an open vista of dormant farms and trees. It would look just as out of place in the Amazon.
And this one's not for downloading, but any Nittany Lions wondering what they'll be doing after games this year should check this shot out.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
The defense has no falloff at all. Morelli turns into a bonafide quarterback and the receivers find a way to get open; the line is decent enough to... naw. Who am I kidding? Best case scenario for the Nit passing game is a leap to average, maybe slightly better, when coaching is taken into account. If Scott turns into Perry/Larry Johnson PSU could turn in a season like their Orange Bowl run of 2005, but that's a lot of ifs. Still, 11-1 could happen, though I think undefeated is out of the realm of possibility.
Even in the worst case I don't see Penn State's defense being below average. Lee, Connor, and King are really good and there's enough supporting talent that they should be able to weather their offseason departures well enough. The run defense could take a significant step back, but they'll still be tough to score on.
Offensively, though, there could be a comical stagecoach explosion complete with single burning wheel skittering across the camera lens. If the offensive line is AQ Shipley and the 'tards, hypothetical Morelli improvement will be negligible and the passing game will remain mired; if Scott goes bust the resulting ugliness could hearken back to the bad old Mills/Robinson/Agony days... though not quite. Those were some of the worst offenses ever seen in the Big Ten and Morelli has at least proven he's not broken Zach Mills. A series of tight, ugly games could lead to 8-4; a return to the bowl-less days of recent yore is not in the cards. I can't see this team being worse than last year's edition, especially with the soft nonconference schedule.
Even though I am deeply skeptical about Morelli and the Nit offensive line, the comparison that is foremost in my mind is Wisconsin. The teams were virtually identical in 2006, stiff defenses coupled with mediocre or worse offenses heavily reliant on running the ball.
The Badgers are a trendy pick for Big Ten champs based on their 12-1 2006, but replace Bowling Green with Notre Dame and rejigger the Big Ten schedule to include Ohio State and you're probably looking at 10-3 and more reasonable expectations for a team that didn't prove all that much last year. Unit by unit on offense:
- QB: PSU. Even if Morelli was meh, he has a year of experience over Donovan/Everidge.
- RB: Wisconsin, but they have similar depth issues and Scott has one-year wonder upside.
- WR/TE: Penn State. Beckum is all the Badgers have; Penn State has Q
uarless, two guys who would be fine #2/#3 players, and at least the hope Williams lives up to his potential, plus Bell.
- OL: Maybe a push based on the similarities -- uninspiring starters returning from last year's team; top ten LT off to NFL -- but Bob Palcic fought in 'Nam and Wisconsin doesn't have a failed LG playing LT this year.
I figure the defenses will be near mirror images. The secondaries are a wash if not a slight PSU advantage -- more faith in AJ Wallace than Allen Langford -- and the presumed Wisconsin advantage on the D-line is offset by what should be one of the nation's premier linebacking units. If you consider the skill positions even, you're picking between the Wisconsin OL's advantage over PSU's line and Morelli's advantage over whoever Wisconsin throws out there.
My point is this: if you're looking for a darkhorse challenger to consensus favorite Michigan in the Big Ten, this is probably your team. I kind of hate saying that what with JayPa and all, but there it is. The differences between UW and PSU last year laid mostly in the quality of their opponents. The defenses will both be stout, intimidating things; if you made me pick between the offenses I would wince and take the Nittany Lions.
|9/8||Notre Dame||Probable win|
|11/10||@ Temple||Functional DNP|
|9/22||@ Michigan||Probable loss|
|9/29||@ Illinois||Probable win|
|10/20||@ Indiana||Probable win|
Penn State sweeps its candy OOC slate -- I weep crocodile tears for whoever the ND quarterback is against this defense -- and goes a solid 6-2 in conference. 10-2 it is.
Oh, and: play Pitt, for Christ's sake.