Brennan Clay is one of the top running back prospects in the country, and happens to be the former teammate of the Wolverines' new quarterback. Clay had expressed his interest in staying out West, but that opinion has recently changed. Not only is Brennan a great football player, he's got his head on straight for his future if football doesn't work out. Take a look at the conversation we recently had.
TOM: What’s all this I’ve been hearing about you and Michigan?
BRENNAN: There’s been a lot lately. I really like them a lot right now.
TOM: Since when? I know you've always liked them, but I thought you wanted to stay out west?
BRENNAN: Yeah, I thought about it, and I don’t mind to be honest. We'll see. I’m not making any decisions until I visit at least four schools.
TOM: Is it just what Tate has been saying, or what changed your mind?
BRENNAN: Somewhat, and that I've been looking at connections for the future. I'm looking at schools that will better my future, once I graduate.
TOM: So what research did you do, or what did you see that you think Michigan could help with in your future?
BRENNAN: As of right now, I'm really considering in majoring in business, and having a minor in communications. So with Michigan, their business school is pretty darn good. I think they’re top 5 across the board.
TOM: So when kids say that academics is the most important, you really mean it?
BRENNAN: I mean what I say. Growing up, that's what was embedded in my mind, education first. That's what has gotten me this far. I think I'll stay with the plan to continue being successful
TOM: What has Tate said to you so far?
BRENNAN: Well Tate and I obviously enjoyed playing alongside each other during our high school careers. It was a great duo. We knew everything about each other. It was almost like we knew exactly what we wanted to do on the field.
TOM: So having that comfort would be a factor for you, or could be?
BRENNAN: Yea, that is something I'll miss this year, and I have the option of reuniting with him, which could be pretty insane.
TOM: Has Tate said anything about Michigan though, that has made you think twice, or that you thought was pretty special?
BRENNAN: I've been researching UM, and the biggest thing that sticks out to me about that program is the 3 senior RB's leaving this year. That's huge in my eyes, because I feel confident enough that I could possibly make a great contribution to that program as a true freshman.
TOM: Especially with already having timing down with the QB.
BRENNAN: Yes sir, but to be honest, I'm just taking it day by day and enjoying this process.
TOM: So how else has your list changed? Who else is on it?
BRENNAN: I'm considering all schools that are recruiting me. As of right now my offer list has grown. Some big ones would be Oklahoma, Georgia, both Washington schools, both Oregon schools, Arizona State, BYU, Michigan, and some others.
The offer howitzer redux. A few weeks ago FL CB Travis Williams got offered, visited, committed, and was told "hey let's talk later, okay." This caused some consternation here about whether this was, you know, cool. Conclusion: eh… it makes me feel blucky and isn't that different from Matta flat yanking a scholarship from an already-committed kid.
“In a sense, many Michigan ‘offers’ are not really firm offers but more or less strong indications of interest by Michigan. Take that for what you will, but it is how many schools are now approaching recruiting. Look at the DB who wanted to verbal to U-M last week [Travis Williams] but was told to wait.” Florida, a school that uses a similar technique in throwing around a lot of offers, had a similar situation, and they had to tell a defensive back outright that the offer he had been given was not “committable.” It appears as though the main point of contention here, then, is what an offer really means.
Shouldn’t an offer, by definition, be “committable?” Isn’t that, after all, what an offer is?
(Tim's right about Florida: a couple years ago I started getting irritated at their recruiting because they had their own offer cannon. This turned a Florida offer from a indicator of talent to an indicator of limbs. It has not hurt Florida's recruiting.)
Yes, as commonly understood an "offer" is something you can "commit" against. An offer that is not committable is more like the suggestion you'll be offered in the future if 1) your grades are good, 2) commits X and Z go elsewhere, and 3) you don't run from cops. Or get caught by them. "Are chased by" cops. You get the idea. No making cops run.
So this may be semantics. Where Ohio State—notoriously stingy, at least in football—says "you do not have an offer, come to camp" Michigan and Florida and probably a bunch of offers say "you have a conditional offer. The conditions are come to camp and be better than anyone else we have a shot to get at any particular point in time"
The problem comes when either the recruit doesn't hear "conditional" or the condition is in a tiny elven font next to the big bold OFFER. Then you get guys who sign up and then must be gently dissuaded. I'm still not a fan because the whole thing seems like it goes beyond salesmanship into the realm of misunderstandings upon which romantic comedies and bad sitcoms are based. All this is discussed further in the post, which comes highly recommended.
One further tangent from me: Rich Rodriguez's itchy offer finger has suddenly burst into prominence after a full recruiting cycle in which it wasn't nearly as apparent. The obvious conclusion to leap to is that it's hard to recruit after going 3-9 and Rodriguez is making do as best he can in an effort to prevent the recruiting dropoff that usually happens a year after you faceplant. Hopefully, this is a one-year phenomenon, then.
Reshape the hammer, then drop it. It seemed like nothing was ever going to happen in ongoing Reggie Bush investigation. Then it got combined with the OJ Mayo investigation and Robert Guillory is telling the feds about direct cash payments from Tim Floyd and people actually think there's a hammer that's going to fall:
The attorney for Louis Johnson, main source for the latest charges against Mayo, said Wednesday he thinks the NCAA "wants to do something before football season," and that "something" will include sanctions. Meanwhile, Charles Robinson, one of the two Yahoo! reporters (with Jason Cole) driving the vast majority of actual reporting in both cases from the beginning, said in an interview with the Orange County Register Tuesday that the NCAA has been extremely active -- and meticulously silent -- in gathering information, and guesses the hammer may fall before the end of the year.
…and I kind of do, too. So let' make a proactive complaint about the penalties: they're not stiff enough, and they're definitely not long-term enough. Given the widespread allegations, smoking gun photos of agents on the sideline, and federal involvement there has to be enough evidence for a lack of institutional control allegation. If that comes down, what's the penalty? Some probation? A year, even two of postseason bans? A couple scholarships gone for a few years? What's the long term here?
The NCAA should ratchet up its scholarship sanctions so they represent a long-term impact on the program. If USC gets hammered for all this, they should still be digging out in ten years. That's how long the scholarship sanctions should go: heavy at first and gradually dwindling. Viciously funny idea that wont happen: both programs lose a scholarship permanently and have to list Mayo and Bush on the roster in perpetuity.
More kickering. Add another walk-on to the fall kicker derby:
Pike High School senior kicker/punter Kristopher Pauloski has committed to Michigan as a preferred walk-on for next season, Pike coach Derek Moyers said.
Pauloski was named to The Indianapolis Star Super Team last fall as a punter with a 37.9-yard average. He also had 31 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Though the article focuses on his punting, Pauloski is being looked at primarily as a kicker. Stats from a message board post that appears to be from his coach:
Kristopher Pauloski 6-3, 185 Sr Pike HS
FGs: 5/7 long of 39
KOs: 31/46 for Touchbacks (63 yard KO avg.)
I didn't count the times we had him squib kick or onside kicks.
He is being recruited by MAC schools as well as Northwestern.
This concludes available information.
2X. Congratulations to the club lacrosse team, which stormed back from an 8-3 deficit to claim its second consecutive national title:
Softball won its regional and should host a super-regional this weekend; sorry to anyone who took my weather predictions seriously and ended up swimming home on Friday night; I blame Accuweather.
Blue people are like this, green people are like this. So Black Shoe Diaries posted this video. It's the MSU-UNC national championship game; State is in the process of getting its face crushed and a North Carolina fan asks a State fan in front of her to sit to he can see. She starts off crazy but really gets in a groove around 1:40:
Good lord. She's never been to Michigan Stadium. I can tell because she is not dead or in jail, which—given the fondness of blue-haired Michigan fans for "down in front"—she definitely would be if she'd been to Ann Arbor.
As Kurt Wermers' uncle posted on premium message boards a few days ago, the redshirt freshman guard Wermers isn't returning. (I was trying to get a second source before loosing it into the wild; in retrospect that was probably excessive caution borne of the whole he-is-he-isn't-he-is McGuffie thing. I knew the poster was Wermers' uncle from his posts during Kurt's recruiting, and he posted that the decision had already been made.)
Wermers was a middling recruit who hadn't generated any practice buzz yet. He wasn't going to be in the two-deep this year, so the impact on 2009 should be nil. Down the road it'll depend on how many others end up leaving early; some level of attrition is fine but we saw the fruits of widespread losses last year.
I wonder who this is directed at: "Stay tuned. There's a couple guys I'm gonna sit with here. Just guys that maybe if they're not doing all their responsibilities and doing what they need to do to be part of our football program may not be back. I hope that's not too many."
Um… a couple? Obviously Grady is hanging by a frayed thread and will have to plead for his place, but I'm hoping "a couple" is just PR.
Expectation, variance, and Lloyd Carr's fanatical devotion to grinding death football against lower-level opponents have been frequent topics of conversation on this blog since its inception. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell's latest piece, you can now find conversations about these concepts anywhere you look, most of them criticizing Gladwell for misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and misanthropy, or at least failing to recognize misanthropy.
The piece is about underdog strategy and cites the full-court press as an underutilized strategy that, like going for it on fourth down, is underutilized because of mass idiocy amongst coaches. Of course, there are plenty of reasons an underdog team might decide against pressing:
- Pressing is energy-intensive and could tire out your moderately useful players to the point where you have to bring in the complete gits you stash on the bench.
- Pressing brings more fouls and could force the moderately useful players to the bench, at which point out come the gits.
- A competent press requires practice time that could otherwise be spent teaching the gits to catch balls with something other than their faces.
And so on and so forth. Gladwell ignores all these drawbacks in favor of the hypothesis that everyone who's ever coached basketball as an underdog and hasn't pressed is an idiot. This is not the Romer paper, which restricted itself to the first quarter to simplify its argument and marshaled indisputable mathematics to make its point. Romer built a case; Gladwell offers up a couple anecdotes, one about some 12-year-old girls coached by an asshat, and spins it into a castle of cotton candy—airy, impressive, and ready to fall over if someone looks at it sideways.
More importantly though, Gladwell is actually right in a sense: the press (in basketball at least), is a pretty decent example of an underdog strategy. He fails to recognize that what makes it as a good underdog strategy is also what likely makes it inappropriate for Goliaths -- it is a high risk, high reward, high variance strategy. One reason it works for underdogs may have little to do with how good it is on absolute terms; the fact that there is increased variance by itself has value for underdogs because it might give the underdog a chance of actually winning. On the flipside, however, while a full-time press strategy might increase a Goliath's chance of blowing out an underdog, it also might result in them losing a game they shouldn't.
From my distant perch it appears Lloyd Carr hated variance almost as much as press conferences. 10-7 against Utah. All those grinding games against supposedly inferior foes that ended up too close for comfort. Fourth and short punts or field goals, or fake field goals that are punts that everyone sees coming. This makes perfect sense given Michigan's background and the philosophical environment Carr was brought up in.
That environment? Well, I just edited an article Dan Feldman wrote for Hail To The Victors 2009 that cited one of the more famous passages in John Bacon's Bo's Lasting Lessons, so it is fresh in my mind. In the aftermath of Michigan's 6-6 1984 season, Bo checks out a coaching clinic where a whiz-bang kid is detailing a sophisticated system and, in a moment of weakness, thinks maybe he's got to change:
“Now I have to admit—since I’m being as honest as I can be here—there was a time when I doubted if fundamentals were still enough to produce top-notch football teams,” Schembechler says in the book. “I even wondered if the game had passed me by.
“I’m thinking, Maybe you’ve got to do all those things to win these days. Maybe our approach at Michigan is just too simple to succeed in the modern era. Boy, that was an awful feeling. But after this guy finishes his slide show, someone in the audience raises his hand and asks, “If your defensive schemes are so great, then why did you team give up 400 yards a game last season?”
That question caught Schembechler’s attention. The high school coach’s answer? “We were just a poor tackling team.” That made everything very easy for Schembechler. “I walked out of that auditorium, and I knew what we were going to do: Get back to the basics! Get back to Michigan football! And I was determined that we were going to do it better than anyone else.”
This may have been brilliant in 1985, and brilliant against the poor, huddled masses that comprised Michigan's opponents at the time, but it's fundamentally a variance-hating strategy that presumes better talent. In it are the seeds of Michigan's time-honored failure against Rose Bowl foes, and its recent struggles to put away inferior competition.
When you choose to reduce variance you are usually giving up expectation, especially in football. See the Romer paper. Coaches choose to punt or kick field goals because they're "less risky"—i.e., have low variance—despite the numbers clearly showing they are also "stupid"—i.e., have low expectation.
But there's a catch. In football, actions that have low variance on the micro level can aggregate into a whole that has high variance. Take Michigan's oft-stated priority to control the clock and "keep the other team's offense off the field." You do this by engaging in a lot of long drives consisting of inside runs and short passes. When you run for three yards on two of three plays, your variance is very low. When you pass, three things can happen and two of them are bad: your variance is high.
HOWEVA, running a lot of clock and having long grinding drives reduces the number of possessions in a game, which jacks the variance up. Smart Football again:
Going extreme hurry-up to get as many plays as possible -- other than endurance, I suppose -- is a Goliath strategy: it decreases variance by increasing the number of trials. The chance of getting only heads and no tails in five coin flips is much higher than it is in a hundred -- i.e. the impact of the law of large numbers or regression to the mean. If Oklahoma has significantly more talent, better schemes, and everything else than the underdog, then the more plays it run the more likely it is to exhibit its raw dominance over the underdog; the underdog is less likely to "steal" a few good plays and get the heck out of dodge.
Every second that ticks off the clock between plays is aid and comfort to the underdog. This is where the Gladwell article truly breaks down. Pressing is a dumb strategy for underdogs because it—though high variance in the micro—is not necessarily high variance in the macro. Pressing can increase the number of possessions and thereby give the dominant team more of an opportunity to show that dominance via thunderous open-court dunks. Yes, this makes Gladwell referencing Rick Pitino's loaded, national-title-winning Kentucky team as an exemplar of an underdog wisely using a press ironic in the extreme.
When Bo was coaching the relative skill level of most opponents and the nature of the game at that point—low-sophistication passing, low-scoring—made his strategy a good one. Leading 12-6 in the fourth is an entirely different level of comfort than leading 30-24. Back in the day a turnover that sets up an easy opponent score was way more dangerous than punting one too many times. Bo's tactics were sound for his day, and for certain later days. In 1997 Michigan had a world-crushing defense that turned the tactical clock back to 1972, and Bo's philosophy worked just fine.
In other instances, it did not. Michigan fans were intimately familiar with Carr's late game strategy, which strove for low variance above all when Michigan was ahead: run, run, probably run, punt, play D. This, from an article by Vijay of IBFC in the 2007 edition of HTTV, is how well that worked:
Michigan entered 18 games over that period of time [2000-2005] with a lead smaller than ten points and went 8-10 in those games. They were under .500 when entering the fourth with a small lead! When tied or facing a similarly small deficit, Michigan was 6-1. In all games in which Michigan trailed by any margin they were 8-8. Michigan had a better chance of winning if trailing by any margin entering the fourth than they did if leading slightly.
The way Michigan approached its Goliath strategy was fundamentally broken as the Carr era waned. In the new era of modern football the Goliath strategy is clear: score, score again, score again, and score some more.
Uh… I guess. A couple other points:
- Longtime readers will find this familiar. Last year I wrote something along the same lines except with more references to Coach and this chestnut:
Lloyd Carr thought deception and trickery had their place in football, and that place was Northwestern.
The piece holds up pretty well, so if you're confused as to what I'm getting at or want more context I recommend it.
Though Dantonio and Bielema have the most boring offenses in the Big Ten, they'll be fascinating tactically over the next few years. Their clock-killing, suddenly-unusual offenses are excellent underdog systems now, but are terrible ideas for favorites who are unlikely to have killer defenses. I foresee perpetually decent but unthreatening teams for both unless Bielema is just as bad a coach as last year suggests.
Woo for 1600 words at 4PM Friday!
Aaand scene. Rivals is the last major scouting service to revise its rankings after Evan Smotrycz's impressive AAU showings. The result:
Evan Smotrycz A highly skilled forward with some bounce.
Smotrycz is about a dozen spots away from the last four-star, FWIW. He's gone from flier to the highest ranked post Beilein has ever recruited ever. Woo!
Revised opinion. I've cited Smart Football's concerns about a lack of sophistication in Rich Rodriguez's passing game a couple times because Smart Football is a blog by a football coach intimately familiar with the spread offense. When SF talks, I listen. So this is reassuring to hear:
I spent a substantial amount of time this offseason researching Michigan's offense (the results of which are to published, but not necessarily on the web -- though I hope to eventually get it out here or elsewhere that can be linked to). I will admit that I went into it thinking that there was some looming structural/strategic problem with Rodriguez's offense -- that's just my bent. Players win games obviously but I like blaming coaches more, and in any event all coaches have to work with what they have. But I quickly decided that, yes, there were things for Rodriguez to work on, but the biggest thing for Michigan was just to find a quarterback, any quarterback really. And, though he is but a wee true freshman, and a rather wispy one at that, Tate Forcier does appear positioned to at least be better for Michigan and Rodriguez than anyone they had last year.
This isn't a total retraction, as the criticism was one built on Rodriguez's tenure at West Virginia. There Pat White obviated the need for whiz-bang passing systems; this did not so much happen last year and the results were plain to see.
SF's larger point, as I understand it, is that the spread has gone from exotic to standard: Rodriguez has lost the advantage of surprise and will have to evolve further if he's going to match the offensive output of West Virginia at its zenith. It has to evolve, anyway, as Tate Forcier is a nimble, deadly accurate passer and not possessed of ACME brand rocket skates a la White.
By the way: that research is going into Hail To The Victors 2009, about which I'm terribly excited.
About this we all agree. Ask anyone not directly affiliated with the coaches poll about said organization's effort to move the poll ever-deeper into secrecy and they will say "that's a retarded idea," or words to that effect. Ask the directly affiliated, though, and they'll spin your face off:
"The perception is that there's a huge bias, and we've never really found that," Teaff said.
Thankfully, someone bothered to look at the numbers and blew this up. The Blue-Gray Sky sayeth:
On average, each coach rates every team in his own conference about one position higher than the rest of the voters. … On average, a coach placed his own team 1.7 spots higher than the rest of the voters. … coaches ranked a team .7 positions higher if they actually played the team during the regular season. …
It comes as no surprise that the Coaches Poll is fraught with bias. However, since this is the first year we actually get to see the results, it's still somewhat shocking to see such blatant gamesmanship laid bare. The supposed advantage of the BCS polls, and the Coaches poll in particular, is that you have a body of "football experts" who are ranking the teams; their vast experience and acumen is supposed to lend the poll unquestioned authenticity.
There may be some debate about whether the numbers cited represent a "huge" bias. Take it from a guy who's run a squabbly, transparent college football poll for going on four years: that's a significant finding. (It's also one that would probably be replicated if you tried it on the BlogPoll; the argument here is not that the poll should be part of the BCS but that the coaches certainly shouldn't, especially if they're going to be secretive about it.)
Offensive linin'. The Wall Street Journal drills further down on their offensive line thing mentioned earlier, providing charts for every BCS conference. The Big Ten promises to put the lie to their theory about the importance of this, though: while Iowa finishes #1, the next four teams are Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, and Northwestern. Yikes.
Why can't they all be club sports? Michigan's lacrosse team is into the national semifinals after obliterating the Sonoma State Seawolves, and the Ultimate Frisbee team had a season-ending run that, if replicated in a major sport, would be legend passed down from generation to generation. The situation:
- Enter double-elimination regional tournament as the top seed
- Blow first game against Illinois (possibly after having an eighteen-point lead?)
- End Notre Dame's season in next game
- End Ohio State's season in next game
- Qualify for nationals, which are in Columbus
Ultimate Frisbee Diarist "uofmmarcum" has details for anyone interested in catching the national tourney:
If you feel like following the team at Nationals the tournament is Friday, May 22nd-Monday, May 25. You can follow it online at http://college2009.upa.org/
Also. A reminder that it's gorgeous today and the softball regional gets underway. Michigan faces off against Miami of Ohio (not that Miami of Ohio) at 7.
Etc.: John Bacon's last lecture in glorious streaming video.
Kelvin's out, and Kevin, already hanging by a thread after literally drinking himself into a stupor last offseason, has racked up another strike:
Kevin Grady, the former East Grand Rapids football standout and a University of Michigan player, is in jail for seven days after violating his probation on a 2008 drunken driving conviction. …
Court officials said he failed to properly report to probation agents in Ann Arbor, failed to complete a victim impact panel and alcohol highway safety education class, failed to complete 24 hours of community service and tested positive for opiates, a type of pain killer.
…so, yeah, he basically didn't do anything the court asked him to do. Rodriguez might decide to give him the boot. That wouldn't open up a scholarship, since Grady is a senior. Nor would it make much difference for Michigan's prospects next year.
My main question: can you get Fulmer Cup points for inaction?