that is nice bonus change
I don't have the game. I decided against it for now for the sake of the blog. But my friend Anthony does. He also has a very large TV. Sometimes I envy Anthony. Anyway, anyone wondering about making the purchase or not, his review follows.
The unofficial beginning of each college football season has become the release of EA Sports' annual NCAA Football offering. There was more excitement than usual brewing for this year's edition, partly because last year's 360 offering felt incomplete in many ways. The last gen '07 versions were good, but not too different than what's been coming down the pipe since 2001. Word is that the last-gen versions of '08 are completely unchanged, save roster updates, and the 360 version is the only way to go this year. The demo released late last week on XBox live played very well, much better than last year's, so I was eager to get the game. As I stood in line with a large group of fellow degenerates, the excitement was palpable.
The backstory: I'm a simulation and realism freak. I only play online with friends, and I usually get through a couple dynasty seasons annually. I'm a software engineer by trade, so details stick out to me on some things that others wouldn't normally notice or care about. Here are my opinions:
The game plays great. Much better than last year's 360 and PS2 versions, in every way. The button responses are crisp, the physice are solid (although the ball doesn't bounce much), and everything is smoooooooth. There are occasional graphics hitches and minor collision issues, but nothing that impacts gameplay in the 6 or 7 games I have played so far.
The user interface is nearly flawless. Its easy and fast to do what I want to do when not in the game.
The playcalling is different than last gen, but easy to follow and navigate. I feel that I am less apt to accrue a delay of game penalty with the new interface. There are also a boatload of new plays, and there are motions built into some plays, which is a nice touch. There are also new trick plays, which had inexplicably been absent since the PS1 days (EA â€“ please bring back custom playbooks from the PS1 grave, as well. Its 2007 for Christ's sake.)
One of the things lacking for a long time that had great affect on the realism of the game was the poor implementation of lineplay, both offensively and defensively. EA has taken great strides with this and the result is a much more rewarding experience. Nothing seems scripted. If you blitz well, you'll be rewarded instead of having your players get clogged at the line. If you set up your blockers well, you'll have the extra time to make the pass or find a hole. This ultimately makes the game more playable and addictive. One thing I was interested to see, especially since it was mentioned in the demo, is zone blocking. So far, I have not seen any plays that use it, so I will have to dig deeper.
[I still feel somewhat unfulfilled when attempting to create a pass rush with a defense end or tackle. There are now "finesse" and "power" moves you can use to get around blockers but I must be using them wrong because mostly they do nothing. I would like some sort of pass rush minigame... some sort of defensive minigame at all. Still feel like a passenger on D a lot. -ed]
The passing game has improved. No longer do linebackers make plays on balls they shouldn't, but at the same time, the defensive backs make much better breaks on the ball. Reads are more important than ever, but they are more true than ever before. The passing game is where the beefy AI really shines, both offensively and defensively. If you make a bad throw, without your feet set, you will pay, even on the default difficulty.
[Seconded. Finding actual holes in zone coverage and then throwing guys the ball without Luigi linebackers is nice. -ed]
Pre-snap activities, like shifts and audibles, are plentiful. The only problem is that there are so many adjustments one could make, its often hard to make all your adjustments before the snap, especially defensively. All the extracurriculars just further enhance the experience, the same way a few extra shots make Sparty girls look better. [ba-dum ching! -ed]
The kicking game hasn't changed much, but there was never really anything wrong with it. I haven't played enough to see if blocking kicks was actually a possibility, like last year's PS2 version.
[Yes. So far the stick-up-stick-down kicking thing seems like a different way to push a button. One note: we did see an onside kick recovered by the kicking team. I can't remember that ever happening before. -ed]
Campus legend is MOTS, except you get to play out your senior year high school state tournament, which determines your rankings instead of the "mini-camp" of old. I found myself engrossed in the tournament, and that is only the beginning of the game. A nice bonus: your state title game is at a large stadium, relevant to your area. Mine was at Michigan Stadium. You also get to skip through all the plays that you are not on the field for. The rest of the campus legend plays out the same as in previous versions, as far as I could tell. Its a definite change in perspective of the game, in a good way.
The dynasty mode's big change is in recruiting. Much more depth has been added to the recruiting mode, scheduling visits, making promises to recruits in the off-season, and a lot more depth to the 'pitches' you must make to the kids you are trying to get. Its much more meticulous than in the past, and if you aren't going to sim through recruiting, you'll be spending 30 minutes on average between each dynasty game. You get a certain amount of time each week to devote to the recruiting trail, and you must spend it wisely. I did notice that if you play with Ohio State, instead of a time budget, you are given a 'salary cap'. Nice touch.
I did notice that changing positions in the off season no longer cripples your players ratings, like the previous versions did. I swapped a RT to LT and saw minimal drop in ratings. Thats how it should be. Most other aspects of the Dynasty mode are tweaked for the better.
Also, the 'Super Sim' feature is a Godsend. It lets you sim plays, series, etc. Very useful if you are dropping the hammer on some Sun Belt team and you don't want to spend the entire 2nd half handing off to your 59 rating 5th string running back. This feature has been in baseball games for a long time, and it increases playability exponentially.
Things I didn't like (General EA Sloppiness)
- No alternate jerseys [I think these may be sold on XBox live eventually, which is worse than just leaving them out of the game, IMO. -ed]
- Still missing stadiums (lots of mid-majors)
Sidenote: Brian cracked on me for this, but I know that there are a lot of folks out there that like to take "Nobody State" to multiple national titles and get invited to a major conference. Those folks should not be subjected to playing half their games in generic stadiums! There is no excuse for this. Modeling stadiums is not difficult (I've done it), the fact there are some missing is corner cutting, nothing more. EA â€“ Hire some more people to get this kind of stuff in the game.
- No 1-AA teams. Bad timing for Michigan fans, we have to pound '1-AA Southeast' instead of ASU.
- No create-a-team [Seriously? Who ever used that to do anything other than create the Hyyyyarrrr State Pirates? -ed]
- No custom playbooks, and limited team-specific playbooks.
- TERRIBLE ROSTERS
Freaking Brandon Graham is a 99. Yes, a 99. He is the 3rd best player in the ENTIRE GAME. Antonio Bass is still in the game! Adrian Arrington is not! Morgan Trent is an 89! Half the players' eligibility is wrong, redshirt sophs are listed as true juniors, et
c. Michigan was the only team I scrutinized, I'm sure there are atrocities in all the rosters. This would be OK if EA hadn't ripped the ability to edit a players class (was in last years 360 version). EA needs to 'do work' and get the rosters right. [The removal of something completely basic like editing a players eligibility is really bizarre. That sort of thing should take, like, one developer a few hours. -ed]
- No on-field referee â€“ this affects the clock starting after a first down, a little detail that bugged me.
- Only one playable camera angle. It's a good angle, but still, if I didn't have a widescreen TV, it wouldn't show enough field. [This is also weird. Camera positioning is dead simple. -ed]
- The off-season for the dynasty lacks the 'spring game' that the last-gen versions have. Player ratings are increased on a random basis, much like the old NCAA games.
None of these are deal-breakers, but most of the missing features were included back in the PS1 versions in the late 90's. Why take them out? Will they be back before Notre Dame wins a bowl game? [Hey, that's my line. -ed] Only time will tell.
Overall, the game looks, feels, and plays like a 'next-gen' game for the first time, and it is a huge step up for the series. Its crisp, realistic, and addictive. In conclusion, this game is a must-buy for any sports fan. Goodbye sunlight! See you on the first Saturday in the fall!
So you see my dilemma, right? I can get the game and subject you guys to Penn State Golden Gopher previews that talk about how Joe Paterno got fired and was replaced by Jim Kewster, light bends coach for the Menver Loncos or I can not spend the next month and a half driving Idaho to a national championship. Sigh.
Update: Michigan Sports Center also has impressions. Same general tenor.
Midway through the third quarter of the Insight Bowl, Minnesota led Texas Tech 38-7 and Glen Mason's job was safe. Winners of four straight to close out the year, the Gophers had turned a corner with Amir Pinni-- uh. What?
Or Minnesota somehow managed to blow the game, lose 44-41, set the record for the biggest bowl comeback allowed in the history of college football, and get Glen Mason got fired the next day. Go figure. (Ominous that the last game of new Big Ten Network commentator Glen Mason was exiled to a channel, the NFL Network, that no one gets.)
Into Mason's shoes steps Tim Brewster, whose multifaceted and impressive qualifications include being
- a tight end at Illinois
- tight ends coach at North Carolina
- tight ends coach at Texas
- tight ends coach with the San Diego Chargers
- tight ends coach with the Denver Broncos.
So, like, f-in' A, dude. Minnesota tight ends are going to kick ass. The rest of the team? Who knows? Brewster has hired Everett Withers, the Titans' secondary coach, and Mike Dunbar, Cal's offensive coordinator, claiming that he has assembled "the best staff in the country" in the process. Anywhere Norm Chow is would like to disagree. This is only the first indication that Brewster, at the very least, has a wicked talent for hyperbole. He also claimed Minnesota's coming corporately-named stadium "will be the finest on-campus stadium in America today" and that he would take "the Gopher Nation" to the Rose Bowl. If you were to point out the analogue of Gopher Nation on a map, what would it be? Andorra?
The gift of gab is the key to Brewster's ascension. He's scandalously light on actual coaching accomplishments but has a reputation as a "monster recruiter." Assuming that he will raise the level of talent Minnesota brings in is a dubious proposition based on fine work he did under Mack Brown's tutelage. Recruiting Vince Young to Texas is an entirely different matter than recruiting him to Minnesota. The Gophers have made a serious misstep by bringing in a neophyte with a rep as a recruiter instead of someone who can spin straw into gold. Because Minnesota, recruiter or no, is going to see lots of straw.
As the Dude said, how are you gonna keep them on the farm once they've seen Karl Hungus? Minnesota may have more natural disadvantages than any other BCS program. The Gophers must compete with the Wild, Twins, Vikings, and Timberwolves in Minneapolis. Hockey-mad Minnesota provides scanty harvests of recruits and a forbidding, polar bear laden climate that hampers out of state efforts. (Minnesota is the only school with a I-A football program that plays second fiddle to hockey.) Since the Earth's poles reversed in the 60s and robbed Minnesota of whatever crazy leyline mojo (@ right) they were working when they were a national power, Gopher football has been one long string of unrelenting failure. Their last Big Ten title was 40 years ago, the longest drought in the conference.* And though they're finally getting their own stadium, for now they are stuck in the antiseptic Metrodome. Even the new place will feel minuscule compared to most other Big Ten stadia at only 50k, and "TCF Bank Stadium" does not exactly scream tradition. There will be a brief burst of interest when the place opens; if (when?) Minnesota's fortunes fail to improve attention will scatter to the multitudinous other options. In the 29 years between that last Big Ten title and the Mason era, the Gophers high water mark is seven wins, accomplished all of thrice and not since 1985. They should take the crappy bowl bids and occasional flicker of excitement provided by Mason and be happy. History indicates that this is as good as it gets for the Gophers.
Mason may not have brought the Gophers much other than a few of rinky-dink bowl wins, but few could have done better. The electron of Minnesota is already in an excited state. With Mason now scheduled to bore Big Ten Network audiences, it's only a matter of time before they emit a photon and return to their grim baseline. The half-life: October.
*(They're tied with Indiana, actually. The astute might notice that this means that in 1967 Minnesota and Indiana were Big Ten co-champions. Yeah, right. New theory: nationwide acid trip.)
Virtually irrelevant, as Mason's grinding power game has been discarded for the rapidly-approaching-passe spread. Past results are not indicative of future performance.
Rating: 1. Three-year starter Brian Cupito never received the credit his statistics suggest he deserved. After a rough sophomore year, Cupito blossomed, finishing 21st and 30th in passer efficiency his final two years in a Gopher uniform. Hell, pick the Cupito:
Cupito is A; Chad Henne is B. If you are marshaling an argument about Minnesota's run-slanted playcalling making pass plays more effective, please remember that Mike Hart was worn to a nub last year.
Slight difference: Henne still has eligibility. Thus a major reason for what success Minnesota managed the last couple years is out the door. Whoever the replacement is will likely be shaky. Junior Tony Mortenson has three years of practice reps in a different offense and as many career completions as interceptions: two. The other two options are freshmen Adam Weber, a three star '06 recruit whose offer list of Wisconsin, Miami, and Michigan would have been impressive if the Miami wasn't Ohio and the Michigan wasn't Western, and Clint Brewster, the coach's son.
Speculating here is useless. Brewster might actually have the most relevant experience after running a spread at Denver Mullen the last few years as Mortenson and Weber toiled in Mason's grinding offense, but he's also a three-star true freshman. Everyone's starting from scratch. At best this works out like Northwestern's situation last year, in which unrelenting pain the first half of the season gives way to the hope of competence.
Tailback & Fullback
Rating: 3. It is a testament to the Mason system that Amir Pinnix's (@ right) 1215 yards last year (in ten games, basically -- Alex Daniels started Minnesota's first two games before moving to, um, defensive end(!)) was regarded as something of a disappointment. He was no Laurence Maroney, that's for sure. Nor was he Gary Russel, who looked on his way to similar stardom before an inability to attend classes shunted him into limbo and, eventually, NFL practice squads.
But he was far from bad. His 20 carries for 91 yards against the vicious Michigan run defense was by far the best output of any Wolverine opponent save for Ohio State's anomalous spread-and-shred job. Against Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State -- all top 15 defenses last year -- he averaged a
more than respectable 3.9 yards per carry. He lacked the breakaway speed of Maroney or the thunderous pop of Marion Barber but was a still a nice package of skills.
How will he do from the spread is anyone's guess. Running backs are the most plug-and-play of any position in football, so the transition should be smooth enough unless something about the new, as of yet veiled, scheme plays to a particular weakness. This seems unlikely. Pinnix will be fine, though safeties breathing down his neck may make that hard to perceive.
Wide Receiver & Tight Ends
Rating: 3. Surprisingly effective (and pale!) Logan Payne is gone along with Matt Spaeth, the original brobdingnagian tight end. Left behind are a few guys with potential. Ernest Wheelwright is a good start, but the enormous Ohioan is the sort of disappointing player invariably tagged "enigmatic" by sportswriters of all stripes, including me. ("Enigmatic" is a cool word.) He looks like he should be dominating fools; he ended last season with 26 catches. As a true junior there's still hope for a leap into the stratosphere, but it's rapidly slipping away. The quarterback transition is unlikely to help.
There's some relatively proven depth. Sophomores Eric Decker and Mike Chambers combined for 45 receptions as freshmen. Junior tight end Jack Simmons, largely stuck behind Spaeth, reeled in seven catches for 134 yards and a touchdown in the bowl game. If you subscribe to the above-proffered "Gopher TEs to rule" theory, he is a good bet to fill in ably for Spaeth.
That leaves Minnesota two or three guys short of enough wideout depth to run a spread, but criticizing the fifth option seems silly. Decker and Chambers weren't world beaters as freshman but showed decent ability, Decker in particular, and should have fine careers. Without a real star and with only a fading hope of one this unit probably won't be more than average, but average it shall be.
Rating: 3. Minnesota's offensive line was a point of strength throughout the Mason era and was at least decent last year. Witness the Pinnix numbers above. Minnesota was also sack averse, giving up fewer than 1.4 per game and finishing 19th in the country. Skeptics will point out that Minnesota is no Texas Tech, but the Gophers weren't that run-heavy last year. They threw on 44% of available downs and ended up with 373 pass attempts. The sack numbers are at least somewhat legitimate.
Three starters return: senior center Tony Brinkhaus, sophomore right guard and Big Ten name of the year candidate Nedward (Nedward!) Tavale, and senior right tackle Steve Shidell. The new left guard is redshirt sophomore Ryan Ruckdashel, about whom no one really knows anything. But he did win the job free and clear as soon as it became available, so that's a good sign. Four of five spots on the line are secure.
But... um... left tackle? Two inexperienced players battle; I am skeptical of the ability of junior Matt DeGeest if he can't beat out a 6'3" redshirt freshman (Dom Alford). Tackle is a position that demands guys somewhere between 6'5" and 6'8"; Alford getting mentioned as a potential starter is either error on the part of Blue Ribbon or trouble.
Minnesota's defense under Mason was as constant as its run game, except awful. Despite numbers inflated by Minnesota's annual romp through the daisies of Lousiana-Lafayette and the like, Minnesota's defense was a near constant eyesore. Even the 10-3 2003 team that finished 34th in total defense -- Mason's high water mark -- managed to give up 38 to Michigan (the infamous Navarre Water Buffalo Stampede game), 44 to Michigan State, 34 to Wisconsin, 40 to Iowa, and 30 to Oregon. This is where the recruiting deficiencies Minnesota has long endured can't be overcome with a clever scheme or the perfect execution of a center pull. Without competitive athletes at defensive tackle or in the secondary, defenses fail.
Failure happened lots in 2006, which was a bad year even by Minnesota standards. You can see the results of the last two years at right if you're willing to brave Raiders of the Lost Ark style ugliness. Things will probably get better just because it's hard to be that bad two years in a row, but not by much.
Rating: 2. Willie VanDeSteeg is the closest thing Minnesota has to a returning star: ten of his 40 tackles last year were those sack things so greatly treasured by everyone. Michigan fans may remember VanDeSteeg from the year's most alert bit of commentary. When Mike Hart opened the Minnesota game by ripping off major yardage outside on three consecutive plays, Todd Blackledge immediately pointed out that VanDeSteeg was getting hooked over and over by Mike Massey, and it was so. Finishing 92nd in rush defense is a team effort, but VanDeSteeg was as liability against the run and isn't among the top ends in the conference despite the sack numbers. I wish the official Minnesota athletics site had game-by-game defensive statistics so I could break VanDeSteeg (and 4.5 non-sack TFLs) down by opponent competence. I do remember some impressive instances of pass rush from him in the Michigan game, but I still doubt he's all he's cracked up to be.
With Steve Davis making an (odd) move to outside linebacker, the position opposite VanDeSteeg will be battled over by sophomores Willie Dyson and Ray Henderson, a Tennessee transfer, and junior Alex Daniels, who you may remember as a hilariously oversized tailback in Minnesota's first couple games last year. [If Daniels rejoins the team, which seems doubtful. -ed]
Minnesota's managed to find a respectable defensive tackle when Anthony Montgomery scraped through the NCAA Clearinghouse a few years ago, but when he departed after the 2005 season there was no one to fill his spot. Though tackles and sacks often fail to adequately portray the contribution of DTs, when a team finishes 92nd against the run and the starting defensive tackles have one non-sack TFL between them it is an obvious indicator said defensive tackles were really, really bad. Neel Allen did have 37 tackles -- respectable for his position -- but Todd Maisel managed just 18. Neither provided much pass rush, either: Allen had three sacks, Maisel two. Both are seniors. Neither will be any good.
Rating: 2. As mentioned, Minnesota coaches have elected to drop junior defensive end Steve Davis, who you may remember terrorizing Rueben Riley in Michigan's 2005 loss to the Gophers, to outside linebacker. At the end of that year Davis had ten starts, six sacks and a place on Freshman All-American teams across the country. His sophomore campaign was a small letdown compared to the hype, but he still managed 48 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Always undersized, Davis may be a better fit as a linebacker; with VanDeSteeg's emergence as a capable pass rusher they can get away with the move. Davis will probably move down on third and long.
Middle linebacker Mike Sherels returns; many will ogle his triple-digit tackle totals and proclaim an upswing in run defense on the way, but he's just the latest in a long line of men in the middle of overmatched defenses who make a lot of tackles eight yards downfield and get preseason hype
as lone bright spots. Remember Kyle Killion? Exactly. Sherels' numbers are due to extreme exposure more than anything else.
Senior John Shevlin will be the other starter; repeat the Sherels paragraph here.
Rating: 1. Notre Dame without the hope provided by highly-rated youth here: many returners, all of them proven awful at their assigned tasks. Minnesota was 117th of 119 in pass yardage allowed and little better (99th) in efficiency terms.
Ah, the eternal question: is it good to have returning starters when they have been burnt crispy-like? In general, the answer given in this space has been "no" when the failure has been so vast, especially when the toastees in question can't play the youthful exuberance card. This is the case here. The Gopher safeties are seniors, as are three of the four top cornerbacks. Diminutive Dominic Jones, listed at 5'8", is a junior. (He is also being held without bail on a sexual assault charge. Obviously, his availability is in serious doubt.) So there were no freshmen being blooded and doing understandable things like blowing coverage on 80 yard touchdowns. Experience reigns already in the Gopher secondary; expect minimal improvement and another miserable year.
Rating: 3. Jason Giannini was okay as a freshman, going 13 for 19, but had a rougher sophomore year. He hit only 7 of his 12 attempts and had a long of 41 yards. All of his misses were from 40+, though three were exactly 40 yards. He's not a disaster. He's also not a positive.
Punter Justin Kucek is decent, averaging 40.3 yards a kick, when not gifting games to hated rival Wisconsin.
Gopher return units would be an exciting positive if Jones hadn't been, you know, arrested. If he plays bump this group up to a four.
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 -|
|1.38 (1st)||17||15||1.92 (72nd)||11||3||1.38 (19th)|
Yesssssssss. This is a perfect storm for this heuristic. Minnesota, a team virtually without a defense, managed a whopping 32 takeaways last year and lost an incredibly low three fumbles. Luck was a lady to the Gophers last year and they were still fortunate to finish 6-7. Now the Gophers are installing a spread offense, deploying a quarterback with no experience whatsoever, and continuing to deploy a defense that will not be good at football. This stat will collapse, and with it Minnesota's fortunes.
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.
Possibly Alex Daniels, but he is still fighting for playing time. Definitely Steve Davis, who slides back from his place as an effective defensive end to try his hand at outside linebacker. More broadly, you could say Amir Pinnix, every offensive lineman, and the quarterback as the Gophers switch to an entirely new offensive scheme. The boding... unwell!
Dumbest Thing In CFN Preview
Offensively, don't expect a big overall change from the Mason era. Brewster wants to be physical and run the ball, but he'll do it with a spread offense that might take a while to get rolling. (link)
Don't expect the exact opposite sort of offense to be much of a change.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
I have a hard time seeing any cause for optimism. Since the nonconference slate is full of delicious creampuff, they could sweep it. Then it's a matter of finding two league victories -- Northwestern and, um, Indiana? -- to scrape into the Motor City Bowl at 6-6.
Hey, they play a I-AA team... that outgained them by 130 yards last year. 0-12.
But against the bottom - last year, that was 3-5 Indiana, 1-7 Michigan State and 2-6 Iowa, the Gophers' three late-season victims - they were still golden, as they certainly still expect to be when Illinois and Northwestern rotate back onto the schedule in place of Penn State and Michigan State. I don't know if that amounts to a defense of Minnesota's prized mediocrity, exactly, or if that needs defending, but depending on all the new variables - the coaches, the quarterback, the scheme - it stands to reason the persistently mediocre is still due some benefit of the doubt over the persistently bad.
Ah, if only Minnesota had actually been mediocre last year. They were not. They were outgained by their opponents by 50 yards a game, and the true Lovecraftian depths their defense descended to were masked by an outpouring of opponent generosity that will not repeat. The three best player's on last year's offense are gone. There are no suitable replacements at quarterback, and the run game that has long been the rock Minnesota planted its flag upon has been discarded.
Meanwhile, Brewer has never coached a football team before. Everett Withers hasn't been a defensive coordinator since 1997. Mike Dunbar's terms as offensive coordinator have been under gurus Jeff Tedford and Randy Walker, who functioned mostly as their own coordinators. The offense is radically changing to a scheme no one is surprised by anymore. The defense has like 2.5 players on it.
There is one conclusion here: disaster. Minnesota blows one of its non-conference games, scrapes
a win in conference, and ends up 4-7.
|9/15||@ FAU||Probable win|
|10/20||North Dakota State||Probable win(?)|
|10/6||@ Indiana||Probable loss|
|11/10||@ Iowa||Probable loss|
|Absent:||Penn State, Michigan State|
Bonus prediction: their recruiting class is no better than a typical Mason effort and Brewster is bounced after four years of Wacker ball. But, hey, at least they'll get two shots at eviscerating a youthful Michigan hockey team this year.
Update 7/15: Linked to articles on NJ S Brandon Smith, MN WR Mike Floyd, OH OL Zebrie Sanders, TX CB Adrian Bushell, PA H-back Christian Wilson, LA CB Robby Green, AL OL Antoine McClain. Removed AZ DT Lawrence Guy (dropped us), MI QB Brendan Kay (Cinci), OK QB Nathan Stanley (M done at QB), WV OL Josh Jenkins (no indication of mutual interest), OH S Dan McCarthy (OSU or ND).
Downgraded Deontae Pannell, Adrian Bushell from green to red. Downgraded Kevin Koger from green to yellow. Upgraded Nick Perry, Christian Wilson to blue. Noted some Hale/Saddler speculation from Scout.com's Bob Lichtenfels. Re-added VA WR Deion Walker.
Editorial Opinion: Koger still hasn't decided; I remain kind of pessimistic but Ohio State fans are less confident as this drags out a bit longer. Bottom line: don't know and don't know that anyone else does. Another thing to watch this week is the July 20 visit of IN OL/DT Garrett Goebel, which will be his last. After it he'll decide between OSU and Michigan. The conventional wisdom is that Michigan is playing catchup.
You can probably scratch Zebrie Sanders off any weird lists you might be maintaining:
"I pretty much have a decision made of where I want to go, maybe 67 percent sure," Sanders said. "I want to take my visits to be sure. I will probably call the school in the middle of the season and tell them where I am going and then announce it after the season."
It's a three-horse race but in addition to the three, he might take a couple of other visits.
"I am definitely narrowing it down," he said about the logjam of schools. "UCLA has been showing me a lot of interest and is going to offer me soon. I love UCLA, I love Georgia, and I love Florida. Those are the top three, I like Michigan and Clemson as well."
Given the way Sanders has talked about Georgia in recent weeks -- his mom is an alum -- I expect he'll commit there eventually. When you are 67 percent sure and have three schools you love and you "might" visit Michigan, a school you've already been to like seven times, you are not going to end up at Michigan. I'll leave him on the board, but try to envision a really nefarious Eduardo when your eye lingers over his name. Also from newly independent Gator Country, late of the Scout network, is this on MN WR Michael Floyd:
"I have a current top four," Floyd said. "They'd be Florida, Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State." ... Michigan- "Their wide receivers coach is real cool. I know a lot of guys that are on campus and they're great people."
Probably academic. The internet has long considered Floyd a Notre Dame lock, and if Fred Smith commits as expected Michigan will probably be done at wide receiver unless Jonathan Baldwin decides to come aboard. (Do I say this every week? I think I might.)
Also also from Gator Country: Florida leads for TX CB Adrian Bushell.
On to good news of varying strength. NJ S Brandon Smith, a Rivals100 guy, has maintained a Michigan lead from the start of the recruiting process:
"I've always liked Michigan," he said. "I grew up watching them and they have great coaches. I have a great relationship with their linebacker coach (Steve Szabo). He texts me a lot and my mom likes him too. He's really down-to-earth and easy to talk to. He's a person first and a coach second and I like that about him."
Smith says the Wolverines are recruiting him to play defense. "They have a great defense and they want me at safety (Scout.com ranks him No. 11)," he said. "I think I'd fit in well with their defensive schemes."
That article claims Michigan leads "slightly" over Rutgers and solidly over a few other contenders. I've left him green but thought about blue, for those wishing to parse finely. (Side note: Szabo has been hitting NJ hard this year. We lead for Smith, are in good shape with JB Fitzgerald, and have a commitment from Marcus Witherspoon. Also note his one-year reclamation job on the befuddled Michigan linebacking corps. Great hire by Lloyd; wish he was younger; if he turns Chris Graham into a player I might consider a small shrine.)
Also, the lead I speculated we had for PA HB Christian Wilson when his mother hopped on a Michigan message board looking for answers has been confirmed in print by a neutral source:
LB Christian Wilson (6-3 235) of McKees Rock, PA hopes to make a decision before his season. He has narrowed down his list from more than 45 offers to a little more than a handful. His current top five are Clemson, Michigan, Rutgers, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, and all are considering him for both sides of the ball. He can also play tight end, H-back or running back. He said Michigan is his current favorite ahead of Clemson and Rutgers. "Clemson wants me more for defense," he said. "The way they use their tight end is not the way I want to be used," if he played on the offensive side.
Given that and his mom's comments, I've bumped Wilson to blue.
Finally, I still think LA CB Robby Green is a longshot but the most recent available article on him is pretty positive:
Green hasn't visited Michigan, Tennessee or Florida yet, but says he'd love to take visits to each, especially Michigan. "They produce some of the best cornerbacks in the country and always send guys to the NFL," he said. "They have a cool staff too and I'm hearing a lot from them. They compare me to Ty Law and Charles Woodson and that means a lot to me."
It appears likely we'll make his top five and get an official. I've moved him to a somewhat skeptical yellow.
Finally, Hale/Saddler package deal speculation rages on. (Rages, I say!) Scout.com guru Bob Lichtenfels:
Saddler likes UVA, but I can't see Hale there. That leads me to believe that its U-M and WVU. Both were very intrigued by what WVU has to offer, but right now If I had to pick one I would say U-M. I think Terry Smith feels its the best fit for both players if they have to be a package deal. Rich Rod and Tony Gibson will not go down with out a fight, so for me its way too early to say this is a done deal.
Saddler continues telling everyone on the planet that he and Hale are Siamese recruits; Hale keeps getting buzzed by Ohio State reporters and saying things along the lines of "well, not necessarily." I remain a bit skeptical since package deals rarely come off, but the radical reshaping of Hale's list -- something he has confirmed -- and Saddler's stridency keep the skepticism down. I am a bit worried about WVU, which has an attractive offense for Saddler's skills and could probably promise Hale a starting position effective yesterd
Full board here.
Ohio TE Kevin Koger has made final visits to Michigan and Ohio State and could announce a decision at any time, so I'd like to get this out there now in case something happens before Monday Recruitin' gets up. Unfortunately, the prevailing winds on this one point towards Ohio State. When the best spin GBW can come up with is...
Has U-M Made Up Ground For Kevin Koger?
...that ain't good. The array of OSU insiders at Bucknuts.com are all confident on some level or another:
The other big name that will decide soon is TE/DE Kevin Koger from Toledo Whitmer. He has been down to OSU and UM for months and seems to be leaning strongly towards the Buckeyes. As most fans know, Koger's father grew up in Detroit and is a Michigan fan. Koger wants to play tight end in college and he has had nothing but great things to say about OSU of late.
The vibe is positive surrounding several uncommitted players, and there's no reason to believe that this year's class won't finish strong. Many expect Kevin Koger, who visited OSU and Michigan this week, to be next, followed soon by Illinois defensive tackle Garrett Goebel.
"We" also seem confident in landing both Kevin Koger and Garrett Goebel. Some even seem cocky.
That is also not good; it looks like a Michigan commitment at this point would be an upset. I wouldn't call it a shock if said upset came through, but we are not the favorite.
As long as we pick up PA h-back Christian Wilson the damage to our class will be minimal, but there's no way to spin this one: losing Koger -- a player we were on first at a position of need whose dad is a Michigan fan -- to OSU would be a nasty representation of the direction the rivalry has gone lately. Nothing to get too worked up about; still mildly alarming. Suggestion: win this year.
Note: no idea why there are useless "read more"s at the bottom of my posts now. There was a feature I implemented (and used once) that did auto-show/hide that seems to be inserted on each post automatically now. Don't know why, I haven't made any changes. I'm looking into it.
I had no idea this was part of Big Ten bylaws:
Big Ten football has revenue sharing, in which each school has to contribute into a pool a percentage of its revenue from each home conference game. The minimum amount is $300,000 per game and the maximum is $1 million.
For the 2006 season, the Gophers contributed over the minimum amount for every home league game -- $450,424 for Michigan; $345,076 for Penn State; $335,888 for Indiana and $681,161 for Iowa. So the Gophers contributed $1,812,549 to the pool. But each school wound up getting back $2,805,819. Minnesota ended up with $993,271 more than it contributed. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State contributed $4 million each to the pool, Iowa contributed $3.5 million, Wisconsin $3.2 and Michigan State $3.1.
So we got docked $1.2 million from this pool. Why does this happen? Is it not enough to share all bowl and television revenue evenly? Bleah.
The Wit and Wisdom of Charlie Weis. I am permanently indebted to Braves & Birds for clearing up the exact sort of blustery nothing that is the vast bulk of Charlie Weis's public utterances: Grayson Moorhead Securities. For some reason, journalists just lap this stuff up. If I had to speculate I would say it's a combination of the generally low intelligence levels possessed by generic pundits (I swear the next time I see something like "numbers are for eggheads and nyyyyyyyeeeerds" I'll scream; wanton ignorance seems downright prized by large portions of the chattering class) and their panting desire to be insiders. If you are not that bright the fake inside baseball Weis provides seems a telling glimpse inside a major college football program instead of irritatingly grandiose fluff.
Anyway, the free Blue Ribbon preview of Notre Dame has a few classic Grayson Moorhead moments:
"When guys graduate you replace them. That's why you give scholarships to other guys."
But wait! There's more!
"It's very, very important that you treat everyone the same if you're going to be fair."
This longer passage perfectly illustrates Weis's ability to transform the banal into ephemeral genius:
The buzzword for the offensive line in the spring was "cross-training." That doesn't mean there was a glut of 6-5, 300-pounders on Notre Dame's racquetball courts. It means because of depth issues across the line, several linemen trained at more than one position.
Take for example sophomore Dan Wenger (6-4, 282). He is a promising center but is stuck behind senior John Sullivan (6-4, 290) on the depth chart. So Wenger spent the spring competing with classmate Matt Carufel (6-5, 295) at right guard, while at the same time working as the backup center.
The idea of moving a player stuck behind an established starter to another, nearly identical, position? While still having him take some reps at his previous, nearly identical, position? I... wow. Let's just say that never would have occurred to anyone else in the history of coaching.
Junior Mike Turkovich (6-6, 299) is the starting left guard, but he is also a candidate to move to tackle if anything happens to either sophomore right tackle Sam Young (6-8, 315) or junior left tackle Paul Duncan (6-7, 292).
But it's necessary, Weis says.
I wonder if he can explain this mystery to us.
"[Wenger] is not beating out Sullivan at center, so if he's going to get on the field it's going to be at guard," Weis said.
About that preview. About the only thing it's convinced me of is that you should not buy Blue Ribbon. It's not so much the understandable factual errors like this:
Right guard should be settled by the preseason, with either [Dan] Wenger or [Matt] Carufel earning the job. If Carufel were to win the job that would bring cohesion to the line, because he and Young played together in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Coral Spring, Fla.
(It's actually Wenger who was a teammate of Sam Young.) Rather, it's the junk that passes for analysis like "Wenger and Young have cohesion." This is most obvious in the section on Notre Dame's defense, which is frankly ludicrous. I mean... seriously:
Apart from Zbikowski, the Irish are well stocked at defensive back, a position that won't be too affected by the switch to the 3-4.
Cornerbacks abound, giving the Irish plenty of depth. Senior Ambrose Wooden (5-11, 190) is back in the starting lineup after playing a reserve role last year. He'll be opposite senior Terrail Lambert (5-11, 191), who started the final 10 games of last season, finishing with three interceptions, including the game-winning touchdown against Michigan State. [links are mine; you can see the glory of "depth" for yourself. -ed]
Shockingly, there is no mention that the abundance of cornerbacks is an abundance of cornerbacks who happen to be complete crap at football. This is a secondary that finished the year 90th in pass efficiency defense despite playing almost entirely teams that couldn't pass.
Seriously. Michigan (27th), LSU (4th), and USC (30th) were all pretty good. Air Force was shockingly 17th, but against a Mountain West schedule. Purdue (46th) was all right. But the entire rest of the schedule was a disaster: MSU (61st), UCLA (81st), GT (82nd), Navy (85th), PSU (92nd), Stanford (94th), UNC (102nd... leading passer JOE DAILEY!), and Army (116th) were all bad. To finish 90th against that murderers row means you were lethally bad.
And yet this preview somehow makes it out to be as strength:
Defensively, the Irish will be running the 3-4 under first-year defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. What that meant in the preseason was that several linemen and linebackers found themselves either switching positions or learning new ways to play their old positions. Despite the controlled chaos, the defense is better off then the offense. There's depth at every position, especially the secondary where no fewer than eight players have legitimate claims to a starting job. One player who won't have to worry about competition is safety Tom Zbikowski, who appeared leaner and more focused on football during the spring.
(Emphasis mine.) Then, the topper:
Notre Dame's defense will keep it in games.
So... a unit that's switching to an entirely new scheme, had possibly the worst major college secondary in the country last year, and might be starting a 270 pound nose tackle is going to "keep it in games"? Corwin Brown might have an enormous penis but that's asking a lot. Blue Ribbon looks over the majesty of all this and concludes:
If the offense can find a consistent rhythm, be that with the passing or the running game, expect to see the Irish vying for their BCS bowl tie-in.
Ha. Ha. Ha. This is probably why Blue Ribbon's Oregon preview scared the living daylights out of me, then projected the Ducks to go 6-6 again: Blue Ribbon is run by crackheads.
I don't think Rickey Hampton of the Flint Journal has any super secret inside information that everyone else lacks, but he puts out a nice column on Carr that says this:
When Lloyd Carr retires from coaching, which he will almost certainly do at the end of the 2007 season, he'll miss moments like his encounter with Kevin as much as the heated action with his Big Ten rivals.
"One of the great things about my profession is I have literally met thousands of people, like Kevin, that I wouldn't have met if not for this profession," said Carr. "And so many of those people have had a tremendous impact on me."
Carr, who turns 62 later this month, won't say he is retiring. But it would be a huge upset if he doesn't.
Dunno about "huge upset", but the column has some interesting quotes from Carr and some insight into the recent 1997 reunion.
Etc.: Burnt Orange Nation has a great post from Chris from Smart Football, a site which I've referenced in this space before (though I can't find it). Looks like there's more coming. This is real inside baseball, so to speak, not that Weis stuff.
Also: vicious, monkey-headed, cow-eating badgers who are "swift as deer" plague Iraq. I thought we had a "where are they now?" for Booker Stanley until that "swift as deer" bit.
Also also: the Orange Bowl catches fire; Japanese announcers take over.
So, right, we now have a second quarterback in the 2007 class. Steven Threet of Adrian is transferring from Georgia Tech. What does Michigan have in Threet? A pretty good quarterback, it looks. Both Scout and Rivals gave him four stars -- he was in the Rivals 250 last year -- and ranked him high among the available quarterbacks in a strong year for the position. Scout had him #13, Rivals #9. ESPN is a huge outlier, ranking him only the 65th best quarterback in the '07 class. Which is, like, David Cone territory and doesn't seem to match up with a generally positive scouting report (more on that later).
Orson's lingering suspicion than any lanky, immobile, pale 6'6" guy he meets on the street is, will be, or has been a Michigan quarterback gets stronger with every passing day, as Threet fits the Michigan quarterback MO to a tee. He is indeed 6'6" and criticisms leveled at him are usually along the lines of "graceful as a water buffalo"; he offsets said criticisms with a big arm and the proverbial headiness that all nice young men with good standardized tests are credited with when the media discusses them. ESPN's Threet scouting report:
Has the arm to place the ball anywhere on the field and is very accurate. He stands tall in the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield and does an excellent job working his way through progressions. ... He makes good, quick decisions and rarely forces the ball. He has just enough movement skills to avoid within the pocket and buy a second passing chance. ...not an elusive athlete. He is not a guy you want on the perimeter; is at his best in the pocket. ... For such a tall player, he releases the ball low and his elbow sinks, very much like Vince Young. This negates his great natural height and can cause batted balls. His footwork can be inconsistent and drop speed needs to improve. [paging John Navarre! -ed] .... He is smart and heady. [see? see? -ed]
The above mechanics criticism -- the first and last time Threet will be compared to Vince Young -- is echoed by Rivals' Mike Farrell:
Michigan quarterback Steven Threet looked great physically but his footwork lacked and he dropped his arm a bit on his release.
Threet was impressive in his short time at Georgia Tech, slotting into the #2 spot on the depth chart behind Tyler Bennett almost immediately:
The main challenge will likely come from freshman Steven Threet, an imposing 6-foot-5, 230-pound prospect who enrolled early so he could take part in spring drills.
"Taylor's got the lead right now, but I want to see Steven go out there and compete and do the best he can," Gailey said. "If Taylor continues to play well and wins the job, what if we go to Notre Dame (for the season opener) and he gets sick the night before the game? We've to have a quarterback the next day. Somebody's going to play. We don't know who that's going to be right now."
Threet was clearly the second option in the GT spring game, getting a series with the first team offense and finishing 7-11 for 51 yards and a touchdown. And the following praise comes with a full Tom Deinhart Stupidity Warning, but it was a collaboration with Rivals' Jeremy Crabtree so maybe this has a smidgen of truth in it. They're comparing '07 recruits to '06 recruits:
Georgia Tech's Steven Threet (Adrian, Mich.) is like Georgia's Matthew Stafford. Sure, Taylor Bennett looked good in the Yellow Jackets' bowl game, but Georgia Tech might consider opening its quarterbacks competition with Threet climbing aboard. Why? Because the big, strong-arm Threet (6-5, 230) is a classic dropback passer whose package of acumen and skills might allow him to start right away.
Of course, when Threet's transfer was announced all the actual practicing and praise he got went out the window for poorly-founded theories of a fear of competition:
No need, though, for alarm. Threet might have been No. 2 this season, but that's a definite "might." If he won that job, and I don't think he was going to, it would have been by a hair over Calvin Booker and/or Josh Nesbitt. With Taylor Bennett in position to handle the next two seasons, there is plenty of time for Tech to plan/recruit so that two years from now, when Threet most likely would've been a real factor, the Jackets will have filled in that hole.
My hunch is that after having a so-so spring when it became apparent that Bennett would be the man for the next two seasons and that Calvin Booker is at least a little (and maybe more) better than some thought, Threet gave matters some thought.
He was, from what I have been told, an outstanding student, but I think fellow freshman QB Josh Nesbitt showed up last month and began working out with other players, and although those workouts are limited in their form by NCAA rules, there is a pretty good chance that Threet got an eyeful.
Next, a top QB prospect, Renfree of Scottsdale, Ariz., commited to Tech and said he was going to redshirt in 2008, and begin competing in '09. I know some have said he was homesick, and I haven't spoken with Steven so you can call me crazy (and be right). But my theory is he didn't like the writing he foresaw on the wall.
A transfer to Michigan obviously blows that theory all to hell; you don't transfer into the same recruiting class as Ryan Mallett to lessen the competition you face. That guy is also the one who wrote the YAY TECH article on Threet's transfer that drew FanHouse ire. It's kind of sad when the AJC blog specifically positioned as a fan's view on GT athletics is more objective than the actual beat guy's effort.
Editorial Opinion: Obviously Michigan is done at quarterback this year. With Mallett, Cone, Threet, and Wienke on the roster going forward Michigan finally has some QB depth, assuming that they all stay.
Also! If you want a mug or t-shirt with Threet's stony visage on it, you are in luck.
"The biggest thing is that the two coaches that recruited me took jobs at other schools, and that happened after I got there," Threet said. "Nothing against the other coaches because I like them, [offensive coordinator John] Bond and [Liam] Klein. It was just a different situation.
"People have been asking if it was homesickness, or
classes were too hard, or if it was all the competition at Tech," Threet said from Ann Arbor, Mich., after visiting Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr Thursday with his parents. "It was not any of those at all. I had a 3.76 grade-point my first semester, and the competition here is as good or better."