I stole all these pictures from RBUAS. What can I say? The man finds some damn pictures.
I decided I would go to Football Armageddon, or at least what seemed like Football Armageddon at the time. (One compensation for this offseason's nonstop torrent of SEC triumphalism in the aftermath of Ohio State's national title game pantsing is that last year's Michigan-Ohio State game now seems vastly less important than it did at the time. The comforts of a Michigan fan are small these days.)
Anyway, four of us rolled out of Michigan early in the morning: myself, a friend, and two people I didn't know, one a friend of my friend, the other his coworker. The coworker, who we'll call "Skeeter" for no reason whatsoever, cracked open a beer as we hit the highway. At 8 AM. It will turn out that Skeeter is a very, very stupid man. Friend of Friend, who is an exec type and I believe Skeeter's boss, has a posh house and a wife who made us all buttons.* Encased in plastic that would occasionally pop open and expose its contents to the wind were pictures of Bo Schembechler culled from that morning's Detroit News. I pocketed one. And we drove.
So four hours in a car in the early morning driving to Columbus pass, and then there's cars and parking's all full and there's chaos and I'm antsy because the scalpers are all asking for lots of money. When we finally managed to find parking -- an arduous process -- Skeeter took the opportunity to relieve himself by the side of the car, in plain site of portajohns. Oh, Skeeter.
I managed to locate a callous scalper and acquire a decent enough endzone ticket 30 rows up for a few hundred dollars; then we experienced authentic Ohio State-style tailgating, which involved waiting in line to get beer from a convenience store, then watching others drink that beer in a dingy, crammed, and depressing parking lot as an Ohio State fan attempted to convince me that fan behavior was just as bad at Michigan mere moments after describing High Street paved in beer cans. (For the record, 2006 was a huge step forward from 2002, which was probably the nadir; this isn't really about OSU fan behavior, it's about this irritating rat-faced guy I was talking to.) Eventually I decided to go into the game preposterously early because it was better than waiting around not drinking beer.
I entered. When I crested the threshold of my section and looked up... students. I was in the student section. I was going to die. I wore my Bo pin, stood stiff and unmoving, and made no eye contact. I managed to not break down during the pregame tribute, sat down several times so I would not die, and then when kickoff finally came watched Michigan rip off an opening touchdown drive that was a thing of beauty. When I inadvertently let a "go, Mario, go" slip out after the first play of the game an ornery looking Ohio State fan would turn around and glare, then complain to his friends I was going to ruin the game. I didn't say anything afterward, even when Michigan punched it in.
When I felt a tremor, I looked down at my hands. They were shaking uncontrollably. We were a third of the way to enough points to win the game. We were going to win. The Year of Infinite Pain was but the first act of a remarkable redemption story.
Then we kicked off.
It turns out 2006 was not the second act of a two-act play, or at least not one with any message other than "God has it in for you, specifically, for no real reason." No Michigan fan needs to be reminded of what happened from then on. It was a dour finish to a year that had been a triumphant return to... er... glory for a program in need of some. In my particular case, the agony of the Ohio State game was magnified tenfold when Skeeter, who had gone down to Columbus fully expecting to not go to the game because of its cost, failed to show at our agreed-upon meeting point after the game. Cell-phone reception being what it is after a major sporting event (nonexistent), the next hour -- I kid you not -- was spent in front of the same convenience store I had been lectured next to by the rat-faced man from hours before, watching Ohio State fans go "WOOOOOOOO" and wanting to die. Eventually we decided to walk back to the car and get something to eat at a local chain restaurant; Skeeter finally showed up hours and hours later, drunk and with some new buddies from the bar. It was 10 PM by the time we finally left; by that hour my rage had bubbled and re-bubbled and boiled over and erupted in little spasmodic fits for hours and hours and hours. When we got in the car, Skeeter cracked another beer.
And it is because of this that I can tell you that no matter how mad I get, I will never choke a man to death with his own intestines and then drink warm Bud Light out of his skull.. If it was going to happen, it would have happened. One of the great regrets of my life is going to be not leaving that twat in Columbus, preferably after stealing his wallet and all forms of identification. And his pants.
So, yeah, that's the end of last year.
This year the stakes are simple: send out Mike Hart, Chad Henne, Jake Long, (very probably) Mario Manningham, and (very probably) Lloyd Carr as triumphant victors completing a three act play, or it's Skeeter time. No pressure.
*(Skeeter and FOF being cordial enough to go to a football game in Ohio together was surprising, on reflection.)
Unit By Unit
In the course of three years Chad Henne has gone from wonder boy to whipping boy to quarterback... uh... man. Or something. Quarterback man, quarterback man, doin' the things a quarterback can. I have wandered off topic.
Anyway: as a sophomore, Henne was bad. This was covered in last year's preview, but a brief recap: Henne propped up his numbers by throwing a ton of read-free wide receiver screens and were further supported by a year in which every Big Ten secondary may as well have been Michigan State's; when he went downfield he was highly inaccurate, the primary culprit in Michigan's loss to Wisconsin and possibly those against Minnesota and Notre Dame. Though there were many valid excuses (no real deep threat, horrible offensive line play, no Mike Hart, general bloody-mindedness of the universe in general and Angry Michigan Safety Hating God in particular), this remains an apt summary of his 2005:
Henne's '05 environment was not a good place to do anything but fail. This, by in large, he did.
Things were much different in 2006. A brief tour through Henne's season via the magic of UFR (Ball State and the Rose Bowl did not get UFRed):
Not particularly good... not particularly Henne's fault, though. He attempted to throw 27 times; approximately 7 of those times were either screens or three-step rhythm throws. 25% of the time when Henne attempted to throw something longer than a screen or short west coast pattern he had Vandy players in his face, usually unblocked after a stunt or a missed blitz pickup. Late in the game, he started expecting and fearing pressure, forgot his mechanics, and started short-hopping balls. It was reminiscent of last year's Notre Dame game ... Henne was fine at first. He was excellent on the opening drive, and at least good through much of the game. The stats don't show it because of the drops.
However, when he lost faith in his protection late he started scrambling unnecessarily, misfiring on simple passes, and generally reverting to the bad old days at the beginning of last season. Notre Dame has no doubt noticed this -- the first hint of it was against them, after all -- and will blitz and stunt extensively, hoping to get him rattled.
There wasn't much evidence to go on, but he came through when he was asked to throw. I do have some concerns about his tendency to check down when he has a lot of time, but with the umbrella CMU was putting around the deep receivers it's understandable. He should have some opportunities to go deep against Notre Dame. [boy, was I right about that. -ed.]
Manningham's getting all the accolades but his three touchdowns were all inch-perfect throws by Henne and tough ones. (Maybe the first one wasn't so tough, but Henne laid it right in Manningham's chest anyway.) ... yow. Five passes in the negative categories, 16 in the positive ones. Last year Henne's numbers were propped up with a copious number of screens of all varieties, but remove the five he threw in this game (4 CA, 1 IN) and you still get 12-4, a 75% "good" rate. Last year he often hovered around 50%.
Another fine performance... At this point I think it's safe to declare Henne's accuracy vastly improved. He still makes the occasional Morelli-esque throw into a Mongol horde of defenders, but he's performing more like the Henne from last year's OSU game than last year's Wisconsin game.
Commenters questioned whether or not that was the best performance of Henne's career and waited for chart to decide. Chart says? Probably, and it would say "almost definitely" if it could accurately reflect how ridiculous every one of those DOs was and remind you that one of the INs was another bomb.
The delightful thing is: it's not all that different from his performances over the past three weeks. He had a rough game against Vandy, but since then he's been insane. It would be one thing if the Minnesota game was an aberration, but Henne's been laying it in between his WR's numbers for three weeks now. The deep ball has gone from a high-risk maneuver to a staple of the offense.
Not to be one of those people, but Henne seemed kinda off, right?
Yes. ... he only had six good passes downfield. The sample size isn't exactly vast, but this was Henne's iffiest performance since Vandy.
Obviously, Henne threw a lot more in this game than he has in any other this year, and he did it in a difficult environment against a good defense. It's reasonable to expect the numbers to be a little uglier. And that they are, with a full 15 attempts in the negative categories compared to but 19 in the positive ones. You may remember that at his nadir last year, Henne hovered just below the 50% mark, but that was after we stripped out batted passes and pressure. With four deflected balls -- none of which were truly Henne's fault -- and one Alford-induced scramble removed, Henne's ratio is 19:10. That's not bad at all.
Still, I wish that his accuracy was better. He had Arrington open a few times and either missed him entirely or forced him into a tough catch. He missed an open Butler a few times and winged a sure first down over Breaston's head. He turns two of those inaccurate passes into completions and I'm raving... but his accuracy left a little to be desired.
On the other hand: do you know who he reminds me of right at this minute? John Navarre midway through his junior year. That's when Navarre started doing things like moving up in the pocket to buy himself time and make the correct audibles and look safeties off before firing critical third-down lasers. And that's when you, the fan, sat back and thought "is this really John Navarre? Really really?" The Arrington touchdown and the scrambling Breaston completion are things he would not have done a year ago. He's gone from staring down receivers to teleporting safeties with his eyes. He's making second and third reads with regularity. He's getting there, and fast. The best evidence of this: the one timeout Michigan took on offense was because DeBord never got the call in, and Henne spent the entire game calling two plays and checking at the line in front of 110,000 people who hate him. He's come a long way.
Henne was generally accurate but not inspiring.
One issue: a high number of BRs. Only one was a dangerous throw into coverage -- the interception on the seam route -- but a total of four is high. Henne started the game doing that scramble-into-danger thing when the pocket was holding, essentially sacking himself. That hesitancy has crept into his game in recent weeks; hopefully it's more a function of no Manningham than anything else.
Par for the course for Henne. Was victimized by three drops, each of which would have turned a punt into at least a field goal attempt in all probability. He's getting better at finding guys on the run, but I still think he's a little too jumpy in the pocket.
A weird game from Henne where he was either doing something really bad (interception, misthrowing a screen, winging it wide to Manningham) or throwing lasers twenty-to-forty yards downfield. The lasers outweighed the errors, say the numbers, and I agree. That's partially an artifact of playing Saturday's red-clad men that claim they are a secondary, but a 62-yard bomb placed delicately between the 1 and the 5 on Breaston's jersey is a 62-yard bomb placed delicately between the 1 and the 5 on Breaston's jersey. Henne was also aided by a couple plays where Indiana rushers didn't come within five yards of him.
(Henne had only 15 attempts, BTW.)
Smith hardly ever had things filed "PR" because even when get got "PR-ed" he usually got off a short hitch to Gonzalez or Hall or Ginn or whoever because we couldn't cover long enough for unblocked blitzers to be useful. Henne, on the other hand, got swamped by linemen:
/55. Kraus -4, Ecker -1, Riley -7, Long -2, Mitchell -3, Bihl -1, assorted miscellaneous.
Some of that was just the scheme: Michigan's routes need time to develop. Primary reads on each play are long gainers and our little checkdown routes are slow-developing crosses. Henne spent vastly more time with the ball in his hand than Smith did. Some of that was just bad play. some of that was no doubt Henne-caused, as there were a few more instances of run-around-uselessly theater (though, like Navarre, Henne has started to indicate that he's getting better at this late in his junior season: see the Ecker touchdown). ... Chad Henne was deployed fully for the first time since the Notre Dame game and turned in an impressive performance. He has total command of his reads and routes. His accuracy is greatly improved. His pocket awareness... needs work but is improving.
How come we never throw over the middle?
What, are you stuck in 2005? This time-tested complaint should be shelved until 2008. Henne is now probing the middle of the field on digs, crosses, seams, and posts with frequency and success. Yes, this is a reminder for the first game of 2007, when we run a really boring offense against a MAC school and everyone freaks out.
(I want credit for that last bit this year, okay?)
|"oh, wide open"|
|Arm strength stop|
|Flag of perfection|
A few themes emerge: Henne is at his wicked best when dropping bombs on opponents' heads. His pocket awareness leaves something to be desired. His accuracy was vastly improved. He has full command of the offense. He was not used extensively. The overall picture: very good. Not great.
But it is the rare junior who is "great," especially at the most mentally demanding position on the field. The upside is there. Henne can make all the throws, from wide receiver screens to slants to fifteen-yard outs to posts to parabolic, feathery deep balls that nestle themselves between the 8 and the 6 on Mario Manningham's jersey. It might be nice if he was a little taller, but in all other ways he is a prototypical NFL quarterback. What holds him back is the flash of hesitancy, the indecision in the moment of the chase, the little uncertainties that crop up when an offense's well-laid plans crumble to dust.
You can see the problems he had last year ebb as the impressions roll by, with minor upticks when Henne ran across top defenses in the roiling hatred of State College and Columbus. And... um... Michigan State at home. Every Michigan quarterback has progressed; every senior has been in full command of the offense and let loose to do what he will. What doubts exist here seem to be unreasonable paranoia given past history. Henne should excel.
The backup situation is touchy with Jason Forcier's transfer. Ryan Mallett, the brobdingnagian freshman who can throw a ball through three Nazis, Last Crusade style, is the backup quarterback and heir apparent. Though he's undoubted the greatest quarterback ever ever, should he be pressed into service as a true freshman Michigan's offense will take a serious hit.
|Mike Hart||Sr.||Mark Moundros||So.*|
|Brandon Minor||So.||Vince Helmuth||Fr.|
|Carlos Brown||So.||Quintin Patilla||Fr.*|
|Avery Horn||Fr.||Andre Criswell||So.*|
Mike Hart's various joints and limbs cooperated with the rest of Michigan's miniature dynamo, and how. Last year Michigan rode Hart to an extent almost unparalleled across the country. His 318 carries were exceeded only by those of Rutgers' Ray Rice; PJ Hill and Garrett Wolfe were the only other backs to crack 300. Anyone who seriously trots out Hart durability issues amongst Michigan's concerns this year is living in the 90s, man.
|Wind the clock|
|Typical Minny play|
|Five yards of awesome|
|Gold, Jerry, Gold!|
On those 318 carries, Hart picked up 1562 yards at 4.9 yards per carry. Though these are respectable numbers, they are by no means great. Part of this is Hart's lack of breakaway speed, but part of it was Michigan's dogged effort to plow virtually all its opponents into bonemeal no matter the situation. Against Wisconsin, Michigan ran
on first down 20 of 26 times. Across the entire year, Michigan ran 57 percent of the time. When you run so often and so predictably, yards per carry become depressed unless you are an NFL first round sort.
Hart isn't. We all know who he is by now. He will get run down by safeties. He is not Darren McFadden or Steve Slaton. But he doesn't fumble, picks his way through line-of-scrimmage traffic like no one else, and is capable of banging out the greatest eight yard runs ever:
He is the engine; the afterburners belong to others.
|State's too easy|
The backup situation verged on dangerously thin when Kevin Grady blew out an ACL in spring practice and Carlos Brown first tried out at corner then flirted with a transfer. Brown eventually decided against the transfer, easing worries, then broke his hand. The injury is minor and shouldn't hold him out of more than the opener, but it has hampered his practice time. He'll get a long look as a punt and kick returner, but it'll probably be next year before serious carries are a possibility.
Thus Brandon Minor will be Hart's primary backup. As a freshman, Minor alternated bursts through the secondary with uninspiring three-yard gains. He's a slashing, high-stepping runner with a turn of speed that defies the recruiting analysts, who rated him as a fullback. It remains to be seen whether he can pick his way through traffic like Hart can -- rephrase: it remains to be seen just how much worse he is at picking his way through traffic than Hart is. His freshman year gave some indication that without an obvious hole he just runs up into a linebacker or one of his offensive linemen. Vision can develop -- see Chris Perry -- but he's not necessarily the heir apparent.
Freshman Avery Horn is fast as hell but has no idea what he's doing. If he doesn't get drafted to return kickoffs he'll redshirt.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
|Mario Manningham||Jr.||Adrian Arrington||Jr.*||Greg Mathews||So.||Mike Massey||Jr.*|
|Toney Clemons||Fr.||LaTerryal Savoy||So.*||Junior Hemingway||Fr.||Carson Butler||So.*|
|Zion Babb||Fr.||Martell Webb||Fr.||Andre Criswell (TE)||So.*||Steve Watson||Fr.|
Mario Manningham missed five games with a torn meniscus, only caught 38 passes, and finished 36th in receiving yards nationally. But, yeah...
...he's kind of good. Manningham exploded onto the nation's consciousness during the FBD against Notre Dame and continued torching secondaries until felled by injury against Michigan State. Across that four-week span, Manningham caught 19 balls for an incredible 456 yards -- 24 yards per catch -- and eight long touchdowns. Every team in the
|State's too easy|
country has a player they think can be the proverbial deep threat, but Mario Manningham is Chuck Norris in the Marinas Trench. Armed with an arsenal of double moves that can sucker in the weak and strong alike (Wisconsin, beaten for two touchdowns, was the #1 pass efficiency D in the country last year; Manningham duped Buckeye cornerback Malcolm Jenkins into an "oh wide open" during Football Armageddon that Henne overthrew badly), Manningham requires safety attention at all times. Every time you leave him without a bracket you risk a precision smart bomb from Henne. Other than maybe Desean Jackson there is no better receiver in college football.
One brief exemplar of Manningham's significance to the Michigan offense can be found at right; I don't think this qualifies as cherry picking, as among the opponents in the five game "no Manningham" section are Northwestern, Ball State, and Indiana.
|Minnesota seam TD|
|Minnesota post TD|
|State circus catch|
|Penn State post #1|
|Penn State post #2|
|Another tough dig|
Meanwhile, Adrian Arrington finally emerged as an onfield contributor after two years of blocking, malfeasance, and injury, and then he went and nearly malfeased his way right off the team. Two solid months of 6AM stairs got him back in Carr's good graces; in him Michigan has the makings of another All Big Ten wide receiver. You can call him a more athletic Jason Avant or a less athletic Braylon Edwards, but the comparison foremost in my mind is David Terrell: good but not great speed, a lanky stride and the ability to go up and get a fade. When Manningham was out, it was Arrington who became the primary threat, catching a couple of tough posts that yielded ten of Michigan's points against Penn State. One was Michigan's only passing touchdown of the day:
He has not shown the big play ability Manningham has (or Terrell had), but did catch a deep seam against Minnesota for a touchdown and is obviously tough enough to go get those posts. As a number two wide receiver he's an excellent option.
True sophomore Greg Mathews spent most of last year blocking but also picked up eight catches in sporadic time. A recruit who edged into the end of top 100 lists towards the end of his high school career, his stride, power, and hands are reminiscent of Jason Avant, though that comparison is obviously tenuous at this point given his limited utilization. He will be a possession complement to the deep and intermediate threats.
Behind Mathews there are but freshmen. Toney Clemons, another fringe top 100 guy, has been the most impressive in fall camp and will be the fourth receiver. Enjoy your blocking, kid! Junior Hemingway will also play; Zion Babb will probably redshirt.
Antonio Bass's knee is still severely damaged. He remains on the team but most say that's a technicality and he will be a medical casualty after the year. He will not play.
|Iowa cross #2|
At tight end, it's probably wrong to compare a kid who nearly got booted off a football team to Jesus, so lets just call Carson Butler Lazarus. Raw, kind of dense (the kid must have gone offsides a half dozen times last year), and wildly athletic, Butler tantalized during a redshirt freshman year in which he became the team's leading tight end. Then came a wild sequence of events: he was placed on double-secret probation along with Eugene Germany (gone) and Adrian Arrington (back) for undisclosed violations of team rules rumored to be inopportunely timed weed, arrested for playing a role in the St. Patrick's Day Nerd Massacre, kicked off the team because of the SPDNM arrest, acquitted of all charges in the SPDNM, and finally let back on the team a couple weeks ago. He's still deep in the doghouse -- not listed on the initial depth chart -- but should emerge within a few games if we make the potentially large assumption he keeps his head down and joins a church choir or something. So... a quasi-starter with big potential.
The other quasi-starter is redshirt junior Mike Massey, who saw extensive playing time a year ago but didn't do much with it. He was this close to making a couple superb catches, one a wheel route against Wisconsin, the other a potential touchdown against Penn State, but in both cases the ball just eluded his fingertips. He's been talked up in the spring, but doubts still remain about his blocking and overall upside.
Chris McLaurin and Andre Criswell back up Massey and Butler; both looked awful in the spring game. Criswell was shifted from fullback in the spring when Butler got himself in trouble; McLaurin was a linebacker who swapped units last year because of a chronic shoulder injury (... or something; it's not entirely clear). If either sees the field this year, it's probably to block. Freshman Steve Watson is the son of a former Denver Broncos receiver/coach by the same name and should be college ready; he may also see time. Martell Webb, at 6'5", 215, is headed for a redshirt.
|Jake Long||Sr.*||Adam Kraus||Sr.*||Justin Boren||So.||Alex Mitchell||Jr.*||Steve Schilling||Fr.*|
|Mark Ortmann||So.*||Dave Molk||Fr.||David Moosman||Fr.*||Jeremy Cuilla||So.*||Perry Dorrestein||Fr.*|
|Mark Huyge||Fr.||Tim MacAvoy||So.*||Grant DeBenedictis||So.*||Brett Gallimore||Jr.*||Cory Zirbel||So.*|
(note: every Michigan lineman since the beginning of time has redshirted. Just assume "redshirt" in front of all years unless "true" is specifically appended.)
Three starters return to the Michigan line, including the two best players on 2006's adequate, but not great, unit.
Left tackle Jake Long passed on an opportunity to be a top-ten selection in the NFL draft to play his senior year. That should suffice as an indicator of his talent, which is immense. He's the best offensive lineman in the conference and possibly the nation.
Fellow senior Adam Kraus enters his third year as a starter. Though he was prone to the occasional missed read in the zone game, when he was on the right page he was effective. Capable of getting out to the second level and an above-average pass blocker, Kraus is short of great but is probably headed for first-team All Big Ten at year's end.
Sophomore (true sophomore!) Justin Boren is on a stardom track. The first Michigan lineman in forever to forgo a redshirt, Boren started one game a year ago at guard and rotated in several times during the year. Michigan was grooming him for the center spot from day one. Every indicator on him is positive: he was a highly hyped recruit, he was one of the dominant player in that year's Army All-Star game, he saw the field immediately, and he won a starting role as a true sophomore. There might be some issues at first -- Boren has never played center before -- but by midseason he will probably be an upgrade over the departed Mark Bihl.
Alex Mitchell's job came under fire in the fall even before he picked up a minor injury that will hold him out of the Appalachian State game and maybe Oregon as well. Reports have consistently mentioned Mitchell's issues with his weight; some darkly hint at potential motivation issues. At times last year he was overrun, especially on stunts and blitzes that he and Rueben Riley did always handle well. As a first year starter and a sophomore there are some mitigating factors, but there has been a constant undercurrent of discontent with his play and conditioning this offseason. Even healthy he may watch from the sidelines.
Steve Schilling, like Boren, is marked for stardom. Practice-field rumors had him running neck-and-neck with Rueben Riley, a fifth year senior and multiple-year starter (albeit one who often seemed like an out of position guard), the instant he stepped on campus despite running a wing-T in high school and not knowing how to pass block. An ill-timed case of mono knocked him out of contention in 2006 and forced a redshirt, and shoulder surgery caused him to miss spring practice. Despite all that he's beaten out Cory Zirbel and Mark Ortmann for the right tackle job.
The question with Schilling is how fast can he get up and going? All the injury downtime and the wing-T thing could lead to some dodgy moments in pass protection early. If he's shaky during the Oregon and Penn State games, Michigan's offense could sputter in an inopportune fashion.
Key backups on the line: Mark Ortmann, a redshirt sophomore who will be the first tackle on the field if either Long or Schilling goes down. He's supposed to be more of a finesse, pass-blocking type. Jeremy Cuilla is the first option at guard. A junior who's seen a start here and there and had significant snaps when other players go down injured, he has a modicum of experience but no hype. He will replace Mitchell for Appalachian State. Dave Moosman was well-regarded as a center and is probably in line to start next year (Boren would slide out to guard); this year might be a bit early. The backup situation, in general, is not good.
Five Questions and Five Answers
What could possibly go wrong?
A look back at last year's questions is a blast from the horrible, horrible past: does Henne suck ass? Does the offensive line suck ass? Does Breaston suck ass? Are we going to die? If so, how painful will it be? Will the muscles be flayed from our bodies as we watch in helpless agony? Could you describe the pain on the Schmidt scale? Are we talking yellowjacket pain...
2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
...or is it bullet ant time...
4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.
I tried to answer these things in a somewhat reassuring manner -- No, sort of, sort of, maybe, probably pretty painful, yeesh no, probably yellowjacket if you pushed me -- but my impression of the fanbase's zeitgeist has flipped 180 degrees from last year. Now nothing at all questions the offense. But... NSFMF!
These are the ways in which the offense could fail to live up to its potential:
- Short yardage remains problematic. Michigan sucked in many ways during the Year of Infinite Pain, but one area in which they most certainly did not was in short yardage. Michigan converted at an almost 90% clip on third and one. Last year that number dropped under 60%. I have covered this before, but to re-iterate: the zone game was a disaster in short yardage situations, sabotaging a dozen or more drives when the slow developing stretch got overwhelmed by penetration. Michigan's out-talent and out-execute approach to football has always been at its best when the odds are stacked in their favor, like on third and not much. The stretch moves us away from that. More on this later.
- Steve Schilling and Justin Boren play like n00bs. This wouldn't be totally surprising, since they are n00bs, but a large portion of the optimism rests on the assumption there will be little dropoff from Mark Bihl and Rueben Riley to either new starter. A portion of it rests on the assumption that the new guys will actually be better than the outgoing seniors by midseason.
- Carson Butler and Adrian Arrington look at someone funny. Both are hanging by threads; without them the situation at receiver is basically Manningham, Massey, and a bunch of unproven sketch. Guys: stay home and play XBox.
- Key injuries. Obvs. Henne, Hart, Long, and Manningham cannot be replaced.
- Michigan gets cocky. More on this later.
- Henne remains very good, but does not improve. Also more on this later.
Will Michigan t
ake full advantage of its weapons?
AKA "Michigan gets cocky." I hate that this has to be asked, but it does. Michigan had very little in the way of creative, attacking offense except against Notre Dame and Ohio State. (I believe they would like to have been creative and attacking against USC but Michigan's inability to block anyone prevented that. Shotgun grumbing goes here.) This was most bothersome during the Wisconsin game, when Michigan ran on first down 80% of the time and 74% of the time before the game was salted away. Michigan could not have gone into that game with the idea they would plow over the Badgers, so that looks like a conscious decision to sacrifice effectiveness for safety.
For the most part I was fine with this. Michigan was in a unique situation last year because of their defense, which was so dominant it made sense to trade points for risk. (And when their defense was not dominant Michigan was obviously in full Scoring Offense mode, even if that whole blocking thing prevented the actual scoring against USC.) Against most teams Michigan was simply not going to lose unless there was somewhere between one to three disastrous turnovers; limit those and limit your ability to lose. This is the same strategy Michigan rode to the 1997 national title, and the same one Jim Tressel uses with great success when his quarterback is not a Heisman winner. It makes sense when you have a slavering, vicious defense.
It does not make sense when you do not, and Michigan looks like it won't this year. I don't think the defense is going to be 2005-level bad, but it won't be the sort of thing where a team can get the ball back down seven late and I feel no panic whatsoever. A one score lead is no longer a large one except in certain special years; hopefully Michigan won't coach like this is one of them.
So... I can't answer this. I think Michigan's conservative tendencies both exist and are overstated; I think Carr has become more aggressive in recent years; I fear he will coach this year like he has last year's defense.
Can we fix short yardage?
I don't know. I do know that every time Michigan runs a stretch from a three-wide on third and one this year, God will kill a kitten. Also I will swear so fiercely that evil-looking little imps will spontaneously generate and flit away, probably to play cornerback for Purdue. I'm pessimistic this will change because it seems like such a spectacularly stubborn and stupid approach to third and one. It's not like it takes an offseason to review and fix the problem; it was obvious and something I was complaining about it as early as the Notre Dame game.
And yet they were still pulling out the Third-And-Punt maneuver during the Ohio State game. It seems that if they thought this was a problem they would have picked up on it earlier. They will try to execute better. They might with an extra year of experience, but chances are it will be average at best, especially with two new fullbacks, no Grady, and iffy-blocking tight ends.
(On the assumption some actual journalists read this thing... the Daily guys must, at least: could someone ask about this? Here is the question: Are you concerned that third and one conversion dropped 30 percentage points last year and does that have any connection to the zone running game? Do you plan on incorporating more isos in these situations? If not, why do you hate kittens? It's no "What do you make of your schedule that features eight home games?" but it might be worth asking.)
Will Henne make another leap?
He was very good a year ago, and even if he plateaus Michigan's offense should be better with development from the line, a full season from Manningham, and the continued improvement of the players around him. But there were moments in most games that Henne showed some flaws, either by winging balls a la 2005 or, more often, reacting to pressure poorly. If he reduces these instances he can be great.
Will he? Initial returns are good. When he visited the Elite 11 Camp as a counselor he drew praise from everyone who stopped by as the guy there. When rumblings come from within the bowels of Fort Schembechler they indicate Henne has stepped up a further notch. The validity of those rumors will probably mean the difference between a nice BCS bowl and a national championship game appearance (in which we'll get dismantled by USC, natch). Since his problems seem to resided chiefly in the realm of the mental -- missed reads, some timing issues, pocket awareness -- a smooth natural progression is likely. The inaccuracy went way down a year ago, so whatever mechanics issues he had seem repaired. Henne should take another step forward.
And adding it all up, you get...?
If there is ever going to be a year Michigan spends headbutting foes by final scores of 42-10, this is going to be it. I suppose depth could be better all over the place, but Michigan has a top five quarterback, top five running back, top five wide receiver, and top five left tackle. Carson Butler and Adrian Arrington are both outstanding targets. The only things to fret over even a little are fullback and the right side of the offensive line, which features a returning starter (once Mitchell gets back, which is apparently for Oregon) and the two most hyped offensive line recruits since Jake Long.
I think it will be a little disappointing in games here and there. Early games against Oregon and Penn State worry -- though I don't have a handle on Oregon's defense yet -- as the new offensive linemen could self-destruct frequently enough to severely limit Michigan's effectiveness. One small comfort: Penn State's defensive line is about as green as the Boren/Mitchell/Schilling trio and projected DT starter Abe Koroma is likely to miss the game.
But even with those concerns I go back to that little box in the wide receivers category that showed production with and without Manningham. The "with" Manningham number, a seven game stretch featuring three of the top twenty scoring defenses nationwide: 36.8, which would have been good for fifth in the country last year. That's a realistic goal. I believe! Praise-ah his name-ah! Yes-ah!
- Brandon Minor gets 20% of the available carries.
- Alex Mitchell manages to fend off challengers for his job.
- Henne is invited to New York for the Heisman thingy, but does not win.
- Massey spends most of the year in front of Butler on the depth chart but Butler ends up with more catches and is the defacto starter by Wisconsin.
- Manningham: 1340, 15 TD.
- Michigan is 15th in total offense; 12th in scoring.
Note: if you see last week's poll it's a cache thing, I think. Refresh should cure it.
Hurray, that's the poll hurray. If you're interested, you can see all the individual ballots here.
Please note that awards nattering has been shelved this week. Sorry, but I've got a preview to write.
Hmmm. Was a second preseason poll worth doing? I don't know. We have about a dozen fewer votes than last week, which undoubtedly adds some jitter, and some movement. Texas and WVU flip after a few bloggers knocked Texas. The most significant movement came from Arkansas (up four) and Tennessee (down three) after some roundtable discussion of these teams' merits. Auburn, also slammed by a few bloggers, fell two spots. No idea why TCU replaced South Carolina in the ballot but there you go.
Final differences in between blogpoll and AP:
- Michigan is #3 and
Texas #4 with WVU #5in the Blogpoll; WVU, perhaps bolstered by schedule-rankers (a practice verboten here), is #3 in the AP. [WVU up to four.] The only mid-major in the Blogpoll is #22 Hawaii, which is #23 in the AP. TCU and Boise State are #22 and #24, respectively, in the AP.TCU now in. Bloggers believe in the OBC: South Carolina is #23 and not present in the AP.
- Bloggers do not believe in Rutgers, ranking them #21. RU is #16 in the AP.
- Despite the first place vote, Wisconsin comes in at #9 instead of #7 in the AP.
- Oklahoma is #6 instead of #8.
- Bloggers are more into #16 Arkansas than the AP (#21)
- Bloggers are not into Tennessee (#20, #15 AP).
Any opinions about whether or not it's worthwhile to do this dual preseason poll next year are welcome.
Wack Ballot Watchdog:
This chiding is saved for in-season thing. Now everyone's got an opinion that's as defensible as any other (not at all) because no one's played anyone.
Note: the CSS below is messed up. Sorry. Will fix ASAP.
Now on to the extracurriculars. First up are the teams which spur the most and least disagreement between voters as measured by standard deviation. Note that the standard deviation charts halt at #25 when looking for the lowest, otherwise teams that everyone agreed were terrible (say, Eastern Michigan) would all be at the top.
Ballot math: First up are "Mr. Bold" and "Mr. Numb Existence." The former goes to the voter with the ballot most divergent from the poll at large. The number you see is the average difference between a person's opinion of a team and the poll's opinion.
Next we have the Coulter/Krugman Award and the Straight Bangin' Award, which are again different sides of the same coin. The CKA and SBA go to the blogs with the highest and lowest bias rating, respectively. Bias rating is calculated by subtracting the blogger's vote for his own team from the poll-wide average. A high number indicates you are shameless homer. A low number indicates that you suffer from an abusive relationship with your football team.
Swing is the total change in each ballot from last week to this week (obviously voters who didn't submit a ballot last week are not included). A high number means you are easily distracted by shiny things. A low number means that you're damn sure you're right no matter what reality says.
Swing doesn't exist in the year's first poll.
Ding dong, Troy Smith is dead. Church bells should peal across the state the first time Todd Boeckman throws an interception or completes like 50% of his passes or like blows a game like whoah.
Also dead are Pittman, Ginn, Gonzalez, and a couple offensive linemen, leaving the Buckeyes bereft of the offense that steamrolled the country until its inexplicable -- and highly, highly annoying -- collapse in the Not Fiesta Bowl which instantly validated for all time to everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line that their college football was WOOOO COMPLETELY EFFIN AWESOME YO!!! Congratulations! Now your decrepit school systems have been rendered irrelevant! Please rejoice in this marker of regional dominance and forget that we burned a swath of destruction from Atlanta to the coast, you traitorous confederate bastards. If it wasn't for us dragging your asses back into the Union you would be the Sudan right now. (The Sudan's in Africa. Which is across an ocean. Which is a large body of water.)
What? Where am I? Oh. Ohio State.
Anyway, the Buckeyes took a one-year detour on the spread express route to take advantage of that whole Heisman winner thing, but now figure to return to the Ohio State of (slightly) old. They will pound the ball on offense, stuff your face on defense, and usually win 17-9. They'll have infuriatingly great kicking. They'll probably play in a nice bowl game. Etc.
Problems do loom, however: the line is young and flimsy at DT. The secondary is distressingly thin and young, and the offensive line might still be looking for Jarvis Moss. Everyone expects a step back except SEC fans, who can't imagine Ohio State getting any worse.
JESUS CHRIST. MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP. PLEASE.
(Not particularly relevant since every offensive skill starter save completely ignored TE Rory Nichol is gone, along with two OL starters. Thankfully.)
- Redshirt junior Todd Boeckman, the presumed starter. Boeckman was an unremarkable three-star in 2003 (he also grayshirted) whose other offers were Pitt and Maryland.
- Redshirt sophomore Robby Schoenhoft. The highest rated quarterback on the Buckeye roster, Schoenhoft was a four star who picked OSU over Michigan. But... wow. Schoenhoft is the oddest four star with M/OSU offers ever. How often do you see a guy who's a pocket passer complete 37% of his attempts and get attention from anyone other than Buffalo? The general opinion on Schoenhoft is that he's a kid with a nice arm who shows well at combines but isn't an actual quarterback.
- Redshirt freshman Antonio Henton, a dual-threat three-star from Georgia with other offers from Louisville, Illinois, and Maryland
Recruiting rankings are not flawless, but that's a remarkable paucity of talent for a program as high profile as Ohio State.
There was no Weis E. Coyote quarterback subterfuge this offseason at Ohio State: it was obvious Todd Boeckman would be the starter from the moment the Not Fiesta Bowl ended and he is indeed the starter. He is large, strong armed, and utterly green; no one has seen him in live action since high school eons ago. Since that goes for everyone on the roster, predicting the outcome here is difficult. A quick check of all the good things each did in the spring game...
...reveals Schoenhoft to have a mean three-yard stop, Henton a mean quarterback scramble, and Boeckman a decent deep ball. At least one decent deep ball. The overall numbers weren't pretty:
Boeckman completed 6 of 14 passes for 103 yards. Playing for both teams, Schoenhoft was a combined 7-for-18 for 83 yards and Henton was 8-for-16 for 45 yards.
Henton also threw three interceptions; Boeckman fumbled once.
None of these guys is going to be Troy Smith. The hope is for adequacy here. Upside is Craig Krenzel; downside is Steve Bellisari.
Tailback & Fullback
Rating: 5. Until Chris "Beanie" Wells -- and that's the last time "Beanie" gets mentioned in this preview -- spun free of what should have been a Shawn Crable TFL and zipped through the Michigan secondary en route to the first of two backbreaking Ohio State touchdown runs, his freshman season was mostly an exercise in unforced fumbles and romps over hopelessly overmatched run defenses. It's hard to extrapolate from a freshman year in which Wells was a backup who got most of his carries against Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan State, and the like. He is unlikely to average 5.5 yards per carry as the primary threat, especially without Smith, Ginn, and Gonzalez drawing all sorts of attention.
That said, if you believe in recruiting rankings you are forced to believe in Wells, Rivals' #1 recruit in the country at any position in 2005. He is huge and fast and has some dainty cutting ability. At the very least his freshman season proved him to have more ability than a David Underwood, who was huge and fast and so top heavy a slight breeze would knock him over; that worst case scenario averted we have a narrow range of ability with Tony Hunt at the bottom and Eddie George at the top. Wells is going to be very good, and this year.
There do exist two concerns: the aforementioned fumbling, which can be chalked up to small sample size now but would blossom into a full-fledged issue should it continue into 2007, and the potential for Wells' pounding style to expose him to injury. He's a violent, smashing runner and those guys are always prone to injuries both nagging and severe. Adrian Peterson, a similar (though hopefully much better) player, had a career marred by injury; Wells has a higher risk of the same than most backs.
Another Wells, Maurice, is the backup. Maurice is the platonic opposite of Chris, a dreadlocked scatback from Florida who's thoroughly disappointed so far in his career. He was a highly touted recruit in his own right and has reportedly impressed throughout the offseason, so he may be a decent backup option. Freshman Brandon Saine is very, very fast and wi
ll probably see carries here and there.
The fullbacks are veteran and were effective when deployed a year ago; one will emerge as a battering ram for Wells.
Wide Receiver & Tight Ends
Rating: 3. This position group, so deep a year ago, has been stripped down to the bare bones. Two Brians, Hartline and Robiskie, return after encouraging 2006s. Past that there is little experience, and most of that is on its way to disappointing. A true freshman is probably the third wideout.
Both Brians are similar players, loping striders with good but not Ginn speed, fairly reliable hands, and a modicum of route-running ability. Both were three star recruits in 2005; Hartline redshirted but Robiskie did not. One difference: Robiskie's offer list belied his ranking -- aside from OSU he also had Miami and Florida offers -- while Hartline's other suitors were Iowa and Michigan State. Robiskie was more heavily deployed last year with 29 catches for 383 yards and five touchdowns. One of those touchdowns, of course, was this one:
Behind the two starters is an array of question marks. Albert Dukes and Devon Lyons are veterans who have been passed over by first the Brians and now apparently three-star true freshman Dane Sanzenbacher, an Ohio State in-state camp offer who has impressed in the fall. Michigan has always done very well with these guys and Sanzenbacher's immediate leap into the two-deep bodes well for his future, but maybe not so well for Ohio State's present. There's also sophomore Ray Small, who lives up to his name at 5'9"-ish. He's a little nippy guy who will see time as a screen and short-YAC-friendly route runner; if Ohio State continues deploying its "Shotginn" set he'll be the one in the triple threat position replacing Ginn. He had eight catches a year ago.
Again, this should be a comedown from last year. Robiskie's shown a knack for getting open deep and Hartline's shown flashes of being a solid possession-plus type in the mold of Gonzalez, but neither can reasonably be expected to replace the production of the departed NFL first-rounders. They'll probably be good enough but uninspiring.
Rating: 4. Three starters return to a line that seemed like one of the best in the country until Jarvis Moss and the rest of the Florida defensive line decided that they liked their HEISEMENS sacked one billion times. No one saw the line's total collapse coming, and it's hard to know what to make of it in the aftermath.
On recruiting hype and returning starts alone, the line should be pretty good. Alex Boone was a five star who leapt into the starting lineup as a true freshman; enormous Steve Rehring (6'8"! 345!) was a fine starter as a sophomore; senior Kirk Barton has been a fixture on the Ohio State offensive line for seemingly a decade. There are two new starters but in low-danger areas on the interior. But: Rehring may lose his job to redshirt freshman Brian Browning, and Ohio State's recruited sparsely on the offensive line so if either of new starters Jim Cordle and Ben Person can't hack it there are few options behind them. And there was that wholesale collapse against Florida.
What to pick? I can offer little here, especially with the presumed move to an entirely different sort of offense. The "4" above is for returning tackles who should be excellent players and a general rule of thumb to give Ohio State the benefit of the doubt when things are in question, but there's no conviction behind it.
It was looking like Ohio State had impossibly reloaded a year after losing nine starters off a truly badass defense up until Michigan rolled into town and ripped off a 80 yard opening touchdown drive. And from there it was not so good: Michigan put up 39 points and Florida 41. But was it so bad? The Michigan score was heavily aided by three Ohio State turnovers and one dubious fourth-down pass interference call. Florida didn't even crack 400 yards total offense, instead rolling up its points on short field after short field as the Ohio State offense sputtered to 82 total yards. Perhaps it wasn't, in fact, so bad.
The flip side of that, however, is to wonder if it was all that good in the first place. Though no one scored on Ohio State at all, chances are many teams could have turned in a performance like this when Colt McCoy's second start and Anthony Morelli's first were the toughest tests on the docket. (Drew Tate? Maybe, but by that point Tate was busy throwing horrible interceptions as Iowa clattered to a 2-6 conference record.) Helped by a bevy of opponent turnovers and the offense's ability to turn any offense one dimensional by midway into the second quarter, Ohio State's defense found itself in a highly advantageous position for most of last year. I don't believe it was nearly as good as the numbers to the right indicate. This opposed to the 2005 defense, which I lived in constant fear of.
Rating: 3. Sophomore defensive tackle Doug Worthington is
- 6'7", and
- 271 pounds.
I love this. Visions of Pat Massey moonwalking downfield dip and flutter, tantalizing with visions of gashing Mike Hart runs. Also helpful in my little fantasies are the rest of the Buckeye defensive tackles, who are young and green. Sophomore Todd Denlinger and redshirt freshman Dexter Larimore are battling for the starting spot next to Worthington; junior Nader Abdallah is finally in shape and on the two deep but has seen no field time. None of these guys have, actually: last year senior Joel Penton backed up the two starters; Denlinger is the top returning tackler with four. When evaluating new talent at Ohio State you have to offer up a high initial baseline, but this set of defensive tackles is going to be little better than that baseline. Things could actually be bad here.
At end, there is Vernon Gholston (@ right). As a sophomore he racked up 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss amongst 49 tackles. He's the best defensive end in the conference and a potential All-American. There were some questions about Gholston's responsibility in the run game early last year, but he answered those with aplomb. He's the best player on the Buckeye defense. Also he has arms that are less a gun show and more a nuclear missile silo. Also also: can we test that guy for 'roids? I'm just sayin'.
Opposite Gholston a few highly touted recruits are in a fierce battle to start. Junior Lawrence Wilson currently has the edge on sophomore Robert Rose and junior Alex Barrow. Given the recruiting rankings of these guys -- Rose was a five star, albeit a late riser that may have been a little bit of an overreaction based on a sin
gle impressive Army game outing -- and their numbers, one should work out and be adequate (and adequate for Ohio State's purposes, not Purdue's), if not better.
Rating: 4. A favorite MGoBlog hobbyhorse is James Laurinaitis and how goddamn overrated he is; anyone who's read this space since last year's Ohio State game can probably sing along with what follows. He was hesitant and awful in his first real test against Texas, thought much of what ailed him then can be fixed by experience. Against Iowa, he was quiet. When Michigan came calling and actually had the athletes to get out past the OSU DTs and get a blocker on Laurnaitis, he washed out every time. Hart finished with 140-some yards and three touchdowns. I might as well dig up my summary of the guy from last year's All Big Ten team because I think the exact same thing:
My position on Laurinaitis and his magic, leather-magnetized hands has been made clear: dude is way overrated and belongs nowhere near the Butkus finalist list or the All-American teams he'll no doubt feature on. I blame two people: Troy Smith and Brent Musberger. Smith is the primary motor for Ohio State's #1 ranking and Musberger's intolerable boosterism of him during the Texas game, Iowa game, and every other game was repeated so often that it became true in the minds of the brainwashed masses.
...but he does have his good points. He is fast, able in zone drops -- to get Drew Tate to throw the ball right at you you have to be in good position -- and a good blitzer. If he's kept clean he will fill and tackle ably. He's not bad by any stretch of the imagination and... sigh... deserves a place on this team. But on the second team, dammit, until he defeats a block. Any block.
All that said: I did put him on the second team as a sophomore and he projects better as a junior. Depending on how much he improves he could warrant the breathless Musbergerisms he receives; I still would like to see it before believing it. My theory on Laurinaitis is that he's great in space but easy to block and my theory on the OSU DTs is adequacy at best -- no double-teams demanded here -- so I am compelled to predict a significant step backwards in Ohio State's run defense. Like... not awful or anything, but thorough averageness is a possibility.
On the strongside, Marcus Freeman returns. A highly touted recruit who made a smooth transition to start as a redshirt sophomore, he projects well. One concern: despite being Ohio State's second leading tackler, Freeman didn't make much in the way of plays with only 2.5 TFL and one sack. Six pass breakups and two interceptions are impressive, though -- zone drops are a strength for these linebackers. He will be somewhere between good and very good.
Graduated senior Steve Kerr was a liability last year and won't be missed at all. Senior JUCO transfer Larry Grant is the starter; sophomore Ross Homan will also press for time. I am skeptical about both these players given their inability to displace Kerr in a season of thorough blah from the former Indiana transfer. Both have an obvious excuse as guys in their first year at Ohio State but, like Michigan, when Ohio State feels compelled to bring in a JUCO anywhere it signals a deep unease about a particular position. The weakside is likely to remain a problem.
Rating: 4. Malcolm Jenkins is the star of a secondary short on both depth and experience; there is a not-insignificant chance this group ends up resembling last year's Michigan unit that proved itself ineffective despite the presence of an NFL first-rounder.
There aren't many problems with Jenkins. I still prefer Ikegwuonu and King, as Jenkins occasionally gets excessively aggressive and lets receivers behind him, but the gap is not wide. Last year he was fortunate opposing quarterbacks overshot his man when this happened. But the flip side of that aggression is a hellish battle for many opposition receivers. Jenkins is a jam artist with heavy hands, better than anyone in the conference at fighting a third down slant tooth and nail.
So, yeah, but then... um. The rest of the secondary has questions. Corner is frighteningly thin. Andre Amos is out for the year with an injury, leaving sophomore Donald Washington, the nickelback a year ago behind former walkon Antonio Smith, as the other starter. Washington was okay as a freshman but by no means a star. Adrian Arrington had his way with him a few times. Past that: nothing with a snap. There is redshirt freshman Chimdi Chekwa, a middling recruit, and true freshman Eugene Clifford. Clifford was the crown jewel of last year's recruiting class but if he's on the two-deep as a true freshman at cornerback I believe that bodes extremely unwell for the Bucks. Clifford is big, very big -- 6'2", nearly 200 pounds -- and was universally regarded a safety by the recruiting gurus.
The other options in the nickel are a fourth year junior who's seen no time except on special teams and a safety, Tyler Moeller, who's a converted linebacker(!). There's every indication that spread teams will find someone to pick on.
At safety, Jamario "Toast" O'Neal, he of the hilarious five star ranking, has lost his job to Kurt Coleman, a sophomore Ohio State fans are high on. The other safety is Anderson Russell, returning after an ACL tear that cost him his 2006. He is also a sophomore and is without a doubt the most unexpected starter on this Ohio State team. A two-star recruit from Georgia with other offers from Duke(!) and Furman(!!!) -- reviewing his old recruiting articles is hilarious: "Anderson enjoyed Duke visit" as if anyone on the planet has ever gotten an offer from Ohio State and picked Duke -- not only got offered by the Bucks but was a starter as a redshirt freshman until tearing his ACL against Iowa. He returns for a sophomore season as the starter. So pick your path here: nothing recruit or insta-starter; the jury is out given the paucity of passing offenses Russell went up against last year.
Rating: 4. I hate Ohio State and their never ending factory of superb kickers. Last year's starter was 8 for 11 and lost his job to a 28-year-old Australian who passed up a rugby contract -- oi! -- to play at Ohio State. I do take some small solace in this shakiness...
Neither kicker looked great in Wednesday's kick scrimmage, Pretorius 5-of-10 unofficially and Pettrey 7-of-13, but after a year of feeling like he was the Buckeyes' most consistent kicker in practice, Pretorius seemingly won the job five days ago in Saturday's jersey scrimmage.
...but not much. There's enough here to project Buckeye kicking to be something less than great -- Mike "Ted" Nugent would never get replaced -- but they've still got two adequate guys, which is two more than Michigan has at the moment.
Punting was virtually irrelevant for Ohio State last year, at least until the Not Fiesta Bowl, -- there is no Buckeye punter listed amongst the NCAA statistical leader because you need to average 3.6 per game -- but junior AJ Trapasso returns after averaging 40.6 yards per kick, landing 17 inside the 20 with only
four touchbacks. Only about a quarter of his kicks were returned. He was a major reason Ohio State was 13th in net punting. He's one of the country's best.
OSU's returners are in the NFL; a step back from Ginn is highly probable.
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 -|
|0.69 (13th)||21||6||2.92 (12th)||6||12||1.46 (24th)|
Buoyed by the leather magnets in James Laurinaitis' gloves, Ohio State was hugely positive in this category a year ago and should take a major step back. Boeckman has a lot of practice experience but is not going to be a Heisman winner; OSU's interceptions should go up significantly. Also, Wells has given indication he's something of a fumbler. I expect this number to be slightly negative at the end of the year; it will be a major step back.
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.
Worthington was a defensive end and now starts at tackle. I think this bodes unwell.
Dumbest Thing In CFN Preview
Best Defensive Player: Junior LB James Laurinaitis. What does Laurinaitis possibly do for an encore after leading the Buckeyes in tackles and interceptions a year ago, en route to becoming the first true sophomore to win the Nagurski Award? A physical beast in run defense, he's also stellar in underneath pass coverage, making him a natural at creating takeaways.
Obvs I was going to go for this.
What I would give for a microwave large enough to put this in.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Undefeated is probably out of the question, but 11-1 isn't. OSU picked a good year to make Washington the primary OOC foe.
Well... there isn't much to threaten until Penn State rolls into town in Week 8. I guess it's possible Purdue could pose some sort of threat, but visions of Wells smushing Boiler defenders into the ground are vivid. But they do return many players and could make a leap. Also: they are well suited to take advantage of a potentially shallow secondary. Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan are all eminently losable, and maybe an uncharacteristic game gets blown by some quarterback errors, but 8-4 is about the worst scenario I can concoct.
I think the above will seem unnecessarily negative given the final output down here, but the tendency in these previews is to quarrel with the conventional wisdom when it needs quarreling with, and much of the conventional wisdom about last year's Ohio State defense was, in my opinion, wrong. Thus the words spent arguing that James Laurinaitis is only the third best middle linebacker in the conference. Still, while I don't expect this year's Ohio State defense to be actually bad per se it does seem a clear step down from the last couple years. Defensive tackle is a major concern, as is depth in the secondary and experience at safety. Ohio State plans to play a lot of freshman on defense this year and it's not by choice.
Everyone expects Tressell to pull in his horns and go with the traditional smash mouth Tresselball offense, and so does this preview. Given the available personnel that's what makes sense. I think this is likely to recur:
Tressel Ball in Big Games, '02 vs. '06 2002 2006 Pts./Game 16.2 29.5 Avg. MOV 8.0 15.8 Runs/Game 44.0 34.3 Yds./Carry 3.5 4.6 Passes/Game 16.6 28.5 Yds./Pass 8.2 7.7 Run:Pass % 72.4 54.4
2002 Games: Washington State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, Michigan
2006 Games: Texas, Penn State, Iowa, Michigan
The difference between 2002 and this year will be the lack of unfathomable luck and a flimsier defense.
|9/1||Youngstown State||Functional DNP|
|9/15||@ Washington||(very) Probable Win|
|10/13||Kent State||Functional DNP|
|10/27||@ Penn State||Tossup|
|11/17||@ Michigan||Probable loss|
Oh, the infinite hubris in that "probable loss." But, seriously this is what I think is true so there you go. One of these days Ann Arbor Torch And Pitchfork customers will come for me, I'm sure. Ohio State starts off 7-1, splits versus PSU and Wisconsin, and comes to Ann Arbor with the Big Ten title on the line. In the aftermath, I don't jump off U Towers. 9-3.... verging on 10-2.
Who is overrated?
The most common answers here all reside in the SEC: Florida (3 votes), Georgia (3), Tennessee (3), Auburn (2), and Arkansas (3) all got multiple votes, though Arkansas also got some positive mentions and is covered in the "Who's Both?" section below. Interesting split here, with SEC voters preferring UF and Ark as their overrated teams and outsiders tearing down the other three. Roll 'Bama Roll on the Gators:
With no defense to bolster an offense that struggled to blow out anyone but the lowliest of OOC cupcakes (and tOSU of course, hee hee)? I'm not entirely comfortable with their ranking of #11 in our own ballot, but that's a lot more reasonable than being listed in the top ten.
Dawg Sports echoes:
In the Big Ten, where last year's conference champion propelled itself to the national title game on the strength of its offense, Michigan is the favorite because the Wolverines return a wealth of skill on that side of the ball. In the S.E.C., where last year's Gators captured conference and national honors on the strength of their defense while putting up numbers eerily reminiscent of those posted by a previous national champion from the S.E.C., Florida returns no one on the side of the ball that made the Saurians successful.
Meanwhile, Tennessee comes in for a buffeting from The Hawkeye Compulsion:
The fact remains:
- Erik Ainge has nobody to throw the ball to (and is still Erik Ainge, quarterback of the "Jesus, he's still eligible?" All Stars)
- The offensive line looks pretty good, but there isn't a running back on UT that can run 5 yards without pulling a hamstring
- Phil Fullmer is still a bumbling moron come game time (he was also lampooned as a yokel in Michael Lewis' "The Blind Side," but the characterization seemed all too believable)
- The defensive line sucks balls
- Two new corners to get torched by South Carolina
- Nobody else can stay healthy
- Oh yeah, they start 1-2 (@ Cal, @ Florida)
The good news? Well, they still get to play Vandy. Mark my words: UT goes 7-5 (4-4). Of course, they will still be ranked higher than 15 better teams for reasons passing understanding.
Hey Jenny Slater concurs:
The conventional wisdom is that David Cutcliffe has singlehandedly raised the Vols' offense from the dead, and compared to their rock-bottom performance in 2005, that's certainly the case -- but toward the end of last season I think we saw the team hit a ceiling in terms of just how much Cutcliffe could do all by his lonesome. He couldn't work wonders on the running game, which ground to a virtual halt over the second half of the season behind an underperforming offensive line, nor could he exert much influence over a pass defense that was also showing a little wear and tear down the stretch. All of those are likely to remain sore spots in '07, with tailback LaMarcus Coker's status still up in the air and Jonathan Hefney the lone returning starter in the secondary; even if Cutcliffe could do something about that, he'd be up to his eyeballs with a brand-new receiving corps and a quarterback who's got an off-season surgery to recover from.
I'm not saying I see another backslide to a five-win season or something similarly disastrous, but neither do I necessarily think much improvement is in the cards for the Vols this year. They won nine games in '06, which was great, but there's absolutely no guarantee they'll match that this time around.
I was the main opponent of Auburn, Georgia, and their freshman-laden offensive lines. UGA:
This is going to be bad. Very, very bad. Unless Stafford matures immediately (chances of this...
...are slim) or the Georgia offensive line turns into Christmas Miracle Voltron, the offense is going to be just as bad as it was last year when Georgia was wildly fortunate to finish 9-4. With a nearly all-new defense, replicating even that record looks like a longshot. The only reason to rank the Dawgs appears to be historical inertia.
Brandon Cox has never impressed and he regressed badly towards the end of 2006. He threw 19 interceptions, the same as Curtis Painter. Also, Auburn has a bit of a problem on the offensive line, too. One starter returns; true freshman Lee Ziemba is the probable starter at one tackle spot. Other freshmen dot the two-deep in uncomfortable places like wide receiver, safety, and center. I think 15 is pretty generous even though they were 11-2 last year. I can see ranking them somewhere at the tail end of the poll.
Others agreed for the same reasons, including Run Up The Score and The Hawkeye Compulsion. The Big Ten hates them some Georgia. (It might be worth pointing out that The Hoosier Report rated the Dawgs #5, but there wasn't much justification outside of a hunch there.)
Speaking of The Hoosier Report, it does not believe in LSU:
They lost nine starters, including an outstanding quarterback, his two top receivers, and 40 percent of the offensive line. Yes, the defense is loaded, but LSU was loaded last year. To veer a bit into the hated intangibles, I get something of a Bob Davie/Ron Zook vibe from Miles. Can he isolate his poor judgment re: public speaking from the split-second coaching decisions he must make? I realize, of course, that Miles is 22-4 at LSU, so he can't possibly be as bad as Davie or Zook, but since it's the preseason, my hunch is enough to discount LSU. Certainly, I have no doubt that LSU is capable of winning the championship, and I think to some degree my extremely low ranking of the Tigers is backlash against what I view as an extremely odd consensus that LSU is going to be amazing this year.
In the Pac-10, a couple of bloggers cite UCLA. Addicted To Quack:
Here are the two most common reasons people believe in UCLA, and the reasons why they are wrong:
They return 20 starters. From a crap team
They have a good defense. That got lit up 37 at Wazzu, 38 at Cal, a whopping 44 against a pathetic Florida State offense. Yes, they played the game of their lives against SC, they looked like shit against most everyone else
Then there is also the issue which I have already addressed, and that is the issue of Karl Dorrell.
Interestingly, BlogPollers had some negative things to say about Texas when I was expecting a bit of Oklahoma backlash. Corn Nation takes a shot at UT:
Forget the team name, the coach, the players. Here's a generic explanation of where Texas is:
- Finished 99th overall last season against the pass
- Finished 34th in rushing off
ense in a conference in which you need to run the ball to win
- 33rd in passing offense, 22nd in overall offense
- Replacing three starters off the offensive line
- New defensive coordinator
If you didn't know who I was talking about, would you rank the team described above in the Top 5 heading into this season? I wouldn't either. I know that Texas always has a ton of talent and this season is no different, but they have a lot of question marks and the Big 12 South looks as even as it ever has.
Why Texas? As much as I like Colt McCoy's talent and leadership, there is something worrisome about this Texas team. They lost a ton of defensive talent, and while Mack Brown keeps re-stocking this roster with Phil Steele-approved VHTs, I'm concerned about a team starting two new corners and two new defensive ends in a conference that has more than enough offensive talent.
I'm also red-flagging an offensive line that got beaten up in the last two regular-season games (both losses) to the tune of seven sacks. It's also worth noting that a line more experienced than the one they'll field this year failed to protect their quarterback or run-block effectively down the stretch. Combined total of rushing yardage for Texas in their final three games: 283 yards. Very un-Texas, if you ask me. Three starters are gone from that line, so things might be a bit hairy at times for McCoy.
The Big Ten mostly escaped notice here, but a couple people dinged Michigan. Typical reasonin g from Badger Sports:
I voted them sixth and will be moving them down in this week's poll. Their white-hot offense will be a boon early on in games, but Lloyd Carr's deep-seated conservatism will shelve everything but running up the gut every time the Wolverines have a double-digit lead sometime late in the third quarter. Expect losses to Ohio State (for the fourth straight year) and in their bowl game (for the fifth), plus a loss at Camp Randall.
Hey, that's a good way to get Brian to kill himself. Lloyd Carr was the only cited reason Michigan might be bad.
West Virginia got dinged by RUTS:
I get WVU as a top five team, I really do. White and Slaton are the tits. Still, if you put them in a neutral stadium against Wisconsin or Penn State â€” two teams that can really stuff the running game â€” what happens? They're #5 in the BP, #12 on my ballot.
And then there's the Bemusement Park, a lone voice in the wilderness against USC:
Even though Booty certainly comports himself well and seems to be pretty grounded, Pete Carroll and his staff are going to have to watch him to make sure he doesn't turn into Drew Tate, the Iowa QB who eventually thought he needed to make every play into the last play of the '05 Capital One Bowl. Because, uh, I can kinda see that happening. And if they're paying that much attention to the QB, what happens to the rest of the egos on the offense? I'm not saying U$C isn't goodâ€“they areâ€“but I just don't believe they'll be able to handle the scenario I see developing with John David Booty trying to do too much and the need to keep him calmed down creating a leadership vacuum elsewhere in the team.
That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
Yeah. Not with the buying that so much, but whatever.
Who is underrated?
Florida State got a major thumbs up from Phil Steele and that's given a couple bloggers pause about how low the Seminoles are. Rocky Top Talk:
Florida State was ranked No. 18 in the BlogPoll, and they didn't even make our top 25. What gives? They're Steele's No. 1 surprise team of the year, for crying out loud. They return the most experienced group (eight starters on defense and six starters on offense) since 1999.
ATO also cites Steele, notes the departure of Jeff Nepotism Bowden, and references a treasure trove of talent coming to experienced fruition:
FSU also looks pretty good when you look at the guys that are actually playing the games. They return 14 starters, and there's plenty of talent on the roster. The Rivals rankings for the past five years' recruiting classes:
2003 - 21st
2004 - 3rd
2005 - 2nd
2006 - 3rd
2007 - 21st
That's an odd bit of symmetry, but it's also three outstanding classes bookended by two good ones.
We all believe Steele, right? He got Arkansas last year; this is his team this
year. I think I'm sold.
The other most popular answer was unranked Miami. Off Tackle argues for the 'Canes:
I have to admit that I was surprised to see Miami get so few votes in the first BlogPoll. The coaching change gives me some hesitation, but Randy Shannon is coming from within the program, so I can't imagine the learning curve being steep. The offense returns 9 starters (including 4 on the line and QB Kyle Wright who had last season shortened by an injury). I think the offense will be much improved. The defense should be pretty good again, especially in the back seven. Barring another complete meltdown, Miami will be much, much better in 2007.
Cock & Fire cites Oregon State:
I do wonder, though, if we're giving enough credit to unranked Oregon State. (Gasp! An SEC blog picking a Pac-10 team! What is the world coming to?) This is a team that won 10 games last year and knocked off Southern Cal. Yes, they lose a starting QB, but they bring back WR Sammie Stroughter, fresh off a 1,293-yard campaign, and Yvenson Bernard, who rushed for 1,307 yards and 12 TDs. The o-line should also be good. Plus, there's a lot of experience returning on defense.
...but no one told him Stroughter's flipped out and might not be on the team this year. Also, C&F couldn't even be bothered to rank them(!):
If somebody convinced me to drop one of the teams off my ballot -- or if I can just eyeball someone I no longer trust -- the Beavers are probably the first team to move into the Top 25.
Fascinatingly, he also says Auburn might be underrated -- he had them #6 on his ballot, but then says that's "probationary" and he can understand the drop.
Dawg Sports puts in a vote for Michigan -- their #1 -- which I don't even buy. Have you seen the secondary? Aaaaargh.
Wake Forest got a couple votes after winning the ACC, but the justification for them was pretty half-hearted. SMQB has this covered.
Unranked Boise also got some votes. Bruce Ciskie:
They're not sexy at all. They may have gotten lucky to an extent when they beat Oklahoma. But they're good. Real good, I'd say. Ian Johnson is one of the top backs in the nation, and even without Jared Zabransky throwing, the offense is going to motor. The line
is very solid, and Taylor Tharp is a good player who deserves credit for waiting his turn behind Zabransky. I like the growth I'm expecting to see out of this defense, led by safety Marty Tadman.
Oddly, #23 Hawaii picked up some venom from those questioning the Rainbows' schedule and talent level. ATO makes the case against:
Hawaii. They're 23rd, so they aren't exactly way overrated, but I don't think they should be ranked at all. Don't get me wrong, I expect them to go 11-1, at worst. However, as BlogPoll voters, we're supposed to rank teams without regard for future schedule, and once you ignore their squeezably soft schedule, I don't think the Warriors are a top-25 team. Sure, they do have some legit talent on offense, with Colt Brennan at QB and Nebraska transfer Leon Wright-Jackson at running back. And the offense was unstoppable last season, finishing first in total and scoring offense. However, the concept of defense has yet to make it out to the islands. Last season, the Warriors finished 93rd in total defense and 69th in scoring defense. They return eight starters on defense, so those numbers should improve, but I don't see the defensive getting better than "pretty bad." ...
I just get the feeling, though, that if you took the Warriors off of Hawaii (negating the advantage of playing in a tropical paradise three time zones away from the rest of the country) and dropped them into a BCS conference, you'd end up with Purdue. Anyone comfortable with ranking Purdue? Thought not. So why rank Hawaii?
Meanwhile, SEC voters closer to Las Chronicas De Boss Hawg hate Arkansas even though the Hogs are low, so low, at #20. Rocky Top Talk again:
No way they make it through the season without imploding. No, the Razorbacks shouldn't be ranked No. 14 or even No. 20.
Roll 'Bama Roll:
Arkansas should not be ranked. I don't care how great McFadden is, this team is ready to implode after all of their offseason troubles, Marcus Monk will be MIA the first month of the season, the defense loses Marcus Harrison on the d-line indefinetely after a felony drug arrest, and the offense will be dragged kicking and screaming back to the run run run punt for three quarters and then let Matt Jones run around and make up stuff in the 4th Nutt-bone, except there's no Matt Jones anymore.
But four voters, including myself and the other Big Ten teams that hate Georgia, went with Arkansas as underrated. Hey Jenny Slater sums up:
Yeah, I know they have only three returning starters in the defensive front seven and only two back on the offensive line, but isn't Houston Nutt the guy about whom we always say "he does more with less than anyone in the SEC"? And honestly, how much of an offensive line do Darren McFadden and Felix Jones really need? The Razorbacks' silly soap opera of an off-season is surely giving some people pause as well, but to believe that that's enough to derail their 2007 season, you'd have to believe that Mitch Mustain and Gus Malzahn really were at the heart of the team's surprising success last year -- a belief that, as far as I can ascertain, is not shared by anyone outside of the Hogs' batshit-crazy fan base.
- As previously mentioned, a more thorough look at Tennessee reveals a sketchy secondary, no good wide receivers, plodding running backs, and a defensive front seven that was shredded on the regular last year. The only thing to vote for here is Eric Ainge.
- I am getting more and more pessimistic about Penn State's lines as the season approaches. There are no upperclassmen on the PSU D-L and that whole failed LG as LT thing worries.
- Also, a closer look at the OSU two-deep reveals way more youth than I expected; I am more pessimistic than I was.
- Everything else is minor jitter.
Funds to raise. The Kinesiology department is having a fundraiser in honor of Pat Maloy, a professor who died of cancer in 2001. The auction starts in October and there are over 200 items of sports memorabilia up for bid. Register by September 17th to be entered in a drawing for one of five prizes -- win the Red autographed puck and send it to me! I'll post a reminder when the auction nears.
Karma got you. Insignificant injury news for everyone except Michigan fans:
James Kamoku, a fifth-year senior who is a key member of UW's special teams, will miss the entire season after suffering an Achilles' tendon injury in preseason camp, coach Bret Bielema announced today.
"He'll be out for the remainder of the season," Bielema said, "and unfortunately that is also his career because he is a fifth-year senior."
Guess who's got two thumbs and no sympathy whatsoever? This guy!
Do unto others ACLs as you would have fate do unto yours.
Temperance and Lambertville, you're in luck. Buckeye Cable, which services Toledo and surrounding environs, will provide the Big Ten Network on expanded basic this fall. If you're on this map, congratulations.
Also, anyone living in Cleveland or select other cities (Milwaukee being the most Big Ten-y of the available options) can get the BTN on AT&T's new UVerse service.
Odds. The Oddsmaker's top 25 -- er... top 30 -- is always an interesting look at college football, and it's most interestingly valid in the preseason, when actual results don't exist. (As Dan notes, I'm against the idea of ranking teams based on who should have won instead of who did win once the season starts. Most egregiously, last year the poll had a 5-2 team in front of two teams with fewer losses that defeated it.) Dan Steinberg posts it regularly; the first edition for 2007 is up.
- #4 Louisville, up from #10 in the AP.
- #7 Cal and #9 UCLA, each up five slots from their AP rankings.
- Nebraska, Miami, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech. This stretch is from 14 to 18, each is way above their AP rankings.
- #22 Oregon, up from a hypothetical #29.
- Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee. None features in the top 25. Georgia and Tennessee are 26 and 27; Auburn is totally omitted.
- Rutgers, #24 to the polls' #16. I think the blogpoll is on track here with the skepticism.
- West Virginia is #8 instead of #3; huge schedule effect here as a number of AP doofs explicitly vote on WVU's schedule while the oddsmakers are going strictly by who they believe is better.
- Michigan is #11. WTF?
This oddsmakers thing combined with SMQB's devastating prediction of fourth in their division will cause me to re-excise Tennessee from my poll; Auburn and Georgia are already absent.
Boy this is (silly.) The Detroit News has an article on how Henne's learned to be a "jerk". Yeah. Um:
"It's kind of like being a (jerk) at all times when we're practicing," said Henne, Michigan's four-year starter at quarterback. "If you're not being a (jerk) to them, it's not like they won't respect you, but it's a different look in their eyes -- that, 'OK, we're here to concentrate, we're here to focus and we're here to play hard all the time.'
"If you're laid-back and letting it go sometimes and then be a (jerk) other times, it's tough. So you have to always be on those guys to get the best out of them."
He did not say jerk. "Asshole" is running as the favorite with "Dickwad" a distant second. At the very least the News could give us the first letter and some dashes instead of going all ABC family on us. Give me the keys, you fairy godmother.