TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
For undoubtedly not the final time, Joe Paterno doesn't know when or if he will retire. This goes on a lengthy list of things Joe Paterno couldn't tell you about:
- why his players are treating the Happy Valley criminal code like a scavenger hunt
- advances in football technology since 1978
- the dangers of nepotism
- Jimmy Carter
- where his pants are at the moment.
And so it goes for Penn State, belted into the Paterno Express with no clear idea where the ride is going or how they're going to get off.
There can be no clearer example of this than a dedicated Penn State fan's youtube pre-homage to the coming "Spread HD," the brain -- or at least limbic-system -- child of universally scorned Jay Paterno. Without any clear direction as to just what in the hell the new offense entails, the videographer picks everything:
Jay Paterno is sick of calling Some Guy Runs For Three Yards and Oh God Anthony Morelli Thinks He Can Fit That In There and has instead decided to call Fifty Yard Touchdown on a more regular basis. An excellent plan. If only we weren't talking about Jay Paterno.
We do actually have some indication as to what JayPa's devious plan entails. Lest Pat Devlin has any illusions he should not transfer immediately:
''It's a run offense,'' Jay Paterno said. ''It's really a glorified wishbone offense.''
JayPa is running the spread 'n' shred. No, seriously. When Daryll Clark came in against Youngstown State, PSU went right for the zone read:
This is a transparent attempt to recapture the Michael Robinson mojo that led to Penn State's unexpected 11-1 season in 2005. But, hey, that's not exactly the worst idea, right?
Not that this is any surprise, but Penn State's passing game was somewhere between mediocre and atrocious while its ground game was steadily effective. This will be a theme we return to with the defense, but it would probably be best to check out the conference numbers since the toughest opponent on Penn State's nonconference schedule last year was probably Buffalo.
Said conference numbers are more polarized than those at left: Penn State was last in pass efficiency but second in YPC. It's worth noting that PSU's offense got the toughest draw in the Big Ten by skipping Northwestern and Minnesota, the two worst defenses in the conference.
It's just as you suspected. Anthony Morelli was horrible, the running backs surprisingly effective for having no NFL prospects to speak of, and the overall result was meh.
In The JayPa Era
Rating: 1. At right please find another edition of our handy chart that sums up at least 80% of Penn State's issues this millennium: Jay Paterno. Penn State's quarterbacks "coach" has presided over befuddled players for going on a decade now and has never once had a player crack the top 40 in passer efficiency. Blessed with a senior returning starter who was a precious five-star recruit in a past life, Penn State was a thudding 74th in passer efficiency.
This represented an above-average year for them.
Okay, yes, it was clear by the time Anthony Morelli threw consecutive pick-sixes against Ohio State in 2007 that he was a recruiting service miss, but it still takes a remarkable incompetence to crack the top 70 in passer efficiency once in the last five years, especially when you've usually got a pounding ground game and nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition(!) of a five-yard out.
This is a long way of saying the usual. Until Jay Paterno is relieved of his duties there is no reason to expect the Penn State quarterback to be even average.
This goes double for this year, when a mere two candidates will duke it out for the starting position. Sophomore Pat Devlin is highly-rated and immobile. Redshirt junior Daryll Clark was low-rated and mobile, which makes him the heavy favorite as Penn State returns to the run-heavy spread offense that blasted them to an unexpected Orange Bowl two years ago. Michigan fans may remember Clark as the second Penn State quarterback to wander off the field mumbling about pancakes in the 2006 game.
Unfortunately for Penn State, Clark is unlikely to be the same caliber of athlete as Robinson. Robinson was a huge deal recruit out of Virginia powerhouse Varina in 2001, a four-year starting quarterback named Offensive Player of the Year by the relevant newspaer in-state. Parade rated him the third-best "athlete" recruit in the nation. After his Penn State career he was drafted in the fourth round to play running back; he's currently the backup for the 49ers.
By contrast, Clark was a middling recruit out of Ohio, a low three-star with a couple nice offers (Iowa, Nebraska) but also a listed 40 time of 4.7. He was Rivals' #24 dual-threat quarterback that year; Rivals only rated 25. Scout gave him two stars and didn't bother to rank him otherwise.
This is the juncture where someone jumps in to say that recruiting rankings don't matter and it's all about heart and desire and you can't measure either of those things in a forty-yard dash. A response: Penn State is moving to a spread offense specifically to take advantage of Clark's athletic skills, and the thing recruiting sites are the absolute best at is saying "dayum, that guy is fast." Also we are talking about possibly the poorest-coached position at a BCS school; if there's anywhere a recruit's projected ability in high school is relevant it's there.
Clark is a slower, smaller, less experienced version of Michael Robinson, who you may remember was pure awful until his unexpected Heisman run in 2005. And, no, he's not Pat White, either, unless you can produce evidence that LSU wanted him as a wide receiver. The forecast, as always, is grim.
Tailback & Fullback
Rating: 4. It's a tribute to the rest of the Penn State staff that the Nittany Lion rushing game hardly blinked when much-maligned senior Austin Scott saw his career end with rape charges. (They were later dropped.) PSU plugged in little-used midget Rodney Kinlaw, who proceeded to tear off 5.5 YPC. And it wasn't just Penn State's candy-cane nonconference schedule: PSU finished second to Illinois in Big Ten YPC despite missing Northwestern (#74 in rush D) and Minnesota (#114!).
Kinlaw's gone now, leaving redshirt sophomore Evan Royster (above) the presumed starter. The Penn State blogger known as "Run Up The Score" is a levelheaded sort, so I tend to believe him when he says Royster is pretty dang good:
Personally, I'm hoping and praying that opposing defensive coordinators under-estimate Royster. He's an excellent running back with perhaps the best vision of any RB in the last ten years at Penn State. If you love the weird, little things in football, pay close attention to Royster. He doesn't waste a single step and gets the most out of every run. Two-yard runs become four-yard runs. Eight-yard runs become eleven-yard runs. It's uncanny. Very Mike Hart-ish, if you will. I understand the infatuation with speedy Stephfon Green, but Royster is the clear starter at this point.
Skill position players are the easiest for laymen to evaluate and really obsessive fans will put more time into player evaluation of their guys than any journalist; I'm on board.
The stats, limited though they are, back up RUTS: Royster went for 6.2 YPC last year and all but nine of those carries were against Big Ten competition or A&M. Slice out Florida International and Temple and the YPC drops to... 6.0. That's only 82 carries and therefore not definitive, but we're talking about a lightly-regarded redshirt freshman here. Chances are he drops the "lightly regarded" by year's end.
Penn State's depth at the position is sketchy, like it is everywhere on offense except the line. RUTS mentioned Stephfon Green, a redshirt freshman from the Bronx who scooted for a long touchdown in the spring game. According to Penn State's always-entertaining official site, Green "provided the Nittany Lion defense with a talented and swift tailback to try and corral as a member of the foreign team in 2007." The existence of a "foreign team" coupled with last year's revelation that one of Penn State's linebackers is named "Fritz" overloads my JoePa-is-still-reliving-WWI humor circuits.
He was a meh recruit, given two stars by Rivals and a middling three by Scout. Prognosis: bleah. Incoming freshman
Mike Shaw Brandon Beachum is a pounding straight-ahead type who many rated as a linebacker; he could be another Tony Hunt.
Royster will (probably) be one of the surprise stars of the Big Ten, Green a change-of-pace back that muddles around offering 3 YPC but mixes in a few long runs; Beachum sees sporadic carries in short yardage.
Wide Receiver & Tight Ends
Rating: 3. We've been hearing how awesome the receiving corps of Derrick Williams, Jordan Norwood, and Deon Butler is for going on three years now... for some reason. Butler's the best of the three and he had 47 catches for 633 yards last year. Whoop de freakin' doo. Normally this would not warrant Youtube clips, but MGoBlog rule #59 ("All highlight videos set to Bon Jovi must be deployed") supersedes:
These three are the wide receiver equivalents of Jaycen Taylor and Korey Sheets at Purdue: established, competent, uninspiring, hard to tell apart. Butler is slightly faster than the other guys and more likely to get open deep; if not overthrown he can haul it in, whereupon he will immediately fall over. Williams is shiftier but has not developed into the playmaker everyone expected when he was the nation's #1 recruit a few years back; he's basically Steve Breaston. He averaged fewer than ten yards a reception last year. Norwood has no distinguishing characteristics whatsoever.
With the graduation of Terrell Golden and the Crocodile Dundee dismissal of Chris Bell, there's no help coming unless tight end Andrew Quarless can work his way out of the doghouse. After a promising freshman year Quarless was expected to break out in 2007, but a couple of minor alcohol violations landed him squarely in the doghouse. Paterno even kicked Quarless "off the team," by which he meant "not off the team," but whatever.
Quarless spent the year in onfield purgatory, catching only 14 passes (despite being wide, wide open the whole game against Michigan). He's kept his nose clean since; as Penn State's most talented offensive player he should be a larger part of the offense this year.
Rating: 5. I was dead wrong about the line last year, predicting it to be in shambles after Levi Brown's departure and a lot of questionable shuffling. Instead, they paved the way for Kinlaw's impressive numbers above and kept Morelli relatively clean (Penn State was 34th in sacks allowed at about 1.5 per game).
The run game is the impressive thing. Every indicator on Kinlaw from recruiting rankings to four uninspired years at Penn State to his NFL fate (undrafted) was negative, and yet there is extremely strong statistical evidence Penn State's running game was second only to Ohio State's in conference. That's more likely to be a product of a kickin' offensive line than everyone on the planet, including Penn State's coaches, screwing up their evaluations of Kinlaw.
It is therefore definitely a plus that everyone is back. The interior of the line is excellent, featuring first-team All Big Ten center AQ Shipley and second-team guard Rich Ohrnberger; the other guard is true sophomore Stefen Wisniewski, who shoved a decent junior starter out of a job midway through last year. That's two established All Big Ten players who carried a who-dat runningback to an excellent season and a true freshman who bulled his way into a starting job. Jebus.
The tackles aren't quite as intimidating, though Gerald Cadogan did pick up honorable mention All Big Ten last year. Dennis Landolt, the right tackle, was decent as a sophomore and should improve this year.
Penn State's rushing defense is officially creepy, checking in at #7 nationally for the third straight year. But we should really hop right to the conference stats since Temple, Notre Dame, FIU, and Buffalo are perhaps the worst collection of nonconference offenses in the universe. (A&M, the bowl opponent, was good enough; they're outvoted.)
There Penn State goes from outstanding to just pretty good. YPC shoots up from 2.7 to 3.4, good for second in the conference but inflated by picking up a lot of sacks and missing the conference's worst rushing attack (Northwestern) and a mediocre one (Minnesota). All things considered, PSU was probably the fourth-best rush defense in the Big Ten, behind OSU, Illinois, and Iowa but considerably in front of #5 Michigan.
Pass defense was a bit worse; PSU missed the #5 and #8 pass efficiency offenses -- about average -- and finished 7th in conference. The sacks push them up a bit, but enjoying the Ryan Mallett Experience pushes them back down.
Good, not great run defense, slightly below average pass defense. Don't let the numbers at right fool you; Penn State was just okay last year.
Rating: 4. This was going to be a massive strength and almost inconceivable collection of talent and depth before Joe Paterno finally booted DTs Phillip Taylor and Chris Baker for various beatings delivered to Penn State students. Even with the departures it might be the best line in the conference.
The headliner is Maurice Evans (above), a moderately shirtless recruit who futzed around a bit as a freshman before blowing up as a true sophomore. Evans ran over, around, and through opposing offensive lines to the tune of 21.5 TFLs and 12.5 sacks last year. This would be the point where I'd break down how many of those were against serious opposition if Penn State's website worked; it does not so we just have to say "eh."
The other defensive end spot is split between mediocre Josh Gaines and edge-rushing youngster Aaron Maybin. Gaines was accurately covered last year:
Traditional MGoBlog heuristics lead one to be skeptical of a major leap forward for Gaines. He was a meh recruit in 2004 who contributed little in his first year starting despite playing next to a couple of defensive tackles who demand more attention in the passing game than most and in front of an aggressive, blitzing linebacking corps. The picture painted is one of a lot of effective single blocking of Gaines by right tackles. He was a redshirt sophomore a year ago -- less upside than a guy in his first or second year in the program -- and started largely because the situation at defensive end was so dire it required the Shaw move. If Penn State can get a mediocre season out of him, it would be a small victory.
Again, Gaines turned in 5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks despite playing opposite holy terror Evans and next to a rotating array of penetrating defensive linemen. His maximal upside is Rondell Biggs; chances are he's below average. Meanwhile, Maybin's four sacks is a good return considering his limited time last year, but they came against the confused lemming offenses of FIU, Notre Dame, and Iowa. Jury's out on him; he could waddle around for another year or make a leap to real productivity. I'm relatively bullish on him, but think he's a year away from real contributions.
At defensive tackle, only Penn State could have two major contributors axed (Taylor and Baker combined for 7.5 sacks and 14.5 TFLs last year) and still return a heap of talent. Jared Odrick is the headliner and stupendously-named Ollie Ogbu isn't far behind; both were extremely impressive when Michigan ground out a victory on 44 Mike Hart carries:
What was the deal with all the Penn State defensive tackles all up in Mike Hart's grill?
One: Penn State appears to have an outstanding DT rotation. Though Michigan had played three very sketchy defenses to start the year, they were moving guys like Trevor Laws around like they were on skates. The Lions had guys overpowering Michigan players time and again. They're young but Penn State's defensive line was extremely impressive in the run game.
(Michigan crushing Trevor Laws, who ended up a second round draft pick, remains one of the great mysteries of 2007. That performance was a severe aberration). Ogbu had 3 TFLs in a starting role in that game. Ogbu got replaced later and Odrick broke his ankle; I assume these guys will be fine. Top backup Abe Koroma was supposed to start last year before a broken foot knocked him out of the first half of the season. When he returned the guys in front of him were already playing very well.
Rating: 3. Linebacker U returned with a vengeance over the past few years as Penn State executed a seamless transition from outstanding white guy middle linebacker to outstanding white guy middle linebacker. Posluszny begat Connor who begat Lee who is in the process of begetting Colasanti. Problem: Lee's ACL exploded, knocking out Connor's heir apparent. Between the two losses Penn State is down an astounding 283 tackles, 25.5 behind the line of scrimmage. Suddenly the Penn State linebackers look a little wobbly.
True sophomore Chris Colasanti steps into the middle now. It's not necessarily that Colasanti won't be good. Lee himself was a breakout star as a sophomore, drawing attention in that year's Penn State UFR despite being flanked by both Connor and Posuszny. Whatever crazy mojo Penn State has working isn't going to stop because Sean Lee's ACL isn't cooperating. They're probably good for one unexpectedly excellent linebacker a year. Colasanti may be it; it may be someone else.
The problem comes in options 2 and 3. The past couple years I've documented a slight softening in the Penn State run defense. In 2006, Connor, Posuszny, and Lee were all awesome but the defensive line was devoid of playmakers and big, tough running attacks found success. In 2007, starting weakside linebaker Tyrell Sales had limited production (50 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks -- not bad but not Lee) and the run defense slipped to merely above average. Now you're stripping out two good options at defensive tackle and trying to find two new guys to slot in. Touchy.
Fortunately for Penn State fans, at least one player seems likely to suceed. Redshirt sophomore Bani Gbadyu was well-regarded by the recruiting services and initially chose LSU before switching to Penn State; he held offers from 40 schools including Georgia, Ohio State, and Oklahoma. He was going to step into Lee's vacated OLB spot as Lee shifted inside.
The slot vacated by Lee's injury, however, looks dicey. Sophomore MLB Chris Colasanti competes with junior walk-on Josh Hull. Michigan fans will recognize this as the exact same scenario confronting Michigan's much-discussed quarterback search, down to the experience levels and rankings of the recruits involved. (Colasanti saw a total of 48 snaps last year.) At least Colasanti wasn't recruited to be a pocket linebacker, whatever that would mean.
Bowman hasn't been productive and there are two sophomores stepping in to starting roles. Even if they're highly touted they should be a significant step down from the usual terrors. The bet is Bowman remains okay but only that and the newcomers struggle early with one emerging into a potential star late in the year.
Rating: 3. Justin King is off to the middle rounds of the NFL draft; the other five members of the secondary who saw significant time return. This would normally be an excellent sign, but as noted above the Penn State secondary was deceptively mediocre when not allowed to tee off on Jimmah(!) Clausen.
AJ Wallace (right; don't get excited, he's just returning a kick) and Lydell Sargeant return at the corners. Tony Davis joins them after an unproductive season at safety. Sargeant and Wallace fought a pitched battle opposite King last year to see who would be the frequent target of opponents, with Sargeant starting out the year poorly (70 tackles -- most in the secondary -- without a full year of playing time) before being replaced by Wallace.
At safety, Anthony Scirotto returns. He's not as good as everyone thought he was after a six-interception sophomore year, but he did get at least one All Big Ten vote from the coaches last year and that was with an idiotic seven cornerbacks in the eight slots provided for defensive backs. Insert default white guy stuff here: steady, not going to wow you with his athleticism, etc. Ten interceptions in his career is pretty impressive, though, and if the Big Ten named all-confeence teams that made a damn bit of sense he'd probably make it.
Mark Rubin, who's bounced from receiver to safety to receiver and is finally back at safety, replaced Davis late last year when Davis required an emergency appendectomy. He returns and will start opposite Scirotto.
This is probably not good. Rubin started five games, one a nothing game against Temple, another against aerially useless Stephen McGee and A&M. There was one decent performance against Purdue where Curtis Painter threw a bunch but managed only 5.3 YPA. Then this:
- OSU QB Todd Boeckman had 253 yards on just 26 attempts, throwing three touchdowns and one interception.
- MSU QB Brian Hoyer had 257 yards on 21 attempts, four touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Neither of those guys were exactly world-beaters late last year. Powerful anecdotal evidence from Penn State's official site:
Perhaps no Nittany Lion better defines the term "team player" than fifth-year senior Mark Rubin.
Perhaps no backhanded compliment better says "I can't believe this guy is starting" than overused cliche Team Player. Also: two time academic All Big Ten, an award inversely correlated with being Actual All Big Ten.
So. One good safety, one very probably bad safety. Three experienced cornerbacks, but none who have played particularly well. One should emerge into a star or star-ish player -- probably Wallace, who's younger, was better than Sargeant at the end of last year, and had better guru ratings -- and the others will be okay.
Rating: 4. Last year this preview described Kevin Kelly as "a version of Garrett Rivas with delusions of grandeur." This proved accurate. Kelly was perfect on 17 attempts shorter than 40 yards and 2/7 on attempts further out. Expect more of the same.
Penn State lost a good punter in Jeremy Kapinos last year, but then-junior Jeremy Boone improved significantly on Kapinos' Ray Guy finalist season, averaging 43 yards a kick. Only a third of his punts were even returned, which equals awesome when combined with the gross yardage. Penn State was third in net punting last year. Boone was first-team All Big Ten. A couple anomalous boomers helped out the cause, so expect a small backslide; Penn State should still be top 20 (top 10?) here.
Despite the presence of the universe's fastest man, Penn State returns were mediocre a year ago. AJ Wallace did have a kick return touchdown.
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 -|
|0.15 (41st)||11||17||3.54 (2nd)||10||16||1.54 (34th)|
Not much to see here; close to even is close to even.
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.
Mark Rubin doesn't quite count since his position switch happened last year, but I'm still leery of him.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Chris Colasanti and Daryll Clark are the hinge players this year for Penn State. If Clark is even reasonably good the Penn State offense will be one of their best in the last decade. Best of the 50-cent prizes and all that, but it would be a step up. If the defense manages to hang together despite the unexpected losses, 11-1 could be in the offing.
If Clark is Troy Smith in 2005 and Penn State's defense cracks seriously, they could be .500 in conference -- not an uncommon occurrence of late for them -- and lose their actual nonconference game against Oregon State, leaving them at 7-5.
I am hugely surprised to come to this conclusion, but here it is: I think Jay Paterno is on to something with his "Spread HD" thing. He's a horrible quarterbacks coach and can't organize a passing game for crap. He's got a dual-threat quarterback sort of reminiscent of Michael Robinson, a number of little slot receivers who aren't much use downfield, and a decent-to-good running back or two. His entire offensive line is back. So why not adopt an offense that can bang out 6 YPC even when you're using the passing game as a glorified decoy?
I do think that to be great a spread offense has to have a great quarterback -- any offense, really -- and though the system might minimize Daryll Clark's deficiencies, it's not going to turn him into Michael Vick or even Michael Robinson. But I also think that the crushing offensive line is well suited for an offense that wants to run 60 or even 7o percent of the time, that Evan Royster is likely to be at least good, and that Derrick Williams is best deployed on fruity little screens. Penn State's personnel is an excellent fit for the spread 'n' shred and this could be an offense as effective as the 2005 offense was. Which wasn't great by any means, but it was good enough.
One potential caveat: maybe the big burlies up front aren't actually a good fit in a scheme that wants nimble guys to wall off defensive linemen.
Defensively, I think this is the year Penn State takes a noticable step back. They haven't been quite as good the last couple years, but lousy nonconference opponents helped cover that up and Penn State's crappy offense -- which gave opponents every motivation to get 20 points and go home -- did the rest. This year Penn State has a real OOC test in Oregon State and might have an offense that requires opponents to go full-bore.
This is a recipe for some minor unpleasantness when combined with the shaky secondary, somewhat depleted defensive line, and Shawn Lee's ACL tear. If you can get Maurice Evans blocked and get out to the young, confused MLB you'll be able to move the ball some.
|8/30||Coastal Carolina||Functional DNP|
|9/6||Oregon State||Probable win|
|9/20||@ Temple||Functional DNP|
|10/4||@ Purdue||Probable win|
|10/25||@ Ohio State||Probable loss|
Again with the caveat that I haven't looked too hard at many Big Ten teams, but I think Penn State goes into the year the most plausible challenger to Ohio State hegemony. They'll probably get submarined a few times along the way due to quarterback struggles or linebacker issues or the general decay of the Paterno era; they're still my tentative pick for #2 in the Big Ten. I'm torn between 9-3 and 10-2 here; I think we'll go with the more conservative estimate: 9-3 it is.
Are you an upper-level Michigan computer engineer/scientist in a semester project course?
Are you fumbling around for some stupid idea like the "Kentucky Fried Organizationalyzer"*?
Do you know PHP, MySQL, and jQuery, or can you get the hang of them?
Do you want to have a live demo of your rockin' coding skills on the internet and, more importantly, your resume?
Do you like MGoBlog?
If so, drop me an email. I've got project ideas aplenty, no money to offer freelancers, and no time to execute them myself. I'll work with you and your professor in a live-fire software engineering situation, list your names prominently on any finished product, and write you a killer recommendation letter if you need one.
*(This was my actual term project for Software Engineering 481. My portion of the project was written in Visual J++, which was sued out of existence two months later.)
By multiple, persistent request. Some time back the Hoover Street Rag pled for assistance, asking if anyone out in MGoBlog land had a copy of "The Victors" by a jazz singer named Pat Suzuki. Several people offered versions of this weird piece of Michigan apocrypha, the HSR's request was met, and I got a file containing the audio. At the time, however, the laptop's soundcard was on the fritz and I had no idea what was actually in my possession.
One thankfully persistent reader, however, has not let it drop. It turns out that the item in question is surreal. Its closest analogue in my experience is Marylin Monroe's infamous rendition of "Happy Birthday" directed at JFK; both are utterly transformative. And weird. And were undoubtedly undertaken in cocktail dresses.
Seriously. I was pretty annoyed by Josh Jarboe's sudden dismissal from Oklahoma for -- gasp! -- rapping, more annoyed when I read Bob Stoops' pre-dismissal quote to the effect of "sticks and stones," and just plain angry when the bitter old men at the Oklahoman smarmily applauded the about-face. So I wrote something to that effect.
I probably wouldn't have bothered, though, if I knew that SMQ was going to kick off his final week of amateur wordsmithery by dropping a bomb on the Typical White Middle-Aged Sportswriter villians referenced above:
Was it "the Internet culture" that asked him to act swiftly, with the full weight of his position? Every Day Should Be Saturday, the most widely-read college football blog on the Web, linked to the video with no call for discipline. The very mainstream-leaning Wizard of Odds, which broke the video's existence and posted the version that drew tens of thousands of hits last week, made no call for discipline. None called Jarboe a "thug" or described his freestyle efforts as "jabber." Who, then, is Stoops actually frustrated with?
The finger points squarely at the old men who don't understand the internet but feel free to blame it for all ills, real or imagined.
Maybe they need someone to degrade them. West Virginia has leapt up the Fulmer Cup scoreboard with a series of crimes spectacular and petty:
- Three players are caught with felonious, drug-dealing amounts of weed.
- Noel Devine and four other players got in a nightclub fight.
- Charles Pugh pulls a Kevin Quick and goes on a stolen credit-card spree.
- Evan Rodriguez beats up a girl.
- Kendall Washington breaks into a home, steals some stuff, and shoots a guy. He wasn't actually on the team at the time, FWIW.
When I initially noted this apparrent explosion of bad behavior, Washington was believed to still be on the team and his nine points brought the 'Eers into a tie for the lead. It turns out he was dismissed after spring practice. The points go away but this is a kid who had some major issues in high school; Rodriguez pursued and acquired him.
So, like... WTF? As I've noted before, West Virginia was not a big mover in the first couple years of the Fulmer Cup, scoring nine points total. Michigan racked up 15 points, all of them coming last year when Lloyd Carr's retirement was impending. Driven by the realities of recruiting players to West Virginia, Rodriguez brought in his fair share of... uh... characters but he largely kept them in check. Even Pacman Jones had but one incident, that as a freshman. From there on he was off the police blotter.
"Coach Stew" -- West Virginia fans are constitutionally incapable of using their coach's full last name -- has not had similar fortune. Why?
It's tough to scare the hell out of your players when you're obviously thinking "I can't believe I'm a Division I head coach. How much are they playing me? I get a whistle!"
I foresee this ending badly.
(Sidenote: in searching for Stewart pictures I came across this engineering dork LOL page:
Fatal error: Call to undefined function: graceful_fail() in /web2/dmblogs/docs/wp-content/blogs.php on line 77
Back to the future. Wolverine Historian has assembled Rick Leach highlights for your edification.
We're about to hit actual football season, which will severely curtail recruting coverage for 3-4 months. Monday Recruitin' will still exist and commitments will get the de-facto googlestalking, but recruiting content gets short shrift when Events are Transpiring. Before we go semi-dark, a snapshot of where Michigan's efforts stand to date. Check out the Recruiting Board for a more in-depth, more outdated version.
Commitments: Kevin Newsome and Shavodrick Beaver. Both are highly rated dual-threat quarterbacks and both are needed. Newsome, rumored to be shaky, has recently reaffirmed his Michigan verbal.
Prospects: Californian Tate Forcier continues to show great interest in Michigan, attending the one-day senior camp earlier this summer and scheduling two in-season visits this fall. Florida's Eugene Smith continues to list Michigan in his top five when he has a top five to list.
Situation: Unless Newsome decommits (still a slight possibility) or Tate Forcier camouflages himself as a linebacker or something, Michigan should be done here, and with an A+ pair of players. No one can complain.
Commitments: Cass Tech RB Teric Jones is a three-star from Detroit; Fitzgerald Toussaint is a shifty, fast top 250 guy from Youngstown.
Prospects: Pahokee's Vincent Smith is all but committed; he's the tiniest guy Rodriguez has recruited to Michigan, and that's saying something. The only other player Michigan seems heavily involved with is high-rated Oklahoma scatback David Oku; most have him favoring Tennessee and Florida State.
Situation: They have to be done here after the pending Smith commit. I'm not too concerned about the low-ish rankings of Jones and Smith, as Rodriguez's system prioritizes different things than the recruiting sites do. More on this later.
Prospects: Despite complaints about a never-ending flood of 5'6" guys, Michigan appears to be done at the position. There are no midget receivers left on the offer board.
Situation: Gallon was temporarily a member of the Rivals 100 until his size knocked him out; he remains highly rated by them. He's the top star and quarterback for the preseason #1 team in Florida. He's a great pickup and may have been Michigan's first choice in the slot.
Commitments: Top-100 Minnesotan Bryce McNeal committed earlier in the summer.
Prospects: It appears Michigan would like one more outside receiver. The highest-rated guy they have a shot at is Californian Shaquelle Evans, a five-star guy who was reputed to favor UCLA earlier in the year but will give Michigan an official visit. PA WR Todd Thomas has previously claimed Michigan amongst his favorites or even his outright leader, but despite some guru approval Michigan does not seem to be reciprocating the interest. Instater Dion Sims wants to play basketball but is a MAC-level recruit in that sport; in football he's a loping downfield tight end. Michigan or Michigan State for him, probably.
Situation: Ironic that one of Rodriguez's top-rated recruits to date is the outside wide receiver whose days at Michigan were supposedly over.
Commitments: Rivals 250 OT Michael Schoefield, and that's it.
Prospects: Despite a couple of recent disappointments, there are a few good prospects on the board
- Chris Freeman, the gargantuan Trotwood-Madison tackle with one game to his credit.
- Cleveland Glenville tackle Marcus Hall, though the whole "Glenville" thing means he gets the red frowny face until he commits and maybe a little while after.
- Rivals 250 OT Brennan Williams, who has Michigan in a top six of elite academic schools.
- Californian Michael Philipp, about whom little is known.
Add it up and Michigan probably pulls one of the four above, most likely Williams (the recruiting sites are in disagreement about how interested Williams is, FWIW). They might add another three-star sort.
Situation: I was seriously concerned about numbers here, especially with the instate backup plan types (Mattias, Chapman, Fantuzzi, etc) lighting out to Indiana or the MAC or wherever, until I actually looked at the Depth Chart by Class. Michigan has no seniors on the offensive line and with Schofield will have 16 kids on scholarship this fall. How many more do you need? Maybe one or two. More on this later.
Commitments: Five-star DT Will Campbell committed way back at the 2007 summer camp; Louisiana DE/DT Dequinta Jones committed in late July.
Prospects: No one looks particularly likely to end up at Michigan, but a number of defensive end prospects continue to list them: Craig Roh, Anthony LaLota, Keenan Graham, Jason Ankrah, Chris Bonds, Will Hill. Roh is the highest-profile player who seems to have sincere interest.
Situation: Michigan should be done at defensive tackle; Jones weighed in at over 300 pounds at LSU's camp and has definitively established himself as an interior linemen. With two guys graduating and Slocum crapping out, Michigan needs two solid prospects. Check.
Defensive end remains the most troubling spot on the team. Tim Jamison graduates this year and Brandon Graham could bust out to the point where he's NFL bound, which would leave just four DEs on the roster, one of whom is positional vagabond and likely noncontributor Andre Criswell. Michigan needs quality and numbers here; unfortunately it's a terrible year in the midwest for DEs.
Commitments: Fringe four-star Jordan Barnes picked Michigan over Alabama, and it looks like both of Michigan's current safety commits are more likely to end up at outside linebacker.
Prospects: Like Vincent Smith above, Pahokee linebacker Brandin Hawthorne is all but committed; he's another outside linebacker type. Five-star Maryland linebacker Jelani Jenkins swung by Michigan for an unofficial; nobody knows where he'd like to go but anyone would make room for him. DeDe Lattimore is a three-star guy from Georgia who listed Michigan favorably, but it now sounds like he's probably going to stay in the south.
Situation: With two to four commits at a spot Michigan pulled in four guys at last year, they have to be about done. They'll make room for Jenkins; everyone else can go pound sand.
Commitments: Top 50 Ohioan Justin Turner is either a big, big corner or an excellent free safety prospect; camp commit Dewayne Peace is likely to end up on the defensive side of the ball.
Prospects: Michigan is probable leader for three-star Florida corner Mywan Jackson, the suspected leader for four-star Mississippi safety Dennis Thames and the tenuous leader for five-star Arkansas corner Darius Winston. Also hovering out there is Cass Tech quarterback Thomas Gordon, who's moving to safety this fall in an effort to land a Michigan offer; he's expected to get one and is further expected to commit as soon as Rich Rodriguez says "We'd like to offer yo-"
Situation: With three guys (Harrison, Trent, Stewart) headed out, 3-4 coming in is desirable. Michigan has plenty of targets it considers top-notch and should pick up 2-3. Not concerned here.
Commitments: None yet.
Prospects: Kickers Anthony Fera and Brendan Gibbons have been told one or both will receive an offer in the near future.
Situation: They obviously lack confidence in Bryan Wright and are searching for a backup plan -- or, more realistically, a plan, period. Fera and Gibbons are two of the top guys in the country this year/
FAKE QUESTION AND ANSWER PERIOD
Aiiiigh, three stars aaaaiiiiigh.
Well, yeah, lot of guys filling up the class who don't exactly have glamorous rankings or offers. I'm not too put out, though, and think there are two major reasons for the undercurrent of unease in the Michigan internet:
- Last year's recruiting class was a bounteous cornucopia of four-star-plus guys, with a whopping seventeen. This is above historical norms. 2007 had seven, one a JUCO. 2006 and 2005 had eleven.
- Ohio State's monster 2009 class, which is going to be a strong contender for #1 overall.
It looks like Michigan's recruiting is going backwards after a strong start and Ohio State is going to lord it over us. There are all those stories about how Ohio State is winning most of it's recruiting battles with Michigan that ignore the fact that Ohio State has always won most of its recruiting battles with Michigan because the vast bulk of them take place in Ohio. Dantonio got the drop on Michigan and it's that time every five years when Michigan State gets to a crappy bowl game with a new coach and picks up a couple instate recruits and the Tide Is Turning(tm). Steven Threet turfed a bubble screen. We're all going to die.
Meanwhile, Michigan is pretty much on track with what they always do. They've got eight four-star-plus recruits so far with about a third of the class to go, and there's reason to believe there might be some upward mobility in some of the disregarded -- especially if their last names are "Jones":
- Mike Jones missed half his junior year with injury.
- Teric Jones was also injured and was stuck behind another D-I recruit.
- ESPN loves Isaiah Bell, who's top-100 to them.
- According to an LSU contact, DeQuinta Jones did very well at LSU's camp and did so at around 300 pounds, which should remove the tweener tag he'd been saddled with.
IMO, there's probably going to be a net +1 on the four-star guys currently committed.
Secondly: don't care that Vincent Smith or Teric Jones or Jeremy Gallon gets only three stars (Gallon's three stars to non-Rivals outlets) because they're getting rated as tiny running backs or tiny receivers who couldn't swing it in every offense across the land. Michigan doesn't run every offense, it runs a very particular sort of offense that greatly appreciates the presence of little men made of the same material superballs are.
These are all the reasons I'm not that concerned.
The reason I am, a little bit: I would like a "big, thick joker" at linebacker, maybe two, to combat the nouveau-exotic offenses at Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State. That's another question, though.
One offensive line commit aiiiiighh?
Theory: hello ex-tight ends. Michigan does seem critically short on the offensive line, but 1) there are no seniors this year, 2) they took a boatload (six) last year, and 3) there are six tight ends on the roster who may or may not like the idea of never getting any playing time and may or may not be well suited for the offensive line in Rodriguez's movement-friendly system. If someone like Steve Watson gets up to 270 or 280 he's an option; Brandon Moore is 6'6" and could fill out significantly once he's in Barwis' clutches.
It's obvious Michigan wants at another commit or two but they have been tardy to offer a number of guys, choosing to focus on only the four-star types in the area. Three-star camp types have been fleeing to MAC schools or Indiana at a rate that suggests Michigan isn't even asking them to wait so they can evaluate their seniors years film of them. They'll happily take a Schofield or a Zach Martin or an Andrew Carter, but aren't too concerned about getting run-of-the-mill guys in.
I'd expect one more in the class, hopefully Freeman or Hall (not likely) or Williams; if not it would be a snake oil job or some Omameh type who picks up a late offer after a growth spurt. Michigan will carry somewhere between 17 and 19 offensive linemen into 2009; I'm not that concerned.
Defensive end aaaaiiiigh!
The situation here is getting more and more problematic as defensive ends head elsewhere. At this point the only thing that makes sense is that Michigan intends to move recruits in the incoming class to defensive end. Strong candidates: Kevin Koger, JB Fitzgerald, and Marcus Witherspoon. I lean towards the bigger linebackers, as Michigan has five freshmen at the position (Brandon Herron redshirted) and is clearly targeting smaller safety-type linebackers as they go forward (Hill is a smallish, wiry guy -- though he played homewrecking defensive end in high school -- and all the guys they've picked up last year are little guys.)
This is concerning to some small extent. The linebacker commits: safety, safety, safety-sized WLB, 6'0 hypothetical MLB. (Jones, Bell, Hawthorne, Barnes, BTW.) The recruiting on the defensive side of the ball makes the most sense if you believe college football is going to be even more spread-dominated in the future and teams will have to put out "linebackers" that are closer to safeties and defensive ends who can run with quarterbacks. Michigan's recruiting appears to be forward-looking.
However, a number of Michigan's opponents are certainly not forward-looking. Wisconsin seems in no mood to go futzing with their bludgeoning ground game. Michigan State is embarking on a similar program. And Ohio State's default offense is ground-and-pound, though they will adapt to available talent.
Still, this spot reminds me of corner a few years back: Michigan whiffed on a bunch of guys, most prominently Justin King, and when their national-championship contender came together in 2006 there was one major achilles heel at cornerback.
Fall practice started yesterday. In marked contrast to years previous there was significant access granted, with reporters allowed to attend the first 30 minutes of the practice; there was also a press conference. Also in marked contrast to years previous, this apparently happened:
I'm trying to envision Lloyd Carr chest-bumping (or, according to the Free Press, "chest-butting") the starting running back. It's not working.
News items from Rodriguez's press conference:
- Mysterious long snapper George Morales, the last recruit to commit to Lloyd Carr, was present and accounted for today. Rodriguez even clarified his status: he's on scholarship(!) and competing for the backup(!!) long snapping job. The immediate reaction is, of course, WTF. Offering a long snapper a scholarship is totally unprecedented and seems a ridiculous waste of a scholarship. More on this later.
- Kevin Grady practiced; when asked about it Rodriguez said:
He's still suspended as far as actual games, but he's practicing. He's done enough to earn his status back on the team, but he's not done enough yet to warrant playing time, if you know what I mean. There will be some playing suspension, but that's yet to be determined. But he's out there working, and he's not working with the first couple groups.
- Junior Hemingway was still in a non-contact jersey after an injury in the spring. (According to Chengelis, it will be "a few days" before he's full-go.)
- Elliot Mealer did not practice and it's "doubtful" he'll practice at all this month. A redshirt seems assured.
- Molk, Johnson, Massey, and Brown -- all of whom had issues in the spring -- are fine now.
- Brown took snaps at QB.
- Freshman linebacker Marcus Witherspoon did not practice. Sounds like this is a Clearinghouse issue that should be resolved shortly.
- Carson Butler switched to #5; Justin Feagin is now #3. (Both players are sharing with defenders; this is okay as long as they're not both on the field at the same time.)
- Three freshmen were called out as potential contributors on defense: Mike Martin, Boubacar Cissoko, and JT Floyd. On offense, anyone at a skill position was mentioned.
There have been plenty of practice impressions bandied about -- concern about the quarterbacks reigns, shocker -- but it's a half hour on the first day of fall. Practice impressions should be reserved to the truly obsessive. Like me! I watched Rivals' video($) from the practice; nothing particularly stuck out except the editor's skill at whittling down what sounded like a pretty rough outing from the quarterbacks into five minutes of accurate balls. There was this one drill Shafer was having the linebackers sidle through an obstacle course, then scoop a loose ball, presumably in an effort to turn fumbles into touchdowns.
More on Morales. Rodriguez said that he signed in February. I'm a bit skeptical -- if so, why didn't they announce it with the rest of the signings? -- but also not, because the guy is on campus, way out of shape, and snapping. For dollars. Is this guy going to occupy a scholarship slot for the next four years?
I find that hard to believe and have concocted an alternative scenario: secure in the knowledge Michigan would have spare money this year, Carr offered Morales a guaranteed year of scholarship money to get him on campus but made it clear it was a one-year thing and future years would be doled out much like they are to other walkons: if there's an open slot, some kid gets lucky. Sort of like Reed Baker's scenario.
This is all probably moot. If this picture is any indication, he's going to explode in a shower of lipids the first time he comes within 100 meters of Mike Barwis.
No, he didn't. Either Adam Rittenberg must have looked at the wrong list or Michigan's deal with Adidas includes rocket-powered rollerskates, because this did not happen:
Walking through Michigan's weight room on the way out, I stopped to check out the team-high totals for several categories. Johnson tops the bench-press chart at 500 pounds, Taylor squatted a team-best 625 pounds and cornerback Morgan Trent ran a 4.13 in the 40-yard dash.
Morgan Trent is faster than he's given credit for (this is Trent running down some guy named Percy Harvin...
... which, like, dude) but no one runs a 4.13 unless he's just been thrown off a building. It doesn't matter. I guarantee you that Michigan fans on message boards say things like "LOL Morgan Trent runs a 4.13 so you'll like never complete a pass ever" all year, and when he gets drafted NFL fans will do the same. The Apocryphal Morgan Trent 4.13 Forty is now a part of internet lore, and it will never die.
Oooh, Barwis. Snippets of Barwis porn for your delectation. One:
The numbers on the jerseys were a little bit shorter and a little bit wider under the new Adidas material. The thinner men - including defensive lineman Terrance Taylor - were a noticeable shift in the tight-fitting jerseys.
Tight end Carson Butler looks great, slimmer and stronger. He should be a major asset for Rodriguez and the new starting quarterback.
"I asked them, 'Raise your hand if you're in the best shape of your athletic careers,' and I think they all raised their hands," Rodriguez said. "All of our team is in better shape. They got through the first practice, which was pretty intense. They got through it very well. The key for us is to continue to do that. We're not in game shape, but we're in better shape than we were in the spring."
Site note: I've added the Depth Chart by Class to the "useful stuff" navigation item and updated it to reflect the current situation.
Ladies. Hello. We would like to talk to you. No, we don't ever take these off.
Can anyone ID these gents? The guy on the left looks a little like Boren, but AFAIK the only guy on the team with dreads is Martavious Odoms, a freshman who never crossed paths with the family values maven. Don't bother with the one on the right, who's obviously John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever.
I read this thing called SEOmoz, which is a horribly named but quite good blog on search engine optimization and related things. Before Friday, if you had asked me what the chances are I'd ever mention it in this space I would have told you "zero point zero," but I'm wrong:
Fluent Simplicity compiled a list of brands who are on Twitter. The list is pretty comprehensive and is broken down into sector. It's interesting to see which major companies have a Twitter account. (I was especially amused to see that Michigan State has one. I imagine their tweets to consist of either "won the game. students rioting" or "lost the game. students rioting.")
Etiquette advice from a caveman. A couple people have emailed noting that newspapers have used quotes from the response to "my question" about tight ends from media day. It's really nice that there are people out there who act as defenders of the MGoFaith, but the question was asked in an open forum with a dozen people listening. Responses in that situation are fair game, as if it was a press confernece. It's not like I had an exclusive interview with Rodriguez or anything.
Also, Angelique Chengelis is really nice, continually got information no one else did during the Carr era, and helped Johnny land the Carr interview that features in Hail To The Victors 2008; she's the last media person anyone should be criticizing.
Yes, your math's wrong. By request of Dennis Dodd, who titles his latest blog post "please someone tell me my math is wrong": your math is wrong. This is your math:
According to my math (always a dicey proposition but hang with me, it's only a blog [SCREW YOU GOLLUM -ed]), the average college team ran 72 plays per game last season. Fine, great. The average NFL team ran 62.76 plays per game. That's with the 40/25 rule. That's also a difference of 9.14 plays per game. Multiplied by two teams thats more than 18 plays per game difference. ...
It looks to me like the NCAA rules committee is about to bastardize the game like it did two years ago when its misguided timing rules slashed something like 13 plays per game. The rules were adjusted last season and once again we had reasonable college football.
Your math completely ignores the biggest timing difference between college football and the NFL: on a first down, the clock stops until the chains are set and the ball is ready for play. This takes somewhere between 10 and 15 seconds -- looks like 12 is a good average -- and last year the average Big Ten game had 40.6 first downs. Approximately eight minutes runs of an NFL game clock that does not run off an NCAA game clock because of this rule change, which means a college game is 15% longer than an NFL game because of this rule's effect*. 72 is 115% of 62.76: virtually the entire difference the length of pro and college games is explained here.
Also, during the bastardized clock season you wrote an article proclaiming the Return of Defense, citing an amazing 10% decrease in scoring offense in a year when games were 10% shorter. You should probably not write things about the game clock.
Games will probably be a bit shorter because out of bounds plays will now have the clock wound after the ball is marked ready for play; the effect will be considerably smaller than 2005.
*(I think. I'm not sure whether I should be dividing 60 by 52 or 68 by 60. Statistician help? The latter would be 13%, FWIW.)
Coin. More dollars for the program:
The University of Michigan became the latest elite college athletic program to sell off a package of its media rights, bringing in $86 million through a 12-year deal with IMG College.
The deal, which runs through June 2020, marks the first time Michigan has bundled all of its media rights into one package and marks the continuation of a trend where colleges are hiring companies, such as IMG College, to maximize revenue from those rights.
That's about $7.2 million per year on top of the reported $5-7 million they're making from the Big Ten Network. Since Florida just signed over a similar suite of rights (that is: all the stuff Michigan is signing over to IMG plus the TV rights to everything except most football and some basketball games) to the same company for $10 million per, that seems like a pretty good deal. And it's not going to compromise Michigan stadium's zealous purity:
Throughout the negotiations, IMG College had to convince the school that it would protect the integrity of the game-day experience inside Michigan Stadium, known as "The Big House."
"We can increase the revenue and value of corporate sponsorships by doing things outside the stadium," Stultz said. "The more we talked about that, the more excited they got about it."
Etc.: Michigan is running a video countdown to the season; they're super fluffy but where else can you see images of guys doing hang cleans to rawkin' 80s guitar solos? Don't answer that question. Soon-to-be-ex AJC sportswriter Tony Barnhart has Auburn spread junkie Tony Franklin give key bullet points on why it, like 80s guitar solos, rawks. (Sidenote: the problem with newspapers offering voluntary buyouts is that often the guys with options -- the ones who aren't reprehensible -- say "okay" and the Terence Moores of the world cling to the lifeboat.) The Hoosier Report has old video of a 50s-era Michigan-IU game. The stands, they are not so full.