Update 8/4: Linked to articles on FL LB Brandin Hawthorne and FL RB Vincent Smith (one, two), AR CB Darius Winston (second), FL RB Jaamal Berry, MD DE Jason Ankrah and MD CB Travis Hawkins, OK RB David Oku, MI S Thomas Gordon, GA LB Devekeyan Lattimore, FL S DeAngelo Hadley, FL CB Mywan Jackson, TN CB Marsalis Teague, MD CB Travis Hawkins, header on FL CB Mywan Jackson. Moved FL S Mike Jones to committed. Linked to video on FL WR Jeremy Gallon, FL RB Vincent Smith.
Also, an article on Michigan's recruitment of kickers from Helmholdt; not adding Jerome Swinton just yet but keep an eye on him, I guess. And WTKA's recruiting insider podcast has useful info on Bryce McNeal and FSU commit Willie Haulstead; also some interesting items on defensive ends and Mywan Jackson. (As per usual, some links from VB.)
Editorial Opinion: Safety Mike Jones looks to be just the tip of a three-star Florida commitment iceberg. A couple of Pahokee kids, FL LB Brandin Hawthorne and FL RB Vincent Smith, are announcing August 29th, but all indications are the "announcements" are a foregone conclusion. Josh Helmholdt:
FlaVarsity.com publisher Michael Langston, who has covered both Pahokee prospects' careers the past few years, feels Michigan is the team that has the best chance to land both players.
"With Vincent, it's the ties there, how he would fit into the system and the fact that Michigan offered him first," Langston said. "With Brandin, he feels comfortable with that staff and feels he can come right in and play linebacker or whatever position they are going to play him. There's no guarantees, but those are reasons why I think those two will pick Michigan." ...
Hawthorne said Monday that his decision will come down to Michigan, West Virginia and South Florida, but he also predicted that he and Smith would be playing together in college. Michigan is the one school remaining on both prospects' lists, so the writing appears to be on the wall.
The Facebook wall, more specifically. Varsity Blue:
Pahokee Blue Devils Brandon Hawthorne and Vincent Smith won't announce their respective college decisions until August 30th, but it appears as though Michigan has a very good shot at landing both. Several readers have chimed in to let me know that each has changed various aspects of his Facebook page to indicate impending commitment to Michigan.
We saw something similar with MN WR Bryce McNeal, who decked out his Myspace page with an eye-gouging Michigan layout and told at least a couple questioners he'd decided on Michigan; public disavowals were for show and McNeal ended up committing publicly -- more publicly, at least -- a few weeks later. You can pencil those guys into the class. (McNeal, by the way, has backed off on his official visit plans and now says he is 100% Michigan.)
So we can pencil those guys into the class. Hawthorne's a slightly undersized outside linebacker sort while Smith may be the smallest guy Rodriguez has recruited to Michigan, which is saying something. Pat Summerall narrates a fluff piece with some swanky junior-year highlights:
That kid might look like he's starring in an urban remake of "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" but he looks like he's going to break the sound barrier on a couple of those runs.
Keep your pencils out for FL CB Mywan Jackson , too:
Jackson has made unofficial visit to several programs this summer, including all of the major in-state programs as well as Louisville, Middle Tennessee State and North Carolina. Michigan, though, stood out above the rest.
"Oh, yes. Definitely," Jackson said when asked if Michigan was the best he's seen.
Jackson's actually a quarterback for his high school team but most everybody's recruiting him as an athlete with an eye towards making him a defensive back. He visited Auburn with a couple teammates this weekend; he may commit right quick or extend his decision a bit further into the fall.
Aaaand one more: some kicker. Though TX K Anthony Fera was reported to have an offer last week, it appears this is not the case and that Michigan is still deciding between him and some guy from, yes, Florida. Said guy is FL K Brendan Gibbons. Someone will get an offer soon and quickly commit:
"I went to (Michigan's) camp and I think I'm their number one guy," Gibbons told Rivals.com last week.
Fera also feels strongly about his chances of being Michigan's top guy. He reported Sunday evening that he had received an email from Michigan assistant coach Fred Jackson saying the decision was down to two guys. If the lot is cast in Fera's favor, he is ready to make a decision.
"If they end up offering both of us at the same time and it is first come, first serve, then I will probably take it," Fera said. "But if they give me a week or two, then I would probably take that week or two and talk it over with my parents."
Add those guys in and Michigan is suddenly getting full before football season even starts. Jackson, Smith, Hawthorne, and Some Kicker Guy would be commitments 15 through 18; Michigan's current count of open scholarships for 2009 is 17. There will be further attrition before February -- probably four or five guys, if not more -- but spots are rapidly dwindling. There is an undercurrent of panic on the message boards about the three-star flood, especially in relation to Ohio State's monster haul. I'll address all that in a separate post.
Onto non-impeding-commitment news: a few weeks ago, five star AR CB Darius Winston decommitted from Arkansas and named Michigan his leader; unfortunately, in recent articles he's backed off that assertion. His coach still thinks he's leaning north, though:
"I know Michigan has come on strong as of late and if I had to guess I'd say that's where Darius is currently leaning," Smith added. "But Darius is really open to everyone right now."
Long way to go there, obviously.
Two Southern defensive backs have three-star ratings but pretty wicked offer sheets and are listing Michigan. First, FL S Angelo Hadley :
Another school whose tradition of great players impresses Hadley is Michigan. "They have great tradition too," he said. "They always have good defensive backs and I liked guys like Charles Woodson and Desmond Howard. They always have their players highly drafted and I like the new coaches. They seem nice and I definitely plan to take a visit there this fall."
If he's serious he'll schedule an official; that's up in the air. Meanwhile, TN CB Marsalis Teague has had some interesting conversations with Michigan coaches:
Most of the schools in Teague's top six are recruiting him for cornerback, except for Michigan which he says are liking him as a signal caller. "I love their new style of offense they are gonna run under coach Rich Rodriguez ," he said. "It's the same offense we run at my high school and they said I could play quarterback there.
"Coach Rodriguez says they need a guy like me to run his offense," he said. "But they are also looking at me for corner or receiver. I guess the defensive coordinator wants me for cornerback and the offensive coordinator wants me for quarterback. Either way they've got a spot for me."
Teague is 5'10" and I will bet anyone other than the coaching staff one million dollars that even if he commits -- unlikely as he has a Miami offer and has liked them since he was a wee tyke -- he never sees a snap at quarterback.
Bonus random Southern defensive back! This one's FL CB Jayron Hosley:
Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez may also be on the verge of offering Hosley.
"They (Michigan) want to come see me play. They haven't seen me play in person; they've just seen my film. They are going to see a game and go from there. I think in September," said Hosley.
The two Michigan assistants handling Hosley's recruitment are Quarterbacks Coach Rod Smith and Defensive Coordinator Scott Shafer.
Hosley's a Rivals 250 guy.
Michigan was expecting a commitment today, but not in football. Mike Jones doesn't care, as the three-star Florida safety dropped to Michigan today($). Informative update coming.
Informative Update: As previously mentioned, I would have preferred it if Jones was named "Frobozz Tamoshanter," as then he would not share a name with a popular rapper and a million other people. But I'm dealing.
Jones is a high three-star to Rivals. ESPN says "he should work for Craftsman" because he has the tools to play safety or outside linebacker, then spends the bulk of their scouting report talking about his blitzing:
Exceptional edge blitzer that has great timing and quickness; speed rushes by the offensive tackle before he can get set. Offensive backs can't or won't block him when blitzing off the edge; really creates havoc in the backfield. Does a great job of using his hands to shed blockers in order to get to the ball carrier. Likes to hit and really delivers when tackling but needs to be more consistent at bringing his legs.
They rate him a 77, which is the ESPN equivalent of a high three star. Scout is a little bit less enthusiastic than the other sites, giving him three stars and ranking him the #47 safety -- the last four star is #23.
All that is less than inspiring, but there are a couple good reasons he's down the list. An injury knocked him out five games into Edgewater's season (and by that time he'd collected 56 tackles, 8 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles) and he's not going to any of the camps on offer by recruiting sites. A couple months ago he basically resolved he'd be going to Michigan or Notre Dame, removing the need to hunt for more offers.
Speaking of: There's some confusion about whether or not Jones actually had a Notre Dame offer or not. He reported one earlier in the year, then reported he didn't have one after M/ND unofficials. But maybe that changed?
Edgewater safety Mike Jones committed to Michigan on Thursday, the day of his 18th birthday. Jones said he chose between Notre Dame and Michigan.
The safety said Michigan started recruiting him "from day one," and when the the Wolverines hired former West Virginia Coach Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia coaches began recruiting him. He said he had offers from Auburn, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Kentucky, South Florida, and UCF.
The other big offer on that list is Auburn; other than that pretty eh, so a Notre Dame offer would be of note. The only thing I can find on it is a guy named "RichmondIrish" on MSNBC saying that he "got an update" to the effect that "jones didn't get offered by ND, but said they are very close to doing so." There's some further chatter to the same effect. Those guys were probably lifting information from ND premium boards and their impressions are probably accurate. FWIW.
(Sidenote: Let's hope these guys are right: "roh [AZ DE Craig Roh] is going to be tough to pull from Michigan. he said they are his top school as of now." FWIW, Sam Webb was also very positive about Michigan's chances for Roh on WTKA a few days ago.)
One other note of interest: Jones intends to enroll early.
Editorial Opinion: Jones is probably destined for OLB and I'll move him there on the recruiting board. Yes, another three star from the South without offers from instate schools and I admit to being a little concerned by the prevalence of these guys, but that's another post. One happy note: given the injury it's possible he's underrated.
Top 100 California point guard Darius Morris, long presumed to be the lockiest of Michigan locks, finally made it official today. No googlestalking coming from these parts, as UMHoops already has it on lockdown:
I have seen a lot of people comparing Darius Morris' commitment to Daniel Horton's at the start of Tommy Amaker's tenure. Daniel Horton was a better talent than Darius Morris; Horton was a McDonalds All-American and a 5-star on most recruiting services. I think it would be very hard to craft an argument that Darius is a better player at this time than Daniel was in high school.
Much more over there; check it out.
Ohhhhh. Reader Alton finally reveals the key change in the rules that has caused coaches nationwide to dream about high octane no-huddle attacks:
New NCAA Rule 2-4:
"A dead ball is ready for play when:
a. With the 40-second play clock running, an official places the ball at an inbounds mark or between the inbounds marks and steps away to his position.
b. With the play clock set at 25 seconds, the referee sounds his whistle and either signals to start the game clock or signals that the ball is ready for play"
2-4b is, helpfully, the existing rule and 2-4a is the new rule in effect when the 40-second play clock is. So there is a hypothetical window in which you can snap the ball under the new rule -- ball is down and umpire is moving -- that you couldn't under the old rule. So maybe there is something to the seemingly inexplicable meme. We'll see this fall.
Side note: my main issue with the new clock rules is how confusing they are. The clock's like this unless it's late in the half, at which point it's completely different. Any time you're implementing a rule and feel the need to not implement it at a certain point in the game, you should probably reconsider.
Ehhhhh? The preseason coaches poll just came out and Michigan is #24. Weird, but #24 before the bowls will probably be 8-4 and I kinda think they'll be 8-4, so not too weird. Other teams of note:
- #3 Ohio State
- #12 Wisconsin
- #19 Illinois
- #22 Penn State
- Receiving Votes: Utah (#28), Michigan State, Notre Dame
Uhhhhh. Ohio State DT Doug Worthington picked up a DUI a few days ago. Kevin Grady's ability to drive(-ish) at a blood alcohol level that would put most people in a coma prevents the throwing of stones from this particularly glass house, but is this a little fishy?
Police also say Worthington's Cadillac Escalade had license plates that were registered to another vehicle.
I don't want to be one of those guys who goes around calling Ohio State "O$U lol," but there's an obvious parallel to Maurice Clarett and the Exceptionally Generous Columbus Car Dealer here. It could be nothing, but it could be the jenga block that topples Ohio State's nefarious empire! Moooohahahaha!
Or, uh... it could just warrant some followup. Which no doubt the Dispatch will get right on.
Brahhhhh! Yes, the still got me to post this brief video of a Michigan State coed informing us that RICKS WOO RAWKS:
Oops. This video is stuck on autoplay and thus pure evil. Link here.
Remember that when Michigan State fans launch into soliloquies about the totally awesome poon available on campus, this sort of person is what they're talking about. The only thing I'd touch her bits with is a geiger counter.
And we're done with that conceit.
Context, please. There's a big article in The Sporting News about Justin Boren. In it, he makes Rodriguez-like promises that he'll "let it all out" after he's done and blah and blah and blah. I don't care much anymore; it's not like I'm going to be thinking "boy I hope we beat Ohio State" this fall because of some guy on the bench. But they done dragged me into this:
As it stands now, Boren remains a favorite target on Michigan message boards, with threads labeled: "Attn, NFL: Justin Boren Is A Quitter Who Could Not Handle The System" or "Justin Boren deserves doom and unmitigated failure."
The first "thread" on "Michigan message boards" is actually a post from this blog back in March. The very first words of that post: "Not really." They were even bolded. Michael Bradley, the author of the piece, literally did not read two words of the post. The second "thread" is also a blog post from March, this from "The Errant Yachtsman" At press time said blog is averaging four hits per day and has racked up a total of 1,676 visits; this link has a good chance of doubling that number. (Bradley's projected age: 104.)
Bradley's evidence that Boren "remains" a favorite target on Michigan "message boards": two four-month-old blog posts, one read solely by the author's mother, the other specifically disclaiming the sarcastic headline in the first two words.
And for the record, yes, Michigan fans are well within their rights to think the Borens are dicks. Reason: they've been dicks. Boren not only decided to transfer to Ohio State, but launched an unprovoked attack on the program on his way out that every coach from sea to shining sea will use as negative recruiting ammunition until Rich Rodriguez leaves. Rodriguez, for his part, had said nothing except "Justin Boren has decided to leave the program."
Bradley completely glosses over this in his article, choosing instead to focus on the destination of his departure instead of the nature of it.
(Sidenote: the only thing of interest is a confirmation of the internet rumor that Boren skipped stuff to go plow with Dad: "Boren missed only one Columbus "snow event" while he was at Michigan and that was because he was sick." No doubt Rodriguez put an end to that practice, and that's the source of at least some of the animosity.)
And, finally, the last word on 'Bama. Reserve offensive lineman Patrick Crump has left the team because his "heart wasn't in it," and I kind of have to say something again, I guess, even though it's just going to be the same thing again. Fortunately, the WLA's got it covered:
While Alabama fans want to rationalize the size, scope, and masturbatory practicality of this attrition away, the fact remains that there is and should be some skepticism around Overlord Saban. He knowingly over-signed recruits. He needed to lose a significant number of scholarships. On the cusp of fall practice, he loses exactly that number. Boom. I'm not stupid and I'm not a virgin; coincidences like this don't just happen.
Or, at least, they defy probability. It's incredibly convenient that Saban lost just enough players to fit his entire class in, and IMO the likelihood all the departures were voluntary (excepting the Johns/Elder felony departures, of course) hovers around 0%. That's all. You know what I think, you know what Bama bloggers think, and no one's changing their minds. I'll let it lie now.
Etc.: Rambling, gambling, call-blowin' Big Ten referee Steven Pamon is fired; Darius Morris is committing today, and everyone's fired up; there are no CPU sliders in Madden. Someone please fire Tiburon; VB looks at Rodriguez's first, difficult year at West Virginia.
Bumped from the diaries for general excellence. -ed
To: Coach Rodriguez
From: The Michigan Faithful
Re: Michigan Traditions
Greetings, Coach Rodriguez!
By now, we are sure that you are getting acclimated to our fine University and to the beautiful town of Ann Arbor, arguably the greatest college town in the country. Please give all of our best wishes to Rita and the kids.
No doubt you've noticed that we here at Michigan take our traditions pretty seriously. Some would say that perhaps we are a little overly tradition-bound, but when you are the winningest program in history, across three centuries, well you can understand our pride.
We have noted with regret, however, the recent unfortunate incident where you assigned the hallowed #1 jersey to an incoming freshman, violating the sacred tradition of awarding it to the top wide receiver who has earned it during his career. Many of the Michigan faithful were quite upset. Indeed, you may have heard from one or two of us about it.
In your defense, Rich, we take you at face value when you say you didn't know about the tradition. And we appreciate how quickly you moved to address the situation once you were made aware of it. We hope to put this unfortunate incident behind us.
In fact, it occurred to us that there may be other Michigan traditions that you don't yet know about. Even though we are a top program and always in the national spotlight, there may still be some Michigan traditions that have escaped your attention. It would not be fair to just assume that you know what they are.
So as a public service, Rich, here is a list of some important Michigan traditions that you may not have heard about. All you need to do is to uphold these special traditions during your tenure here, and you will always stay in our good graces.
When it comes to National Championships, Coach, Michigan brings home the hardware. Yes, we're proud of our consistency and bowl streak and all of that, but what really defines Michigan is the constant National Championships. You may not know this, Rich, but Michigan has won multiple National Championships in every single decade since the 1800's. Be sure to put it at the top of your list to see the display case of all of the crystal football National Championship trophies, just as soon as they find the missing key to the trophy room. Trust us, they're really quite impressive. We are confident, Rich, that you will have no trouble keeping this tradition alive.
Winning the Rose Bowl:
Plain and simple, Rich, it's a Michigan tradition to dominate the Rose Bowl. We haven't lost one yet, and most of them haven't even been close. It's considered a disaster when Michigan only wins by a touchdown. Sometimes it actually gets a little embarrassing, but it's really not our fault that those west coast teams always show up lethargic, disoriented and not ready to play, while Michigan comes in loose and confident. What can we say? Michigan owns the Rose Bowl. Let's keep it going, Coach.
Unpredictable Play Calling:
Michigan is known for its wildly unpredictable play calling, a tradition that goes back to Bo. We are a very hard team to prepare for. Opponents are always quoted as saying "We never know what they are going to do." To this day, Keith Jackson still talks about how stunned the crowd was when Lloyd called the Statue of Liberty play on 5 straight 4th down's in the 2004 Rose Bowl. Good memories. You have big shoes to fill here, Rich, but we think you are just the kind of guy that can do it.
Coach, Michigan's motto has always been "Anybody, Anywhere, Anytime". Michigan does not dodge the top teams. Our non-conference schedule is always the toughest in the country. While our Big 10 brothers sleep-walk through games with the Ball State's, EMU's, and Toledo's of the world, Big House fans get to see the likes of Oklahoma, LSU, and USC every season. No one will ever forget the year when they had to cancel the National Championship game because Michigan had already beaten all of the other BCS bowl teams.
Night games are a big tradition in Ann Arbor. We typically schedule two or three every season. There's nothing like the electricity of a Big House game on a crisp night against a big time opponent. People are still talking about that thrilling night game against Ohio State in 2005 when the Buckeyes' last-gasp comeback attempt was thwarted as Gonzalez lost the ball in the lights.
Michigan is known for its fast starts in games. We take care of business, and we do it early. Look, nobody ever likes to be accused of running up the score, but when you hang half-a-hundred on your opponent by the start of the third quarter, you're only guilty of cutting to the chase. Why delay the inevitable, you know?
Dominating our Opponents:
Michigan has a tradition of dominating our opponents, weak or strong. We never play down to our opponent's level, our philosophy is to make 'em all play up to our level. So whether its Appalachian State (we sincerely apologize for the humiliating beat-down we put on them last year, the whole college football world is still shocked) or USC, every opponent always gets Michigan's "A" game.
Get used to it, Rich, the Big House is LOUD. You'll have the most intimidating fans in the country behind you. Even the rich old alumni in the expensive seats joke about their "walk of shame" leaving the stadium, when they realize how out of control they got. Be prepared to take a few unsporstmanlike conduct penalties because of it. It just goes with playing in the Big House.
Michigan cheerleaders have always been and always will be, as the kids like to say, "hot". They don't call them the Song Girls of the North for nothing. We know you are very busy, Rich, but someone in your position should be able to have some influence over the selection of the cheerleaders. In fact, it might even be a pleasant distraction from the day-to-day grind of preparing a football team. (P.S. Please insist that they wear the Maize sweaters and matching mini-skirts at all times. If the football team can step it up in all kinds of weather, so can the cheerleaders, right?)
So there it is Rich, some of the important traditions of Michigan football you may not know about.
Now, you may have heard that we are a little hard to please, but nothing could actually be further from the truth. All you need to do is keep our time-honored traditions alive and well, and everyone is happy.
Good luck, Coach, and GO BLUE!
The Michigan Faithful
If you had told Joe Tiller in 1997 that he would be shuffling off this Big Ten coil before the conference's other patriarch named Joe, he probably would have been surprised. "You traveled back in time to tell me that?" he'd ask. "What the hell is wrong with you? Don't you have family members to warn or large New York buildings to save or something?" And then I'd ask "wait just a second, how do you know about the World Trade Center?" and he would go "uhhhhhh..." and I'd rip his face off, Mission Impossible style, and be confronted with the horrible truth:
So, yeah. Joe Tiller isn't going to coach football anymore and it's just as well because he's a time-traveling diabeetus alien. Also he throws hissy fits when Michigan hijacks his recruits at the last second.
Purdue's going with a peaceful transition of power, naming Eastern Kentucky head coach and former Boiler assistant Danny Hope as Tiller's heir apparent. But Danny Hope is another show. The current show is the meh end of the Tiller era. After a 9-4 2003 which saw the Boilers finish second in conference, Purdue has been locked into a cycle of mediocrity:
|2004||7-5||4-4||T-5th||L 23-27 Sun Bowl|
|2006||8-6||5-3||T-4th||L 7-24 Champs Sports Bowl|
|2007||8-5||3-5||T-7th||W 51-48 Motor City Bowl|
Please note than in 2005 and 2006, Michigan and Ohio State were off the schedule. This is not a team headed in the right direction, or any direction at all, really. Only a steady stream of puffball nonconference opponents has kept Purdue in the 7-9 win territory that has seemingly been their birthright since Tiller's arrival. (Even when they went to the Rose Bowl, Purdue finished 8-4.)
It's clear that off-field progress has stalled, but the canary in the coal mine for Purdue fans has to be the increasingly shaky recruiting of the Tiller regime as it skids to its unremarkable end. This is an excerpt from an SMQ table ordering all teams in order of average recruiting rankings over the past seven years. The leftmost year is 2002, the rightmost 2007. Interesting nearby teams are included:
Wisconsin and West Virginia certainly prove that recruiting is not the be-all and end-all, but USC, Georgia, and Oklahoma are at the top of this chart and Vandy, Indiana, and Kentucky are towards the bottom: it's an important factor in your team's success.
And what does it tell us about Purdue? Joe Tiller probably should have retired a couple years ago. The Boilers had a brief window in which they could snatch top-100 talent like Selwyn Lymon and Doug Van Dyke -- to name two highly-touted-if-star-crossed examples -- away from Michigan, but in 2006 recruiting dropped off a cliff and stayed there. Purdue's 2008 class checks in at #63, slightly ahead of Middle Tennessee and well behind Baylor. The post-cliff classes are the freshmen, sophomore, and juniors now, the large bulk of the team. Aside from the one or two guys even Indiana plucks out from underneath the big guys' noses, help is not coming. What you see returning will be what you get.
As you'll see, I see dead average people.
The numbers at right are impressive until you take a cursory look at the opponents they were run up against. Purdue missed two of the Big Ten's tougher defenses in Wisconsin and Illinois and put up big numbers against a soft candy fluffy hooray nonconference schedule: Toledo, Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan (twice!), and Notre Dame.
When the big boys came calling, Purdue's offense went and hid in a corner: seven points and under 300 yards against Ohio State. Seven meaningful points and about 150 yards of offense against Michigan before the second string came in up 48-7. Twelve points and no touchdowns against Penn State (Dorien Bryant returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown).
Unsurprisingly, these were all losses. Now, a lot of teams had trouble against the three defenses listed above. Few could muster only two meaningful touchdowns across three games. There seems to be something in the Purdue offense of late that prevents it from performing against top-notch defenses. Last year the Boilers scored three points total against Wisconsin and Penn State.
What are those things? Erratic QB play combined with an offense that requires a machine-like precision to jerk its way down the field, and that was with two bonafide playmakers in Bryant and Dustin Keller. This year a lot of field goal drives are in the offing.
Rating: 3. It's rare when an ESPN pundit causes me to re-evaluate what universe I might be in, but when Mel Kiper named Curtis Painter one of the top ten prospects for the 2009 NFL draft, I reacted... poorly:
The same cannot be said for Mel Kiper's top-rated senior quarterback for the 2009 NFL draft, Missouri's Chase Dan-- wait... what? CURTIS PAINTER?
I even had me some reasons:
Painter does have one thing in common with Ryan: an underwhelming passer efficiency rating (46th last year in Joe Tiller's QB-friendly system) against a wretched schedule. Outside of the Big Ten, Purdue went up against Notre Dame, Toledo, Eastern Illinois, and Central Michigan... twice.
Indeed, Painter's rates and ratios improved only marginally as a junior:
|Year||Comp %||YPA||TD:Int||Comp %||YPA||TD:Int|
Okay, some nominal improvement in completion percentage and a significant leap in TD-Int when the nummy soft nonconference schedule is taken into account. But it came at the expense of a full yard per attempt in conference play. Purdue finished last in the conference in YPA, with only moribund Iowa coming anywhere close.
Two major caveats to the above analysis:
- Michigan and Ohio State rotated back onto the schedule.
- Purdue was the pass-wackiest team in the league, calling 380 passes (most in conference) to 235 rushes (least in conference); many of Purdue's passes are designed to be short gains that substitute for the running game. The year before Tiller experimented with a relatively (for Purdue) run-heavy option game based on Nevada's weird "Pistol" formation that saw Purdue run almost exactly as much as they passed.
When you pass more your YPA goes down. Nash Equilibrium and all that. And when Michigan and Ohio State -- 1-2 in conference pass efficiency D last year -- show up on the schedule, your YPA goes down. Still, the picture painted is of a quarterback striving for adequacy and safety. To cut interceptions, make short, easy throws. This made for progress of a sort but was totally ineffective at moving the ball against defenses that don't run into each other on crossing routes and the like.
I think Purdue fans are at least partially with me on this. Boiled Sports took the baton handed to them when ESPN rated Curtis Painter the best quarterback in the Big Ten and jogged for a bit before slowing down and replying "what, seriously?"
In his Purdue preview, Pete Fuitak over at CFN thinks aloud that Painter's not as good as Brees, but is better than Orton. Honestly at this point in his career, I'd say Painter isn't as good as Brees or KO coming into his Senior year. But, he has one more season in black and gold to become one of the best QBs in the Cradle and definitely under Tiller. For that to happen, he has to learn how to look off of the first and second receivers and definitely NEEDS to beat some teams that are real contenders for the Big Ten title. I'm not saying he can't do it, but you might be dreaming if you think he definitely will.
I'm no dreamer. A realistic goal for Painter this year: don't backslide on his junior-year numbers against a much tougher schedule that replaces some random MACrifice with Oregon and features a Notre Dame team that doesn't figure to be the worst in school history. Be okay, and leave the Heisman to someone with moxie.
Tailback & Fullback
Rating: 3. Returning seniors Korey Sheets and Jaycen Taylor weren't touted recruits and aren't likely to be first-day NFL draft picks, but they've been productive platoon-mates the past two years. JUCO transfer Taylor is the nominal starter since Sheets has a nasty tendency to put the ball on the ground. Taylor is slightly shiftier and more likely to break a tackle and head into the open field; Sheets is slightly bigger and more likely to fall forward on third and short. As you can see at right, Taylor's headshot is way more awesome and nearly J Leman-worthy.
Off The Tracks notes Purdue's long history of tailback tandems and something else that may be of note going into the season: Sheets is the only player on the roster other than Greg Orton to feature regularly in the passing game last year. He had 30 receptions; Taylor chipped in with another eleven. With massive attrition in the receiving corps and few attractive options to replace the departed production, look for those numbers to increase significantly.
Other than that, there's no reason to expect anything other than more of the same here. Running backs rarely change much over their careers; variation in performance is usually due more to circumstance than anything else. Taylor and Sheets will split carries about evenly, average a shade under 5 YPC (they both did better than this last year, but injuries held them out of some of their tougher games and the schedule ramps up considerably this year), and be wholly average.
Wide Receiver & Tight Ends
Rating: 2. Painter's top targets are mostly gone. The zippy and productive Dorien Bryant, winner of last year's Brooks Bollinger Award for excellence in eighth-year seniority, has finally shuffled off to the end of an NFL roster. Tight end Dustin Keller went to the Jets at the end of the first round of the NFL draft. Promising sophomore Selwyn Lymon was booted after picking up his second DUI in under a year. Possession receiver Jake Standeford (who, yes, is a white guy) graduated. With them they take 230 of Purdue's 369 receptions elsewhere.
The bulk of the returning catches come from two sources: running backs and senior Greg Orton (right). Orton is a 6'2" leaper with mediocre speed in the mold of former Michigan wideout Marquise Walker, not quite fast enough to be a true vertical threat but still plenty dangerous on downfield jump balls. Last year he had 67 catches for 752 yards. That's a pedestrian 11.2 YPC, and that against an extremely forgiving schedule. Something else indicative of a lack of speed: Orton's three touchdowns came against Toledo, Eastern Illinois, and Central Michigan. He'll undoubtedly be Painter's main target and catch a ton of balls; he's unlikely to provide much after the catch.
Past him it's really dicey. Joe Whitest sounds like the perfect Purdue wide receiver, but 1) he's a black guy with dreads and 2) he's a redshirt senior JUCO transfer with one catch to his name. Senior Brandon Whittington also has one catch to his name and spent his redshirt freshman year at safety, making 15 tackles. By comparison, senior Desmond Tardy's 17 catches is a mountain of experience, but it's not good when the first comment on an Indy Star fluff piece on Tardy is this:
Man this dude fell off the map! I didn't even think he was playing anymore. But anyways, its good to hear he still there. Good luck this year!
Ouch. These are the three guys Painter cited as reasons the WR shortage was "no worry" for him.
Reinforcements are coming but they've been significantly whittled before they even reach campus. Rich Rodriguez infamously lifted Trotwood-Madison wide receiver Roy Roundtree -- according to Rivals, one of only two four-star recruits acquired by Purdue in 2008 -- from Tiller's clutches on Signing Day. Tiller would go on to rant about wizard hats and snake oil, Penn State fans would cluck disapprovingly in the face of a mountain of evidence that Penn State had no use for "gentlemen's agreements," and the internet was greatly entertained. Curtis Painter? Not so much. Adding injury to insult: leviathan (6'6") WR/TE combo Jordan Brewer failed to qualify.
The reinforcing regiment's remnants: a trio of JUCO wide receivers, one with three stars and the others with two. It appears only one had an outside offer, that from Rutgers. Aaron Valentin is that fellow's name, and he's been on campus since January. Chances are he's the #2 receiver.
It doesn't take much to be an effective Purdue wideout -- find the hole in the zone and catch the damn ball, basically -- but if there's no one who can turn five yards into fifteen that's a serious blow to Boiler hopes. A dropped ball here, a slant short of the sticks there, and Purdue's suddenly relying on Curtis Painter to be surgically precise.
Rating: 3. Purdue returns three starters, but all had offseason surgery and missed spring practice. Left tackle Sean Sester, one of the walking wounded, is getting mountains of hype -- Steele has him the #7 OT in the country, the Sporting News calls him an "unquestioned star and future pro". He's got a bulging disk in his back, however. If he's out there could be issues. The others returners are serviceable.
New right guard Justin Pierce started three games last year as a redshirt freshman when the starter went down and performed decently (I guess... Purdue's offense didn't roll over and die). Over the long haul he'll probably be pretty good; "adequate" is probably a good word to describe him this year. Center may be problematic, with a defensive lineman (Jared Zwilling) competing with senior Cory Benton.
I won't spin a web of words that makes it sound like I have any particular insight here. I believe Sester's pretty good and that it doesn't matter much in Purdue's quick-fire offense; I'm leery of a line with three starters who missed spring and may have issues that linger into the fall; I like guys who push into the lineup early in their careers like Pierce; I don't think center's hugely important, especially to Purdue. IMO: MOTS. Decent enough pass blocking with some leakiness at RT, good enough to crack open middleweight Big Ten defenses, mostly overrun by the big guys.
Much, much better statistically after two straight years of misery but with some major warning flags. Three teams from the state of Michigan put up 48 on the Boilers. Michigan with a healthy Henne, okay. Michigan State -- surprisingly, the top-scoring team in the league last year -- okay. Central Michigan? Er. Especially after playing them earlier in the year and giving up 22.
It's hard to tease out any trends from the statistics. Michigan did whatever they wanted, passing and running with equal ease. State got an excellent day from Brian Hoyer but was mediocre on the ground, averaging 3.3 YPC even when QB sacks aren't considered. Dan "I've Got" LeFevour shredded Purdue by land and air, netting over 400 yards of total offense by himself. In other games: Purdue let Indiana's Marcus Thigpen run wild, got all kinds of torched by Minnesota and Penn State's ground games, and gave up almost 400 yards passing to Notre Dame(!).
I guess what I'm saying is this: I don't believe the stats at right much. Purdue was clearly better, but they weren't good, and there's been enough attrition that further progress is questionable.
Rating: 3. Out are defensive ends Cliff Avril and Eugene Bright; back are tackles Alex Magee and Ryan Baker.
Avril capably stepped into the void created by Anthony Spencer's one-man heroics on Purdue's awful 2006 defense, racking up 6.5 sacks and 15 TFLs en route to being drafted by the Lions in the third round. (A moment of silence for his career, if you would.) Bright split time with junior Keyon Brown and had a decent season as a pass rusher.
Despite being the nominal starter, Brown -- who "enjoys sports" according to perhaps the least enlightening biographical tidbit in the history of biographical tidbits -- did nothing in particular to impress until the bowl game, when he picked up 2.5 of his 3.5 sacks on the year. As a irt sophomore stuck behind a pair of fairly productive elders there's reason to believe he'll pick his game up; "how much" is the eternally unanswerable question of season previews.
Replacing Avril will be true sophomore Ryan Kerrigan, who picked up 18 tackles as a freshman. Playing as a true freshman is usually an excellent sign for your future, but given Purdue's documented recruiting troubles he could be the best of the 50 cent prizes. A meh recruit from Muncie with mostly MAC offers (Cincinnati and Indiana were his only other BCS offers); ESPN said "he's not going to wow anyone on either side of the ball" before defaulting into platitudes about versatility and production. Even if Kerrigan is one of the guys the recruiting services overlook, he's unlikely to defy those ratings just a year after they were made. Expect him to be a major step down.
At DT, Baker (pictured) and Magee return. So does top backup Mike Neal. Baker was a highly decorated recruit and the subject of an elaborate, elongated battle between Purdue and Notre Dame. He's also a nice guy. In two years of starting, however, he hasn't made much of a difference on the field, with just 22 tackles and four TFLs last year. (He did have a good number of sacks last year.) Baker's slightly undersized at "just" 280 pounds; sometimes you can get away with that at defensive tackle but it's hard to when you're also 6'5". Leverage: Baker does not haz it.
The Sporting News claims Magee will be a "future pro"; I am not so sure. I didn't call out Purdue DTs by name in last year's UFR, but they did show up frequently. A sampling:
Kraus shoves the backside DT, then immediately releases to the second level. Long slants inside, getting in front of the DT and sort of sumo-ing him downfield. ... Kraus(+2) owns the frontside DT here, pancaking him and creating the room Hart exploits ... Boren(+1) gets control of the DT, stalemates him at the line, and seals him away from Hart ... Another cutback run for Brown keyed by the backside DT getting chopped to the ground.
There were some good plays interspersed but they mostly came when the zone scheme had Schilling attempting a tough reach block. By the time Mike Hart sprained his ankle late in the first half, he had 102 yards on 21 carries; Carlos Brown would add 64 yards on 13 more in the second half after Brandon Minor also went out with injury. And this was a decidedly poor Michigan interior line.
It's no wonder, then, that Purdue was eighth in the league in run defense, seventh in YPC. Much of the blame falls here, and the most blameless guy is off to the NFL.
Rating: 3. Before last season, Joe Tiller predicted that converted running back Anthony Heygood (pictured) would be the team's best linebacker; based on that prediction I predicted that Purdue's linebackers wouldn't be much good.
We were both right. Heygood turned in a good year, picking up 15 TFLs amongst 81 tackles and getting named honorable mention All Big Ten. Purdue's other linebackers had 14 TFLs amongst them and, with some assistance from the meh defensive tackles, contributed to Purdue's poor run defense. Dan Bick did chip in four sacks.
So it's either no big deal all these guys are gone or disturbing that no one on the team could push any of the three medicore seniors. There's little mystery as to who the replacements will be: Jason Werner will start at one outside position and Kevin Green will be the middle linebacker. Werner's a redshirt junior who spent his freshman year at safety, missed his sophomore year with a back injury, and finally got on the field last year, picking up 28 tackles as a reserve. A possible indicator of success: he won the defense's "most improved player" award in spring. He was a moderately touted recruit and got the most effusive praise of all Purdue players this spring; watch him for a possible breakout.
Green, meanwhile, could be dodgy. There's been talk of moving Heygood to the middle because Green may not be big enough to handle it. This was Brock Spack's take in spring:
"He's got to take another jump to be ready to be a full-time (middle) linebacker in this league," Spack said.
Heygood claimed Green made "lots of strides in the weight room" this offseason and all but anointed him the starter; the jury remains undecided.
Rating: 3.5. Purdue's secondary took a great leap forward from 2006, when a hodgepodge of unregarded freshmen and JUCO transfers were torched time and again. Purdue's pass efficiency defense went from 81st to 31st, and that renaissance extended to the conference schedule, where Purdue finished behind only Michigan and Ohio State.
However, the two best members of the Purdue secondary have departed. Cornerback Terrell Vinson was Purdue's leading tackler a year ago, normally a bad sign but here possibly indicative of a guy not quite good enough to handle the opponent's top receiver. Three sacks and five interceptions are good numbers to offset the tackles.
Returning at corner are David Pender, a junior baptized by fire two years ago and seven-game starter in 2007, and Royce Adams (right), another junior who's seen fire and brimstone in the sky. Though Adams appears to be moving backwards after starting 12 games as a freshman and only 5 as a sophomore, third corners still get plenty of time and he had a hand in Purdue's substantial improvement. Pender can make a similar claim.
As far as recruiting went: Pender's only other major offer was from Illinois, then in "please, God, someone come to our school" mode. Adams, on the other hand, got offers from a wide array of midlevel schools and was rumored to be on the verge of an Ohio State offer before committing to Purdue.
At safety, redshirt junior Brandon King returns. After a year of special teams and an odd sophomore year redshirt (after winning the Most Improved Player spring award, no less) he was steady and unremarkable, but that's what you want first-year starting safeties to be. Torrii Williams returns for his fourth straight year of off-field trouble and injuries. At this point projecting him to do anything between the sidelines is ludicrously optimistic, but everyone still projects him to be the starting strong safety. If it's not him it'll probably be sophomore Josh McKinley.
There's reason to be optimistic about the starting corners; lack of depth and Williams' questionable status are significant drawbacks. Though Purdue was third in the conference in pass efficiency defense last year they were closer to seventh than second, and they'll do well to hold their ground this year.
Rating: 4. 2007's best evidence that kickers are weird, weird people could be found in West Lafayette. Chris Summers went 18 for 22 a year after killing several people with errant 29-yard attempts in his 8-for-20 sophomore year. What will he do in his finale? Eh, who knows, but when in doubt go with the most recent performance.
Punter Jared Armstrong is gone; it's MGoBlog policy not to speculate on kickers who haven't seen the field due to their excessive weirdness.
Dorien Bryant's loss will be felt here as well. As noted above, he had a kick return touchdown and helped Purdue to 16th nationally in that statistic; as a punt returner he was decidedly average, however. Purdue will probably draft one of the receivers down the roster or a defensive back to take over and they'll be okay.
Assuming Summers maintains his level of performance, that alone is worthy of a 4 if you assume all other things will be basically okay.
The theory of turnover margin: it is nearly random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are highly likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|2006||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|0.08 (51st)||14||13||2.31 (41st)||13||13||1.92 (51st)|
With a margin near zero and fairly average quarterback pressure, Purdue was unaffected by turnover luck. Painter's a year more experienced, but quarterback pressure will likely be harder to come by; expect a repeat in 2008.
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.
Anthony Heygood might move inside if Kevin Green can't handle it, and center is being contested by a defensive lineman. Nothing too serious; a couple warning flags.
Purdue is fortunate to miss the ground-and-pound offenses of Illinois and Wisconsin and will probably be a game better in the Big Ten for it.
Notre Dame 2008 figures to be considerably better than Notre Dame 2007; I don't know if anyone knows what to expect from Oregon minus Dixon, Stewart, and the host of explosive offensive players that are burned into Michigan fan retinas... but I expect they'll be considerably more talented than Purdue.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
The defense remains moderately stiff, with a pair of senior defensive tackles backed by a suprisingly good linebacking corps and a solid secondary. Pass rush remains hard to find, keeping Purdue at a level below "great" but the unit is reminscent of the hard-nosed units earlier this decade.
Painter, meanwhile, makes a great leap forward, finding all manner of mediocre receivers to throw to, and the offense is slightly better than it was last year. It still won't be enough against the three or four beastly defenses they'll come across, and with Notre Dame on the upswing(?) and Oregon making an unwelcome appearance, 8-4 seems to be about the ceiling.
Purdue's offense isn't going to implode as long as the line returns to full health; it could be sluggish, though, if the receiving corps fails to find a secondary option behind Orton. Meanwhile, if the outside linebackers and the defensive ends fail to find a player or two the run defense could revert to the horror show it was a couple years ago; this is an especially bad time to be stiff up the middle but shaky on the edges.
5-7 is a possibility; Purdue doesn't figure to be much better than they were last year and 2-2 OOC is suddenly likely.
I'm done predicting offensive explosions from West Lafeyette and don't much believe in Curtis Painter, whose numbers last year were a mirage built on sheer repetition and wretched opponents. The massive attrition in the wide receiver corps should see Greg Orton fight double teams all year; chances are one guy will step up to be a decent secondary target.
However, Purdue had a couple guys last year that could take safe passes and turn them into big gains. While discussing the departed Dustin Keller, Boiler offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher acknowleges this may not be the case in 2008:
Dustin was a guy that made a lot of plays after the catch. We'll have to see if anybody else can do things. You don't get too many guys with that type of physical ability at that position. That means we might have to complete a couple extra passes to move down the field, but we can still move it down the field.
I don't see where the extra YPA is going to come from even if Painter's often questionable accuracy improves.
Purude's offense should be slightly better than it was last year, capable of running up big numbers against befuddled MAC teams and Minnesota but just short of utterly ineffective against defenses with real bite.
Defensively, the Purdue secondary looks to be in its best shape in a long time. There are 3-5 veterans who greatly contributed to Purdue's considerable leap forward in pass defense. The front seven, however, looks to replace four starters and has only a few plausible players to fill in the gaps. Werner looks like a good bet; the defensive ends and Green not so much. Pressure will be hard to come by and performance should dip.
The following schedule guess comes with the extreme caveat that other than Michigan and Purdue I haven't taken a hard look at anyone on it:
|9/1||Northern Colorado||Functional DNP|
|9/15||Central Michigan||Probable win|
|11/10||@ Notre Dame||Tossup|
|9/22||Penn State||Probable loss|
|9/29||@ Ohio State||Auto-loss|
|11/3||@ Iowa||Probable win|
Looks like 4-4 in the Big Ten and 3-1 outside of it: 7-5 it is for Tiller's final season. I'm rooting for a CMU rematch in the Motor City Bowl.
Here's a bonus prediction: Painter, Orton, both RBs, both DTs, Heygood, and some other guys are gone after this year and all but the fifth-year seniors will be members of the Purdue Recruiting Cliff; Danny Hope's opening year is likely to be unpleasant.