I'm out for the fourth tomorrow. See you Monday.
I get an email that starts like this about every week:
So I'm searching for reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming football season.
I got the first one ten seconds after Manningham, Mallett, and Arrington all lit out for the NFL or Arkansas. Each one drips through my consciousness, leaving a residue of paranoia. We can't really lose to Utah, can we? Or Minnesota? Or Notre Dame?
SMQB says... maybe!
The main reason I'm so much more skittish about the Wolverines, maybe the sole reason, is because of their nearest parallel entering the season: 2007 Notre Dame. This is not a logical comparison based on probabilities. ND was in the same kind of woeful shape, personnel-wise, heading into last season, and everybody knew it; the Irish didn't get a vote in anyone's preseason top 25, either, off back-to-back BCS games. Losing a slew of quality career starters will do that for a team. But it won't necessarily result in the worst record in school history, or one of the worst offensive performances of all time; there are no demerits for failure to predict depths so completely outside of anyone's experience. Applying the same pessimism to Michigan based on one nearby, at-the-ready example is beyond hyperbole, if for no other reason than the Wolverines won't be facing ten straight bowl teams to open the season; even if they did, two of them would play in the MAC and another from the Mountain West. It's not the kind of schedule that will let any halfway respectable outfit bottom out that quickly.
The incredibly incompetent Notre Dame team of last year also pops up in the season prediction of Nittany White Out, though as a Penn State blog that actually posts things like "Rich Rod is a traitor and a snake" their opinion must be taken with a grain of salt large enough to encompass a decade-long losing streak.
This is what every emailer that starts off with some plea to reassure him wants to know. Nobody expects to beat Ohio State or even make a New Year's Day bowl, but Jesus, did you see Notre Dame last year? Humans are exceptionally good at modeling others' emotions, especially when said others are rivals of yours, and it takes little cognition to arrive at the conclusion that Notre Dame 2007 was Not A Good Time.
Under a pale November sky in Palo Alto, Jimmy Clausen accepted a snap from center, trotted back a step or two, and dropped his knee to the ground, sending the final dozen or so seconds of the game clock spinning off into the history books. A strange, sullen silence draped itself over the Irish fans in a crowded bar on the north side of Chicago as it slowly dawned on everybody that the season was finally over. Thank you, sweet merciful Heaven, I thought to myself, taking a long swig from my tenth or fifteenth beer of the night, this godforsaken season is finally over.
Michigan fans appear to be kept up at night by the spectre of that emotion at year's end. And it's not just the Notre Dame parallel that many of the college football digerati draw that bothers. No one outside of East Lansing and Ann Arbor paid it any mind, but the Michigan basketball team just hired an offensive genius from Morgantown, bestowed upon him a rickety roster that was a poor fit for the genius's genius system, and had a Notre Dame of a season.
After a midweek game against Minnesota that saw 100 weirdly enthusaistic Gopher fans outcheer the entirety of a dismal Crisler arena, I wrote a post titled "It's Only Dark In Your Hearts" that concluded like so:
I have four more tickets sitting at a drawer at home; I don't know how many more of them I'll use. [I turned out the answer was 'all of them', by the way. I'm a sucker. -ed]
The idea of feeling like that after a football game against Minnesota haunts many.
So why won't this happen? First... it might. Michigan is unlikely to sink to the horrific depths Notre Dame did solely because of math -- hooray Gaussian distributions -- but failing to reach a bowl would be a real blow to the internet argument capabilities of Michigan fans. And that's totally within the realm of possibility, especially since the Big Ten mandates all 7-5 teams have to be picked before 6-6 teams. So this is not a "ha, that won't happen, you are stupid for attempting to predict the future because my ability to predict the future is much better than yours."
HOWEVA, I don't think it will. And I think so for these reasons:
1. Rich Rodriguez is not Charlie Weis. Charlie Weis is an immensely overweight sociopath who had never coached a team stricken by youth or, really, accomplished anything whatsoever without the aid of the opponent's defensive signals. Rich Rodriguez forged West Virginia into a national power despite operating with recruits far less highly touted than the ones Michigan has at his disposal.
This is by far the number one reason available. Outside of ludicrous pipe dreams like Urban Meyer or Mack Brown or Pete Carroll, Rich Rodriguez was perhaps the bar-none top candidate for any college looking for a coach. The only reason he was not a ludicrous pipe dream was the poisonous relationship Rodriguez had with West Virginia's dysfunctional leadership. He is proven. Over seven years at West Virginia he took a program that had fallen considerably during the last few years of Don Nehlen's tenure and turned them into West Fuckin' Virginia, and he did it with his system and his coaches and his players as the head coach. Charlie Weis was a below average offensive coordinator who left his team no worse off after he left.
Raise your hand if you think the Bill Stewart era is going to go well at WVU. Yeah.
How did Rodriguez do this? I don't know. I do know that some people can relate to the sort of people who end up as really serious college football players, can motivate them and organize them and inspire them, and that this is a real skill possessed by a very small number of very rich people.
Weis, meanwhile, implemented a half-ass version of the spread 'n' shred he would abandon a quarter into the season, neglected fundamental things like teaching people how to block, and alienated his players to the point where several of them bolted the team midseason despite plenty of opportunities for playing time. It was without question the most abysmal coaching performance at a BCS school since John Mackovic experienced armed insurrection at Arizona. It was three standard deviations below the mean.
2. Lloyd Carr was not Tyrone Willingham. Notre Dame fans' favorite excuse for the failings of Weis E. Coyote -- Tyrone Willingham likes golf -- was legit. The 2004 Notre Dame recruiting class was almost impossibly atrocious:
|SIGNED LETTER OF INTENT||Pos||Stars||Ht||Wt||40||RR|
Take away the names and this could be Michigan State or Oklahoma State or any crappy team that manages a couple of good athletes and backs it up with garbage. It gets worse when you consider that two of the very few contributors were the first rats to flee the Good Ship Weis: Darius Walker entered the NFL draft early (in the same way I could enter the draft: he was undrafted) and Ronald Talley decided he'd rather start at Delaware than start at Notre Dame.
But wait! It's still worse: in reality the class was worse than that as a lot of the guys in it got overrated because they committed to Notre Dame. There is one area in which recruiting sites do fudge rankings, IMO, and that's with the tail end of the class at big deal schools. Almost anyone who commits to Michigan as an unranked or two-star player will end up with three stars if the services have time to rerank them. Normally this is a small effect, but when ND starts bringing in a full class of questionable recruits the big school bump becomes a major factor.
These guys were the seniors and fourth-year juniors on last year's team, and the class after them -- the Willingham-Weis transition year -- was hardly better. Michigan's recruiting has never been close to that dire. The 2005 class was #6 nationally; 2006 was #13. Even with the outflux of talent to the NFL and Ohio State's bench, Michigan has far more talent than Notre Dame did last year. The Willingham classes started out with hardly any talent and then experienced major attrition; at least Michigan is starting from a lofty perch.
The magical 2007 Notre Dame season was a lethal combination of awful coaching and awful talent. Michigan has excellent coaching and okay to good talent. I'm not saying you should make plans for New Year's Day, but this ain't gonna happen en route to 3 and 9:
Clearly, there will be growing pains. A season like Tressel's initial foray at Ohio State -- a bleh 7-5 that would have been 6-6 without JohnNavarre's exceptional generosity -- is well within the realm of possibility. And by that I mean "is the most likely outcome."
This should be fine with you. Michigan needs a year to pupate, and then?
On the big version you can see what Callihan was talking about when he mentioned a little "strip": there are teeny block Ms on the inside and outside of the back collar. Tentative thumbs up from me; they'll probably look fine on the players.
So, Callihan is correct and didn't see something unofficial. Let's revisit the road jerseys:
The away jerseys have a thin maize piping straight across the chest. There also have a small maize strip on the back of the collar that says Michigan in blue. [he would later clarify that the strip is the block M thing above -ed]
The West Virginia-esque roadies from earlier were a false alarm, it seems.
Fixes. I've created a Crude Bug Tracking page, which can be found under "useful stuff" on the nav bar. It contains all known bugs and feature requests, plus a list of stuff I've fixed. The latest fixes:
- you don't have to preview comments or message board posts anymore
- comment threading options enabled for message board
- ticket ads now less ugly
- Brian @ AOL posts now visible to plebes
- message board restyled so it doesn't bleed into the right sidebar
If you're sending a bug in (which should be done whenever there is a bug SUPPORT THE CAUSE), do me a favor and check the page to see if it's listed or not. Also, if I missed anything in the whirlwind last few days, please remind me.
Solicitation. Also, I'm not married to "diaries" as the name of the things you see on the right sidebar. If you've got anything better, let me know.
The home uniform has not changed with the exception of the logo and the away uniform has been modified slightly in comparison to the Nike design that has been worn the past few seasons. The uniforms were approved last fall and have been in production well in advance of the hiring of Coach Rich Rodriguez.
This contradicts both the women's academy jerseys (road jerseys only slightly different) and the UMGoBlue thread (home jerseys untouched) referenced earlier today in exactly the ways most Michigan fans would want those data points to be contradicted, so it is undoubtedly accurate by fiat.
At this point we should probably just wait for the damn things to come out.
I got my philosophy. Bo Schemblogger has some notes from a recent coaching clinic that are basically a bulleted version of Rodriguez's offensive philosophy. I actually found the Magee bullets more interesting:
-- 1. make defenses defend the entire field ... QB has presnap and post snap reads
-- 2. Always play at multiple tempos to keep defense off balance and control their substitution patterns
-- 3.make defense prepare for dual threat QB, both run and pass
-- 4. EXECUTION- You want a simple, not predictable offense (most of you should love this one, LOL).
-- 5. Execute your base plays to perfection: Reps and Reps, and more reps, get good at something!
-- 6. numbers game
----- a. 1st key number is 1 or 2 safeties. This is from my personal experience, this read is the single most important in this offense ... it tells you what OLBers and CBs are going to do. All 3 Coaches, RR, MaGee, and Frey, said the OLBers are the most dangerous defenders to this offense
------ b. How many defenders in box is next read
-- 7. Create best angles to block, both linemen and SEs
-- 8. And the final one - Find Empty Grass!
I bolded four things for two different reasons. Four and five are bolded because the emphasis on execution is something most decidedly old in the context of Michigan football. These are the things that Charlie Weis has no idea how to do.
Two and eight are new. Eight is a pithy three-word summary of the spread 'n' shred. Two is something I'm excited about not because ramping tempo up and down will have that much of an effect on the game, but because it's another indication the staff is looking for an edge wherever it can get one.
This was the theory expounded in the post Northwestern's ballboys: Rich Rodriguez is an expert at taking limited resources and stretching them. From Glenville to Tulane to Clemson to West Virginia he has taken less and done more, and for most of this time he has been the head of the pyramid. Now he has more.
Por ejemplo. Bruce Feldman's latest article for ESPN the magazine probably doesn't have anything in it you don't already know, but it's an impeccably-written overview of the goings on. Relevant to our Unified Theory of Rodriguez is this passage:
Still, the new staff knew they'd get a better read on guys at Rodriguez's spring practices. The tempo change was dramatic. "If Bo could see these practices, he'd love it," says Jim Brandstatter, a lineman on the 1969 team. "It's eerily similar to the culture shock when Bo took over. They're being physical. They hit. They wear pads every day."
Among the new Michigan mandates: Practices double as conditioning (no walking-even linemen sprint into stances), and a QB is live in drills until he proves in a real game that he can handle pressure.
...or the OL is so sieve-like it gets him hurt.
Snark aside, I hadn't really considered the impact of the high tempo in practice that way. I had just figured it was a way to make the most of your limited hours. It is that; it's also yet more conditioning for guys who are running everywhere. The thing that leapt out at me from the Rodriguez paraphrase linked above: "conditioning is the most underrated aspect of football." Insert "eeee" here.
Etc.: Dex is ripping off the Dugout to good effect in the diaries, and QB Waggle tackles Michigan's NFL draft class of 2007. This Smart Football post on pass protection is pure football nerd porn. I've ripped Tom Deinhart before, but his preview of M for Rivals is shockingly accurate, like "mentions Marell Evans correctly" accurate. GS has a super recap of Mario Manningham's career.
Kevin Grady mug shot:
Why? DUI. Obviously not a stellar moment in Grady's life but his first misstep; likely a short suspension and then a return to normal service. "Normal service" in this case has been three yards followed by a fumble, but hey, you recover those fumbles and it's second and seven and if you're USC that's time to play the V song.
Fulmer cup projection: one point, Michigan's first of the Rodriguez era.
These were the uniforms bestowed upon attendees of the Women's Football Academy this summer, and their relation to West Virginia's vaguely chintzy duds did not go unremarked upon or unlamented. I phrased the post title as a question ("is this the ne road jersey?") despite the clear authenticity of the photos because it seemed highly improbable that Michigan would sign off on a pretty dramatic departure from their classic white away jerseys. At least, that's what I hoped.
That hope lives. Beauford Bixel -- a nom de plume up there with Orson Swindle -- of State of the Game has alertly picked up on a thread over at Michigan fansite/message board UMGoBlue.com featuring the uniform impressions of Phil Callihan, the site's founder. (Side note: Drew Montag, a UMGoBlue columnist, actually registered "mgoblog.com" two months before I started the blogspot version and, after two years and considerable friendly pestering, gave me the domain for free. They are Friends of Blog.) Callihan says he's seen the official jerseys and they are like so:
The home jerseys have a maize block "M" on the shoulder, the number is a little thicker and seems to be placed a little higher than on past jerseys. There's also a small (1/4 inch wide by 1-2 inch) vertical maize strip running down from the collar that has Michigan in blue. [Callihan would later correct himself, saying there is a block M on the strip. -ed]
The away jerseys have a thin maize piping straight across the chest. There also have a small maize strip on the back of the collar that says Michigan in blue.
Both have a small Adidas logo on the front.
There's the requisite panic and hasty, speculative photoshopping in the aftermath, with various people declaring their completely hypothetical outrage or joy over an ultimately trivial matter. It's basically a microcosm of the internet, and it's pretty awesome. We'll find out what they actually look like in around two weeks, and there will be a great TCP/IP howl for three days before we forget about it.
Add another 1.2 million subscribers to the BTN pile:
For sports fans, Verizon is launching three new HD sports channels.Verizon has always placed a high priority on providing all major sports programming and offering as much as possible in HD.
The company has now added top college basketball and football action with the Big Ten Network, which will be available in both standard- and high-definition.
Verizon was the last alternative (fiber/satellite) provider to sign on; now it's just Charter, Time Warner, and Mediacom left.