I present the weekend in Michigan sports:
- The hockey team does its usual Saturday mail-in, losing 2-1 to a tenth-place Northern team and dropping further behind Notre Dame and Miami. Michigan is in severe danger of missing the tournament for the first time in sixteen years.
- The basketball team is obliterated by Purdue. At 2-1, the dread spectre of yet another NIT appearance looms.
- Safety Jerimy Finch, the consensus best recruit in Michigan's class not named "Mallett," decommits. To go to INDIANA. Delightfully-named tiny scatback Marquis Maze is contacted by Michigan recruiting people and mentions that Michigan coaches haven't contacted him in months and he's going somewhere else.
So... yeah. Also the Pistons lost to Atlanta and the Oilers have returned from the Year of Pronger to their usual "maybe we'll scrape into the playoffs, but maybe not" selves. I'm cranky.
What's Wrong With... Hockey.
- The second powerplay unit. I can think of no better summary of Michigan's shocking State-like lack of depth than what purports to be our second power play unit: Brandon Naurato, Brian Lebler, Travis Turnbull, Matt Hunwick, and Mark Mitera. No offense to any of those players (except perhaps Hunwick, who is a senior but still causes me to say "what the hell were you thinking?" at least once per night), but that's a checking line.
- There are two and a half defensemen I'm actually confident in. Kampfer keeps getting yanked for making horrible turnovers and Chris Summers has been little better. The NHL must really love the latter's skating (gorgeous, to be fair), because he's consistently beaten along the boards for pucks, often finds himself wildly out of position, and just gives me the heebie-jeebies in general. Throw in Hunwick's usual maddening play, and bleah.
- Goaltending. I've said my piece on this before. Sauer can't be blamed for what happened Saturday. The first goal may have been a little soft -- short side and under the glove -- but that was on a breakaway. Other than that, he was excellent. Unfortunately, that stands out as the exception.
So that appears to be defense, offense, and goaltending. The problems are comprehensive. Three guys who you can leave out of any hockey-team related bitchign you may do: Hensick, Johnson, and Rolfhs. Each has been playing near the height of his ability.
What's Wrong With... Basketball.
What's Wrong With... Recruiting.
God, I don't know. What a weird year. There's an unprecedented amount of talent in state that we manage to get very little of. Colasanti is enamored of Penn State from the beginning for some reason. Sawtelle is a Tennessee legacy. Barksdale is a needy primadonna who gets angry at the coaches for not remembering the exact sequencing of their secret handshake. Dionte Allen flees to Florida State once they tell him he can be their offensive coordinator. Taurian Washington is the second OLSM kid in two years to go to OSU. Now we've lost a recruit to... and I can't stress this enough...
Only time will tell whether Finch is brilliantly prescient or, you know, not. I'm betting on "not," myself. What a bizarre decision: premiere program coming off 11-2 season that plays in largest stadium in the country versus basketball school that occasionally scratches out a Motor City Bowl bid and plays in front of something like 20,000. This is the worst decommitment ever.
Now you'll excuse me. I have to find a flat surface to bang my head against.
Note for confused bloggers wishing to vote in the things which aren't the "Suxors." There is a form that you vote at. Here is where the Voting Machine is.
Your full list of early enrollees: Ryan Mallett, Vince Helmuth, Austin Panter, and Artis Chambers. The first three were already known to be enrolling... well... now, but Chambers is a surprise.
It's been a bad week for the kind of person who idly wonders about building a sterilization ray when he encounters most people, even when they aren't using one game, no matter how lopsided, as vindication for whatever crackpot theories they espouse. I've spent much of the week sputtering in helpless rage, so I'll let a decidedly lucid SMQB make the point:
First rule of order, as it were: recognition and celebration that sometimes this game makes no sense. Maybe we're fools for attempting to impose decorum on entertainment fundamentally fueled by its predilection for shock and anarchy.
Certain truths emerge which cannot be reconciled with any other existing facts or theories.
- - -
But we try to make coherent the naturally disordered anyway, even as our efforts at methodically synthesizing disparate facts are repeatedly mocked. In some way, then, method must account for anarchy, or inevitably succumb to it. Because this isn't science; sometimes this game makes no sense.
The bowl season - not only the mythical championship game, but also the Rose and Fiesta bowls, most prominently - vindicated the November conversation and SMQ's resume argument in myriad ways, primarily by broadcasting live to a stunned nation unmitigated dismantlings of the two teams it was repeatedly assured were "the best" and had only a little more than a month earlier engaged in a timeless struggle of wills for unquestioned supremacy rather than put on just another entertaining, emotional shootout on the same level of play as, say, Louisville-West Virginia.
But what SMQ would most like to point out in light of Monday's merciless pantsing of the team officially earmarked as the "best" in America through the three-month regular season is not that Ohio State was "exposed" or that Florida "proved" to humbled skeptics the indomitable essence that dwells eternally in its collective soul of souls. Rather, he'd like to defend the conviction that Ohio State really was, in fact, the "best" team in the nation from September through November, in the sense the Buckeyes' cumulative performance over that span deserved by all available evidence to be considered superior to that of any other team, and offer the untimely demise of that perception Monday as evidence there is nothing dwelling in the blood pumping through a team's metaphorical veins that can tell us anything about any single performance outside of itself; that is, what occurred in the championship game, like any other, was representative only of the championship game, and should inform our opinions about its participants only as an addition to the months-long whole. A prominent addition, of course, but by no means the all-defining one or, very importantly, one that can be extrapolated to prove great inner truths about certain conferences or larger trends within - unless, of course, you're willing to argue the relative merits of Ohio State's "speed," however that is supposed to be measured, and by extension that of Michigan, Iowa, Penn State and Texas, in relation to the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence of Vanderbilt and South Carolina, which each fared exponentially better against the Gators than the Buckeyes. Sometimes this game makes no sense.
Indeed. In my formative years trawling through various Rivals message boards I stumbled across a wonderfully dorky post that burned itself in my mind and fundamentally altered my perception of college football. This was in the aftermath of some Purdue-Michigan game or another that ended 31-3 in favor of Michigan. Attempting to cope, some engineer or another doodled out this ASCII image of Gaussian football genius:
|| __ __ ||
|| / \ / \ ||
\// \ / \\/
/ P \/ M \
/ /\ \
--/ ___--/ \--_____\--___
He then explained: the two uncapped pyramids are normal distributions of overall performance labelled "P" and "M"; the arrows display the actual performances turned in that day by the respective teams. On a good day for Purdue and a bad day for Michigan, Purdue could win. On an average day, they would lose but not by four touchdowns, by God. The assumption that the winner of any particular game is obviously the better team is just that, an assumption. When the score is 31-3 or 41-14 you can be fairly certain that assumption is a good one. But never sure.
One thing you would think, though: the bonafide #1 and #2 teams in the country would have pyramids damn near on top of each other. And unless probability was really screwing with us the games they produce would more often than not be worth watching after, say, halftime. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case.
As the Not Fiesta got more and more lopsided it seemed much less a vindication of the BCS for having chosen the two "right" teams and more a vicious rebuke of it for having the presumption to pick two teams at all. I've made this point before, but here it goes again: college football has the sparsest data of any sport anywhere in the world. Teams play a mere 12 games per year and far fewer than that are actual "games" rather than glorified exhibitions with a 90% or better chance of victory for a powerhouse. At the end of the year we have but the barest suggestion that one or two teams are better than the remainder, a suggestion so bare that the presumed Greatest Team Ever This Year got stomped 41-14, raising questions not about Florida's place in the Not Fiesta but rather that of the GTETY. Submitted that last year everything worked fine, but as King Kaufman points out...
It also means that three times in the past six years the BCS has offered up a Championship Game that was a blowout.
It's one thing if a title game at the end of a tournament is a rout. At least both teams plausibly played their way in. But when a system pulls two teams from the multitudes and places them in the final by fiat, that final had better be a damn good game more often than not. A lot more often. It had better be a fluke, rather than routine, for one of the teams to look like it doesn't belong.
The frequency of pretenders getting to the title game is one more reason to dislike the BCS, which brings us to about 1,800.
Eventually, the BCS is going to collapse under the weight of its own stupidity. That stupidity was in full flower this year, with the Boise State upset over Oklahoma and the Florida pole-axing of Ohio State combining to illustrate beautifully that judging teams on paper and declaring that two and only two will play for the title just doesn't work.
On the balance, there have been far fewer satisfying matchups between undisputed titans than vicious melees between indistinguishable teams vying for their place in the stupidest playoff in the world.
Which is why I felt... zo unsatysfyed after the fireworks and confetti and crystal whatever.
Ga-tors, Ga-tors, We Stick It In You.
Ugh! The official winner of the inagural MaxwellPundit?
Andre Ware. Er... Hawaii QB Colt Brennan, AKA "Timmy Chang++." I'm appalled at my fellow voters for going with the default player you didn't see fail instead of the much better, though flawed, candidates that actually played in the season's most important games. Tenuous justifications of schedule strength universal in his selections prop up Alabama (a 25-17 loss), Purdue (awful defense), Oregon State (loss), and Arizona State (awful defense) as indicators that Brennan was battle-tested or something. But shiny stats rule all, I guess.
Etc.: Entertaining story on the '87 Fiesta from ESPN the Magazine. (Via FO); problems with referees in the WCHA... hey, at least you didn't get called for like 80 penalties against the worst team in the league by a guy who has to be "Bull" from "Night Court"
Two notes from various sources:
Yards After Mundy is no more. Ryan Mundy will not return for a fifth year. His shoulder was cited as the reason and we can leave it at that.
No we can't: ARRRRRRRRGH TACKLE SOMEONE ARRRRGH.
(Note: upon hearing this news my mind wandered and I decided that he was in my Michigan Secondary From Hell, which features Mundy and Cato June at the safety spots and Todd Howard at one corner, but who's the other corner? And have I stiffed Ernest Shazor?
This also spurred further cogitation about various other Unit Groupings From Hell -- tellingly much more difficult to compile than the secondary, which sprang to mind virtually unbidden. Linebacker would be Zack Kaufman, Scott McClintock, and just lost the services of Prescott Burgess after his fine senior year. Right tackle is Courtney Morgan. David Underwood at RB, etc, etc. Let's hear it for painful thought exercises!)
Andy Moeller may be movin' on out. Persistent rumors around the Stanford campus have Moeller joining Harbaugh's staff in some capacity. He wasn't announced in a round of recent hirings that did not include an offensive line coach. There are other rumors out there about staff changes but nothing I have anything quasi-reliable on.
So. What seems clear disappears into a heap of confusion as the season clatters to a halt. Troy Smith bites the dust against Florida. Darren McFadden goes meekly against Wisconsin. Slaton's fumbles still haunt WVU, and it's not like I was voting for Brady Quinn anyway but good God the NFL has to perk up to these performances sooner or later, yes/no?
Jumble jumble. So who was the best player in the country? Hell if I know. Candidates in no particular order:
PRO: Indisputably best defensive back in the country no matter what the Thorpe people think. Crusher who mixed highlight reel hits with actual interceptions (and interceptions caused either directly or indirectly). Leader of a secondary that plain annihilated Heisman winner Troy Smith. Possesses kickin' dreads.
CON: Is a safety, and not one of those run-supporting terrors that rack up a lot of tackles. Statistically thin: 6 INTs, 34 tackles, 2 TFL. (Noted that the INTs are not thin.)
PRO: Man-mountain defensive tackle was the real motive force behind the Michigan defense all year and can't be blamed for its secondary-based implosion. One of the few Michigan defenders to show well in games against OSU (two turnovers and can't be charged with any of the damage done) and USC (key in limiting USC's run game when they bothered with it). Featured abandoning the carcass of Anthony Morelli in one of the year's iconic images. Guaranteed top ten NFL draft pick, which is not what the award is about but is an indicator of his talent at a position the layman finds hard to judge.
CON: Like Nelson, plays at a position that is not looked upon kindly by statistics. Unlike Nelson, plays on a defense that was scalded in two consecutive losses at year's end.
PRO: Is Calvin Johnson.
CON: Erased in several critical GT games this year, whether it was by opposing defenses or Reggie Ball.
PRO: Few players can claim to have the sort of transformative effect on a program that McFadden did this year upon the Razorbacks. Houston Nutt was headed for unemployment at the beginning of the year after a crushing at the hands of USC followed up by limp and fortunate wins over SEC dregs Vanderbilt and Alabama. A nooner versus #2 Auburn on CBS loomed as the first step on a downward spiral that would end in a game versus a Sun Belt foe. Then -- poof -- like that, he's gone. McFadden went Keyser Soze on the Auburn defense, staked Arkansas to a lead and they didn't look back until they ran straight into vastly superior opposition in LSU and Florida. Before the ride was over McFadden had taken the Razorbacks to the SEC championship game and a New Year's Day bowl despite playing on a team with -- and I want to make this very clear -- not even the barest hint of a functional quarterback. Also was bestowed with the year's coolest nickname: "Humanity Advanced."
CON: He was bottled up and watched his team lose the aforementioned SEC championship game and New Year's Day bowl.
PRO: Is also Calvin Johnson, basically.
CON: Missed significant chunk of the year with an injury. Of no use in MNC-shattering loss to UCLA.
PRO: A defensive tackle who throws the ball willy-nilly all over the field and to extraordinary effect. Fastest waddler in history of college football. Culpepperian/Lorenzenian dimensions always good for a laugh/wonder.
CON: Singlehandedly responsible for most of LSU's turnovers against Florida and thus actively lost his team's most important game of the season. Other players with resume flaws were usually neutralized.
...but seriously, folks...
1. Reggie Nelson, Florida. I will admit to the possibility that I have been seduced by extracurriculars that have little impact on his play on the field (Orson's mancrush, his ability to fill the disappointing shoes of the last guy who looked like the Predator, Omar Jacobs, with bone-mangling authority befitting the hairstyle -- which should now be passed on to sufficiently badass Florida safeties until the stars grow cold and dim, like the #1 finds its way onto the shoulders of Michigan receivers). But six interceptions and a convincing case from various announcers during Florida games that a fair number of the rest of Florida's staggering total of 21 picks were caused either directly or indirectly by Nelson make a convincing case outside of personal biases. Florida was fourth in pass efficiency difference in a year when knowledgeable Florida fans were downright panicking about everyone other than Nelson in the secondary.
Plus... you know you're dealing with some sort of eccentric football genius if you've ever watched the guy line up 15 yards deep presnap. Who does that? Who aligns themself like that and singlehandedly removes the deep pass from every opponent? A cover-two in one body, I give you Reggie Nelson.
2. Alan Branch, Michigan. The one benefit of Smith performing so miserably and OSU losing so heavily -- other than schadenfreude and a sudden thinning of the OSU troll horde in the comments and the crowd shots of OSU fans late in the MNC game and... let's start over.
One of the many benefits of Troy Smith performing so miserably and OSU losing so heavily in the national championship game is it allows me to vote for defensive players with a clear conscience, which I must confess was always my hope. For a long time it looked as if my MaxwellPundit ballot would be indistinguishable from that of an addled Heisman voter who only acknowledges that players exist on one side of the ball. Not so in the wake of Smith's sudden (and severe) mortality.
So here goeth Branch, which may be homerism of a sort, but all I can say is that I've watched every snap he's played this year and good God. Michigan returns Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson, two very promising players who were outstanding as mere sophomores this year, but Branch is a once-in-a-generation talent for the Michigan program. But, really, this is the reason:
For ten games this year the story was the Michigan defense, and though it came crashing down around him Branch remained steadfast in the middle.
3. Darren McFadden, Arkansas. Sheer improbability counts for something. Earns major style points for the Wildcat stuff. Featured in one of the year's turning point plays; threw touchdowns when too bored to run them in himself; arose and dragged Arkansas through the muck. This year's Atlas, and next year's, too, if Mustain doesn't improve quickly. Bonus points for nickname and tendency to zip into endzones.
4. Troy Smith, Ohio State. Hideous failure slides him way down. What do you do with this guy? He was magnificent when called upon, aside from that Penn State game, -- and even then he turned in one of the year's most memorable plays -- until the final hurdle, when he almost literally could not have played worse. There is much crowing about speed and pressure and blah blah from slack-jawed yokel country, but from this observer's perspective the only speed deficiency suddenly apparent in the Not Fiesta bowl existed in Smith's synapses. Particularly inexcusable was the final nail in OSU's coffin where he held onto the ball far, far too long, allowing Jarvis Moss to rattle it free from behind.
I still can't shake the terror that bastard engenders in me, though, so on the list he s tays.
5. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech. Pure sentiment, I'll admit, the equivalent of a Heisman voter slapping a token defender third on his ballot or that guy who voted for an Alabama punter one year. What could have been if Johnson had not saddled himself with -- and I submit that this is no exaggeration -- the worst four-year starting quarterback in NCAA history? No one knows.
Viva la defense!
The Heisenblog has all college commits and players helpfully listed. I distill further:
23 PACIORETTY, MAX USHL SIOUX CITY 20-Nov-88 6' 1.5" 203 * LW L
68 PALUSHAJ, AARON USHL DES MOINES 7-Sep-89 5' 11" 170 * RW R
89 WINNETT, BEN BCHL SALMON ARM 3-Apr-89 5' 11.75" 173 * LW R
90 LLEWELLYN, TRISTIN USHL TRI-CITY 2-May-89 6' 1" 189 * D L
124 RUST, MATT USDP USA U-18 23-Mar-89 5' 9.5" 192 * C L
152 CAPORUSSO, LOUIE OPJRA ST. MICHAELS 21-Jun-89 5' 9.25" 185 * C L
(Note that D commit Kevin Quick was a third-rounder last year and G commit Bryan Hogan is ranked #14 amongst goalies.)
Now, these are all "NA" rankings. The CSB holds North American Skaters separate from Euros until their final rankings, so mentally shove everyone down a few rounds. Pacioretty is probably a second-rounder. Palushaj fourth, Winnett and Llewellyn fifth or sixth, and Rust and Caporusso will either go at the tail end of the draft or not at all.
Note: if you see last week's poll it's a cache thing, I think. Refresh should cure it.
Hurray, that's the poll hurray. If you're interested, you can see all the individual ballots here.
Four voters bail and swim to the flatly indefensible idea of Boise State, national champions. Don't take my word for it: SMQ demolished blue-turfed hopes yesterday. Defectors from the cause of sense and sensibility:
- Card Chronicle
- Pitch Right
- The Nittany Notebook
- 50-Yard Lion.
Penn State loves them some contrarianism or hates them some Urban Meyer, take your pick. Despite said aberrations, Florida is your 2006 Blogpoll Champion.
Grating: Wisconsin over Michigan, as there's little doubt Wisconsin's record would also feature two losses had they bothered to play Ohio State; add in the matter of Michigan's two-touchdown victory over the Badgers in the Big Ten opener and that ranking smacks of rote AP-ism. Bad voters.
Risers: Cal was your biggest winner, up six after blowing A&M into ag nuggets in the Holiday Bowl. Boise shot up to #4 after Fiesta Del Johnson.
Fallers: Though oddly forgiving of Ohio State's thorough beating in a bowl game because their offensive line decided they couldn't block, voters hammered Michigan six spots. Notre Dame's thorough beating for similar reasons -- sensing a midwestern trend here -- similarly cost them six spots. But the biggest dropper was Tennessee, down eight to #25 after losing to Penn State.
Now on to the extracurriculars. First up are the teams which spur the most and least disagreement between voters as measured by standard deviation. Note that the standard deviation charts halt at #25 when looking for the lowest, otherwise teams that everyone agreed were terrible (say, Eastern Michigan) would all be at the top.
Ballot math: First up are "Mr. Bold" and "Mr. Numb Existence." The former goes to the voter with the ballot most divergent from the poll at large. The number you see is the average difference between a person's opinion of a team and the poll's opinion.
Mr. Bold is 50-Yard Lion, one of our Boise fans. Other anomalies: Hawaii #16, Texas #20, Arkansas #22, BYU #10, TCU #14. Mid-major mad is 50YL.
Mr. Numb Existence Is Maize 'n' Brew; in case anyone is wondering that 0.75 is extraordinarily low. But you weren't so nevermind.
Next we have the Coulter/Krugman Award and the Straight Bangin' Award, which are again different sides of the same coin. The CKA and SBA go to the blogs with the highest and lowest bias rating, respectively. Bias rating is calculated by subtracting the blogger's vote for his own team from the poll-wide average. A high number indicates you are shameless homer. A low number indicates that you suffer from an abusive relationship with your football team.
Straight Bangin' Award is Rocky Top Talk's for excluding Tennessee from his ballot. Since Tennessee is #25 in the poll at large, this can be safely filed under "sane" and we can move on.
Swing is the total change in each ballot from last week to this week (obviously voters who didn't submit a ballot last week are not included). A high number means you are easily distracted by shiny things. A low number means that you're damn sure you're right no matter what reality says.
Mr. Manic-Depressive goes to Orange 44, and it's fairly easy to see why: WOOOOO BOISE STATE, up 18(!) to #2. The rest of the ballot follows in that vein.
Mr. Stubborn is the 614, an Ohio State blog who probably wishes it was still last week and his ballot reflects that.