the season has truly begun now
...this guy definitely had to add that tiny apostrophe and obviously-not-centered E after a Northwestern fan pointed out that "Michigan Your Next" isn't English. Ladies and gentlemen, Ohio State fans!
CSTV is doing this "Battle of the Blogs" thing where Michigan and Ohio State bloggers tackle certain topics. Main page is up; my thing goes Friday.
In which I take aim at Michigan Monday. Passages of interest:
What worries me on offense? Basically, 1995 and 2003. I'm worried about Michigan coming out and being able to run the ball at will. Usually, when the game is in Columbus, I have no fears about Michigan's running game. Don't get me wrong, I don't see Mike Hart busting out like Tim Biakabatuka or Chris Perry, but the thought of Michigan getting five yards on first down every time concerns me.
Weird. The thought of Michigan running on every first down gives me hives; he's concerned about the rush defense. I do think there's reason to be concerned, FWIW, as the Buckeyes have given up quite a lot of yards per carry when opponent running backs are suffered to possess the ball, but I wouldn't expect an OSU fan to be worried about what's honestly been a pretty meh running game.
If Troy Smith gets time to throw, Michigan's secondary is vulnerable. The Wolverine safeties don't necessarily excel in pass coverage and the corners can only do so much. Leon Hall is a very good corner, and when he feels challenged, he always steps it up. Again, if Troy Smith gets time to throw, Michigan will have no favorable match-ups in four and five-wide situations. And that's why Michigan has to get to Troy Smith. If they don't, it's going to be nearly impossible for them to win.
I've addressed this before, but the persistent belief that the Michigan secondary is way vulnerable is also weird. And I agree: if Troy Smith is allowed to sit in the pocket with only one or no extra blockers in, we're screwed. But that's like saying that scoring points is a good idea. Uh... duh. For what it's worth, if OSU doesn't pressure Henne it's going to be almost impossible for them to win.
What about Michigan's passing game, you ask? Honestly, I'm not too concerned about it. Obviously, the screens concern me. In this game, they'll always concern me. But as far as the downfield stuff goes, I'll believe Michigan can have success with it when I see it. Of course, there's always the chance that Michigan has been saving something. Perhaps they'll choose to use the middle of the field more this week than they have in the past. Who knows. I feel the Ohio State secondary matches up very well with the Michigan receivers. The Buckeyes have three very good starting cornerbacks and two very good safeties. Without knowing how effective Mario Manningham is going to be, I think the Ohio State pass defense definitely has the advantage in this one. And don't forget, the Buckeye defense is averaging two interceptions per game.
See, to me something like "the Buckeye defense is averaging two interceptions per game" is a giant red flag, since interceptions are almost always someone on the offense's fault and are totally fluky unless a quarterback is hit while he throws. As a general rule, turnovers are a function of the offense's competency to avoid them, not the defense's ability to force them -- again, with the exception of quarterback pressure. Michigan is very good at avoiding turnovers.
Also: if he doesn't want to believe Manningham is healthy, that's his prerogative, but given everything we know about the nature and extent of his injury, plus the snaps he's taken in the last two games it's silly to assume he can't play. Wishful thinking. Nowhere in his column does he mention Alex Boone's status, and he didn't even play versus Northwestern. (Not that I think his injury will be an issue. The Bucks say he'll be fine, so I believe them.) Manningham is also fine, otherwise Michigan wouldn't risk him before the game -- that would be insane.
He revisits this later:
Receiver Mario Manningham. I won't be convinced he's healthy until I see it. What made him so good before his injury was his ability to cut and separate from the defender. I'm not sure he can do that as well as he needs to against Ohio State's secondary.
Seems like wishful thinking, IMO.
He's going to play most of the game this week due to Ohio State's spread attack. Ask your local Michigan fan how they feel about that. Assuming you know a Michigan fan that knows who Harrison is.
Well, you know, I wish he was like Justin King or whatever, but Harrison's been okay.
Braves & Birds takes a look at the MNC contenders and their average yards per play on both sides of the ball. Conclusions:
In addition to all the other factors that make this weekend's tilt exciting, Ohio State and Michigan look to be two very evenly-matched teams, especially when you take into account that Michigan puts the brakes on its own offense when leading more than your average college football power. (An unprovable assertion, I know, but I've watched a lot of football and I feel pretty comfortable in saying that no one employs the Milton Berle approach more than Michigan.) Michigan is a little better on offense, Ohio State is a little better on offense, and they both have wild card returners who can alter the balance of the game.
Notre Dame has no business being in the national title discussion. Against a relatively unimposing schedule, their defensive numbers are signficantly worse than those of any other national title contender and their offensive numbers are not nearly enough to make up for the shortcoming. USC should bury Notre Dame, especially if the USC team of Saturday night that can run the ball and play defense is the USC team that shows up on November 25. Furthermore, Notre Dame would either be there against a team that beat them by 26 in South Bend or in place of that team with the same record.
Amen. Lord knows what voters will do -- they have West Virginia in front of a Louisville team that beat them by two scores two weeks ago -- but I think they'd be hard pressed to dump the Michigan/OSU loser below ND given the BEAT DOWN in September. OSU would be more likely to fall than Michigan, IMO, since a potential OSU loss would be at home, the Buckeyes' primo win over Texas has recently lost some luster, and the computers are already turning up their noses at OSU's Wisconsin-free schedule.
Stadium & Main has more on the rematch thing.
I guess I should have pointed this out sooner... damn. Anyway, for much of the year the top result on Google when you type in "F*** Michigan" (sans stars) was my anti-Buckeye diatribe from last year. Something must have gotten rejiggered; now it's third. Damn.
BON busts out their "Under The Hood" series for Michigan-OSU, providing a complete statistical overview well worth your time. I also have to link anyone who busts out the time-tested and true "Charts? Charts." Charts!
Initial conclusion: approximately equal teams. Michigan slightly better on resume.
Okay. So a part of this process involves saving out a spreadsheet as a text file. I name these totally obvious things like "ufr-iowa-2006-d.csv." I named this file "ufr-osu-2006-d.csv." When I typed the title of this post I typed "Upon Further Review: OSU versus OSU."
Yeah... about that.
Highlights from Dangerous Logic!
|Um, okay. Leon Hall(+2) is in better position than the receiver on this deep ball. (Cover +2)|
|O31||2||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Pass||Inc||WR Screen?|
|Playaction fake off tackle is followed by... well, I'm not exactly sure what. Lewis rolls out left a bit but the receivers to that side seem more interested in blocking than looking for a pass. Busted play. Lewis throws it away. Good pressure on the outside by Biggs(+1). (Pressure +1)|
|Crable(+1) comes around the outside, forcing Lewis to scramble. Branch(+1) is on a screen/QB spy assignment, sees Lewis flush, and attacks for the sack. (Pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-0, 9 min 1st Q. Probably see a fair amount of this Branch thing against Smith.|
|Branch-spy again is our rock to their scissors, as the OL is supposed to ride him out of the play, only there is no riding to be done as he stops dead. Woodley(+1) is allowed into the backfield but is too quick and disrupts the play a little bit, allowing Branch(+1) to finish at the LOS.|
|Way behind his intended receiver; if on target Chris Graham was going to fricking kill him. Or whiff hilariously. Either one. (Cover +1)|
|Nice pass and catch. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, two yards OOB. Receiver ends up bracketed by Trent(+1) and Adams (+1, cover +1); if Lewis held onto the ball for one additional second he was going to get sacked by Jamison(+1, pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 14-0, 3 min 1st Q.|
|O27||1||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Pass||5||Slip screen|
|Harris(+1) tasked with the slot reciever... moves upfield first (blitzing?) before reading the play and tracking down the WR. Impressive reaction. Harrison(+1) also did a nice job to get to the outside of his man, forcing the play back to Harris.|
|O32||2||5||3-3-5 Nickel||Run||8||QB Draw|
|Ugly whiff by Graham(-1) turns a small gain into a first down. Get well, Prescott.|
|Hall's going to be there, but only to make a damage-limiting tackle. Lewis' throw is low and off. Still catchable, but is not. (Cover -1)|
|O40||2||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Run||9||Zone read|
|Simple handoff to Thigpen gets a chunk of yards... we're stunting on the left side of the line and they run right at it. No contain there, obviously, as Crable's pass rushing. He misses a tackle(-1) opening up a lane. Adams(-1) misses another tackle; Trent ends the play with a solid one.|
|Weird... third and one and still no Taylor. We line up with four down linemen, but Woodley is a DT and Crable a DE. We still stuff the POA fiercely; Sears (Josiah Sears) manages to lean for the first down. No complaints about the D here.|
|50||1||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Pass||11||Scramble drill|
|I can see Troy Smith doing this a few times against us. We get an unblocked blitzer off the corner; Lewis steps up. Another rusher comes at him up the middle; Lewis rolls out. Woodley and Crable track him down to the outside; Lewis finds a guy and rifles a pass to him. A first down created by Lewis alone; not much you can do here. (Pressure +1)|
|Lewis not so fortunate this time. Crable(+1) knifes through two blockers, flushing him. Branch â€“ still spying â€“ cuts him off to the outside, allowing a pursuing Jamison(+1) to recover and sack. (Pressure +1)|
|M40||2||11||3-3-5 Nickel||Run||9||QB Draw|
|Sigh. Harris(-1) misses this tackle (apparently he's not infallible), opening up a bunch of yards, especially since we're blitzing from the outside. Van Alstyne in on this snap. Also, here starts the incredibly long Dick Enberg interview with no explanation from anyone as to why the game stopped. I assumed the next play I would see would be a third and goal from the five for Indiana. Helpless... rage...|
|Lewis' pass badly underthrown, actually hitting Adams in the back. Trent(+1) had outstanding coverage anyway. (cover +1)|
|Hall's jump is a moment late, allowing this completion. A half-second earlier and this is a PBU.|
|M23||1||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Run||1||Zone read|
|Graham manages to finish since he's unblocked. Think a charging Crable(+1) forced a cutback away from the play design and thus the unblocked linebackers.|
|Well overthrown. Harris(+1) in outstanding coverage. (cover +1, pressure -1)|
|Woodley(+1) dominates the RT and gets instant pressure; Lewis responds by rifling a pass way over the head of his receiver. Almost picked off by a safety. (Pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: FG, 14-3, 11 min 2nd Q. Not that upset about this drive. A couple missed tackles are irritating but a lot of pressure and three of the first downs were either ORTP, an excellent play from Lewis, or a screwup from Graham.|
|David Harris(+1) obliterates this. I am increasingly incensed he isn't a Butkus finalist.|
|We blitz directly into this. Harris(+1) nearly overruns the play but manages to recover and tackle at the LOS.|
|Graham comes on a stunting blitz as Woodley drops off into a zone. Graham(+1) gets pressure, forcing a hopeful jump ball. Hall(+1) is in position, getting the PBU. (cover +1, pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 21-3, 8 min 2nd Q.|
|Perhaps the only consistent irritations on the day were these dumb little hitch routes we never seemed to cover. Hall's run off by a deeper route and can't recover in time to do anything but tackle, with the help of Harrison. (Cover -1)|
|See? Aarrrrrgh! (cover -1)|
|O45||1||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Pass||Inc||Hopeful Jump Ball|
|Lewis flushed and escapes contain. Finds a receiver running down the sideline with Englemon and nearly completes a pass. Two problems: receiver landed OOB and Englemon had forced him to step OOB before he came down with the pass. Good coverage. (Englemon +1, cover +1, pressure came off major blitz and let Kellen Lewis out of contain so no +)|
|Terrible PI call no matter what Bill Curry thinks. We blitz again, leaving Mundy man up against Hardy. Lewis, rattled, throws the ball well inside and Mundy, running stride for stride with Hardy, is flagged for being corporeal and not allowing Hardy to pass right through him on his way to the ball. Also, Goddammit Bill Curry can you for once in your life criticize something other than politically correct coaching points?|
|M40||1||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Pass||5||Jailbreak screen|
|Good job by Graham(+1) to fight through a block and make a tackle; Will Johnson's pursuit also helpful.|
|Hall right there but not close enough to do anything but tackle (cover -1). Curry goes off on some rambling tangent about cliches being cliches because they're true then never mentions a cliche. I miss Chris Spielman. Seriously, Chris Spielman is about a billion times better than Curry.|
|M29||1||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Run||13||QB Draw|
|Graham reacts to this very, very late, then sort of falls at Lewis' feet as he dashes by(-2). Yuck. He has to get better next year.|
|M16||1||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Pass||Inc||Hopeful Jump Ball|
|Hall(+1) on Hardy in the corner of the endzone. Great coverage, great play on the ball, PBU. (cover +1)|
|Wildly overthrown by Lewis. Free INT for Trent(+1).|
|Drive Notes: Int, 21-3, EOH.|
|RB forced outside the tackles â€“ good job by Taylor(+1) on what may be his first snap â€“ and run down by Woodley(+1).|
|Woodley dropping off into a zone again. After the play Hall's a little disgusted and motions to the neophyte DB, indicating he needs to get wider. (Cover -1)|
|Taylor(+2) loves to time snap counts, which is why I think he's the only Wolverine to have gone offsides all year. This time he gets it right, crashing into the backfield, disrupting the play, and drawing a holding call. Michigan takes the call on the assumption IU will go for it. Smart move.|
|Indiana goes empty; this time Michigan sends the house. There are more blitzers than blockers and those blocking are overwhelmed. A tide of humanity meets at Lewis. Uh... +1 Harris and Biggs. Note: Brandon Graham in at DT.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 21-3, 12 min 3rd Q. Breaston houses the return.|
|Taylor(+1) gets into Thigpen's feet, occupying a couple blockers and allowing Harris(+1) to blow the ballcarrier backwards five yards. HULK SMASH.|
|The mirror image of the last play, faking the offtackle right and countering left. Harris(+1) is neither fooled nor blocked and flows and destroys. Crable(+1) also plays this well.|
|O13||3||9||3-3-5 Nickel||Run||1||Bubble screen|
|Well played by Graham(+1). Gilmore is forced to pivot and reverse his field. By the time he does that the cavalry has arrived.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 9 min 3rd Q.|
|Taylor(+1) and Johnson(+1) remove all traces of room in the middle.|
|Pretty decent coverage by Harris(+1) and Crable(+1) closes the receiver down immediately. (Cover +1)|
|Lewis gets outside the pocket... Will Johnson is the guy who gets out there. He's not quite fast enough.|
|Huge pass drop from Lewis... Harris(+1) reads, runs through a block and tacles at the sideline. Great play.|
|Jamison(+1) stunts around and snows Lewis under. (pressure +1)|
|Mutter mutter mutter. Barringer(-1) is slow reacting and whiffs a tackle that would have held this a yard or two short of the sticks. Don't mind the coverage, since if properly played it equals punt.|
|O41||1||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Run||2||QB Draw|
|Nice play by B. Graham(+1 â€“ this is going to be a pain next year when both are starters) to hold up at the POA come off, and tackle. He's going to be a player, whether it's at DT or DE. Don't think he's big enough to be a run down DT, at least not yet. His lack of a redshirt is a good decision... he's gotten a lot of useful snaps.|
|Miscommunication between players means wildly misthrown ball. Barringer breaks, but drops it.|
|Right: just like their last conversion except we substitute Hall(+1) for Barringer. Tackle made before the sticks. Punty time.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 34-3, 1 min 3rd Q.|
|Pressure comes, though it's late. (Cover +1). Lewis is flushed and throws it OOB.|
|M37||2||10||3-3-5 Nickel||Run||5||Off tackle|
|C. Graham is unblocked on a blitz; he overruns the play, missing the tackle(-1). Brandon Harrison(-1) comes up too far inside, allowing the RB the corner. Should have been a loss of 4 or 5.|
|Throw is high and off the hands of Bailey; Hall in fairly tight coverage.|
|Graham beaten to the inside by his guy; pass is there; bobbled; Graham recovers to prevent the catch.|
|Drive Notes: Turnover On Downs, 34-3, 12 min 4th Q. Chris Richards is in on the next drive. No offense, Chris, but that == no more charting.|
(Also: Will Johnson's sack.)
OSU OSU OSU.
Things of slight relevance reveal themselves:
- We would much like Burgess back please. Graham made a few plays but also missed more tackles than Burgess has all year. Report is that he was left out as a precaution and will be fine for OSU. Hopefully that's true or we can expect a couple extra Troy Smith first downs via land.
- Expect a lot of 3-3-5 against the Buckeye spread, a lot of instances where six guys threaten at the line and then random players back off at the snap, including Jamison and Woodley.
- We'll probably use this DT spy thing quite a bit to capture a flushing Smith and shut down screens and the like.
- Terrance Taylor might not get much run unless the Bucks line up in some more conventional sets, which would be a shame. But English clearly has a preference for this 3-3-5 when he feels the run is not a big threat. We'll see.
|Woodley||3||3||Few decent plays in limited opportunities, but not a huge impact.|
|Taylor||5||5||Hardly played but made instant impact when he did, though that snap-timing thing has backfired more often than not this year.|
|Branch||2||2||Lifted midway through the second, I think, with an ankle ding.|
|Jamison||3||-||3||Could be key versus OSU.|
|Harris||9||1||8||I'm seriously. Never comes off the field, missed like his second or third tackle of the year against IU. A blitzer, a run-stuffer, a goddamn linebacking ninja.|
|C. Graham||3||4||-1||Get well soon, Prescott.|
|Hall||5||5||Maybe I could have dinged him for a couple of those stupid hitch routes, but it's not like he was ever badly out of position.|
|Trent||3||-||3||Not tested except deep, really. INT was a gift.|
|"Pressure"||8||1||7||Again very good though depressed by many short drops.|
|"Coverage"||10||5||5||Almost perfect except for -- yup -- stupid hitches.|
Story here is the linebackers: Harris was outstanding; Graham a major dropoff from Burgess. (This is better than last year, when bench scrubs who replaced starters maddeningly outplayed the starters.)
What about this rumoured "vulnerable secondary"?
Uh... okay. Michigan's now up to 11th in pass defense efficiency after the IU game. This is vulnerability? Yeah, I guess Brandon Harrison is short and misses more tackles than I'd like but an Ohio State gameplan that revolves around OSU's third WR would be AOK with any Michigan fan you choose to query. Leon Hall is going to be a top ten pick in the NFL draft; Kiper ranks Jamar Adams as one of his top five junior safeties, and, uh, Morgan Trent has been a little iffy on short routes but nigh unbeatable deep, whack pass interference calls excepted. Free safety has been kind of dodgy, I guess, and a number of Michigan's interceptions have been fortunate, but Michigan's secondary is only vulnerable relative to its run defense.
That said, every secondary is vulnerable to a quarterback throwing accurately and on time. More power to him if Smith can do that, but his window of opportunity will be a narrow one if the season to date is any indication.
Any concerns arise from this game?
Other than the obvious n eed to have Burgess back, no. Lewis got free a few times, but twice those were a direct result of Graham whiffs and sometime that's just going to happen versus a mobile quarterback. As Troy Smith previews go, it was reassuring. I would like to order a couple of those hilariously overthrown interceptions for Saturday.
No? Not so much?
Okay, seriously: I addressed this on Friday but did not fully understand the depth of Charles P. Pierce's mania re: Tom Brady getting screwed by Michigan. He's the guy with the book out on how Brady is basically, like, football Jesus, except LOL better. On Friday I knocked him for calling Michigan's coaching "incompetent." Now he's doing this thing at Slate where two guys send letters back and forth and he can't get through one without dropping something about how Tom Brady was basically, like, tortured and stuff by Lloyd Carr. It was like Abu Ghraib.
Article one has a throw-in phrase completely irrelevant to his point:
His entire competitive personaâ€”which he fashioned on his own, without a lot of help, especially at Michiganâ€”is based upon being a vital part of something bigger.
And then this:
And he did that believing, with the fundamental conviction that most great athletes have, that he was a better quarterback than the guys who had the advantages over him, whether that was Drew Henson at Michigan or Drew Bledsoe in New England. That's a difficult feat of locker-room diplomacy, but he managed it well on both occasions, particularly at Michigan, where he really did get a raw deal.
Article two further reminds us that Tom Brady overcame political machinations so staggering they boggle the mind to get anywhere near the NFL:
One of the things that first bound Tom Brady to Belichick was the fact that the latter runs as close to a pure meritocracy as there is in the league. After what Brady went through at Michigan, where his progress as a starting quarterback was consistently retarded by off-field politics that would have embarrassed Machiavelli, that kind of system was exactly what he was looking for.
(Such transparent crap: Brady was drafted by the Patriots. What he was looking for was "a team that wanted to draft him." And the Patriots meritocracy was so pure that the only way Brady got in a game was for someone to explode one of Drew Bledsoe's lungs. This stuff is worthy of deranged message board posters.)
Article three manages to avoid mentioning how Michigan dipped Brady's toes in acid before each game, but only because it mostly discusses contracts and kickers. Brady only shows up in one sentence.
So what do we make of all this? I'm not inclined to read books that only purport to be non-fiction, especially when they're no doubt filled with details of Lloyd Carr's daily meal of breakfast burritos made from the souls of dolphins, but we can observe the overall tone of Pierce's book from a statement his correspondent made in his initial salvo:
Brady's career arc lays waste to the clinical approach that dominates personnel evaluation in our most bureaucratic and CW-driven sport. Your book demonstrates that old sporting tropes like "character" and "perseverance" actually can matterâ€”if the athlete applies them to himself. What surprised me is how much material you found in the short life of a suburban kid whose toughest choice growing up was whether to hit a 3-iron or a 5-wood. This isn't an indictment of your portrait of the athlete as a young man, but I kept waiting for Brady to race into a burning building to rescue a litter of kittens.
Ah. It all becomes clear. To use the terminology of the dead-end sports-scribe, Pierce is a "fanboy," specifically a Tom Brady fanboy. He thinks that Brady's success in the NFL is because of character and perseverance instead of, say, his incredible ability to read defenses and accurate arm. You could read that sentence as "Pierce is dumb about sports," if you're so inclined. And you are. To prop up his idea that Brady's character and perseverance saw him through, he invents tragedy (the "material" referred to in the above quote) in the form of Michigan's "incompetent" coaching. No matter that literally every school in the nation looks up at Michigan's record of putting quarterbacks into the NFL. So he got a "raw deal" at Michigan which somehow explains his low draft status. No matter that in his two years as a starter he racked up approximately 700 attempts to Drew Henson's 150, a portion of those in garbage time. So Brady's progress as a starter was "consistently retarded" at Michigan. No matter that he was All Big-Ten both years and led Michigan to an Orange Bowl victory.
It would appear that the only thing here consistently retarded is Charles P. Pierce for Tom Brady.
(Note that Peter damn King apparently writes completely fictional columns that should not be cited.)
- Well... it's a guess. Florida's struggles are reaching a point as epic as those USC has undergone and the Trojans may be finding their stride. Florida's big wins keep getting devalued -- looks like the SEC is just as crappy as everyone else this year -- while USC's keep rising in value.
- Meanwhile, Arkansas continues to take names and kick ass. Is Darren McFadden impersonating Tim Tebow or vice versa? I don't know. I do know that is one large, agile, fast mofo and Arkansas is riding high. It's hard to believe this is the same team that squeaked by Vandy and Alabama and was stomped by USC -- who I have ranked one spot behind them... hmmm, might have to change that -- but whatever. Houston Nutt's gone from the hot seat to his choice of fine Arkansas livestock.
- Rutgers... that feels about right, right? These Big East games are having the overall effect of shooting the three BE contenders up in my poll, because it's hard to actually watch Steve Slaton and think "oh, it's just the level of competition." Dude is fast no matter who he plays against. Since he is fast, respect for everyone goes up? Or maybe it's just that everyone else keeps losing, especially to Maryland?
- #9 Wisconsin I am deeply uncomfortable with, but they handled their KSU equivalent in Iowa, albeit narrowly, and they didn't lose to the Arizona equivalent (Purdue? Minnesota?).
- I guess I can stop ripping on Texas and Auburn now. And you can clear a place for the Thorpe award on Leon Hall's shelf after the Texas secondary got burnt all toasty for the second time in the past month, this time in a loss.
- Why yes, spots 22-25 are totally unsatisfactory and I considered voting for Southern Mississippi because I like SMQ, Duke because I like Steve Spurrier, Michigan State because I like coaches who slap themselves, and Army just to get off a "ND goes for the Commander-In-Chief's trophy" joke. But I didn't. Because I am mentally strong.
Watched: Michigan-IU, OSU-NW, some of UF-SoCar, very end of Arizona-Cal, Texas-KSU, Iowa-Wisconsin, bits of Purdue-Illinois (feel the Big Ten excitement!!!), Rutgers-UL.
This may hurt my street cred, -- as a youngish former student and Michigan devotee I should by all rights be scrapping for endzone tickets like my late-twenties peers -- but due to familial connections and a line of checks made out to the athletic department unbroken since 1958 I have the rare privilege of being close enough to the tunnel to hear the team emerge for their pregame warmups, since I am also the sort of fan who gets twitchy if not in my seat 45 minutes before kickoff.
I am not close enough to make out every word of the rhythmic chant that accompanies them out of the locker room, but one thing does come through loud and clear, one question and one answer.
And so. Here we are, on the cusp of the biggest football-related event in any of our lives. Good is 11-0. Evil is 11-0. Good is #2. Evil is #1. I am a wordy, analogy-laden person and words and analogies fail. This is like what? Nothing. This can be described how? With some gaping, useless jaw-movements sans audio and a defeated shrug.
There is no possible way to make this game more intimidating or more important. Coming off the disastrous Year of Infinite Pain, Michigan has resurrected itself in astonishing fashion. The waltzed into Notre Dame and delivered a BEAT DOWN of epic proportions. They've dominated every game this year except... uh... Ball State. They're 11-0, one of the best teams in the country and should be finishing up their season against some team they're favored against. But this is not so. Fate has conspired to place the only team in the country ranked higher than them as the last obstacle. It has also conspired to place it in Evil's stadium at a time when -- whether it's just luck over a small sample size or actual "owning" -- Good is 1-4 versus Evil in their last five matchups.
In short: that's no moon. It is a veritable Death Star of a game, implausible Jerry Bruckheimer style. The last step is less a step and more a sheer cliff, but no matter
Let's get it on.
Respect and love.