“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
21-30: The Deeply Offensive
30. Dick Vitale
I know Vitale is a very, very nice man, but the sad fact is he ruins basketball games. He's totally unlistenable in doses larger than six seconds; his cute nicknames and acronyms spawned countless irritating imitators; the image of Vitale sensuously bathing Coach K's most private, most special tickly bits with his overworked tongue has haunted the dreams of too many Americans.
: Oh, good, it's Dick Vitale.
: "WHY HASN'T JJ BEEN PICKED YET BABY!"
mjd : I want to set him on fire.
29. Marcus Vick
Punks come and go but it takes a special kind of imagined privilege to act like Marcus Vick. Over the course of his Virginia Tech career, Vick
- was pulled over for speeding, whereupon it was found that what he lacked in driver's license he possessed in marijuana,
- got his mack on with an underage girl,
- stomped on Elvis Dumerville's knee,
- aaaaand everybody's favorite: pulled a gun at McDonald's because they were out of Chicken McNugget happy meals.*
Throughout it all he managed to be insincerely contrite, even objecting to comparisons to Lawrence Phillips because he "wasn't a bad guy like that."
UNLESS YOU ARE OUT OF MCNUGGETS, MOTHERFUCKER.
*(okay, okay, it was because his girlfriend told him someone called her a bitch. The substitution stands since it's funnier and no less crazy.)
27. Tony Parker & 28. Manu Ginobli
The Spurs' mighty Backcourt of Foreign Annoyance. Parker is the main offender, being
- badly misinformed about his verbal dexterity,
- the designated railer of Eva Longoria, and
but Ginobli's inexplicable carte blanche to charge whoever he feels like at any time, ass-kicking of the US basketball team, and strong resemblance to a swordfish are grating in precisely the opposite direction. Combined, the two are sandpaper to one's tolerance, eventually wearing away the outer layers until all that's left is the throbbing white hot center of "please blow an ACL, you frogs."
26. Scoop Jackson
Some people -- Simmons, Leitch -- chafe at the strictures imposed by print journalism's miserly rationing of wordcount. These Internets butterflies need the freedom of the Web to emerge from the straightjacket of convention into a style that is uniquely theirs and uniquely effective.
Scoop Jackson is the exact opposite of these people.
For some reason, Scoop was the one drafted to fill Page 2's "Guy Who Talks About Being Black Guy" slot after the tragic death of Ralph Wiley, who was superior to Scoop in the following ways:
- Wiley wrote in what's generally referred to as "English" instead of the weird combination of street patois and just general jibberish that fills the vast width and breadth of a Scoop column;
- Wiley occasionally made sense (actually, he did quite frequently, but "occasionally" is enough to best Jackson);
- Wiley never spent several hundred words spread across more than one column to hit on a sideline reporter;
- Wiley was not referred to as "Scoop";
- Wiley didn't tour the country telling young black kids they had a better chance of being an NBA player than a sportswriter;
- Some of Wiley's paragraphs had more than one sentence;
- aaaaaaaand Wiley didn't look like a hastily aborted Muppet experiment.
Wiley is spinning so fast in his grave he could probably be used as a supercollider.
25. Bill Wirtz
It's hard to remember now, but the Chicago Blackhawks are one of the most storied teams in NHL history. Growing up in Detroit the newly rejuvenated Red Wings usually ran up against Roenick's Blackhawks at some point; when they did it was time to start planning tee times. Nowadays a trip to the United Center to see a Hawks game is a depressing experience: there's a spectacular video linking past heroes like Tony Esposito to... er... Radim Vrbata? Kyle Calder? The Blackhawks once held an esteemed place in the Chicago sports scene, but now they're a glorified, cold version of the Chicago Fire. Except the Fire televise home games.
Since the Clippers made the second round of the playoffs this year and look like they may just be getting better, Wirtz is the new gold standard for miserly owners who take your money and turn it into crap. In 2004, the 'Hawks were named the worst franchise in sport by ESPN.
24. Steve Spurrier
Vols no likey.
Don't get me wrong, I like Spurrier and think having him college football is great. I hope he never leaves again and root for when South Carolina when they play heavyweights in the hopes one day Phil Fulmer will have a nervous breakdown. But it's a cold hard fact that if I was a fan of an SEC team other than Florida or Carolina I, channeling Zidane's mom, would want his balls on a platter.
In terms of sheer overall hateability Spurrier deserves a place on this list. Even people who like him call him "Evil Genius." He's petulant, childish, temperamental, snarky, and just damn better than your coach. After years of running up the score, then dropping devastating science during post game presser, the only man more widely despised across the south is General Sherman. If he turns South Carolina into anything resembling his Florida juggernauts entire states are going to end up mental. This is a section of the country where coaches skip media days so they don't get served supoenas.
23. Various Columnists From "Around The Horn"
You can't separate them once they pass through Around The Horn's event horizon of suck. Is Mariotti more loathesome than Simers? Simers more loathesome than Woody Paige? Does it matter? Lacking the good nature and charisma of Wilbon and Kornheiser, they all represent the same thing: sportswriting as witless screaming. Invariably, the most repulsive is the one who just got done talking.
22. Johnny Damon
No one's naive enough to believe that professional athletes care about anything but the size of their paycheck, but Damon's defection was a special case. First, the contract sizes in question were both ridiculous, but Damon went with the Yankee offer because it was incrementally more so. This is deeply irritating to those who wish to maintain the fiction that their professional athletes care as much about the fans as the fans to about the
But in and of itself, that doesn't warrant placement higher than about the 40s, defections of Damon's sort being all too common in the modern-day sports world. He's up here because when Damon decided to take Steinbrenner's blood money and run he gave up not only the adoration of the city but his trademark Chewbacca locks. Shaggy and hirsute, Damon looked like Jesus. Clean-shaven and pinstriped, Yankee Damon is more Judas. Take it from a guy who reads a lot of chick baseball blogs: this is not generally regarded as an improvement.
Johnny Damon killed Unfrozen Caveman Centerfielder and all for what? A few million dollars more? How many solid-gold toilets do you need, Johnny?
21. Larry Brown
This is way better than coaching in the Finals.
Another man in search of yet more precious metals to poop in, Brown didn't even wait until the playoffs were over last year before bolting to the Knicks. To continue a theme: smooth move, Ex-Lax. This year, Brown's morose press conferences were context appropriate as Brown openly wondered whether he should kill Stephon Marbury or himself. And then Steve Francis showed up, a present from Isiah Thomas. If Thomas was not obviously the worst GM in the universe*, you would no doubt assume that this was an attempt to kill Brown and thus escape his onerous six kajillion dollar contract.
But since this is Isiah Thomas we're talking about, Brown got his six kajillion dollars. Now he can consider whether to kill himself on his private helicopter made entirely of diamond replicas of Stephon Marbury's bludgeoned skull.
At least this year Brown has gotten what he richly deserves: comeuppance.
*(Queries have been made as to Thomas' placement on this list. He does not appear, since his presence in the NBA proves without a doubt that anyone reading this could get a job with the Sonics or the Grizzlies or whoever and not be the worst GM in the league, which is something I savor every day when I wake up. I say to myself, "self, you would not be the worst GM in the NBA," and walk off with a pep in my step. That's a gift Isiah Thomas gives us.
Also: he threatened Bill Simmons with physical violence on the radio, prompting Stephen A. Smith to dismissively ask "who?" about a co-worker. And he made Larry Brown want to kill himself, definitively proving that some teams were beyond his power to "HEY! HEY! HEY!" into the playoffs. And he ruined the Knicks. For years. As I've said before, Thomas deserves a medal and we'll all be sorry when he's gone.)
Michigan Sports Center interviews Zoltan The Inconceivable.
1) I thought the Michigan athletic department laughed at you if you were from the Internets.
2) Sadly, no questions about the viability of his Heisman campaign were asked.
3) So. Jealous.
Pat Kane is feeling very sleepy. Pat Kane is deciding... nothing. He decides between college and the OHL later:
Kane says that it's "about 50/50" between major junior and college. "I'm probably going to have to make the decision in a couple of weeks," Kane said, "so hopefully I'll narrow it down."
Indeed, narrowing it down might be good. He decides between BU and Michigan, if necessary, later:
"Michigan's close to my house," Kane said. "It's the same drive I've had for the past two years, about four or five hours, real easy. BU, some of my best friends go there - [Brett] Bennett, Strait, and [Luke] Popko - so it would be great to play with them again. The team I would be going to, their rink is unbelievable, their fans are unbelievable. We'll see what happens."
Note that the last bit about the arena doesn't indicate a specific program. Should Kane choose Michigan, he'll join the team after the first semester -- he's accelerating his education as fast as he can -- and this is what you have to look forward to, courtesy of Mark Mitera:
"He's one of those unbelievable playmakers," Mitera said. "He sees the ice so well, I think he's got eyes in the back of his head. He can hear you breathing, almost."
Mitera's played with Kane for the past week or two at the WJC evaluation camp. Come on down, Pat Kane.
Finally, someone who gets it. Finally there is an antidote to the non-stop Notre Dame rah-rah from Larry Felser of the Buffalo News. Let's listen into this lone outpost of sagacity in a world gone mad with Leprechaun fever:
There is the not-so-little matter of the more than 600 yards Ohio State laid on them the last time they put on the pads for an official game, the January Fiesta Bowl. The offense had to be outstanding because the Notre Dame defense leaked so badly against good offensive teams last year. The Irish finished 9-3 but in nine games allowed 20 points or more.
Thank you. Why is this guy stuck in a backwater like the Buffalo News? As Felser queries,
So how do we go about making halfway intelligent preseason picks?
Ah, the eternal question. Show us the way, wise one.
Since it's football, there is safety in sticking with the better coaches. Joe Paterno of Penn State and Bobby Bowden of Florida State get inducted into the college hall of fame this year, but they're still among the usual suspects. The Nittany Lions and Seminoles could end up in BCS bowls in January, so maybe 80 is the new 50 after all.
Er... okay. No doubt this is some AARP solidarity thing imposed by the Grey Dawn and not seriously the man's opinion. And we should be focusing on the big, national championship picture anyway...
For my No. 1 pick, however, I'll take Georgia.
Blast and damnation! No offense to the legions of Dawg bloggers out there, but Joe Tereshinski III is only a good name if the player in question is a Minnesota running back. Shockley he ain't, and there's hats to be eaten if a true freshman leads any team to the national championship. It's back to the anti-ND drawing board.
There was that one guy, whatshisface... Gore? Lane Kiffin must be that guy from Memento. From Scott Wolf's USC blog:
It's easy to get fixated on freshmen because they are new faces, but wide receiver Travon Patterson seems ready to assume a vital role. Patterson turned a 5-yard pass into about a 60-yard play and he's clearly the fastest receiver.
"Travon brings something we haven't had in five years,'' offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin said.
Unless "something" is "a guy named Travon," I'm pretty sure he's wrong no matter what he's talking about.
Yeah... Pete Carroll. I'm beginning to think that the similarity of his last name to "Carrell" is no coincidence, as he can't get enough of hilarious stunts that seem better placed on the set of The Office.
As an assistant coach gave the Trojans a tongue-lashing while watching video of a lackluster afternoon practice, Carroll--complete in an official Wonder Bread NASCAR racing uniform and helmet--appeared from the back of the room, accompanied by the roar of an engine and shrouded by the smoke of a fog machine. Carroll raced to the front of the room and, as the team howled in laughter, informed the Trojans that they were going to take a break from football and go to the campus theater to watch the nation's hottest movie, "Talladega Nights, The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby."
Unbeknownst to Carroll, the REAL Ricky Bobby--Ferrell, a former USC student--came in from the side door, also decked out in his NASCAR outfit. A stunned Carroll and his Trojans erupted.
Aaaand Bill Simmons just threw up in his mouth. Apparently the chances of Pete Carroll returning to the NFL are nil, because he can't play wacky forgiving dad to grown men. Did he try this stuff with the Patriots? And if so was he surprised when they stopped listening to him? The interaction between The Orgeron and Carroll must have been fascinating.
In previous seasons, a number of celebrities besides Ferrell have visited Carroll's Trojans at practices and games: Snoop Dogg, Nick Lachey, Spike Lee, Henry Winkler, George Lucas, Alyssa Milano, Kirsten Dunst, Sophia Bush, Chad Michael Murray, LeVar Burton, The Game and Anthony Kiedis.
Maybe it's just me. (via Feldman($), who diplomatically refers to it as "more offbeat stuff.")
Etc.: Philadelpha Inquirer article on Avant; Tom Friend got a call from Clarett on his night of aborted rampage/suicide/lint removal; Michigan Sports Center has video of the Cold Pizza interviews with Hart and Henne; Mike Farrell makes mountain out of instate recruiting foothill.
Needs Going In: Minor since uber-LB recruit Brandon Graham showed up weighing 270 pounds and was immediately moved to DE. He joins raw but athletic Adam Patterson in the freshman class. Three more players from said class could end up at DE: John Ferrara, Greg Banks, and Quintin Woods. Woods is slated to start at TE but the other two will be somewhere on the defensive line.
Commitments To Date: Whitehall, Michigan's Ryan Van Bergen commited a month or two before camp
Potential Commitments: Four-star Delaware end Devon Still claimed a Michigan lead a few weeks ago but after him the prospects are few and far between. Perhaps he's enthralled with the uniform after years of growing up with Delaware Blue Hen football. Illinois five-star Martez Wilson continues to list Michigan but is widely presumed to be destined for ND -- there's no accounting for taste. Ryan Kerrigan from Indiana and Eric Thomas from Ohio were mentioned as Michigan possibilities a while ago but are marginal prospects who may not get offers.
You Should Panic This Much: Little. Van Bergen's been tearing it up over the summer. With a couple of top-100 athletes in the previous class and a multitude of Biggs types available, Michigan is probably done unless a pass-rushing Carlos Brown falls into their laps.
Needs Going In: Like quarterback, Michigan has numbers over the past two classes but is short on high end prospects. Two of the aforementioned defensive ends will end up at tackle, probably Ferrara and Banks. As recruits neither was pursued heavily by high end schools; the gurus rated them regarded them as just another guy.
Commitments To Date: None.
Potential Commitments: With Joseph Barksdale and Josh Brent probably headed elsewhere the top name on Michigan's board is Louisiana's Rolando Melancon. Instate defensive/offensive tackle Ryan Wheat could get an offer sometime during his senior year; if he gets one he's likely to commit immediately.
You Should Panic This Much: Quite a bit. The only player who's favoring Michigan at the moment is Melancon and Louisiana prospects have a tendency to zig-zag dramatically. The last class is devoid of potential difference-makers and this one will probably be too.
Needs Going In: Depends on how many linebackers Michigan actually got last year. Quintin Patilla, Obi Ezeh, and Cobrani Mixon are all definites. Brandon Graham now seems like a defensive lineman. Nominal safety Jonas Mouton could go either way. In any case, Patilla and Ezeh were both lightly regarded by recruiting services and
Commitments To Date: Depends on how you view Jerimy Finch. Is he a safety? Is he a linebacker? He's filed under safety here.
Potential Commitments: There aren't any names I can give you aside from Lorenzo Edwards, a safety from Orlando Edgewater (freshman WR Greg Mathews' high school) who plans an official visit in the fall. Michigan is pursuing a couple of Tennessee linebackers likely to remain in the SEC and a couple of guys from New Jersey who seem only vaguely interested.
You Should Panic This Much: Somewhat. Michigan needs one or two linebackers this year and will probably end up offering someone obscure during the fall to make up their numbers.
Needs Going In: Pick an excessively dramatic noun and double it. Jai Eugene's inconvenient decommit late in the process left Michigan without a cornerback last year; the year before that they picked up two California sleepers and fast but molecule-tiny Brandon Harrison. Three commits are probable and if there's a fourth player who wants to commit Michigan will probably take him.
Commitments To Date: Michigan legacy Troy Woolfolk, Butch's son, was offered and committed at Michigan camp. He's a three star to everyone; ESPN likes him least of any of Michigan's ten commitments.
Potential Commitments: Two instate badasses have been presumed Michigan's to lose for about a year now: everyone's five star Ronald Johnson and everyone's near five-star Dionte Allen. That would be reassuring if Michigan hadn't just lost Allen to Florida State. Johnson remains interested. Highly regarded Californian Michael Williams has been down to Michigan and Notre Dame for a while now. Both are top-100 players.
You Should Panic This Much: Allen's FSU commitment removes Michigan's margin for error. Insiders are confident on both Johnson and Williams but were also making assurances that Allen would end up at Michigan right up until he committed to FSU. As long as Johnson continues looking good things will be all right, but you should be spooked.
Needs Going In: Moderate. Michigan picked up two top-100 players a year ago in Steve Brown and Jonas Mouton but was skunked the year before and needs some depth, especially since Brandon Harrison has returned to corner. Mouton is also a candidate to end up at linebacker.
Commitments To Date: Indiana's top two players, Jerimy Finch and Artis Chambers both commited a couple months into the recruiting year. Finch is well-liked by Scout and ESPN, featuring on their top-100 lists. Rivals, apparently deprived of film, said "meh" in their initial rankings but will move him up when they re-rank.
Potential Commitments: Michigan has offers out to Ohio's Eugene Clifford and California's Malachi Lewis but isn't expected to land either. Clifford seems earmarked for OSU; Lewis is being pursued by a ton of west coast teams.
You Should Panic This Much: You might privately express concern about depth in the future, but Michigan has stockpiled a lot of talent across two classes.
Michigan finds itself in a precarious position. Much like quarterback, Michigan doesn't need numbers at defensive tackle but could very much use a star. They probably won't get one with Brent and Barksdale looking to go elsewhere. They need numbers and talent at corner after two consecutive years of striking out on big names. All the right things are being said by and about Ronald Johnson but if he, like Allen, were to decide on another school Michigan would be staring at an unmitigated disaster on the defensive side of the ball.
Finch is an excellent player and the buzz on Van Bergen is growing, but Michigan has no linebacker prospects, only one defensive tackle who seems like a candidate to commit, and is living on the edge at cornerback.
Right-now grade: C+. Ron Johnson officially committing would bump that up to a solid B.
Football will continue in Evanston after Randy Walker's shocking midsummer death but wins and losses will be beside the point. That's probably a good thing for Pat Fitzgerald, thrust into the head coach spotlight at only 31 without four-year starter Brett Basanez or much hope on the other side of the ball. Northwestern will enter the year without the two men who came to symbolize the program over the past four years, adrift and looking for purchase on the harsh terrain of a Big Ten schedule without Minnesota or Indiana. The defense also lost a star contributor in painful fashion when defensive end Loren Howard was injured on the eve of last season. He decided to redshirt and bolt to Northwestern's Pac-10 doppleganger, Arizona State. Left in his wake is the usual array of pedestrian linemen and overachieving linebackers, though the defensive backs resemble helpless kittens far less than usual.
The outlook is grim, especially when you consider Northwestern's outlying turnover ratio: they were +9 despite having a terrible defense because said defense managed 30 takeaways, including 20 interceptions. That is well into the land of flukes. With a mewling babe replacing ancient Brett Basanez, Northwestern's turnovers figure to shoot up. Probability and common sense declare that their takeaways will travel in the reverse direction. Presto: likely two-game swing to the bad.
This is all terribly unfortunate for one of college football's most likeable programs. Northwestern churns out a steady supply of moxie-filled quarterbacks, glass-eating linebackers, and dramatic instant classics full of last-second twists M. Night Shyamalan would dismiss as implausible. But the facts are the facts, cruel as they may be; one can only hope that this year is the opening act in a tale of redemption that culminates in the two years Northwestern is off Michigan's schedule.
Last Year: A machine led by Basanez with plenty of help from Sutton, Herbert, Strief, et al. Talented and forced to get every point available from first play to last by the nation's worst defense, Northwestern churned through its opponents to the tune of 500 yards per game, finishing 26th nationally in rushing and 7th in passing.
Rating: 1. The only thing anyone knows about Northwestern's starting quarterback is that he isn't Brett Basanez. Sophomore CJ Bacher and his six career completions are projected to start, and this concludes the Bacher scouting report. I've scoured the Internets for any information on him and every preview -- every preview -- says "Bacher is in competition with Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka." Some venture to guess he will start, probably because Kafka keeps turning into a beetle. None deigns to speculate on his strengths aside from CFN's usual "this stud has incredible accuracy and blazing speed but is still searching for consistency. If he finds it he could be nasty."
So. Bacher was a three star recruit a couple years ago with offers from an array of Mountain West and WAC schools plus Arizona, Oregon State, and Northwestern. He committed to the Beavers, visited Northwestern, and switched. Though he was listed as a dual-threat QB by Rivals he ran for a mere 170 yards as a junior (senior rushing stats were not mentioned). Over the last two years of his high school career he completed 64% of his passes for over 3,000 yards. The always excessively positive scouting reports mention an extremely accurate arm and "improved decision-making," which is a backhanded compliment at best.
The projection? Bacher's going to get an opportunity to live up to that dual-threat designation. Northwestern ran the zone read years before Vince Young made it cool and if you remember the early days of Basanez back when the horseless carriage was new, he was more likely to grit out a first down by absorbing a punishing blow from a linebacker than by actually completing a pass. With Tyrell Sutton in the backfield, one experienced wide receiver, and a veteran offensive line all signs point to a rush heavy version of Northwestern's spread chameleon in '06. If Bacher's arm is as accurate is reputed he'll get the opportunity to toss a lot of short throws to possession receiver Sean Herbert and Sutton, but Northwestern is going to revert from hoping their quarterback wins games to hoping he doesn't lose them.
Pint-sized Tyrell Sutton's first collegiate season was a hit. Reminiscent of fellow miniature powerhouses Mike Hart and Brian Calhoun, Sutton's quick cuts, excellent vision, and surprising power after contact were good for 1474 yards at 5.9 per carry and freshman All America teams far and wide. His 44 catches out of the backfield were vital icing in Northwestern's offense of a thousand papercuts. Lest you believe that Sutton's numbers were a mirage of cheap yards against terrible defenses, he picked up 112 against Penn State and 93 versus Ohio State (on only 14 carries!). Sutton is poised to be a thorn in Big Ten sides for the next three years.
However, without Basanez's arm keeping safeties honest Sutton may find the sledding significantly tougher as a sophomore. If we make the safe assumption that whoever the starting quarterback is can't approach Basanez's efficiency and command of the offense, the only way to keep that eighth man from finding his way into the box will be to establish someone, likely Kim Thompson, as a deep danger. That requires not one but two untested players to step up -- unlikely. All eyes will be on Sutton* in '06.
He'll have more backup this year as Brandon Roberson and Terrell Jordan both return from injuries. They'll share the load, but this is Sutton's show.
*(As long as he's not standing behind anyone bigger than him, e.g. a six year old girl.)
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Rating: 3. Northwestern returns Sean Herbert, their leading receiver a year ago with 79 catches, but loses Mark Philmore and Jonathan Fields, who combined for 115 catches of their own. The departees should be relatively replaceable: combined they averaged barely over ten yards a catch and were summarily ignored by the NFL. While Herbert is likely to meet the same fate upon graduation ( he wasn't much of a deep threat either with just 862 yards on his 79 catches) he is a reliable cog in the offense and a player many teams could use.
Kim Thompson, suspended for academics before the Sun Bowl, is eligible once more and will no doubt be referred to as the "X factor" by dozens of analysts, color commentators, and pundits by the time the season ends. His 19 catches a year ago came with 326 yards and he was one of many to burn the Wisconsin secondary, catching a 53 yard touchdown in a wild 51-48 Wildcat win. Thompson has speed few Northwestern skill players do and could, given the right confluence of circumstances, emerge into a feared weapon.
Rasheed Ward and Ross Lane will platoon at the third wideout spot. Lane was mostly quiet a year ago before torching UCLA for seven catches and 136 yards; Ward had seven catches in the first three games and zero the remainder of the season.
Rating: 3. Despite the departure of longtime right tackle Zach Strief, Northwestern returns five starters of a sort. Center Trevor Rees, the starter in '03 and '04, has resolved the academic issues that kept him out last year. That allows poor, poor Austin Matthews, he of the four-second half holding penalties versus Gabe Watson, to move out to Strief's old spot where he will be given the opportunity to hold the various defensive ends of the Big Ten.
Matthews' presence in the starting lineup sounds a note of concern. He was bewildered and overmatched most of last year, losing his starting spot partway through the season before reclaiming it for the Sun Bowl. The offseason losses of Thomas Bemenderfer (transfer) and Tyler Compton (academics*) stripped the staff of options; now Matthews is going to try a switch similar to the one that Rueben Riley did and Michigan fans feared. This does is not likely to work out well.
The rest of the line is experienced and competent. There's no star to build around and they'll have to do a lot more run-blocking, but survey says they will be decent.
*(Northwestern's dedication to suspending the hell out of any athlete who so much as looks at a professor funny is the true mark of an academically rigorous program.)
Last Year: Typically repulsive: better than only Illinois against both run and pass in conference in total yardage terms and the worst in the entire country when the two are combined.
In reality, it probably wasn't quite as bad as all that. Northwestern's defensive numbers have long been depressed by their frenetic style of offense, which leads to more drives against. In terms of yards per play Northwestern was a shiny tenth in conference, 0.4 better than Illinois. Their pass efficiency defense, fifth in conference, was downright average. They probably weren't the worst defense in the country.
So they've got that going for them.
Rating: 1. Starting tackles Barry Coefield, second-team All Big Ten a year ago, and Trevor Schultz are gone, leaving little in their wake. Sophomore John Gill got seven starts a year ago -- Schultz was in and out of the lineup with injury and academic issues -- but he's the only player with anything more than spot plays. Redshirt freshman Adam Hahn has leapt into a starting spot. Defensive coordinator Greg Colby is frank about his expectations:
"We feel like we have to do more of that (play a 3-4) simply because it's hard for anybody to find those Loren Howards out there that can pass rush on the edge," said Colby. "But we can find a lot of those 6-2, 6-3, 250 pounders that are kind of 'tweeners,' between linebacker and (defensive) end. It's easier for us to find those kids.
"We don't enough (ends) to play 3-4 exclusively and we don't have enough linemen to play 4-3 exclusively, so we're going to play them both next year."
(And it's a punch in the guy when you do find those Loren Howards, but they decide to screw off to Arizona State for their senior seasons.) It's fairly easy to read between the lines of this quote: "we don't have anybody and will attempt to confuse opponents into thinking otherwise." Linebacker Nick Roach has said that the 3-4 will be a situation defense employed exclusively on passing downs in an effort to get a pass rush.
Sophomore end Kevin Mims was pretty bad last year, but as a true freshman he has an excuse. Junior David Ngene, who was clearly not as good as Mims despite being a year older, steps into the starting lineup with 12 tackles from last year. The Colby quote above indicates that he isn't expecting either Mims or fellow starter to provide much in the way of disruption; Mims might improve on his two sacks as a freshman but Northwestern's pass rush is going to have to come from a creative array of blitzes.
This is probably going to be the worst defensive line in the conference other than Indiana.
Rating: 3. Far down the list of Northwestern's offseason losses is "Best Nickname in College Football," which belonged to middle linebacker Tim "Angry Irishman" McGarigle. Northwestern will probably feel the loss of McGarigle's 548 career tackles -- the all-time NCAA record -- more keenly.
Northwestern does return starters Nick Roach and Adam Kadela; the pair were functional a year ago but at least partially to blame for Northwestern's ugly run defense. With only seven TFLs and two sacks between them, the stats paint a picture of a lot of tackles eight yards downfield. A mitigating factor: Roach broke his tailbone in the Iowa game and played through the pain for the last portion of the season.
Senior Demetrius Eaton steps into a starting spot on the outside (Kadela moves inside to replace McGarigle), but at 250 pounds he joins a remarkably uniform group: both other starters are 245. No one is particularly athletic -- giant fast guys generally attend places best described as "not Northwestern" -- and if they find themselves out of position they will not get back. The linebackers will be solid up the middle but vulnerable to play action, misdirection, and plain old outside running.
Cole with the tackle.
Long Northwestern's glaring weakness, it would be folly to expect sudden improvement from this unit but for the first time in a long time there is something resembling a flicker of hope. Senior cornerback Marquice Cole was actually kind of all right last year, though his second-team All Big Ten award came from the media and is largely attributable to his shiny 5 in the interception column. Cole is limited by his size, generously listed as 5'10", but is incredibly fast and more than capable of covering smaller wide receivers man-to-man. He's the closest thing to a good corner Northwestern's had... well... ever. He could get drafted(!)
The catch is that opposite Cole is a giant question mark and question marks, lacking arms, are distinctly poor in coverage. Junior Deante Battle was coming along nicely until being hit with an academic suspension before the Sun Bowl. His status for the upcoming season is still in question. The other options, senior Cory Dious "Mio" and sophomore Eric Peterson, do not inspire confidence. Peterson was a wide receiver until spring practice; now he is the leading candidate to start at corner. As frequent readers will no doubt recall, position-switcher-to-potential-starter is a primary MGoBlog panic heuristic. Wildcat fans should be holding prayer vigils for Battle.
[Update: Battle is eligible; rating bumped up to 3.]
Senior strong safety Bryan Heinz is the other solid player in the Wildcat secondary. He returned for the Sun Bowl after blowing out his knee right before the '05 season. With two years of starting experience under his belt and some mild regional buzz before his knee injury, he'll do his best to slow the horde of running backs and wide receivers threatening the endzone.
Brendan Smith and Reggie MacPherson are competing for the other safety spot. Both started four games a year ago, but Smith, a freshman, would have started more but for a midseason injury. Both will play; Smith will play more.
Kickers & Coverage
Rating: 1. You may remember kicker Joel Howells from disasters like "Missing two extra points, having a field goal blocked, and two onside kicks so incompetent that the same guy returned them for touchdowns against UCLA" and "going 11 for 21 despite attempting only short field goals." He's not good. He's better than Brian Huffman, who singlehandedly sabotaged the '04 TCU game, but that's not much of an accomplishment.
Punter Ryan Pederson was no better. Despite averaging under 40 gross yards per kick, he (and
the coverage units) allowed teams to average eight yards a return. Northwestern was 103rd in net punting.
Non-Conference: Soft but not terrible. New Hampshire is a good I-AA team but still a I-AA team; Eastern Michigan would probably be a bad I-AA team. Two weird road games will pose challenges: Nevada and a team Blue Ribbon describes as "MAC power Ohio," by which they mean "MAC Power Miami(Ohio)."
Miami-Northwestern might not seem like must-see TV, but Walker attended then coached there before arriving in Evanston. As the season opener for both teams it'll no doubt be Randy Walker's unofficial testimonial game and quite moving despite ESPN's best efforts to ruin it.
Conference: Ugly. Off the schedule are Indiana and Minnesota. The road slate, well...
- @ Penn State
- @ Wisconsin
- @ Michigan
- @ Iowa
Adding injury to throbbing, pulsating injury: the first two and last two games are back-to-back.
We're Sure About
Sutton. He's good and, like Javon Ringer, has found an offense perfectly suited to his talents.
The Defensive Line. Will be terrible.
We Have An Idea About
The Offensive Line. By now they've established themselves for what they are: all right, but nothing more. The situation at right tackle gives this unit some bust potential, though.
The Secondary. They could be all right, but first they'll have to find a corner other than Cole.
We Have No Clue About
The Quarterbacks. Ciphers all! Whoever gets the start will no doubt be the proverbial heady winner who makes the most of his ability despite physical limitations, but he's not going to be first team All Big Ten.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
There isn't much upside in this team without giving the Wildcats quarterback, whoever he is, way more credit than is reasonable. Sure, Bacher or whoever could be fantastic out of the gate, but realistically this is going to be a season to watch and learn. 5-7.
The quarterback situation degenerates into farce, leaving Sutton staring down eight- and nine-man fronts the bulk of the year. The defense performs like one expects a Northwestern defense to perform. At some point, they throw the towel in. 3-9.
The defense should improve statistically -- it would be hard not to -- but probably not meaningfully. There's no one to rush the passer and blitzing leaves whoever isn't Marquice Cole on an island with a big neon sign that reads "toast." The rush defense was ugly despite the presence of three veterans right up the middle; now those veterans are gone. The linebackers should be serviceable but there won't be much contribution from the line.
The offense will drop off some without Basanez. He was quietly outstanding a year ago, one of the more underrated players in the country, and there's no replacing his experience. Tyrell Sutton and a veteran offensive line should keep the Wildcats competitive, but it will be a rough year for a program that deserves better.
Wins: EMU, New Hampshire
Probable Wins: Illinois
Tossups: @ Miami(OH), Purdue, @ Nevada
Probable Losses: @ Wisconsin, @ Penn State, MSU
No Chance: @ Iowa, @ Michigan, Ohio State
It looks like 4-8.