Football has picked up a surprising commitment from tight end Steve Watson from Denver, CO, who was not even on the recruiting board. He seems underrated by Rivals -- three stars -- given his offer list, which consists of most of the Pac-10. USC was interested and pursuing, but whether or not they offered is not clear. Scout did give him a fourth star.
Watson is the son of former Denver Broncos receiver Steve Watson, who apparently ordered some sort of Internets blackout on the young man. There isn't much out there save for this rambling post on a Husker board that you are urged to take FWIW:
During the testing I saw coach Gilmore and he said right away, "I got your email!" I had emailed him after the spring game and told him thanks for spending so much time with the boys and that they had raved about NU to their tight end, Steve Watson, (who Coach G said he had as the number one rated TE) and that Steve plans to visit. I told him him and coach Blake about the Notre Dame assistant getting kicked out of Mullen and they cracked up and wanted me to find out which coach it was. During the testing Coach G came over to us to ask if we were familiar with another Colorado athlete from Arvada West HS. Jonny, my husband and I were all like YES! Ryan Hill is a total stud and Jonny has played lots of baseball against his little brother. He wondered what our opinion was about him compared to Watson!
I said well, Watson is very developed and at velocity every nite and works with the Broncos etc, and that Hill is very raw (not rocket science) but Gilmore said EXACTLY my take and makes me feel like a million bucks! unbelievable!
always inspires confidence in a scouting report.
The bigger picture: I think Martell Webb is still a tight end since Michigan didn't recruit any except maybe Quintin Woods last year. That means that all the in-state TEs (Rooks, Joplin, Weaver) are probably SOL.
In related news, the ESPN150 is out and has been roundly criticized for being horrible in all possible ways. In general I consider offers to be the most credible barometer of a kid's talent, so when there is a vast disagreement between offers for, say, Joseph Barksdale (everyone) and his ranking (not ranked), I revise my estimate of the scouting service's competency more than that of the player. Is Marcelo Balboa doing this list?
Meet Corperrayle "Manny" Harris, who is sort of like Reed Baker except tall and exciting and from Detroit and not seriously considering life at the Citadel. An '07 shooting guard ranked #45 in his class by Rivals, he committed to Michigan yesterday. He plans on decommitting in August or September.
I keed, I keed. Mostly.
The Internet has copious information on the rapidly rising Harris. Here is a Scout profile. If you would like something more saccharine, the Detroit News has you covered; there is also a recap of Harris' second straight PSL championship with Detroit Redford.
More to the heavy-breathing point, he's #45 with a bullet and may not be done moving up the charts. His performance at this summer's shoe camps generated serious buzz. He was cited as the #2 "riser" coming out of the recent Nike camp by both Rivals and SchoolSports.com via SI:
2. Corperryale Harris, Redford (Detroit)
Harris had a great day at both ends of the court. The 6-foot-4 guard was a pest on the defensive end, getting numerous deflections and steals, which often led to easy baskets for his team. But he was even better on the offensive end, scoring in transition, from 3-point range and on hard drives to the basket. In his first game of the day, Harris dropped 19 points, including two 3-pointers and a monster dunk over 7-foot Solomon Alabi of Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.).
PrepSpotlight is speculating that Harris may end up in the top 25 soon ($); interest from UCLA and Kansas certainly implies that is a possibility. Erstwhile MSU Rivals guy Steve Bell describes Harris' game like so:
Harris' game is similar to that of a young Latrell Sprewell, not aesthetically pleasing or fundamentally sound, but full of energy and hustle. He is one of those "sticky" players who is always around the ball, whether loose, off the glass, or from an opponent's dribble. Harris is the type of die-hard that U-M's roster has sorely lacked.
What, doesn't Courtney Sims count?
"Speedy" Walker, Harris' AAU coach, gets the last word:
This buzz wasn't always the case for the wiry Harris. Not until last summer's growth spurt, actually. That's when, according to Walker, "a 5-11 scrappy player became a 6-4 scrappy player." All of a sudden the defensive stalwart and superb point guard became a threat at two more positions -- the 2 and 3. And, all of a sudden, an unranked prospect catapulted to the top 50 by season's end. "Defense is the best part of his game," Flowers said. "He's a ball-hawk, 94-50. He can take it to the basket with the best of them. And his floor game is getting even better. He's a great point guard (already)."
A good get and one that doesn't seem likely to end up in the always-burgeoning pile of decommits. However, the excitement over Harris' commitment is dampened somewhat by Amaker's questionable decisions to accept Rutgers transfer Zach Gibson -- though presumably Michigan's actually seen Gibson in action -- and Baker, leaving only one scholarship remaining in the '07 class. Another Michigan guard, Laval Lucas-Perry, is in the process of blowing up. He has an offer from Arizona but not one from Michigan, and he may not get one at all if Amaker decides that he needs an '07 post. Que lastima.
SMQB has previewed Michigan. Run, don't walk. His numbers-based defense of Henne...
Michigan fans know now what Henne can do (throw hard) and what he can't (run; throw accurately short-to-medium balls with a high rate of predictability), and if he's not Matt Leinart, or even Brady Quinn, he is at least slightly ahead of John Navarre's pace - 5,800 yards and 48 touchdowns in two years, with a 59 percent completion rate and an improving TD-INT ratio (23-8 in '05, compared to 25-12 as a freshman), should invalidate, or quiet, much of his "Hennebriated" reputation. Though it probably won't.
...doesn't take Michigan's WR screen bonanza into account, but that's nitpicking. SMQB does highlight a particular deficiency of last year's Michigan offense -- long passing -- that is emblematic of the offense's struggles, encompassing the turnstile offensive line, erratic quarterback, and limited WR corps in one ugly number. Which is 15.
IBFC has crunched the 4th quarter numbers and his findings are as terrifying as you might expect:
Up less than ten
1995-1999: 13-1 (93%)
2000-2005: 8-10 (44%)
That's right ... in the last 6 years, we are more likely to lose a game than to win it if we go into the 4th quarter with a small lead.
Why? Vijay says it's the turnovers, stupid:
We have won the turnover battle in the 4th quarter only 3 times. We have lost the turnover battle 10 times.
We have caused 10 turnovers and committed 20 in the 4th quarters of such games.
We have committed at least one 4th quarter turnover in 14 of the 18 games and forced turnovers in 8 of the 18.
Not surprisingly, when we win the turnover battle we are 3-0 and when we lose it we are 3-7.
Michigan, a conservative team that is +32 over the past eight years -- the second-best number in the Big Ten -- somehow turns into Michigan State with a late lead despite getting even more conservative. At least a small part of that is Michigan running bad; in poker parlance they've had a lot of games lately in which they've been sucked out upon. Another part of it is the scaredy-cat zone Michigan usually runs late in games which is not conducive to forcing turnovers or anything except extra points. Bleah. English will make it all better?
(Vijay has also posted the Woodson interception.)
One of the obscurer pleasures of previewing teams like Illinois is chuckling at the wide-eyed optimism of party-organ websites. Sure, sure, Illinois is on the way up. Orange is feared by all far and wide. I would like to tell you about the rabbits. Already mentioned in the preview were the babies, but did you know that Zook and the Illini taped encouraging Christmas messages for US military personnel stationed abroad? The mind boggles. What could Ron Zook and his 2-9 Illini have to say to some guy in Afghanistan? Some theories:
- "You'll overrun the enemy like six-year olds against our defense."
- "Remember: failure is an option."
- "If at first you don't succeed, try a bubble screen."
- "I just want you to remember what you're fighting for: Illinois football."
- "Anyone 5'6" or taller is hereby offered a scholarship."
Also, the existence of this cock-rockin' video reaffirms my faith in humanity. Featuring jump-cuts between Illinois highlights -- hey, we got past the line of scrimmage! slap that in the video! -- interspersed with shots of Zook looking fierce like Siberian bear, it's the perfect gift for anyone looking to give Orson Swindle a seizure.
Etc.: Smart Football has followed up the game-theory post with a couple additional ones. I noticed some scoffing at the notion of Texas Tech being "balanced" according to this metric on EDSBS, so I'd like to clarify my position: the balance we're talking about is a proper distribution of run and pass plays to maximize yardage. Given that your team has a particular offense and a particular set of personnel, there's an optimum run-pass ratio that keeps defenses guessing and takes advantage of what you're good at. Tech's doing this.
At Slate, Robert Weintraub defends Dave O'Brien... but does not defend Marcelo Balboa.
This one isn't quite as extensive. I'm sure you understand.
The Ron Zook era started out well enough with a thrilling overtime victory over Rutgers, but whenever the phrases "thrilling overtime victory" and "over Rutgers" find themselves in the same sentence their buddy "harsh reality check" cannot be far behind. Illinois' did not arrive until the Big Ten opener, but when it did it took the form on an unholy beating at the hands of Michigan State that did not let up until Northwestern handed the Illini their ninth straight loss in the season finale. Over that stretch of eight games, Illinois allowed every team they played at least 35 points, lost by at least 17 points every week, and were obliterated 36-13... by Indiana(!). By the midpoint of the season the only people watching Illinois games were pissed-off Florida fans, who traded tapes of the debacles and watched them intently in pitch-dark rooms full of unpleasant, familiar noises best left unspeculated upon.
Yea, and woe followed him wherever he was suffered to lay his head.
Started on both sides of the ball last year.
It is likely things will improve during Year 2 of the Zook Epoch. One of the reasons the Illini were so bad at... well... everything is that this totally weird "tribute to the seniors" featuring picture after picture of cute babies serves as a fairly accurate assessement of the average age of the team. Illinois returns every starter from last year save fullback Jason Davis, defensive tackle Ryan Matha, and exhausted punter Steve Weatherford. A fair number of those starters were wet-behind-everything freshmen in way over their heads. Strides towards competency are probable, but there's a long, long way from last year's Travelling Bye Week extravaganza and respectability.
Last Year: Not good, but not the defense, either. Illinois managed to finish 47th in rushing yards -- the only stat tracked on the NCAA's team page that the Illini were better than 71st in -- and 72nd in total offense, but how many of those yards were pity yards gained against third-string walkons? Survey says "lots".
Courtesy of The State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL
Rating: 2. Senior Tim Brasic's numbers from last year are surprisingly tolerable on the surface -- a 61 percent completion rate and 424 yards rushing -- but with only 5.9 yards per attempt and 11 interceptions, Brasic didn't generate enough positives to justify the chance of a turnover or drive-killing sack. Some of the blame has to be placed on the offensive line, who yielded a massive 32 sacks last year, but Brasic's just another guy. The bubble-screen orgasm that is the Zook offense has a lot of dead simple throws that tend to drive up yardage and completion percentage metrics without requiring any actual skill on behalf of the quarterback (something Chad Henne benefited from extensively last year). When Brasic attempted something so daring as an actual downfield pass the results were often disastrous.
If things go poorly with Brasic, Zook might say "to hell with it" and insert true freshman Isiah Williams, the jewel of this year's recruiting class. Williams' implausible senior-year stats: 1,441 rushing yards at 21.8 yards per carry and 1,841 passing yards on only 128 attempts with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions. He's guru-approved and potentially the kind of guy who can lift the downtrodden into a state slightly less so a la Antwaan Randle-El. One caution: Williams only completed 56% of his passes as a senior, but it's not like Zook's going to have anything to lose after September.
Rating: 4. Bizarrely deep. Pierre Thomas and EJ Halsey return for their senior seasons but will have to hold off a challenge from sophomore Rashard Mendenhall, who -- get this -- was in the Rivals 100 two years ago. Between the three of them they had 1231 yards on 259 carries (4.7 each) and a fairly astounding 79 catches for only 492 yards (6.2 each). If you needed any further proof of the screen-y hell that is the Zook offense, there it is. Thomas, who got about half of the rushing yards last year, is the proverbial thunder to Halsey's lightning and Mendenhall is a combination of both.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Sophomore Kyle Hudson led Illinois with 31 catches and actually managed to get 15 yards per catch -- there is downfield passing! -- but I'd be lying if I told you I had any idea who he is. Receivers on terrible teams don't often get attention since it's usually focused on whatever grotesque injury is being inflicted on the quarterback this time. Hudson did have a 10-catch, 114-yard performance against Wisconsin but that's probably less impressive than it sounds given the way everyone with a half-functional quarterback diced the Badger secondary a year ago. Still, a freshman Hudson had more catches and more yards than Mario Manningham, Derrick Williams, and their hype entourages. He's one to keep an eye on, especially because you can count the inaccurate references to his valuable role as a possession receiver from their inception.
A rotating cast of other minor contributors has one name of note: sophomore Derrick McPhearson, who ended up at Illinois after an academic sojourn that took him to Virginia's Fork Union Military Academy. The year before McPhearson committed to Florida and then-head coach Ron Zook -- evidence of both considerable talent and questionable judgement. McPhearson missed a few games with a broken leg and finished the year with only 13 catches, but his role should expand greatly as a sophomore.
Rating: 3. The line, like everything else, was crap a year ago but this unit has a better excuse than most. The Illini found themselves starting two juniors, two sophomores, and a freshman and were unsurprisingly overwhelmed. This year all five starters return and the Illini can employ the services of Oklahoma transfer Akim Millington, who was projected to be a starter before his sudden departure. Millington will probably boot LT JJ Simmons to the bench and be the line's best player the day he steps onto the field.
They could be okay if things work out, but those 32 sacks in an offense that's pathologically reliant on short passing indicates extensive problems that will probably prohibit a rise to "good."
Last Year: Almost literally non-existent. Behold:
- Rush defense: last.
- Pass efficiency defense: second to last.
- Total defense: third to last.
- Sacks: second to last.
- Scoring defense: third to last.
Rating: 1. I don't care that three of four starters return; the assumption here until proven otherwise is that the Illinois defense will be a mere rumor to opposing offenses. Defensive tackle Chris Norwood's 7.5 TFLs are nice, but that's about it as far as playmaking goes. The true sophomore defensive ends were awful a year ago and will probably be slightly less awf
ul this year, but I'm saving all my miracle points for "Lloyd Carr understands probability"; "Illinois defensive line is half-decent" will have to wait.
I mean, what does it say when you're so desperate for any positive recognition that you grab a straw from freakin' College Football News and slap it up on your website? It means you're no good.
It will always be Burma to me.
See defensive line; I don't care that three starters return. This is what you need to know about the Illinois linebackers: one of them claims to be named "J Leman." No word on whether he plans on fleeing to
Rating: 1. Detroit DePorres' own Sharriff Abdullah is the top returning corner; he is 5'8" and has zero interceptions and four breakups in about two full years of starting. This neatly summarizes the experience of being an Illinois cornerback: it's nasty, brutish, and you're short.
The previous paragraph is not entirely fair, since Abdullah's partner Alan Ball -- also from DePorres -- is both tall for a corner (6'1") and clearly better than Abdullah, but I plead Too Funny To Check. Ball's one interception and five pass breakups are not the stuff of legend, however, and the safeties are reminiscent of Cato June. Cato June before he was a Pro-Bowl linebacker.
Kickers & Coverage
Steve Weatherford's punting leg has been dunked in the sauna for the last time; in his place is some guy destined to be second-team All Big Ten for three years. Looking up biographical details of the new Illinois punter crosses the line from "fun hobby" to "dangerous obsession" and inevitably leads to something like the end of Requiem For A Dream and so will be forgone here, but I can tell you that kicker Jason Reda was 13 of 20 a year ago and banged in a 52-yarder, so he's all right.
Non-Conference: One I-AA meatball (Eastern Illinois) then the thrilling rematch against the Scarlet Knights, a fascinating matchup of the Illini's Easily Movable Object defense versus Syracuse's Eminently Resistable Force offense, and a MAC game they could lose against Ohio.
Conference: Since Illinois is the worst team in the conference Big Ten bylaws mandate that they skip Michigan. Minnesota also misses out on a chance to whack the pinata.
We're Sure About
The defense. The scoreboard operators at Illinois games are going to get a nasty case of George Jetson button-pushin' finger.
We Have An Idea About
The running game. Could be... um... good with the return of all those running backs and the offensive line. It was half-decent a year ago.
We Have No Clue About
The future. As odd as this sounds, hiring Ron Zook looks sort of brilliant. Illinois is no longer recruiting MAC rejects and confused Eastern Europeans. If you believe the gurus, a meaningful number of Zook's first class of recruits could have played for anyone in the Big Ten not named Penn State, Michigan, or Ohio State and Illinois is off to a good start this year. It will take another year or two, but a respectable Illinois is a possibility in the near future.
An Embarassing Prediction, No Doubt
The schedule is wonky enough and the bowls desperate enough that the Illini could wander on to the hallowed ground of some place like Shreveport, Mobile, or Fort Worth to take on the fifth place CUSA team if things fall right. Every starter returns and if some of the Zook recruits live up to their e-clippings in their first year there are enough teams of equal hopelessness -- Syracuse, Indiana, Rutgers, Ohio -- on the schedule that with a ton of luck and a victory stolen from the likes of Minnesota or Purdue the Illini could reach 6-6. But probably not.
Remember last year? This time they lose to Rutgers. 1-11.
The good news: Illinois should improve, possibly quite a bit. The bad news: they could improve quite a bit and still win two games.
Wins: Eastern Illinois
Probable Wins: Ohio
Tossups: Syracuse, Indiana, @ Rutgers
Probable Losses: Purdue, @ Northwestern
No Chance: Iowa, Ohio State, @ Penn State, @ Wisconsin, @ Michigan State
It looks like 3-9, but an encouraging 3-9.
Northwestern's new coach is Pat Fitzgerald -- yes, that Pat Fitzgerald, the one who spearheaded the Wildcat defense during their improbable '94 Rose Bowl run. He's all of 31, the youngest coach in D-I.
Hate crime! Hate crime! Prepare for more boarding calls at Yost this fall, as the NCAA has re-affirmed its commitment to making even the slightest brush along the glass a five minute major and game misconduct. The NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee was undeterred by the frustrating results of that decision last year, which saw games won or lost based on how many innocous bumps were adjudged mortal sins. By the end of the year boarding, cross-checking, and charging penalties were all the rage as referees desperately tried to skirt the intent of the law. Despite the awkard-to-infuriating results, the "point of emphasis" returns to plague us anon.
There is no rationale behind this save-the-children hand-wringing. The NCAA's sudden interest in those little stop signs youth players wear stems from one incident in which North Dakota's Robbie Bina was sent to the hospital after an ugly hit from DU's Jeff Paukovich. Paukovich got two minutes; the NCAA flipped out and ruined dozens of games the next year because of a single incident, tragic though it may be. The same reasoning-type substance caused goofy, vision-obstructing nets to sprout over hockey rinks across the nation because of a girl's death at a Columbus Blue Jackets game. The NHL decided that 100 years of not killing their fans was a total fluke -- the girl had a rare condition that made her susceptible to head trauma -- and overreacted. These things are undoubtedly tragic but that doesn't make them statistically significant. I'm sure that sounds cold, but Bina's injury is the only serious one I can remember in the eight years I've followed NCAA hockey and the hit that caused it was so flagrantly illegal that any competent referee would have booted Paukovich immediately without needing a reminder from points of emphasis. Instead of reprimanding and possibly spanking that ref, the NCAA lowers the standard for dismissal to levels approaching self-parody. I only wish I could feign surprise.
One bit of good news: linesmen will wave off icing that results when an attempted pass does not connect, cutting down on stoppages in play.
All hail the geniuses of SI ... er... for Kids, who rank Michigan #2 in the country for reasons obscure. Michigan Sports Center is confused.
With the World Cup reaching its end, it's time for a bunch of posts about improving soccer. This year's edicion del mundial is running short on goals: the worst output since 1990, another cup that spurred rules changes. Some blame the ball. Others get the tinkering hat out. The Sports Economist has not one but two suggestion posts; Braves & Birds chips in a set; I've got mine:
- No more yellow cards for time wasting. Just add two minutes of stoppage time for every incident.
- Slightly relax offsides by allowing the offensive player to be past the defender as long as some part of his body overlaps, sort of like the blue line in hockey.
- (Maybe) remove offsides entirely once the ball enters the box.
- Players who are stretchered off must remain off the field for five minutes unless they were fouled.
- Review game tape and harshly sanction divers after the play is over, as Steve Wilson suggests.
- Allow the referees some discretion on fouls in the box. The all-or-nothing nature of the penalty kick causes referees to swallow their whistle in marginal cases and thus permits defenders to get away with actions that are fouls anywhere else on the field. I'm not sure what form the foul-that's-not-a-PK would take but it could just be a regular DFK from the spot of the foul -- dangerous but not 80-90% of a goal.
PKs are deadly to attractive attacking soccer. The referee's reluctance to impose them allows defenders to use illegal tactics to prevent attacks. The illegal tactics makes scoring from the run of play difficult, causing offensive players to swan dive like mad. The rampant flopping in soccer is not due to the character defects of swarthy Europeans but rather to a cost/benefit analysis that usually comes out in favor of acrobatic falls.
All right: I have been fielding a steady stream of BlogPoll membership inquiries and have put them all off until RIGHT NOW! Feel the excitement!
So: in approximately two weeks the poll's membership will add a selection of blogs that have requested entry and excise those that have gone dark. To apply, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your blog's URL and school of choice (if the blog does not make it obvious). If you've already sent me an email, your blog should be in a special category of my RSS reader already, but I would re-send it if you're paranoid.
Last year the poll took on anyone who wanted to tolerate the vote-entry interface, but as it's a little more established now the criteria for entry are going to be a bit more strict. The Admissions Committee* will be looking for the following things:
- An established readership on the order of hundreds of hits a day.
- An attractive design.
- 2,000 words of college football content per week during the season -- blockquoting articles doesn't count.
- Consistent posting during the offseason, though not necessarily as fevered during the season -- some offtopic-icity is fine.
- Participation in the roundtables and the CFB blogosphere in general.
- Coverage of teams that currently lack representation.
These aren't requirements -- you can have a template and still get in. Think of it like a point system: you get points for each category and if you edge past the line you're in. The most important thing by far is content, which -- despite what you may have heard -- is still king.
Changes should be finalized by the end of the month.