that is nice bonus change
Over the past week I've gotten a few emails that deserve responses in full; a couple are irritated Penn State fans who will get their say in a couple days. The other is from Don Hamm and is reproduced below with fisk comments (but friendly-like) interspersed:
I'd be curious about your take on CFN's All-Americans relative to the supposedly top-5 talent at Michigan. There is a notable lack of Michigan players on the list, and the only one meriting even an honorable mention is Hart.
Omission from CFN's list doesn't bother me so much. As I've written in the past, CFN is useless. They try to churn as much "content" out as possible in order to generate hits -- Orson has characterized this as "heavily caffinated Fiutak sitting in his basement pumping out copy" or some such thing, though he found it endearing instead of annoying -- and toss lists out that reuse the same banal capsule text every day, because there's nothing that gets the fan linkage like "love" from some ridiculous website. It's impossible to take anything they say seriously when every other word is "consistency," "nasty," "athletic," or another sports-cliche word employed to fill space without actually communicating ideas.
So, yeah, I take that particular omission with a grain of salt.
Your larger point, though...
Being a UM fan has its frustrations, many of which you write incisively about. One of them for me is the alleged talent at UM that's relentlessly hyped by UM fans everywhere. Every year I hear fan after fan assert that "Michigan has more/as much talent than anyone in the country", which is then used to buttress the analysis of Lloyd Carr as an incompetent coach whose staff can't develop the truckloads of NFL-caliber talent they recruit. I remember clearly hearing a caller to WTKA saying after the game last year that UM has better talent at every position on the field, both offensively and defensively, than Wisconsin. All he could point to are the recruiting rankings, which I am viewing these days with great suspicion. Of course, he then went on to lambaste Carr & Co. as dumb meatheads who can't coach the 5-star talent they've got at every position.
...is a fundamental, difficult one that deserves an airing. Michigan, like Notre Dame, has found itself in a weird limbo in the last several years wherein expectations vastly exceeded results. (Michigan's limbo has been far shorter and less severe.) The response from the fanbases has always, always, always been to crucify the coach for his many failings.* The idea that our valiant warrior-poets are just plain bad at football never seems to cross the mind of the fan, because good God, how do you fix that? Any idiot can fix the coaching -- run more! pass more! -- but acknowledging the many and variegated flaws up and down the roster is the kind of thing that sinks future seasons. Humans naturally shy away from information that causes pain, so every unproven who-dat is a future All-American.
As a result, "Team X which incidentally is the team I support has as much talent as anyone in the country" is not a phenomenon unique to Michigan fans. Most fans overrate their team's prospects every season, then blow up at the meathead coach when the results do not conform to their impossibly inflated expectations. Every year is "the year" for every team across the country -- the year they win the National Championship or go to a New Year's day bowl game or any bowl game or show some signs of life -- until the harsh light of reality sets in for most. The easiest thing to do at that point is lash out at the coach, because you can fire the coach.
A balanced perspective of available talent is the least likely thing for any passionate fan to have. How do we work towards this?
*(And yes, I am just as if not more guilty than the next fan in this area. A Jake Long-less Michigan line at the beginning of '05? Well that sounds pretty good, let's give it a 4/5!)
While it's certainly not the only measure, to me the most telling measure of real talent (encompassing things both mental and physical) is how the professional scouts in the NFL regard it on draft day. And it's on this basis that I've been questioning this assessment of UM talent as being so superior to the teams they play. Note that I'm NOT saying that UM has no talent; I'm simply saying that our alleged talent superiority is just that: alleged.
Here are the draft-day results for the 03, 04, 05, and 06 NFL drafts for 5 Big Ten schools:
Iowa: 17 players selected
Purdue: 15 players selected
Wisconsin: 19 players selected
Ohio State: 31 players selected
Michigan: 16 players selected
Call me crazy, but I just don't see any evidence of the vaunted superiority of UM's talent, especially in comparison to Senator Tressel's bunch.
The NFL draft is not always the best measure of college talent, but it is a fairly good indicator of which players are the most physically dominant. A raw count over four years leaves a lot out. Let's do eight, which encompasses the entire Carr era, and give points based on draft position.
Edmonton Oiler fans often kick around charts like so...
...that clearly indicate an exponential relationship between pick placement and major-league success. The NFL has institutionalized such knowledge in the famous value sheet teams use when swapping picks back and forth; on it the first pick in the draft is six times more valuable than the first pick in he second round. So let's do this right: teams get points equal to the value on the sheet for draft picks. ... and holy God, that's a lot of calculator work. Plus the different values NFL teams place on certain positions -- centers hardly ever go in the first round, for instance -- could make the calculation even harder. I'll take a raincheck on it, but I can tell you that by eyeballing it that OSU would finish first by a wide margin, Michigan would be comfortably second, and then the other Big Ten contenders would trail the Big Two.
Perhaps in that light the streak against Ohio State makes some sense, but I believe that the NFL numbers, even in the four year period cited, show something of a talent edge for Michigan. But not a large enough one to warrant that sports-talk radio stupidity from above. The sad truth of the matter is that if the NFL metric is accurate, 9-3 is the record Michigan fans should expect and talk radio should be full of dudes saying "well, it was a good try."
Now I know that many would reply by saying, "well, UM has the talent, but they just don't know how to develop it at all." I have my doubts about certain aspects of the UM coaching staff; I don't have much confidence in the o-line coaching at the moment, and I think it's pretty clear our S&C is behind the times. The problem I have with the "Carr can't coach and develop" theme is that the logical result of this assessment is that UM would have relatively few players drafted, which is not the case. We simply don't have the superiority that so many allege.
Taking it further, I'm convinced by things I read on draft day and after that a big reason that UM does not have a draft-day superiority (and recent success against bowl teams and OSU) is very simple: speed. Maybe this is an indictment of Gittelson, but if there is any one physical attribute that is least improvable by coaching I would have to think it's speed. Every year you read about some 220 lb freshman some
where who after 3 years is a 295 lb behemoth at right tackle, but I don't think any S&C guy is going to turn our typically ponderous linebackers (Prescott Burgess comes to mind) into legit 4.7 demons. Marginal improvements maybe, but that's it. Why else was Jarrett Irons not even able to last through an NFL training camp? Why did Marquise Walker not make it? What's the knock on Jason Avant? Why has Ian Gold made it, by contrast?
Here's a contrarian theory that I'll offer to have knocked down: Lloyd Carr is greatly OVER-rated as a recruiter of true talent, especially with regard to speed and quickness. Meaning that he's UNDER-rated as a game-day coach. I'm not saying he's actually one of the best 10 in the country, but that he's not the clueless dope so many say he is.
Well, to some extent I agree. The vast talent gap Michigan is supposed to have does not exist. The talent advantages Michigan has against Iowa and Wisconsin are incremental at best. And clearly Carr has some idea what he's doing: blah blah blah National Championship blah blah winning percentage blah.
However, a brief survey of Michigan horrors over the past few years shows losses decided by horrible special teams play, horrible late-game performance, and plain horrible luck. A speed deficiency never seemed to be the problem except in very specific cases, e.g. Markus Curry versus Keary Colbert or Vince Young versus Anybody. Michigan's losing streak against OSU seems directly attributable to getting our asses kicked on the lines -- something like 2.0 yards per carry for Michigan over the past two years while OSU was busy grinding out 99 yard drives in '04 -- and the similarly disappointing results against Notre Dame have been due less to overwhelming speed and more to plain old idiocy, bad luck, and the general bloody-mindedness of the universe. After all, one of the trademarks of Michigan football for the past decade or so is that there is always one utterly terrifying receiver on the field. He's 6'4", runs like a gazelle, has arrogance issues, &c. Is that not emblematic of team speed?
I might agree that we've been lacking speed on defense, but was Zach Kaufman's problem speed or general crappiness? How about Todd Howard? Or any safety we've put on the field for the past five years? (Engelmon/Barringer/Adams/Harrison evaluations still pending.)
As for Carr, his extreme stubbornness loses Michigan games. One would think that Carr would pull the plug on Wacky Iowa Punt Formation after the first two or three attempts were nearly blocked. Surely after the first actual block. But no: it took a second blocked punt and a humiliating loss for Carr to scrap it. Similarly, his loyalty to crappy coaches (Herrmann), crappy players (Massey), and crappy pooch punts has cost Michigan for years. The coaches put the defense in a position to fail time and again this year and then acted surprised when they failed.
A final example: UM won the Big Ten title in '03 and played a clearly superior and dominant USC team in the Rose Bowl. In truth, the game wasn't as close as the score, but we certainly were far more competitive than Oklahoma was a year later against USC.
Yet we were able to do all this with three senior defensive lineman (Heuer, Stevens, and Bowman) and one sophomore (Massey), none of whom even got a whiff on their draft days. I read some pre-draft scouting reports on Bowman and Heuer, and it was clear these guys were going to have a tough time landing free-agent spots, let alone get drafted. Yet somehow UM was able to win 10 games, and if it wasn't for our special teams meltdowns against Oregon and Iowa (perhaps thanks to Lloyd's inexplicable selection of the thoroughly unqualified Boccher as ST coach) we might have gone into the Rose Bowl undefeated.
So tell me how I'm wrong and that our talent really is 5-stars across the board. Maybe fodder for one of your articles?
All college teams not named after prophylactics have guys like Heuer, Stevens, Bowman, et al, who have no chance in the NFL but are able to not suck enough so that players like Braylon can bash some heads. That's where the NFL draft anaylsis falls short: it's one thing if those guys are Bowman and Heuer -- competent -- but another entirely if they're Massey or Courtney Morgan. This is where I think a large portion of Michigan's talent advantage lies in most years: they never have to put Jaren Hayes on the field. It was the 2005 team's misfortune to have three Hayes clones start (Henige, Lentz, and Massey) plus one guy who spent the year transforming from Optimus Prime to Hayes at random (Henne).
The Jaren Hayes effect combines with game theory errors I believe Carr makes on a regular basis to lend hope that in a couple years when some hot young thing is the new Michigan coach, there will be reason to move the expectation baseline away from 9-3. But of course I think that: I'm a fan.
I throw the question open to any and all commenters and bloggers: is Michigan's talent advantage overstated? What is a reasonable expectation for the team this year and in any given year? Will that expectation rise if some dreamy new coach takes the helm?
I do not think that study means what you think it means. Swanky new Nebraska blog The Big Red Network collects, divides, and distributes numbers about the BCS in a post on bias, comparing the average computer ratings for every conference with their average AP rankings over the last eight years looking for evidence of dread East Coast Media Bias -- their caps, not mine. Findings:
On average, the 24 SEC teams appearing in the Final BCS standings were rated more than one full spot higher by AP voters than by the computers. The 10 Big East teams were actually ranked a half point lower on average by AP voters than the BCS and the thirteen ACC teams were also ranked a half point lower by the AP than computers on average. ... Notre Dame appeared in the BCS three times in eight seasons and on average got boosted one full spot by AP voters. ... The twenty Big 10 teams appearing in the final BCS standings in the last eight years were also a full point higher on average in the AP Poll than in the computer polls. ... The twenty-six Big XII teams appearing in the Final BCS rankings 1998-2005 were rated an average of nearly one full spot lower by the AP than the computer averages.
Leaving aside data issues, there is a faulty assumption at work here: declaring the computer polls unbiased and correct. Computers don't have traditional Argh Liberal Media biases, but they do have some annoying tendencies. Primary amongst those is overrating teams that studiously avoid any semblance of competition. Witness Texas Tech last year. As a participant in a poll with slightly less history and prestige than the AP poll, I can tell you that I hated the Red Raiders with a fiery passion because there was no evidence indicating whether or not they something more than the terror of the sandbox. Unwilling to credit a team for eight-hundred point victories over Nowhere State, Texas Tech lingered at the foot of my ballot essentially all year. AP voters agreed, but the computers must have a pro-pirate bias:
Last season, Texas Tech was dinged five spots by the Associated Press (maybe they saw the game in Lincoln).
That is another way of saying "the computers hilariously overrated Texas Tech." I'm normally a fan of computer everything -- someday computers will make toast! -- but when it comes to ranking football teams there is not enough data to create something reliable, especially when margin of victory is removed from the calculations. BRN has it backwards: if there is a problem here it is with the bitflippers.
Georgia Tech's secret weapon revealed! It's Diamond Dallas Page!
No, seriously. It's Diamond Dallas Page. Copious thanks are owed Paul Westerdawg for bringing the AJC's latest gem (ha! I kill me!) of unintentional comedy to my attention. It must be blockquoted to be believed:
When entrenched in "Yoga for Regular Guys," nothing's easy. And when Page, a former world champion professional wrestler, shows up to drill Tech's weekly class, it's like boot camp. Given a choice, blacking out might rank ahead of yelling back.
"I know you're going to kick Notre Dame's [hint: he didn't say leprechauns]!" bellowed the freakishly lithe Page, a 50-year-old human cable.
Okay. Okay. Breathe. Where to start?
- Calling someone a "former world champion professional wrestler" as if that's some sort of accomplishment on a par with a gold medal in the 100 meters is like calling Sean Connery a former secret agent.
- This sentence purporting to be a quote appeared in Georgia's largest newspaper: "I know you're going to kick Notre Dame's [hint: he didn't say leprechauns]!"
- Diamond Dallas Page is described by what is probably an adult male as "freakishly lithe," which are words that conjure up images of something entirely different. Something with poles in.
And this is only two paragraphs. Wait. No. This can't be a legit article. Someone hacked the AJC this morning. This can't possibly be real...
"It helps me with flexibility and relaxes the muscles," said defensive end Darrell Robertson. "But I hate the 'Downward Dog,' where you're on all fours and your butt's in the air."
...can it? I mean, the phrase "commando yoga" is used. Where's Allen Funt?
Etc.: Justin King had hernia surgery; Nico of Roll Bama Roll relates his experiences in directed reading, which did not include "a report about the different theories and things like that"; Bill Simmons wants blood.
Okay, I hate the Kings. Thanks, LA, for being the douchiest douches in the NHL. According to WTKA they've signed recruit Trevor Lewis, the 17th pick in the '06 draft, before he even reached Yost, severely damaging Michigan's chances to do anything this year. If I ever find myself in physical proximity to the Kings GM I am going to go Zidane on his ass. (Shoot the messenger @ Yost Built).
The puzzling lack of Auburn blogs is suddenly explained: no one who went to AU can read. Especially if he happens to be able to run over linebackers. The New York Times drops a bomb on the Tiger program with accusations that 18 academically tenuous players received 97 free credits from "directed reading" courses that were even jokier than Notre Dame's business administration program. To wit: read a book, write a 10-14 page paper that seems like English if you squint, and viola: three credits of "A."
Braves & Birds has an extensive post on the subject that lays out the situation. Key passage that's sure to lead to tremendous frustration whenever the NCAA gets around to dealing out punishment:
Based on the experience of the NCAA's investigation into Tennessee's grade-fixing scandal, I think the key question is ... : were these light reading classes only available to athletes? That's the important question from the NCAA's perspective. Tennessee got off the hook, despite hard evidence that players regularly had their grades changed to stay eligible, because they were able to convince the NCAA that regular students had the same ability to petition successfully to have their grades changed. Will Auburn be able to make the same showing?
The answer to this question is found in the NYT article:
Professor Petee's directed-reading classes, which nonathletes took as well, helped athletes in several sports improve their grade-point averages and preserve their athletic eligibility. A number of athletes took more than one class with Professor Petee over their careers: one athlete took seven such courses, three athletes took six, five took five and eight took four, according to records compiled by Professor Gundlach. He also found that more than a quarter of the students in Professor Petee's directed-reading courses were athletes.
... which is the same as saying that almost 75% of the people in the directed reading courses were not. The NCAA has an escape hatch here that they'll almost assuredly take despite the fairly obvious scam going on here, proving that the best way to cheat and not get caught is to further degrade the academic standing of your university by letting everyone cheat. I mean, this is obvious academic fraud:
Mr. Langenfeld then went to his academic counselor in the athletic department, Brett Wohlers, with a plea: "I got dropped from a class and need a class to stay eligible for the bowl game," Mr. Langenfeld recalled in a recent telephone interview. "I need a class, and I'll take any class right now. I don't not want to play in my last bowl game."
He said Mr. Wohlers told him about a "one-assignment class" that other players had taken and enjoyed. So in the "9th or 10th week," Mr. Langenfeld said, he picked up a directed-reading course with Professor Petee. Semesters typically run 15 weeks.
Mr. Langenfeld said he had to read one book, but he could not recall the title. He said he was required to hand in a 10-page paper on the book. Between picking up the class and handing in the paper, he said, he met several times with Professor Petee in his office.
"I got a B in the class," said Mr. Langenfeld, who started in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. "That was a good choice for me."
The athletic department was involved in setting this class up and there is a clear pattern of abuse here; this passage and this passage alone should be sufficient for a major loss of scholarships and a severe bowl ban, in my opinion, especially given that Auburn gets in trouble about every other year because they just don't learn... or rather, they do.
By contrast, a friend of mine is a GSI (this is a fancy name for TA for those unfamiliar with Michigan nomenclature) had two Michigan players in class, one a star, last fall and reported that emissaries from the athletic department peered in the windows every week to make sure they were present and accounted for.
Okay, Bruce. Bruce Ciskie's invited Blogpollers to ape SI's "Commissioner for a Day" series, presumably because the SI version is full of useless suggestions like "put the NHL All Star game in Europe." Jack McCallum is the worst offender in this category, spending his ten edicts on the following:
- Muzzle PA announcers
- Alter the dress code
- Put press back on the floor
- Curtail crazy introductions
- Schedule NBA-NBDL doubleheaders
- Police anthem length
- Create wives section
- Make retro night "cheap"
- Make the finals 2-2-1-1-1
- Don't let players call TO without clear possession
- GET OFF MY LAWN
For those counting, there's one self-serving YAY JOURNALISM suggestion, two useless scheduling suggestions, one suggestions that's already a rule, and a whopping six suggestions that amount to "mutter mutter kids these days... putting music videos in the beef." Jack McCallum should be put in a home.
("Music videos in the beef" is the totally awesome phrase of totally awesome comic Jesse Popp.)
Where was I? Right: football. Mandel's are better than McCallum's -- faint praise, that -- but manage to dodge the pressing issue of the day.
1. Eight team playoff.
We've been here before. Top five conference winners, one non-BCS team conference winner, and two at-large slots. First two rounds at campus sites in December, final @ the Rose Bowl. This system maintains the tension of the regular season -- one loss is probably the difference between a home game in round two and an away one -- but relaxes things a bit, allowing interesting non-conference games.
Another key aspect of the system: the seeding/at-large selection process ignores non-conference losses. You get rewarded for the quality of your wins, but the only penalty for losing is the loss of whatever points you would have gotten for winning.
2. No I-AA games.
3. No more than one guarantee game per year.
One preseason-type opener against a team that's going to get whacked is fine, but any more than that is a tedious waste of time and fan money.
4. Drop the Sun Belt to I-AA.
What is the point of that conference other than to supply vastly incompetent refereeing to Alamo Bowls? Not a single team in it has ever or ever will do anything other than get waxed by real I-A teams. Someone should do them a favor, kill their I-A aspirations, and save those schools a heap of money.
5. Tweak OT.
Though it does do a much better job of simulating actual football (the NFL version doesn't care whether you score a touchdown or not), placing the ball at the 25 offers a makeable field goal without gaining any yards. To cut down on excessively long OT sessions the ball should be placed on the 35 and you should have to go for two after the second OT period; after four OTs it's a tie.
6. Fix the fumble-out-of-endzone rule.
Probably the strangest rule in football is that a fumble that goes out of the endzone you'd like to reach is a turnover and a touchback. On all other fumbles that leave the field of play, the offense retains. A fumble that goes out of the endzone should be brought back to the point of the fumble.
7. Add a flagrant pass interference foul.
It only happens occasionally, but when it does it's irritating: a defensive back beat deep sees a choice between a touchdown and a 15-yard penalty, chooses the penalty, and tackles the receiver. Equally irritating is watching NFL games decided by an extremely tenuous bit of hand-fighting or incidental contact adjudged to be a 55-yard pass interference penalty. It's like making all facemask penalties 5 or 15 yards. Football should give refs discretion in these potentially game-changing situations.
8. Implement NFL-style challenges.
...because clearly the replay officials are not up to the task. Either that or automatically replay all important plays that are remotely questionable.
And while we're at it, could we get some replay officials that, you know, know the rules of football? Twice last year Michigan was robbed when obvious non-fumbles were judged to be turnovers by replay officials. Even more egregious than the Peko "fumble return" was the Bass play in the Iowa game, which was correctly ruled on the field and then overturned despite clear visual evidence that the ball did not come out until Bass' elbow impacted the ground.
9. Crack down on this facilities ridiculousness.
This is impossible to enforce, but marble lockerrooms full of PS6s are a bit much.
10. Assign Mark May and Lou Holtz to the WNBA.
Zidane's FINISH HIM headbutt was destined to become Internet memery from the moment the fateful blow landed. I will now waste hours of your day by cataloguing those that tickle my fancy; sorry.
And, finally, A Break From All The Zidane YTMNDs. Features you-know-what.
(HT to In Dodd We Trust (Not that Dodd) for the SA link.)
....aaaand of course, the Zidane flash game. That's all.
Anyone not wishing to wade through the Wisconsin preview but in desperate need of Badger news -- and what a strange, finicky person you are -- should know they've lost two players, incoming freshman WR Daven Jones and third-string LB Jammar Crane. Badger Sports characterizes the losses as "one pinprick, one stab wound," with Jones being the stab wound.
Warning: above link contains an awful pun. You have been warned.
More season preview than you can shake a stick at, unless you're like a professional stick-shaker or something. I'm pretty sure I saw the PSSL on ESPN2 some night they could have been broadcasting hockey. Er... digression... what?
Oh. Maize 'n' Brew's Michigan season preview consists of twelve opponent previews of copious length. Vanderbilt is up first.
Dr. Z is indeed a god who strides amongst us. He's crotchety and has no time for any of the things I have no time for; he also was so incensed by the World Cup Final that he wrote a cranky column defending Zidane. At its end:
I'll tell you another thing. I just about had a bellyful of this Balboa guy. First he complains about all the flopping. Then, when France gets away with one to set up Zidane's penalty kick in the first half, he tells us that the guy "did a great job of selling it." Yeah, a great acting job. Accent on great.It's like hearing Balboa congratulate a pickpocket for the deft way he lifted a guy's wallet.
Sweet, sweet validation.
FYQ. An interesting article from the Star-Tribune on the extensive TCF-Minnesota deal that will result in an on-campus, open-air "TCF Stadium" for the university contains what is possibly the understatement of the year:
With few new college football stadiums being built, TCF's pact with the university is likely to remain rare.
"I don't think you'll see a big rush to it," said Jay Lenhardt, manager of sports practices at CSL International, a sports facilities consulting firm with an office in the Twin Cities. Because of traditions at older college football stadiums, Lenhardt added, "it's going to be difficult ... to change the name, for example, from Michigan Stadium to a corporate name."
This is what I think he meant:
"It's going to require wading through a sea of axe-wielding maniacs to change the name of Michigan Stadium."
There's also this weird proviso:
If the school erects a lighted sign on the stadium exterior that says "Home of the Golden Gophers," any nearby sign with the words TCF Bank Stadium must be illuminated "with the same or greater lighting quality and intensity."
Ugh. Anything's better than the Metrodome, but if I was a Minnesota fan the omnipresence of TCF would irritate me to no end. The corporate naming of stadium has always been a mystery to me, as whenever I hear something like "Comerica Park" I make a little note to myself to never, ever bank with Comerica. I can't be alone in this, can I?
Etc.: A Michigan grad wins the Deadspin World Cup pool; mentions EDSBS in victory post; does not mention MGoBlog; sobbing lasts hours.