It's a wacky, wacky week. I normally try to avoid any of the super-cool lists, but I'd be shocked if I didn't pull Mr. Manic-Depressive for this baby.
- I hate every team after #15.
- Is Arkansas any good? No. They are not. They only beat Alabama -- a team that was in a fourth quarter battle with Duke -- because the Tide's kicker underwent an epic meltdown. They beat Vandy by two. They're apparently worse than the Pac-10 middleweights (and lightweights, in the case of Arizona) that USC's been struggling with all year.
And yet they crush Auburn by three scores despite featuring a true freshman quarterback who threw all of ten passes. So what to do? Well, given Auburn's performance to date -- struggles with South Carolina and Buffalo(!), and a good but close and debateable win over an LSU team that was just pantsed by Incredibly Surprising Tim Tebow -- you crush Auburn's face in in your poll. AU's offense has been reliably awful.
- So, yeah... Arkansas is no good but I rank them #16? Well... who else? Can you pick a team below them better? If so, for God's sake tell me.
- Also: who says LSU is any good? Wins over ULL, Arizona, Tulane, and Mississippi State. Losses to Auburn and Florida. They crush the weak and lose to the strong. I dunno.
- Wild, wild swings of opinion on Tennessee and California. UT's run defense crushed Cal but fritzed out against Air Force and now UGA, so they're a bit wonky, but they hammered Cal and Georgia and lost by one to Florida. Yeah, I'd bet on them versus anyone below them. As for Cal, how heavily do you take that UT game into account? With Longshore flipping a switch to go from "Ayoob" to "Booya," is this even the same team? Not so much. They murdified an Oregon team that, yes, was fortunate to win versus OK, but obliterated a defense that just held Texas to 200 yards. Would I bet on them versus USC? Damn skippy.
- My raging contempt for Louisville and WVU continues unabated.
- Iowa! Up ten! Purdue's no good but they finally laid the smack down on someone. It's more like I've soured on the SEC en masse and they were the biggest beneficiary.
- Texas... oy. The Longhorns and Sooners are mirror images of each other. Both clearly have epic talent at the offensive skill positions and a quarterback they trust not at all. Defensively, both have talked a good game to date but had little to show for it until last week. I hate games like this year's Red River Rivalry that give me the impression that the teams are nearly identical but end up with lopsided scores due to a bad luck explosion on one sideline. I think Texas should be lower but refuse to drop them behind Louisville and WVU; I think OU should be higher but refuse to raise them higher than a bunch (more) one-loss teams. Maybe? I'm strongly considering jumping OU past the knot of SEC teams I hate.
Games Seen: Michigan-Michigan State, Penn State-Minnesota, Auburn-Arkansas, Texas-OU, Georgia-Tennessee, bits of Missouri-TT, bits of Nebraska-ISU.
OMG Beat Puke State LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.
Run Offense vs. Michigan State
The last three years a Michigan tailback has broken 200 yards against the Spartans. That streak will probably end this year with Kevin Grady and Brandon Minor stealing carries from Hart, but the run game should improve from a year ago. I don't know if you remember, but other than Hart's two long jaunts through the Spartan secondary and Michigan's grinding drive at the end of the game, the run blocking last year was atrocious. This year Michigan has had its issues but is obviously and vastly improved. Having a fully healthy Mike Hart helps, as do guards who, you know, block and stuff. Rueben Riley's problems on the backside and a tendency to hurl Hart into eight- and nine-man fronts have been minor irritants, but Michigan is 20th in rush offense. There isn't that much to complain about.
State's rush defense is superficially all right -- 41st -- but Michigan State has only played one game in which the opponent was A) not a cupcake and B) not desperately playing catchup for most of the second half, that against Illinois. Opposition running backs totaled 24 carries in games versus Pitt and Notre Dame, averaging over 4.3 YPC. Illinois (I repeat: ILLINOIS) then shredded MSU for 252 yards on 44 carries, many of them Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draws from true freshman Juice Williams. They're bad. Mike Hart is good, and if there's any team in the country without the discipline to maintain good lanes versus a zone running game, it's Michigan State.
Key Matchup: Adam Kraus/Mark Bihl/Alex Mitchell versus Clifton Ryan. Ryan's a senior and probably Michigan State's best defensive player. Michigan's running game versus Notre Dame was severely hampered by penetration from Derek Landri. Ryan has the potential to have the same impact.
Pass Offense vs. Michigan State
If Henne plays like he's been playing and State plays like they've been playing, this will be a Stalinesque massacre. State's cornerbacks have spent most of the year cowering ten yards off the line of scrimmage. This worked fine against Idaho, Illinois, and other teams featuring passing attacks more anemic than most but got them lit up for 400 yards and five irritating, irrational-Heisman-campaign-propping touchdowns versus Notre Dame, most on hilarious blown coverages or tackles. It would have been more if Brady Quinn hadn't spent the first half flinging open outs to Tacopants.
There is the matter of the Pitt game, during which Michigan State rolled out to a 38-10 lead on the nation's #1 pass efficiency offense. Before two meaningless garbage time drives, Tyler Palko had 151 yards, two interceptions, and six defensed passes. So what was that, exactly? My money is on an aberration. I've watched every MSU game this year save Idaho and Eastern: these cornerbacks are about as good as they were last year. Which is to say they are not good in any way whatsoever. Michigan's main fear is that whatever qualities the Spartan defensive backs have are somehow contagious and their frequent panicked attempts to tackle Michigan wide receivers will result in some sort of suck infection. Did I mention that Michigan State has seven sacks, 92nd in the nation and last in the Big Ten?
On the other side of the ball, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington are both players capable of getting open deep versus the Spartan secondary and Henne has been the man to get it to them.
Key Matchup: Uh... Chad Henne versus Consistency? Dollars to donuts MSU lays back and plays two-deep much of the game, hoping to bend its way down the field. Henne's going to have to convert a lot of third downs to get Michigan in the endzone.
Run Defense vs. Michigan State
Michigan's task is made much easier by the injuries to Javon Ringer and Drew Stanton. Ringer, of course, is out. Stanton either has bruised ribs, something seriously wrong with his non-throwing hand, or both. Either way, his rushing attempts figure to be limited, as every hit could potentially knock him from the game. The carries will fall mostly to 260-pound bowling ball Jehuu Caulcrick and redshirt freshman AJ Jimmerson, neither of whom is particularly elusive.
That plays into Michigan's hands. Shawn Crable and Prescott Burgess are still susceptible to getting caught by misdirection -- or at least I fear they are -- but Taylor, Johnson, Branch, and Harris are a hell of an interior run defense. With the injury turmoil on the inside of the Spartan line, it's highly doubtful they finds anything resembling consistent success up the middle. And Caulcrick on a bounceout... versus Burgess and Crable? Uh, not so much.
The Michigan State offense is constructed such that one error by a defensive player results in a big chunk of yards, and we can still expect periodic errors from Michigan players. Expect a performance similar to but slightly better than the Minnesota game: a few plays where they take big chunks out of a flat-footed or misaligned defense interspersed with a lot of Alan Branch looking mean after a TFL.
Key Matchup: Crable and Burgess versus Spartan options. Even though Stanton is banged up Michigan State will still try to use him in the ground game, though he may be more decoy than actual threat. I still fear our outside linebackers are prone to slow or erroneous reads and we could get gashed on misdirection or option plays.
Pass Defense vs. Michigan State
Stanton's had a rough time of it lately, but I still fear his wrath. I know damn well he's a better quarterback than Brady Quinn and his mobility and accuracy will give the Michigan secondary problems. The Spartan receivers are a pedestrian bunch, though Kerry Reed is slowly sneaking towards being pretty damn good. Matt Trannon is still very big but almost incapable of getting separation in man coverage. Jerramy Scott is meh. Terry Love is decent but not explosive.
Stanton's rollouts will help mitigate what should be a fierce Michigan pass rush, but Michigan will use the 3-3-5 they've deployed extensively against the spread attacks of Vanderbilt and Central Michigan. In that set, Shawn Crable features as a freelancing bullet capable of coming from anywhere. He'll probably start or stunt wide quite a bit, hoping that he can slice through ponderously mobile offensive linemen and track down the quarterback before his receivers come open.
Key Matchup: Michigan safeties versus complex routes and trickeration. They've been burned deep a couple times this year on play action and trick plays, both specialties of MSU. There's the potential for a long touchdown play or two here unless they play perfectly, especially with Jamar Adams questionable.
One area in which Michigan State has indisputably improved is field goal kicking. Last year the Spartans found out something Michigan fans already knew: having someone named "Goss" associated with your football team can only lead to bad things. This year freshman Bret Swenson has proven himself something other than totally incompetent. So they've got that going for them. Punter Brandon Fields remains Michigan State writ small, alternating booming punts worthy of Zoltan with shanks and line drives.
Michigan has a decided advantage in the return game, as they have Steve Breaston. The Spartans are making do with the uninspiring Terry Love returning punts and Demond Williams returning kicks. Neither is much of a threat.
Key Matchup: Brandon Fields versus His Unpredictability. The Badgers regularly outkicked their coverage and were harshly punished by Steve Breaston. Minnesota sent him a series of Ross Ryan specials and escaped his wrath. Fie
lds can boom 'em, but might be better off forgoing 50-yarders.
Rivalry rivalry blah blah blah recordbooks blah blah throw 'em out blah blah records too blah. RABBLERABBLERABBLE.
- Michigan State plays over its head, as usual.
- Henne has an off day.
- Stanton plays like he can, not like he has.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Their offensive line is perforated like cheese of Swiss.
- Uh, like, Hart and stuff.
- They get behind a couple scores and decide to pack it in.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -1 for HA HA, Illinois; -1 for You Seem To Be On The Verge Of An Utter Collapse; +1 for Stanton Is Pissed; +1 for This Is Their
Rose Motor City Bowl; +1 for They Do Have An Offense Capable Of Wondrous Deeds).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for Eff It, We Must Go To Columbus Undefeated)
Loss will cause me to... slap myself.
Win will cause me to... anyone got spare PSU tickets?
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Without the Spartan injuries I'd be in full freakout mode, as a high powered Spartan offense and a couple mistakes here or there could easily result in a Michigan State victory. Assuming Stanton's running is curtailed, the Michigan State rushing game is going be largely ineffective. There will be instances here and there where someone misses a tackle or makes the wrong read and Michigan gives up a chunk of yards, but consistent, drive-sustaining five and eight yard carries will be rare. State's passing game will be far more difficult to shut down -- I expect a number of frustrating third-and-long conversions -- but English has implemented and used that 3-3-5 with this game (and OSU) specifically in mind. Crable is the right guy to help with those rollouts. Michigan will give up yards and probably a touchdown or two, but will adequately contain MSU.
Michigan's offense should shred the MSU defense. I expect the Spartans to lay back and hope for execution errors that prevent Michigan from driving the length of the field. Michigan will oblige some, but State can't defend the run or the pass and Michigan can do both. Offense should be Minnesota redux.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hart: 159.
- Breaston rips off a huge return.
- 34-17, Michigan.
@ Iowa State blog CrossCyed.
1. We're about halfway through the season at this point. Have you gotten a gauge on your team's chances this year to make noise in conference play, or is the team still a total freaking mystery?
Uh... yeah. I think Michigan is poised to make the proverbial noise. Question marks from the beginning of the year have been filled:
- Rondell Biggs has emerged as a pretty good bookend for Lamarr Woodley; Will Johnson and Terrance Taylor have combined with Alan Branch to create an extraordinarily effective three-man rotation at DT.
- Shawn Crable and Prescott Burgess are playing better. They haven't been outstanding but they've been pretty good, lightyears better than last year.
- Morgan Trent has claimed the starting corner spot opposite Leon Hall.
- Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington are kind of good.
- Chad Henne is playing frighteningly well.
Other than Rueben Riley's persistent dodginess and the apparent lack of depth in the secondary, Michigan has no holes. It's a good team, yo. Also: Lloyd Carr has been given many opportunities to make incorrect punts and taken none of them, unless you count fourth-and-fourteen from the 35. I do, but only barely. Also, Michigan has been fairly conservative but lethal when they exploit opponents' reaction that conservatism. So, yeah.
2. Many of the bigger conferences such as the Big 12 and the Big 10 use a rotating schedule to determine conference games each year. What are your feelings on the current system used in your conference? Does a rotating schedule work? Has your team always caught a break?
We're SOL with 11 teams. If we still had ten going to a full round-robin would be a no-brainer, but we don't. I'd love to add a ninth conference game anyway, but accursed math makes that impossible. Ten conference games is beyond reason. So there's nothing to do, really. One thing that would be nice: adjusting the byes so that no team misses Ohio State and Michigan in the same season. Purdue is poised to blow their two-year Rose Bowl ticket, but Iowa is next up and seems more likely to take advantage.
And catch a break? If you miss Michigan, you're guaranteed to be bottom-half in the league. Beware the Michigan bye.
3. In an effort to get to know more about college football, both nationally and regionally, what have you done to expand your college football horizons? Have you caught yourself watching games from other conferences, or taking an interest in games that show up on ESPNU or Fox Sports?
Well... no. I have long advocated finding a niche and becoming lord of that niche. My niche is Michigan and the Big Ten, so I do things like DVR Penn State-Northwestern and keep an eye on Wisconsin-Indiana. I watch as many national games as I can, but one only has so much time to watch/tape football. I still watch every big game I can (which does not include Cal-Oregon this weekend since I get Nebraska-Iowa State -- thanks for nothing, ABC) but if things are approximately equal, I will stay in my wheelhouse.
4. What would you change about the current exposure your team gets, either on the radio, television, print, or on the internet?
Michigan doesn't exactly want for attention, but I would like it if Drew Sharp was reassigned to prep volleyball. And forced to dress up like a clown to attend games. And then spanked on the local news. By Madeline Albright.
5. During last Saturday's game against I-AA Northern Iowa, Iowa State trailed 21-7 at the half. The Cyclone Marching Band played a variety of songs from animated shows, including selections from South Park titled "Blame Canada" and "What Would Brian Boitano Do?" Needless to say, the Cyclones outscored the Panthers 21-6 in the second half. If you had to pick one song for your favorite team to rally to, what would it be? Because we all know what they did for the 2005 White Sox, Journey and "Don't Stop Believing" are not to be considered.
Someone else already chipped in "Livin' on a Prayer." I concur. There was an 80s nostalgia halftime show at some time last year featuring the aforementioned. When the band got to the chorus, the student section sang along, prompting the band to play it the remainder of the year when things got tight. This worked against Penn State. Uh... not so much against Minnesota.
Jon Chait published an article in TNR asserting that, like "Rudy," Notre Dame's main talent was self-promotion. Obvs. This drew return fire from Tom Hennessey headlined "Critics of Irish just jealous" -- did he steal this column from a seventh grader? -- that's not particularly impressive. It's largely composed of quotes from the Chat column followed by vague accusations of jealousy. (Jealous? Of, uh, Notre Dame? They of the Returning To Glory Since 1993?) But the kicker is this:
There is another explanation for his jealousy. He notes it near the end of his column. Chait is a graduate of Michigan, a school which was the first to call Notre Dame the "Fighting Irish."
It is also a school whose team played Notre Dame earlier this month. Chait would probably claim Michigan won.
Uh... yes, he probably would. I think there might be a few others who would also make that claim.
Update: uh... apparently the above column is sarcasm. I didn't get it. I leave it up to you whether that's my fault or his.
Meanwhile, CFN's Matt Zemek -- a man incapable of writing a column in a tone other than "hectoring" -- asks ESPN to think of the children before pointing out that Michigan-OSU is looking like a big game. Contention is that this is bad thing:
If Herbstreit and the rest of ESPN's pundits devote enough time to discussing the possibility of 11-0 Michigan playing 11-0 Ohio State, it's going to filter into a lot of people's minds that the winner of that game (again, if it comes about) should be in Glendale, no matter what any other team does.
Favorite moment of lecturing:
Mature college football commentators [read: "Matt Zemek"]--as opposed to overly emotional fanatics [read: "anyone who disagrees with Matt Zemek"]--know that the landscape changes frequently and dramatically in this sport.
Maybe one can now see why broadcast commentators not employed by schools or conferences--and therefore expected to hew more consistently to objective journalistic standards (unlike the Larry Munsons of the world, who are paid to yell, "Run, Lindsay!")--must be incredibly restrained in their commentary... at least, if they want to preserve some shred of integrity in the conceptually bankrupt and laughably bad...
"Deep Thoughts" column from Matt Zemek?
Oh. Zemek's alternative is to baselessly speculate on matchups between the top teams. (Sample: "Lloyd Carr's doing an especially good job of coaching this year, but Pete Carroll is the better overall coach. A very even matchup, but if they played, I'd trust Carroll to make more defining adjustments to carry the Trojans in a close one.") Reading Zemek is like being pompously lectured by a twelve-year-old in a tweed jacket smoking a bubble pipe: you're not sure if you're amused or irritated, but either way you're wasting your time.
Meanwhile, Ivan Maisel still ranks Michigan below WVU, Texas, and LSU. I hesitate to lay into Maisel -- a guy who puts letters to the effect of "this thing in your last column was stupid and wrong" and responds "yeah, sorry about that, my bad" -- but come on now: collectively, the most impressive win those three teams have is... uh... Iowa State?
So... the AP has released their individual ballots publicly. If I was Heismanpundit I would take credit for this momentous, er, moment in history and then say something inane about which conference is TEH BEST!!!!
But I'm not, so instead something potentially useful and hopefully interesting: the AP poll placed under the heat lamp of the mighty BlogPoll engine. Check ballots by voter here (not particularly useful, as you already have that); ballots by team here (handy for finding out who, exactly, are the goons voting WVU #1 or which voter hates your team the most).
What follows is an abbreviated version of your standard poll post minus the "bias" and "swing" categories. Swing, obviously, does not exist yet, and I haven't filed these guys under teams. Please forgive the "BLOGPOLL WEEK 6." obviously this is a far inferior poll in which people rank West Virginia highly because they have a schedule full of fools.
Now on to the extracurriculars. First up are the teams which spur the most and least disagreement between voters as measured by standard deviation. Note that the standard deviation charts halt at #25 when looking for the lowest, otherwise teams that everyone agreed were terrible (say, Eastern Michigan) would all be at the top.
Ballot math: First up are "Mr. Bold" and "Mr. Numb Existence." The former goes to the voter with the ballot most divergent from the poll at large. The number you see is the average difference between a person's opinion of a team and the poll's opinion.
Mr. Bold is Ray Ratto. Why? Well, would you believe #10 Virginia Tech is in front of #24 Georgia Tech? I wouldn't either. But it's true. Also, Florida is #12.
Mr. Numb Existence is Joe Person, a man with a ballot as interesting as his name.
Explore away. I saw some ballots with GT ahead of ND, a few others with VT still ahead of GT, and a whole lot of irrational exuberance for West Virginia.