So, before we get to the ballot... who is number one? In my mind there are five candidates:
- Auburn: Marquee win over LSU, but a close game marred with some small officiating controversy and at home. No other competent teams on the schedule, though secondary win over WSU is good since it's 40-14.
- Ohio State: handled Texas @ Texas, winning 24-7, though the game was closer than that implies. Big time marquee win. Struggled badly against a Penn State team that was obliterated by ND; Irish were in turn obliterated by Michigan. Transitive property?
- Michigan: BEAT DOWN Notre Dame by 26 points. Have ground out nearly identical victories in all other games, crushing opponents to the tune of 150-ish yards before garbage time and winning by about three scores. Secondary win over Wisconsin probably the best of the contenders.
- Southern Cal: Lamest big win of all candidates over a Nebraska team seemingly more focused on covering the spread than winning, deploying a mind-numbingly stupid three-TE rush attack most of the night. Obliterated an Arkansas team that's probably headed for 5-7 and struggled badly against crappy Arizona in other games.
- Florida: Marquee win @ Tennessee but in a squeaker. No other actual opponents on record. Had a goofy, narrow game against UK that was more fluky than anything.
Am I being a shameless homer if I contend that Michigan's resume is the best, albeit by a very narrow margin? When six minutes were left in Michigan's most recent game they were was up 17 and sending in the second team defense. Ohio State, on the other hand, was up eight and facing a potential -- if highly improbable -- game tying drive before Morelli gift-wrapped two Buckeye touchdowns. Given that Penn State has looked like crap this year, I think that's advantage Michigan. And while Texas is probably much better than ND, Michigan's win was significantly more emphatic. Meanwhile, Southern Cal has played two atrocious offenses and a Nebraska team that voluntarily made their offense atrocious. The two SEC teams earned their marquee wins by the skin of their teeth and have no one comparable to Wisconsin in their pile o' skulls.
So am I ranking Michigan #1? Hell no! I've seen what happens to people who tempt the wrath of the C/K Award -- Spartan fans everywhere can thank tES for their nationally-televised sack-kicking -- and wish to avoid that fate. But I think some people should and that the rapidly solidifying conventional wisdom that Ohio State is obviously the best team in the country is wrong. I urge you, poll voters, to consider the teams en toto and to refrain from blindly voting last week's #1 at the same spot despite a bad game versus a meh team. Down that path boringosity lies.
And now is the time on Sprockets when we vote.
- My "no looky" policy dropped Nebraska out after a 56-0 win over Troy. I'm fine with that since they showed no life in their one game against real competition.
- Wisconsin moves in after a loss. In short: I think their defense is pretty good and it's more palatable than FSU or some mid-major or something. Also their band kicks ass.
- WVU drops. I watched most of that game versus the ECU Pirates.
- Iowa drops. I didn't see the Illinois game but given their interminable awfulness Iowa's sluggish 24-7 victory is not impressive. I think I've dropped Iowa two or three spots every week so far.
- Clemson and Cal rocket up. I think Clemson deserves it, as their one loss was XP-induced and they've dropped the hammer on everyone else. Cal... well... they're obviously pretty good now that Longshore is not a disaster.
- MSU stays. Again: who else is a good option? They h
ave a good win over Pitt and a close, hilarious loss to ND. That offense is really good, and they can't implode like that more than a couple times a year. Right?
As always, I await stern corrections.
Michigan State - Pittsburgh
Still a known quantity. The Michigan State offense remains the vastly intimidating thing it was last year, though I think Pitt's defensive line is amongst the least likely in the country to pose a test for a mostly-new offensive line. Still: Michigan State gashed Pitt impressively all game and Stanton was Stanton. They'll be hard to stop for anyone if the offensive line isn't a mirage.
This year Michigan State seems to be going for broke with Stanton and having him run significantly more. The quantity of Stanton options, draws, and scrambles in the Pitt game was much closer to his crazylegs sophomore year than his fairly restrained junior one. Maybe they have more confidence in the backup; maybe they just want to get the maximum use from Stanton before he graduates.
One evident weakness: wide receiver. Jerramy Scott is kind of bad. Trannon's huge but lumbering, and no one else stands out as a major threat. Kerry Reed seems pretty good, though. Caulcrick and Ringer are still Caulcrick and Ringer.
I think they might have a pulse on defense, too. Nehemiah Warrick had a couple of nice sticks in run support and DT Clifton Ryan is fully healthy for the first time in a while and playing at a more natural position for his ginorbous body.
...but there are still major issues. The DL made very few plays in the run game and didn't get a whole lot of pressure on Palko. State's corners often panicked in deep coverage and committed a series of pass interference penalties that they dodged because Palko threw the ball well out of bounds. They also spent the entire game lined up 8-10 yards deep.
Ohio State - Penn State
Yick. Not a particularly well-played game. Ohio State is clearly the better team but given Penn State's deficient offensive line, meh running back, and goofy playcalling the Buckeyes have to be concerned about the rushing yards they gave up to an awful offensive team.
And there's the definitive proof of that: Tony Hunt's thirty-some yard run in the third quarter would have been a touchdown if a glorified fullback didn't have the ball. I know Mike Hart isn't exactly Flash Gordon but even he has the decency to get 50 or 60 yards downfield before being caught from behind. PSU ended up running the ball into the line a lot, then false-starting on fourth and goal inches away from the line.
You have failed to maintain your spot on my prestigious ballot, please quit football. Troy Smith was hearteningly mediocre all day, save for that one ridiculous "I'm Troy Smith" play that made me shiver. Most of his passes were inaccurate. He was behind his receivers all day and could have been picked a couple more times if ricochets had bounced wrong. His first interception to Justin King was a Ginn touchdown if thrown in the right spot, but it was way long and well wide of his post route.
So, yeah, Calvin Johnson heads to the top of the Maxwell Pundit ballot.
It looks like that particular debate is settled. Who said this about Anthony Morelli at the start of the year?
Taken together, Facts About Anthony Morelli bode unwell for Penn State's chances for a repeat. He's a raw recruit with no experience coached by the most widely reviled son this side of Jeff Bowden being handed the starting job in an offense that has to change drastically to accommodate his talents.
Er... good luck with that.
Who got ripped up and down by Penn State fans for saying that? This guy. Who is now patiently awaiting a flood of Nittany contrition sure to never come? This guy. Who is way, way better than Anthony Morelli? Chad Henne. And probably this guy, as even I wouldn't flip a little floater into double coverage when attempting to drive for a tying score. Malcolm Jenkins' interception that sealed the game was a ludicrously bad throw that proves claiming Anthony Morelli has a ten-cent head is doing grievous injustice to dimes. Dimes are useful. You can put them in parking meters and get gumballs and make phone calls with them. Meanwhile, Anthony Morelli led his team to three meaningful points against Notre Dame, a team that's given up 47 and 37 the last two weeks, and negative eight against Ohio State and their nine new starters.
Is it just me, or... has James Laurinatis built his reputation largely because other people deflect balls right to him?
Penn State: irritating. Morelli does have his moments of laser-armed bravado and their receivers have the ability to separate and make the proverbial plays, which makes them more of a threat than Wisconsin was to get a few big gainers. Their defense is not terrible, though they've given up on their defensive ends and started using linebacker Tim Shaw as a standup DE, which is about as effective as you think it sounds, and could bend-but-not-break against us and create a close game. Michigan shouldn't lose to PSU but there's a lot of variance in their offense that could create an unpleasant minor point explosion.
9/23/2006 - Michigan 27-13 Wisconsin - 4-0 (1-0)
We lost this game last year. Almost this exact same game. Wisconsin struggled to move the ball in the air. We had a couple of unfortunate, potentially game-changing turnovers. We turned the ball over on a fourth and short. The score uncomfortably close at halftime.
Obviously, things went a little better this time. The difference: this game was over the instant Mario Manningham cruised under another deadly accurate 30-yard bomb from Chad Henne. It was 17-10 midway through the third quarter, and that game had ended. That assertion is patently ridiculous when made about a team that never met a fourth-quarter lead it couldn't blow, but it is also true. That game was over. Wisconsin would not move the ball anywhere near Michigan's endzone until it was far too late, and that's what I expected. Where did that come from? Where did the paranoid fear that dominated my psyche at halftime of the ND game when we led by twenty go? Somewhere. I don't know.
By the time Michigan officially put the game beyond reach with a short Rivas field goal, Wisconsin had under 150 yards in total offense, 12 of them on the ground. They had gone backwards in the second half. Irritating garbage-time passing against the second string propped up Wisconsin's final numbers and partially obscured the ridiculous dominance of Woodley, Branch, Crable, et al., but make no mistake: this was nearly as beat-down-errific as the Notre Dame game, except in this game Michigan won going away with a -2 in the turnover margin column* instead of a +4. Replay this game 100 times and the average margin of victory for Michigan is closer to 24 than 14.
And thus severe cognitive dissonance in the Michigan fanbase. Stung by the Year of Infinite Pain and previous Years of Unnecessary But Thankfully Finite Pain, there is a hestiancy to predict anything better than 10-2, to envision horrible losses to teams with no business on the same field as Michigan (I'm looking at you, Penn State), to prepare for the inevitable hammer blow to the chest courtesy a wacky punt formation or foolish confidence in a slim lead or the plain bloody-mindedness of the universe. We hesitate. We don't want to go through that again.
And yet... this team is not last year's team. The Henne-Manningham connection gives this offense a big play element it lacked last year and allows Henne to show off the laser-guided deep ball that won Braylon Edwards the Belitnikoff. Mike Hart is, like, playing. The defense has been nearly impregnable when it matters, giving up the odd touchdown here and there when someone blows an assignment but otherwise mercilessly crushing any and all resistance.
The terrifying reality is this is not a 9-3 team. It's not a 10-2 team. And while the harsh axioms of probability conspire against the possibility of an undefeated team, that still-dim chance grows stronger with every sack, every graceful Manningham touchdown, and every four yards Mike Hart creates out of nothing.
In 1997 we played Notre Dame, and I watched Michigan turn the ball over around midfield three times. We were trying to follow the horrible script Michigan fans know and loathe so well: late lead, late turnover, late loss. We tried it three times, but one stop became two became three and we wandered off the field, victors. Something changed in there. Faith spontaneously generated itself like maggots in meat. Self-protective cynicsm departed.
At some point on Saturday -- probably when Stocco was getting crushed or Hill was getting crushed or Manningham was gliding under touchdowns or Steve Breaston was dancing through Wisconsin coverage like he was a part of the Michael Jackson halftime show -- I gave up. You win, winged helmets. Lucy, I am ready to kick the football.
*(Strange final interception with game decided is omitted; turnover on downs included.)
I bet this one is less contentious, largely because there isn't a behemoth blog like BGS for UW fans -- no offense to the fine Badger blogs out there, but BGS gets traffic -- and thus only a small likelihood of PO-ed spillover.
I also bet this game is closer.
Wait... it's Friday? We have a game tomorrow? God, I hope the players got over this BEAT DOWN thing quicker than I did.
Run Offense vs. Wisconsin
Michigan had its hands full last year despite Wisconsin starting freshmen along the DL and having no one of real note on the defense other than DT Nick Hayden. Then Wisconsin killed Auburn's grinding, Kenny-Irons-led attack. And then most of those guys returned. Now? Well, Justin Ostrowski's out but Jason Chapman played most of last year and has been effective if not thrilling. Outside linebacker Jonathan Casillas has 3.5 TFL already and looks like an active playmaker.
Do not expect easy going. It'll be a hard slog for the Michigan run offense. If Wisconsin stacks the box like Notre Dame did, they will stop the run about as well (remember that Hart had a lot of yards but Michigan averaged but 2.9 YPC).
A couple points in Michigan's favor:
- There's no way a reasonable opponent can stack the line as much as ND did. Michigan got up by so much so early that it was correct in a game theory sense for Notre Dame to sell out on the run and for Michigan to run into it most of the time. When the score is close Wisconsin will have to hang back more because of that whole Manningham thing.
- Wisconsin defensive ends seem to come in pass-rushing or run-stuffing varieties. There's no Abiamiri equivalent.
- With Michigan in three-wide packages for much of the game Wisconsin will have to go to a dodgy nickel corner or tip their coverages.
Still: this looks like a game where Hart's line reads 28-96-1 TD. It won't be easy.
Key Matchup: Kraus & Bihl versus Hayden. Derek Landri caused a lot of problems versus Notre Dame with interior penetration, and Hayden is a better player.
Pass Offense vs. Wisconsin
Hey, I guess we do have one of these after all. It's Mario Manningham, and sometimes friends. Adrian Arrington is showing potential -- he had a great sideline catch against ND -- and Steve Breaston is still a YAC threat whenever he catches the ball, which is not as often as Michigan fans would like. Michigan's dirty little secret this year: Chad Henne has been really accurate. He hasn't thrown all that much and still has the occasional misread, but when he lets it go it's been on target much more often. A spate of dropped balls have kept his completion percentage low, but if you go beyond the numbers the difference is clear. 2005 Henne overthrows Manningham deep. 2006 Henne? Not so much.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin linebackers picked up four sacks and another half-dozen hurries against San Diego State. Bret Bielema's reputation for being a blitz donkey certainly seems justified and no doubt Michigan will see more of the same, as their defensive linemen have not proven they can get to the quarterback with regularity. Jamal Cooper might provide that edge-rush but may still be hampered by a shoulder injury. In the secondary, Wisconsin fans are excited about corner Jack Ikegwuonu, but he hasn't faced much competition yet. Behind him is little. Michigan should be able to get receivers open. Wisconsin hopes that when they do Henne is busy running for his life.
Key Matchup: Mike Hart versus Wisconsin blitzers. Michigan's first two drives versus ND were ended when Michigan blew blitz pickups. Later in the game, Michigan picked those blitzes up and the results: touchdown Manningham, touchdown Manningham, touchdown Manningham.
Run Defense Vs Wisconsin
Last year, Brian Calhoun shredded Michigan by bouncing almost every run outside into the open swaths of grass vacated by our incompetent outside linebacking. This year, Shawn Crable is playing like the Terminator, Prescott Burgess is catching touchdowns from Brady Quinn, and 240 pound Wisconsin tailback PJ Hill isn't likely to bounce anything anywhere. So last year does not seem particularly relevant.
What will be relevant: Michigan's first severe test against a team bound and determined to plow the ball ahead. For the first time this year DTs Terrance Taylor, Will Johnson, and Alan Branch will come under heavy fire. We only have scant evidence from the year to date that they'll hold up, as Michigan faced few conventional rushing plays in the first three games, but the early returns are good. Taylor and Johnson have already made more plays in the run game than Pat Massey did all last year; Branch has been outstanding against both the run and the pass. With Dave Harris proving himself an all-conference-level middle linebacker, yards up the middle will be hard to come by for Wisconsin. (Probably. There is that "not enough data" problem.)
Hill, like Ron Dayne, has merrily plowed over a series of frightened chipmunks masquerading as opponents coming into the Michigan game. He projects to meet the same fate as Dayne when he wanders into Michigan Stadium.
Key Matchup: DE Lamarr Woodley versus OT Joe Thomas. The battle of the titans will be most relevant in the ground game. Wisconsin will no doubt try to involve the best player on their team in as many plays as possible; if Woodley does not disrupt plays off left tackle Shawn Crable will end up on the wrong end of a lot of collisions with Hill.
Pass Defense vs. Wisconsin
Both Badger bloggers declared UW's fate in this department to be grisly, so who am I to disagree?
Stocco has been mediocre at best this year. Stripped of playmakers in the passing game, Wisconsin has struggled. Yes, you could have said the same thing about Michigan just one week ago, but remember how shocked everyone was? That shock will be tripled if Paul Hubbard gets loose for 140 yards and three touchdowns an an FBD.
Wisconsin's biggest loss in this department isn't Jonathan Orr or Brandon Williams, it's Calhoun. He (and Owen Daniels) also shredded Michigan aerially by taking a series of screens and dumpoffs for critical first downs. Both are gone, and Calhoun has been replaced by a lumbering 240 pound freshman. Hill does have six receptions this season but there's no way anyone his size can possibly live up to what Calhoun does: he just doesn't have the change of direction to make much after the catch. With Michigan's defensive line making deep balls chancy, expect the secondary to play aggressively and lock down UW recievers to a scanty few yards after the catch.
Key Matchup: Shawn Crable versus blitz pickup. Wisconsin's problems against Western Illinois have been documented in VEQ. If they have the same issues against Michigan, John Stocco is going to look like Brady Quinn.
I would like to point out that Garrett Rivas is 6/7 with one blocked field goal. And, yes, a blocked extra point, but it was good to get it out of the way against Notre Dame instead of a team that was a threat to come within 20 points of us. Wisconsin's Taylor Mehlhaff is similarly good but not great. He's 2/3 last year and was 14/20 a year ago.
Michigan figures to have an edge in the return game, as Steve Breaston is a proven threat. No one on Wisconsin has that sort of resume.
Key Matchup: Michigan versus hideous screwups. Oregon, Iowa, 2003.
Double-digit spreads don't get kittens. It's a rule.
Also: rain projected this weekend. Doesn't matter nearly as much on Field Turf but could lead to wackiness.
- PJ Hill gashes us up the middle.
- The run game continues to struggle.
- The run-run-throw-punt-ish playc
alling from Notre Dame reappears in a closer game.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Henne is protected.
- Wisconsin seems stuck in third and long.
- Zoltan starts realizing his space potential.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for But This Is A Respected Opponent, Right?; +1 for We Always Seem To Blow It; -1 for $#*!ing BEAT DOWN; -2 for You Want To Run? At The #1 Rush D?).
Desperate need to win level: 8 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Let's Not Blow It, Kids; +1 for We Lost To Them Last Year; +1 for Seriously: Don't Blow It.)
Loss will cause me to... no way, man. Don't even. That would be totally lame.
Win will cause me to... forcibly restrain myself until the MSU game before seriously thinking national championship thoughts.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Well... I looked at the 14-point spread at the beginning of the week and was like O RLY? But as I think more and more about the game I think Michigan will beat that spread. My main assumption: Hill finds it impossible to run because Michigan is up in his face all day and he can't ever get the head of steam that rumbling backs Keith Jackson would assuredly refer to as a "hoss" need to be effective. What I've seen out of Terrance Taylor so far this year has been impressive. Will Johnson had one of the most critical plays of the ND game when he was the main impetus for a 3rd and 1 stoning in the second quarter that helped the floodgates stay open. And those guys are the two question marks on the line.
Stocco's been hideous to date and I can't see him converting enough third downs against our DL to drive Wisconsin down the field, especially because he can't rely on his skill position players to make yards Wisconsin doesn't deserve. This might seriously piss off the fine Wisconsin fans who stumble across this blog, but I'd be surprised if UW scored a touchdown without a short field provided by a turnover or a long return.
Offensively, it will be a chore. Bielema, like English, has a reputation for aggressiveness and has historically had great defenses. (Last year's debacle stands out as the exception in a dozen-year career.) If they stack the line, Michigan will travel only in fits and starts. Hurling it deep to Manningham is a good idea but a high variance one that is highly susceptible to an off day.
Still, Michigan will score in the twenties. Hart is Hart and Wisconsin's corners are still young and dodgy.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- PJ Hill averages 2.5 YPC.
- Breaston scores.
- 24-6, Michigan.
Sorry: late. Firefox crash while typing = sad panda.
Further adventures in Badger: Apparently mopeds are a plague on UW's campus. Who knew? They're also a plague on the football team: second-string linebacker Elijah Hodge (Abdul's brother) was arrested for stealing one and will miss the Michigan game. Also, Bruce Ciskie has his Michigan O vs Wisconsin D preview up @ The Fanhouse.
Ok, ok: definitely the last bit of ND stuff. Probably. Josh Houchin, who helped out with the UFR clips in previous weeks, has an eight-minute highlight reel simply titled "Domination." (Warning for my mom: f-bomb dropped in the soundtrack. Don't blame me, I didn't choose the music.)
Meanwhile, Maize 'n' Brew took a PDA to the game and scribbled out a bunch of strangely compelling, vowel-free notes. Favorite sequence (Michigan leads 27-7 at this point):
Hrt 1 yrd lft. Hrt for 10.
Nd fans ftng among selves.
Some more running interspersed, then:
Hnne TD pass lft sd to manham!
Nd fns ht 1 anthr. argin ovr standing.
Meanwhile, Vijay is mad. Real mad. This is something to see. I get mad all the time. There are probably three or four articles a week I read and consciously decide "no, let this one go." So it's not really news when I get mad. I'm easy to piss off. Vijay, on the other hand, appears to be the nicest person in the Western Hemisphere, but even he flips out when ND fans universally start crabbing "The outcome of this game had nothing to do with the officating BUT" as if that one little sentence excuses all the paranoid ravings about...
NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH REFEREE INQUISITION! Our chief weapon is incompetence, incompetence and replay. Our two weapons are replay and incompetence. And ruthless inefficiency. Our THREE weapons are replay and incompetence and ruthless ineffiency. And an almost fanatical devotion to Lloyd Carr. Our FOUR... no. AMONGST our weapons... amongst our weaponry are such elements as replay...
I'll come in again.
Finally, BGS's preseason predictions are not quite as emasculating as my 2005 Purdue for Space Emperor campagin, but they are, um, interesting to review.
It is a Toomer: Amani Toomer profiled in the NYT(reg). He has been around a long time.
Hockey picked up a recruit for... 2009(!).Some detail @ WCH. Already committed to the NTDP for next year, so a player.
Etc.: Rocky Top Talk's Race to the National Championship is a lot more fun for Michigan fans than last year's edition.