somehow we're only 124th
Last year Iowa was the only team in the conference that could give Michigan a run for its money when it came to snakebites. A 23-3 loss to ISU was a comedy of errors performed mostly with Tate on the bench; replacment Jason Manson went 10/31. The loss to Michigan -- suffered without Ed Hinkel -- was full of uncharacteristic drops, penalties, and execution errors. Iowa carried the balance of the play and likely would have won that game seven of ten times if given the opportunity. The Northwestern and Florida games made the word "onside" a guaranteed bar fight in Des Moines. Only a vengeful stomping at the hands of OSU stands out as a game Iowa really deserved to lose.
This was a reversion to the mean -- or possibly past it -- after Iowa's charmed 2004, which was full of fortituous bounces on turnovers of all kinds. As a result, Kirk Ferentz's inexorable march to godhood took a bit of a siesta last year as Iowa stumbled to a 7-5 record. Sportswriters, always projecting things to be just like they were last year, have noticed.
The general consensus is Iowa's 2005 was something more than a blip. The Hawkeyes are projected to return to their newly familiar stomping grounds in the top 25, but if Stewart Mandel represents conventional wisdom at its coventional-est it appears the sportswriters of America are focusing more on 7-5 than the Tates: he has them #18. Athlon says #16. Even all-seeing, all-gambling Argus Phil Steele places Iowa but #15. Last year I argued that Iowa was overrated at number eight as journos focused more on Iowa's record than the fortune it had taken to get them there. This year they've multiplied that mistake by negative one.
No headliners remain on the Iowa defense after two years in which graduation has taken Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux, Abdul Hodge, and Chad Greenway to the NFL, but the Hawkeyes have star power on the other side of the ball in Drew Tate (the flingingest quarterback this side of the Pecos), Albert Young, and Albert Young's cadaverous ACL. The offensive line is either experienced or OMG shirtless. The defensive line looks poised to resume the terror of the Roth-Babineaux days. The defensive back seven? Well, you can't have everything. There are indeed ominous holes at corner and linebacker.
Despite that, viewers should be prepared for a faceful of Tate this year.
Last Year: Like everyone else in the Big Ten, Iowa had an excellent offense: 22nd nationally, 27th in passing and 34th in rushing. Also like everyone else in the Big Ten, it's hard to tell whether or not this was more a product of the offense or the defenses they faced, especially because Iowa missed Penn State.
Rating: 5. Drew Tate is one of the best quarterbacks in the country no matter your preferred metric. He has the numbers: two straight years with around 2800 yards passing, a completion percentage hovering around 62 percent, and 22 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions last year. He has the accolades: two years on the All Big Ten teams. And for those who like talking in vague generalities, he is the very avatar of "heart" or "moxie" or whatever you people call it.
The UFR from last year's Iowa game is downright effusive:
Great galloping gravy! Remember the breakdown of positive/negative downfield plays I did for the PSU game? Henne had 14 positive to 16 negative. Take away two TE screens, two dumpoffs to Young on third and long, and four Solomon stop routes (to play this conservatively) and Tate had 23 positive to 7 negative, and that's being super harsh on the "Inaccurate" category, which holds two bombs and the third down comeback route in OT that glanced off Solomon's fingertips.
It's not fair to hold Henne to that standard--it probably isn't fair to hold Tate to that standard, that was one of the finest quarterbacked games I've seen, like, ever--but that's kind of mindboggling. Seriously, I think Tate made a total of three bad plays (holding the ball too long on one sack, fumbling a snap, and letting Woods bat a ball down on the waggle easily). That says a lot about Tate and a lot about how far away from him Henne has been this year.
It was only a series of tiny miracles (penalties, sacks, and Iowa receiving screwups) that prevented the Hawkeyes from running up 35 points on Michigan that day. That game perfectly encapsulates what will happen if you let Tate sit comfortably in the pocket: he will kill you on laser-accurate throws long, short, and in-between.
The backup situation is dire. Manson is a senior who Iowa will try to avoid at all costs and the next quarterback on the depth chart is redshirt freshman Jake Christensen. Christensen was a touted recruit a couple years ago but an awful showing in the Army All-American game had many wondering whether his presence there was less because of his talent and more due to the tendency of Tom Lemming (in his last year of picking the rosters for the game) to wildly overrate players from Illinois even more than players considering Notre Dame. He might be okay down the road, but if pressed into service this year throats will constrict across the state.
Rating: 4.Albert Young emerged from the vast morass of Iowa running backs with torn ACLs to crush opponents on his way to 1334 yards and plenty of hype, but his two games against actual run defenses sound a caution: he totaled 23 carries and 59 yards against Ohio State and Florida. There are many great backs who would have struggled to do better against those defenses, but those numbers indicate that without a proper hole to burst into Young is not a Fred Russell capable of materializing yards from seemingly nothing.
However, he is capable of taking those holes and ruthlessly exploiting them. Against Michigan Young was impressive, slashing through the MasseyGap (TM) time and again with decisive cuts and bursting past Michigan's oft-befuddled outside linebackers en route to 153 yards. He should do very well again this year behind an ornery offensive line stocked with what seems like six different guards.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Rating: 3. Clinton Solomon, Ed Hinkel, and Matt Melloy depart. Left behind are junior Herb Grigbsy's 25 catches, Brobdingnagian tight end Scott Chandler, and nothing else resembling experience. Senior Calvin Davis is projected to join Grigsby in the starting lineup but has struggled with injuries over the past two years and had only eight catches in '05. In general, MGoBlog is skeptical of journeyman seniors, especially at positions that see a lot of rotation, so it would be wise to examine Iowa's other options. Redshirt freshman Trey Stross is distinctly Caucasian and thus is guaranteed to be Iowa's annual Inexplicably Great White Receiver at some point in his career. It also helps that Stross displayed velvet hands and great leaping ability in high school. Another player to keep an eye out for: freshman James Cleveland, an early enrollee who lit up the spring game.
Fee fi fo fum.
The inexperience at wide receiver will be offset by the talent at tight end. Iowa loves the one-back, two-tight end ace sets I can never get to work in NCAA and has the personnel to threaten run or pass out of them. Chandler is fairly ponderous but giant and a
good receiver. His 47 catches led Iowa a year ago. Second-stringer Anthony Moeaki, a highly touted recruit, played in every game as a freshman, catching eight passes. He will see plenty of time and two or three dozen catches by the end of the year.
Rating: 4. There's more instability here than one might initially assume there would be with three returning starters, as Iowa can't seem to decide where anyone should play on the line. Right tackle Marshall Yanda started all last season but started out at left guard. Right guard Mike Elgin had a full year of starting at that position in '05 but was the starting center the year before. But they have nothing on senior Mike Jones, who could release a hit single titled Where is Mike Jones? The answer last year was, variously, "left tackle," "right tackle," and "left guard." This year -- at least for now -- he's the right tackle.
So those guys have a ton of experience if a fairly uncertain notion of where, exactly, they're supposed to line up before each play. Jones is the most talented, having burst into the starting lineup as a true freshman. He finds himself a preseason All Big Ten pick by The Sporting News (TSN, understandably confused, named him the fifth best guard in the country), Lindy's, and Blue Ribbon. Yanda and Elgin are both somewhere between competent to good. But there is the niggling issue of center and, oh, left tackle.
Those positions will be filled by two touted members of Iowa's monster 2004 recruiting class. Redshirt freshman Rafael Eubanks, a consensus four-star ranked the #13 offensive lineman by Scout and the #5 guard by Rivals, emerged as the starting center in the spring. True sophomore Dace Richardson is projected to start at left tackle. Richardson was even more touted than Eubanks and was clearly being groomed for the role the instant he stepped on campus, as Iowa chose to forgo his redshirt year in favor of spot plays in most of their games. A large portion of the Hawkeye's success this year relies upon how effective last year's crash course as a collegiate lineman was.
Last Year: Excellent against the run, bad against the pass. Iowa finished 22nd nationally in run defense and had two standout performances against Minnesota, who managed 129 yards as a team, and Wisconsin, who got all of 12. Possibly because of Iowa's tendency to crush tailback like bug, teams went to the air against the Hawkeyes and more often than not found success: Iowa was but 77th in pass defense efficiency and 96th in terms of yardage.
Rating: 4. This was supposed to be a disaster zone after the loss of the entire '04 line. Freshmen and sophomores were to be thrust into the uncaring maw of the Big Ten and swallowed whole. This did not so much happen. There was certainly a dropoff -- let us remember that messrs Roth and Babineaux combined for 40 TFL a year ago -- but all told the defensive line did more than just survive.
Junior defensive ends Ken Iwebema and Bryan Mattison were both disruptive forces as sophomores, combining for 19.5 TFL and 11 sacks. Iwebema found his way on the the media's selections for first team All Big Ten. While that may say more about the media than Iwebema in a year that featured Tamba Hali, Lamarr Woodley, and Mike Kudla, it does indicate his impressive talent.
The defensive tackles were also fairly competent despite being undersized. Then-freshmen Matt Kroul and Mitch King held down the starting jobs all year and were not utterly destroyed. King was even kind of good at times with 10 TFLs. One does not hold Minnesota and Wisconsin's run games down with linebackers alone. Kroul and King kept Hodge and Greenway free all year.
A repeat of last year's performance will not be enough for the defensive line, however. Minus Hodge and Greenway and with shaky cornerbacks the line will have get more pressure on the quarterback against tough opponents than the did a year ago, when Iowa had one three yard sack against OSU and none against Michigan. If that happens again this year games against good opponents will dissolve into shootouts that Iowa would like to avoid.
Rating: 3. The Big Ten wishes Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway all the luck in the world in the NFL and encourages them to never, ever return. Replacing the two departed stars are EDSBS/SMQB All-Name Team candidates Mike Klinkenborg ("Der resistance is der futile, jah") and Mike Humpel (hur hur hur), both juniors who saw sporadic action a year ago. The functional Edmond Miles returns to start alongside the newcomers.
My flimsy excuse for posting this picture: Edmond Miles is the Hawkeye on the
right. Hey, blame Google.
Much like last year's defensive line, there must be a dropoff from Hodge and Greenway to Klinkenborg and Humpel. The n00bs are unlikely to average thirteen tackles a game and even more unlikely to cause Pavlovian salivation amongst NFL GMs, but unlike last year's defensive line the new linebackers have cut their teeth against the Big Ten and shown themselves at least decent. Both players are getting raves from the coaches for being intelligent players ready to step in and not screw things up entirely, and I believe them since this is Kirk Ferentz we're talking about.
Not screwing stuff up is a good baseline, but it does shift more pressure onto Miles and the defensive line to make the plays that stop drives. Miles was no wallflower a year ago, hitting double digits in TFLs, and is a candidate to break out now that Iowa is clearly in need of another thumping badass. The linebackers won't be a liability.
Rating: 2. Iowa may not miss longtime starters Antwan Allen and Jovon Johnson as much as you might expect. Iowa's pass defense wasn't that good with them: 96th in the country in yardage terms and 77th in efficiency. Some of that is probably attributable to a lack of quarterback pressure -- 2.1 sacks per game placed Iowa 68th nationally -- but most of the blame has to rest with the secondary.
In retrospect Johnson's placement on the All Big Ten first team seems to be more a product of longevity than quality: you started for three years on one of the Big Ten's better teams, so we assume you're good. For further reference see Lentz, Matt. Allen was only afforded honorable mention status and neither was drafted. So the dropoff from the duo to juniors Adam Shada and Charles Godfrey may not be great, but given the secondary's performance a year ago Iowa will want to shoot higher than mere maintenance.
I'm from Nebraska.
Better than maintenance may be hard to achieve, however. Adam Shada... well... is from Nebraska, if you know what I mean. He would have to buck an awful lot of history for a guy from Nebraska to become a standout corner on the collegiate level, especially as an unheralded recruit. Many cite his three interceptions from a year ago as reason to believe in his ability, but interceptions are usually fluky events and should not be relied upon for projection. Meanwhile, Godfrey was bouncing to and from safety as recently as last year and seems to have moved to corner because Iowa has no alternatives. It is always, always, always a bad sign when a player goes from backup safety to starting corner over the c
ourse of one offseason. Mediocrity here would be great.
Safety is more secure. Miguel Merrick and Marcus Paschal are both experienced seniors able in run support. Neither has the sort of range or playmaking ability you'd like in the ideal safety, but they're safe players who don't miss many tackles or assignments.
Kickers & Coverage
Rating: 5. Iowa and Ohio State must have a factory somewhere: Kaeding-replacment Kyle Schlicher was 17 of 21 a year ago and is one of the favorites for the Groza award this year. He's the best in the league.
Punter Andy Fenstermaker is an analogue of Michigan's Ross Ryan: the punts he gets off are often ugly, short ducks (84th in gross average), but they're difficult to return and thus the team's net numbers are acceptable (50th).
Since kickers are so much more important than punters and Fenstermaker is okay in net punting, the precious five is bestowed.
Non-Conference: I-AA snackycake Montana, a decent MAC foe in Northern Illinois, and two low-level BCS teams in Syracuse and Iowa State. Respectable-ish, though the biggest threat may well be Garrett Wolfe and company the week after the Hawkeyes' trip to Michigan.
Conference: Michigan State and Penn State are absent from the schedule, which is a small net benefit. More important is the timing of the Ohio State game, which is a night game at home immediately after a virtual bye against Illinois. OSU, meanwhile, will be coming off the Penn State grudge match. That game's homefield advantage may be worth five or six points.
Compounding the scheduling goodness is this fierce slate of away games:
The trip to Ann Arbor is the only thing resembling an actual crowd Iowa will face all year, and Michigan Stadium is only mildly intimidating minus the winged helmets that dwell within.
We're Sure About
Tate. He's the closest thing to Drew Brees since Drew Brees.
We Have An Idea About
The Defensive Line. What should have been a painful year of learning was instead fairly competent all around. All four starters return; Ferentz and Norm Parker have a proven track record of building terrifying linemen out of whole cloth; watch the eff out.
The Offensive Line Aside From Dace Richardson. A ton of experience save for center Eubanks, but he should be okay as a VHT in a position that's not all that demanding. Everyone else is going to be good.
We Have No Clue About
Dace Richardson. We do have some idea: VHT recruit under the Ferentz regime, but Richardson's performance very well could mean the difference between Drew Tate, Iowa Legend and Drew Tate, Damn Good But Frustrating. If Richardson is wobbly at some point and costs Iowa a game it could cost Iowa much more than that.
Cornerback. Even though it's been theorized that Jovon Johnson and Antwan Allen weren't really all that good, Iowa isn't exactly bursting at the seams with candidates to replace them.
An Embarassing Prediction, No Doubt
Given the schedule and the talent the Hawkeyes have, a run to the national championship game is not out of the question. There's not a team on the schedule obviously better than Iowa and everyone remotely dangerous save Michigan must travel to Kinnick. 12-0 could happen. It wouldn't even be that surprising.
Maybe the run defense disintegrates without Greenway and Hodge, but I doubt it. If it does then some wonky corners could make the Iowa defense eminently perforable again. Throw in a lot of drops from the wide receivers, the complete implosion of Richardson, and a lot of bad luck... and Iowa's still very good with a favorable schedule. 9-3.
Iowa was better than its record a year ago and returns the building blocks of a potentially great team in Tate, Young, and the defensive line. Replacing the wide receivers and linebackers will be a chore and some corners must turn up, but the tight ends should reduce the WR burden, the safeties should to likewise for the LBs, and the corners will probably get help from a ravenous defensive line.
As previously discussed, the schedule is a dream. Visits to Syracuse, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota all promise to feature more Iowa fans than opposition ones. The nonconference schedule is managable without being embarassing. The Hawkeyes miss two potentially dangerous teams in MSU and PSU. The only downers are a trip to Michigan and the shame that the national championship game is in Arizona instead of New Orleans, which prevents what would have been a beautiful joke about Tates and beads.
Wins: Montana, @ Syracuse, @ Illinois, @Indiana, Northwestern
Probable Wins: Iowa State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, @ Minnesota, OSU
Tossups: @ Michigan
Probable Losses: None
No Chance: None
Iowa gets OSU in the most favorable spot possible and catches the Buckeyes early in the season when their defense still figures to be breast-feeding. Iowa wins that game, loses to either Michigan or one of the "probable wins" category, and coasts to the Rose Bowl at 11-1.
These words are not minced. Not even chopped. Bill Martin on Crisler Arena:
"Our basketball coaches are struggling with a second-rate facility,'' Martin said. "It's in dire need of upgrading.''
Yow. Ammunition for the baskeball facilities wars, no doubt, but possibly just empty talk given the vast array of athletic department construction already planned for the next few years. Lining up donors for basketball has proven much more difficult than for football or even baseball, which will have a new stadium this year.
What? Mattias Askew is in the NFL? Sure, sure, he just got tasered because he didn't want to move his car but the real question is: Mattias Askew is in the NFL? A player from one of John L. Smith's defenses is currently being paid by a professional football team?
The Apocalypse: coming. The first sign was the Whitlock column in which he eviscerated Scoop Jackson. The second: Askew. The third: College Football News giving a shiv to Notre Dame, ranking them 18th and pointing out those uncomfortable facts about the pass rush, secondary, and last year's strength of schedule. Personally, I think 18th is flashily contrarian -- I'll probably rank them around 8 or 10 in the preseason BlogPoll -- but credit must be given to CFN for doing something other than tongue-bathing enormously fat head coach Charlie Weis. (via College Footblog)
Etc: Ty Law is a Chief.
31-40: The Bothersome
40. Jason Whitlock
Note: this was written before Whitlock's column in which he A) called Scoop Jackson's inane "1.3 percent" piece "so juvenile and flawed" that he "nearly broke down in tears after reading it" and B) sensibly tackled the new ASPE study that revealed vanishingly small numbers of black sports editors and columnists. As much as I really, really dislike Whitlock I'd move him down into the 40s because of it if they hadn't been published already. I would remove him entirely if he mentioned that Scoop looks like a muppet.
Whitlock is infuriating because everything he writes seems precisely calculated to be outlandish, outrageous, or controversial. It seems he can't go a month without expressing his opinion that everything that has ever happened is because of racism. Bob Huggins getting fired? Racism. An extension for Charlie Weis? Racism. Everyone hating Barry Bonds? Racism. Distaste for the US basketball team during their run to sixth place in the Olympics? Racism. His placement on this list? Racism, no doubt. Even more infuriating are the less-frequent columns that have the gall to chide others for focusing too much on race. Almost completely round sports columnist who isn't nearly as funny as he thinks he is, heal thyself.
39. Jacques Lemaire
Not satisfied with watching Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow strangle hockey ninety percent of the way to death, Lemaire's Minnesota Wild attempt to finish the job every night with their suffocating nu-90s trap. Lemaire is a main reason that Sean Avery is the only other NFL employee to make this list, having directly caused the death of interesting hockey (and thus indirectly the strike) by riding the same trap to the Stanley Cup at the helm of the New Jersey Devils. Inspired by New Jersey's ability to win games -1 to -2, the rest of the league immediately started boring other teams into submission.
As the evilest of the evil men who kill the interesting bits of hockey for their own personal benefit, he lands at #40.
38. Mike Kryzerzwierskiziziskiywerkski
I don't think of Mike Kryzerwksizi (-ish) as a basketball coach; I think of him as a smug asshole. Okay, so he runs a program as clean as college basketball programs get that's more successful than any other in college basketball and neither of these things are traditionally objectionable, but come on:
Meet Coach K: Leader
"I don't look at myself as a basketball coach. I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball."
- Coach K
MUST FIND. MUST PUNCH. MUST FIND AND PUNCH. On his official website you're invited to "Meet Coach K" not only as a leader but also a coach, father, friend, mentor, motivator, student, and teacher. No doubt Coach K excels in all these roles, as he excels in everything. And if there's one thing people hate more than a loser it's one of those guys who wins over and over and over again and then details his incredible home life, wonderful children, and twelve inch penis. There is nothing about Coach K that's remotely likeable precisely because he is the best human to ever exist. And damn him further for turning unathletic white guys -- normally basketball underdogs that are tremendous fun to cheer for -- into a neverending March scourge.
37. NBA Referees
College referees are vastly more incompetent, but lack the belief that their cranky, elderly asses walk on water. No doubt the reason each and every NBA foul short of a beheading is met with a torrent of bitching no matter the team, time, or place has much to do with the fact that the definition of a foul changes depending on who you are, where you are, and several other mysterious factors including the phases of the moon and just how senile Dick Bavetta feels today. Everyone around the league -- everyone -- acknowledges the existence of a star system wherein your Dwyane Wades get calls that other players simply wouldn't, which makes the NBA seem more scripted than spontaneous at times.
Besides, don't you understand that you're killing Mark Cuban? You're killing Cubes!
37. The Sun Belt Conference
Perhaps if this was a Texas A&M blog the Sun Belt would check in much lower, if at all. But it isn't. The Sun Belt -- previously a conference best known for having a hilariously inappropriate name (hello Moscow, Idaho) -- exploded onto the national scene by totally and irrevocably fucking up the Alamo Bowl. Causing conniption fits across the educated bits of Michigan was bad enough, but the conference compounded its error by attempting to justify the fiasco, releasing a document laden with feeble double-speak, obfuscation, and general LIES LIES LIES.
As a result, Michigan fans have been plugging ULM, ULL, and whatever other half-ass universities comprise the damn thing this year into NCAA 2006, turning the difficulty down to "retard," and ritualistically beating the Sun Belt 2,100-0 since the final whistle went.
The next time you hear a columnist or non-BCS school member whinge about small schools being left out in the cold, remember the Alamo.
35. This Guy
34. Jim O'Brien
In a tepid effort to be fair to OSU, this nutjob must be mentioned. O'Brien landed Ohio State's basketball program on probation by attempting to pay recruit Boban Savovic thousands of dollars. Ohio State noticed this transgression and sensibly fired the man. Loathesome, sure, but the kicker: O'Brien sued Ohio State for breach of contract.
Kicker part II: he won. OSU's basketball team will be fine, what with Oden and everyone coming in next year, but the nerve!
33. Lou Holth
Not content with driving every thchool he's ever coached thtraight into the loving arms of Mither NCAA Investigationth man, Holth decided he needed to inflict more pain upon the nation at large. The vehicle via which he doleth out the punishment: placement next to douthestache purveyor and fellow list-member Mark May on ESPN college football theth. From this inexplicable pe
rch, Holtz lithpth out incoherent, utheleth analythith with a dazed thmile upon hith face. [/EO hilarious lisping]
Why so high up? Holtz makes me miss Trev Alberts, which is sort of like wondering what happened to the good old days with world leaders like Mao and Hitler. Thufferin thccotath!
32. Alonzo Mourning
It takes an awful lot of work to erase the sympathy one receives when returning from an inexplicable kidney disease that nearly ends one's career, but Alonzo Mourning managed to do it in, oh, about seven days. I'll let this random blogger detail Mourning's epic pouting, lying, and doggin' spree that took him from New Jersey to Toronto and finally to Miami, where he could ride the coattails of Dwyane Wade to an NBA championship ring that he deserves about as much as I do (though to be fair both 'Zo and I deserve one more than Gary Payton). I'll let my own fictionalized version of Hubie Brown summarize:
"You cannot put your hands on another player, but Alonzo Mourning is one of the great assholes we have in this league."
31. George Shinn
Shinn is a man who cares about nothing except lining his pockets with money. He managed to turn baskeball-mad North Carolina against their once-beloved Hornets (they led the league in attendance from 1988 to 1996), then moved the team to New Orleans when Charlotte asked him to cough up a piddling $13 million for an arena otherwise totally funded with public money. Now he's riding New Orleans for money and threatening to move the team again:
Shinn's lawyers have seized upon a contractual clause in the Hornets' 2002 relocation agreement that requires the city and state to build the team a new practice facility adjacent to the New Orleans Arena, the team's fate in the Crescent City appears sealed. The new practice facility would require an $8.5 million minimum public commitment.
You may remember that about half of New Orleans is underwater.* Someone get Chris Paul away from this man before he gets sexually assaulted, too.
*(To stave off the inevitable correction: not really.)
The Pittsburgh Sports Report has an interview with WR Toney Clemons:
Clemons said Pitt, Michigan, and surprising contender Akron have impressed him the most so far. With no decision in sight, Clemons is leaving the door wide open for the traditionally late-acting powers of the college football landscape to get involved. Naming Ohio State, Miami (FL), Florida, and Florida State, Clemons said he gets mail from all over, but "an offer would be overwhelming" from one of the big boys yet to get involved.
Probably not deciding soon. I received an email forwarded along from a reader whose brother-in-law has a daughter at Mullen:
Steve Watson Jr.'s pedigree and physical toools have not so far paid off on the football field. Steve Junior is every bit as tall as his dad (6'4") but much more filled out (although I suspect less than the 240 lbs. listed in the article). But I have yet to see Junior show any of the pass catching skills his father honed to perfection with the Broncos. To my knowledge, Steve Junior has not made a game winning catch or even racked up a 100+ yard game, but he sure looks like a football player. Steve Senior has been seen at many Mullen games rooting his boy on and has been something of an informal coach to Dave Logan, the former Cleveland Brown tight end and current coach of the Mullen Mustangs. I have yet to see any of Watson Junior's potential realized on the field. Maybe this year, his last at Mullen. ...
There are two footnotes about Steve Watson Senior you may find interesting. First, Watson's career with the Broncos was shortened significantly when he was hung out to dry on a short pass during the NFL season all the players were on strike and teams were fielded mostly by replacement players and a few NFL scabs who crossed the line. Watson was one of those scabs. Second, Watson's post-playing career as a cohost of the Bronco's after game show ended abruptly when, during the sign-off the night before the gubernatorial election, Watson innocently said something like, "and good luck to Roy Romer." Even though the comment was innocent and Watson was actually a personal friend of Governor Romer, the comment apparently triggered some kind of equal time provision in force and embarrassed the Denver affiliate enough to terminate his contract immediately. It sort of reminded me of Billy Pilgrim's best friend, an American prisoner of war in "Slaughterhouse Five" who was shot by Nazis following the bombing of Dresden for picking up what turned out to be a small Christmas figurine that reminded him of one he had been missing in his house
A "Slaughterhouse Five" reference == guaranteed inclusion on blog. Sounds like Watson may be more of a project than you might expect a son of an NFL receiver to be. Rivals gave him three stars for that reason; Scout gave him four for the "looks like a football player" bit, no doubt.
The editor of Scout's Oklahoma State site tossed off a prediction that OL Matt Romine, who's very highly touted, will end up at OU. I don't know if that has backing or is just random speculation. CA CB Donovan Warren still lists Michigan but Scott Wolf posted this downer recently:
USC and UCLA are also locked in a battle for Long Beach Poly cornerback Donovan Warren. But a Pac-10 coach recently told me some members of Warren's family want him to attend Ohio State.
Gross! Everyone expects Warren to go to USC anyway. Apparently Michigan led at one point for Minnesota DE Broderick Binns -- who I know nothing about -- and could possibly still be on top according to yet another irritating question headline from GBW.
ESPN's Top 150 was roundly lambasted across the Internets for being dumb; perhaps this is why:
In the six BCS conferences in the 2005 season, just 26 freshmen actually made a significant impact or even got on the field at all. This is a staggering statistic. Despite all the talk about freshmen making an impact early on, the truth is that it is extremely difficult to make the jump from high school to college, and not as many kids are doing it as fast as many think.
Because we do put emphasis on a player's ability to contribute early, the grades for all players naturally become lower -- and therefore more realistic -- when the odds against a player contributing as a true freshman is factored in.
Um... okay. First of all, "odds [modifier] is" ain't proper Englishes. Second of all, universally depressing rating isn't the criticism leveled by annoying recruitniks. Rather, the critcism comes because players that virtually every coach in the country would thoroughly enjoy offering eligibility-maintaining sham classes to are totally absent. When in doubt, Trust The Coaches.
The analysis is fair enough, but could you have possibly been more condescending?
Ouch. That was not my intent but unfortunately was the result. Occasionally in the pursuit of a good line or five the tenor of an article will veer off course. For that I'm sorry. In an attempt to make good, I'll respond to the saner comments and emails I received. First a comment from PSUMike of Hail To The Lion:
I think Morelli is going to surprise a lot of people. Like Lane pointed out, he didn't get on the field much because doing so would have meant benching Michael Robinson, who finished 5th in the Heisman voting. He only got to play during garbage time against Cinn, Central Michigan, and Illinois. His combined stats were 13-20 155 yds 1 TD 0 INT. Not bad considering Joe's tendency to pull in the offensive reins when he's up. He didn't light anyone up but he didn't let them get back in the game either. In the games I saw him, including the spring game, he showed good footwork and confidence. His release was quick and his passes were on time with good armstrength. As good as MRob was, he was horrible throwing the ball. His best passes were when he heaved it up and let his Butler and Williams run under it.
I remain skeptical about Morelli but admit that the evidence against is as flimsy as the evidence for. We must agree to disagree. The season will prove one of us wrong. If it heartens you, given my track record it will probably be me.
Hunt is a good back, but he's not a star. He will churn out 4 and 5 yard gains all day, but he won't break a 50 yd run. But that's all Hall will ask him to do. Keep the offense out of 3rd and long and let the WR's go for the big plays. ...
You're right the offensive line is the big question mark. But then they were the big question mark going into last year too. They weren't great but they weren't bad either. I can't see this group being worse than last year.
Really? Offensive linemen tend to be the slowest developing players on the field other than maybe quarterbacks. Going from four seniors, a junior, and years of starting experience to Levi Brown and four guys who haven't started a game in their lives is going to be a huge dropoff. If Morelli lives up to expectations that will be offset by a much improved passing game, but a tetchy offensive line and the loss of Robinson's 800 yards means that the run game will be hard pressed to come anywhere near its performance of a year ago. If Hunt was the sort of back to make things for himself I could see something effective emerge, but he seems like the kind of guy who needs the hole to be precisely where it's supposed to be.
On defense, we lose three starters on the D-Line, but return Jay Alford who had 8.5 sacks and 11.5 TFL last year. Ed Johnson is returning and should be a force in the middle. I also expect some of their freshmen recruits to step in and make a contribution by the start of Big Ten play. The LB's will be fantastic. I'm glad to see you recognize that.
The DB's are a question. No doubt. They have talent, but they lack experience. Fortunately, you can coach the latter and not the former.
There is still a steep dropoff from Hali to either the journeymen veterans currently in place or freshmen, no matter how highly touted Maurice Evans is. As for the DBs, I'm not sure how much raw talent there is other than Justin King -- and I don't think anyone else does either. The remainder of the secondary had middling guru ratings and was stuck behind Phillips, Lowry et al over the past few years. It could be rough to start.
My prediction is 10-2. We will split the ND and OSU games. Win one and lose one. Don't ask me which but I hope it's ND. God I hate them. I think we will beat you guys. We're due and we're hungry. Penn State is tired of hearing the press tell us you own us. But I think we will slip somewhere along the line and lose to either Wisconsin, Purdue or Minnesota.
I think beating ND is going to be a very tough task on the road with a quarterback getting his first experience against a real opponent. The young secondary and (projected) flimsy pass rush don't match up well against Quinn, Smarjadskazieksa, and company. Obviously PSU has a chance, but I think that's a loss.
As for Michigan, I don't think PSU will be any hungrier to beat Michigan than they were last year or the last seven times they played. A night game at the Beav will be Edmonton-Stanley-Cup-Finals insane, granted, but the game is still played on the field. On said field, I think the Michigan defensive line will give PSU all kinds of problems. Hunt isn't the kind of back to exploit Michigan's dodgy outside linebackers with uncovered bounce-outs. Derrick Williams will be matched up against Leon Hall, who is pretty good. If Henne is on I think Michigan wins -- a big if given last year, granted.
An email from John Uhl:
I don't share all your pessimism about PSU's team and the final results this year, but, hey, you're entitled to your opinion. Your analysis is well researched. What many seem to ignore is that PSU was one of the absolute elite teams (they have played and beaten the best in college football over the years and in bowl games) for a long, long time and then they ran in to some lousy recruiting and coaching decisions which resulted in a horrible 3-4 years. The old man has turned the reins over to some very capable ass't coaches and, well, you saw the results last year. Galen Hall is an offensive genius. Expect very good things from this year's team .They are LOADED with talent on both sides of the ball. AND, attitude! To expect a repeat of last year is unrealistic, but if Morelli hits the ground runnin', who knows.
Hope you're in Happy Valley for the night game with your team. It will be an experience you will NEVER forget. The streak ends this year. Ask OSU what the atmosphere is like. Hell, ask ESPN's Game Day crew.
I did totally overlook the presence of Galen Hall. The PSU offense did perk up under his leadership and was decent despite having little raw material to work with. His track record at Florida, aside from the rampant cheating, was impressive. If my PSU preview turns out to be exceedingly pessimistic at the end of the year it'll probably be because of that.
Another email from Robert Croumathel, though with fewer comments as I've already expressed my opinion on Morelli and Hunt, etc:
I don't know about the X's and O's, but Morelli has the best young arm I've seen at Penn State in a very long time. No big wind up and slow-motion release. Just three steps back, read, and boom. Honestly, he's got the quickest release I've seen since Dan Marino, which is so important in preventing defenders from jumping the play. If he can learn to look off his receivers, he's got some pretty good guys to throw to, so I suspect the passing game will be fine.
Tony Hunt is a complete back, meaning he can hit the crease with speed and power and also take out a linebacker when required. Yah, we played some weak defenses, but so did everyone else in the Big Ten, as you pointed out. Tony gained over 1,000 yards in the Big Ten, which puts him in some pretty good company. If you watch him for awhile you'll see he runs with heart and toughness, as opposed to Austin Scott, who avoids the contact whenever possible.
The O-line has to grow up quickly, but the strength of our defense will keep us in games. So a 9-win season is very doable, and I think we will lay a beating on ND, a
s will Michigan.
I bet the Pitt fans are thrilled with the Dan Marino comparison.
One defender you didn't mention is safety Mark Rubin. You should watch for this guy. He was a receiver who broke his ankle in the pre-season last year and missed the entire season. He's been moved to safety, and if he can learn his assignments he will be a terrific safety. He can punish people back there.
Noted, though I think any impact Rubin makes will be next year at the earliest, as he's coming off a serious injury, moving positions, and stuck behind a couple seniors.
One last thing - I've never held anything against Chad Henne, and I don't know a single Penn State fan who does. Sure I was disappointed, and it would've been great if he had landed in the SEC, but after his stellar Freshman season, it was apparent that he absolutely made the right choice.
This I am glad to hear, but obviously you haven't been to BWI. Something about the Internet fanbase that has sprung up around BWI is deeply wrong and there's an unparalleled hatred for all things block M there. Even on places like the OZone there is some underlying respect, heavily cloaked though it may be.
Sorry about the slowdown. Attempting to prepare for the WSOP and get the BlogPoll organized and significantly less crappy to deal with are dual time sinks of impressive stature.
NCAA reviews continue apace: House Rock Built gives it a general thumbs up but says an old problem has not gone away:
The Game Seems to be Very Long-Bomb Oriented: Maybe it's just because I was playing as Notre Dame, but there doesn't seem to be a correction on the oversimplicity in hucking the ball deep
SMQB (@ EDSBS) says same old, same old:
Final verdict: this one unfortunately has few changes from NCAA 2006 and looks like it has the potential to grow boring more quickly than previous versions. Hell, I may not even hit 500 games before NCAA Football 2008 comes out.
Dubious Quality has a comprehensive 360 review that highlights a particular pet peeve of mine:
And on the face of it, NCAA 2007 is missing a ton of features I want in a game. Features like:
--sim to end (and a jump-in feature as well)
--multiple camera angles (there is ONE freaking camera angle in the 360 version)
--ability to watch a CPU vs. CPU game (somebody find the stoned employee who took out this feature, and thanks for screwing us on slider development)
Seriously. How hard is it to give you an option to scrub out the rest of a game that's 49-7 at halftime? My dynasties inevitably die because I just can't stand going through the motions for half the time I'm actually playing the game whether I'm vastly up or down. I think that's the final straw for me: no '07.
You, being a Michigan fan, have probably already read the article wherein Clemson recruit Jamie Cumbie describes Notre Dame's post-commit negative recruiting:
"They were sending me postcards like a month after I committed," said the 6-7, 255-pound Cumbie, who was a first-team Parade All-American. "The only school that tried to keep recruiting me was Notre Dame. It really didn't bother me."
Cumbie said the Fighting Irish coaching staff, led by enormously fat head coach Charlie Weis, also engaged in some negative recruiting on his visit to South Bend, Ind.
"They had a piece of paper, and it broke down advantages and disadvantages. It said Notre Dame was televised every weekend, every Saturday. Then they said Clemson has a horrible education."
Well, House Rock Built has acquired a copy of said letter; you can see enormously fat Charlie Weis' dastardly scribbles with your own eyes.
Okay, Mike, we acknowledge you as hard. So, yeah... Alex Legion's commitment spurred TSN's Mike DeCourcy to pen this love letter to Amaker:
It has become another terrific July for Michigan coach Tommy Amaker. If only every month could be July. If only the Wolverines were not forced to deal with the months of November, December, January and February.
Of course, we already know they're not asked to do anything important in March.
Michigan received a re-commitment this week from guard prospect Alex Legion...Legion had chosen the Wolverines last November, reconsidered in the spring, but now says he's certain he wants to play for Michigan.
For a moment there, I thought he'd come to his senses.
And while this, like claiming a Clemson education isn't exactly the Ivy leagues, is objectively true it seems sort of unnecessary, doesn't it? Either DeCourcy was put up to this by TSN honchos who demand he generate sports-radio style "reaction" or his online dating profile lists his hobbies as "torturing kittens," "eating kittens," and "making fun of men largely indistinguishable from kittens apropos of basically nothing."
(Via the Diag)
Speaking of apropos of nothing: watch the Tour De France tonight. 8PM OLN.
'07 hoops recruit Scott Martin announces tomorrow; according to Chris Balas "all signs point to" Purdue, thus making the potential existence of a mysterious fourth scholarship moot. Also, sophomore Jevohn Shepherd made the Canadian national basketball team, which probably says more about Canada than Shepherd.