I'm off. Approximate schedule over the next couple weeks:
Now until the 28th: sporadic Fanhouse blogging, mostly bowl previews and liveblogs.
29-30-31: Rose Bowl preview.
1-2: Maybe a brief postgame thoughts post, but maybe not. It depends on how things go.
3: Resumption of normal service.
I'm about to sign off for Christmas, but before I do two things.
1. Work It, Ron English. Scout article on Michael Williams:
I'd say Michigan has just a slight lead over Notre Dame," the four-star defensive back said. "It's really neck-and-neck. I would say there's a 51% chance I'll choose Michigan and a 49% chance I'll choose Notre Dame. Both have great programs. I really haven't made up my mind yet. I'll definitely decide after Christmas. It's a very difficult decision.
"I guess I feel like I fit in a little better at Michigan, with the campus and the school," he said. "They seem to really try to help their student-athletes. They have a twelve million dollar student-athlete place. I just really liked it. Their facilities are top-notch."
Williams plans to announce at the Army All-American bowl January 6th. He also claimed something interesting: Michigan is recruiting him for "nickel-back". WOOOOOO ROXORS GO BLOW LOL MEATCHIC--
...sorry. Subcomandante Wayne tends to show up whenever you mention Stupid Canadian Rock Band.
Anyway: the implication that we're recruiting kids specifically so they can play a nickel... guy... spot jives with what we saw during the year, when Brandon Harrison and Ryan Mundy occupied the nickel-guy spot instead of someone like Sears.
2. The Matrix. I haven't mentioned Sam McGuffie here, but if you read Deadspin or the Fanhouse you've seen him go all Neo on kids:
So I grab some videos and slap 'em up on the Fanhouse, because, dude. Seriously. A comment shows up like so:
Ok, here's the deal. I was on the same team with him this past year when he rushed for his 3,121 yards and 43 TD's.
Im a Michigan fan so of corse Im trying to get him to wear the maize and blue, and sometime in November I think it was Michigan offerd him a full ride.
Later on in the season when I walked in to watch film of our previous game, our head coach saw my shirt (the day of the Indiana game) and we were talking about Michigan, and Sam looked at me and kept stating he's going to Michigan. Over time, he's repeated the same statements to me. And just last week he got my attention to let me know he's visiting Michigan in February.
(Comment sic.) Intriguing! But probably internets FUD. I follow up with the guy. I get a name and number that check out. I think it's legit, and I think in February we're likely to get a commit from McGuffie.
Harbaugh Harbaugh Harbaugh. Right, so he's the coach of Stanford. I had assumed this would be widely regarded as a good move given the pool of masochists and bedwetters willing to consider the Stanford job, but NSFMF!
It's not if you ask Jon Wilner , who's yet more proof that the people we have voting in the polls should be disenfranchised. Check the exclamatory bon mot:
So you might be asking yourself: Why is Harbaugh qualified to coach Stanford?
Well, I'll tell you: Last month, San Diego lost to UC-Davis â€” Harbaugh is perfectly qualified for his new job!!!!
That's a zinger, there. Zing!!!! The rest of it putters along as you might expect; it makes me mad because it's really dumb. I almost fisked it, but there's been too much fisk in these here parts lately. For a much better version of the same skepticism check Tightwad Hill.
That's a double suckit on the rocks. Remember Notre Dame defensive end Ronald Talley's bizarre midseason decision to transfer away from a sure starting spot? Well, Talley has decided on a school and they wear this:
That's I-AA Delaware for anyone still stuck in double-take mode.
Woo statistics. The advent of the offseason causes some of the twitchier amongst us to pore over tables of minutiae like total dorks, something you would never see on this blog.
IBFC broke down the careers of offensive coordinators Malone, Parish, and DeBord in astounding detail. Vijay breaks up Michigan opponents by winning percentage, then presents average scores for those teams:
An interesting pattern emerges: Malone blows the doors off of bad teams, as does Stan Parrish, but as soon as you get away from the dregs of the schedule (say, teams in the 0-20% categories) Terry Malone's PPGs show a clear declining pattern (scoring less and less as the competition gets better), Stan Parrish's PPG show a generally declining but pockmarked pattern and Mike DeBord's don't waiver much at all. DeBord's offenses are scoring almost the same against the best teams on the schedule as they are against the good, the mediocre and the slightly bad.
Is this infuriating or not? I can't tell. Vijay doesn't offer up sample sizes here, but I would venture that if you're breaking down teams into 10% buckets and only have 3-5 years of data for each coordinator, some of the buckets are going to have two or three games and not represent all that much. More useful are scoring averages charted against average opponent score and averages based on leading/trailing in the fourth quarter, both of which offer a stark and probably statistically meaningful difference between DeBord and his personal Benjamin Harrisons. The conclusion:
To me, it seems that the most obvious answer would be that all the rhetoric is true with DeBord, that there is a "scoring offense" and a "non-scoring offense", that DeBord puts a greater emphasis on putting points on the board when he thinks they are needed than when he thinks they are for style. Playing Vanderbilt or Indiana, they aren't necessary. Up 14 on Wisconsin, Penn State or Iowa and you've got a great defense, they aren't necessary. In Columbus against Ohio State, you better grab the reins and go full speed.
The question remains: can DeBord adapt to defenses that aren't 1997 or 2006's? DeBord's been around for a lot of wins; not coincidentally he's also been around the two greatest defenses at Michigan since Bo retired. So his strategy has been sound, but what happens if next year's D is kind of bleah? Does DeBord open it up early and try to establish an unassailable lead? Or is the Orange Bowl all over again (granted that was not a DeBord production, but it does stand out as the platonic ideal of boneheaded Michigan stubbornness in recent years)?
Let's hope we never have to find out.
Meanwhile, SMQB is breaking down statistical relevance like whoah. My favorite part: other than the odd phenomenon of few penalty yards being slightly negative indicator of victory (hypothesis: penalties are more likely when you're on offense, so teams who finish way low in penalty yardage do so because they don't get many offensive snaps), the least relevant stat tracked by the NCAA? Time of possession. Which I hate.
Etc.: Rosenberg corrects Amaker. Mallet throws things. Florida wants to be just like Michigan. Former Michigan coach Steve Fisher doing fairly well at San Diego State. Braylon interview. Subcomandante Wayne is coming for your hookers. "Michigan Football Memories" Dec 31 @ 8.
Hey, it could get better. USA Today's hockey prospect guru Kyle Woodlief ranked the incoming NCAA classes; Michigan came in third behind Wisconsin and BU. Sayeth Woodlief:
They added a lot of nice ingredients, particularly restocking their blue line with nasty USHL d-man Tristin Llewellyn and a smooth puck mover in Kevin Quick from the prep ranks. Up front they grabbed two Red Line favorites from the USHL: Max Pacioretty brings a big winger with good hands, hockey sense, and touch; and Aaron Palushaj is a pure sniper. Throw in a pair of smallish but speedy and skilled centers in Ben Winnett from the BCHL and Matt Rust from the NTDP, and it's both a strong and well-rounded crop.
Woodlief didn't even get to St. Mike's Louie Caporusso, who leads the Buzzers in scoring -- though he's not quite as prolific as Cogliano was in the OPJHL (30 games and 18-26-44 versus 37 games and 26-46-72) -- and has been compared to Andrew Ebbett by assistant coach Billy Powers. You can see some Caporussian exploits on the Buzzers' home page. Check out highlights 2 and 4... especially 2. If you want to watch Caporusso in his native environment, the homepage has a staggering amount of video available.
The nice thing about this class is its depth. Five of the six forwards coming in project as scoring line players. Then there's Swede Carl Hagelin, a late pickup who would normally be Wyzygowski or a MacVoy, a grinder who's stapled to the fourth line or wearing a suit for the duration of his career. Not so for Hagelin. Says Elite Prospects:
Hyfsad driv i skridskoÃ¥kningen och fina offensiva instinkter. Okej mÃ¥lsinne.
See! Awesome. Offensiva instinkter. Hagelin did average over a PPG for his SÃ¶dertÃ¤lje U20 team in a couple years of play. Powers also claims he's got instinkter:
So it was good to see him in a North American environment over the summer, and he did very well. He's a scorer. He's an offensive player. A very good skater. He is excited about playing the North American brand of hockey because he likes the physical game. He likes to forecheck. He's a skill player.
Some Swedish guy on Hockey's Future chips in as well (everything in here sic):
He's a pretty smallish player an captain for the Sodertalje juniorteam this season. H has alot of speed and has pretty good offensive abillities. Skating and agility is above average, has an fairly good shoot and okay passingskills and vision. Not that good along the boards and has problem when meeting aggressive defensmen.
Don't se him develope in to a great player(no NHL material) but perhaps a pretty good forwards a few divisions down.
We have no frame of reference to judge Hagelin's ability, but at the very least he sounds like more than a random body.
Also unmentioned by Woodlief: obscure-ish defensemen Chad Langlais and Scooter Vaughn. Vaughn is from the NAHL, which is normally a bad sign. Though Michigan will pick up the occasional Kaleniecki or Rohlfs from the league, that's about the performance cap of USHL players. Positives: Vaughn is rated a "B" player at this early juncture by the CSB, so he can't be that bad, and his name is "Scooter." Langlais is tiny but he plays in the much higher-profile USHL and is already 20, so he should be able to step in right away and be serviceable.
Then there's Bryan Hogan, a goalie and teammate of Langlais on the Lincoln Stars. Regarded as the third best prospect in 2007's weak goalie class, Hogan drove current Michigan backup Steve Jakiel from the starting job in Lincoln. When Michigan picked Hogan up, he had just finished posting an impressive .916 save percentage, but this year... sigh: .885 in 20 games. Sad panda.
General Tenor: What the hell was that? That can't happen again, right?
It's reasonable to declare Penn State's repeat hope dead (Jim), but there's life in '05's corpse yet with Derrick Williams, Levi Brown, and the three-headed Cerberus at linebacker. If Anthony Morelli has a Flowers-for-Algernon leap forward, if the offensive line is stunningly competent, and if any sort of pass rush materializes Penn State could do it again.
You will note none of these things happened even a little bit aside from the pass rush, which happened in spades (Penn State finished 8th in the country in sacks).
Morelli. If memory serves, the thing I got bashed most heavily for across nine previews was my outlook on Anthony Morelli:
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.
HE GON' SUCK!
This he did, completing under 54% of his passes and compiling a 10-8 TD-INT ratio en route to finishing 85th in passer rating. The defining image of Morelli (other than being buried by Alan Branch) was a ball floated into triple coverage against OSU that turned into the easiest pick-six Brandon Mitchell's ever going to see.
Alas. I did a few players wrong before the season, but none more so than poor Tony Hunt:
Starter Tony Hunt is a trier who can run over the unprepared linebacker but is a long way from a gamebreaker. He's thoroughly average; even PSU's official site says he possesses a "hard-running, straight-ahead" style, though they claim a "big play burst" that has never materialized in front of my eyes unless you'd like to count a terrible angle by freshman Brandon Harrison a year ago. Penn State partisans will no doubt point to his 6.0 yards per carry as evidence of his explosiveness, but let's review: Cincinnati's, Central Michigan, Northwestern, &c. This is a case in which the stats are being very naughty and fibbing with elan. Hunt is okay and no more.
Not true. Hunt's still not a star, but he carried the Penn State offense on his shoulders, often accompanied by two bewildered linebackers. Saddled with an erratic quarterback, no deep threat at wide receiver, and a vaporware offensive line, Hunt could have been excused if he muddled his way to an 800-yard season. Instead, he ended up averaging over 100 yards per game and driving Penn State to victories over Minnesota, Purdue, and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions are playing on New Year's Day mostly because of him.
NSFMF at wide receiver.
[Derrick] Williams is on a stardom vector that only more unfortunate injuries can derail.
...not so much. It's hard to tell whether Williams' uninspiring numbers -- 37 catches for 413 yards and one touchdown, worse than perpetually maligned Steve Breaston's 51-555-1 -- were more his fault or that of Morelli and the line. Survey says "both". While no receiver would have had a banner year when any pattern longer than six yards was a probable sack, the bloom has fallen off the Williams rose as he struggles to transition from Guy Who Was Faster Than Everyone Guy to an actual receiver. At this point in his career, Breaston is an apt and frightening comparison for Penn State fans.
Yadda Yadda: general line abdication, though I gave them a generous 3 on the strength of Levi Brown and a couple promising newbies. That was closer to a 1. Slam-dunk on the linebackers as a 5, said the secondary would be okay, King would struggle transitioning from WR but end up a star eventually -- he got there about a half-season earlier than I thought.
Cobbled together. Penn State's aforementioned sack parade was an anomalous one: they got almost no help from every defense's designated sack demon, the defensive end -- unless you want to count erstwhile linebacker Tim Shaw, who was moved to an odd standup DE position midway through the year. They got most of their pressure from blitzing linebackers and defensive tackles. This was forecast:
The PSU defense will still be good, but great (again) is asking too much. When you can choke out the opponent's run game consistently you are going to be one of the better defenses in the country, but I would be surprised if Penn State got much of anything from their defensive ends this year. Penn State will have to generate much of their pass rush via the blitz, which will leave them open to exploitation and drive that pass efficiency defense down, especially with a raw secondary that will spend the first half of the season finding its legs.
This poses considerable concern going into next year if Dan Connor leaves for the NFL. All the players PSU returns are either named Sean Lee or have been bad to date.
Final Verdict on the Final Verdict:
Hope exists in the form of Morelli's recruiting rankings, Levi Brown, and Derrick Williams, but recent evidence indicates that the only time in the last five or so years Penn State has been able to cobble together a semblance of offense has been with veterans everywhere and a pounding ground game. This offense figures to have neither.
A step back is coming, though it won't be as disastrous as the '03-'04 seasons. A large portion of the blame for those years falls squarely on the shoulders of noodle-armed Zach Mills and Robinson, who were so inept that passing was not an option for two solid years. I do think Morelli will disappoint, but he would have to implode to send the PSU offense all the way back to the bad old days.
Adding it up yields 8-4.
The most accurate prediction proferred in this space, and something I beg you keep in mind when we get to -- gulp -- Iowa.
General Tenor: Won't be good or anything, but it probably won't matter.
If Purdue is to return to the hallowed ground of the Music City or Sun or whatever their equally anonymous replacements are after the offseason bowl shuffle it'll be on the backs of their offensive line, which returns four starters from a good '05 unit, and the wide receivers, deeper than at any point in Tiller's tenure. Add in Kory Sheets and new quarterback Curtis Painter has a lot of ammunition at his disposal. He'll need it, as the defense is in chaos.
And how! I do my previews heuristically, based on a set of assumptions:
- Ignore anything a coach says unless it's negative.
- Turnovers are close to random.
- Recruiting rankings mean something, but not everything.
- Seniors who have never played are likely to be bad unless they have an excellent excuse.
- When a guy switches positions and is immediately a starter at his new position, project that group of players to be a disaster.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Aaron Lane, the one-man case for the common-sense college football preview:
We do know that junior Aaron Lane is penciled in as the starter opposite King. Relevant facts on Lane:
- He's 5'8".
- He transferred from the University of Saint Francis to walk-on at Purdue.
- USF is an NAIA school.
- Lane was a little-used
running back at USF.
O RLY? If Lane isn't completely overwhelmed they should make a movie about him starring a hobbit. And someone has to be the nickel and dime backs.
Anyone who didn't see Purdue's defensive implosion coming wasn't trying very hard. Purdue's one bright spot, DE Anthony Spencer...
Edwards and Rob Ninkovich are gone and unlike Void were good enough to draw NFL attention (both were mid-round picks). Gone with them is underrated defensive tackle Brandon Villarreal -- third on the team in tackles -- and running mate Brent Grover, leaving almost nothing in the way of proven talent. Senior defensive end Anthony Spencer is it. He was the a nominal starter going into last year, but Ninkovich wrested the job away from him. He managed 3 sacks and 7.5 TFL in limited time. In '04 he was the full time starter and a good one. He'll be fine.
...was more than "fine," leading the nation in TFL despite being the only half-decent player the Boilers had.
Offensively, I was not on the Curtis Painter bandwagon:
What does '06 hold for the now-sophomore Painter? Probably additional pain. Painter's iffy stats were gained against a who's-who of D-I's worst pass defenses (MSU, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois) and Penn State, who killed Painter to the tune of 6-17 for 60 yards. His last statistical reference point, high school, doesn't imply he'll make a great leap forward: as a senior he only completed 51% of his passes. The implication is that Painter's probably unsuited to Purdue's dink-and-dunk passing game, as he either failed at in in high school or was asked to bomb it deep instead. Either way it bodes unwell. Purdue should be happy if he makes gradual progress this year with an eye towards proficiency in '07.
This he did. Painter was a mediocre 43rd in passer efficiency, completing a meh 59% of his passes and throwing a whopping 18 interceptions despite missing the Michigan and Ohio State defenses. With Purdue's schedule difficulty taking a sharp uptick and much of Painter's offensive line gone, he'll have to run to stand still in 2007.
I did get the date of Painter's benching wrong:
Since the only things Joe Tiller likes more than yanking his starter are Quaker Oats and life insurance, you should get familiar with Boiler backup Joey Elliot so you can impress friends and relatives by detailing strengths (isn't the starting quarterback), and weaknesses (when inserted into the game he becomes the starting quarterback) during his inevitable relief appearance and two midseason starts before he finds his butt stapled to the bench again.
Miraculously, Painter made it through the entire season.
Oops. Total references to Dustin Keller:
There is a tight end: Dustin Keller had 13 catches a year ago.
With Kyle Ingraham suffering through an academic suspension, Keller was Purdue's second leading receiver with 55 catches and 751 yards. Even with Dorien Bryant graduating, Purdue's receiving corps is in very good hands with Ingraham, Keller, Selwyn Lymon, and Greg Orton. If Painter can get better and Purdue can find some dudes to block, yow.
Final Verdict on the Final Verdict. Again, please remember this later:
Predicting Purdue's season is, in essence, predicting Painter's. The defense might improve a bit over last year but the secondary looks amazingly bleak and this year there's no Edwards/Ninkovich duo on the edges. The offense, which was quietly all right a year ago despite the whole business with the quarterbacks, will have to score to keep up. With a veteran offensive line and a surplus of talent at the skill positions, it'll come down to Painter's ability to run the offense. Survey says "meh." Purdue figures to return to a bowl, but not a good one.
Predicting 8-5 can't be too far off, can it?
This was also much, much more accurate than 2005's Purdue preview, which was the most humiliating thing I've ever written except for, yes, the Iowa preview. Which is... next!
Update 12/20: Added IN DE Jeff Boyd and NC DE Kourtnei Brown, linked to articles on Everson Griffen, SC WR Junior Hemingway, TX CB Troy Woolfolk, and KS LB Austin Panter. Removed AZ OL Jaivorio Burkes, IL RB Robert Hughes, and CA LB Malcolm Smith (dropped us). Added TN WR(!) Rashad Mason and MO OL Donald Stephenson.
Editorial Opinion: Not a whole lot of shock and awe in this edition. Burkes dropping us is disappointing. With Romine seemingly looking elsewhere, Michigan is moving on to plan B. They brought in two-star Tennessee OT Jared McGaha, promised him an offer if Romine went elsewhere, then watched him commit to MSU. Now they're bringing in Donald Stephenson from Missouri, a one-time Kansas commitment who is being recruited by a wide array of middling programs and us. Standard disclaimers about offensive line recruiting apply -- stars matter less there than anywhere else -- but right now Michigan has one undersized guy who can only play center, an in-state sleeper, and almost no shot at a pacifying star. Bleah. NY's John Elliot is still considering us, but we're the location outlier amongst his finalists. We do get the last visit.
Unless we pull Elliot, this is likely to be a sucky OL class, but it shouldn't matter that much. Carr singled out Steve Schilling's loss as a major disappointment this year, which is a remarkable statement when you're talking about a true freshman fresh out of an offense that did nothing but run. Current buzz has him taking over at RT immediately. That means Michigan just has to find one LT out of Zirbel, Ortmann, and Dorrestein to have a tackle combo that will be around for the next three or four years and bridge the gap past this mildly lame class.
The DEs are both committed to SEC schools: Boyd is a tenuous Kentucky commit, Brown a tenuous Alabama commit. Boyd is a teammate of safety commit Jerimy Finch who's been scouting around for an offer from a bigger school. Michigan may provide one, since options on the defensive line are thin. Brown is a three star on the way up, but the general impression is that as soon as Alabama gets a coach he'll firm up that commitment. Insert joke about the distant future here.
Q. Why are we offering an unknown wide receiver if we already have three commitments? A. He's probably an OMG sleeper. Tennessee's Rashad Mason does have a Michigan offer and will visit. He is huge (6'5" or 6'6" depending who you listen to), fast (4.5), and has a good excuse for his ranking (a severe car crash that wiped out his junior season). Now he's getting offers from big time schools:
Although the youngster from Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville denies a leader, Mason admits favoring Mississippi, UCLA, Michigan, LSU and Florida. He has offers from all of them except LSU and Florida. Mason also has offers from Louisville, Tennessee and Arkansas.
He has a January 19th visit, when hopefully it will be
unseasonably just as warm as all Michigan Januarys:
Mason will be visiting UCLA on January 12 and Michigan on January 19. "Michigan is one of the top programs year after year," Mason said. "Their record and tradition speaks for itself. I'd prefer to be somewhere warm, but it's not a big deal. I'll see what it's like during my visit."