...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
Departures: Troy Neinberg
1. Garret Rivas (Jr)
Outlook: Rivas rebounded from a shaky start where he missed four extra points to become a reliable kicker with less-than-optimal range. He very quietly had one of the better season a Michigan kicker has ever had, going 19 for 24 on field goals. Rivas' range is only about 45 yards and he probably won't get the kickoff duties this year either, but a kicker who can make almost 80 percent of his field goals from 45 and in is extremely good in the college game.
For the first time in a long time Michigan fans can be confident when the special teams takes the field to attempt a medium range field goal, and that is good enough for me.
Departures: Adam Finley
1. Zoltan Mesko (Fr)
Outlook: Should be improved. Finley was not very good last year, alternating returnable line drives with booming beauties that landed six yards into the end zone. His stats point to something extremely wrong: he was 18th in gross punting with 42.8 yards a punt. Michigan was 77th(!) in net punting, averaging 34.4 yards. How much of that is on the kicker's shoulders and how much on the other 10 guys on the field? There's no statistical quantification for that. My eyes say that I was rarely confident Michigan would win the battle of field position. Finley drove me crazy.
Mesko got a rare scholarship offer to punt after he showed up at Michigan camp and averaged 48.5 yards a kick and 4.6 seconds hangtime. It's a safe bet that Zoltan will be an improvement when Michigan is kicking from deep in their own end of the field. It remains to be seen whether Mesko has the touch on his short punts to leave them short of the end zone. He certainly can't be any worse.
Mesko will probably also kick off with the graduation of Troy Neinberg. Neinberg's impression of a Pop Warner all-star linebacker will be missed, but he didn't get many touchbacks as a Wolverine and can be replaced.
1. Steve Breaston (R. Jr)
2. Doug Dutch (R. Fr)
3. Grant Mason (Sr)
4. Leon Hall (Jr)
5. Mario Manningham (Fr)
Outlook: I watched the Orange Bowl on ESPN classic the other day. Walter Cross returned kicks. DiAllo Johnson returned punts. I was reminded of those Virginia Slims commericals: "You've come a long way, baby."
Steve Breaston was dinged up most of the year and didn't have the same magic he did as a freshman. A year ago, any returnable punt was accompanied by a buzz of anticipation and often a roar of joy as Breaston caught it and ridiculoused his way down the field. This year, eh, not so much. Breaston's fractured foot and broken finger bothered and slowed him, made him mortal. Even so, Breaston took one back against Northwestern and injury sub Leon Hall did the same against Indiana. Two PR touchdowns and the year was regarded as a bit disappointing. You've come a long way, baby.
Breaston expanded his role to include kickoff returns this year and was good, but not great until the Rose Bowl. Breaston looked healthy. Very healthy. So healthy that he shattered the Rose Bowl record for total yards with 312 by breaking almost every kickoff he touched (and there were a lot of kickoffs) back to about midfield. Breaston is a weapon of mass disbelief. Just pray he stays healthy.
Special teams may actually be a positive next year. Read that sentence again. Seriously. Our kickoff coverage was very good all year with the exception of the Rose Bowl. Opponents averaged less than 20 yards a return (19.6). The NCAA doesn't keep stats for kickoff returns against, but if you slotted 19.6 into the kickoff returns for column, that would be good for 68th. That's above average for us. Yow!
Punt coverage... uh, not so much. Michigan has had problems for years covering punts despite periodically emphasizing it--usually after a special teams collapse costs a game. If Mesko's hangtime is as advertised, however, we may see some 45 yard punts that are fair-caught. Michigan's net punting will probably trend in the right direction even if there are no improvements on the punt coverage.
Garrett Rivas will continue to be very solid from 45 yards and in, which I will take from a college kicker every time. He isn't Kaeding or Nugent, but anyone who remembers the Brabbs/Neinberg/Finley Kicking Disaster Era and shudders should appreciate Rivas' consistency (uh, aside from that weird spate of missed XPs).
And then there's the X factor. Sophomore Steve Breaston was okay. He took a punt back against Northwestern. But freshman Breaston showed up against Texas and reminded us exactly why we were so excited about the guy a year ago. If he returns to 2003 form get the Heisman hype started.
I think Breaston will be closer to his freshman year than his sophomore, though not quite to that level. His freshman year was so good it was probably flukily so. But he's still our best returner since Desmond. Rivas will be accurate but limited. Mesko should be at least okay. Our special teams can be great if three things happen: we get all our punts off, we cover punts better, and we use our superior athletes to get more blocks.
Will those three things happen? Probably not. There will be at least a few moments when the Michigan punt team fails spectacularly. The rest, though, will be solid-to-great.
There's only one thing holding Michigan back next year. Aaaand it's next.
Next time a State grad/student gets all up in your wheelhouse about how Ann Arbor is terrible, just forward them this RCMB thread.
Bad news from California. Richards performed very well in the Cali-Florida bowl and is getting serious interest from Cal, where his father played. Apparently an offer is forthcoming... potentially a this-year offer.
Don't know exactly what to do here with an almost full class and three top-100 players left on the board. Do you bump his offer to this year? Does he even want it bumped to this year?
I guess it's good that English picked this kid up early under the radar and now he's drawing serious interest from a school coming off a big year like Cal. Speaks well to his talent identification abilities (and makes me feel better about Sears).
Just my try at awful headline writing. Anyway, this article, which is totally, like, free, has Boateng saying, "There's like a 90% chance I'm going to commit to Florida." Which is too bad but, since I already summarized the wide receivers, fine by me. Frankly, we didn't have room for the guy what with Bass, Manningham, and Savoy.
Best of luck, etc.
So, right a big win last night against Iowa, and a major step towards an NCAA berth I would call shocking should it actually happen. At 8-5 OOC with not much in the way of quality wins and a home loss to BU, it will probably take 10-6 in the Big Ten to feel secure. I don't know if that's possible without Abram.
Looking at the schedule, though... two each against PSU, NW, and IU, and one each vs. PU and Minnesota. We can go 6-2 there. Then there's 2 vs. MSU and Wisconsin and one vs OSU, Illinois, and Iowa. Can we go 3-4 against that schedule? Maybe. Four are home games. I'm not getting my hopes too up. But it certainly looks way more feasible than it did yesterday.
I still think we'll be ruing that Arizona game at the end of the season.
It shows how far USA hockey has come that a non-medal finish brings soul-searching articles like this one. It shows how far they have to go that Matt Lashoff, Jack Johnson, and AJ Thelen weren't on the team basically because they had "conflict" with associate coach David Quinn. So, instead of the probable #2 pick in this draft, a top-15 pick in last year's draft, and Lashoff, who will go pretty early, we get to see the defensive stylings of Brian Lee and A Bunch Of Guys Who Don't Have The Excuse of Still Being In High School.
Of course, given the way Montoya played it may not have mattered. But the USA doesn't have the depth of talent that Russia or Canada does and can ill afford to politicize the selection process. Canada decides to bump off a guy because of some reason or another (usually because he's playing college hockey) and they'll replace him with a near-equivalent. The USA decides to leave off a guy and they're scouring AAA teams for really tall sixth graders.
And why is Scott Sandelin coaching the team anyway? He has a day job. If Ron Mason wasn't 0-fer since about 1986 in the NCAA tournament I'd say he's the man for the job.