I could be done there, but for some reason there are 40 more of these.
I have a problem.
But not nearly as much of a problem as anyone who attended this game. A summary, in lieu of the normal format, because that was not a normal football game, if one is to be so kind to refer to it as "football" in the first place.
[Hit THE JUMP for futility.]
11/8/2014 – Michigan 10, Northwestern 9 – 5-5, 3-3 Big Ten
College football is for remembering. It stands alone in its brevity—even the NFL has you play your division-mates twice. Every year you play a team and then you have glory or death until next year. You can pick any game of remote interest and your friend will say "oh, THAT game" because it is also lodged in his brain.
This happens in other sports but as you add in more and more games, more and more of them are thrown down the memory hole. Hell, even last year's highly memorable basketball season has a number of events in it that I couldn't tell you anything about without looking it up. We beat Stanford? I guess we did.
In football the only things that disappear like that are the tomato can games. Others are notable only in the context of some guy's career. If I say "the Jerome Jackson game" you know it's that Iowa game Michigan won in overtime. "That one time Alain Kashama did something" was the Citrus Bowl win over Ron Zook's Florida. There are of course the titanic battles whose aftershocks rattle down the centuries, and depressing blowouts and fun blowouts and etc.
And then there's this game. This game will also rattle down the centuries, for… reasons. You will poke your buddy and say "hey man remember the M00N game," carefully enunciating the zeroes, and your buddy will either laugh or give you a sharp punch on the arm, depending on his mood.
Immortality comes in all kinds of ways.
FFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUU [Bryan Fuller]
Well, I'm in this to be entertained. And I cannot deny that Saturday was highly entertaining.
By the time the teams had exchanged boggling turnovers at the end of the first half I was giggling. The field goal block sent me into chuckles. The fumble of off Funchess's hip got me up to a guffaw, and when Northwestern followed a boggling Gardner interception by going backwards 30 yards and punting into the endzone I had to lie down and remember to breathe.
It was disappointing when M00N ceased being a potential final score, but at least it came on a terrible error—a muffed punt. Anything skillful breaking the deadlock would have been unjust. My wife was peeved, because she is not a True Fan™ and wanted to see a 0-0 regulation. I kind of did, too. Not every day you see something like that.
It is every day that Michigan finds itself in a football game hardly recognizable as sports. When you bring up the M00N game to your buddy you will probably be making a point about the descent into unwatchable dreck that was the last two years of the mercifully short Hoke era.
This is Hoke's version of RichRod's gloriously futile 67-65 win over Illinois. Both games were narrow, pyrrhic victories over bad opponents punctuated by two-point conversion stops. Both showed off the abilities of the team's good unit against an overmatched opponent and the total lack of ability of the team's miserable unit. And both were the same kind of delirious fun that sees you wake up naked in a haystack the next morning, with no idea where you are or even what month it is. Or where your hair is.
Nothing about that Illinois game changed Rodriguez's trajectory, and this won't move any needles either. Michigan's been plunged into a disaster of their own making and shows no signs of climbing out. That they've encountered a couple of teams even more BIG TEN(!) than themselves of late says more about the league than this outfit. It's no surprise that the other two teams Michigan's beaten in Big Ten play faced off in one of the ugliest games of the year immediately before M00N.
At least we've got a symbol now. Any time anyone wants to reference how far Michigan's come since they led the nation in TFLs allowed and somehow got worse the next year just needs two letters and a couple zeroes.
[After THE JUMP: but what if Hoke wins out?]
Kicking off a weekly Big Ten hoops column highlighting ten—not fourteen—of the most interesting teams, games, players, storylines, and statistics in the best basketball conference in the country.
1. The Big Ten has an enormous middle class
Wisconsin’s clear status as the frontrunner is the strongest preseason narrative surrounding the Big Ten and while the Badgers are compelling in their own right (aside from their unaesthetic style, of course), there’s another storyline that may not be getting enough attention: the middle of the Big Ten is as strong as ever and the fight for survival in the morass of teams directly behind Wisconsin will provide quality, reasonably high-stakes basketball on a near-nightly basis.
There are the Badgers, and there’s everyone else—you could take Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio State and put them in almost any order, 2-through-8 looks so fluid in the Big Ten. To the point, Ken Pomeroy’s ratings have one team in the top ten (Wisconsin), but eleven in the top forty. Dan Hanner’s projections corroborate: Wisconsin—and nobody else—is in the top ten, but there are five in the top 25 and nine in the top 40.
It’s unlikely that there will be eleven of fourteen teams in the top forty by season’s end—Indiana (26) and Purdue (40) immediately stand out as overrated by Pomeroy’s system—but there should be a great number of enjoyable games between the middle-tier teams. That should be the biggest intriguing thing about the league this season: the title race likely won’t be very suspenseful, but the jockeying for position in the standings (and eventually on the seed lines for the NCAA Tournament) will be fascinating. The Big Ten will be a conference of staunchly upper-middle class teams this season—filling new subdivisions along artificial lakes and living the American Dream.
2. Top-40 Kenpom teams often make the tournament
Since the tournament expanded from 65 to a nonsensical 68, only two top-forty teams per season were excluded from the NCAA Tournament. Of those, Wichita State—ranked 59th entering the tournament—won the NIT, Stanford—ranked 53rd—won it, Baylor defeated Iowa in the NIT final, and SMU lost in the final (to Minnesota) last season.
Pomeroy’s preseason top-forty has eleven Big Ten teams (Wisconsin 6, MSU 12, OSU 14. Michigan 15, Indiana 26, Iowa 32, Maryland 33, Nebraska 34, Minnesota 37, Illinois 38, Purdue 40) and, because of the inevitable cannibalization that comes along with the zero-sum nature of conference play, it’s essentially impossible for all of those teams to finish that highly. Still, the above chart is illustrative of a basic implication in Pomeroy’s ratings: the Big Ten probably has a lot of tournament-caliber teams and monitoring which ones fall on the right and wrong sides of the NCAA bubble will surely be a compelling late-season storyline.
[After the JUMP: who's in? Who's out? Does age help you anymore?]
De'Veon Smith broke the scoreless tie with 6:49 left in the third on a three-yard plunge, ruining the aesthetic, but this will forever be known as The M00N Game:
— MGoShoe (@MGoShoe) November 8, 2014
If it involved futility, this game had it. Northwestern lost on a failed two-point conversion with three seconds left when quarterback Trevor Siemian rolled out, saw Frank Clark, and fell over. That was just the final pratfall in this slapstick, however.
It started right away, with Northwestern taking an illegal formation penalty to negate a third-and-one conversion on the game's first drive. Devin Funchess returned the favor by dropping a third-down pass on Michigan's opening salvo.
The two teams proceeded in such fashion for the duration of the game. Michigan's final three possessions of the first half started inside Northwestern territory. They netted 29 yards and zero points, failing in three different ways: a punt, a pick, and a blocked field goal as the half mercifully expired.
The Wildcats pulled the same trick in the second half, missing a field goal, turning it over on downs, and punting on a negative-28-yard drive on their three possessions beginning on the Wolverines end of the field. The teams finished with a combined 504 yards; 256 for Northwestern, 248 for Michigan.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, Devin Gardner threw a second interception when he stared down Jake Butt, Michigan lost a fumble when Jack Miller's snap bounced off a motioning Devin Funchess, and defensive tackle Matt Godin picked off Siemian after Clark tipped a pass.
We should all be thanking Pat Fitzgerald for his fourth-quarter decision-making. After punter Will Hagerup pinned Northwestern just outside their goal line, Siemian engineered a 19-play drive that covered 95 yards, only for Fitzgerald to call for the field goal unit on fourth-and-goal from the four. The field goal cut Michigan's lead to 7-3. The Wildcats had literally just doubled their yardage total in one drive. Under seven minutes remained on the clock. He kicked anyway.
Michigan nearly managed to ice the game on the next drive, chewing up 4:16 and all three Northwestern timeouts on a 54-yard drive that ended with a Matt Wile field goal.
The Wildcats marched right back down the field, cutting the M lead to 10-9 on a three-yard throw from Siemian to Tony Jones. Fitzgerald, slightly more bold than before—or perhaps just wanting the game to end—sent the offense back on the field. Michigan's pass rush had landed home all night, sacking Siemian six times, and they anticipated the Northwestern call to roll the pocket right; Clark shot past two blockers and Siemian slipped in an effective but fruitless attempt to avoid him.
One kneel later, the game ended. Nobody was sad to see it go.
the editor can only post the wallpapers people put in the diaries
By Heiko "4 AD" Yang
There’s football today. Michigan visits Northwestern for part II of Who Can Score Less During Regulation. That game will be followed by Ohio State and Michigan State in another installment of My Enemy’s Enemy Is Enemy When Other Enemy Is Not Good.
Michigan doesn’t have a new athletic director yet. I haven’t heard back from the department about my application, if you were wondering. Meanwhile we still have all of our 27 varsity sports, the Big House is still standing, and Stephen Ross hasn’t reneged on any of his donations. I’d say Jim Hackett is doing just fine. I had to look up his name just now because I haven’t heard his name mentioned since the day he was hired, which is an excellent sign. No one can call for your head if people don’t know who you are.
Oh hey, it’s snowing. Of course it is. There’s a giant storm in the Pacific sending cold air our way because This Is Michigan, and this is where winter has come and won’t be going away for the foreseeable future. It’s going to be cold until May, and we’re not going to be good at football for another couple seasons at best.
The last time I like this was during Rich Rod’s tenure. That feels like forever ago, doesn’t it? Before Denard, before Tate, before the new luxury boxes in the stadium even existed, we all said, “Just wait till he gets a quarterback who knows how to run his system.” Didn’t realize that we would also have to wait for a running back who knew how to run north and south, a secondary that wasn’t either injured, slow, or running the wrong direction, and a defensive coordinator who didn’t think his middle linebacker was a standup defensive tackle.
This feels different in an important way, though. Whereas I deeply wanted Rich Rod and his players to succeed until the moment he was fired, I’m pretty disinterested in what happens the rest of this season. I’ll watch today, sure. Will it break my heart if Michigan doesn’t win another game? The answer is not yes.
I ran into Vincent Smith last night, said hi and took a picture because I couldn’t help myself. And then I realized exactly what’s different: I freakin’ loved Rich Rod’s players. For whatever reason, Rich Rod’s players made you want to root for them. It didn’t matter how disappointing their performance was, you always felt terrible for them when they lost. Even after Hoke started bringing in stellar recruiting classes, my favorite players from the last few years are primarily Rich Rod’s guys – Denard (obvi), Gallon, Kovacs, Smith, Lewan, Roh, Roundtree … Probably the only guy that comes close now is Dennis Norfleet, and we all know Norfleet might as well have been a Rich Rod recruit.
There’s probably no fundamental difference between the players that these coaches recruited. Yeah, the Pattern™ and whatnot, but I think it has a lot more to do with the Message™, and that all comes back to Hoke. Under Hoke there was a radical change in the way players talked to the media and in public. Their PR training under Hoke and Brandon taught them to downplay their individual personalities and focus on the Team (x3). That’s great and all, but as a result there’s none of the same energy or swagger that four years ago inspired me to blindly apply for a press correspondent job at this blog because I wanted to meet them.
At this point all I see is a bunch of anonymous winged helmets. I couldn’t care less about the guys under the winged helmets, which is a terrible sign and something worth noting for the next head coach -- we can’t root for your players if we don’t know who they really are.
Northwestern 9, Michigan 6
by Nick RoUMel
Picking this one is a struggle.
No, not Michigan-Northwestern. Who cares? The season has become irrelevant, and pales in comparison to the administrative intrigue. Who will become the Athletic Director? Will David Brandon continue to foment conspiracy theories involving hostile fans and a cabal of scheming Democrats? Will Brady Hoke ever grow a pair?
the editor thinks this is slightly unsubtle
"Gosh I'm so sorry, Coach Dantonio. I prostrate myself before you and grovel! I kiss your steel-toed jackboots in supplication, because my reckless players damaged a square inch of your precious and consecrated holy turf. I do this even though you have yet to apologize for Chris Frey's ejection for targeting of Amarah Darboh, or Chris Frey's helmet hit on Devin Gardner, or when William Gholston tried to screw off Denard Robinson's head like a bottle cap and then punched Taylor Lewan:
“I do apologize, because I recognize that an injury that caused about as much damage to your grass as Dennis Norfleet making a fair catch (or dancing to Atomic Dog), is a far more serious transgression than anything your championship-caliber team may have ever done to ours.
“Plus I don't want you to beat me up and take my lunch money again."
So - back to today’s big game. I mean the one at the bully's house, in East Lansing. The Buckeyes visit the perpetually slighted Spartans, a team that can be favored and still manage to convey being disrespected. This is a team that wears not pads, but the chips of a thousand casinos on their shoulders, led by their fire-breathing coach, who would strangle a kitten for hissing at him wrong.
This is a game where I pray with all my might for both teams to lose, for the Spartans to be embarrassed, for Urban Meyer to remember that he retired three years ago to spend more time with his family, for the "Little Penguin," Jim Tressel, to cast a shadow over the game as long as Maurice Clarett's prison sentence.
But these are pipe dreams. The best I can hope for is for Sparty to be silenced at home, to come to work on Monday with excuses already rehearsed, for the playoff nonsense to stop, and for Dantonio to apologize for his general dickishness.
And if Michigan can manage another game winning field goal in the last micro-second, with the referees’ speedy ball-setting assistance, so much the better:
Michigan 12, Northwestern 10
[ed: the editor does think someone will score a touchdown]