Fifteen minutes of Bo yelling at officials. Wot it says on the tin:
Can't see Hoke doing this; am now imagining Bo's reaction after the Hagerup incident against OSU. It does not go well for the kid. I love the announcers' reactions, which are mostly bemused. Musberger as Bo charges about ten yards onto the field to protest a pass interference non-call: "That's why they give him an extension cord."
Hoke with Dave. This had slipped my mind until a helpful reader reminded me of it. After Hoke took Ball State to 12-0 in his final year, he showed up on Ball State alum David Letterman's Late Show to deliver a Top Ten. It is exactly as you might expect:
Is that a red tie? Horror!
The Devin To WR thing. The internet was abuzz with rumors that Devin Gardner spent his first spring practice at wide receiver to the point where actual reporters actually asked Al Borges about it. Via Heiko, the response:
Are you experimenting with Devin Gardner at other positions?
“We’re doing what we did a year ago, pretty much. We’re giong to play the best 11 guys. Devin’s the backup quarterback right now. He’s number two, and we’re going to do what we have to do to get the best 11 on the field. Nothing’s changed in that perspective, so we pretty much have the same mentality that we had.”
Are you looking at him at wide receiver?
“Yeah … the practices are closed for a reason.”
That gruffy, annoyed non-denial was taken as confirmation of the Gospel from on high by the internet, and… yeah, I'm with you guys. Michigan is at least gingerly exploring the possibility of throwing Devin Gardner on the field as a wide receiver. Whether that's for wacky trick plays or is a serious exploration of what Gardner brings to the field there is unknown probably even to the coaches.
Me, I hope it's the latter. Gardner's nearly 6'5", has huge hands and explosive leaping ability, and this old film of him screwing around at WR at some camps…
…reminds me of that Sports Science thing they did on Justin Blackmon in which it was explained that he could catch anything within a half-mile radius of him. If you've got enough faith in Russell Bellomy to spot Robinson when he gets his inevitable dings, I'd roll with a potentially elite talent at WR.
The obvious downside is what happens in the event of a serious Robinson injury and next year, when Gardner is the presumed starter at QB. It's not a move that doesn't come with risks. Hoke seems like a guy who looks at the upside of things more than the downside. If you think getting Gardner on the field helps you win this year you have to do it. Next year is next year.
You can't escape me. Cleveland State reveals that Michigan has home dates with Oakland and the Cleveland State/BGSU winner as part of their participation in the Preseason NIT. Unlike a lot of of tournaments, the preseason NIT actually gives a berth in the final to the winners of their preliminary rounds—as it should be.
This is good. Michigan should be scheduling decent mid-majors instead of total dreck as they seek to get that RPI up in a year when they could be a national contender. Even if Oakland and CSU aren't up to their previous standards they should still be a far cry from the SWAC. CSU was 22-11 last year and made the NIT. They lost to Stanford in the first round but still finished in the Kenpom top 100. They lose three starters and a key reserve but Gary Waters has led his team to 20 wins in four of the last five seasons. They'll be at least decent.
Oakland had an off year by their recent standards and loses a third of their usage with Reggie Hamilton's graduation; they return everyone else except Laval-Lucas Perry, though. BGSU was a middling MAC team. These are much better opponents for numbers purposes.
The rest of Michigan's nonconference schedule is still unannounced but we do know they'll be getting a home game from Arkansas, a home game in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, will travel to Bradley as part of a quid pro quo for Bradley hiring Beilein's son, and will play WVU in New York. If they reach the Preseason NIT finals they're likely to meet some combination of Pitt, Virginia, and an unknown team.
Michigan's also added Arizona for a home and home starting in 2013-14, when Sean Miller's monster recruiting class (four top 50 players including Nick Stauskas teammate Kaleb Tarczewski) will just be finding its feet. Those could be big time matchups.
Etc.: Dolla dolla bill extends to the students, who will be paying $205 for six home games this year. Denard interviewed by BTN. Inside Michigan Hockey profiles the team headed into the tournament. Bowls versus the tourney in terms of money headed to teams. Michigan's first black player was George Jewett in 1890; Michigan Today profiles him.
Patrick Kugler, Chris Fox, Taco Charlton and Shane Morris
You may be aware that Michigan's off to a start unprecedented in the recruiting rankings era not only for them but for the Big Ten. Hints of this include relentless "Hello" posts on the front page, your strange desire to actually watch recruits' highlight reels, and Michigan State fans linking a post I wrote a while back scoffing at an MSU class that would beat Michigan four straight years.
The only other area school to rack up so many commitments so quickly is Penn State, which has piled their classes nearly full from time to time over the last decade. Even they haven't been as aggressive as Michigan. Three years ago they had 11 guys by the end of May and 15 by July. Michigan is sitting at 15 barely a month after the 2012 class signed. Their other notably quick-filling class was 2004, when they had 16 of 25 guys by August. Back then that was super quick; nowadays that would hardly raise an eyebrow.
Since Michigan's guys are almost without exception highly touted, this has caused mostly rejoicing in the Michigan fanbase. Rivals have responded with various binky-clutchings and hopeful narratives. There's also a certain portion of the Michigan fanbase that is concerned that Michigan is locking themselves in too quickly. They probably have an entire room full of various insurance contracts covering everything from dog attacks to the zombie apocalypse, but they exist. Occasionally they email me.
Here's a brief primer on why you should be happy Michigan has crammed its class full of four stars by mid-March. In retrospect this post is probably unnecessary.
This Is A Bad Idea Because Penn State Or Texas
Early Texas commit Sergio Kindle can lift a car and plays in the NFL. Early Penn State commit Austin Hinton was a 6'2" offensive lineman. He does not play in the NFL.
The Penn State counterpoint is obvious: look at the profiles these guys have. Michigan has one recruit (Khalid Hill) who isn't on at least one of the early top 250/300s. They have enough four-star sorts to guarantee themselves a top 5 class already, on every service. Nine commits list an offer from Alabama, Ohio State, and/or Notre Dame, and that's without accounting for Shane Morris, who committed too early for heavy hitters to offer him, and the likelihood others would have picked up offers from the above if they weren't clawing their way into Michigan's class.
In contrast, a lot of Penn State's early guys were guys like Jed Hill*, Austin Hinton, and Dan Lawlor, low-to-mid three stars and saw their careers play out like they were that. PSU's '04 class saw just two four stars among the 15 who committed before their senior years, and most were barely that: Rivals gave 10 of them their lowest 3-star ranking or worse. It wasn't much different in '09. Three of the 16 early commits had four stars. They were outnumbered by guys who finished with two stars. This isn't a comparison.
Texas is. For years they've piled touted recruits like cordwood on their junior day and pursued some select out of state kids after locking up half or more of their class by this time every year. After falling on some hard times, they fired a bunch of coaches, brought in new blood, and took not one commit at their revamped junior day. A new day has dawned at Texas, which has only thirteen commits in mid-March.
Meanwhile on Mack Brown's Wikipedia page…
…five top five finishes in ten years once Brown's recruiting took hold in 2001 and no final ranking lower than #13 until the recent Davis/Gilbert implosion. If adopting Mack's deal with the devil means we'll get complacent and pay the piper in 11 years, tell me where to sign.
*[Googling for images of PSU recruits past who did not work out reveals that Hill is now a BEEFCAKE model. I pass this long in the spirit of knowledge and an effort to increase female readership.]
We Don't Have Enough Information On These Guys
I asked all the guys who applied for Ace's job a question: "why do Michigan's recruits tend to slide when rankings are revised?" It was admittedly a bit of a trick question since the mention of Michigan implies that is relevant information; it's not.
I think only one person gave me the right answer, which is that touted recruits are expected to drop because they're already rated in the top 1% of high school football players. The threat of moving down is much greater than the potential to move up. As the year goes on, kids will show up at camps or blow up in their senior seasons and get placed above Michigan's current commits, and they'll fall for no other reason. When Ondre Pipkins surges to five-star status he slides every other recruit in the nation down a slot. That's why Scout is reasonable to give only their top 250 four stars right now when their entire 300 will have four at the end of the year—they're saying that the guys at the end are likely to slide off as unknowns or late bloomers leap ahead of them. On average, Michigan's committed recruits should see their rankings slide in the 10 months before next February.
That said, Texas recruiting class rankings the past ten years: #2, #3, #3, #5, #14, #5, #5, #20 (just 15 kids), #10, #15, #1. Texas's rankings have been depressed by relatively small sizes since they don't oversign—for example, when they finished #15 in 2003 they were second to Michigan in average star ranking*. If the Longhorns have seen their class rankings backslide because they're jumping the gun, it hasn't been by much. The on-field results didn't suffer until they encountered the kind of complacency bred by wild success.
Meanwhile, what are Michigan's coaches going to find out about Michigan's recruits before their senior seasons? Nothing. Recruits will go to a bunch of camps over the summer that college coaches can't attend and rankings will go up and down. There's one event at which coaches actually get new information about the guys they're recruiting: summer camp. The thing is, Michigan got most of the kids in the area into their camp last year. It's now more a tool for the subsequent class. Michigan had Kyle Bosch on campus a half-dozen times before he committed. They've got nothing new to learn until September.
*[That class: Burgess, Woodley, Crable, Hall, Long, Kraus, Jerome Jackson, Ryan Mundy, Brandent Englemon, and guys who didn't play. It finished #17 in the overall Rivals rankings, which is nuts. No one takes opportunity cost into account.]
Michigan Expects These Guys To Be Committed In February
A favorite of opponent fans. Decommits are increasing at about the same pace early commitments are and inevitably a guy or two is going to find that he fits better somewhere else. Last year Michigan lost commits from Caleb Stacey, Anthony Standifer, and Pharaoh Brown. Standifer was probably an academic thing since Notre Dame turned him down when he tried to commit a few months later.
In their place, Michigan signed air after a string of late recruitments went against them… and still lassoed a class somewhere between 5 and 10 in the country. If they experience the same attrition rate next year, they'll probably replace the departures with decent three-star sorts or better… and a class solidly top five. Decommits are more common, but they are not common.
Michigan's Going To Miss Out On Emerging Seniors
The most fun is when the person making these arguments makes this one back to back with the previous one. It's true that there's going to be a four star or two who emerges and gets snapped up by MSU or Iowa or something and goes on to be a thorn in Michigan's side. When you've got guys who you think are nationally elite already in your class, that's worth a shrug. Also, when someone falls out of the class or there's more attrition than expected, Michigan will have the room to take a Willie Henry or a Frank Clark or a Dennis Norfleet.
This Doesn't Matter Because Michigan's Decaying Old Staff Had The Worst Possible Transition To Its Kind-Of-Incompetent New Staff, Operated With No Upperclass Quarterbacks For Three Years, And Hired Greg Robinson
That's the ticket, Michigan State fans.
Recruiting good players is good. I probably didn't need to write this post.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Cornell|
|WHERE||Green Bay, heart of the CCHA|
|WHEN||8:05 Eastern Friday|
|LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
It's a bear.
Record. 18-8-7, 12-4-6 ECAC. The Big Red were a clear #2 to the dominant Union Dutchmen in the ECAC this year, finishing two and a half games clear of third-place Harvard and putting up a +20 goal differential in conference. Union was a whopping +38(!) and Yale was somehow +13 despite finishing .500 in ECAC play; no other league team topped +5.
They made the ECAC semis but then got smoked by Harvard* 6-1:
They bounced back with a 3-0 win over Colgate in the consolation game.
Cornell made the tournament with defense, giving up only 2.1 goals per game in the league. Their offensive numbers were middle of the pack, as per usual. Cornell has been built on tight checking and excellent goaltending since I've been following college hockey.
As an Ivy, Cornell played an abbreviated schedule but the shorter ECAC league schedule did allow them some opportunities to test themselves against teams across college hockey. Results were mixed, with losses to Mercyhurst (a barely above .500 Atlantic Hockey team) and UMass (a 13-18-5 Hockey East team) against a win over Niagara and an old-style three-point weekend against Colorado College. They also lost in overtime to BU at Madison Square Garden.
For what it's worth, KRACH really does not like the ECAC this year. One-seed Union would be the last team in the tournament if it was used to seed the field; Cornell would not even be on the bubble at #22. The nearest CCHA team is #19 Lake Superior, if you're looking for a conference analog.KRACH overrates schedule strength considerably, but the ECAC's performance in the tournament of late reinforces the skepticism of pure math. The 2003 edition of Cornell was the last ECAC team to make the Frozen Four. Atlantic Hockey and the CHA—which doesn't even exist any more—have been more recently.
Previous meetings. None. How about…
Common opponents. Few. Both beat Niagara in one-off games; Michigan's win was by a more comfortable margin than 1-0. Michigan annihilated St. Lawrence; Cornell swept them but won only 1-0 and 4-3 in overtime. On the other hand, Michigan got crushed by Union at Yost at the tail end of their terrible streak earlier this year. Cornell got a win and a tie out of two games.
Greg Miller is three points short of a PPG.
Dangermen. If the point totals for the Big Red's leading scorers don't seem impressive, keep in mind that they've only played 33 games to Michigan's 40. They're just above average in scoring at 2.9 goals per game. (Michigan is a tie for tenth with North Dakota at 3.25.)
In any case, Cornell has two guys around a PPG, junior Greg Miller (14-16-30) and senior Sean Collins (13-11-24). Collins was a Blue Jackets seventh-round pick in '07, FWIW. Both of those guys are very good at staying out of the box, with just nine minors between them on the season, but it's Miller who drives the bus. They center the top two lines: Miller is +20, Collins +4. Brian Ferlin (8-13-21 and +15 in just 26 games) appears to be another top line guy along with John Esposito (7-8-15 in 22 games, +13). [UPDATE: Cornell fans mention that Ferlin is out with an injury.]
After the big two, Cornell has a bunch of guys between six and eight goals on the year. Two are defensemen; six are forwards. Cornell's scoring goes three lines deep but lines two and three are not outfits you really have to gameplan for.
Defenseman Nick D'Agostino is dangerous on the PP when not getting kneed by opponents. (NH Register)
On the power play, watch out for defensman Nick D'Agostino. With six goals he's the Big Red's leading power play scorer.
Defense. Again, it's hard to extrapolate much here without watching Cornell play a ton. D'Agostino has all the power play points and Joakim Ryan also has 6-10-16; D'Agostino, Kirill Gotovets, and Braden Birch have all been drafted late. It's Birch and Gotovets with the big +/- numbers. Those two are either a shut-down top pairing or a second pair sheltered from the top lines of the ECAC by the high-scoring guys.
Goalie. Cornell starter Andy Iles is like an ECAC Hunwick. He's 5'8" and played every minute Cornell was on the ice this year save the five or so given up to Open Net. His save percentage isn't quite in Hunwick's stratosphere but it is a solid .918; his GAA is a hair over 2.1. CCHA comparables are OSU's Cal Heeter and MSU's Drew Palmisano, both of whom put in .918s this year.
The video from the Harvard game above was not Iles's best day but a couple of differences between him and Hunwick are immediately apparent. Hunwick is much more aggressive at coming out of his crease than Iles, and there was one goal where he waved his glove at a shot and missed entirely. I can't remember a glove side shot Hunwick had a shot at going in since the doom at the end of Fort Wayne.
It looks like there will be room over the shoulders for a Wohlberg, Brown, or Treais to snipe at.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||3.9||3.7|
|PP Ag / G||4.0||4.2|
Cornell's penalty kill has been a major weakness all year. They're at 79% and are 48th of 58 teams. That's right: Cornell's PK is worse than Michigan's power play, which is 46th. The Big Red's power play isn't much better at 40th; Michigan's PK is a decent 13th. This is a rare game in which Michigan wouldn't mind a lot of penalties… as long as they're evenly distributed.
Michigan vs Those Guys
Single elimination hockey. Is insane.
Nowhere to hide. It's not exactly going up against North Dakota but Cornell has enough scoring depth that Clare and Chiasson/Serville will get thoroughly tested. ECAC teams are usually short on footspeed, which should help prevent the ugly shifts where those guys get caught in their own end for 90 terrifying seconds… but most of these guys can shoot and you know we're getting at least one of those.
Get the zone on the power play. One of the primary reasons Michigan's power play sucks out loud is they have no way to carry the puck into the zone and have been consistently poor at dumping, chasing, and setting up.
Against Cornell they'll be getting power play opportunities against one of the worst penalty kill teams in the country. If they can get set up, they can have success. Getting there has not been easy.
Pound, pound, pound. While Cornell is a big hockey team, the impression I've gotten from watching highlights against Harvard and BU is that they're pretty vulnerable to getting leveled. They may not be accustomed to the pace of play in leagues outside their own and Michigan may have an opportunity get turnovers in dangerous areas if they press hard.
Hunwick > Iles. Michigan goes up against Shawn Hunwick's ECAC doppelganger and should have an advantage in net. If they don't much of their expectation of victory evaporates. I'm not overly concerned about this since Hunwick's had maybe one or two bad games since Michigan removed its head from its rectum in December, but you know the drill: single elimination playoff hockey.
Pray. Here it comes. Drawing an ECAC team is usually good news. Still… pucks bounce.
The Big Picture
Win or die.
I'll have briefer capsules on Ferris State and Denver later in the week.
Today's recruiting roundup looks at Michigan's remaining scholarships and how they might be used, checks out visit reactions from last weekend, and more.
The Remaining Spots
After DeVeon Smith committed over the weekend, Michigan now has 16 commits in a class projected to hit 23-24 players. Yes, it is still March, and the Wolverines have 2/3 of their class wrapped up. Recent events have added some clarity to the positions Michigan is targeting with the remaining 7-8 spots, so I thought I'd go over the potential options, position-by-position.
Quarterback (1 commit/0 spots remaining): Shane Morris. Period. Yes, there are concerns about depth at QB, but with the number crunch in the class taking a second signal-caller appears highly unlikely.
Running Back (2/1): Michigan has Wyatt Shallman and DeVeon Smith in the fold, but they aren't done. The coaches told Richmond (VA) Hermitage RB Derrick Green that they would take a third back in the class during Green's visit last weekend ($)—a visit that went quite well, by the way—and they've said the same to Cordova (TN) four-star Jordan Wilkins ($, info in header). Ty Isaac is the top target here, and we'll see what his timetable looks like after he returns from his USC trip this weekend.
Wide Receiver (1/2): Jaron Dukes is a big receiver with big-play ability, and the Wolverines will add two more to his position group. There's a strong focus on bringing in another big outside guy—Laquon Treadwell (right) fits that mold—and it wouldn't surprise to see the coaches target a smaller, faster player like Phoenix (AZ) Brophy Prep's Devon Allen to play the slot. Gone are the days of the 5'9" slot ninjas, but the 6'1" track star Allen could signal what the current staff wants in a slot receiver. A laundry-list of other receivers have interest in Michigan, including Marquez North, Darrell Daniels, Eldridge Massington, Sebastian Larue, Marcell Ateman, Zach Bradshaw, Damore'ea Stringfellow, Kevin Gladney, and Uriah LeMay. Four-star prospects Robert Foster and James Quick look like longshots for now.
Tight End (2/0?): When Michigan continued to offer scholarships to TEs after gaining commitments from Khalid Hill and Jake Butt, it looked like a third TE would definitely be a part of the class. Now that Scott Orndoff has committed to Pitt, however, only one uncommitted tight end remains holding a Michigan offer, New Orleans prospect Standish Dobard. It seems unlikely that Dobard will leave SEC country. With the Wolverines not rushing to hand out any more offers at the position coupled with the news that they'll take a third running back, it looks like they might be content with two TEs.
Offensive Line (5/0): The coaches have informed all offensive linemen holding an offer—yes, this includes Ethan Pocic—that they're full along the offensive line. Barring a decommitment, I don't think that will change.
Defensive Tackle (0/1-2): Michigan must take at least one nose tackle in the class, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to bring in a second depending on how the other position groups shake out. The Wolverines are in a strong position with Henry Poggi—more on him later—and got Dadeville (AL) DT Rod Crayton up for a visit, and they're also pursuing high-profile prospects like Montravious Adams, Eddie Vanderdoes, and Greg Webb, among others.
Defensive End (1/0): With Taco Charlton set to come in as a weakside DE, Michigan is in a position to stay pat after the bumper crop of DEs in the 2012 class. They could go after a strongside end, especially if Chris Wormley or Matt Godin moves inside to DT this fall, and they are after some talented prospects—Tashawn Bower seems to be showing the most interest (Michigan is in his top 10 [$]) and the Wolverines are also pursuing top recruits Joey Bosa, Alquadin Muhammad, Jonathan Allen, and others. They can afford to be picky here.
Linebacker (1/1*): The Wolverines have Mike McCray in the fold and it's pretty much assumed at this point that Ben Gedeon will join him in the class, given that the coaches have told prospects like Dorian O'Daniel, Alex Anzalone, and Shane Jones that they're full at linebacker. The asterisk represents E.J. Levenberry, who has Michigan as his leader over Florida State and has a spot apparently reserved for him in the class.
Cornerback (2/0): Jourdan Lewis and Gareon Conley should more than suffice for this year's class unless a five-star talent like Kendall Fuller (unlikely, considering his ties to Virginia Tech and Michigan turning away teammate O'Daniel) or Vernon Hargreaves III (also unlikely with his father coaching at USF and the Florida schools pushing hard for him) wants to come on board. Then again, the Wolverines still seem to be pursuing corners like Tre Bell, Devin Butler, Cole Luke, and Cameron Walker, so there's a chance they take one more.
Safety (1/0): Dymonte Thomas fills any pressing need for a safety, so much like at cornerback and defensive end, the Wolverines can be comfortable staying put while going after blue-chip talents. Or should I say, talent: five-star Su'a Cravens is the only uncommitted safety to currently hold a Michigan offer, and he plans to use one of his official visits to check out Ann Arbor.
Kicker/Punter (0/0): There's no need to take a specialist in this year's class.
If Michigan takes two linebackers (including Levenberry) and two defensive tackles along with a running back and two wideouts, the team has 23 scholarships accounted for with potentially one spot to use for a best player available (or, quite possibly, a third corner). If you want to drop a DT and project the Wolverines grab a strongside DE instead, be my guest—I think we'll see two more D-linemen in the class, and a nose tackle is a must, but that other spot could go to either.
As you can see, it's already time for the Wolverines to hone in on their top targets and be fairly selective with their remaining spots. The main question going forward isn't how Michigan will use their remaining scholarships, but how many they'll have to work with.
New Preferred Walk-On, Visit Reactions, Etc.
The Wolverines now have three preferred walk-ons in the 2012 class coming from Fenton High School, as tight end Quinton Mandle joined teammates Kenny Allen (punter) and Tyler Tokarsky (long snapper) in pledging to go to Michigan on Sunday. Mandle is 6'5", 220 pounds, and had 53 receptions for 700 yards last year, both school records. His addition bolsters depth at a position sorely in need of it.
Rivals released their 2013 position ranks and an initial group of three-stars, which included previously-unranked commits DeVeon Smith and Jaron Dukes. Shane Morris has the highest position ranking, coming in second among pro-style QBs. Also of note: Michigan has five of the top 23 offensive tackles (four in the top 13), though obviously the five linemen won't all play tackle at the collegiate level.
Henry Poggi was on campus last weekend amidst rumors of an imminent commitment, and while that didn't come to fruition, he still had a great trip. Here's his dad/coach Biff discussing Henry's third visit to Ann Arbor ($):
“It was a great visit,” Biff Poggi, Henry’s father and coach told 247Sports. “Just a great visit. It was really, everyone loved it. My wife really loved it. My son loves Michigan. Loves the coaches there, Coach (Greg) Mattison, Coach (Jerry) Montgomery, Coach (Brady) Hoke. We got a chance to spend a lot of time with them. My wife is getting comfortable with the academic piece which is good, and it was a very, very good trip.”
Poggi plans to head down to Texas and Texas A&M and possibly swing out to the West Coast, but his recruitment shouldn't last much longer; his father says they plan to have it "wrapped up by the end of April."
Quickly: 2013 Cass Tech DT Kenton Gibbs said "it was most definitely a good time," after his trip to Ann Arbor last weekend ($). He's still looking for a Wolverine offer. Four of Gibbs's sophomore teammates—LB Gary Hosey, LB William White, WR Damon Webb, and DB Johnny Miggins—were also on campus, and Tremendous has visit reactions from all four. Also visiting was 2014 OL/DT Brian Allen, who already has offers from Iowa and Michigan State ($, info in header). 2013 Los Angeles (CA) Loyola CB Cameron Walker will visit from April 12-14, which includes the spring game ($).
A-Train, Perry, Hart. Photos archived from MGoBlue.com
Here is what has Michigan football fans all aflutter this week: With two 4-star running backs committed to our class, do we still have room for a 5-star running back? #firstworldproblems. Since this is our concern, I thought we'd take a look at the prospective depth charts that past Michigan RBs committed to and see if the prospective mountain for 2013 prospects is any harder than the typical Michigan starting tailback's, prospectively speaking.
When the next class arrives in 2013 Toussaint and Hopkins—a permanent fullback I mention because he's the B.J. Askew type of fullback who will eat up carries—will be seniors, and Vincent Smith will be gone. Barring attrition, the next generation, i.e. the guys an additional 2013 commit should expect to be competing with, will then look something like this:
- Thomas Rawls, Junior
- Justice Hayes, RS Sophomore
- Drake Johnson, RS Freshman
- Dennis Norfleet, RS Freshman or Soph.
- Wyatt Shallman, Freshman
- Deveon Smith, Freshman
Three RBs in the 2013 class gives us potentially five freshmen competing for carries with a sophomore and a junior. "Barring attrition" would almost be a fool's gamble given the history of the position in all my years of following Michigan, except Hoke's program has so far (very small sample) been actually kind of remarkable in holding onto guys—policy is to give them all the benefit of the doubt.
Anyway we have the dudes; if Iowa RBHG gets bored one day he will find too many sacrifices for even his mighty, smite-y hand. This means Michigan is doubtful to take any more add-on running backs to pack the roster unless they or someone on the list is switching to defense. However there is absolutely room—even a need perhaps—for a high-profile back in this class.
The recruiting profiles of a lot of these guys suggests any could be beatable by a hypothetical freshman 5-star. Norfleet and Johnson were both very under-the-radar guys. The former and Justice Hayes are more like scat-backs who could as easily end up as slot-kick returners (though from yesterday's Spring video it looked like Hayes has bulked up a bit since last year, or else someone else is wearing 5. Insiders?). Asking if Shallman is really a running back is entering the realm of media cottage industry. Rawls is so Kevin Grady. At this point Smith is a 4-star to Scout, an Anton Campbell Memorial "no idea, but I guess he committed to Michigan" 3-star to Rivals and a guy named Smith to the other sites. Throw a dart at that group in two years and you could hit anything from (respectively) Mark Ingram/Steve Breaston/Barry Sanders/Mike Hart/Ron Dayne/Eddie George Except Faster to six Brackenses.
Of all positions tailback seems the most freshman-friendly, so it's not as necessary to stockpile today for 2017. On the other hand if you look at Michigan history the lesson is MOAR TAILBACKS. In fact Michigan's great running backs of the last two decades have mostly committed to apparent depth charts way more jammed with highly rated players and established starters:
The thing that's readily apparent is the youth. Michigan averaged about two recruits per year at RB, and graduated one a year. Some didn't move far—Chris Floyd, B.J. Askew, and more recently Stephen Hopkins switched to a type of ball-carrying fullback. A good many switched to defense. A good many quit the team too. But look at the depth charts so many highly rated backs committed to:
- Tshimanga Biakabutuka would have to beat out Tyrone Wheatley, Rickey Powers, and Ed Davis, not to mention a higher rated recruit in his own class. He earned 149 carries in two years versus that group then became his own legend as a junior.
- Chris Howard signed on with two all-everything backs with a sophomore Biakabutuka already established, and ended up the nominal starting RB for a national champion.
- Clarence Williams, the Cass Tech mite, didn't seem afraid of larger classmate J.R. Ford or the aforementioned guys; he beat out Howard and Floyd as a freshman, became the feature back as a sophomore, and spent his whole career battling Howard, Floyd, and A-Train for carries.
- Anthony Thomas was the second-least heralded of four heralded backs who might have believed they were coming in to wait two years for Howard and C-Will to clear out. The train arrived at the starting station his freshman year and eventually broke most of Michigan's rushing records.
- Justin Fargas signed up beside Walter Cross, while freshman A-Train was tearing it up, and before A-Train's classmates skedaddled.
- B.J. Askew came in with three other freshman backs, including 5-star Ryan Beard, when Thomas had two more years, and two more 5-stars, including the electrifying Fargas, had three.
- Chris Perry had about the clearest route to the starter's gig of anybody, but that still meant behind two 5-stars with sophomore eligibility (Beard, Fargas), and one junior (Cross).
- Mike Hart might have looked like depth no matter which class he signed onto. To win the starting job as a true freshman he beat out senior David Underwood, junior Pierre Rembert, sophomore Jerome Jackson, and higher rated freshman Max Martin.
- Kevin Grady saw the freshman duo leap to the top of the depth chart in 2004 yet opted to join the Wolverines in 2005.
- Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown arrived when Grady was to be a sophomore and Hart had two more years as starter locked down.
- Shaw's snake-oiling away from Penn State was to join McGuffie and Cox as the generation that should wait two years for Minor/Brown to clear out. McGuffie hurdled everyone to start much of '08.
- Fitz Toussaint and Vincent Smith signed on before McGuffie left, and piled into a two-seater filled with eight other RB-or-Slot bug types.
- Hopkins signed up to maybe be the thunder guy in case they wanted to keep that job after Minor left, but still had to contend with the boatload of slot bugs.
The list of guys who didn't commit to imposing depth charts full of established and/or hyped underclassmen reads thusly: Kelly Baraka, David Underwood, Pierre Rembert, Darnell Hood, Alijah Bradley, Jerome Jackson. The moral: if you want to be the starting tailback for Michigan you always have to compete against other highly rated backs. This isn't coach speak; it's the standard. A running back who commits here is almost 50% likely to end up at another position or another school. Standard operating procedure is to arrive behind an established junior star and last year's freshman phenom, and if you manage to earn carries against those guys there's still two more classes of blue chip backs arriving after you to steal them.
Enough Carries to Go Around
So two things are true: Michigan has for a long time recruited many more guys than they need at the running back position, and the position has experienced a lot of attrition and position switches. The latter was probably by design; Lloyd Carr recruited at least Weathers, Woody Hankins (who was an RB as a freshman and as a junior), Ian Gold, Jon Shaw, Charles Drake and Darnell Hood with the idea of a defensive swap in mind. Anyway it never stopped the parade of hyped backs to Ann Arbor, despite the fact that until 2008 the coaches always preferred a feature back kind of system. A quick look at the numbers shows there were a lot of carries slipping through the starters' grasps:
|Year||Starting Tailback||Class||Carries||ALL RB Carries||% RB Carries|
|Total||ALL STARTERS (not itals)||--||3,832||6,881||55.7%|
Note: In years with two players listed, the one in italics is the nominal backup who got carries due to the nominal starter's injury. Their stories are intricate and known. Anyhoo, speaking to this year's freshmen, if anything it's not the other backs they should be worried about; it's Denard taking carries away from the entire RB corps.
The closest comparison to the situation for a hypothetical three-man 2013 class is probably 2004 (the year Hart won the job), since there's a lot of guys on the roster now whose profiles would suggest "just a guy" more than "future star." Any year between 1997 and 2000 makes a good case study for a seemingly insurmountable climb for any one recruit, but even in the heart of the A-Train years there were plenty of carries that went to guys like Justin Fargas and B.J. Askew. There were also plenty of Ryan Beard/Walter Cross/Ray Jackson/Pat McCall types who came with hype and couldn't crack the depth chart.
This is what Wyatt Shallman and Deveon Smith are signing up for. Given Michigan's history of stockpiling talent at this position, adding a five-star to this class is no deviation from the norm; in fact it would probably bring us closer to a "typical" depth chart. Fitz will be a senior when these guys arrive, and none of Drake Johnson/Dennis Norfleet/Justice Hayes/Thomas Rawls at this point should seem more insurmountable than, say, a Jerome Jackson. On the other hand an Isaac commit would mean carrying eight scholarship backs in 2013, something we haven't done since 1997. It's way too early to predict this kind of stuff but I'm sure jamiemac wouldn't call you crazy for a Justice Hayes to receiver prop. And while we can't ever plan for transfers, busts, or injuries, and I certainly hope all of these guys play out their eligibility, I don't think anybody is willing to bet on that. If Michigan wants to take another blue chip, history says there is room and opportunities available. However it's not the year Michigan can afford a scholarship for a depthy flier dude to keep up alumni relations or something like that.
It was loud. It was dramatic. It was legendary. It was historic.
It was the weekend Jed Ortmeyer achieved greatness. It was the weekend a mascot was ejected. It was the weekend Ron Mason coached his last game, and Ryan Miller played his last game. It was the weekend the CCHA Humanitarian of the Year almost murdered a dog. It was the weekend Denver stole Michigan’s locker room. It was the weekend the NCAA reconsidered its regional hosting policy.
It was one of the greatest sports experiences of my life. And incredibly, it was ten years ago this Friday.
You wouldn’t have expected this if you watched the first game. Ron Mason’s Spartan squad played so lifelessly against Colorado College that they forgot to even pull the goaltender (Michigan arch-nemesis Ryan Miller) until it was too late. I was preparing for a standard, slightly-louder-than normal playoff game against St. Cloud when I heard it: the chant that irrevocably signaled that the weekend would be among the most memorable in Michigan history.
“WE WANT MOLLY!”
“WE WANT MOLLY!”
“WE WANT MOLLY!”
On March 22 and 23, 2002, the six-team NCAA Hockey West Regional came to Yost Ice Arena. The teams were Denver, Minnesota, Michigan State, Michigan, Saint Cloud State, and Colorado College. The two days of hockey that those teams produced comprised the greatest weekend in the history of Yost. You can find the results in a database, and the results will tell you that Minnesota beat Colorado College and that Michigan beat Denver to advance to the Frozen Four. Those were the results.
This is the story.
The Molly Game: Yost at its Craziest
Michigan was a four seed drawn to play St. Cloud State as a 5 seed, a rematch of the West Regional final from the year before in Grand Rapids. Early pregame talk about the game surrounded St. Cloud’s inability to win in the NCAA tournament (the program didn’t win a game until 2010) and Michigan’s presumed home-ice advantage.
The conversation changed when the Michigan Daily picked up a quote from SCSU on-ice cheerleader Molly McGannon, who told the St. Cloud Times that she was treated poorly by Michigan fans in Grand Rapids. Her quotes spread all over town. “They’re horrible people,” she said. She further predicted that, on Michigan’s home ice, “They’ll be worse.”
She was right.
The initial team warmups were a normal affair, but as soon as the Michigan team left the ice and the band had concluded its pregame rendition of “The Victors,” the two sections reserved for Michigan students erupted in loud “WE WANT MOLLY!” chants. When Saint Cloud cheerleaders and the Husky mascot, Blizzard, emerged from the entrance behind the north goal, the noise became a roar.
As the cheerleaders performed their standard pregame routine of skating around in circles and waving pom-poms, the students showered them with catcalls and insults. It was loud, menacing, and for the husky mascot, infuriating. The routine ended as the Saint Cloud players took the ice from the north endzone; the students began waving and howling “Ooooooooooohhhhhhhhhh” expecting them to depart promptly. They did not understand that the cheer team procedure involved remaining on the ice almost until faceoff; following their exit, cheerleaders traditionally entered the grandstands for the hockey action during the period.
The cheerleaders would not be entering the stands at Yost.
Michigan took the ice and began its customary counter-clockwise warmup skate. Star defenseman Mike Komisarek noticed that two cheerleaders were standing in formation on Michigan’s half of center-ice, and as he skated around he very deliberately lowered his stick and tapped the back of the girl’s skates, nearly causing her to fall. After “The Victors” concluded students resumed taunting the cheer team, whose members were now so psychologically shattered that they could only exchange terrified glances at each other.
During player introductions the cheerleaders continued to be jeered on the ice, occasionally interrupted by the introduction of players. When each Michigan player was introduced, the mascot would skate up to them and take fake-swings at their heads with his hockey stick while spewing taunts. He was not being ironic.
Following introductions, the cheerleaders finally left the ice to a muffled C-YA chant as the teams huddled around their respective goals. The Husky, however, refused to leave, and a linesman eventually had to corral him and physically escort him to the north exit, behind the goal Michigan was huddled around.
That’s when the mascot speared defenseman Brandon Rogers.
And that was when backup goaltender Kevin O’Malley, who was named CCHA Humanitarian of the Year just the week before, launched himself toward the exit. He went fully airborne, blasted straight through the linesman, and attacked the mascot just inside the door. It was total chaos.
Then the actual game started.
It was a good one; Michigan charged to a 3-1 lead in an electric first period, chasing Husky goalie Dean Weasler. Enigmatic freshman winger Milan Gajic scored the goal of his life, a behind-the-back spin-pass to himself behind the goal followed by a gliding skate out front and a roofed shot. But the moment everyone remembers was this one, perhaps the best hit in Michigan history, served by the peerless Jed Ortmeyer.
St. Cloud crept back into the game, trailing only 3-2 in the third, but star forward Mark Hartigan missed a wide-open net after deking past Josh Blackburn. St. Cloud could not recover, and Michigan won 4-2.
It was time for Michigan to play #1 seed Denver.
The Denver Game: Yost at its Loudest.
Michigan’s new locker room, still a sparkling part of the facility, was much nicer than the other three locker rooms available for regional competitors. In the week leading up to Regionals, Denver made a stink about this and Michigan was ordered to vacate its locker room and allow top seed Denver to use it.
After the game, Red Berenson said, “Maybe they shouldn’t have taken our locker room away.”
This game doesn’t get the legendary treatment of the game the day before, but it was my favorite part of the weekend and one of the best sporting events I have ever witnessed. Many fans who were there say that it was the loudest they’ve ever heard Yost Arena; the only game that comes close was the ’98 regional game against North Dakota.
It was a wonderful game. That ’02 Denver team was terrific, and they played a defensive, checking style very similar to the MSU teams of the era. Goalie Wade Dubielewicz was a dominant player, and after their WCHA title many favored them to win the national title.
After a scoreless first period the teams traded five goals in the second. Michigan seemed to be in good shape up 2-1 until Mike Komisarek attempted to kill a penalty by grabbing the puck and throwing it 150 feet down the ice; the resulting 5-on-3 allowed Denver to tie the game, and they took a 3-2 lead a short time later.
Denver never gave away third period leads--they were 28-1 when leading after two. The crowd was nervous, or at least subdued; I was terrified. This was it, the season on the line, needing a goal against an impenetrable team.
Eric Werner tied the game 4:47 into the period. The crowd was back. Raucous “Go! Blue!” chants traded sides. Every hit was cheered, every shot exhorted. Michigan took control of play, but as the clock ticked down overtime seemed certain.
Jed Ortmeyer did not come to Michigan as an exceptional offensive talent, and NHL scouts never drooled over his physical attributes. He had the face of a teddy bear. There were always players on Michigan who were more imposing, players who were better skilled. But Ortmeyer was a remarkable leader and a tireless worker. And he lived for these moments.
With less than two minutes left, Mike Cammalleri fed him the puck in the neutral zone...
(Look closely for the Michigan player who pulls the net off its moorings to allow the rest of the team to pile on top of Ortmeyer. Red trains smart players.)
Ortmeyer’s goal blew the place up. I’ve attended UM-OSU football games at both venues; I’ve been to games at Texas A&M and LSU; I’ve been to Red Wing playoff games; but I’ve never been in a place like that. The audio on the recording simply does not convey how ear-bleedingly loud Yost was. The Denver players couldn’t look away from the crowd--they were beaten, it was over, and they knew it.
Often forgotten, the officials stopped the game for ten minutes to deal with a timekeeping problem. The crowd roared unceasingly throughout the stoppage. When retiring rink announcer Glenn Williams gave his celebratory “You’re Welcome!” to the students, they went nuts. When Eric Nystrom flipped a puck from center ice into the open net, the place went bonkers again.
At the conclusion of the game, after the handshakes, Ortmeyer organized an improptu fan salute, before it was a regular procedure. The players gathered in the center circle and faced outward, grins on their faces, and raised their sticks in the air. The crowd gave one last, deafening cheer. Triumph.
What a weekend.