Note: I'll be off for the next week for a vacation that serendipitously coincides with the Art Fair invasion of Ann Arbor. Have a great week, everyone. Townies, get out while you still can.
HTTV is out, Draftageddon is in full swing, and there's nary a non-baseball sport happening right now.* Armed with the knowledge from those first two and the boredom of the third, it's as good a time as ever to do some football opponent overviews. After doing extensive—some would say excessive—amounts of research on Michigan's opponents, here are the five most dangerous position groups the Wolverines are slated to face this year, plus one with the potential to be very good that I felt obligated to include since I had zero non-conference opponents on the list. Let's begin with the obvious.
Ohio State's Defensive Line
Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, Noah Spence. All four were composite top-60 overall recruits; Washington and Spence were both consensus five-stars, and the other two are already proven collegiate stars after Bosa emerged as one of the best freshmen at any position in the country last year. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better starting front four in the country; only Washington is a new starter, and he's talented enough that last year's starting DT, Joel Hale, volunteered to move to offensive guard this offseason after refusing the same switch a year prior.
As SBNation's Bill Connelly noted in his Ohio State preview, the Buckeye defensive line was surprisingly mediocre by advanced metrics last year, both because of the ugly play in the back seven and a lack of quality depth behind the starters up front. After losing All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier and top cornerback Bradley Roby to the NFL, the former issue may still be, well, an issue. The depth along the line, however, should be better this year; Tommy Schutt, Michael Hill, and Donovan Munger provide plenty of talented options at defensive tackle, while redshirt freshman Tyquan Lewis and blue-chip true freshman Jalyn Holmes should give the Buckeyes two quality backups in addition to senior Steve Miller, who had three sacks in limited time last year.
At the very least, this is a unit that will be very tough to handle in passing situations. If the addition of defensive coordinator Chris Ash shores up the problems that plagued OSU's run defense—tackling with arms would be a good place to start—then this could be a group that keeps offensive coordinators up at night.
|Yeah, it would've been nice to get this guy (via)|
Injuries limited Maryland's two best receivers to just seven games apiece last season. In the midst of such turmoil, however, the Terrapins found they had tremendous depth out wide, and the experience their backups-turned-starters gained last year will prove quite valuable in 2014.
The headliners, of course, are former five-stars Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, who both would've been serious threats to crack the 1,000-yard mark in 2013 if their seasons weren't cut short. Both are now healthy, and they give Maryland the most explosive pair of receivers in the conference.
The supporting cast is stellar, as well. Levern Jacobs emerged as the team's go-to guy when Diggs and Long went down, recording 46 catches for 640 yards on a very impressive 9.0 yards per target; that wasn't the product of the more hyped receivers taking attention away from Jacobs, either, as he recorded two 100-yard efforts as the team's top option. Sophomore-to-be Amba Etta-Tawo was just as explosive (9.1 YPT) on 31 receptions—he also surpassed the century mark twice in the latter half of the season. 6'3" junior Nigel King (33 receptions, team-high four TDs) gives the team a bigger possession receiver, while fellow junior Marcus Leak reportedly excelled in the spring.
There are only a few issues with this group, two of which aren't their fault. Quarterback C.J. Brown is a dual-threat type with some accuracy issues—his middling 59% completion rate in 2013 was still a major improvement over his 49% mark in 2011 (he missed 2012 due to injury). There's the question of how to keep all these receivers happy—there are five proven targets and only one ball to go around. Then there's the issue actually inherent in the receiving corps: among the players listed above, only King stands above 6'1", and Maryland had serious issues scoring touchdowns in the red zone last year. A below-average offensive line had a lot to do with that problem, however, making this some serious nit-picking. This is an outstanding group that has so many options they'll expose any secondary with a major weak point.
Penn State's Tight Ends
|Three PSU TEs caught at least 15 passes in 2013 (via)|
While Allen Robinson deservedly drew most of the attention among Penn State's pass-catchers in 2013, QB Christian Hackenberg was fortunate to have a group of three excellent tight ends—Jesse James, Kyle Carter, and Adam Breneman—all of whom return this fall. Each caught at least 15 passes last year, and their collective numbers should go up as the Nittany Lions look to replace Robinson's 97(!) receptions.
At 6'7", 257 pounds, James provides a huge target, solid blocking, and the most game experience at the position. With eight TDs over the last two years, he's a major threat in the red zone, and he'll be a starter either in name or function.
The other starter—given PSU's personnel, they'll trot out a ton of two-TE sets—should be sophomore Breneman, who displayed NFL potential last year after recovering from a torn ACL that cost him his senior season of high school ball and five-star status on the recruiting sites. He bounced back to catch 15 of his 19 targets for 186 yards (a team-high 9.8 YPT) with three touchdowns; he can split out, work the middle of the field, and like James he must be accounted for near the end zone.
Breneman ate into a serious amount of Carter's production last season. Carter recorded 36 receptions, second on the team despite playing just nine games, as a freshman in 2012; last year, that number dipped to 18, and Breneman is poised to take on an even bigger role now that he's well removed from the ACL injury. That makes Carter by far the best #3 tight end in the conference, and you can bet James Franklin and Co. will find ways to utilize such a deep position group.
Michigan State's Secondary
|No, BiSB, I refuse to put another picture of Kurtis Drummond on this site (via)|
With two starters gone from the secondary, including first-round corner Darqueze Dennard, some of this is assuming that Pat Narduzzi's scheme and talent development will continue to produce outstanding results. After the past few years, however, that feels like a very safe assumption, and there's no shortage of talent among State's back four.
Kurtis Drummond, as BiSB is sure to remind you, is the best safety in the conference and a very safe bet to go in the first round of next year's NFL draft. He led that defense in solo tackles (49), even managing to chip in 3.5 TFLs, picked off a team-high four passes, and broke up six more. There isn't a more complete safety in the country, and his discipline and play recognition allows Narduzzi to run his hyper-aggressive Cover 4.
Junior Trae Waynes steps into Dennard's #1 corner spot, and he looks more than ready for the role after posting five PBUs and three INTs of his own in 2013. Like Dennard, Waynes has the aggressive-coverage-bordering-on-interference thing down pat—before you complain, Michigan very much wants their corners to do the same this year—and he got tested plenty as teams looked to avoid Dennard last year; despite seeing plenty of action, he held up very well.
Darian Hicks currently leads a group of three sophomores competing for the other corner spot, while redshirt freshman Jalyn Powell made a surprise spring push for the starting strong safety spot, where junior R.J. Williamson—who played a good deal last year rotating in for now-graduated SS Isaiah Lewis—was expected to take over. With that much competition (and that much Narduzzi), don't expect the MSU secondary to take much of a dip this year, if any.
Indiana's Offensive Backfield
|Sudfeld and Coleman are one of the B1G's best backfield duos (via)|
This would've been an even easier pick if dual-threat QB Tre Roberson hadn't transferred over the offseason, but that move may actually be a good sign for Indiana if it means the more polished passer from last year's two-QB rotation, Nate Sudfeld, is poised for a breakout season.
As a sophomore in 2013, Sudfeld completed 60% of his passes at 7.8 yards per attempt with 21 TDs to just nine INTs. Those numbers look more impressive when considering Roberson vultured a lot of his touchdown opportunities and Sudfeld's presence in the backfield tended to tip pass for teams defending the Hoosier attack. While Indiana loses a lot in the receiving corps, Sudfeld should improve now that he's not looking over his shoulder after every off-the-mark pass, and he's got a go-to receiver in productive slot bug Shane Wynn.
The real star of the high-flying Hoosier offense, however, is running back Tevin Coleman, who'd be getting a lot more hype if he didn't play in the same conference as Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. Coleman rushed for 958 yards and 12 TDs on just 131 carries (7.3 YPC); he was coming off a 215-yard performance against Illinois when he missed the final three games of the season with an ankle injury. When healthy, he's explosive enough to leave MSU's defense (and their fans) agape. The numbers are rather astounding [emphasis mine]:
But the primary reason I can't worry too much about Indiana's offense is Tevin Coleman. Highlight Yards basically look at a runner's explosiveness once he reaches the second level of a defense. Combining that with Opportunity Rate (the frequency with which you reach said second level), we get a pretty good idea for what kind of back you are. Coleman's 35.9 percent Opportunity Rate was nothing special, but no one in the country was more explosive.
Of the 199 FBS players with at least 100 carries in 2013, only seven averaged 8.0 highlight yards per opportunity or greater. Boston College's Andre Williams and Missouri's Henry Josey averaged 8.0, Maryland's C.J. Brown and Ohio State's Braxton Miller averaged 8.4, West Virginia's Dreamius Smith and UL-Lafayette's Elijah McGuire averaged 8.6 ... and Tevin Coleman averaged 12.0. His average was 40 percent better than the second best. He had 14 carries of at least 20 yards (only 12 players had more), and he had eight of at least 40 (most in the country). He is unlit dynamite every play he's on the field.
Coleman is the ideal back for Kevin Wilson's spread offense, and his production should only go up after he split carries with now-graduated back Stephen Houston last season. IU may lean on him more as they figure out how to replace the lost production among their receivers; Coleman should be up to the task.
Dark Horse: Notre Dame's Offensive Line
|Christian Lombard and Co. made life easy for Tommy Rees last year (via)|
After losing their two most experienced linemen, including first-round left tackle Zack Martin, I'm not quite ready to place Notre Dame's OL among the above groups, but there's a good chance I'll look stupid for not doing so. The Irish still return six linemen boasting a combined 54 starts, and the talent level is among the best in the country. They finished second in adjusted sack rate and 22nd in adjusted line yards last season; in all likelihood, they're reloading, not rebuilding.
Right guard Christian Lombard and center Nick Martin (Zack's younger brother) are the senior anchors of the line, and while both missed time to injury last year, they should be healthy for the fall. The projected starter at left guard, Steve Elmer, played ten games in 2013—including four starts in place of Lombard—and held up remarkably well for a true freshman; at this trajectory, he's a future star.
While there's a little more uncertainty at tackle, the potential is very high there, as well. Junior Ronnie Stanley, a former top-150 overall recruit, is slated to take over for the elder Martin at left tackle after starting all 12 games at right tackle last season. The only major question mark on the line is at right tackle, where 2013 four-star recruit Mike McGlinchey is penciled in as the starter. If he can't cut it in his first year on the field, two other four-star recruits from that class, Hunter Bivin and Colin McGovern, are there to step in as needed. While losing Zack Martin is a major blow, it's one that Notre Dame should be able to withstand.
*MLS fans, call me when there's a team in Detroit.
|Salt Lake City, UT – 6'4", 315|
||Scout||4*, #88 overall
#6 DT, #1 Utah
|Rivals||3*, NR overall
#23 DT, #4 Utah
|ESPN||4*, #91 overall
#7 DT, #1 Utah
|24/7||4*, #83 overall
#9 DT, #1 Utah
|Other Suitors||BYU, Wisconsin, Utah, UCLA|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Ace breaks down a Mone game. Hello post. Brief interview.|
|Notes||Highland (Sione Houma). Believe it is pronounced mon-AY|
The guy profiled most recently in this series may have a problem becoming big enough to contribute in college. Bryan Mone will not have this problem. Mone's final couple years of high school saw him go from an almost slender kid sites projected as an SDE to a monster suited for the middle. One reason why: MEAAAAAAAAAAAT.
Coach Hoke had a nice feast with the Mone family last night for his in-home visit. pic.twitter.com/DaKu7m8S0q
— Steve Lorenz (@TremendousUM) December 4, 2013
MEAT. Also meat.
Mone went from 245 to over 300 in a couple years, and then kept going. At some point he went too far, with 247 listing him at a whopping 338 up until Signing Day, though that was probably outdated. When Mone committed he told Sam Webb that he was at 340 with a goal of getting down to 315, and after his early enrollment that's the weight he is listed at on Michigan's roster.
So while he's still got a ways to go before he's a Mike-Martin-esque slab of beef, he's on his way. When he gets there he should be a quality player, if you're not Rivals. Scout's Brandon Huffman:
Mone is exactly how you draw it up when you're looking for an impact college tackle. He has a great frame, plays with good pad level, has plus level quickness and is relentless in pursuit. He does a great job getting off blocks, uses his hands very well and plays with a motor. He has the ability to fit in with a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme and could see the field early in college.
This probably isn't the first time I've ever seen a high school defensive lineman praised for his pad level, but it feels like it. Colleague Scott Kennedy is probably the most positive of anyone:
Huge, active defensive line prospect who is incredibly quick for his size. Actually played some defensive end in his high school's 3-4 formation at well over 300 pounds. Uses a club-like rip and swim move to knock tackles off balance. Wicked punch off snap. Changes directions well in space to adjust to backs trying to avoid him in the backfield. Gets tremendous leverage even though he's taller than most high school linemen he faced.
…very athletic for his size. Mone is very quick off the ball and can use his athleticism to swim around offensive lineman or use his size to bull-rush. One of Mone’s biggest assets is his hands. On film, Mone shows violent hands and uses them to gain proper leverage in the trenches. …nimble on his feet for a 300-pound athlete, showing great change of direction and the ability to avoid lineman when needed.
They list pad level as an improvement, because of course they do. Pad level. Meat.
ESPN is a little more reticent, but still positive:
…flashes of a very good initial burst off the ball but you would like to see little more consistency from him there. …when he fires out low, brings his hands and uncoils at contact he is more than capable of putting a blocker on his heels and holding his ground. When he brings his hands he displays the upper-body and hand strength to extend and shed, but he needs to be more consistent with his pad level and hand usage. …needs to more consistently utilize his size and power. … Has good lateral mobility.
They also mention that his violent hands give him some upside as an interior pass rusher.
"He uses his hands very well and he has real good feet for a big guy. He changes directions really well. "
The overall picture here is that Mone is a big, explosive guy with hands that are either great or in need of improvement, depending on your point of view and whether you're comparing him to the average high schooler or a finished product.
And then there's Rivals. Rivals was always down on Mone for whatever reason—he was 180th there despite being 76th on the 247 composite in September—and took the opportunity presented by the UA game to club him down to the generic three star range. No one else did. Most thought he basically justified his rating. 247:
… stout at the line of scrimmage and couldn’t be moved around by opposing offensive lineman. Mone has violent hands and good swim move, with the ability to play multiple shades along the defensive front. Mone was in on several tackles behind the line of scrimmage and looks college-ready from a physical standpoint.
Rivals's Mike Farrell seems to be the main skeptic, listing Mone amongst droppers:
… lacked the athleticism and quickness at the snap needed to be the No. 185 player in the country. He struggled more than any other defensive tackle short of three-star Lamont Gaillard and three-star O.J. Smith.
Nothing else suggests a major drop on their site. But then a Rivals guy who was more focused on the Michigan guys provides a potential explanation:
…Mone's main drawback at this time is in his conditioning and body composition. On some days at practice, Mone looked unbelievable for several reps before starting to run out of gas. While those were his better days (on others, he was having trouble adjusting to the quality of competition), the fact that his better performances featured an obvious weak point is a negative. Fortunately, he shone on gameday.
Hell, Rivals even named him one of his team's top performers:
10. DT BRYAN MONE, SALT LAKE CITY (UTAH) HIGHLAND
Mone was very active during the third practice. The Michigan commit was quicker off the ball today and more aggressive with his arms. When he combined those violent arms and his great lower body strength, Mone was able to generate a lot of push in the middle on the defensive line. During pass-rushing drills, Mone was able to make the offensive guards open their hips and finish where the quarterback would be.
With Mone's quick emergence this seems more like an overreaction to limited reps by a guy who doesn't really know much about the prospect. It's Junior Hemingway again. Hemingway is now an NFL wide receiver; Rivals bashed him down to three stars because someone saw him bad at an all star game. Farrell gonna Farrell.
Mone enrolled early and this has paid off for him. He emerged as contender on the line. While he has the potential to be a nose tackle at his size, Michigan sees him as a three tech:
The 3-tech is where Michigan will play the Salt Lake City (UT) Highland native next season.
"That's where they want me to play," he said. "I can use my power, which is what I am best at. Michigan wants me to get down to somewhere a little over 300 pounds, so I have some work to do there, but I can get it."
That was at the UA game, where he said he was 326. Michigan played him at the three this spring; he and Maurice Hurst Jr were both impressive enough to blast Willie Henry, who flashed buckets of promise during the second half of last year, down to third string. Motivational or not (clearly motivational), that's a good sign. Collectively the freshmen seemed to have cleaned out the three-tech depth chart. In the spring pratice thing he "flashed into the backfield regularly," sayeth this site.
Mone should be able to hit his weight goal by fall, as his balloon period was more a function of a lack of experience being huge than anything to do with his work ethic. Coach quote:
“The kid never comes off the field. To be 300 lbs. and yet be able to do that, it says a lot about him as a player and his work ethic. He works his guts out in the weight room and does a real good job for us. He is big, strong, powerful, and tenacious. He flat gets after it."
Why Alan Branch? Branch was another guy who was unnaturally agile for a guy his size; like Mone he was able to get into the backfield with regularity from a three-tech spot. Branch's height seemed like it might be a problem for the ol' pad level but in practice he was just too enormously strong for it to make much difference.
Bonuses: Branch was ranked in approximately the same place by most services, and came from a relatively obscure Western state (in his case, New Mexico).
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Near consensus except for Rivals, All Star appearance. Weight fluctuation makes things a bit difficult and Farrell gonna Farrell.
Variance: Low. Already college-sized and pushing for playing time, Mone's floor is a legit four-year contributor.
Ceiling: High. Easy to see him going high in the NFL draft as a 315 pound guy who can run.
General Excitement Level: High. Serious breakout potential either this year or next. College sized already, great work ethic and smarts, just needs to reshape his body a little bit and then it's time to come out and play.
Projection: Will play this year, and I won't even complain. Will be part of the three-tech rotation with Hurst and Wormley unless he gets sucked over to nose tackle. That's unlikely unless Pipkins does not recover well from his injury.
Longer term, Mone and Hurst should combine to shove Wormley over to SDE next year, especially if Michigan does go back to the under. Those two will fight tooth and nail for the starting three-tech job for the next four years—whoever comes out on top is likely to be real good. And substituted frequently.
Your basketball nonconference schedule:
|Mon., Nov. 10||vs. Wayne State ex||home|
|Sat., Nov. 15||vs. Hillsdale College||home|
|Mon., Nov. 17||TBD||home|
|Thu., Nov. 20||TBD||home|
|Mon., Nov. 24||VCU or Oregon (2)||neutral|
|Tue., Nov. 25||vs. Villanova (2)||neutral|
|Sat., Nov. 29||vs. Nicholls State||home|
|Tue., Dec. 2||vs. Syracuse (2)||home|
|Sat., Dec. 6||vs. NJIT||home|
|Tue., Dec. 9||vs. Eastern Michigan||home|
|Sat., Dec. 13||at Arizona||away|
|Sat., Dec. 20||vs. SMU||home|
|Mon., Dec. 22||vs. Coppin State||home|
The TBDs are opening round opponents for Michigan's fake tournament (unlike the preseason NIT, the small schools in this tourney cannot advance). You'll note that it makes no sense to have the "OR" game first; I imagine Michigan is just throwing those names out there until such time as the tournament is set
There's good and bad here: two of VCU/Oregon/Villanova plus Syracuse, Arizona, and SMU is a five-game stretch that should put to bed any schedule concerns. They've got enough firepower to expect to win at least a couple of those, too—which should put them in better position than they were last year entering conference play.
Unfortunately, Michigan continues buying the cheapest games they possibly can to fill out the rest of the schedule, to their detriment. Kenpom rankings of the filler here: 293, 139 (EMU), 312, 290 plus nonexistent (Hillsdale) and probably real bad (the two home games for the tourney). NJIT in particular is a team that should be avoided at all costs, a joke program that's not even in a conference. I get scheduling Eastern, as they're 1) local and 2) half-decent under Rob Murphy.
Various MEAC teams and SWAC teams may be standard practice, but they're games that are horrible to watch. It may not move the needle for people watching on TV; for ticketholders a team like Bradley is much more appealing. Nobody likes a snuff film.
HEY. If you didn't already, read Seth's thing.
Just a shooter. Ex-just a shooter? Zak Irvin's trying to shake the reputation that he has a campsite outside the three point line he only leaves when he needs water:
Zak Irvin smirked at the old saying. He heard it before. So did Nik Stauskas, his predecessor on the wing in Michigan’s offense.
Just a shooter.
The title was stamped on Stauskas at this time last year. As a freshman in 2012-13, the 6-foot-6 guard attempted 58.3 percent of his field-goals from 3-point distance.
Now here’s Irvin. If Stauskas was just a shooter as a freshman, what does that make him? Also a 6-foot-6 guard, Irvin launched a freewheeling 74.5 percent of his shots from behind the arc as a freshman.
The thing is: Stauskas was way less of a shooter than Irvin was, to the point where UMHoops was pointing out that he was even more efficient than Trey Burke in pick and roll situations. Whenever anyone asked me who would step up as the alpha in Burke's absence I immediately said "Stauskas" in a tone of voice that was probably insulting to the person asking the question.
Just-a-shooter-related stats indicate that Irvin is starting well back from Stauskas was when it comes to initiating offense.
|STAUSKAS (FR)||IRVIN (FR)|
Also… I mean…
Irvin made a total of 11 2-point field goals in 18 Big Ten games as a freshman. His 21 free-throw attempts were three less than Mitch McGary, who played in only eight games. His 13 assists were only one more than McGary produced.
I am now sad about Mitch again, but that's pretty stark.
Michigan doesn't need Irvin to be Stauskas, what with Walton and LeVert still around. They would like him to be a third creator—hell, if Irvin gets to Stauskas's freshman shot generation numbers that would be terrific.
One thing we do know: even if Irvin does become Not Just A Shooter (drink), we will not hear that he is Not Just A Shooter (drink), because he's not a pale guy from Canada.
FINALLY. It is policy around here to ignore preseason watch lists for major awards because the last time I looked at one I was on there. But we will make a solitary exception for the one organization that seems to have watched Devin Funchess play last year:
On Tuesday, Funchess landed on the 2014 Biletnikoff Award watch list, which goes annually to the most outstanding receiver in college football.
Yes, I know this is just because watch lists place anything vaguely hominid on their lists. I'm still taking it and running.
So there's this. They changed the trophy, likely because of intellectual property issues or something like that. Now it looks like this:
The one piece of the BCS worth keeping (the crystal football) is replaced by a wagon-wheel coffee table
…leg? I think he left out "leg." But yeah.
A major blow to SMU. Megarecruit Emmanuel Mudiay was set to make a visit to Crisler for his one and only year of college basketball; instead he's taking whatever money he can get this year:
"I was excited about going to SMU and playing college basketball for coach Brown and his staff and preparing for the NBA," Mudiay said in a statement relayed by his brother, Stephane, to SI. "But I was tired of seeing my mom struggle. And after sitting down with coach [Larry] Brown and my family, we decided that the best way for me to provide for my mom was to forgo college and pursue professional basketball opportunities."
That's likely bunk, since Mudiay can just get cash on the side and the school he graduated from was co-founded by Deion Sanders and has had a number of graduate-types get shot down by the NCAA. Either way, that SMU game looks significantly less intimidating.
SMU's still going to be a challenge. They went 27-10 last year and lost to Minnesota in the NIT final; they lost only an inefficient third wheel and a low-usage OREB guy from last year's team.
That would be bizarre, but fun? Chatter about NCAA hockey expansion pops up only every once in a while these days, and when it does it's usually followed by an athletic director making grumbly noises about the general impossibility of such. So go ahead and guess which AD actually wants to make it happen. No, no, no, and no. Arizona State!
Count Arizona State Vice President of Athletics Ray Anderson among the growing number of people who like to see the Sun Devil hockey team compete at the highest level.
"I personally would love to see hockey as a varsity sport at Arizona State," he said. "We have to make a commitment to figure that out."
Penn State's departure from the club hockey ranks apparently made ASU the big dog on the block, whereupon they turned in a 38-2 season, and ASU has a relatively small department for a school of its size and revenue level.
The obvious problem: there ain't nobody to play. The nearest NCAA hockey schools are in Colorado. I guess you could slide them into the NCHC. It would still be an expensive proposition. Unlikely unless ASU gets the kind of donation PSU got.
That'll fix it. Michigan proposes fireworks after the Penn State and… uh… Miami (Not That Miami) games. I don't care, really, but it's notable that a bunch of Penn State and Ohio State people on twitter are now seemingly offended on our behalf.
Michigan football is just Dime a Dog night away from being a minor league baseball team.
— Matt d (@PSUMatt2005) July 14, 2014
On the one hand, yeah. On the other hand, YOU'RE PENN STATE (rawwereraaarr rawwrr). YOU ARE THE CHINTZ MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.
But anyway this is where we are: opposing fan bases are getting irritated because we are not Michigan enough.
I'm sitting with my mother and her three sisters, and we're watching the rockets attacking Israel. One aunt is on Skype with her daughter who just picked a really bad week to move to Tel Aviv. My cousin has a tendency toward fearlessness—when living in Sendai, Japan, during that earthquake/tidal wave/nuclear plant disaster she passed up offers from the U.S. consulate to get her out of there, instead organizing the evacuation of her schoolchildren. Now she's brushing aside her mother's terror: we have an Iron Dome; can I show you the floor of the apartment?
The American TV news is showing people fleeing the beach and she jokes that all those moving at a walking pace are the Israelis. The aunts don't see the humor; these are minutes carefully constructed—including the Skype call—to properly experience the horror of warfare. And when it's interrupted by the news shifting to Wimbledon the women lament, and complain of Western Civilization's warped priorities: here's civilians being shot at with rockets; now let's go to sport.
Here's sport. The reason that TV news can seamlessly shift from Hamas lobbing rockets to Roger Federer smashing lobs is because TV news turned news coverage into sports coverage. Here's the teams, here's the scores, here's a highlight reel, here's the day's-end results. You are welcome to lament this development; my point here is there's something so innately gratifying about sports that they turned news into it.
Getting in. I can't remember my first interactions with sports. There's a photo of me as an infant between my dad and my grandpas on a couch, and given the setup and the expressions (sleeping, discussing something else, WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?) it's a good bet a game was on. I was just four months old the first time I was on a sailboat—my dad was a serious racer back then and had use of his captain's boat because he was the only crewman who knew how to fix it. I've been told I went to an '84 Tigers playoff game but I don't remember it. I don't remember my first Michigan game either—just the familiarity of going to Michigan games in later memories.
I remember going hours early to my great aunt's house for Thanksgiving, and sitting on the floor of the living room for the Lions game. I remember at the end of a morning ski lesson at Nub's Nob my dad coming to pick us up and all afternoon us showing him what we'd learned of pizza pies and french fries. I remember wearing space pajamas while watching March Madness on my parents' bed, and my dad getting in trouble for me being up. And I remember my dad instructing me on the proper breaking-in technique of my first baseball glove, and unwrapping the greasy twine early because I meant to take the glove to tailgate, and that my dad fished his out of the chaos of his garage shelves, and that I spent the drive to Ann Arbor admiring the old leather, the Rocky Colavito signature, and the bull's head brand in the palm that matched my own glove.
I don't remember when I started liking sports. I just remember my Dad was there.
From left: WWII vet, blogger, WWII vet, draft dodger
Distraction. My favorite MGoBlog piece is "Eleven Swans," when Brian felt, in the hours leading up to Football Armageddon (The Game 2006), that he needed to justify how such a thing could have importance in a world with an Israeli-Palestinian conflict in it:
And then you try to figure out why the stakes are so high in the first place. Why this entire week you haven't been able to concentrate on anything by war by proxy. Fake war by proxy. Meaningless war by proxy. You will suffer humiliation when the team from my area defeats the team from your area. It's ridiculous. Intelligent people do not spend a goodly swath of their life pouring emotion and precious time into a contest that affects no one and changes nothing except some inky scribbles in media guides.
The analogy that Kellen Winslow Jr. badly articulated in reference to a brutal injury he inflicted that one time is, in fact, true: sports is warfare. Our regional tribe shall fight theirs, and will do so in the manner that we all wish war was conducted: hardfast rules, individual heroics, minimal casualties, clear victories, and done by somebody else on our behalf.
My father was the first in his paternal lineage not to go to war. The first Fisher, according to the family history, deserted a British ship for an American one near Sault Ste. Marie in 1813. There was a Harry Fisher who distinguished himself in the Civil War. And there was Great Grandpa Prenzlauer, who for a drunken promise named a son for his war buddy Colonel Leonard Wood, whom everyone called "Colonel." Both of my grandpas fought against real Nazis in The War, as did my dad's great uncle Colonel Leonard Wood Prenzlauer, a corporal (family members, almost certainly apocryphally, claim he was Joseph Heller's inspiration for Major-Major). The horrors of it made them old men before their thirties; Colonel died only a few years afterward.
Because you're supposed to name kids for a loved one who recently passed, my dad's name was to be Colonel, until my grandma awoke from the drugs they used back then and promptly changed it to Robert Leonard. He played football at Cass Tech and his coach—perhaps every coach in the mid-'60s—was a vet who coached like it was a war.
My dad's distaste for warfare started a rift with him and his father that wouldn't be repaired until I was born. My dad spent the bulk of his twenties avoiding Vietnam by any means. He had a low draft number and after his first two years at MSU they got rid of student deferments. He and his best friend, who'd been at Michigan, transferred to Oakland University to keep their parents mollified while really doing nothing but play handball and researching ways of getting around the draft. Eventually they came upon agricultural deferments, which is how two Jewish city boys became farmers. The New Deal system of the federal government buying up unplanted crops to keep food prices high enough to support farming was still in effect, so the years they were not-growing corn were able to offset the years they were growing corn badly.
(For many reasons I read Catch 22 at an early age)
The way the WWII generation watched sports was different from my dad's generation, and different from mine. My grandpa treated it like an intense escape. He and his brothers-in-law went to the 1950 game—the one with all the snow—and he said ever after it was his favorite because it was too cold for anybody to interrupt the game with talking. He wouldn't talk about the war much, except to bring up the fact that he fought it so that he could watch the damn game in peace.
My dad watched Michigan games in the stands, or at his best friend's house, or if neither were available from his bed; either way it was a background piece to a conversation that alternated between mutterings over the incompetence of the coaches and the other things in life.
He had little of the seriousness for sports that I developed. I'd complain to him of battles with the internet Nazis and the relativity of program goodness, and he'd shrug at these things then go back to the two great questions of our age: Why haven't they pulled this pitcher?, and Why are they running left again?. A few things were important and everything else was irrelevant, and nobody could bring irreverence to bear like my father. He was off-the-charts intelligent. He was unflinchingly ethical. He could mock anything because he had the mind and the desire to understand everything.
The things that are important. My aunts were all in town last week because on July 4th my dad suddenly passed away. He'd been a little sick with that cold everyone had that turned into mild bronchitis and pneumonia, but the antibiotics and pills had him feeling better by that Friday. He was gardening, and planning to sail in the afternoon, and when he collapsed I was on the phone with my Mom to invite them, conditional on my dad's state of health after sailing, to barbecue at our new house with all the kids and his two grandkids.
When I was 16 I got fired from a summer camp—I accidentally ran into a kid while refereeing ultimate frisbee and it just happened to be the kid who had a lawsuit going against the camp for the last time he and his parents imagined he was damaged, and rather than compound their situation they let me go. Then my car wouldn't start and I was stranded at the bus depot at Lahser and 11-mile, and I called my dad and said it was the worst day of my life, and he said "No, the worst day of your life is the day I die."
I've never a fought a war, never been in a position where I'd been expected to, or had to face the prospect of one. Lacking something so serious I developed a tendency—as I'm sure many of my generation did—to stage pitched battles over less relevant things. You've witnessed this as I've railed on this blog and in HTTV etc. about the Superbowlization of Michigan sports.
Today is my first official day "back" to blogging since July 4, and there's fireworks to mock, new plays to scribble, and an interview with former Michigan cornerbacks in re: what to expect from Peppers that are coming up. But I couldn't bring myself to put any of those together because the worst day of my life still envelopes all the thoughts.
So I want to say for the record, in lieu of all the complaints and nitpicks and devastations and hypocrisies that I typically point out, that these things are of just a relative importance to a thing of actual little importance. If it costs way more than it should to sit in a stadium that's become way too chintzy for a team that isn't nearly as good as it ought to be, that's 5% of an experience that's 95% spending some of a truly finite amount of breaths with the person you came with. I can't remember how sports became such a part of my life any more than I remember how my dad entered it. Sports were just something that my dad and I did with the 34 years of peace and good life afforded to us. And it was the most important thing in the world.
weird combo ND/Michigan tradition: check
Via official site:
Two of college football's most storied programs will meet for the first time in regular season history when the University of Michigan and the University of Oklahoma play a home-and-home series during the 2025 and 2026 seasons, announced jointly by the two institutions today (Monday, July 14).
Hooray. I'll probably be able to take a self-driving car to the away game, but hooray. That's the first game scheduled in the post-ND era that comes close to replacing Notre Dame in terms of appeal. Unfortunately, it arrives 11 years after this year's finale.