that's unfortunate, but at least the interest is there on both sides
Photo by Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog
Now that the disappointment stemming from an early NCAA tournament exit has largely melted away—replaced instead by a crippling fear that Trey Burke will go pro in similarly too-soon fashion—it's time to take a look back on the 2011-12 basketball season. Heading into the season, expectations weren't particularly high after the early departure of Darius Morris, and the burden was largely placed on Burke to get Michigan back to the tournament. From my season preview:
This year's team appears poised for a potential top-25 season and another tournament run, but much of those expectations rely on a smooth transition from a star in Morris to a true freshman in Burke while other players—most notably Hardaway and Smotrycz—pick up the scoring slack and keep the offense running smoothly. With a difficult non-conference slate that includes a brutal draw in the Maui Invitational, plus playing in a Big Ten conference ranked by KenPom as the nation's toughest, this looks to me like a team that will spend much of the season squarely on the tournament bubble.
Exceeding those expectations means that we either see vast improvement from key role players, a huge breakout from Tim Hardaway, or a fantastic freshman year out of Burke—none of those are out of the question, but none are certainties, either. If Michigan suddenly finds that they can't create inside scoring chances without Morris's penetration, or Hardaway spends the season trying to carry the offense by chucking up less-than-ideal shots, Michigan could fall short of their goals as the fanbase begins to look ahead to the arrival of Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nick Stauskas in 2012-13.
Michigan spent most of the season not on the tournament bubble, but firmly in the top 25, thanks to a fantastic freshman campaign from Burke. A late-season push, coupled with a little help from Ohio State, brought the team a share of its first Big Ten title in my lifetime. The team stumbled in the postseason, getting demolished by the Buckeyes in the conference tourney before bowing out to OHIO in the NCAAs, but there's no arguing that the season was a rousing success.
Today's review covers the guards—before you ask, Zack Novak gets lumped in with the forwards—and looks at their highlights, lowlights, and expectations for next year:
Preseason Expectations: Burke headed into the season as the big question mark on the team. We knew the freshman was talented, likely beyond what his recruiting profile would suggest, but would he pick up the offense quickly enough to carry the burden of being the team's lone true point guard?
Postseason Reality: Burke not only grasped John Beilein's complicated offense quickly, but proved to be a dymanic scorer with an on-court maturity well beyond that of the average freshman. He scored in double figures in all but four games and played 30+ minutes in every game after the season opener, including three 45-minute efforts. Burke's quickness and finishing ability made him tough to handle on the pick-and-roll, which became the staple of Michigan's offense, and he was also adept leading the fast break. He also held up well defensively, posting the lowest foul rate on the team despite playing in a conference chock-full of talented point guards. Burke had his freshman moments, struggling a bit against larger guards and aggressive hedging, but he was the clear-cut best player on the team. The only question now is if Burke was a little too good, at least when it comes to the prospects of next year's squad.
Highlight: For a single play, Burke's improbable floater off the high glass to seal the Ohio State victory stands out above the rest, doubly so because he made the shot over childhood friend and future lottery pick Jared Sullinger. For a game, however, I'm going with his 30-point outburst against Minnesota in the first round of the BTT, as the freshman carried the offense in what was otherwise an ugly slog—Burke shot 11-14 from the field, the rest of his teammates a combined 13-35. Burke played every minute of the game, and Michigan needed all of his production in a three-point overtime victory.
Lowlight: The next day wasn't as kind, as Burke—gassed from playing 45 minutes the night before and matched up against B1G DPOY Aaron Craft—was just 1-11 from the field with eight turnovers in a 22-point loss to Ohio State. The larger Buckeyes exploited Michigan's lack of size across the board, giving Burke little room to operate, and the game got out of hand in a hurry.
Key Numbers: 28.7% assist rate, 49.0 2pt%, 34.8 3pt%, 1.7 fouls committed/40 minutes.
Next Year: PLEASE COME BACK. If Burke returns, he'll once again carry the load at the point, as Michigan is hoping to land either a grad-year transfer or true freshman to provide some backup help. Most of Burke's improvement should come from a full year in a college strength program and a greater understanding of Beilein's offense—remember the second-year leap of Morris—which should help him learn how to deal with big, aggressive defenses. There are little things, like leaving his feet on the baseline without knowing where he's going with the ball, that Burke needs to work on. That's picking nits, however, and if he returns he should contend for All-America honors.
Preseason Expectations: Knock down some threes, play the usual solid perimeter defense, spell Burke at the point on occasion, and provide critical senior leadership.
Postseason Reality: The numbers don't jump off the page, but that was never the expectation from a willing role player. Douglass not only was the team's top perimeter defender and an outside shooting threat—he developed into a reliable second ball-handler and had a knack for getting to the rim, an aspect of his game that was entirely nonexistent until this season. Douglass knew how to avoid mistakes on both ends of the floor, posting a very solid 14.4% turnover rate and committing just 2.2 fouls per 40 minutes. Though he never developed into a lights-out shooter, Douglass helped the team in so many ways—especially on defense—that the numbers probably don't do his contribution justice. He stepped into the starting lineup when Evan Smotrycz struggled in Big Ten play, gave Burke the space to run the team, and matched up against the opposing team's best scorer on most nights—nobody will ever accuse Stu of not being a team player.
Highlight: Douglass's best game came on the road at Northwestern, as he helped push the team to an overtime victory with 12 points (4-7 from three) and five assists while shutting down a red-hot Drew Crawford in the second half and OT.
Lowlight: Douglass struggled down the stretch, shooting a combined 6-18 and dishing out just four assists over the team's last three games.
Key Numbers: 15.0% assist rate, 14.4% TO rate, 83.9 FT%
Next Year: Farewell, Stu. Douglass has graduated and will likely pursue a pro career overseas.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Preseason Expectations: After an outstanding freshman season, Hardaway was expected—perhaps unfairly, given his greater first-year production—to make a Morris-like leap to superstardom as a sophomore. Leading the team in scoring was a given, even if it meant a slight dropoff in efficiency, as was contention for postseason honors.
Postseason Reality: While Hardaway's per-game numbers weren't bad at all—14.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists—his long-range shooting was inconsistent at best. THJ finished the season shooting 53.5% from two on 235 attempts, a solid improvement over his first season, but just 28.3% from three on 187 attempts, a big dropoff. Tasked with creating his own shot more often, Hardaway struggled with his shot selection, often launching unnecessary long twos or contested threes early in the shot clock. Though he showed flashes of All-American potential, getting hot from the outside or finally using his superior athleticism to get to the basket, he never appeared fully comfortable with his shot, even battling a late-season swoon at the free-throw line. Issues with ballhandling—despite posting a low 14.4% turnover rate—and defensive effort also appeared at times during the season. It wasn't all bad—Hardaway finished the season strong and had several great games throughout—it just wasn't the year everyone, including Hardaway, was expecting.
Highlight: Michigan traveled to Illinois for a critical late-season contest in the midst of Hardaway's funk, and he snapped out of it to the tune of 25 points on 6-7 shooting (9-10 from the line) and 11 rebounds. THJ also scored 20 on 8-13 shooting and dished out four assists in the win over UCLA and poured in a season-high 26 against Penn State.
Lowlight: The dream of sweeping Michigan State twice in as many years met a rude reality in the Breslin Center, as Hardaway managed a season-low 4 points while connecting on just 1-10 shots from the field.
Key Numbers: 4.7 fouls drawn/40 minutes, 53.5 2pt%, 28.3 3pt%
Next Year: It's all but assured that Hardaway will return next season, and with Michigan losing Evan Smotrycz, Stu Douglass, and Zack Novak, he'll have to improve his shot selection from beyond the arc and bring that 3pt% at least close to where it was his freshman year (37%). Whether Burke stays or goes, Hardaway should also work on his handle, as too many times he simply lost the ball while driving into the paint. Mainly, however, Hardaway's 2012-'13 outlook depends on his mental approach; if he's willing to take the ball to the basket more often and play within the offense, his numbers will improve and so should the team. If that happens, we'll see the Hardaway many were afraid would be making the leap to the NBA by now.
Preseason Expectations: A few quality minutes off the bench while displaying the shooting prowess that made him one of the country's top long-range gunners in high school.
Postseason Reality: Vogrich didn't get a lot of burn, playing 26.5% of available minutes, in large part because his 30.2 3pt% mark fell short of expectations. However, Vogrich showed improvement on defense as well as a Novakian ability to come away with a surprising number of offensive rebounds. He also finished better at the rim this season, hitting 13 of his 23 two-point attempts. The long-range shooting, however, is what he's here for, and the significant dropoff from his freshman and sophomore years was worrisome.
Highlight: As Michigan once again needed overtime to put away Northwestern in Evanston, Vogrich hit 3-6 from deep and even chipped in two assists and a block. His nine points were a season high outside of his 11 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Lowlight: A 4-16 slump over a 10-game span in December and January really hampered Vogrich's overall numbers, and unfortunately also coincided with shooting woes from Hardaway and Smotrycz.
Key Numbers: 3.6 OR%, 56.5 2pt%, 30.2 3pt%
Next Year: Vogrich will have a role, but how large of one will depend on his shot with two-guard Nik Stauskas coming to campus as a highly-regarded shooter. If Vogrich can continue to hit the boards, he should get minutes in a thin backcourt, but in the end it all comes down to whether or not he connects from three. I'm guessing he bounces back, as he shot much better in his first two seasons than he did this year.
Preseason Expectations: Provide emergency minutes if Trey Burke needs oxygen.
Postseason Reality: Akunne played just 48 minutes all year, and only 10 in Big Ten play, mostly at the point. He did hit 4-5 of his three-point attempts, but also had four turnovers to a lone assist while looking a bit uncomfortable as a primary ballhandler when faced with pressure.
Highlight: Played 12 minutes against Iowa State and was 2-2 from the field (1-1 from three) for a career-high 5 points.
Lowlight: Coughed the ball up twice in two minutes against Oakland.
Next Year: With so little depth at the point, Akunne might be called upon to play a few minutes. Making sure he's comfortable taking the ball upcourt against a press or trap would be helpful.
Preseason Expectations: Brundidge, despite the four-star recruiting profile, wasn't expected to have the impact of Burke. The big question was how the 6'1" slasher's game would translate to the college level.
Postseason Reality: Brundidge played four fewer minutes than Akunne and shot a combined 1-8 from the field. He never played more than four minutes in a conference game, had a scary midseason bout with asthma, and never looked like he'd settled into Beilein's offense or the pace of the college game in general.
Highlight: The freshman's lone made field goal came against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, when he played a season-high 12 minutes.
Lowlight: His post-season transfer.
Next Year: Brundidge was one of three players to transfer after the season, so here's hoping he lands on his feet and carves out a role for himself at another program.
Have you ever ridden on the tandem bike with Taylor Lewan?
“Yes. It was a magical experience.”
Does he prefer to be in front or in back?
“He usually takes the front. It’s his bike, so he takes the front. Taylor’s back is the most amazing thing to look at. I’ve only done it once. I mean, it was magical but I don’t know how many more times I want to ride it.”
Did he have one in high school as well?
“He just bought the tandem bike actually. I think it’s a good purchase on his part. It goes with his persona -- the mustache tattoo, the tandem bike, just all fits in with it.”
Was it your idea to move to the strong side?
“They initiated it, but Greg Mattison was very avid on explaining that that’s really the best fit for me. I truly believed it, too. I’m more of a guy that’s a point of the attack, explosive guy. I just need to put the weight on. From what I’ve done so far in spring, I really like the position because the ball’s coming to you a lot more and it seems like you have the opportunity to make more plays. Plus you don’t have to run as much to get to the ball, which is nice.”
(more after the jump)
Turnover margin is a notoriously jittery stat that does not often repeat year to year. Turnovers are infrequent and hugely impactful, so they tend to wander all over the place without much rhyme or reason, slaying or rescuing seasons. Yes, there are obvious repeatable factors that correlate with good or bad turnover margin on a macro level. Get to the quarterback and he will explode in a confetti of bad decisions; allow the opponent to get to yours and watch the same thing occur.
On a micro level, sometimes you eat the bear… sometimes the bear eats you.
Michigan ate the bear last year, recovering around 75% of available fumbles. I know people want to believe there is a narrative that supports this model of football. When I returned from the Mattison coaching clinic presentation, one of the items I mentioned was that Michigan treats all incompletions as live balls in practice. I didn't think that was much of an explanation but a lot of commenters seized on it.
There does not have to be a reason that events transpire. It's not an Eastern thing. Sometimes you eat the bear. Sometimes the bear eats you.
Michigan ate the bear last year, and how. SBN's Bill Connolly put together a stat called "adjusted turnover margin" that assumes an NCAA-average fumble recovery rate (50.3% for the D) and NCAA-average PBU-to-INT ratio (21.9%), compares it to your actual turnovers gained, and calculates a points per game figure Connolly figures is just the bounce of the ball. Drum roll…
Five Teams Who Benefited Most From Turnovers Luck
1. Michigan (+3.97 points/game)
2. Maryland (+3.97)
3. N.C. State (+3.61)
4. South Carolina (+3.61)
5. Oklahoma State (+3.40)
I am Jack's utter lack of surprise. Michigan's overall fumble recovery rate of 75% was first in the nation by a whopping eight percent! (Maryland was #2 at 67%.) They were three standard deviations above the mean! They were a full standard deviation above the #2 team in the country! This aggression against regression to the mean will not stand!
This is the point where I talk about how lucky Michigan got last year and a lot of people say "nuh-uh." This gets a little frustrating on both ends. I get frustrated that something like that Sugar Bowl doesn't bring the point home; people who disagree with me get frustrated that I'm downplaying Michigan's success or being grim about next year.
They're not entirely wrong. I do think that if you replayed the 2011 season 1,000 times Michigan ends up 11-2 in relatively few of them. They were only sort of close in one of their losses*, won two-and-a-half nailbiters** and acquired 10 more turnovers than Connolly's model expects. Michigan also had the benefit of a soft schedule (no Wisconsin or Penn State) in a down Big Ten and an Ohio State team in shambles after tatgate. It was pretty uninspiring in terms of 11-2 years featuring wins over ND, OSU, and a BCS opponent despite undergoing massive transition costs and operating with a slap-dash, attrition-ravaged roster.
Which is to say: WOOOOOOOOOOO. Yes. Score.
But once we get past the woo and start talking about setting expectations for year two we should not base it off what Michigan did last year but what they should have done, what they lost to graduation and attrition, who they return and add, and who they play. We should start with the premise that Michigan was super lucky last year and probably won't be this year.
This doesn't mean their turnover margin is doomed. It just means their turnover margin is doomed unless Denard Robinson becomes a lot more responsible with the ball. Michigan got away with being –7 in interceptions because of the fumble surplus. That covered up a lot of blemishes last year.
What should we expect Michigan's turnover margin to be next year?
I am arguing it will be worse. I made similar arguments for much of the Rich Rodriguez era when Michigan was hugely negative every year and dammit it never changed.
Experience at quarterback. This is a double whammy to the good for Michigan: they've got a senior starter entering his third year and—even more important—his second year in Al Borges's system. A number of Michigan's turrible interceptions a year ago came paired with hand-wavingly-open receivers Michigan's quarterbacks just missed, like this one Gardner chucked against Purdue:
The ball is in the air here, but it's going to the double-covered Gallon instead of the hand-wavingly open Junior Hemingway. This wasn't pressure—Gardner had all day—it was a huge coverage misread. In year two these things should significantly diminish.
Fitzgerald Toussaint could be Mike Hart-like. IIRC Toussaint has not fumbled as a Michigan ballcarrier. As carries move to him from other sources—largely the fumble-prone Denard—Michigan should reduce the number of fumbles that can go against them. Fumble prevention/extraction is a skill.
The defense should be sack happy. Michigan finished 29th last year without getting great production out of its three-tech or weakside defensive end. Will Heininger had one sack last year; Craig Roh and Jibreel Black combined for 5.5. If the moves of Roh and Black inside upgrade the pass rush at three positions, the blitz-mad Mattison D will be in QBs' faces even more than they were last year.
Complicating factor: Mike Martin only had 3.5 sacks last year but his disruption opened things up for other people.
Protection should be good if the line is healthy. Lewan is an all Big Ten left tackle (at least) and Schofield is a touted recruit with a year of quality playing time under his belt with all the tools to pass protect on the edge. Wicked blind-side hits on Denard should be rare.
Denard is just turnover-prone. This has been a fact by air and ground ever since he hit the field. While he's going to improve with experience, sometimes players never have that light bulb pop on. Toussaint will shift some carries to his five points of contact but Denard will still get a bunch of carries, and he'll cough the ball up some.
Chucking sure interceptions up to Hemingway will result in interceptions because Hemingway is gone. Unless these are going to Gardner.
Hello massive reversion to the mean on fumble recoveries. If Michigan recovers over 70% of available fumbles this year I'll eat a lemon. Probably at the Rose Bowl.
If a tackle goes down, yeesh. Everyone's assumption is that this would see Kyle Kalis step in at right tackle. Mega-hyped recruit… and a true freshman.
Seriously, Denard is walking variance. I think Michigan will preserve its fairly positive TO margin. If they don't, we will all be sad about Denard's inability to shake the turnover bug. I can't predict he'll be better or worse until we see him play.
There's a reason a couple departing seniors picked Robinson—who was an All-American as a sophomore, remember—as a "breakout player" in that Rothstein article from yesterday($). He could break out. He could run in place, and not know which it will be makes predictions here even more useless than they have been in the past.
You may now return to thinking about Taylor Lewan on a tandem bike.
*[Even if Michigan does score against Iowa they have to get a two-point conversion and then win in OT, which is like a 20% shot.]
**[OSU should not have been since there was no reason to overturn the Toussaint TD that would have ended it.]
This morning on gchat:
Brian: wait... tandem bike?
Brian: i think i'm going to need that transcribed and put in a separate post.
me: haha okay
Brian: thank you.
via Jake Ryan's Twitter account: Graham Glasgow on left, Taylor Lewan on right, or "Roughly 600 pounds..."
Do you ride around Ann Arbor on a tandem bike?
“I do. I ride a twosy bike. That’s not leaving Ann Arbor. I’m keeping that twosy bike.”
Is there ever someone on the back?
“Oh yeah. I give rides. I carpool. I ride with a couple guys. Drew Dileo’s in the back of the thing all the time. You guys know Chris Brown from hockey. He’s on there, too.”
Is the weight distribution an issue?
“No. There’s really no problem with that. Do you have any more football questions at all?”
What has Elliott Mealer done this spring to move into the left guard position?
“Elliott Mealer’s a fifth year senior. He’s been through two coaches. He knows football. He gets it. Coming in, I think he’s doing a phenomenal job. I have 100% confidence in him. If he’s the guy I play next to in the fall, I’ll be excited about it.
“Anything else? You guys just want to talk about the tandem bike. I get it.”
When’d you get it?
“A couple weeks ago.”
“There’s a place on North Campus called Midwest Bike & Tandem … I’ve always wanted a tandem bike, a twosy. So I had to get it.
“Do you have any other football questions?”
“You good? Okay you guys have a great day.”
[Craig Roh and Will Campbell transcripts will be up later today.]
from 2011 OSU
How different is it playing at center full time now?
“It’s not that much different. I played center coming in as a freshman when [Rich] Rod was here. It’s not really a transition, just getting back into the groove of things. I don’t really see it as a transition.”
What’s the hardest part of it?
“The hardest part would be trying to learn the defense, when they’re rotating, when their safeties are kicking down, when they’re rolling. That’s just the hardest part of learning it right now. But other than that the plays are pretty simple. Everything’s going well.”
How comfortable do you feel in that position?
“I feel very comfortable. I mean I like it. I always wanted to play it. We had a talented center, though, so I’m now getting my shot. I like it a lot.”
Why did you always want to play it?
“I always wanted to play center because I was told I was a natural center.”
Because of your frame?
“I don’t know. Coaches just tell me all the time.”
Did you play center in high school?
“I played my freshman year, and then I moved to guard and then I moved to tackle by my senior year.”
Denard said that you’ve been working together since his freshman year. Do you feel like you two have good chemistry?
“Yeah it’s a good chemistry because both of us are from Florida. He’s like my brother. I’m like his big brother. We definitely care about each other a lot. All I can say is that there’s a brotherhood between me and him.”
Have you been talking to Molk about playing center?
“Yes I always talk to Molk. Molk is another person that’s like a brother to me. He took me underneath his wing when I came in as a freshman. I’ve talked to him and he’s tried to give me tips to help me.”
Pretty big shoes to fill, huh?
“I don’t see it as pretty big shoes to fill because this is Michigan. When a class graduates everybody has to step up, not just one person.”
Still, he was the Rimington Award winner. Do you think you’ll win the Rimington?
“… If it’s God willing.”
(more after the jump)
If you read Heiko's 3/22 presser transcript you probably guessed already what the MSM angle would be for this spring. If you missed it, here's the highlights:
"Hello everyone. It's Spring. Spring is FOOTBALL TOUGHNESS time. [Points off-screen]. Toughness and finishing. I'll now take questions that are not about Will Campbell."
Can you name some positions that you feel need to be addressed after last year's departures?
"Well you may not realize this but we lost three guys on the interior of the defensive line so I'm really looking for someone to step up th…say, this isn't a question about Will is it?"
Do you feel like you need guys on the line to be team leaders?
"Oh yes absolutely. Seniors, guys on the line, seniors on the line mostly. You, the Asian kid in the back!"
What do you like specifically about Elliott Mealer at the left guard spot?
[everyone grabs coffee while Hoke answers a few uninteresting questions about condo-blocking or whatever F you]
Have you seen consistency out of Will Campbell so far?
"I'd say that he has been consistent when he's consistent, but that hasn't been consistent. What we're looking for from all of our players is that they're always consistent, and not just consistent some of the time. He is mostly consistent, but when he gets inconsistent, that's when there's consistency issues. When there's inconsistency we have consequences, which we call 'consistequences,' and he has been very consistent at winning consistequences."
Last year you coached the interior defensive line. Does that mean you're going to be coaching W…
When a player is perceived as a blue chip out of high school is there a…
How long does Will Campbell have to prove himself?
Well after four years of playing they lose their eligibility so, hey where's everybody going?
Eric Lacy, the Detroit News:
Ann Arbor — Time is running out for Michigan senior defensive tackle William Campbell to prove he deserves to be a starter.
Michael Rothstein, ESPN Wolverine Nation:
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- He's down to his last chance. For three seasons, defensive tackle Will Campbell has oozed potential and possibility. From the acclaim he came in with from Cass Tech in Detroit to his massive size, everything about him appeared to be can't miss.
Nick Baumgardner, Ann Arbor.com:
For Will Campbell, the sand in the hourglass of his Michigan football career is starting to thin out.
There were other angles. Kevin Minor of Rivals.com eschewed the tick-tock approach to stretch "he lost 35 pounds" into 800 kind words from his buddies. The AP reporter led with both O and D lines and didn't get to BWC's countdown to oblivion until the 7th graph. Mark Snyder went with the tight ends because #ManballIsEverything. Drew Sharp almost assuredly said something that made Drew Sharp sound dumb.
When I interviewed Ryan Van Bergen a couple months ago, we talked a bit about Will. The gist of the discussion revolved around Will knowing his role, knowing what's needed of him and that it's simply a matter of execution. Ryan was clear in saying that near the end of the season, Campbell started to realize how important he was to Team 133's future. Apparently, Will has gotten the message, as the coaching staff is impressed with his developing leadership skills this off-season.
The Viking Age
What you are witnessing here is a going on six-year Norse saga as told by contemporaneous headlines: "Gone Viking: Sluggish Scandinavian Economy Forces Soldiers to Seek Fortunes on High Seas." Told as narrative it's so much better:
The legend began when he committed to Lloyd Carr in the summer before his junior year of high school. Pre-Hoke a high-profile kid pulling the trigger more than a year out sounded weirder; you're going to have to trust me on this. Four Nick Sheridan quarters into 2008 he then decommitted so he could give everyone a heart attack at the Army Bowl. His freshman year he enrolled early with expectations of replacing the graduating Taylor. Then Will hit a wall, apparently because his all-important pad level was too high to penetrate it. My Sparty little brother began reminding me that NCAA'10 Will Campbell was an 85 and Greg Jones a 74, this being supreme evidence that MSU can justify being the trolls of college football for having to put up with such perpetual indignities. Barwis set about rebuilding him as Barwis does, and in retrospect that freshman year should have been a redshirt, but you can't really redshirt a 5-star DT when you just graduated most of your defensive line, right?
The saga's nadir was reached his sophomore season. Enough folks were ready winding up to pitch the b-word by then that MGoUser West Texas Blue penned a "don't use the b-word" diary showing his progress was about on par with most of his classmates except (sigh) DeQuinta Jones. When things didn't go so well that year, the warrior threw down his sword/hammer/axe/polearm/seax/whatever F you to serve as a backup guard, a less prestigious post given to Vikings who cannot strike low enough to defeat a shield wall. Will got up to 350 pounds and served a quote about being lazy that fit the narrative.
But with the rise of the new king, Brady Hokesson the Pointer, and thanks to many battle losses among the hirdfense, Will was called back to the D-line. This is the rising action where the warrior is trained by three of the Great Wise Men of Nose Tackledom and we get a montage of weight running, coaches yelling "STAY LOW!" and "USE YOUR HANDS!", and much punishment of sleds. This culminates in a flash of +5 in the UFR for Notre Name, followed by the first reveal of god-like powers against Illinois sometime between before and after the Illini Zooked out for the year. Now it approaches its climax. Post-montage he is 315 and a leader and we still have no idea if he'll be good enough to give Michigan a shot at a great defense this year. Will he? Won't he? And the girl?
Guess how much time is left?
I don't know, dude, 13 games or something. Let me watch! And for the record pointing out that there's 1/4 left to go right when the film's getting good is just as annoying as it sounds like.
Why the fascination?
The obvious answer is as obvious as a press conference angle. Here's a list of every Michigan player recruited from 2008 to 2011 who was was a 5-star to at least two major sites (Rivals, Scout, ESPN):
|William Campbell||DT||6'5"||317||6.1 (5 stars), 5th DT||5 stars,
|79 (high 3 stars),
That is the list. Gardner, Turner and Cissoko got the 5th from Scout and nobody else.
My own obsession on Will led me to that study of body shapes earlier this year, and also led me to ask various people who know football better than I do what's so hard about learning pad level. Their answers were between "it's actually really hard," and "YOU try learning to do a thing that your brain is sure is going to break your spine."
Rivals slotted Big Will just under fellow DT and similarly sized Chris Davenport of LSU. Davenport is now going into his redshirt junior season as LSU's top backup at OT, unless he's passed this spring by sophomore Evan Washington. There's nothing particularly remarkable about Davenport in circles who follow guys in Davenport's position carefully. They have plenty of 5-stars waiting their turns, and even more dudes who don't make an impact until their fourth year on campus. That is to say they only want Davenport taken outside and disemboweled for not living up to his hype about as often as they want him to replace the guy ahead of him (second-team All-SEC junior Chris Faulk); for the SEC this is considered a placid reaction.
Michigan is hardly a place that has never seen a blue chip. We have also seen blue chips morph into spectacular busts, and tables that explain this to us by showing things like 50%+ of 5-stars get drafted by the NFL while dramatically smaller %s of lesser star ratings do so, and can remind ourselves that once in awhile everyone who recruits 5-stars ends up with one from the half that don't become superstars. This is binary and human brains are good at binary.
What we're not quite as used to, what the old narratives don't really know how to address, is the blue chip who's kind of just a really good teammate who's working hard and has some talent and some technique issues that take a long time to work out but is slowly becoming the kind of guy who's a consistent contributor. If all you saw was the ESPN rating you'd be fine with this.
Eventually the Mathlete is going to come out with a PAN-based bell curve to replace our binary "made it or didn't" tables but when he does I bet you it looks like this:
The "inconsistency" and "…when he chooses to use them" and "out of shape" quotes that have escaped at times fit a narrative we do know: the loatheable, self-absorbed pre-star who wastes his God-given talents enjoying the benefits of them. But that is not at all Will Campbell. Those who interview him find him jovial, if a little shy. There's no hint of academic issues (he's on track to graduate in four years). The inconsistency isn't from lack of willpower (ha!) but the fact that a 6'5" guy needs to do worse things to his spine than a guy who's 6'3" in order to "get low." After essentially trolling recruiting followers he hasn't to my knowledge so much as registered a femto-ego on college football's touchy-ass vanity sensors. This means nothing except, no, it does: he loses rap battles to guys from Whitehall, Michigan:
More than anything he's proof that completely normal college guy brains exist in pretty much every kind of body, including incredibly athletic 6'5" 350-pound ones. And that normal guy brains are wired much more strongly that we credit them to not get spinal injuries.
When pressed with "when will we get our Norse god of nose guards" questions the coaching staff now answers with "he's a leader who leads defensive line meetings and sets up extra film sessions." Again, you can read too much. He's the senior and doing the things the seniors do, and while he should get credit for that it's not like this is at all out of character for normal likeable college guy.
Does the recruiting hype still mean anything? Yeah, kinda, since if you read his recruiting profile it still has him pretty dead to rights except for the timeline. You can also peer into his UFRs from last year and find less than superstardom, but also non-air:
|WMU||Campbell||-||2||-2||This is not happening.|
|ND||Campbell||5||-||5||Please be real.|
|EMU||Campbell||3||2||1||Doesn't seem that real.|
|SD State||Campbell||4.5||1||3.5||Keep hope alive.|
|Minnesota||Campbell||4||-||4||"Get off me"|
|MSU||Campbell||-||-||-||Did not register.|
|Purdue||Campbell||2||1||1||Not getting a ton of push.|
|Iowa||Campbell||-||4.5||-4.5||Got cut to the ground and was a major culprit on two long runs.|
|Illinois||Campbell||4||-||4||Time to get excited about him again until next week.|
|Nebraska||Campbell||1||-||1||Also crushed face.|
|Ohio (NTO)||Campbell||1||-||1||Didn't register.|
Given no Martin, no RVB, and not even a Heininger (unless Brink is as Brink-y as they said he'd be last year, or Ash/Washington/Pipkins surprise), Campbell is almost assuredly going to start this year as the anchor of the defense. Whatever terrible coaching he got from missing out on a redshirt season and the switch to offense and whatever you count RR's staff as, it's hard to point to a guy in college football who's had access to higher quality position coaches than he has since last year.
Maybe he'll be a superstar. Probably he'll just be somewhere between decent and good. I feel like we've been saying that for a long time, but in the absence of real information what else is there? The trickles from insiders who know they're going get these same questions say things that suggest the talent, the arms, the strength, are all there and he's gotten better. We all want to know—I desperately want to know—but the answer for this one really just is let's wait and see.
As for help from Pipkins, Michigan's 2012 freshman 5-star DT, I wouldn't want to bank on it. He doesn't have Campbell's height—he's 6'3—but watch the video: he has some fundamentals to learn. Another saga, that.