EA Sports has seen this picture.
It's that time of year when football-starved gaming aficionados devour each morsel of information that EA Sports deigns to leak. With NCAA Football 14—totally not featuring real people, we swear!—set to release next month, that process has begun in earnest. Last week, Operation Sports unleashed a video of some guy scrolling through the top ten players on each team, which if nothing else gives a bored college football blogger something to write about. Since the ratings in NCAA often make little sense, I decided to take a stab at guessing Michigan's ten highest-rated players before hitting play (the game tends to reward seniority, which may explain some of my picks):
- Taylor Lewan
- Jake Ryan
- Devin Gardner
- Jeremy Gallon
- Michael Schofield
- Thomas Gordon
- Quinton Washington
- Brendan Gibbons
- Desmond Morgan
- Blake Countess
I also asked Brian to give his list:
- Dennis Norfleet
- Dennis Norfleet
- Dennis Norfleet
- Dennis Norfleet
- Dennis Norfleet
- Dennis Norfleet
- Dennis Norfleet
- Dennis Norfleet
- Dennis Norfleet
- Dr. Hamlet III
You're a great help, Brian.
Anyway, here's the great unveiling:
If you don't want to find the right time to pause the video (2:02 mark) and peruse the ratings yourself, here's what EA Sports came up with for Michigan:
LT #77Taylor Lewan (96 overall)
- Jeremy Gallon (90)
- Devin Gardner (89)
- Jake Ryan (89)
- Matt Wile (88)
- Frank Clark (88)
- Brendan Gibbons (88)
- Thomas Gordon (88)
- Raymon Taylor (87)
- Desmond Morgan (87)
I have no problem with the top four, especially with Lewan earning such a lofty rating (only two Alabama players are rated higher than 93, though both come in at 97 and their entire top ten is at least a 91). Punter Matt Wile—notable for being Not Will Hagerup, since the game includes just one of each specialist—lands at fifth, which is... strange, even though Wile has plenty of talent.
Then comes the big leap. Junior DE Frank Clark, with all of two career sacks, is clearly EA's choice for breakout player, granted a loftier ranking than several proven commodities. The Frank Clark Offseason Hype Machine has gone national, and frankly that makes me nervous. This is the same video game that rated redshirt sophomore safety Brandon Smith, who had mostly played on special teams, at 88 overall before the 2010 edition, only to see him transfer before the season started. Beware the Offseason Hype Machine.*
[EDIT: So... the video lists DE #97 as the team's sixth-best player, not DE #57. In my haste to say that EA took up the driver's seat on a player's offseason bandwagon, I named the wrong bandwagon: they're apparently quite enthused about Brennen Beyer, who... moved from WDE to SAM this offseason after Jake Ryan's injury and is projected to back up Cam Gordon. Okay, then.]
The rest of the list is justifiable, though I'd wager that Michigan's top cornerback and linebacker in the 2015 edition won't be Raymon Taylor and Desmond Morgan, respectively; Blake Countess gets dinged for coming off an ACL tear, while presumably EA used up their breakout spot on Clark instead of James Ross, who would've been my choice there.
A QUICK SCAN FOR RIDICULOUS RATINGS ON OTHER BIG TEN TEAMS REVEALS...
- Nathan Scheelhaase is 89 overall, two better than Butkus Award semifinalist and potential first-round NFL draft pick Jonathan Brown. Yes, the same Nathan Scheelhaase who split snaps with Reilly O'Toole as a junior returning starter.
- Indiana's best player is a white strong safety. Viva Hoosier Kovacs.
- Iowa's third-best player is this guy, which... sounds about right, actually.
- Denicos Allen is a very good player, don't get me wrong, but having him as a 95(!)—Michigan State's top player—over 91-overall Max Bullough, the unquestioned heart of that defense, is surprising.
- Ra'Shede Hageman is Minnesota's highest-rated player at 88 overall and surely Brian's choice for most underrated player. The next-best Gophers come in at 83 overall, and players in the 70s crack the top ten. Woof.
- Ameer Abdullah is not among Nebraska's top ten players, which makes me question if EA Sports bothered to watch so much as a second of the Huskers last season.
- Unstoppable Throw-God Trevor Siemian is 85 overall, so clearly EA didn't catch last year's Michigan/Northwestern tilt.
- Braxton Miller is a terrifying 96 overall and is better than many running backs at breaking tackles (81 rating). I hate that this is in no way ridiculous.
- Penn State's Allen Robinson, the best receiver in the conference last year, merits just an 87 rating, which seems especially low given that unspectacular PSU running back Zach Zwinak is just behind him at 86.
- Purdue right tackle Trevor Foy, who wasn't even All-B1G honorable mention last season, ranks at 92 overall, putting him at least five points higher than Michael Schofield. While I can't say I've watched Foy all that much, either EA knows something we don't or this is pretty bizarre.
- None of Wisconsin's top ten players are offensive lineman, which does not pass my sanity check.
- Not Big Ten, but it's worth noting that academically-ineligible Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is in the game and, at 89 overall, is just as good as Devin Gardner.
Yeah, it's probably best not to take these things too seriously. The bigger issue here is finally ridding the game of post-route-intercepting middle linebackers, anyway; while I haven't seen that addressed specifically, EA does appear to be doing some cool stuff with Dynasty Mode, which is where I spend most of my time in the game.
*I'm not saying Clark won't be quite good, only that this level of hype, when contrasted with on-field production, involves a great deal of projection. Frank Clark could be a terrifying quarterback-killing machine or a backup before the season ends or anything in between, and we have no earthly clue where he'll land on that spectrum.
The annual Sound Mind, Sound Body camp was over the weekend, and the thing is getting too huge to contain. Since SMSB is a non-profit, coaches can attend by donating their time. That's a rare opportunity—a unique one, as far as I know—and thus both coaches and prospects descend on it in droves. This year there were 800-some kids, including delegations from California, Minnesota, etc. It's big.
State and Michigan sent their entire staffs, Glenville brought 50 kids and scrimmaged Cass Tech in 7-on-7 afterwards, Ohio State deigned to send Vrabel and that lunatic from Cincinnati who can't seem to recruit anyone from Cincinnati, etc. It has blown up.
I would like to see Drue Tranquill's bandana collection.
At this point Michigan is mostly on the lookout for 2015 kids, but there are a few wobbly spots in the class still, like safety, and one of the breakout players was IN S Drue Tranquill, a 6'2" LB/S who had MAC offers before the camp. He's now got a couple of low-level Big Ten offers (Indiana, Minnesota) and will be a guy to watch if he camps at Michigan, which he plans on doing. Sam Webb on Tranquill($):
No player’s stock rose more than Tranquill’s on day one. The 6-2, 208-pounder came out of nowhere to emerge as a viable football prospect in recent months after initially fancying himself more of a baseball prospect. Tranqill pairs 4.49 speed with impressive lateral quickness. There were only a few occasions where receivers got the best of him on the day (one just happened to be Maurice Ways on a crossing route)… but even when he was beaten he was only inches from making a play.
He told Josh Helmholdt that both the Michigan and Ohio State coaches were hot after him. Helmholdt, meanwhile, named him the top guy there, period:
Many teams are trying to fit the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Tranquill in at linebacker, but he showed he can definitely play safety with outstanding footwork, fluidity, speed and instincts in coverage.
An offer will likely depend on if Michigan thinks he can play safety… or maybe nickel. A couple of schools from the Ohio State defensive tree (like, say, Ohio State) are recruiting him for "star" linebacker, which is their fancypants equivalent. Since Michigan's camp is going on right now, we won't have to wait long to see.
MI WR commit Mo Ways came out, which is an unusual thing:
Ways has not been real active on the camp scene this offseason, but the SMSB Camp gave us another chance to evaluate the relatively new-to-the-game wide receiver and his progression is coming along nicely. The top defensive backs at the camp wanted to take on the Michigan commit, and he handled them with relative ease, getting open and making easy catches.
Michigan receiver commit Maurice Ways looks ready to suit up for the Wolverines in this year’s season opener. Standing in at 6-foot-4, 197-pounds, the Detroit (Mich.) Country Day standout was a late edition to the camp, and was physical nightmare for cornerbacks trying to check him.
Meanwhile, Ways is making projections about the third WR spot in the class:
“If I could say myself, it would be Artavis Scott,” Ways said. “… If everything goes well then Tay Scott will be the third receiver.”
Other interesting names:
- 2016 ON(!) CB Patrice Rene, who Webb says is already a graceful 6'2". Rene is a lifelong Michigan fan and will camp.
- 2015 CA CB Stanley Norman, who obviously came all the way from California and was mentioned as a talent by multiple services. He's got a UCLA offer already, and took an unofficial to M($) after he got done winning the CB MVP at SMSB. Norman is more in the Countess mold than that of Peppers, but he might have some growth in him yet as a rising junior.
- 2015 TE/DE Ty Wheatley Jr. appears to be establishing himself more on the offensive side of the ball($), but his dad thinks he's still better off at DE. At 6'6", 240, I'd take him either place.
SMSB also provided some kids the opportunity to take unofficials to Michigan, including touted 2015 MN DE Jashon Cornell:
A man with taste in numbers.
ND signee James Onwualu does not approve.
@Jay_Rock16 That makes me wanna throw up hahaha
— James Onwualu (@J_Walls) June 15, 2013
Afterward, Cornell sounded pumped up about Michigan($), calling Michigan's facilities "one of the best things I've ever seen." Notre Dame is an early favorite for anyone from Cretin-Derham Hall, so we'll see if Cornell wants to break the mold.
IL OL Jamarco Jones made his planned visits over the weekend, and will decide in a little under two weeks. His OSU visit is going on right now.
Jones remains as inscrutable as ever, but I feel a little bit better after he told Scout's Beth Long that he wasn't sweating two-deeps despite being highly encouraged to do so:
Depth doesn't matter too much, 'cause wherever I go I'm going to compete for a spot regardless. Coaches talk about that a lot but I don't pay too much attention to that. Nothing is guaranteed.
I think we can agree that Michigan is not the school bringing up depth charts. On the other hand, Jones's MSU visit coincided with a one-day camp at Michigan State and this is quite a quote fight($). On M:
"What stood out was how genuine the coaches are and how much they care about you as a person."
"I really felt like I was part of their family and team already. It was fun just seeing all the players I could potentially be playing with next year and how we all are similar and have the same goals."
I dunno. It's hard to believe that Jones will pick Michigan State if only because the last out-of-state guy to pick State over Michigan was during the Time of Troubles, when there were a few.
McDowell retracts his leader admission
Last week, MI DT Malik McDowell fessed up that he liked Michigan, probably. This week, he says that ain't true($):
Another hot rumor coming out of McDowell’s appearance in Chicago last weekend revolves around his college recruitment. Holding offers from the likes of Alabama,LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, among others, it was reported that McDowell named the Wolverines his favorite.
When asked about it Thursday, McDowell smiled, quietly saying, “no (that’s not true)"
Mmm quote that is 3/4ths in brackets. Meanwhile that "rumor" was a direct quote, one that came after erratic but consistent declarations that Michigan was maybe sort of out front. Weird recruitment. McDowell seems to want to commit to Michigan but someone in his camp is trying to get him to string it out as long as possible without indicating so much as a leader.
McDowell kind of implies he'd like to go to Michigan
This week, MI DT Malik McDowell attended the SMSB camp and seemed mostly interested($) in the local Big Two:
“Michigan and Ohio State, those are the two that I talked to that I was going to talk to when I got here,” McDowell said.
And in particular one of the Big Two:
McDowell has visited the Wolverines campus several times in the past and looks forward to getting back to Ann Arbor this summer.
“They still haven’t slowed down any recruiting,” McDowell said. “They’re recruiting me just as hard as they did in the beginning.”
The 6-foot-7, 290-pound McDowell added that he’s noticed Michigan’s No. 3 ranked recruiting class led by Jabrill Peppers and Drake Harris.
“That’s real nice,” McDowell said. “Would be a nice little team there.”
McDowell has not been to OSU yet but tentatively has a July visit scheduled. After discussing the local big two, McDowell quickly added that he'd like "to explore all [his] options" by visiting Florida, FSU, and USC.
Linebacker top fives: in them
Two of the three linebackers listed in the last recruiting roundup have released top fives. MO LB Jimmie Swain's consists of Michigan, MSU, Oregon, Stanford, and TCU; FL LB Darrion Owens is down to($) Michigan, Ohio State, Auburn, Georgia, and Miami.
24/7's Gerry Hamilton says Georgia "is thought to be in a very good position" after Owens camped in Athens. Need to get Owens on campus to do anything about that.
Swain is a guy Michigan is in totally random spot for. His only visit so far was to TCU. He'll take officials, it seems. So State's out, but everyone else is in play.
Your moment of zen
Tranquill on his Minnesota offer($):
“I’ve done my research and they’re a good engineering school and one of the best public universities in the country,” Tranquill said. “The Mall Of America is there. The coaches were throwing that at my mom."
This has been your moment of zen.
Happy trails to MD OL Damian Prince, who says it was tough to leave Michigan out of his top ten($) but dang-diddly-did it anyway.
Not quite a happy trails to AZ WR Jalen Brown, but yeah pretty much:
It was different at Michigan," Brown said. "They didn't show that they needed me too much. It was more about me being a valuable player. They seem pretty set at receiver. With Michigan State, they kind of showed that they needed me there. It was more being honest with how they see me and what they are trying to do. They have really good people there, and they were trying to show that to me."
Michigan is definitely taking a third wideout in this class, so for the coaches to tell a top prospect like Brown that they're "set at receiver" implies a great deal of confidence in someone.
UT DT commit Bryan Mone is trying to graduate early, which would make him early enrollee #5 along with Michael Ferns, Wilton Speight, Mason Cole, and Drake Harris.
2015 Cass Tech DT Joshua Alabi tells Josh Helmholdt($) that he is "definitely" most comfortable with Michigan State's coaches. He does have M and OSU offers; we'll see if that lasts.
FL RB Jacques Patrick is almost certainly not going to end up at M for reasons of Mikey Weber, Damien Harris, and strong interest in Patrick from the home state schools, but if you want details on his recruitment he talked to Eleven Warriors in two parts.
There is another: Delano Hill's younger brother LaVert Hill is a 2016 Cass DB who showed well($) at SMSB.
[Ed-S: This series has now reached the Bump Stage. Part I is here.]
"I have never considered leaving Oregon a mistake," [Borges] says. "I consider going to Cal a mistake."
That is a quote from a November 2004 Seattle Times article about former Bellotti assistants. The article is largely about Borges, and is a pretty good read.
Al Borges left UCLA for a $50,000 raise, a two-year contract, and the opportunity to be the OC for the first D1-A program that gave him a shot as an assistant (1982 season). Born in Salinas, CA, Cal is pretty close to home for Al and must have had a special place in his heart. That special place led him down a deep, dark tunnel.
Whatever his reasons, Borges headed back to Cal...but it didn't last long. Tom Holmoe had been the HC at Cal since 1997. He had been a pro football player, and had coached under Bill Walsh and George Seifert, winning a superbowl as the DB coach for the 49ers in 1994. In 1996, he became the DC for Cal under HC Steve Mariucci. Quite a coaching tree, that.
When Mariucci left for the 49ers in 1997, Holmoe got the HC job. It appeared to be a perfect match. But the Bears were bad news, and went 3-8, 5-6, 4-7*, and 3-8 the next four years, and won a total of nine Pac-10 games during that span. And oh, the asterisk. It turns out that in 1999 a teacher retroactively added football players to a class to keep them eligible, and the athletic department knew it. Cal forfeited all four of their wins from the '99 season, got hit with five years probation, and lost nine scholarships over four years.
This was the mess Borges walked into. This is where you have to wonder if $50,000 is enough.
The schedule was brutal--ranked 4th in SOS--and the team was bad. Holmoe, a defensive coach, allowed a brutal 39.2 pts/gm (6th worst) and resigned after eight games--all losses. The offense wasn't much better under Borges:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
Those numbers equated to 18.3 pts/gm (#90 nationally) and exactly one win in eleven attempts. It is notable that the QB that season was third-year starter Kyle Boller, who posted a 110.3 rating and a 49.1% completion rate. Tedford would turn Boller into a winner in 2002, but Borges was fired with the rest of the Cal staff.
Jobless, Borges was also obviously desperate, since he accepted an offer from Gerry DiNardo to be Indiana's OC in 2002. Bellotti interviewed Borges for the Oregon OC job, but Borges took the offer from DiNardo, and left the west coast for the first time in his D1-A coaching career.
This is a long way from UCLA
After a stint at Vanderbilt, Gerry Dinardo turned around LSU. Before DiNardo's hire in 1995, the Tigers had suffered six straight losing seasons and had not been ranked in the AP Poll since 1989. DiNardo had immediate success, going to a bowl game in his first season where he beat Michigan State--coached by Nick Saban. '96 was even better--LSU finished the season ranked #12--and 1997 was magical, beating #1 Florida and thumping Notre Dame (after losing to them during the season) in the Independence Bowl. But then he sucked ('98-99), and Saban took over. We know how that ended.
After a year in the XFL as the HC of the Birmingham Thunderbolts, DiNardo took the HC job at Indiana in 2002, and he snapped-up Al Borges. DiNardo was an offensive-minded coach, having been a QB, and an OC at Colorado (including when they won the National Championship in 1990). He had been in college football coaching since 1975 when he got his start at the University of Maine. But, Indiana.
The Hoosiers were bad, and Borges could do nothing about it. In his first season as OC under DiNardo, Borges led the offense to 21.5 pts/gm (95th nationally) despite a pretty easy schedule (#52 SOS). Here's the breakdown:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
Actually, one could make a good argument that Indiana's passing offense was better than it should have been. The O-line was bad, and QB Gibran Hamdan--who had the unenviable task of replacing Antwaan Randle-El--spent a good chunk of the season on the turf. Despite that, the Hoosiers managed over 3,000 passing yards and had two WRs with over 50 catches. Courtney Roby had 59 recs and 1039 yards.
2003 brought in a new QB. Matt LoVecchio had transferred from Notre Dame, and had to sit out in 2002. As it turns out, there's a reason he left ND: he wasn't very good (he had actually transferred after a disastrous performance against Oregon State in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl). LoVecchio threw 3 TDs and 9 INTs. No, I did not get that backwards. The Hoosiers would sink to 14.8 pts/gm and manage only two wins. Here is the evidence, and it is damning:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
I'll go into more statistical analysis in Part III, but this was Borges' most run-heavy offense to date both in terms of percentage of plays and percetage of yards. I guess that's what you do when your QB throws more INTs than TDs by a 3:1 ratio. Courtney Roby's amazing-ness wasn't even enough to get the passing offense going, and he did not have a single TD catch (there were only four by anyone). BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the starting RB, but split carries with two other guys, all of whom averaged over 4 yards/carry. DiNardo would last one more season at Indiana. Borges wouldn't stick around for it.
Tuberville, I'm going to mind-trick you into hiring me from Indiana
How that performance gets you a job at Auburn, I'm really not sure. But that's what happened. In 2004, Tommy Tuberville had to replace Hugh Nall. After nearly being replaeced by Bobby Petrino in a secret coup (no joke, this is the SEC, after all), Tuberville had to make some changes, and Borges won the job. Auburn was coming off a disappointing 8-5 season, and Tuberville was definitely in a win-or-go-home situation.
Well, 2004 was a magical season for the Tigers. Scoring 32.1 pts/gm (#18 nationally, #1 SEC) in the SEC is a good accomplishment. Coaching a QB to a 172.9 rating the year after he posted a 132.6? WOW. Jason Campbell was a talented player, and Borges seemed to get the best out of him. Averaging an absurd 10.0 yds/att with a 69.6% completion rate and 20/7 TD/INT, Jason Campbell earned himself a first-round trip to the NFL. Numbers:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
The Tigers went undefeated and beat VaTech in the Sugar Bowl, but that wasn't the National Championship game. Unbeatens USC and Oklahoma played a boring game in which the Trojans dimantled the Sooners, and Auburn fans will forever bitch (I don't blame them).
Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown split carries and produced a combined 2,078 yards on the ground, and also pulled-in 55 catches for another 465 yards through the air. The leading WR--Courtney Taylor--had just 43 catches for 737 yards. It was Borges' most run-heavy offense (beating his 2003 total) by percetage of plays (not yards) and with good reason: he had two of the best RBs in the game.
The famed "Gulf Coast Offense" had the country buzzing about Borges, and his name was being thrown around for head coaching positions, including at San Diege State. Yes, 2004 truly was a magical season for Auburn and Al. The magic would never be repeated.
The 2005 Tigers had lost their QB and two starting RBs. Their 2002 recruiting class had been strong (one 5* and nine 4*), but their fortune had been steadily declining since then, and the '04 class brought just four 4* players and 15 players with 2* or less. There was still talent at Auburn, but Tuberville wasn't recruiting as well, and the talent was trending downward.
Starting QB Brandon Cox was a four-star recruit and had some skills. Kenny Irons had transferred from South Carolina after growing frustrated with his role in Lou Holtz's offense, taking his four-star talent to Auburn. Five-star Ben Obomanu was in his senior season. And, while the offense took a step back, it wasn't bad at all--32.2 pts/gm actually bested the previous season's average (though the rank dropped to #30, still #1 SEC) and the Tigers went 9-3, with a shocking opening season loss to Georgia Tech, a 3-point squeaker to LSU, and a tough loss to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Here are the numbers:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
This was an extremely successful running game. In fact, it was a half-yard better per carry than the 2004 version, and Kenny Irons did most of the work, racking-up 1,293 yards and 13 TDs on 256 carries. Brandon Cox finished with a 132.6 rating, and no receiver had more than 33 catches or 494 yards. This was a good, balanced offense, but it didn't have Campbell, Williams, and Brown. It was, for the second consecutive year, the #1 scoring offense in the SEC. And for his good work without the departed stars, Borges was named the Rivals 2005 OC of the Year.
For whatever reason, things started to head south in 2006. Certainly, recruiting was part of the problem, as Auburn's 2004 class was pretty thin (but the 2006 class would be very, very good). Also, the strength of schedule jumped to #22 from #55. There is no doubt that the O-line play suffered, but that alone doesn't explain a drop to 24.8 pts/gm (#56) when you are returning your starting QB and RB. Here are the numbers:
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
Brandon Cox did see his rating rise a bit to 138.7, and passing game improved in yards/att. But the running game was not as strong, and three RBs got at least 50 carries, including freshman Ben Tate. Courtney Taylor reprised his role as leading receiver with 54 catches for 704 yards and 2 TDs.
2007 would be Al's last at Auburn. His fall from grace would include bad QB play (Cox's rating dropped to 116.0, mostly due to a 9/13 TD/INT). With Kenny Irons gone to the NFL, Ben Tate took over as the lead RB. Courtney Taylor had also been drafted. The schedule got even tougher, moving up to #13. It's worth noting that SOS probably underrates SEC teams, since they beat each other up so badly. That said, a loss to USF in week two followed by a stunner against unranked Mississippi State were unforgiveable, even though the Tigers upset #4 Florida and beat hated rival Alabama. Borges would resign before the Chick-Fil-A Bowl victory over Clemson.
|Plays||%||Yards||% of Yds||Yds/Play|
The problem for Borges wasn't just the drop in efficiency--the offense scored 24.2 pts/gm (#85)--but also the great defense. Auburn allowed just 16.9 pts/gm, good for #6 in the country, and their defense kept them in every game save a 25 point loss to Georgia. The offense had almost 900 plays and sputtered along at just 4.90 yds/play. That is not good. The ground game had four rushers with over 200 yards, but limped along in yards/carry. Rodgeriqus Smith led the receivers with 52 catches for 705 yards and 5 TDs, but there was no Robin to his Batman.
In short: Borges probably deserved to be fired. He wouldn't be hired again until a guy named Brady Hoke called from San Diego State.
The narrative so far:
- Week 1 - Michigan plays an easy breezy beautiful home opener against Central Michigan. We find out whether Shane Morris will lose his redshirt. Prediction: he does.
- Week 2 - Notre Dame comes to town, chaos ensues under the lights, we awake Sunday morning in a stranger's backyard and discover that we are missing a shoe.
- Week 3 - Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green each rush for 100+ yards.
Since this is part 2 of a home-and-home, I think we should go back a few years to get the proper context.
Michigan and UConn agreed to play a short series with each other in 2009. At the time the matchup was intriguing because of three things: Rich Rod’s ties to the Big East (and undefeated record against Randy Edsall), UConn’s apparent emergence in being okay at football (8-5 in 2008), and the basketball team’s own series with the Huskies. In addition to the fact that the 2010 game would be a home opener in a freshly renovated Big House, the anticipation for part 1 of the home-and-home was significant because none of us really thought the Wolverines, still smarting from a 5-7 season, would do all that well.
That was until Brock Mealer, Denard, and 60 minutes of domination happened. You can relive the best moments here:
The pure awesomeness on display (and the awesomeness the following week) is the sort of thing that makes you think Michigan would play in the Rose Bowl, Denard would win the Heisman, and Rich Rod would be our coach forever and ever.
By the time we realized none of those things would come true, UConn and 2013 seemed a million years away. When your fandom devolves into stalking Dave Brandon while listening to songs by the Smiths on repeat, you’re not in a place to properly consider other people, or the future.
Did you know that the Huskies actually went on to win the Big East that year?
They did (or at least a share of it) and had a better resume than anyone else in that conference, so they got the auto-bid to the Fiesta Bowl, where they were summarily executed by No. 9 Oklahoma. Edsall bolted for Maryland pretty much the next day, and he has since been spending a lot of time there designing uniformz and losing. See you next year I guess.
So UConn hired Paul Pasqualoni, a former Syracuse head coach who lost his edge in the early ‘00s, left Syracuse, and floated around the NFL for a couple years. After taking over the Huskies, he's led them to back-to-back 5-7 seasons. Rebuilding, yes, but the outlook does not appear to be bright.
Had Edsall stayed in Storrs, the rematch with Michigan would have been a lot more intriguing, and the game would probably be a lot more competitive. Now it's just kind of sad.
Okay, the real recap part. Let’s keep this brief: last season the Huskies were an unpredictable outfit that beat Maryland, Louisville, and Pittsburg, but lost to nearly everyone else, including Western Michigan. Defensively they were okay, limiting opponents to under 20 ppg. Offensively they were horrible, scoring 17.8 ppg. If the Big East were the Big Ten, UConn would be Michigan State.
Being horrible on offense is what usually happens when you break in a new quarterback. Whether he’s sufficiently broken in or just broken, he’s likely to be the guy Michigan will see on Sept. 21.
A/S/L: Chandler Whitmer, junior QB. Not much of a runner, not much of a passer. Last season he completed 57.6% of his passes for 2664 yards, 9 TDs, and 16 INTs. This year he’ll have back his leading receiver, junior Geremy Davis (44 rec, 613 yards, 1 TD). Junior Deshon Foxx is another name to be on the lookout for. Reports from their spring game say that he caught a bunch of 70-yard bombs and was the only player to score in a 6-0 affair.
The run game was also pretty disappointing last season. Lyle McCombs, the team’s top running back, will return as a junior and try to make things better. McCombs is a durable but limited guy. He’s small -- listed at 5-8, 169 lbs -- and not all that quick or speedy, which kind of defeats the point of being small. Regardless, he's got good enough vision and takes the bulk of the handoffs, which has earned him the "workhorse" monikor. In fact, he's one of a small collection of FBS players to combine for more than 500 carries over the last two years. Last season he got 243 carries for 860 yards, which comes out to about 3.5 yards a carry. Not bad but not great, considering he broke the 1,000-yard mark as a freshman.
The offense will probably improve. Most of the line is returning, and UConn picked up a new offensive coordinator in T.J. Weist from Cincinnati. Weist had been with the Bearcats since 2010, and his pass-happy offense there led the conference in a bunch of categories. I doubt they’ll find their rhythm by the time Michigan rolls into town, however. Either way it'll be interesting to see what Mattison thinks of Weist's offense.
The narrative here is kind of opposite that of the offense: really good last season but not returning a whole lot of guys. Of UConn’s top 10 tacklers in 2012, more than half of them were seniors.
At least the top tackler is coming back. The name to know here is Yawin Smallwood, a 6-3, 244-lb middle linebacker who was named the Defensive Scout Player of the Week as a redshirting freshman right before the 2010 Michigan game. Smallwood had 120 tackles, 15 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks last year. He’s pretty high up on draft boards, so his production is likely not just a byproduct of “plays in the Big East.”
The Huskies’ defensive line is fairly experienced in the interior, less so on the outside. DT Shamar Stephen was a solid contributor last year with 26 tackles, 2 for loss, and Angelo Pruitt looks like he’ll probably slide inside (he played end last year). For what it’s worth, these guys aren’t small. Stephen is 6-5, 320 lbs, and Pruitt is 6-3, 300. That could be a problem for Jack Miller and whoever the two new guards are. At end, UConn is getting a sixth-year rush end back from injury, and they have another guy on the strongside who is 6-5, 301. Again, not small. At least their athleticism won’t be nearly as terrifying like Notre Dame’s line is, so Lewan and Schofield should be able to handle them without too much trouble.
Things are a little fuzzier in the secondary. From what I can tell it looks like UConn is set at safety, at least. They bring back three guys with varying degrees of experience and a hefty collection of career tackles. The cornerback situation is not good though (when is it ever? I mean, seriously). I think at this point they still have no idea who's going to start, so they're move their most experienced safety, junior Byron Jones (87 tackles, 1 INT), to corner while the other guys figure themselves out. Best 11, I say.
The Huskies’ defense will probably be pretty competent even with six new starters, but they'll be imminently beatable. In 2012 they put five of their guys on the all-conference roster, and when a defense produces multiple honorees that usually means the coaching staff is doing something right. Will they simply reload in 2013, or must they rebuild? I guess we’ll find out!
This team is kind of like: A rock.
Is it too early to bring out the rock? Maybe, but I glanced at Michigan’s B1G schedule and no one else fits the bill.
Vs. Michigan: Michigan’s non-conference slate is awfully reminiscent of the one they played in 2011. If so, UConn is this year’s version of San Diego State, with major differences being only that the game is away and Hoke didn’t coach any of these guys.
The Wolverines shouldn’t have much trouble stopping the Huskies offense. Whitmer, if coached properly, will probably top out around where Ryan Lindley ended up. That kind of development takes a while though. When Michigan visits he’ll probably struggle with Mattison’s nefarious schemes, and once the Wolverines pass rushers break through it’ll be game over. The Heininger Certainty Principle says that Frank Clark and/or Taco Charlton will have a good game.
Offensively Michigan will probably struggle with Smallwood. Hoke and Borges seem to prefer a safe, run-heavy approach on the road, and against that defensive line I can’t see any of the Wolverines interior offensive linemen getting to the second level on a consistent basis. If Michigan’s defense plays well, it won’t matter. Borges can keep running his new toys up the middle until the game ends at 14-6.
Sensible ideas. From the hockey committee even. USCHO reports that the hockey rules committee is looking at ways to make the infamous TUC cliff in the pairwise less of a cliff and more of a gradation:
“We’re looking to see if there’s a way to reduce the variability that seems to happen as people watch that at the end of the year,” said committee chair Tom Nevala, senior associate athletic director at Notre Dame.
“It’s going to happen a lot early, but by the end of the year it seems like it should be a little bit more cut-and-dried. So we’re going to see if there’s some options there.”
This is a crew that still uses RPI, so don't expect anything too clever. Maybe they'd have a tier in which games count for your TUC record at half-weight, that sort of thing. While that still has cliff issues that turns it into more of a large step than a cliff.
In other news, the committee is going to ask future regional sites not to ask for 90 dollars for three hockey games featuring teams from across the country, which is an insignificant step in the right direction. Tom Nevala, an associate AD at Notre Dame, is still sounding a call for sanity:
“The fans who come and support us all year are in and around our campuses,” Nevala said. “Whether it’s east or west, at least I’m not satisfied looking at the numbers that have generally appeared at regionals.
“Whether we’ve considered some of the eastern regionals well-attended or not, I think you could still do better. And hopefully the ticket pricing and the things that they’re going to attempt to do in the next cycle will help. But I’m convinced that we would be better off on campus in general.”
Unfortunately, this is the last year Nevala is going to be on the committee. At least there's one guy saying the most obvious thing that would help college hockey.
At least it won't die. Some terrible person broke a chunk off Howard's Rock, which Clemson touches before each football game. This is why we can't have nice things.
I just… I mean. People.
Jamarco comin'. Whatever prevented Jamarco Jones from taking his planned weekend swing through his three finalists has been resolved, so he'll be on campus Saturday. This is good for Michigan, which is generally regarded as trailing but in possession of a puncher's chance. Mom's apparently in Michigan's corner, because obviously.
FREDS ON FREDS ON FREDS. Filing this under Fred Jackson hyperbole and thus yoinking it from recruiting roundup deployment: Fred Jackson on 2015 FL RB Jacques Patrick.
"I talked to Coach Jackson for about 45 minutes, I was in there for a while. He was telling me he's watched around 50 running backs and I'm one of the best he's seen," he said. "That means a lot, because he's been doing this for a while."
Yes, for all possible definitions of "this." FWIW, Patrick held FSU and UF as leaders before trips to OSU and M. He now says he's going to open things up some, but the smart money still has him staying in Florida.
I know a guy who thinks of ghosts. Denard will make you breakfast. He'll make you toast. He don't use butter, he don't use cheese. He uses?
[Eddie] Lacy - who's about to get his first taste of cold weather football as a Green Bay Packer - then asked what Robinson's method was for staying warm "up there in the snow".
"What I did was put vasoline on, a lot of vasoline," Robinson said showing Lacy how he used to coat his arms with the petroleum jelly.
"So the vasoline keeps you warm?," Lacy asked cynically.
"It keeps the heat inside your body," Robinson told him. "It closes your pores up, that's what it does."
I know a guy who goes to shows. Tim Hardaway Jr has cracked Hated Chad Ford's Big Board, coming in #30. His game does transition neatly to an NBA environment, so there's that. Meanwhile, Ford is muttering about Michael Carter-Williams still, which screams smokescreen to me but hey if Burke slips to the Pistons I get a free pro sports team to care about again.
I know a guy who's going down in a flaming barge made of flames. His name is Mark Emmert, recently buffeted in an SI article that made him look like a clueless twit:
In many interviews with NCAA officials about enforcement, the topic quickly shifted back to the leadership of Emmert, who is known internally at the NCAA as the "King Of The Press Conference." That's not a compliment.
With high-profile members of the enforcement committee fleeing for individual schools as fast as they can, this is the state of NCAA enforcement.
One ex-enforcement official told SI, "The time is ripe to cheat. There's no policing going on."
So why hasn't this guy gotten fired?
"If you force him out, you're essentially telling everyone he has failed," one NCAA president told Sporting News. "When you're dealing with (litigation), it's not prudent to admit failure at the highest office."
Lovely. People in charge of things are just in charge of them, often for no reason.
JESSE. WE'LL COOK IN THE ABANDONED NCAA ENFORCEMENT OFFICES.
Devin Gardner speaks, is spoken about. On Toussaint:
"I've been watching Fitzgerald Toussaint throughout his whole (leg) rehab and everything," Gardner said Tuesday during an appearance on SiriusXM radio. "He's running faster, he looks way stronger. Fitzgerald Toussaint is going to be our guy.
"But we have a young guy coming in (also)."
And an interesting listing of the receivers:
"Our receives are doing really well, catching the ball, running fast and they look stronger and bigger," Gardner said. "Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson and obviously Jeremy Gallon (Michigan's leading receiver in 2012).
"I feel like we're in really good shape."
Darboh and Chesson in front of potential mentions of Jackson and Dileo.
Gardner also says people are almost pissed off.
"The finish we had in the (Outback Bowl loss against South Carolina on Jan. 1) was really beneficial for us even though we lost," Gardner said. "Because you've got a lot of guys that are hungry, almost pissed off, that it ended that way."
Gardner also mentioned the offense will be "more of a pro-style deal" with spread elements to take advantage of his athleticism.
Meanwhile, Borges has been taking Fred Jackson pointers and compares Gardner to RG3:
Q: Who does Devin Gardner remind you of?
A: He’s not really like anybody I have had. I’ve had so many prototype drop-back passers. He isn’t like (former Auburn quarterback) Jason Campbell, who was athletic but he really wasn’t a runner. I haven’t had a lot of real runners. He’s different. He’s hard to compare to someone else. He’s more like an RG3 type of guy. He’s a little taller than RG3 but plays a lot like him.
He also suggests he wants a 50/50 run/pass split perhaps a little biased towards the run; he, too, mentions Darboh and Chesson first when wide receivers come up (though he later flat-out states Gallon is their #1), then amazingly refers to Dileo and Jackson as "our two slots." Jeremy Jackson, slot receiver, Rich Rodriguez's head explodes.
Etc.: Attempting to explain Kentucky's recruiting (which isn't like fourth as the sites have it since they're out in front, but they will finish top 20, so still). 83% of SEC fans say the average fan has been priced out from attending games.
The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one - no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts. [Points to sword]. This you can trust.
-Conan’s Father, Conan the Barbarian
I loves me some prognosticationatin. Sure, Its imperfect and makes you look like a daggum moran when you’re wrong which is the majority of the time. Even when you’re right, folks will just ask you to do it again, and then again before they even consider listening to you next time. Heads: you’re wrong; Tails: you’re lucky. And its nowhere near a fair coin. Bloody infidels. You’re left with the choice of making peace with being considered either a fool or a crackpot. Its almost all downside. The prudent thing to do is just wait for things to play out and slap hands when things go well.
Maybe so, left brain, maybe so… But [screw] that. This is the internet for Pete’s sake. If you cant be wrong here, then what is it good for??? And everyone thinks we’re a crackpot already. Oh noes, another jerk I’ve never met thinks I’m an idiot. Woe is us. I pray my fragile psyche will some day recover from the indignation that is internet shame.
Aren’t we here to have fun? Isn’t it more fun to invest internet cache in a prophecy and see if you’re right. Its a simple social contract pick a side and to victors go the spoils of watching the losers eat crow. Even those who aren’t as in-your-face about it all…they know. They know they were right and the others were wrong. There is nothing sweeter than being able to say “I told you so” even when you choose not to say it. Its about that which is best in life: to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their bloggers. Indeed.
Last week my man Ron Utah had the onions to put out a diary that set the stage for Devin Gardner to the best QB in history next season. Damn near guaranteed it. Relax Ronnie; I keed, I keed. Devin put up a 160 passer rating against solid competition over a 5 game stretch. I think its safe to assume he could up good or better performances against Air Force, UMass, Purdue, and Illinois. Five games of data isn’t exactly nothing but it’s not a whole lot either.
This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Prior to the 2010 season I spent a lot of time studying Quarterback statistics and progression in an effort to get some insight into what would be reasonable and maybe not so reasonable to expect to see that coming season. Over the course of those writings I made a bunch of prognostications on various QBs relevant to Michigan that year. I’ll suppress the desire to assess each statement player by player in this space but I’m pretty proud of those pretty specific predictions. I was wrong about Ricky Stanzi, but I claim everyone else as a prediction of reasonable to uncanny accuracy or uncallable. I’m claiming a 10 right, 1 wrong, and 5 no calls. Word. /appeal for authority
White Rainbow Reprised
Anyway, I’ll get back to Devin in a minute but I need to lay some groundwork down first. Gots to hit ‘em with a…
Chart. Actually, four charts. These are the components of Passer Rating. The data is compiled from 951 QB seasons from 2003 to 2012. The point is to show the relationship between each factor and the overall rating. The interception rate chart is interesting because the slope hooks up when you start dropping below 100. That makes sense because sometimes when you suck, you really really suck and your foes all go hyuk ‘cause they hate you…or something like that. Just remember to switch lines down there.
The the high quality fits present here are no surprise: passer rating is a linear mathematical equation. But, these fits are useful because we can use them to evaluate how “legitimate” a given player’s performance was. For example, Denard Robinson’s 2010 Passer Rating was 149. Typical components for that rating are shown in the second line of the table below, his actual values are shown in the first line. Denard’s Completion percentage was inline with his final rating but everything else was either slightly out of whack (TD%) or WAAAY out of whack (YPA, INT%).
|Denard Robinson 2010||Cmp %||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||146.09||160.00||141.72||105.37|
A reasonable cynic would say: so what; it counts. Indeed and we should make no apologies. But understanding these gaps helps us understand if there are any areas of improvement or if a guy is overly dependant on big plays and such. This was exactly the case with Denard in 2010. Remember all those “Oh, wide open” seam throws he made to Roundtree that year? Those big plays were generated by the offensive scheme and the threat he posed as a runner, not by the threat he posed as a passer. So, when the scheme went away, so did his performance. When an opponent was able to neuter his running threat, the offense sputtered. Capice?
What’s Your Rainbow Got To Do With Me?
Finally we get to Devin. Devin posted an overall passer rating of 161.7 in the 5 games he played QB in last year. His stats illustrate the “White Rainbow” Effect of the Passer Rating formula beautifully. None of the components were typical of that passer rating, the great cancels out the terrible and we end up with a number that doesn’t quite mean anything in and of itself.
|Devin Gardner 2012||Cmp %||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||132.84||176.28||176.97||98.33|
Devin’s completion percentage was fine, but nothing special really. His INT rate was flat out terrible, better than Denard’s but that's not saying a whole lot. This isn't a surprise given the fact the Devin had never seen significant PT at QB and then spent spring, summer, and damn near two thirds of the season practicing at WR. Those numbers are inline with reasonable expectations given his circumstances. Actually, he probably out performed reasonable expectations given those circumstances and the inferable information that comes along with a position switch.
On the other hand the TD rate and YPA numbers are both ridiculous. In fact, they’re so ridiculous that given the context of the other two components, they reek of unrepeatability. AhOOOOga! Dive! Dive! Dive! [Everything starts shaking.] WHAT THE [HECK] IS HAPPENING!?!?
Relax, that’s just the mean reversion alarm. I’m reprising a chart I’ve previously discussed in this space which shows the mean reversion effect in a forecast able format. This chart suggests that we should look for Devin to register a legit 145 in passer rating next year. Uh, that’s a damn fine rating, folks. Here’s a stat line about your QB that you just might like:
|Devin Gardner, 2013||360||225||2900||23||10|
Sure, that’s not the 3600 yds and 33 TDs Ronnie promised but its not 15 INTs either. That level of performance is typical of a seasoned veteran QB and given Devin’s performance last season it’s totally reasonable to expect him to perform at this level. If he were to underperform that expectation the world would not end but I’d be disappointed. If he over performs then gravy. This is the reasonable and prudent outlook for Devin Gardner’s performance for this coming season.
Reasonable. Prudent. Pfft, those words suck. They aren’t sexy at all. They aren’t fun. They’re words Brady Hoke would use to describe Notre Dame. A seasoned veteran QB will do in a pinch but I want to plan on hearing the lamentations of all of those that oppose us. No, to lay those plans we need a monster. We need an expectation that we’ll have a performer at QB that will dominate. We need what Ron Utah has promised us. Surely there must be a way to construct a plausible expectation for domination given the data available. Indeed, but we need some abstract thinking. Shamalong to the right side of knowledge.
What if those numbers for YPA and TD rate weren’t an accident and are actually evidence of elite playmaking ability. Numbers like those are characteristic of system, support, or flat out skillz; usually a combination of the three.
System: We’ve seen what system can do for a player. We need look no further than Denard Robinson. In RichRod’s system Denard rated out at about 150, in a more typical system he rated out 20 points lower. In Devin’s case, he’ll be playing in a familiar system with more time to learn and refine his understanding. Borges will be able to game plan around a playing style he’s more experienced with and I see no threat to Devin’s performance being affected because of system factors next year.
Support: A quarterback can benefit from the players around him. I submit freshman Chad Henne. Having Braylon Edwards to throw to and Mike Hart around certainly helped his numbers. That O-line wasn’t too shabby either. So the question is: did Devin’s numbers get a boost from the players around him that will suddenly not be there anymore? The receiving corps returns mostly intact and as much as I enjoyed Roy Roundtree as a player, I don't think he was a transcendent talent that cant be replaced by Chesson and/or Darboh. Who is to say that they wont be better?
As to support from the running game, again I don't think there was anything there that made opposing defenses think twice. Michigan was aiight running the ball last season. Fitz’s production seemed to pick up when Devin stepped in for Denard but then he got injured so its tough to say if that's a trend or not. Here again, support from the running game should at the very least stay where it was and maybe it picks up a bit.
Finally, the offensive line. Michigan loses some solid players but retains its best player. Also, some high powered recruits from Hoke first few recruiting classes may finally be ready to contribute even if its just to add depth. It’s possible that the o-line could be touch weaker with the addition of new blood but I have no idea how to gauge that. I’m not going to worry about it.
In terms of support, Devin should have everything he needs and maybe even have an overall better receiving corps and stronger running game.
Skillz: Everyone around these parts know Devin Gardner was a high high level recruit. Once he got to campus and we saw him in Spring Games it was like, well, not that great and when he got moved to wide receiver last year I, for one, kind of convinced myself that maybe he was just another talented athlete with poorly developed QB skills. But, the numbers he put up when given extended playing time, while rusty, against not to be scoffed at defenses…jeepers. Maybe Scout was onto something when they gave him that 5th Star.
Its not crazy to think that Devin Gardner is that good. He might just be a monster. The only thing that prevents anyone from saying that confidently is sample size. So, as is my way, I try to look into the future by looking into the past. What does Devin Gardner the Monster look like?
|Devin Gardner, 2013||360||235||3200||27||8|
Yeah, baby. Lather up. Dennis Dixon. Troy Smith. Vince Young. What’s up with all those guys wearing #10 anyway? What’s up with all those guys murdering my team? Whatevs, Devin Gardner the monster looks like Michigan’s Revenge.
See, the only thing that makes this a difficult thing to believe is that posting a 160 passer rating is a difficult thing to do. But, its possible and what fundamental reason is there to say that Devin lacks the wherewithal to post that type of performance in the coming season? Depending on which set of assumptions hold, Devin will be either a really good QB or a devastating one.
If Al Borges says Devin plays like RGIII, I believe him.