"Coach Mattison told me what the Ravens were about, what he thought," Beyer said. "He definitely encouraged me. I hold his opinion in high regard."
In 2006, David Harris never came off the field for a single defensive play. Then he (and Prescott Burgess) graduated, and the Ezeh/Mouton era was born.
The cheapest thrill in MGoBlogging from '07 to '10 was making an Obi Ezeh joke. Here was a guy with limited ability who was subject to terrible coaching and forced into the center of Michigan's defense – wearing David Harris's number no less – for four terrible years because until Kenny Demens there was no alternative. Since linebacker mistakes are harder to spot than, say, free safety mistakes, you could get a lot of internet cred by intelligently pointing out the flaws in Ezeh's game.
If you hang around enough program insiders, you already know that in all of the important things in life, Obi Ezeh is a spectacular success. On the overwhelming majority of the plays he was involved in, Obi did something other than fail spectacularly. And then there were those times on the field when he failed, spectacularly.
That it took until midway through his senior year to displace Ezeh says a lot about the depth of Michigan's linebacker recruiting, and probably more about the coaching. Four years ago, was this the future we expected?
|Chris Graham||Sr.||Johnny Thompson||Jr.*||Shawn Crable||Sr.*|
|Jonas Mouton||Fr.*||Obi Ezeh||Fr.*||Marrell Evans||Fr.|
|Brandon Logan||Jr.||Austin Panter||Jr.||Brandon Herron||Fr.|
Incoming: (Marcus Wither-)SPOON!
But that AUGGGHHHH was a long time coming. M had a string of bad linebacker recruiting years that ended up giving playing time to a Sarantos and the vastly overrated McClintock a few years earlier before the enterprise was saved by Burgess moving in from safety and a Grand Rapids 2-star running back emerging as all-world MLB David Harris. By 2007 those guys were gone and it was the undersized seniors Graham and Crable, then hope.
The story of 2007 recruiting, other than "PLZ moar DBs!" was "PLZ moar LBs!" Then the LB haul turned out to be a JUCO junior and two fliers, and two of the freshmen transferred, and crippling fear set in. Little bits of happy flakes like "maybe Chris Graham will have a Bennie Joppru renaissance" and "Obi Ezeh practice hype!" and "Jonas Mouton's recruiting pedigree as a safety" were used to provide the necessary optimism to balance the previews that start with a tiny linebacker with Tyrannosaurus arms, yappy trash-talking spear, and blitz-only knife, and end with one guy down the depth chart with any hope of being good.
Tyranno-arms was Chris Graham, who was terrible as a sophomore, didn't play behind Burgess, and came into his senior year expected to raise even more internet ire. The expectation here was for Mouton's loads of talent to push Graham out of the way.
At MLB, Thompson and Ezeh were in a battle. What little had been seen of Thompson led Brian to conclude he was a guy born a generation too late, the best case scenario a Sam Sword who needs to come off the field on passing downs. Ezeh was our knight in Harris-ian armor:
Nobody's seen redshirt freshman Ezeh in the flesh yet, but the indicators on him are good. For one, he is David Harris: a nothing running back recruit out of Grand Rapids who Michigan unearthed and brought in as a linebacker. He even took the newly hallowed #45 once Harris graduated. In the fall he was moved to middle linebacker to compete with Thompson and Panter so he wouldn't spend his year idling behind Crable. Whenever people try to get you on the field, that's a good sign.
We now know that whenever people try to get you on the field, that could be a good sign for you, or a bad sign for the entire unit.
Crable? Ah, Crable. Expert attacker, not made for regular linebacking duties. The SAM position that kind of became Spur and is now again SAM was exactly what Crable was good at. He essentially made Michigan's defense a 5-2, with Crable serving as a sharp knife to terrify bludgeoning offensive linemen and wreak backfield havoc. When he's not doing this, Michigan would go to the nickel, with Brandon Harrison in for Crable. Brian in the preview:
As a 6'6" linebacker with chicken legs and a high center of gravity, he's not the sort to defeat a block and close out a hole. He doesn't make tackles three yards downfield. It's either in the backfield or after long pursuit.
As for depth and future: negligible or less after Mouton and Ezeh. The team was sucking up the departure of Mixon and Patilla, and Brandon Graham's move to DE, leaving just 9 scholarship players, of whom Mouton was the only consensus 4-star or higher. Logan was already a clear Anton Campbell Memorial Special Teamer. Pessimistic practice reports ruled out any immediate usefulness from Panter. Evans was a 2-star reportedly offered on advice that he had a better work ethic than Brandon Minor, according to Brandon Minor. Herron was an athletic project recruit who looked like a receiver. On July 31, 2007, until help arrived from the 2008 class, the future was Ezeh, Mouton, and bleakness:
Mixon transferred, Patilla is likely gone, and Graham is a defensive end. Mouton (who moved down from safety) and Ezeh are both drawing very positive reviews and are odds-on favorites to start next year, but past that we have only the two freshmen, one of whom was a two-star and the other a three-star regarded as a combine freak who needs a lot of work. Depth is also going to be an issue at linebacker going forward; we need at least three in this class.
As for those 2008 recruits, SPOON! was Rival's 160th overall at the time, and the board was full of linebacker prospects. Taylor Hill, a 3.5-star-ish guy was apparently off to Florida (the RR hire turned him back), but M was in good position for 4-star J.B. Fitzgerald, and Christian Wilson was close to coming in, but as an H-back. Because the offer list was so rich and large and positive feeling-y, in-state Kenny Demens didn't have an offer from Michigan, and insiders expected him to end up at that school people go to when they want to go to Michigan but don't have a letter of acceptance from Michigan.
All told, expectations were for a dark period that hopefully saw Mouton emerge as a killer to cover up deficiencies in the Ezeh/Thompson platoon, while the coaches schemed around the 3rd LB spot with two-LB sets (nickel/5-2) or sets that basically act like two-LB (3-3-5, 4-3 under) until the fruits of the 2008 haul ripened. The 2008 preview gave a kind 2 out of 5 rating because if Ezeh got better (rather than worse) each year, he'd be Schilling minus the recruiting hype. At that point Mouton was beaten for the starting gig by the workmanlike (pre-transfer) Marrell Evans, and Panter was your 2008 starting SLB. By Penn State '08 it was Thompson at SAM, Mouton terrible in coverage but awesome at blitzing, and Ezeh a convenient focal point for power running teams, which the Big Ten has those, and we talking about how we totally called it.
Ultimately this meant 'eh' to mediocre linebacker play for 2007-09, and then something approximating good in 2010 when Mouton and Ezeh are 5th year seniors with loads of experience, and the 2008 guys were upperclassmen.
How Did that Turn Out?
This is a picture taken from Brian's picture pages of Mouton losing contain again. RB#32 will now cut behind LT#77 and probably have enough time to cue a celebratory animation as he waltzes toward the end-zone as you throw your controller and curse the EAsshole who programmed suction blocking.
Then you realize this is real life and you go looking for a coach to throttle.
The depth chart at the beginning of 2007 fall practice tells a story, but the rest of the tale of linebacker in the 2007-10 is the clearest case in M history since DeBordian offensive playcalling in which the coaches failed their players.
Whereas the defensive backfield suffered from a lack of guys, the linebacker corps had a some guys with wildly varying abilities The truth of that statement can be found in the era's picture pages that weren't about bad DB play, bad backup DL play, or some bit of insight into the Offensive Genius of Mr. Rodriguez, from lining up Demens incorrectly to the consistent fundamental mistakes made by experienced 5th year seniors. It can be confirmed by the incredibly short careers of various linebacker coaches in this time:
2007: Steve Szabo – Former LB's coach for Jacksonville Jaguars ('94-'02) and DC for B.C. and Colorado State before that. Michigan's LB coach from 2006-'07, was let go with rest of Carr's staff when RR took over, and joined the Carr's-Michigan-in-Exile project of Ron English down the road in Ypsilanti.
2008-'09: Jay Hopson – A favorite MGoWhipping Boy, this Mississippi import couldn't a.) coach linebackers, or b.) recruit Mississippi. He was the fall-guy for the 2009 defense. Brian on Hopson postmortem:
Now that he's actually gone, it's no sugarcoat time: Hopson failed at all aspects of his job at Michigan. At least Tony Gibson can point to the walk-ons and whatnot when attempting to explain what went wrong with his section of the defense; Hopson had two redshirt juniors with three years of starting experience between them. They went backwards, and the big-time recruit backing them up also proved unready.
Meanwhile, a—possibly the—primary reason Michigan lacks depth on the defensive line and might have to turn down a couple of recruits who want to come was Hopson getting "commitments" from two defensive tackles who eventually went to Arkansas and Texas Tech on signing day.
This makes Rodriguez 0/2 on his new hires since coming to Michigan, with Greg Robinson currently sporting an incomplete. If Rodriguez doesn't make it at Michigan the guys he picked to run his defense will be a primary factor.
If the link to that Christmastime '09 post is purple on your browser, it's because I've linked it several times before thanks to this famous bit of prophesy fulfilled: 2010: GERG – You see a man with fantastically groomed white locks who takes the opportunity afforded by his first linebacker ward performing a linebacker play correctly to rub said linebacker's face with a beaver beanie baby. Throttle this man? Y/N
That's not to say they were working with a roster full of Ray Lewis and Jarret Johnsons (like some people). The transfer bug continued, as Evans and three of the '08 commits (Hill, SPOON!, and former safety Brandon Smith) followed Mixon and Patilla out the door. The recruiting story under Carr was, if you can believe it, even more desperate than the defensive backs, evidence: Panter. But where you can't get away from playing 4 DBs on most downs, you can get away with 2 every-down linebacker-y linebackers if you scheme for it, and that's what Michigan essentially did.
The result: zero depth behind the two summon creatures played above. At various points along the way, tiny walk-on Kevin Leach became a nominal starter, and not because of injuries to guys ahead of him. Suboptimal options J.B. Fitzgerald, Craig Roh, Brandon Herron, Mark Moundros and Brandon Smith were all forced into the lineup in hopes of plugging some of those holes between Adam Patterson and wherever Adam Patterson's shoes were landing. If the Opong-Owusu family had produced any more sons, they probably would have played as well.
The real story of 2007 to 2010 though was Mouton and Ezeh. Mouton came to be known in my (fantasy nerdy) head as the Goblin Sapper, equally liable to cause massive to enemies and his own party. Since the NFL apparently thinks they can make a linebacker out of him, and he was actually getting really good coverage drops whenever he knew to do so, I tend to blame the coaches more than Mouton for his 'define erratic' play. We can only wonder if he would have been our best WLB prospect since Dhani. Ezeh? At this point let's just and wish him luck in everything he does.
That's 2/3 of the tale. The third LB position, strongside, turned out fine. Crable was Crablicious in limited duty for English's nickel-happy '07, and in '08 John Thompson got to do his neaderthalish thing when the occasion called for it (which was basically just Wisconsin and MSU). In 2009 the SAM spot became Spur, a straightforward hybrid position that basically combines Brandon Harrison and Shawn Crable into a player who stays on the field for every down. In '09 it turned out to be Stevie Brown's lifetime calling. In 2010 it was the home of a rotating cast of freshmen: two redshirted Gordons and Carvin Johnson, who were not at all disappointing.
5 Point Scale of Expectation vs. Outcome: 3. We knew things were gonna be Mouton, Ezeh and pray for rain, and only hoped that experience, recruiting, plus a breakout or two from among the 2- and 3-stars, would be able to fix that. Ezeh got a little bit worse every year. Mouton had a major regression as a junior from a promising but mistake-y sophomore year, before getting a bit better as a senior. The recruits came but didn't develop. What really nailed this unit was the coaching, both the effects of changing schemes every year, and the overall poor quality of the Hopson/GERG coaching experience. Heading into 2011, the outlook isn't all that different, depending on your excitement level over Kenny Demens in a sensical defense (Brian: high, Misopogon: medium) and trust that one of the WLB guys will be serviceable (Brian: low, Misopogon: medium). For the future, the "I coached Ray Lewis" pitch seems to be working like free ice cream as Mattison has grabbed first dibs on a loaded regional LB class, and Mark Smith, who has followed Hoke around since '03, would really have to work to match the record incompetence of his last two predecessors.
Next week is the d-line and I promise it won't be this depressing again. Look: Biakabutuka going for 313.
Diaries after the jump.
With more new Michigan commits, we're hitting the front page after a hiatus of a couple weeks. Action since last rankings:
6-24-11 Minnesota gains commitment from Eric Murray.
6-26-11 Notre Dame gains commitment from John Turner. Michigan State gains commitment from Nick Tompkins. Michigan gains commitment from Blake Bars.
6-27-11 Purdue gains commitment from Ryan Morris.
6-28-11 Indiana gains commitment from Adam Kranda.
6-29-11 Penn State gains commitment from Joey O'Connor. Purdue gains commitment from Austin Appleby. Minnesota gains commitment from Mitch Leidner.
7-1-11 Indiana gains commitment from Jacob Bailey. Purdue gains commitment from Steffon Martin.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||ESPN Avg||24/7 Avg|
*ESPN doesn't rate JUCOs, so Isaac Fruechte is not included in Minnesota's average.
via flickr user larrysphatpage
Almost nothing drives me more insane than someone who proclaims certain numbers to be bad because these other numbers are better without suggesting a mechanism that would make this true. Via Slate, Murray Chass provides the canonical example:
The stats freaks who never saw a decimal point they didn't worship were ecstatic last year when Zack Greinke won the American League Cy Young award while winning only 16 games. Felix Hernandez, who won 19 and whose 2.49 earned run average was second to Greinke's 2.16, would have been my choice, but the stats guys "proved" that Greinke was the correct choice because of his statistical standing in formulaic concoctions in which we mere mortals do not imbibe.
—Murray Chass, murraychass.com, May 9, 2010.
This makes me clench and unclench my fists helplessly. It seems impossible that you could be this venerated New York Times baseball writer without picking up on the fact that AL pitchers have no control over how many runs their team scores. The fists clench and unclench because attempting to model an argument with Murray Chass about this quickly leads into a cul-de-sac where Chass says something condescending about something he doesn't understand and repeats it ad nauseum as if he believes "no blood for oil" or "drill, baby, drill" is a coherent, self-contained, impregnable point of view.
Presenting Jonah Lehrer, who actually manages to write for Wired despite being able to compose the following:
Consider the case of J.J. Barea. During the regular season, the backup point guard had perfectly ordinary statistics, averaging 9.5 ppg and shooting 44 percent from the field. His plus/minus rating was slightly negative. There was no reason to expect big things from such a little player in the playoffs.
And yet, by Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barea was in the starting lineup. (This promotion came despite the fact that he began the Finals with a 5-for-23 shooting slump and a minus-14 rating.) What Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wisely realized is that Barea possessed something that couldn't be captured in a scorecard, that his speed and energy were virtues even when he missed his layups (and he missed a lot of layups), and that when he made those driving floaters their value exceeded the point score. Because nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane. Although Barea's statistics still look pretty ordinary — his scoring average fell in the Finals despite the fact that he started — the Mavs have declared that re-signing him is a priority. Because it doesn't matter what the numbers say. Barea won games.
A man who writes for Wired ascribes JJ Barea's value to "nothing messes with your head like seeing a guy that short score in the lane." Fists clenching and unclenching due to impossibility of refuting argument that stupid. Plenty of other people have tried to do so. Some guy at Deadspin who pointed out that the Mavs are amongst the most stat-obsessed teams in the league. A Baseball Prospectus guy tore apart Lehrer's introductory car analogy, in which car buyers who focus on a couple of barely relevant but easily understandable numbers instead of the important, hard-to-quantity data are Bill James, not Joe Morgan.
It doesn't matter, though. These articles always have a tautologically number-negating logic. The argument goes:
- I don't understand statistics*.
- People who understand statistics don't understand intangibles.
- Therefore my understanding is superior.
Now let's talk about Denard Robinson and last year's offense.
*[This lack of understanding can be many things but is always at least this: statistics are a suggestive tool, not math gospel. To be fair, some people use statistics like they are a golden hammer. These people are very annoying and should be yelled at. Just don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. ]
Y WE NO SCORE GOALPOINTS
This came up a lot in the aftermath of the Spring Game, when the quarterbacks strove to make themselves indistinguishable from walk-ons and quite a lot of people put finger under collar and went "uggggghhh." This was met with a round of backlash largely consisting of people pointing at select—sometimes hilariously select—statistics from last year's team in an effort to prove the offense wasn't really that good.
The favorite was a focus on the first halves against good opponents, when Michigan did not score points. This did not escape notice even around here:
The Ohio State game has the power to make whatever happens in it seem like Michigan's season in microcosm, and so the overriding theme of the 2010 season is looking up at the scoreboard at halftime to see Michigan on pace for about 500 yards and about twenty points. Michigan had 238 yards and seven points this time around and instead of a competitive game we got the usual.
Michigan was frustratingly spectacular at getting to the half with almost 300 yards and something like ten points on the board. But using points to evaluate the output of an offense is like using wins to evaluate a pitcher. Events outside the entity you are trying to evaluate have so much impact on that number, it is only a fuzzy explanation of the story.
I have engaged in message board fights and observed many more about whether the Wisconsin game was a failure on the offense's part. At the half the score was 28-0 Wisconsin and the game was as good as over, whereupon Michigan came out of the locker room and scored three straight touchdowns against the UW defense. This would have made the game interesting if Michigan could have forced the Badgers to pass, ever.
My fists do the clenching bit whenever anyone tries to claim the Wisconsin game was evidence Michigan should move away from the spread. The Michigan offense's entire first half:
Michigan drives from their own one yard line to
the Wisconsintheir 35 before punting.
- Michigan drives from their 28 to the Wisconsin 13; Seth Broekhuizen misses a 30-yard field goal.
- Three and out from the 36.
- Three and out from the 40.
(There was also a meaningless two play drive at the end of the half.) That's not a great four drives. It is a great seven drives if you consider the next three. Meanwhile, the final touchdown against UW is often dismissed as "garbage time" but Badger tacklers on that drive include JJ Watt, Patrick Butrym, and Aaron Henry—all starters—and Michigan hit Roundtree three times for more than 20 yards on a three-minute march. That was not Wisconsin's goal. Even if you still dismiss Michigan's last couple drives as garbage you have to acknowledge that the defense's inability to make them meaningful robbed the offense of opportunities to impress for real.
But you're sitting there and your fists are clenching and unclenching and everything is black and doom and blacky black doom, so maybe it's hard to tell.
Transistors don't give a damn
This is the disconnect. While what seems like a fairly large subset of the fanbase saw wholesale collapse in the Wisconsin game, computers saw two units failing immensely and an offense that put up 442 yards on a defense that gave up 321 on average, scored 31-ish points (computers will credit the offense with acquiring the field position for the field goal and deduct the miss from the special teams; if they deduct from the garbage TD they will use a lower denominator when trying to figure out expected points) on a defense that gave up 21. Statistically, Michigan's offense was at least a standard deviation above the mean against the Badgers.
While the Wisconsin game is the biggest outlier between the offense's actual and perceived performance, it's instructive. It is often lumped in with the crap from last year along with Iowa (tenuous case indeed there), MSU, OSU, and the bowl game. There is no reasonable case it should be. This is why statistics are useful, because meat-emotions often overwhelm our capacity for reason.
These are the questions I think we should be asking in our most robotic voices:
What aspects of last year's performance project most strongly to next year's?
There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control. The latter was a huge problem all three years under Rodriguez. However, turnovers notoriously do not correlate year to year, are heavily dependent on quarterback, experience and saw Rich Rodriguez consistently in the black at West Virginia.
Michigan's turnover issues aren't fate, should improve naturally, and are not related to the spread. Most of Michigan's other issues at turning yards into points are not really the offense's.
That leaves an inherent flaw in the spread offense as a potential culprit that has the potential to repeat next year. Point in favor: Michigan was even worse in the redzone in 2009, finishing with just 49% of available points. Point against: Auburn and Oregon finished in the top ten last year. Further point against from a Football Outsiders study of the NFL:
We took … 20 overachievers and measured their performances the season after said overachievement; while their DVOA [ed: something value over average, a fancy stat they have designed to smooth out noise.] in the red zone that initial season exceeded their total offensive DVOA by an average of 33.3 percent, in the following season, their DVOA in the red zone exceeded their total DVOA by an average of 1.3 percent. In other words, the teams' performances in the red zone mirrored how they did outside it, implying the overachieving was a fluke.
We also can measure this by using correlation coefficients, a way of measuring the relationship between two variables that results in a number ranging from minus-1 (at which the two variables have an exact inverse relationship) to plus-1 (at which the variables have a perfectly positive relationship). The correlation between a team's performance in the red zone and its overall offensive performance, year to year, is 0.08 -- essentially nil. Teams simply do not exceed their performance in the first 80 yards once they get to the final 20 on a regular basis.
The evidence suggests Michigan's red zone struggles should revert to the mean; the things that made the offense less than the sum of its yards last year are all small sample size outliers.
What's left that does correlate, or at least correlates better? Everything else. On a play by play basis Michigan's offense does well in standard and advanced metrics, and returns ten starters. If they should be better but weren't (because of things that should revert) and can expect similar performance next year (because of all the returning starters), then what should happen is that the expected and actual meet somewhere south of #2 nationally but well within the schwing range.
Is it better to play to Al Borges's strengths or the offense's strengths?
In 2008 this was easy since the offense had no strengths. In 2011 it's a difficult question. Michigan's transition demands that Borges or Denard (and, importantly, the OL) leaves his comfort zone. This is necessarily going to be suboptimal for someone.
The spring game suggests it will be vastly suboptimal for Denard if Borges gets his way, and it seems a lot easier to change playcalls than turn Denard into Jon Navarre. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. The last few years I've documented the ever-evolving Michigan run offense. Rich Rodriguez kept ahead of the curve by constantly adding new wrinkles to the ground game. He was able to do this because of his vast experience with the spread 'n' shred. Al Borges is a smart guy with a lot of experience but his history suggests his inventiveness may be more oriented towards the passing game. If a good chunk of offensive effectiveness is staying ahead of the game, Borges might be able to do that better from a pro-style offense.
But the following is true even in the NFL:
Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
With an offense outright designed for the shotgun featuring a quarterback whose main asset is his legs, the cutting-edge effect would have to be absurdly important to make the offense more effective from under center.
Does I-form pro-style help you win in ways undefined by conventional statistics?
This is Brady Hoke's theory when he denigrates the zone-heavy spread offense as an impediment to having a good defense. A quick glance at the top defenses in both conventional and fancy measures suggests this is unlikely. TCU, Boise State, and West Virginia were the top three teams in yardage defense. WVU, Missouri, Oklahoma, Auburn, Oregon, and Mississippi State are all in the top ten in defensive FEI. There appears to be little if any problem with having a top defense opposite your spread 'n' shred offense as long as you account for the increased pace of the spread.
Is it worth sacrificing effectiveness down the road for immediate results?
Unknowable, but there's no better way to quickly put the question marks on Brady Hoke's resume to rest than by having a breakout first season.
Extensive Conclusion Section
MOAR SHOTGUN PLZ
Love the Hoke-pointing inset.
This year's main feature is the price, which is down to a cool $9.99 without a reduction in the amount of content. Other things:
Some guy named Brian from MGoBlog does the usual extensive preview of the offense, defense, special teams, incoming recruits, and overall zeitgeist of the program.
Johnny from RBUAS writes about Denard Robinson, prose flowing like dreads.
Seth Fisher, also known as Misopogon, goes in depth on recruting Ohio. Now more relevant than ever.
Chris Brown of Smart Football attempts to answer the looming offseason question "Al Borges + Denard Robinson == ???" Article is packed with illuminating graphs and some surprising revelations about Manball, or the lack thereof, in Borges's most recent offense.
Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders attempts to answer another looming question about Michigan football: just how good was Michigan's offense last year and how do they become more efficient this year?
Michael Elkon of Braves and Birds finds out how much improvement Michigan's massive number of returning starters should yield.
Greg Dooley of MVictors recaps the crash-laden, ridiculously-pantsed 1911 season 100 years on.
John Kryk asks members of the massively hyped 1981 team what went wrong on a team that seemed to have it all.
Kryk also goes way back to the days when Nebraska and Notre Dame could not beat down the door of the Big Ten back when it was the Big X.
Craig Ross evaluates his fandom in the aftermath of the last three tumultuous years.
- And various authors put their reputation, honor, and even their very lives on the line in a roundtable addressing critical questions of the day: how many greater-than symbols should we place next to Greg Mattison's name in relation to GERG's? How large and smoky will the crater in Columbus be? Has Kenny Demens broken out already or is he about to? How wrong do you feel about your fuming hat-stomping in the aftermath of Brady Hoke's hire?
All this and at least six ridiculous captions await you. Shipping now; on newstands in about three weeks.
Why I stopped buying NCAA in two sentences. Go:
Also this is definitely because of Denard.
Hockey bits. It was announced a while ago but in case you missed it, Big Ten hockey has adopted a fairly sensible playoff format. The bottom four finishers have a best two-of-three series at the higher seed's home ice and then there is a four-team single-elimination playoff on the #1 seed's home ice.
It's a little strange that the second-place finisher gets zero home hockey games but it could have been worse. I still prefer best two-of-three series the whole way because it's more hockey and less arbitrary.
Other logistical bits continue to filter out:
- Teams have "already been asked" to play two Monday night games per season and Wednesday games between nearby teams have also been broached. The article also mentions the possibility of some Sunday-Monday series.
- The Big Ten "will" reach a scheduling agreement with the WCHA that will take care of "perhaps eight" of the new Big Ten's 14 nonconference games.
- They might have to move the state basketball championships in Wisconsin.
I expect the WCHA scheduling agreement just involves Minnesota and Wisconsin. Having the WCHA suck up the eight extra nonconference games now on OSU's, MSU's, and Michigan's schedules would hurt the CCHA further, and I'd rather to see them play traditional opponents like Miami, Northern Michigan, Ferris, etc., than fly to Minnesota to play St. Cloud.
As far as moving games for television goes, I'm all for the increased exposure but when I looked at the schedules it seemed like Sunday was a vast wasteland for basketball that hockey could fill. Is the NFL that much of a beast?
Meanwhile, it is alive:
Illini, probably not. A Champaign-Urbana developer is planning a $15 million ice arena with two sheets of ice in a 100k square-foot building. This immediately got message board folk speculating about Illini hockey, but it doesn't sound like that kind of investment is anywhere near what you'd need for a D-I program. Illinois would probably have to spend at least double that to get a proper D-I rink. Add in a former club player's perspective…
Even though the club team has operated at a profit and has the third highest game attendance per season of all sports on campus (average 800-1000 per game with an all time high of around 2000), there are still too many things standing in the way for Illinois to field a D1 NCAA hockey team in the near future. Using the current ice rink for a D1 team is not an option due to the fact that the NCAA requires a minimum seating capacity of 4k-5k for all new D1 NCAA hockey teams (seating capacity at the current rink is ~1250) and the rink is not regulation size. Another problem is that while hockey may have proved that it is in demand in C-U, it is pretty far down the list of sports the AD would like to add. Mens swimming and men's soccer are both sports that could be added to the Illinois AD for significantly less money and without having to add new facilities to the university.
… and it sounds like if the Big Ten adds a seventh member in hockey it won't be the Illini unless they get a Terry Pegula-level donation.
One wing forward extra crispy. It seems like basketball might have its two-ish open spots for the 2012 and 2013 classes filled promptly, what with Flint's Monte Morris declaring Michigan his leader, albeit only from the four teams who have offered, and August($) his decision timeframe. Meanwhile, Indiana's Zak Irvin is stepping up his campus visits considerably. He says he's not going to make an immediate decision but it doesn't sound like he's going to wait that long:
“Right now I’m just taking my time with it,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to do anything soon. I’m just reviewing all my options.”
In addition to Butler and Michigan, Irvin also has offers from Baylor, Illinois, Indiana, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Purdue and Xavier. Asked about his recent offers, Irvin said he “likes both coaching staffs” of Butler and Michigan.
“I’m still curious to see who comes out in July,” Irvin said of next month’s evaluation period. “I doubt anything happens before the
Irvin told Sam Webb that rumors a Michigan commitment was imminent were false and that "there are other schools" on his list.
Irvin's now being listed at 6'7" some places, FWIW. He'll be Sim Bhullar by the time he hits campus. Glenn Robinson III teammate Mitch McGary is also scheduled to be on campus shortly but probably remains a longshot.
Austin Hatch's situation makes Michigan's recruiting even more complicated. It will be a while before it's clear whether he can play basketball at a high level again. While I assume the NCAA will work something out so he can attend Michigan either way, there's uncertainty there. That's in the triple digits about "things you should care about related to Austin Hatch," of course.
The cheddar issue. The Business of College Sports highlights Michigan's massive construction projects:
That is a lot of money being spent on buildings that only indirectly benefit student-athletes:
As you can see, gifts help make these capital projects possible, but they only make a small dent in the total amount needed. The athletic department has incurred debt for a number of the projects and has budgeted $13.2 million in expenses for this debt service for the coming year. This is up $2.2 million from last year due to debt incurred for the Michigan Stadium and Crisler Arena projects.
In addition to this debt service, Michigan has another $14.4 million budgeted for “Facilities Expenses” and a “Deferred Maintenance Fund Transfer”. I should point out that $4.5 million of the $14.4 million mentioned is for the “Deferred Maintenance Fund Transfer”. This is a fund set up during the 2003 fiscal year that is being built up to fund future “major repair and rehabilitation projects” for athletic facilities. Because Michigan turns an operating profit each year, they’re able to put aside for future capital projects in ways I’m sure many other universities cannot.
The $14.4 million I just detailed on top of the $29.9 million set aside for renovations to Crisler and Yost and $13.2 million in debt service on facilities adds up to $57.5 million Michigan is spending next year on facilities alone.
When we point at the surpluses run by large athletic departments and say some of that money could go to athletes we should also keep in mind that if facilities are going to be kept up to date colleges have to make that happen themselves. They can't extort local governments for stadiums, so they have to build up reserves and carefully plan ahead.
The insane future. Braves and Birds has hopped on the promotion and relegation bandwagon, proposing a two-tier SEC that's not entirely dissimilar from my tortured attempts to turn the hypothetical Mega Big Ten people were tossing around last summer into an actual conference instead of two conferences glommed together.
My tortured attempt was tortured largely because I was trying to find a way to prevent the Auburn problem. Auburn was 2-6 in conference in 2008 and 3-5 in 2009. They would have been in the second division of the SEC. In 2010 they were the best team in the country. An outright promotion/relegation system would have seen that team unable to compete for a conference title at all. That seems unacceptable, and that makes a straight system like B&B proposes unworkable. This doesn't affect soccer much because the top division is 18 or 20 teams—the chance the next tier down actually contains the best team is tiny. Not so much when you have smaller numbers and rapid turnover.
The only place I think a straight promotion and relegation system might work in CFB is with the Mountain West and assorted other teams. Right now they're on the verge of an automatic BCS bid, but they'll drop out of that after the TCU, Utah, and BYU departures are accounted for. If they had an eight-team top division and rounded up the WAC/Sunbelt/etc to comprise a lower division they could assure themselves the SJSUs of the world wouldn't drop their average rating while automatically sucking the strongest teams into a group of eight that just might qualify.
Meanwhile, I think I came to the conclusion that the only way a super-conference works is if you use dynamic scheduling (i.e., play part of the season and figure out the rest of the schedule after that). If you play half the conference slate, then have teams with good records play each other while the teams with bad records do the same, you can get enough interaction between the top teams to actually feel like 16 teams are a coherent whole.
Etc.: Shawn Hunwick (and a couple of Michigan athletes you're probably less familiar with) get their charity on. Fulham, a soccer club in London, inexplicably has a Michael Jackson statue in front of Craven Cottage, and now they're selling equally inexplicable merchandise related to it. OH DE Chris Wormley says Michigan leads. TTB talks to Desmond Morgan.
Jeremy Clark and Blake Bars Go Blue
A twin-bill of commitments started on Friday, as KY S Jeremy Clark committed to a greyshirt offer. The Hello: Jeremy Clark post may have been a shade on the pessimistic side (at the time, Rivals's database was apparently broken, so I wasn't aware he had Illinois and Cincinnati offers, which makes him significantly more attractive as an offer candidate), and that definitely changes my guess that other, more-immediate, offers might change his decision to accept a greyshirt. Still, other reports aren't exactly glowing. Magnus on Touch the Banner:
There's a very good chance that his body has matured throughout the offseason, and if he's done some work on his own in the film room, he might have improved some of his weaknesses, too. But from what I see here, he's slow to read plays, slow to react at times, takes questionable pursuit angles, doesn't have the greatest of playmaking abilities, doesn't hit hard with consistency (although there are a couple nice blows), and doesn't wrap up when he tackles.
College coaches have had a chance to see him in camp since then, so it's likely he's improved a lot if they were willing to offer. As a greyshirt, Clark is currently considered a 2013 commit, but could move into the class of 2012 pending the decision of OH S Jarrod Wilson.
He is an outstanding run blocker, one who can physically dominate his opponent. He shows the quick feet and flexibility to be solid in pass protection. Notice on the film his short, choppy, but controlled steps that sometimes (sometimes not) have a low base and good balance.
He’s great at finishing blocks, working relentlessly to pile the poor sap lined up across from him into the ground, at least until the whistle blows. He has some of the niftiest footwork I’ve seen in a lineman Michigan’s recruited this year, outside of maybe Kyle Kalis. His feet are always in motion and allow him to move laterally, a great asset for any lineman at the next level.
For more on Bars, check out the Hello: Blake Bars post. I also managed to miss that Michigan picked up a preferred walk-on for the 2012 class in IL WR Bo Dever ($, info in header). If I can find enough info on him in the coming days, he may get the Hello post treatment.
He dedicated himself in the weight room this offseason, adding good weight and getting up to 319-lbs. Even at that size, he was moving well enough to be considered a left tackle prospect. He's strong, technique is improving and he's more athletic than previously thought.
It's a good sign that Brady Hoke's staff has an eye for identifying talent earlier than most.
CA OL Erik Magnuson talked to the local news about why he picked Michigan:
Pharaoh Brown is listed as a defensive end but #Michigan ought to consider him as a wide receiver...he is very smooth.
There's video, so check it out for yourself. He certainly has good hands (and an ability to get up for the ball), but his athleticism - exceptional for a defensive end - may not be quite what you'd expect out of a bigtime wide receiver. There's also the small fact that he hasn't played wideout in high school yet, playing mostly QB last year.
Bob Lichtenfels gave 2013 QB Commit Shane Morris some love at the IMG 87-on-7 in Florida:
Share [sic] Morris is a winner, love the kids moxie at IMG Madden 7on7. Michigan is getting a good one...
Morris and 2012 MI RB Dennis Norfleet were named co-MVPs and their team won the Championship. MGoUser JakeinVeniceFL worked the event as an official, and was also impressed. Scout called Morris "nearly unstoppable" over the final two days of the tournament.
Michigan is CBS/Maxpreps's #2 recruiting class at this point (they were #1 last night, but a kicker pickup boosted Texas ahead), and 24/7 Sports's #2 linebacker recruiting class (not including Ojemudia, considered a defensive end) behind Alabama. The linebackers also get some love from ESPN.
OH S Jarrod Wilson has set his decision date: Next Friday at 2:30 PM. Michigan, Notre Dame, and Penn State are his final three schools, and many analysts think the Wolverines are the favorite to land him.
OH OL Kyle Kalis thinks OH DE Chris Wormley is going to commit to Michigan, and the two were on campus together last weekend. Wormley has been talking about moving toward a decision for a long time, so a visit to campus could have helped push things forward.
Tom said not to expect a commitment from Kalis last weekend, so the lack of a pledge from the big man came as no surprise. He wants to visit Alabama and Miami (YTM) before making a decision. However, his decision could move up after a visit or two.
A source tells Bucknuts's Dave Biddle that Kalis and OH RB Bri'Onte Dunn will not end up at Ohio State:
These guys aren't just decommitting, they have written off going to OSU... Word going around at both St. Eds and GlenOak are that the Buckeyes have "no chance" at landing either of them.
He goes on to say that Dunn's decommitment is a long time coming, but Kalis not ending up in Columbus after his long, (excited, commit-y) commitment is a big change. As a counterpoint, Bill Greene now thinks Bri'onte Dunn will stick with Ohio State unless (until) the Buckeyes get hammered by the NCAA.
Local fluff of epic proportions on IN QB Gunner Kiel. A lot of it is of the "hey, person who doesn't follow recruiting, the recruiting industry sucks" variety (with plenty of one sentence paragraphs), but there are some useful pieces of information included:
"(The decision) will probably be some time this month. I don't know a date. Whenever I feel it in my gut, I'm probably going to make that decision. I'll let my teammates, family and friends know. By then, I'm sure it will get out."
There are mentions of Alabama, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Indiana, but no Michigan. It seems like the Wolverines' ship has probably sailed for Kiel, though Tom Lemming is far higher on the Wolverines' chances, putting them in a top 3 with Alabama and Oklahoma.
MaxPreps picks up on the "Greg Garmon beat cancer" story (a couple months late, it would seem). The PA RB has narrowed his list to Michigan, Illinois, North Carolina, Iowa, and Pitt, according to the article. He recently picked up an Ohio State offer, so we'll see if that affects his recruitment.
OH RB/FB Alden Hill received a Michigan offer. He talked to Tom about which position the coaches want him to play:
They want me as an all purpose back, a full back and running back. Someone they don't have to change personnel if they switch plays out of the two back system. I'm definitely good with that role, it's good for competition.
That sounds to me like their first thought is FB, but he can also play tailback. Landing a combo back like Hill would give the coaching staff much more flexibility about taking another ball-carrier in the class, but it sounds like Michigan isn't in great position with Hill.
WA OL Zach Banner has set up his official Michigan visit for the Notre Dame game.
IL OL Jordan Diamond will play in a new All-Star game, the US Marine Bowl.
AZ OL Andrus Peat will probably include Notre Dame and Nebraska in his final five, meaning Michigan is fighting it out with a few other schools for one of the remaining three spots.
WA OL Josh Garnett is down to 11 schools, including Michigan. The Wolverines join Notre Dame, OKlahoma, Auburn, and Nebraska as the non-Pac-12 schools on his list.
Michigan is in the top six for MI DT Danny O'Brien ($, info in header). It'll be interesting to see how Michigan's DL recruiting plays out over the rest of the summer, with only a couple spots left.
Free Rivals article on OH S Bam Bradley, who doesn't mention Michigan. With the Wolverines' current DB and LB hauls, it's tough to see Bam ending up in this class.
A lot of recruits with Michigan interest and/or offers that hadn't been mentioned much from a Michigan perspective lately made commitments to other schools:
- IN QB James Knapke committed to Bowling Green. He was unlikely to receive a Michigan offer.
- IL QB Wes Lunt committed to Oklahoma State.
- CA WR Raymond Ford committed to UCLA.
- CA TE Ian Taubler committed to UCLA.
- CA TE Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick committed to USC.
- IN OL Jake Meador committed to Ole Miss.
- TX OL John Michael McGee picked Oklahoma.
- PA OL Chris Muller committed to Rutgers.
- OH OL Tyler Orlosky (a teammate of Kyle Kalis) committed to West Virginia.
- MD LB/WR Deontay McManus committed to West Virginia.
- OH S De'Van Bogard committed to Ohio State.
In other Happy Trails news, MN OL Jonah Pirsig is deciding soon, and Michigan doesn't seem to be in the mix. With Michigan's recruiting class filling up fast, we should see a lot of recruits cutting the Wolverines from their lists in the near future.
Tom spoke with the father of MI OL Steven Elmer Jr. about his son's recruiting:
We have to have a great school first and foremost. He has a 4.3 GPA so we have to find him a good school, could be Ivy league, could be a place like Michigan. When he decides what he wants to study he'll look into that.
That certainly helps Michigan's case against presumed childhood favorite Michigan State (but not so much over Notre Dame, which has now offered him).
PA TE Adam Breneman, who holds a Michigan offer, is Notre Dame's #1 priority at the position in the 2013 class ($, info in header).
MI RB/DE Wyatt Shallman is "surrounded by Maize & Blue" ($, info in header).
Michigan leads for OH RB/S Dymonte Thomas, the subject of Sam Webb's latest Detroit News column. His coach on how he plays:
"I see him as a safety at the next level, but he could do about anything really. (During the spring) he ran a 4.57 electronic 40-yard dash at the Nike Combine in Pittsburgh, so that tells you about his speed. He is a very physical player and a leader on this team."
He also drops some hints that his cousin Bri'Onte Dunn (mentioned above) might be interested in Michigan if the Buckeyes are hit with a bowl ban.
OH LB Ben Gedeon is high on Michigan ($, info in header).