you can't have one without the other without this one
(LONG … LEWAN)
Last October, in an effort to get a better handle on what our starting defense looked like compared to past defenses, I put together a depth chart-long “You Might Remember Our Starters from Such Players As…” comparison…thingy. At the time people requested a second version for the offense, but I figured what’s the point? The active period I was pulling YMRMFSPAs was ’96 to ’07, when the offense was substantially different that that of 2010.
Well now that’s changed, and other than talk about the Class of ’11 recruits (about which among the MGoTeam I’m the least qualified) we’re in a dead period where there’s not a lot to muse upon. On the other hand, finding comparisons among the DeBord/Malone band of Daves (Pearson, Baas, Petruziello) for a roster generated in three years of heavy Rodriguization is going to lead to some very non apple-y conclusions. I’m going to need some help in the comments for nominees before I put that together. For now, here’s a projected depth chart:
(Returning starters in bold, * means redshirt, all images courtesy of MGoBlue.com.)
|Quarterback||Tailback (Speed)||Tailback (Rage)||Fullback|
Denard Robinson (Jr)
Vincent Smith (Jr)
Stephen Hopkins (So)
John McColgan (Sr*)
|Devin Gardner (Fr*)||
or M. Shaw (Sr),
F. Toussaint (So*)
|Mike Cox (Jr*)||Joey Kerridge (Fr)|
|Left Tackle||Left Guard||Center||Right Guard||Right Tackle|
Taylor Lewan (So*)
Ricky Barnum (Jr*)
David Molk (Sr*)
Patrick Omameh (Jr*)
Mark Huyge (Sr*)
|Mike Schofield (So*)||Rocko Khoury (Jr*)||Christian Pace (Fr*)||/||/|
Note on O-Line: The backup situation is anybody’s guess. This blogger’s guess is that Barnum replaces Schilling, but Khoury is in the mix as well. An injury to either tackle could mean Schofield replaces them or Omameh slides over and a guard moves in. Khoury is probably the first guy in at any guard or center position, and has been a center thus far, but I slid him over only so we could mention Pace.
|X||Y||Z (Slot)||Tight End|
Darryl Stonum (Sr)
Martavious Odoms (Sr)
Roy Roundtree (Jr*)
Kevin Koger (Sr)
|Junior Hemingway (Sr*)||Jeremy Jackson (So), et al.||JeRon Stokes (Jr)||Brandon Moore (Jr*)|
Note on Receivers: I wouldn’t know where to begin if I ran everybody here. Hemingway might as well be a starter too. I’m basing this off of the concept of the 2003-’07 three-wide offense but chances of this being the depth chart are slim. Left out are Kelvin Grady, Terrence Robinson, Ricardo Miller, Jerald Robinson, D.J. Williamson, Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, any of whom could play this year.
We’ll get to candidates in a moment. Before that, though, let’s just sit back and enjoy something here: this is the best-looking offensive depth chart we have seen since 2000. Better than 2007, since there aren’t any Mitchells, Ciullas, or freshman Borens and Schillings anywhere to be found. Not to sound too Jacksonian, but the best way to describe this depth chart is 2003, only faster.
…and a hell of a lot smaller.
This roster is pretty much the exact opposite of the 2010 defensive depth chart, and likewise the exact opposite of the 2008 offensive depth chart, and likewise the exact opposite that day your favorite pet died. There are longtime returning starters and upperclassmen who have played at a high level all over the place, from the stocked receiver corps to the junior quarterback who spent the first half of his first year starting as the presumptive Heisman frontrunner.
The Possibly Depressing Thing: Rich Rodriguez and Calvin Magee spent three years finding all of these round pegs to fit his offense’s round holes. The stupid but ultimately irrepressible meme of the 2008 offense was that Rich Rod was trying to play an offense that didn’t match the talent. That was true for the Loeffler-ish quarterbacks* but nobody else – we are talking about a team playing a total of one guy (Greg Mathews) at the same position he had occupied the previous year.
* That means Threet and Cone; I really don’t want to get into Mallett again here.
Let’s examine those round pegs, and the concerns they present:
The O-Line Are a Bunch of Zone Pansies
Borges says he plans to run an offense that best fits the talent on hand. On the other hand, Brady Hoke seems to favor man blocking over zone (a meme based mostly on a San Diego columnist that (the meme) makes user S.G. Rice go “ARRRRRRRRRRRRRGH”). Hoke’s disdain for the spread is probably overblown (and the suggestion he means to make us into Wisconsin even more so), but neither does anyone think he’s planning to run the spread ’n shred. Which means that to a degree, these players may have some edges exposed when they’re inserted into square-ier holes. That starts on the offensive line, where the last transition didn’t go so well.
The story of the 2008 offensive line was the coaching staff being so desperate to sit McAvoy they inserted a fall position switch DT at guard, and Angry Michigan Offensive Line Hating God parrying with successive injuries to Zirbel, Huyge, Schilling, Dorrestein, Molk, and several lawn chairs before Rodriguez/Magee/Frey finally cried uncle.
Brian said this in the 2008 preview when the position’s Angry Hating God was just getting underway:
“The line took a hit it could not afford to sustain when certain starter and once upon a time touted recruit Cory Zirbel went down with a knee injury, forcing either David Molk or hastily converted defensive lineman John Ferrara into the starting lineup. Michigan is now one injury away from serious issues indeed.”
…penned a ‘Decline and Fall’ declamation after just one game:
“Blame goes to Carr, who recruited so erratically, Andy Moeller, who was the line coach, Rodriguez, who has no family values, and whoever was identifying linemen to go after. To me this list goes “miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, Schilling maybe, miss, miss, miss, miss, guys Moeller couldn’t destroy.”
…and in the position’s post-mortem, gave a positive review to all of one guy on the entire unit: redshirt freshman David Molk. That’s the same David Molk who will be your 5th year senior, 4th year starting center this year. The other guy who showed promise on the field in ’08: Huyge, who four years later (and with no discernible regression) is projected to be either our worst offensive lineman, or backup to a hyped redshirt sophomore whose time has come.
Molk and Huyge were the first two guys recruited when Carr took us to zone blocking. Molk especially turned out to be great at using his agility to open up the Spread ‘n Shred. He has come a long way from the time Penn State linemen were picking him up and depositing him in the backfield. Huyge at tackle has been just a guy. To them have been added Omameh, who struggled inside at times as a redshirt sophomore but has a true knack for knocking defenders’ heads together on the 2nd level; and Taylor Lewan, now entering his (RS) sophomore season, who claims to be a clone of Jake Long and just might be. Ricky Barnum, who saw some playing time last year, is probably the guy who most looks like a typical Hoke blocker, but his recruiting pedigree said agility. The staff kept after Rod’s similar recruits. Guys, I don’t think this is becoming the Wisconsin line, or at least it isn’t this year.
The Wisconsin game last year might be instructive, since RR ran a more “nose to nose” blocking. If you’ve suppressed that game from memory, here’s how the blocking turned out:
|Huyge||2.5||0||2.5||Run game seemed to tilt the other way.|
|Molk||7||1||6||No reaches but some good blocks otherwise.|
|Omameh||10.5||3||7.5||Surprisingly the focus of the run game. Executed a lot of grinding double teams.|
|Koger||2||2||0||Also the usual.|
|TOTAL||33.5||23||20.5||Solid blocking day.|
You can open your eyes now. Look up…yeah, see? “Solid blocking day.” The worst guy was Dorrestein, who’s now gone. Lewan didn’t play, and this we said was bad. Note Omameh’s “executed a lot of grinding double teams” and Molk’s “7-1-6” day without any of his signature reaches.
Denard Isn’t Built for This Offense
The tea leaves (important: at this point all we have to go on is tea leaves, which are nearer in predictive accuracy to banana peels than facts) suggest the plan to deploy Denard is something between Frank Beamer’s use of Michael Vick, and “run around and stuff.” The upside might be something akin to 2006 Ohio State, when diminutive Troy Smith won the Heisman on lucky, back-shoulder tosses to guys better than Junior Hemingway but not that much better. Among the weaker points in Denard’s game:
- Accuracy? I went back to the formula I used for Data-Mining the HenneChart, an early 2009 “Wow Tate” piece that might give some perspective. I didn’t want to go over the whole thing again, but I plugged Denard’s 2010 season through Wisconsin (last game UFR-ed) and tried to pull some useful things out of it. Results:
Per 100 Attempts:
|Quarterback (Year)||Dead-On||Catchable||Marginal||Incomplete||Bad Read|
Sorry I didn’t include 2009 – I only have partial info for that. The star is because Brian didn’t chart marginals before 2008. The thing to notice is that out of 100 throws, the Incompletes for Denard were really low – closer to Henne’s best year. Those are given out for winging uncatchable passes. Also the bad reads are spectacularly low, almost as good as Henne’s senior year. At this point, however, you are screaming at me because “threw two steps behind his receivers in end-zone to cue Day of the Jugalos.” From that UFR:
That success rate has to be wrong.
It's not wrong, it just doesn't weight passes based on how damaging the particular inaccurate ball is. Against MSU, Denard threw the following balls not to his receiver:
- Endzone interception #1 on route Roundtree had two steps on. [Zero points]
- Wide open Stonum on fly route about 20 yards downfield that's airmailed. [Three points]
- Hitch to Odoms on second and nine from the 11 that would have been first and goal. [Zero points]
- Endzone interception #2 on slant that Hemingway was open on. [Zero points]
- Covered slant zinged over Grady [Zero points]
- Bubble too far in front of Roundtree. [Seven points]
- Other interception on route where Grady had plenty of room to the inside of the field but the ball was way, way too far outside, allowing sinking corner to react and intercept. [Zero points]
How big of a deal is it to throw a bubble screen a step in front of a receiver? One unit of big deal. How big of a deal is it to throw a makeable 20 yard touchdown over someone's head on third and three? Two, three units of big deal. How big of a deal is it to throw endzone interceptions when you have open receivers? Five units of big deal.
The reason the rate is the rate is because a bad pass is a bad pass; in reviewing a performance we're trying to strip out the emotion from the game and use it as a predictive measure. If Robinson had thrown those balls out of the endzone instead of behind the receivers Michigan would have had maybe seven more points but the QB play would have been equivalent.
- So continuing with this bullet, there isn’t evidence that Denard is inaccurate. On the contrary, he’s among the most accurate passers we have had in the UFR era. I would suggest that fear of Denard’s legs make his reads a lot easier, but then again, they’re his legs. When I run the rest of the metrics from ‘Data-Mining’ Denard jumps out as Michigan’s best passing quarterback by far, with attempts comparable to a full Henne year. That threat isn’t taken away unless Borges trains him to sit in the pocket with timer like Henne – and no, he’s not going to do that.
- Scrambling. Through Wisconsin Denard had four charted scrambles. Most of the time he kept the play alive and looked downfield. Often this led to bouts of, to paraphrase something I’m sure Brian wrote, “Run! Run! Run Damn You!” [Faerie Magic] “YAY!” It’s hard to complain too much when this ends with Junior Hemingway dipsying around four Illinois defenders at the sideline for an unlikely touchdown, but maddening nonetheless. Perhaps if he’s not counted on to run the ball as much, plus with another year of experience, Denard will take greater advantage of his speed when the holes are there.
- Size. Yes. I ended up talking myself out of the first two pretty handily but that ends here. This is Denard’s problem, and it will be more of Denard’s problem in a West Coast offense, because he starts his sidearm-y throws a good foot below where the tropospheric statues of yore released the ball. This is why passes zinged over wide open Stonum 20 yards downfield when pressure broke through. It’s also probably why Robinson’s dilithium seemed to get diluted later in the year, as his small frame took pounding after pounding. He’s a tough sonofabitch, but also took a lot of shots to his throwing shoulder from other tough sonsofbitches.
The Receivers Are Too Small
A few years ago, I suggested Rodriguez’s secret plot to develop a vertical game. A lot of attrition followed, but then were replaced by plenty of targets, meaning whatever Rich Rod was up to, he didn’t just stock the cupboard, but filled an entire larder. The concern, of course, is that he stocked it with lots of smurfs on jetpacks, or slot ninjas, or midgets on rollerskates, or pick your trochee-containing metaphor. Let me show you something:
The right side is Michigan’s projected 2011 depth chart:
As for the left side, it’s the Top 13 receivers in FCS last year by total yards:
|6'1||207||Greg Salas, Hawaii|
|6'1||205||Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma St.|
|5'11||183||Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma|
|6'4||233||Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina|
|6'1||215||Jordan White, Western Mich.|
|6'0||195||Vincent Brown, San Diego St.|
|5'11||205||Kealoha Pilares, Hawaii|
|5'10||178||Aldrick Robinson, SMU|
|6'4||210||Juron Criner, Arizona|
|6'2||205||DeMarco Sampson, San Diego St.|
|5'11||170||Titus Young, Boise St.|
|6'3||205||Leonard Hankerson, Miami (FL)|
|5'10||186||Cody Wilson, Central Mich.|
They’re a bit bigger and taller than our depth chart, especially as you get lower, but remember most of them are upperclassmen, and they were the most productive receivers in the game – our freshmen and their 2010 weights shouldn’t even be that close. And in case you’re wondering if these guys are the results of wily Air Raid systems, two I’ve highlighted played for Brady Hoke and Al Borges at S.D. State last year, and might as well have been less heralded versions of Stonum and Hemingway (except smaller, and not as fast, and against WAC corners).
The tall guys like Jackson, Ricardo Miller and Hemingway should do just fine. As for the tweeners -Stonum, Roundtree, Stokes, D.J. Williamson and J.Robinson – they’re certainly within the size range of successful NCAA receivers at any school.
Among our roster players, only the bugs recruited for slot ninja will lose some value because they “don’t fit the scheme.” That means Gallon, Dileo, Kelvin Grady and Terrence Robinson won’t be as effective in an offense not designed to get them in space, unless, say Gallon, can become the kind of deep threat that forces corners into giving ground for the West Coast’s beloved stop and out routes (Grady and Robinson probably are what they are now). Odoms could be in that group too, but his effectiveness last year as an outside receiver makes me think he can thrive as that rare small guy (obvious analogue not mentioned due to Ohio State connection) in a red light/green light possession role – his downfield blocking is an unquestionable asset.
All told, this looks like a great offense no matter the scheme. Obviously they’re used to the spread ’n shred, but it’s not like taking Northwestern and suddenly asking them to play Bielema Ball. This is the opposite of 2008: If they can’t score next year, it’s on the coaching staff.
The good folks are still coming out of their holes after the site attack: there are four over the last two weeks and they’re all still on the sidebar, and as I’m writing this I’ve already missed most of a half of the Superbowl. Read all of them. I’m going to roll those into the next one for “of the week” purposes.
See You in Washington, Mr. President.
Congratulations on your Superbowl ring, Heisman Winner, Champion, Wolverine.
New Michigan commit(s), and this bad boy hits the front page. It was a hectic Signing Day in the Big Ten, so all the action won't be listed here. Last rankings. Barring any unforeseen developments, this will be the last set of rankings for the 2011 class. New rankings:
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||ESPN Avg|
Rivals rankings are on the "RR" scale, which is on a scale from about 5 to about 6.1. Unrated prospects are given a 5.1 rating, on par with the worst of any Big Ten commit last year. Scout is on the 5-star system (unranked players earn 1 star), and ESPN uses grades out of 100 (unranked is 40 or 45, except JuCo players, who aren't included in the average).
|#1 Ohio State - 24 Commits|
Ohio State takes the recruiting crown with a good-sized cass of quality players. They're slightly behind Notre Dame in ESPN average, but a big part of that is having a long snapper commit. It sounds like OH OL Chris Carter will sign with Ohio State after all, so I've left him in the chart.
|#2 Notre Dame - 23 Commits|
|George Atkinson III||S||CA||5.8||3||79|
The Irish picked up Troy Niklas on Signing Day.
|#3 Nebraska - 19 Commits|
The Huskers' class is a small-ish but solid one. A couple of their signees might play minor league baseball instead of enrolling at school.
|#4 Michigan State - 21 Commits|
Michigan State's class is high-variance, with a couple highly rated guys (though 5 stars for Lawrence Thomas is an exaggeration for sure), and some low-end guys as well. I have Sparty just a hair ahead of their in-state rivals, and the extra commit for MSU was the tiebreaker.
|#5 Michigan - 20 Commits|
Wolverines picked up a few new commits, including a big time tight end in Chris Barnett. However, they also missed on a couple prospects of need in MI OL Jake Fisher (Oregon) and MD DT Darian Cooper (Iowa).
|#6 Iowa - 23 Commits|
Iowa dropped a couple commits and picked up a couple new ones on Signing Day. The headliner among newcomers is MD DT Darian Cooper.
|#7 Wisconsin - 20 Commits|
An okay class for Wisconsin, but nothing special. [Ed-M: Hello, I'm Wisconsin.] As usual, success in Madison will be based upon developing the 3-star types.
|#8 Penn State - 16 Commits|
A small class for the Nittany Lions. It's got a couple top-end guys, but top-to-bottom is just okay.
|#9 Illinois - 27 Commits|
An enormous class for Ron Zook. Can quantity trump quality and help Zook win enough games to stick around another couple years?
|#10 Northwestern - 17 Commits|
Northwestern has their traditional small recruiting class. They're likely to redshirt most of these guys, and focus on development in the system.
|#11 Minnesota - 22 Commits|
I am wholly unimpressed by Minnesota's recruiting class, a hybrid of Tim Brewster and Jerry Kill. They have more JuCo guys than any other school, and a number of guys they have to hope pan out as sleepers. Note former Wolverine Tim McAvoy's brothers are bound for Minneapolis.
|#12 Indiana - 21 Commits|
Indiana loads up on the lines on Signing Day.
|#13 Purdue - 15 Commits|
No sugarcoat, this is a terrible recruiting class. It could spell the beginning of the end for Danny Hope.
[Ed-M: Edited and front-paged for great content.]
Now that National Signing Day 2011 has finally come to a close, the Michigan coaches have been reviewing film and sending out offers to 2012 prospects. As mentioned many times before, the 2012 class is extremely strong in the midwest, including Michigan and Ohio, as well as Illinois and Indiana as well.
Here are some local and regional prospects to look out for, on offense.
Note: Sorry for the massive wall of text as well.
QB Gunner Kiel – 6'4, 220 lbs, Columbus, Indiana.
With Michigan’s move to a more pro-style offense Kiel becomes an even more important prospect. Kiel was offered by the previous staff as well, and he has some mobility (600 yards rushing) to go with his big-time arm (2,700 yards passing). However, Kiel is an Notre Dame legacy recruit, and he’s also been offered by Alabama, Cincinnati, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Purdue, TCU, and Tennessee among others.
QB Robert Gregory – 6'3, 180 lbs, Chicago, Illinois.
Gregory is the teammate of 2011 signee Chris Bryant and 2012-super OL Jordan Diamond. Though Simeon ran a spread offense, Gregory possesses very good arm strength and could develop into a solid pocket passer. There are rumors out there that schools are looking at Gregory as an athlete, but he is only interested in playing quarterback. An interesting note as well, as Gregory recently said in an interview he and Jordan Diamond would be attending the same school.
RB William Mahone – 5'10, 200 lbs, Austintown, Ohio.
There is some serious talent at running back in the state of Ohio next year, and Ohio State has already locked down two studs in Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn. Michigan’s coaches are looking for another big-time back, and Mahone visited the campus twice last year, so there is mutual interest in both parts. Other offers: Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Miami (NTM)
RB Juwan Lewis – 5'11, 200 lbs, Muskegon, Michigan.
Many of you Michigan west-coasters will recognize the name, as Lewis starred on a very good Muskegon Big Red football team this year. Interestingly enough, Lewis played fullback in Muskegon’s shotgun/pistol offense. Like Mahone, Lewis has good size, but deceptively good speed as well. Lewis camped at Michigan last year, and is very interested in the Wolverines. Offers: None
Burbridge was one of the stars on a 14-0 Harrison squad that captured the state title this year. An excellent athlete, Burbridge played RB, WR, CB, and KR and excelled everywhere, though he will be a receiver at the next level. He reminds many of fellow Harrison alumni Mark Dell, and it is rumored Burbridge is very close to Dell as well. That is not true. Michigan State has offered and appear to be the early leader for this top 10 player in the state next year [Ed-M: Farmington Hills Harrison (Drew Stanton, Agim Shabaj) was a Michigan State feeder in my day, but haven't produced a Spartan since Dell; M got Charles Stewart from there] , but there is no doubt he will be interested in Michigan.
WR Amara Darboh – 6'2, 190lbs, West Des Moines, Iowa.
A big athlete with great speed, Darboh has the ability to stretch the field vertically and is very dangerous in space as well. Darboh will likely be the #1 player in Iowa, and that may not mean much but he is a very talented player. He has yet to narrow down his list, but if Michigan offers I fully expect Darboh to visit in the fall. Other offers: Iowa, Iowa State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin.
WR Stefon Diggs – 6'0, 175 lbs – Olney, Maryland.
Diggs is the teammate of 2011 signee Blake Countess. While he doesn’t possess great size, Diggs does have blazing speed and great hands to boot. He’s a crisp route runner and has dominated every camp he has shown up at. Diggs, along with Dorial Beckham-Green, will likely challenge for the top receiver spot in the nation in 2011. Just a few weeks ago Diggs said he was interested in Michigan, with Countess signing with the Wolverines. I don’t expect Michigan to land him, but there it is good to see interest there. Other offers: Cal, Florida, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami (YTM), Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Pitt
TE Sam Grant – 6'6, 230 lbs, North Royalton, Ohio.
Grant only caught 16 passes last season, but that’s because St. Edwards ran a primarily run-based offense. Grant has already tripped to Ohio State and Michigan State, and he will be a premium talent at the next level. With Michigan looking for more Tight Ends in their offense, look for them to get Grant up on campus soon. Other offers: Toledo
Athlete Drake Johnson – 6’1, 205 lbs, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Johnson is a very talented athlete at Ann Arbor Pioneer, who played running back this season and excelled as a national track runner as well. In college Johnson’s career may take a number of possible routes, as he could play running back, wide receiver, or even linebacker. Being right across the street from the Big House, I expect Johnson to be very well-scouted by the Michigan staff and definitely a possibility for an offer down the road.
As for offensive linemen, I haven’t spent enough time looking at all the film, but there are a lot of talented linemen in the Midwest this year. It’s not quite as talented as the past, but there is much better quality throughout the area. I fully expect Michigan to stock up on at least 3-4, maybe 4-5 this recruiting cycle. Along with Jordan Diamond, whom we’ve known about for a while, here are names to watch.
OG Kelby Latta, 6'4, 295 lbs, Battle Creek, Michigan.
OT JJ Denman, 6'6, 305 lb, Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania.
OT Jake Meador, 6'6, 280 lbs, Whiteland, Indiana.
OG Caleb Stacey, 6'4, 275 lbs, Cincinnati, Ohio.
OT Ben Bradem 6'6, 285 lbs, Rockford, Michigan.
warning: internet/sports journalism/meta post. it's six on friday so no bitching.
via press coverage
Way back in the mists of time when I'd just been fired from my engineering job for not doing much actual engineering I was wondering whether or not I actually wanted another one when Jamie Mottram emailed me. He asked if I'd be interested in being a "lead" for the college football section of this Fanhouse thing he'd convinced AOL to start*. I said yes and my career as a pants-optional blogger started.
A couple years later, Mottram was at Yahoo and I was on the phone with a guy who seemed to put "-ize" at the end of every verb trying to convince him that Adam Jacobi was a key asset even if he kept posting conversations with Joe Paterno in which he decried DIRTY IRISHMEN. This was the middle of the end, and a couple months later I was out, too.
By that point I didn't much care. I'd stopped posting much because headlines like "God Not A Big Fan Of Sam Maresh, Says Sam Maresh" were getting converted into things like "Sam Maresh Has Further Health Problems." The thing I owned was making sufficient money that I didn't have to put up with aggravation for ten bucks a post.
When I latched on with Sporting News a couple months later it was mostly so I could tell people I wrote for Company You've Heard Of X when that was convenient or lent credibility, and when that got shipped over to SB Nation I cut my workload there down to a couple things I do weekly. The business story of the blog is gradually in-sourcing all of the writing I do, even if it's about the World Cup.
"We're Not Bleacher Report"
Elsewhere, not so much. When AOL decided to blow Fanhouse up and give the Sporting News the brand for five million a year, I wasn't surprised. Ben Koo made a case that it was a stupid move, but we are talking about a company that's had a half-dozen people run Fanhouse in under five years, let Mottram walk out the door, immediately undermined his replacement with HAWT TITS, reversed course on that after 90 seconds, and then did another 180 to hire Jay Mariotti. It's not a surprise AOL has changed course wildly, hoping that doing the exact opposite of their last stupid idea will be the opposite of stupid.
What is something of a surprise is the naiveté shown by some of the outgoing. Dave Kindred interviewed a few of them for IU's National Sports Journalism Center and it's like they've never been part of an aging relic with a declining legacy business before:
"In December," Lisa Olson said, "we were told how great we were doing." Once a columnist at the New York Daily News, Olson remembered The National strutting on stage in 1990, a national sports newspaper hiring good people from everywhere. She thought of FanHouse that way, a gathering of veterans on a journalistic adventure. "We were all experienced and qualified, not some 25-year-old bloggers," she said. "The motto was, ‘Go, go, go. Grow, grow, grow.' And we did. Then, this. It's devastating."
This one in particular even referenced "The National," which lasted all of 18 months. Another complains "we had no idea this was coming," etc. More than one takes shots at bloggers. There's the one above, and then there's the EIC who ended up axing me** stating that when they arrived Fanhouse was nothing more than "a quirky blog."
The theme running through the piece all the way up to Kindred, who titles it "Waiting for the day readers march in and demand an end to the dreck," is journalists bemoaning the fact that their quality isn't recognized as they die by the thousands and Bleacher Report is getting eight-digit funding rounds. Kindred uses the recent press conference in which Jim Boeheim slammed the reporter who asked a question about point-shaving because the internet's been talking about it as a leaping-off point. You'd think they'd know by now.
You Are Bleacher Report
So… the column and those quoted in it are rife with misconceptions that speak to why AOL abandoned ship and why newspapers will slowly bleed readership until internet natives are at the helm in 20 years, at which point they'll just be another voice in the clamor.
Believing Bleacher Report is in the content business. Bleacher Report is not a content company any more than Demand or Associated Media. It is an SEO/marketing company that runs garbage through filters until it comes out with google/newsletter gold. The way they do this is clever, but their success—likely overstated anyway—has nothing to do with the success or failure of people who write for a living.
Believing Fanhouse content was functionally different than Bleacher Report's content. I only subscribed to the college football bit in my RSS reader, but it was a progression of boring AP-style articles, Clay Travis columns, the leftover guys who got in the door under Mottram who were cheap and non-controversial, and Brett McMurphy breaking stories about USF. Meanwhile the larger site had Marriotti.
You know what Mariotti and Travis are? They're trolls. They write controversial things they don't believe for attention. How much of the vaunted 50% non-AOL traffic—the same figure we were told, BTW—was either SEO or people stopping by to tell the various trolls why their stupid arguments were stupid? Mariotti is just a Bleacher Report writer with an editor, and he's the star attraction. This is not hyperbole.
A personal example from my time there: slideshows were pushed ever harder until people started editing posts to stick in random slideshows, hopefully vaguely sexy slideshows, whenever your post could be tangentially connected to one. Slideshows, man.
Fanhouse journalists complaining about how their quality is not appreciated aren't quite right. Anyone who reads above a third grade level can tell there's a vast gulf between it and BR, but when that gulf spans the gap between "offensive to the English language" and "newspaper stuff mostly about things I don't care about" it doesn't matter. Instead of widely loathed you're ignored unless you're breaking news, which is ephemeral.
It's no secret that I hate Deadspin. At least, I hate its bottom 20% and don't care about its middle 70%. But even though I don't read it much I still remember a dozen things—great things—it's published in the past year. If there's anyone who understands making it in internet media it's Nick Denton, and he's decided on lots of dongs and lots of outstanding, smart, highbrow content that people will post on their Facebook wall. Minus the dongs, I try to do the same thing for my niche. That's quality that separates you from BR, not spelling "lose" correctly.
Believing a site that gathers metrics similar to Bleacher Report is long for this world. You can't out-troll Anonymous.
I'd love to know what Fanhouse's direct hit numbers were. Nobody went to Fanhouse from a bookmark. Fifty percent of this site's hits have no referrer; Fanhouse was probably under 10%. Again, that's Bleacher Report except BR has a legion of halfwits voting and commenting on each other's posts to get more RadPoints*** . And if you're like Bleacher Report except you're paying people—giving people benefits—you lose. How many BR halfwits can you vaguely curate for one Jay Mariotti salary? Thousands, and their content is no different except for the platform. Once that platform enjoys content-sharing deals with, oh, say, the Washington Post, the guy with the benefits is screwed.
Bleacher Report's secret is that it's awesome at being terrible. It hammers that dong demographic. Here I try to be really specifically awesome for a niche. Deadspin has it both ways. Fanhouse was just okay at the dong demo, okay at the boring stuff, and there wasn't one thing in the history of that site anyone would remember two days after they read it. That's the same mistake they always make.
When Mottram left for Yahoo he corrected the mistake he made with Fanhouse by creating a suite of independent single-source blogs that are run by a guy. You can tell because each of them comes with a picture.
Not all posts are by these guys, but they own the blog in a way no one owned Fanhouse. Each is "quirky" to some extent. The soccer one has regular posts in which an obscure Polish goalkeeper rants about corn and his neighbor and the week's events. Doctor Saturday annually embarks on a defense of the recruiting-industrial complex. Each one is a central part of its sports blogosphere, written extraordinarily well by people who may have worked in newspapers but didn't live them. Most of the contributors are just people who write well. They haven't been blown up, and Mottram ascended the ladder at Yahoo to do the same across the company.
I don't know what to do about the fading ability of people to pay responsible news-reporting types. Fanhouse was run by incompetents and destined to implode anyway. But I might miss it if it wasn't so goddamn boring.
*[I imagine him crashing through the window of a conference room holding dozens of high-level executives on a chandelier, sword in hand, rose in teeth.]
**[Not that he should have kept me and my two posts a week output.]
***[mwa ha ha. Seriously, though, points here are for troll control and have only incidentally grown into an e-peen contest.]
#1 qualification: has practiced looking exasperated.
Finally. After years and years and years, one of the infinite Mallorys coaching college football will coach at Michigan. This edition is Curt, and he'll be the defensive backs coach.
Mallory is a former Michigan player, a defensive back who won letters in '89 and '90. He stuck around to earn his degree a couple years later and then started a coaching career under his father Bill, who was then at Indiana. After three years as a grad assistant at Indiana and Michigan, his paid coaching career:
- 1995-99 - Ball State University (linebackers)
- 2000 - Ball State University (defensive secondary)
- 2001 - Central Michigan University (defensive secondary)
- 2002-04 - Indiana University (defensive secondary)
- 2005-06 - University of Illinois (defensive secondary)
- 2007-09 University of Illinois (co-defensive coordinator/defensive secondary)
- 2010 – Akron (defensive coordinator)
Like Montgomery, that's a steadily increasing profile as a position coach, albeit one that took more time. After a couple years at Illinois he was promoted to co-DC with Dan Disch. This was a disaster. Whether it was awkward co-DCs or a wholesale lack of talent or Disch and Mallory just not being good DC material is unknown. The talent bit has to be a factor, but even so the numbers are mixed at best. Mallory's history as a DC, with season under him bolded:
|Team||Year||Rush D||Pass D||PEff D||Total D||Scoring D||FEI|
Mallory inherited a decent situation that was masked by the vast incompetence of Juice Williams as a freshman, saw his unit steadily regress in yardage and FEI terms until it was a basket case and then watched the new guy turn things around immediately. I'm not sure the Akron numbers mean anything—that team was a biohazard—but I'd be pretty leery of grabbing him as a DC.
But he's not the DC, Greg Mattison is, so that's fine. Mallory's around 40, has plenty of experience recruiting the Midwest, and is a relatively young for a former DC. He'll be coaching the secondary, where he's also got a ton of experience. At Illinois he seemed to do a good job of turning Vontae Davis and Terry Hawthorne, amongst others, into fine players individually even if the stats didn't show it. Former player Allen Ball has described him as "my boy." His career is one of steadily moving up the food chain and he's the proverbial Michigan Man.
Insofar as we know anything about career assistants he seems like a good choice as long as he stops dressing his kids entirely in green. Seriously, someone stop by Moe's for him before the press conference Monday.
UPDATE: FWIW on Mallory's tenure under Zook:
There will be new faces at the most important coaching positions below Zook. The most important question, will Zook cede control of the defense to the new DC, or will it continue completely unaltered, because Zook has been in control of the D, regardless of who the assistants were.
I wouldn't put much weight on his tenure as Illinois DC
|WHAT||Michigan @ Miami|
Goggin Ice Arena,
|WHEN||7:35 PM Fri/ 5:05 Sat|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
Friday: CBS College
Record. 14-9-5, 11-7-4 CCHA. Miami's taken a significant step back despite returning big chunks of their explosive lineup from last year. They're third in the league, four points back of Michigan and five back of Notre Dame. Michigan has two games in hand on both those teams.
The wonky record extends to their nonconference schedule, where they're just 3-2-1. They currently sit 18th in the Pairwise, four or five slots short of the area where they'd be secure. That's also where they sit in RPI. The good news for the Redhawks: the RPI gap between them and a likely tourney berth is narrow.
Despite the wonky record, Miami's goal differential is impressive. They're tied with Michigan at +28 in the league—though Michigan does have small advantage on a per game basis—and are one goal better than Michigan overall with a +33.
Previous meetings. None this year.
Dangermen. Easy to pick these guys out since they're 1-2 in scoring nationwide: seniors Andy Miele and Carter Camper anchor Miami's top line and pour it in. Miele has a 15-34-49 line, Camper 14-32-46. Linemate Reilly Smith isn't far off with a 19-16-35. That's bar-none the best line in college hockey.
Where Miami's fallen off from last year's blistering pace is the rest of it. They've got a couple guys with 11 goals after the big three and then it falls into a big pile of meh. Michigan's keeping pace with Miami in goal differential because no Redhawk defenseman has scored more than twice—if you can shut down that top line you've got a chance. If.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Miami is still rotating juniors Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp, but this year they've collectively taken a major step back. That's if they're actually different people. It's unclear. Both have a Hunwick-before-groin-injury-power-mushroom .901 save percentage. Last year both turned in a .921. It's not like they're getting peppered—both see an average of 21 or 22 shots per game—and Miami lost only one defenseman from last year's team. It seems like the regression there is mostly on the goalies.
Speaking of that defense, they don't score even a little bit save Chris Wideman, who has a 2-15-17 line I assume is the result of being the lone D on Miami's power play. However, the top four guys are all juniors and sophomores and seniors scatter down the roster so they're a veteran group that's contributing to that severe lack of shots opponents are managing.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||4.6||4.2|
|PP Ag / G||5.3||4.5|
Miami's taken a lot of minors this year and Michigan should expect to have a slight advantage in power plays—if they can force any.
When Miami gets on the power play they're deadly, converting nearly a quarter of their opportunities. That's third nationally. Michigan lags at 22nd. Miami's also much better on the PK, killing 86.5 percent to Michigan's 81.1. That's eight and 35th, respectively. Michigan would prefer a game played five-on-five.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Stay out the box yo. This is the nation's third best power play against the 35th-best penalty kill. Frequent trips to the box is just asking for it. Michigan's taken a lot fewer penalties this year than they usually do and Tristin Llewellyn is taking his penalties in the ECHL now so this is not necessarily doom. But it probably is.
Line match like a mother and win the second line. It's going to be somewhat tough to pull off since both of these games are on the road but if Miele and Camper are on the ice Hagelin should be two seconds from following. If that can be a neutral matchup then it's down to Michigan's second and third lines (and defensemen) outscoring their Miami counterparts. Wohlberg and Caporusso need to show up this weekend.
Grit heart gritty heart heart. Miami is going to be breathing fire. They are 18th right now and have six games before the playoffs to play themselves into the tournament. They're essentially as good as anyone in the league but a combination of unfortunate/unlucky/plain weird results (losing 4-7 to Michigan State?) sees their tourney streak threatened as Most Hated Enemy comes to town.
If Michigan is off or lackadaisical or thinks Miami is not dangerous or hasn't gotten it into their heads that the only way for them to win is to play like their 5'8" walk-on goalie doesn't have a .923 save percentage but is in fact armless they could get blown out of the building and come back to Ann Arbor fighting for their tournament lives.
The Big Picture
One crappy loss to Michigan State has sent me from figuring out how Michigan can wrangle a one-seed to figuring out how much breathing room they have for an at large bid. Who loves the Pairwise?
Everybody Nobody. That single crappy loss sent their RPI from sixth to tenth and leaves 3 or 4 teams right on their heels. If Michigan gets swept this weekend it's likely they fall into the range where they're depending on playoff results to see if they're actually in the tournament.
On the upside, there are now four teams just ahead of them in RPI who could be passed if Michigan bounces back and takes four or more points from Miami. Anything from sixth to out of the tournament is in play depending on the results of the weekend.
A split will be fine here. That will put Michigan four points clear of Miami with two games in hand and two clear of Notre Dame with a manageable schedule left in the race for the title. A sweep is unlikely but would be killer.
Yost Built has ten things for you. The Daily's Florek in CHN. I linked this in the sidebar but it deserves a bit more attention: this is a really long, really interesting article about what makes Steve Kampfer an 18-minute-a-night defenseman at 22 and how the Bruins identified and acquired him. The Conboy/Tropp incident is remembered—misremembered, but remembered—as evidence he was an NHL player!