Previously: Big Ten West
Good riddance. [Bryan Fuller]
We're still taking a look at the strongest and weakest units of each Big Ten squad, this time focusing on the East division. These are still in order of Bill Connelly's power rankings. You'll like this order.
Good News: [looks at defensive line depth chart] [cackles for several minutes]
Bad News: I know we all believe Ben Bredeson is going to be quite good, but I'd be lying if I said the news that a true freshman might start at left tackle doesn't give me the willies.
Good News: Linebacker, as usual, should be a strength, even if Ed Davis's dubious claim for a sixth year—we'll know for sure soon—doesn't go through. Riley Bullough isn't quite in that top tier of Big Ten MLBs, but he's close, and I think Jon Reschke is a quality player on the strong side. Sophomore Andrew Dowell is a player I really liked coming out of high school; he's stepping into the "STAR" spacebacker role after flashing promise as a freshman. Pulling some NCAA voodoo to get Davis another year could take this group from good to great.
Bad News: There are some major question marks (and ORs) on the depth chart on both lines, but for me the main area of concern is still the passing game. Tyler O'Connor has won the starting QB job; unless he improves dramatically from his (admittely limited) time of the field last year, there will be a noteworthy dropoff from Connor Cook. The bigger issue, though, might be the receiving corps. Cook's binky, Aaron Burbridge, is also off to the NFL, as is MacGarrett Kings Jr., leaving slot RJ Shelton as the only returning wideout with more than two catches last year. Experience is very important at both receiver and quarterback; State doesn't have much at either.
[Hit THE JUMP]
Many people are saying things about Michigan's fall camp. Some are coaches, some are insiders, some are men wearing shoes as hats. Some of the things are true, some are maybe a bit misleading, some verge on balderdash. Let's evaluate things that people are saying for truthiness.
The quarterback battle is still up in the air
Thing: Nobody has ventured a strong opinion on Michigan's starter. You occasionally get a weak assertion that someone feels like a leader that's immediately followed with caveats. Tellingly, those assertions are split close to down the middle between the two main contenders.
Thing react: The coaches almost certainly have a good idea who it's going to be, but I believe that the race is tight enough that it might get overturned late and that there's genuine uncertainty amongst insiders. I'd strongly prefer an answer by now. I mean, it'll be fine since Harbaugh, but it's more likely that Michigan has one good QB than two.
Thing: Can't throw a rock on a message board without hitting an insider swearing up and down that Chris Evans is the truth. This has bled through to honest to God press conferences as well.
Thing react: It's tough to find snaps for Evans in an offense that's going to run a metric ton of tight ends onto the field along with Grant Perry and Jabrill Peppers. One thing Evans has going for him is Peppers's tendency to be the best at everything all the time: they'll want to keep his snaps down until they really need him. Evans is another spread H-back type. He'll slot into the Peppers role against the pushovers.
Still feeling like Evans hype is real but a year too early.
Thing: Ben Bredeson has been promoted into a bonafide 50/50 competition for the left tackle spot. Also impossible to throw rock on message board without hitting man enthused about Bredeson. He was the BTN's primary takeaway from their visit to practice, which says something about something.
Thing react: If you made me guess this instant I'd say he's the starting LT. I'm not entirely enthused about this either, but Bredeson is closer to the instant-start five star zone than Mason Cole was. Cole was the #127 recruit on the composite. Bredeson was #39. Bredeson's also 20 pounds heavier than Cole was as a freshman. He was the only OL at the loaded UA game who could annoy Rashan Gary, so maybe he is ready to take on mortals.
Cole managed to survive as a freshman. Bredeson can probably do better. The ceiling is probably something like Erik Magnuson's completely average 2015.
The freshman receivers are good
Thing: Michigan has already lost two of their five WR recruits, but initial reports on the three guys still on campus have been universally positive. All three are reputed to be explosive and dedicated.
None of these guys are going to play much this year, but if one or two emerges even a little bit that will ease everyone's mind about the 2017 receiving corps. I'm not worried. They can find three guys out of Ways, Harris, Perry, and the freshmen.
This defensive line is just… I mean…
Thing: All the usual suspects have come in for praise; the guys who have not been mentioned are guys who are taken for granted as really good players like Ryan Glasgow and Chris Wormley. Rashan Gary is mostly described with a blank look, a shake of the head, and a laugh because he is everything he's supposed to be. Chase Winovich and even Matt Godin are getting talked up as contributors.
Thing react: Yes to all of it. Godin suffered late last year because he played next to the third string NT and teams could double him with impunity; before that there was a period where he was keeping guys like Wormley and Henry on the bench to an extent. He's a good player and will see snaps. Charlton should blow up with increased playing time and his still-excellent upside.
Nobody says anything about the linebackers
Thing: Aside from the occasional direct response when a coach gets asked about them at a press conference, there is total radio silence about the inside linebackers. Brown keeps talking about redshirt junior walk-on Mike Wroblewski.
Thing react: I wouldn't take that as a sign either way. Linebacker play is difficult to get a read on. The last four years of Joe Bolden spring hype that petered out in to just okay play have made me suspicious of anything people say in this department.
One glance at the depth chart is enough to see that Wroblewski is going to play some. After the starters there is very little aside from freshmen. Devin Bush will play; Elysee Mbem-Bosse and Devin Gil are both very raw. Linebacker has more depth concerns than any position on the roster other than maybe safety.
Thing: David Long is very fast and takes notes and is Jehu Chesson, cornerback edition.
Thing react: If Long remains healthy he is a lock. He's going to play this year and start in 2017 and that's going to be very little dropoff from Jourdan Lewis. Maybe not immediately, but by the time he's a junior definitely.
Backup safeties can play
Thing: Praise all available deities. Angry Michigan Safety Hating God seems to be focusing on receivers who might get moved to safety these days—in the last year he's hewed down Brian Cole, Brad Hawkins, and Ahmir Mitchell—and spared the actual DBs. As long as we're keeping Chris Evans on offense that trend can continue.
Tyree Kinnel and Khaleke Hudson are both getting plugged as definite contributors this year and solid replacements down the line. Neither is much of a surprise—Kinnel had a strong spring and Hudson is our favorite non-Gary recruit in this class—but not having either guy derailed is important for 2016 and critical for beyond. Josh Metellus has even come in for the occasional mention; hitting on him would be very nice.
Thing react: I expected to hear these things, but actually hearing them is a step on the road to having a functioning secondary this year.
Most of these things are about 2017 more than 2016
Thing: The camp chatter glosses over big swathes of the team because you don't need to be told about them.
Thing react: Gonna be a good year.
On who can make the call to change the years Michigan plays MSU on the road:
“It’s a combination of television, and where we have control it falls on the home team and not the visiting team, and that’s usually in conference and non-conference. But most of that now, any game changing assignments, time assignments, is usually done by television through the conference office. We don’t really have a lot of say. They may ask us what we’d like to do, but we now don’t have a say in picking the game times at this point.”
On breaking up the two home, two away format of the schedule and whether that’s something he’s pursuing:
“Conversations are continuing to be had about what we’d like but there’s 13 other schools in the conference. Scheduling, whether you have 10 teams in the league, eight teams in the league, or 14 like we do, is very hard to do. I don’t negate that. Would I love to see Ohio State and Michigan State on different years? Yes. Do I think it’s hard to do given where we are now? Yes. Will I continue to still have the conversations that need to be had to try to see if there’s anything that can be done? Yes. Is it easy? No.”
On whether he plans to present that to the board:
“I plan on having any conversation I need to have to the benefit of Michigan athletics. Listen, I have great colleagues. Jim Delany is a great commissioner. We have a great staff in the Big Ten. I have great colleagues across the conferences. We all have different things, tweaks, that we may like to see. I’m not the sole member that may want tweaks and changes to the schedule. As soon as we can have that conversation with everyone or individually, and conversations I’ve already had and discussion points, I’m working to understand as well as to talk about what I believe is in the best interest of Michigan.”
On whether Michigan will have to wait until the next batch of schedules is released to make a change:
“Probably, yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s not going to change overnight. It’s trying to figure out how we can make any adjustments, and people know that we would like to see an adjustment to that.”
On changing the schedules that are in place:
“Listen, I’m not proposing that what we already have changes immediately, but I do want to have the conversation—I have had some—to understand and…but again, in talking to some of my colleagues, there are some things that other ADs would like to see on their football schedules. So, while we talk about the imbalance of Michigan State and Ohio State, both of them being away or at home, they have other tweaks or changes that they would like to see on their schedule. And once you start putting all that together, now you’ve got a big cauldron of issues that you’ve got to try and figure out, right?
“It’s not as simple as me saying, ‘Well, we want this’ and everybody saying, ‘Okay, we’ll just change it.’ If you start to make the changes—and you guys are very smart—as you start to look at the other schedules you’ll see that there’s more moves than just flipping one to one year and keeping the other on the other year. I mean, there’s more that needs to happen. So, it’s complex enough that the conversations need to be had and I’ll continue to have them when the issue comes up.”
[After THE JUMP: who has input on alternate uniforms, Harbaugh as attention lightning rod, and a bit about Harbaugh’s contract]
The sudden retirement of Dan Voltz leaves Wisconsin alarmingly thin up front.
As we're hanging on to every word leaking out of the submarine, the rest of the conference is also in their final preparations for the season, and expectations can change dramatically based on unexpected depth chart changes and injuries. Yesterday provided one such example when Wisconsin announced that interior lineman Dan Voltz is retiring due to injury; without him, the Badgers don't have a single OL with more than 13 career starts.
With opening weekend around the corner, I decided to take another look at each Big Ten squad to identify their strongest and weakest position groups. We'll start today with the Big Ten West. Before Iowa fans start getting mad online, these are listed in the same order as Bill Connelly's Big Ten power rankings—he's already quite accustomed to Hawkeye fans yelling at him.
Good news: The Huskers return five of their top six wide receivers from a year ago. Jordan Westerkamp has an argument—one that'll hopefully be refuted by Jehu Chesson—as the top returning receiver in the conference; he's a threat working underneath or stretching the field, and he's capable as both a slot and outside receiver. Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore averaged 11.1 and 9.9 yards per target, respectively, in 2015. Steady TE Cethan Carter, former four-star Stanley Morgan Jr., and slot bug Demornay Pierson-El—an electric return man coming off an injury-plagued year—round out a talented, deep group of pass-catchers. Tommy Armstrong Jr.'s penchant for losing his damn mind a couple times per game is all that's holding this passing game back.
Bad news: Corn Nation is rather alarmed at the defensive line situation:
Nebraska has no defensive line. Everyone experienced left or quit football. Defensive tackle Kevin Maurice has one career start, defensive ends Ross Dzuris and Freedom Akinmoladun have four starts apiece. Who’s going to fill the rest of that space? The Davis twins, one at a time, or both? Mick Stoltenberg?
Whomever it is, they’ll have to grow up fast. If the defensive line doesn't exist throughout the season, the offense will need to score 45 points a game. This is not conducive to having a great season.
The coach quotes coming out of fall camp would have me breaking out in hives if they were about Michigan. Their defensive coordinator is saying patently crazy things like experience doesn't matter much on the D-line:
Banker said that, if there’s a place where it’s OK for guys to be young, it’s the defensive line, coached by John Parrella.
“See ball, get off on the ball and get in your gap,” Banker said. “That’s what it really comes down to. And then go play the run on the way back to the quarterback. We’ve got to keep it simple for certain guys. That’s John’s biggest challenge and our biggest challenge right now. What you say in the meeting room. Who are you talking to? Are you talking to that young guy who hasn’t played a game, or are you talking to a guy who’s been here for five years and played in multiple games?”
Nebraska's D-line was excellent against the run last year, but they lost DTs Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, who both went in the third round of the NFL draft. Meanwhile, they generated zero pass rush (96th in adj. sack rate). DT Kevin Maurice graded out very well last year on PFF, but a huge chunk of his value came from games against Southern Miss and Illinois. DE Freedom Akinmoladon has some upside. Otherwise, this looks like a group that could really hold the team back.
[Hit THE JUMP for Wisconsin's OL troubles(!!!) and much more.]
Ace took the best joke for this section. Tim Beck Man returns!
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — As the one-year anniversary of his firing at Illinois approaches, Tim Beckman has a new gig.
North Carolina officials confirmed Tuesday that Beckman is a volunteer assistant on Larry Fedora’s staff.
The Tar Heels play at Memorial Stadium in a prime-time game on Sept. 10.
Since Beck Man was referenced we are obligated to embed his greatest achievement despite the fact that nobody seems to watch this when we do:
That has just 8500 views and most of them are from the MGoStaff. Anyway:
"THE 'O' STANDS FOR MY SALARY..." https://t.co/C2kKTGjKFO
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) August 24, 2016
The K stands for the coffee he fetches.
Around the league some more. More things keep happening. They're mostly not great for the opposition because the only solid news coming out of camp concerns guys who aren't going to play anymore:
- Wisconsin OL Dan Voltz is forced to retire due to injury. Voltz was very good as a underclassman before an injury-wracked junior year saw a major dropoff. He was slated to start at guard.
- Nebraska lost projected starting left guard Jerald Foster to an ACL tear.
- Redshirt freshman DE Cassius Peat transferred away from Michigan State. Peat was a 3.5 star recruit. Academics appear to be the issue.
- MSU QBs are going to run more this year, because they are bad at throwing.
- Kirk Ferentz is a bit peeved that Drew Ott didn't get a fifth year despite the fact he was in the exact same situation as Mario Ojemudia. Both got injured a few snaps after they could not get an injury redshirt, and the NCAA doesn't bend on that.
- On the other hand, this Tanner Lee thing is weird. The Nebraska QB and Tulane transfer got a sixth year of eligibility. Ferentz says it's because Tulane changed OCs, but it's a bit more complicated. Lee used a bylaw that "addresses student-athletes who feel they were 'run off' by a school." If he actually did not have a scholarship any more that would be a legit reason to give him the year he lost by transferring.
- Indiana blog Punt John Punt projects JUCO transfer Richard Lagow as IU's starting QB.
BEHOLD THE THROW-GODDENING. Trevor Siemian has broken out of the funk where he is only an unstoppable throw-god when I am watching him play. Now he is unstoppable throw god 24/7:
#Broncos QB Trevor Siemian will start the third preseason game, coach Gary Kubiak told reporters. A very good sign for him for this season
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 22, 2016
The Broncos are going to die this season, aren't they?
The decline of daily fantasy. Long feature article from Outside The Lines on that brief period when every ad on ESPN was from DraftKings or FanDuel. Things got so oversaturated that we were annoyed with them despite the fact that DraftKings was paying us. I still have no problem with the business model—I played online poker successfully for years until a late rider was inserted into a port security bill that banned it. (I played in the WSOP main event, which was fun until it wasn't late on day two.) Daily fantasy was very, very close to that model. This kind of negative…
Yet they relentlessly promoted their games as a means to get rich quick when they knew only a tiny percentage of their customers were winning more often than losing.
…is something literally every state is guilty of with their lottery programs, and this one…
They failed to aggressively move against big-bankrolled players who dominated newer players, sometimes with predatory behavior or technological advantages.
…is actually an argument that daily fantasy is a game of skill.
But those companies were run by guys with huge blindspots and questionable ethics, so they blew it all up. This is indefensible:
And they allowed their own employees to play -- and win millions -- on their rivals' sites, despite their having access to odds-improving proprietary data.
During the online poker boom there were always new sites popping up and scamming people, so the big players strove to be as transparent and honest as possible. Daily Fantasy is poker if PokerStars and PartyPoker were rife with actual cheats, and the one thing you cannot do when collecting a rake is allow any impropriety that will sic attorneys general on you. This is on point:
"This industry blew up so quickly -- no one adequately planned or prepared for it," says Gabriel Harber, 29, a former high-volume player at DraftKings and FanDuel. "[The executives] didn't make the substantial investment on self-regulation and the regulatory side that was obviously needed. ... Every PR person and lawyer should be fired. How could you let your client engage in this kind of crazy advertising if every legal loophole wasn't closed? How stupid can you be?"
The execs brought it all on themselves.
Etc.: OSU blogs will post literally anything. That's the ticket, Rutgers basketball. WTKA adds an afternoon show with Jamie Morris and Marcus Ray. They've gone from four hours of live local content to nine over the past month. Not bad. LSSU faculty head wants hockey to drop down to D-III. #disrespekt will never die. Hugh Freeze created a mock funeral for himself, because motivation? Don Brown says his defense isn't high risk because it isn't.
That didn't last long:
All love for the people of Michigan and U of M pic.twitter.com/dATIELCJQe
— Ahmir_SoDevoted (@TheDeuce_2_Nice) August 24, 2016
Mitchell got in serious trouble over the summer that warranted what was probably going to be a year-long suspension. He was also apparently in the habit of posting images of him partying at various late-night hours on Snapchat. By all reports he was not a good fit for the program.
Privately we were expecting this, and I tried to gesture that direction in his recruiting profile:
General Excitement Level: Moderate-minus. Washout potential is high. Pure athlete at the moment.
And lo, it has come to pass. Dude could have sped it up a bit so that I didn't have to write that profile.
Even though he was nominally a receiver, Mitchell's departure is mostly a hit to the safety depth chart. Michigan really likes the McDoom/Crawford/Johnson trio and with Brad Hawkins an academic casualty both WR recruits who could play S have burned out before they could even get started.
That brings Michigan to 23 scholarships in a class we expect to reach 30.