Screenshot via Operation Sports
I has been nine days since the release of EA Sports's latest iteration of their NCAA Football series. It speaks to the power college football holds over my soul that, for the ninth day in a row, I will play this game for an extensive period of time.
You see, NCAA Football 13 is not a great game. In fact, it's not even a particularly good one. For every advancement from last year's edition, there's a new glitch or gameplay issue that mars the playing experience. This isn't new, of course—you could say the same about every edition since NCAA 05—but it's especially true for a game that had so much initial promise but once again fails to completely deliver.
Then again, I'm still playing, with two active dynasties and a burgeoning Heisman Challenge that weds my favorite NFL player of all time to the school I attended. For me, it's an impossible-to-shake relic of my childhood: eager anticipation, the midnight release (yes, I went there), the first sleepless night (always starting with a Michigan dynasty), the download of fully-named rosters, the ritualistic ass-kickings handed to my little brother, and so on. For me, NCAA is as much a staple of summer as hot dogs and baseball, and I've come to terms with the fact that the game will inevitably disappoint, and I will inevitably spend countless hours playing it anyway.
I know I'm not the only one like this, so this review will be a little different; yes, I'll lay out the positives and negatives, but much of this post will be dedicated to finding ways to enjoy this game in spite of itself. Because let's be honest: if you're reading this, you probably bought the thing already.
The hallmark advancement of this game is the long-overdue overhaul of the passing system. No longer do all your passes fly on the same trajectory, begging to be intercepted by a leaping linebacker or that corner who's not even looking. Now touch passes actually have—wait for it—touch, allowing you to drop a slick pass in between zones or launch a bomb over everyone. I love to run a passing spread or air raid offense, so to say this is a welcome change would be an understatement.
Another long-overdue tweak is the elimination of superhuman defenders; the linebacker playing the short middle zone doesn't climb the ladder to pick off a wide-open post route, and that cornerback whose back is facing you won't stick his hands over his head and somehow intercept that fly route when he's beaten by a good three yards. Again, this is a huge step in the right direction.
On top of those changes, this year saw the addition of hundreds of new animations for the receiver. This is not a video put out by EA, but a highlight I saved from one of my own dynasty games:
The height of realism? Okay, probably not, though it's worth pointing out that I've seen that animation exactly once in the time I've poured into this game. There are many others, including Calvin Johnson-esque one-handers that will make you rise from your recliner before pausing to check out the instant replay in super-slow-mo. This game has its moments, to be sure, and many of them occur when you're airing it out downfield.
The game encourages a far more disciplined approach to playing quarterback, as well. Receiver icons don't appear until the player is "looking" for the ball; an immediate throw after the snap results in an ugly incompletion at best, an interception at worst. The game now executes a 3-, 5-, or 7-step drop for you, and throwing in a rhythm with your drop really does produce the best results. Recklessly rolling out when the play doesn't call for such will usually end in a sack; if you want to take advantage of your mobile quarterback, learn how to step up in the pocket and get under an edge-rushing DE to break a play open. These changes make the passing game not just a new experience, but a very enjoyable one, though there's two large drawbacks that I'll cover later.
In past games, running out of the shotgun was out of the question. In this year's edition, the zone read can be very effective, and all that separates you from a potential big play is correctly reading the defensive end. The "gotcha!" feeling when you correctly keep as the DE crashes down the line will have you strongly considering a move to RichRod's playbook (okay, maybe not).
Then there's the lynchpin of the series, dynasty mode, where you take the reigns of any NCAA team as the head coach or either coordinator and grind your way to the top (or at least a new contract). This year, it's deeper than ever, which should greatly appeal to those who take a more strategic approach to playing the game.
Recruiting is much-improved thanks to the new scouting feature, which gives you three hours a week (plus an extra 20 when setting up your recruiting board before the season) to unlock player ratings before divvying up your available phone call time. This adds to the realism—coaches have much more information in real life than star ratings and an approximate 40 time—and also makes it much easier to choose between multiple recruits at the same position.
ESPN is more integrated into the game than in previous years, with in-game score updates from Rece Davis and a bottom line with scores from all over the country. The updates do get repetitive after a while—Rece only has so many pre-programmed statements—but they're easy to skip if you find them a bother. I appreciate the efforts to make dynasty mode more of a story; they capture the scoreboard-gazing dramatics of college football quite well.
The big gameplay mode addition this year is the Heisman Challenge, and if you've seen the commercials you know you can take players like Desmond Howard, Eddie George, and Barry Sanders and put them on any team you'd like. The presentation here is also solid, as frequent videos featuring the Heisman winners discussing their careers are interspersed into the gameplay. You'll have to decide for yourself if you prefer playing as a receiver, running back, or quarterback; all have their merits and demerits, but it's possible to enjoy yourself at any of the positions.
Issues with computer AI abound and threatened to ruin what should be a great game of virtual football. While the passing game is much-improved, two issues need to be addressed. The first is the rampant prevalence of sacks; if you don't tweak the sliders, expect the DTs to have an absolute field day for both teams. All too often a DT is able to blow right by the interior line and destroy a play before the receiver icons even appear, and it's not unusual to see both teams approach double-digit sacks in a game with five-minute quarters.
Those sacks, however, are rather necessary considering the passing game's other issue: safety play that makes 2010 Cam Gordon look like Ed Reed by comparison. Streaks and posts from the slot are nearly unstoppable as safeties routinely stand still while the receiver gallops past, regardless of the defensive playcall. If you want to win just about every game, all you need is a cannon-armed QB and one tall, fast receiver; the rest is just exploiting the glaring holes in the defense.
It's asking too much of EA to expect them to overhaul the running game and defense in a year where they did so much with passing, but I still have to stick those two categories here. It's difficult to run in the game, though not because the defense is remarkably stout; instead, the running back regularly gets stuck behind the offensive line, helplessly churning his legs while his torso remains unmoved. There are very few unique interactions between the offensive and defensive line, as well, and none of them are particularly authentic.
As for playing defense, it's the same as it was for the last several years of this franchise: completely, utterly meh. I've toyed around with playing every position, but 95% of playing effective defense is still in calling the right plays and not totally screwing up your assignment. When the best you can hope for is often not being the primary culprit on a long touchdown, change is needed. Since so many players default to controlling one of the defensive linemen, I'd love to see EA turn their focus to making that part of the game more realistic and nuanced.
Yes, there are glitches, and they are annoying. These mostly involve defenders simply standing still as the play goes by. Here's a few screenshots of me playing as Michigan against Ohio State as the Buckeyes decide to call an option on 3rd-and-24. Keep your eye on the playside cornerback:
So far, so good; the CB is maintaining the edge.
Sweet, I forced the pitch! That CB should be right there to...
As you can see in that last screenshot, virtual J.T. Floyd—sorry, CB #8—stayed rooted to his spot at the 13-yard line, though he at least turned to watch the play go by.
That's not the only glitch, of course. Defenders often take pursuit angles that will trigger your GERG-related PTSD, even running right next to the ballcarrier for upwards of ten yards before finally taking one step sideways to lay a hit. The play above represents the only time I've seen the computer successfully run the option; most of the time the running back ends up running a good 5-10 yards directly behind the quarterback, making for both a very awkward pitch and a big tackle-for-loss. On occasion, a play will be blown dead as soon as a receiver or returner catches the ball, despite the fact that they're still standing (this one has only occurred a couple of times, but you can imagine the frustration when it does).
Computer playcalling is also an issue. For one, they're far too reliant on screens, calling them seemingly every third play; this does not go well in conjunction with the unstoppable pass rush. Clock management was apparently programmed by Les Miles. In one game, the CPU was driving, down seven in the waning moments of the game but with all three of their timeouts; after a first down stopped the clock with one second remaining, the CPU... tried to hurry up and ran out of time.
Seven Ways To Enjoy The Game Anyway
So, yeah, this is a very flawed game; I have another page of notes detailing various annoyances. But again, I've still spent hours playing and will play far more before summer ends and actual football fills the gaping void in my life. To salvage my gaming experience, and hopefully yours, here are seven ways to either improve the gameplay or enjoy yourself in spite of its myriad issues:
- TWEAK THE SLIDERS: While you'd like the game to get it right the first time, the gameplay sliders are there for a reason, and they can go a long way towards fixing issues like the pass rush and brutally efficient quarterbacks. I started playing with these sliders a couple of days ago and they make for a much better, more realistic game. Keep making little tweaks with those until you've found the sweet spot for your game.
- THE RECLAMATION PROJECT: We've all fired up the game and launched into a Michigan dynasty; it's only natural. Unfortunately (for gaming purposes only), Michigan is a freakin' juggernaut, and recruiting is cake at a school like that. Instead, go for the reclamation project; right now I'm trying to resurrect Ole Miss, no easy feat in a stacked SEC. Or you could go for, as my buddy Noah coined last night, the "Exclamation Project"—take a Texas State, Louisiana-Monroe, or Eastern Michigan and turn them into a national power. This is a great way to keep dynasty mode interesting after a few years, especially with the coaching carousel feature that lets you have a very realistic coaching career path; start at Eastern with the hopes of catching Michigan's eye, for example.
- CREATE A PLAYBOOK: Part of the great fun of college football is the wildly variant styles of play. The create-a-playbook feature is woefully underutilized, in my opinion, as it's great fun to devise an offense all your own and unleash it upon the world. Want seven different Wildcat formations? They're in there. Want to create a hybrid between the spread and the flexbone? As you wish. Want to feature your remarkable depth at tight end and fullback? The wishbone and Maryland I call to you.
- START YOUR DYNASTY AS AN OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: I won't argue with you that defense can be a bit of a drag, and if you agree, why not eliminate it? Head coaches may get all the glory, but you can start a dynasty as the offensive coordinator, as well; while you'll still recruit for your team, when you play the games you'll only control the offense. This is a great way to not only makes the games go by faster, but eliminate the part of the game you enjoy the least.
- TRY A NEW DEFENSIVE POSITION: If you don't like the idea of avoiding defense entirely, try to spice things up a bit by playing a new, more difficult defensive position. If you're usually running as a DE, try middle linebacker, where you can make more plays but also have greater responsibility. If you mostly play linebacker, take a stab at safety. And if you want to get hardcore, man, try your luck at corner; trust me, it's possible to not only survive, but excel there. The game is only as stale as you allow it to be.
- CUSTOM CONFERENCES: Last year, with conference realignment madness in full swing, EA introduced the option of customizing conferences and their BCS bowl tie-ins. That feature appears once again this year, and it's still great; you can recreate the old Southwest Conference, take the Big Ten back to the days of ten teams, or stick all the national powers in a superconference and see who's left standing when the dust settles.
- PUT BARRY SANDERS ON MICHIGAN: Self-explanatory, I hope.
NCAA Football 13 may have its fair share of AI issues, glitches, and shoddy gameplay, but it's still college football, fergodsakes. If you're looking to have have fun while passing the time until September 1st, there are far worse ways to accomplish that end.
I really wish you hadn't asked me about that thing, you know, that
I know let's talk about bunnies
I like bunnies they are fun
sometimes I call them funnies
But what will actually happen to Penn State? This space has talked at length about what should happen to Penn State, but what actually will is an open question. NCAA president Mark Emmert certainly made it sound like something is coming down the pipe in an interview with PBS, because, yeah, PBS!
"This is completely different than an impermissible benefits scandal like (what) happened at SMU, or anything else we've dealt with," Emmert told Smiley. "This is as systemic a cultural problem as it is a football problem. There have been people that said this wasn't a football scandal.
"Well, it was more than a football scandal, much more than a football scandal. It was that but much more. And we'll have to figure out exactly what the right penalties are. I don't know that past precedent makes particularly good sense in this case, because it's really an unprecedented problem."
He said that after refusing to dismiss the application of the death penalty out of hand. So… there will be some sort of action. Michael Buckner has been quoted…
"Even though there's no authority under the [NCAA manual], I could see President Emmert still proposing to do something," said Michael Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who specializes in sports law. "I could see some kind of sanctions, and Penn State would be hard-pressed to fight it. Imagine Penn State trying to argue that the NCAA doesn't have the authority in the realm of public pressure?"
…stuff is going down.
The Bylaw Blog points out that the NCAA is in a lose-lose situation here, what with New York Times columnists blasting it and demanding Penn State's head on a platter, an advocacy group for athletes has announced it would like Penn State players to be able to transfer without penalty—which everyone learned was automatic when postseason bans got handed down in the USC case—and people of Facebook are not sane.
UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE!
You will now think "ERMAHGERD" whenever Denard does a Denard thing this fall.
Michigan hockey summer: the funnest summer. I think we thought we were out of the woods after losing Chris Brown to Phoenix and Connor Carrick to a bout of insanity, but it seems like Merrill is not 100% to return based on this NHL.com article:
"I'm happy with the way my game has developed," Merrill said. "Everything they do at Michigan, I stand by, and have no complaints. If I go back to school, I can develop in a great university and if I leave, I'm in a great organization like New Jersey; so it's a win-win."
Michigan coach Red Berenson, who left Michigan after his junior year to play with the Montreal Canadiens, has traditionally encouraged players to remain in school rather than signing minor-league contracts. The Devils don't seem to be pressing Merrill on the issue.
"It's undecided right now," Lamoriello said. "He's here for the week and we'll sit down at the end of the week."
It does sound like all parties are leaning towards Merrill's return, but Michigan hockey + summer == doom.
Berenson exit imminent. Not like, imminent-imminent, but Red said he's probably not going to have another contract after this one:
“I mean let’s face it, I’ll be 76 when this contract is over. So I would say it’s the last contract,” Berenson said. “In theory, you would say this will be the last contract. I would be surprised if there would be another one after this.”
…“The way I look at it, I’m not picking a goal or a situation to retire. The thing I’m looking at is what’s good for our program, are we moving forward, are we competitive, are we living up to the expectations of Michigan and are we one of the dominant players in college hockey?” Berenson said.
When Red does retire I think it's time to put his name on the building. Something, anyway.
"More?" An Alabama legend called out Auburn for its dirty recruiting tactics after GA LB Rueben Foster ostentatiously flipped from 'Bama to AU recently. He might want to pick his words better:
“Because Reuben was paid more (by Auburn) than Alabama was willing to pay him. We got boosters out there that weren’t willing to pay Reuben Foster and boosters willing to pay him in Auburn.”
Where rebounds go. An analytics company has found out and put together a cool flash application so you can see where rebounds go off NBA shots.
Morals of the story:
- They mostly go long.
- Boy, people try a lot of layups.
- Offensive rebounds are far more common on those layup attempts than anything else.
- Long twos are horrible, horrible shots: there are a couple zones beyond the arc near the corners. Threes from the corners go in at a 36.6% rate. Step inside the line and it's a 37.6 rate for one less point. The differences are greater from what I'll call the Aarghaway zone but still very slim: long twos around the top of the key go in at just under 39%; threes from the top going at around 33%. These are NBA numbers and can't be directly transported to the college game but since the main difference is that a chunk of the long two space in the NBA is worth three in college I'd guess those shooting percentages are even more compressed.
Long twos are horrible! Long twos are hoooooorrrrrrible! Long twos with 25 seconds on the shot clock are grounds for a civil lawsuit based on pain and suffering!
I dislike long twos.
And nevermind all that also. Nevermind all the thats. Raising the bowl eligibility threshold to 7-5 has seemed like a thing that would happen for a while now, but now the Big Ten is backing off of that, too:
Delany said he has “heard from friends in different parts of the country, some of the major conferences, that they are in favor of (keeping it at) six. I suggested that maybe there’s middle ground. If a program hasn’t been to a bowl in five years … it’s an exciting thing.”
As long as the bowls at the bottom are prevented from acting as parasites on college football, whatever. The existence of the Illinois-UCLA Fight Hunger Bowl is at worst an opportunity to launch zingers… as long as those two schools aren't forking over 500k for tickets they know they can't sell.
Additional doo-dad. It must be fun being a Big Ten athletic director these days. Every year the conference is like "whoops, forgot to give you these three million dollars," the Rose Bowl is suddenly worth triple what it was, the Big Ten Network is steadily increasing in value, and maybe the guy before you built a giant cash factory on top of the football stadium. MSU doesn't even have the last item in that list (or at least hasn't added it recently) and they've been dumping money into football. An ESPN article recently boggled at the money Indiana is flat-out burning in a futile attempt to keep up with the meekest and most humble of the Joneses by way of noting that everyone in college football is building everything.
One of many results at Michigan:
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon is putting forward a proposal to the school's Board of Regents on Thursday asking for $2.8 million for an "informational marquee" that can be viewed from Stadium Boulevard. The plan is to use "visual and audio technology" for information on upcoming events and welcoming guests to the facilities.
I'm a little leery about audio being included in this thing but whatever. It'll be a big billboard type thing on Stadium that will announce things. It costs money, and it is being done because it can be.
Etc.: Red signs three-year extension, as expected. Syracuse fans are sad about leaving the Big East. CHN on the Kitchener nuisance lawsuit. M seems to lead for 2015 IN G Chandler White. Obviously a long way out there. Scouting the Adidas Invitational. Zak Irvin scouting video.
♪ Well a whole season played with the first string guy is usually quite lucky.
And a squad who plays with the second team out can be anything but fussy.
But a team whose seen an important guy down—head concussed, knee on the ground!
If they ain't got depth around, then all goes to poopie.
To poopie, to poopie, to poopie, but depth is hard to get!
To poopie, to poopie, to poopie, but we can get there yet! /♫
This is a continuation from last week when I went through the expected offensive depth chart and tried to predict what would happen—what's the dropoff? how do we react?—if each starter is injured for an extended time. Now, I'm not here trying to roll into town and stir up trouble, see? I'm a purveyor of portents and hedger of predictions only. What I seek to do is prepare us for any one of these dings, so that if one occurs we can say something intelligent like "it hurts to lose Roh but Black is probably the less replaceable!"
Why not all defense? Things slow down from here because the defense has a lot of intermeshing parts, and because there actually is depth in places to speak of.
Mattison's er Michigan's defense has been characterized by interchangeable positions but really each spot is more of a sliding scale from NT to field corner where each one overlaps the things on either side of it. The listed spring/recruiting weights play this out (click e-bigitates):
Quickly again. Photos are all by Upchurch unless otherwise noted. Ratings are given in Saturn-punting Zoltans. Think of them like stars except more heavenly. Five is an all-conference-type player (Denard to Kovacs); four is a guy you'd call "solid" (RVB to Demens); three is an average B1G player (Morgan to Hawthorne); two is a guy with a big hole in his game (freshman Kovacs); one is trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Poole.
Nose Tackle (Avengers)
Geeks / O. Ryan Hussain|TheWolverine / 247 Sports
In case of emergency: I'll be honest; this one is impossible to call straight. The 4-3 under is like the 3-4 in that it leans on the nose to suck up double teams and create mismatches elsewhere. The ideal is a superhero, and for the last few years we've had one of the best (by Ghost of Bo).
Hulk is gone but the franchise must go on, and for now that means we are 100% committed to making Thor work.
If the old 5-star takes up the hammer he's the pivot point of a great defense. If he doesn't then one of two mystery men could be anything from serviceable to disasters, and most things in between.
The upside on all three of Michigan's nose tackles is mighty. Weirdly, we think we know more about the true freshman, Ondre Pipkins, than the redshirt sophomore. Pipkins was a 4 or 5 star whose huge, squat, Tongan frame and jovial, Hoke-impersonating character made him and Michigan's need for nose tackle a cosmic destiny. If he's got the goods we'll see Pipkins early in spells of Campbell. True freshmen (Martin, Gabe Watson) of his caliber have fared well enough in rotational duty. The later this season goes, the more comfortable you can feel about Pipkins when he's called upon. Caveat: until he's called upon you have no idea if he can hack it, and for every huge dude you can name who could play right away (Marcus Thomas, Suh, Ngata, [sigh] Johnathan Hankins, DeQuinta Jones) there's 30 who need to spend a year as Ben Grimm before being The Thing. /metaphor used up.
In case of dire emergency: …break glass on Richard Ash. Nobody knows on this guy, who was recruited by Rodriguez as the last Pahokeeian project for Barwis to tear down and rebuild. The tear-down went unnoticed through 2010 and '11 and we caught a glimpse of possible rebuild when, 20 lbs. svelter, he made a few plays nice in the backfield. Ash could be anything from ahead of Pipkins to Adam Patterson. If that's where we are I could see Quinton Washington sliding down.
Rush Tackle (3-Tech)
Right: Dell Callihan|UMGoBlog
In case of emergency: The coaches have made it clear that Jibreel Black can play, and moving him two slots down the size/speed slide chart of defensive positions means they want him on the field, and that they want 5-tech-ish skills at the 3-tech. This being a swing position means the backups could be different things.
Quinton Washington is a big dude who was an offensive guard until he and Will Campbell were swapped for each other in that experiment. He still looks like a guard, and has yet show much at tackle besides easily dismissible coach hokum right after the move in 2010 so it wouldn't look like Rodriguez was throwing substances at surfaces to see what sticks.
Q stuck although the OL he left is now about as leaky as the DL he came to save. That the coaches moved Roh and Black down the line tells you something about their faith that Washington is ready, and going into his redshirt junior year that might mean he'll never be. He's seen time on goal line situations and is likely to again. Early in the year I wouldn't be surprised if he or Ash—whichever wins—is backing up both interior line spots, and that later on we see some Pipkins and Campbell together time.
In case of dire emergency: Ken Wilkins has been absent enough from chatter that people email me asking if he's still on team. Yes he is on the damn team, and he's still just a RS sophomore, but yeah, there's room for true freshmen on the three deep. Those two seem to be Godin and Henry, the lesser heralded of the heralded class, both of whom would benefit from redshirts. Henry is the larger. Chris Wormley, whom I rate at 5-tech, seems a more likely backup.
Strongside End (5-Tech)
In case of emergency: Craig Roh has to be the hardest four-year starter to project in history, thanks to many different careers as too-small WDE in a 4-3, a miscast OLB in the 3-3-5, then as the edge rushing WDE in Mattison's 4-3 under. Now he moves to RVB's old spot.
The backup here is almost assuredly Nate Brink, whom the coaches love but the fans hardly know because he's been hurt (he missed Spring because of it). When the coaches talk about the one-time walk-on they make sure to hit all of the Ecksteinian points: "coachable", "hard worker", "toughness", "great technique", "great motor." To that I might add he's 6'5 and 263, which is normal for the position. He's not Heininger (who as a sophomore backed up Brandon Graham), except in that he's some of the things you wrongly thought about Heininger. Then again I remember Brady Hoke making all sorts of guys into effect tech linemen.
If you'd rather see stars, Keith Heitzman is your guy. The beneficiary of the spring time Brink missed, the redshirt fresham was rated higher at tight end out of high school yet apparently good enough at SDE that the coaches moved Jordan Paskorz instead of him. Either this was a promise made at the time of his last-minute recruitment—likely since Tim reacted strongly when I say him and the TE depth chart together—or an endorsement by Hoke that he can play, or both. Best guess is it's both.
In case of dire emergency: Any of the freshmen linemen but Pipkins and Ojemudia are ready built for 5-tech. Of these Chris Wormley was a longtime high school star, which tells me he is probably physically ahead of the other guys right now. Tom Strobel is the other proto-RVB here. One day I expect we'll see the two of them playing next to each other at 3- and 5- respectively.
Backups: Mario Ojemudia ???, plus 5-techs
In case of emergency: Well if one goes down the other starts. Following a trend, both Clark and Beyer were OLBs last season, while this spot was rotated between Black and Roh. Though technically a unit change, the job they did last year—outside rusher—and what they'll be called on to do this year are not all that dissimilar. It speaks well to both that they played as true freshmen ahead of once-touted Cam Gordon. Read less into that, since Gordon was hurt to give them the opening and their skillsets are different from his.
They're also different from each other. Beyer was the more highly regarded and will get called "solid" more often because he's less eventful than Clark. Clark has the greater athleticism (see: interception in Sugar Bowl) though has been convicted of multiple accounts of giving up the edge, a freshman mistake repeated in spring. The rest of the D-line by design is meant to free these guys up for sacks, thus I see both rotating. If one goes down we lose the rotation.
The only other designated WDE is freshman Ojemudia, who is about 200 lbs. right now and would be 2009 Craig Roh'ed by most of the OTs and TEs on our schedule. Far more likely, in the event we lose one of the sophomores, we'll see one of the 5-techs or SLBs move in before the shirt is lifted from Mario. Craig Roh has played WDE more than any other spot, and Brink has the coaches' trust to fill in at 5-tech.
In case of dire emergency: Packaging still covers but there's Ojemudia if you need him. Packaging means in pass situations you just put Jake Ryan here and have Cam Gordon or Brandin Hawthorne or a nickel corner come in; otherwise go "big" (for a certain definition of such) with Roh back to wide and whichever backup DT/SDE in the game instead.
So ESPN is almost tripling what they pay for the Rose Bowl:
ESPN’s deal with the Rose Bowl runs from 2015 through 2026, making it concurrent with the new playoff structure. The Rose Bowl’s new $80 million annual rights fee represents a 167 percent jump from the $30 million the network currently pays.
The Rose Bowl’s partners, the Pac-12 and Big Ten, keep all of that media revenue, except in years when the Rose Bowl is a semifinal game in the playoffs. When the bowl is part of the playoffs, that media revenue would flow through the playoff system and be distributed to all of the FBS conferences. That method of distribution has not been determined yet.
And suddenly the Big Ten and Pac-12's desire to have the Rose Bowl not be a semifinal as often as possible is clear. Money, money, money, the same story as always. That's why the Big Ten walked away from the dream of national semifinals at home sites. To Protect The Rose Bowl…
"For us it's critical to keep the Rose Bowl in the equation," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told reporters Tuesday after Big Ten meetings hashed out the conference's likely preferred plan.
…by which they mean their money. No more boggling necessary. Explanation money, explanation accepted. Explanation disappointing but unsurprising. Cynicism: achieved.
not so fast, my friend!
Except… has anyone noticed that the current four-team playoff plan does exactly nothing to protect the Rose Bowl? By adopting this system the Big Ten has condemned the thing to a consolation prize, which is what it still could be if home semifinals were part of the mix, and then they wouldn't have to worry about years in which they don't get that mad cheddar. Also there would be home games.
I mean… let's envision a scenario where M is #2, Wisconsin #6, USC #1, and Oregon #9.
HOME GAME SYSTEM
#2 Michigan hosts
#1 USC hosts
Rose is UW-UO
THIS SYSTEM, ROSE NOT HOSTING
#1 USC plays semifinal somewhere
#2 Michigan plays semifinal somewhere
Rose is UW-UO
THIS SYSTEM, ROSE HOSTS
#1 USC plays semifinal at Rose
#2 Michigan plays semifinal somewhere else
UW, UO pound sand
The scenarios play out similarly when only one team from either conference makes the playoff. The Rose is always the same except when it hosts semis—which it doesn't want to do!—and the only difference is where the non-Rose semis are held. Which is "never Michigan Stadium or anywhere else on a college campus."
In no way is the system with home games worse for the Rose than this one, except sometimes it hosts semifinals that may or may not have Pac-12 and Big Ten teams in them. Which the Rose hates. This is in fact a worse system for preserving the ancestral heritage of the Rose Bowl so pined for in that infamous teleconference above. With the Rose actively trying to back out of its appointed number of semifinal slots, keeping the Rose "part of the equation" clearly can't have anything to do with making a path to the national title.
Conclusion: the Big Ten got pwned at the negotiating table and came back with this Rose Bowl sob story as a face-saving cover. The the face-saving cover is total fiction, but this is not a group of folks above stretching their view of the world to fit whichever narrative makes them look like a proactive accomplisher.
PS: 2.0 space engagement dongle
Today's recruiting roundup discusses a shift in the 2013 team rankings, Dymonte Thomas's 7-on-7 performance, the latest on Jordan Wilkins and Kendall Fuller, and more.
Consensus No More
Last week's recruiting mailbag addressed the possibility that USC could pass Michigan for the top spot in the team recruiting rankings; this week that came to pass on Rivals—and 247, which already had Alabama ahead of the Wolverines—following Jalen Ramsey's commitment to the Trojans. Because this stuff matters, man, Rivals lays out the scenario in which Michigan can reclaim the first position; if the Wolverines land a top-75 overall commit (to take a completely random example, Laquon Treadwell), they'll pass USC barring any other movement in the rankings or future commitments, and since it's July that totally won't... oh, wait. This is really stupid.
Of much greater use is Tim Sullivan's breakdown of the Wolverine commits who could rise in the rankings: Shane Morris, Jourdan Lewis, Patrick Kugler, Csont'e York, and Gareon Conley are all mentioned as potential risers for various reasons spanning from proximity to the next ratings level (Morris, Lewis, and Kugler), camp performances (Lewis, again), and sleeper status (York and Conley).
If you're basing your recruiting service preference on their ranking of Michigan, both ESPN and Scout still have the Wolverines on top, though in ESPN's case that's likely due to their lack of continual updates. Viva Scout, I guess.
The Forgotten Five-Star
Oh yeah, that guy.
Whether it's due to his early commitment or relatively quiet summer on the camp circuit, Dymonte Thomas seems to be the forgotten marquee player in Michigan's 2013 class. Last weekend, however, he appeared in the NFL High School Player Development 7-on-7 tournament, and Steve Wiltfong reports that he lived up to his blue-chip billing:
Playing safety for the Browns was Michigan commit Dymonte Thomas, who was as good as advertised. A good looking prospect on the hoof, the nation's No. 7 safety glides around the secondary, eating up turf to make deflections on throws to the other side of the field. On one particular play Thomas ran right, only to change direction when he saw the play was going the other way to get a pass breakup on a throw to the left side of the field.
Khalid Hill also participated with the Detroit Lions team and was mentioned as one of 2014 MN QB Ricardo Johnson's favorite targets. I'm getting the distinct impression, based on this summer's events, that Michigan could compete for the NCAA 7-on-7 title if that ever becomes a thing, which I guess means we have a contingency plan if concussions destroy the game of football as we know it (always looking on the bright side, I am).
2013 Options: Waning
While Michigan should have little trouble filling the last two spots in the 2013 class, the list of obvious candidates for those spots continues to shrink. TN RB Jordan Wilkins will announce his decision tomorrow morning, and according to Wilkins himself that choice will come down to Auburn (the favorite), Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. That leaves VA RB Derrick Green—who is slated to visit for the BBQ at the Big House—as Michigan's lone running back target.
Five-star MD CB Kendall Fuller has kept Michigan in his top three for a while now, but an interview with Mike Farrell indicated that they're on the outside looking in ($):
"If I am ready to announce in August then I would say it's a two-team race between Virginia Tech and Clemson," he said. "That's kind of where it is now, I wanted to visit Virginia Tech and Clemson back-to-back to compare them and see if I got a feeling one way or the other. If I decide to wait and decide at the U.S. Army All American Bowl then I will take official visits and Michigan will be one of them. Right now I don't know."
Don't hold your breath for that visit.
We can officially say "happy trails" to MD WR Paul Harris, who rather surprisingly chose Tennessee over USC($), the school long considered to be his favorite. Treadwell remains the clear leader to fill that last wide receiver spot, though Michigan did recently send out an offer($) to three-star NJ ATH Kyle LaPorte, who says he'd like to visit Ann Arbor in August. Unless things move very quickly on that front, however, it's still all about Treadwell.
For what it's worth, Cass Tech DT and Illinois commit Kenton Gibbs says he's still interested in Michigan($) and may attend the BBQ. If he's going to earn an offer, I'd expect he gets it much closer to signing day, as the staff looked at him during Michigan's camp and didn't extend one then; he'll have to step up his performance during his senior season.
Indecisive Joe Mathis Quote Of The Week
We haven't checked in with CA DE Joe Mathis in a while. Mathis, of course, was a one-time Washington commit who's named USC, Michigan, Nebraska, and Washington (again) as his leader at various points in time. Has he shed his fickle ways? It doesn't appear so [emphasis mine]:
When InsideTheU.com last checked in with Upland (Calif.) defensive end Joe Mathis, he was pretty sure that he wanted out of California.
Now that Mathis (6-4, 250) has had a little more time to think things over, he has softened his stance on that issue.
“It changed but then again it didn’t, I’m like fifty-fifty on that,” Mathis said. “I want to get out of state but USC, UCLA, or Cal could still be the best place for me. I’m not trying to shut myself off from those schools.”
Michigan, FWIW, is not mentioned in the article. We will now return to your regularly scheduled ignoring of pretty much everything he says until signing day.
Despite most of the coaches taking a vacation—how dare they, right?—Michigan hosted OH WR Derek Kief for a visit over the weekend. Tremendous has his reaction, as well as notes from a radio interview pertaining to the visit; Kief's expectations were low due to a childhood love for Ohio State, but he said Michigan "had everything I was looking for."
Several top 2014 prospects will make their way to campus in the coming weeks, including mammoth GA OT Orlando Brown Jr., who will visit this weekend after rescheduling from last week ($). Four-star FL OL K.C. McDermott will hit Ann Arbor on the 27th during a Midwest swing($), while MD CB Troy Vincent Jr. [LINK, $] and IL OL Jamarco Jones [LINK, $] plan to attend the BBQ.
On fumble recovery rates (again).
A sentence in Blue Seoul's recent Nebraska recap led me to re-visit
your claims that fumble recoveries are random. I got data from
teamrankings.com and drew a graph that you may (or may not) find
useful (see attached for 2012 opponents).
In addition, I estimated a simple linear model using fumble recovery
rate in year t to predict fumble recovery rate in year t+1. The model
also controls for the baseline recovery rate of each team by allowing
intercept shifts. Two things stand out. First, past recovery rates
explain relatively little variation in current recovery rates
(R-squared=0.13 in a model with lagged DV and team fixed effects).
Second, the relationship between recovery rates last year and recovery
rates this year is *negative* and statistically significant. If this
general pattern holds true in the case of Michigan this year, we
should expect the team to recover fumbles at a slightly lower rate
than its baseline for the 2002-2012 period (i.e. 61.57%). Obviously,
this is a ridiculously simple model, but it reinforces whatever
evidence you were basing your previous comments on.
The oft-repeated claim here that Michigan's fumble recovery rate in 2011 was a gift from the fickle gods of chance is not one that has gone down smoothly with many readers. The above lays out the numbers case. The previous year's fumble recover rate has very little effect on next year's and what relationship there is tends to take the rate back towards average.
But numbers don't seem like enough for whatever reason. I think I may have given doubters ammunition when I came back from the Glazier clinic reporting that Mattison told a room full of dudes that Michigan emphasizes turnover recovery:
Bonus: For those looking for a reason other than blind luck that Michigan recovered 80% of opponent fumbles this year, in practice all incompletions are live balls. Mattison credited this practice for getting players moving towards the ball at all times and being in position to scoop up live balls in actual play.
I thought this was not that convincing; several commenters seized upon it as a workable rationale why Michigan would be able to continue their fumble-procuring ways, Michigan's coaching does help them recover loose balls, but every other program in the country does something similar. Just because you work at it doesn't mean the results are predictable.
Blue Seoul points out RVB hustle that lead to a fumble recovery against Nebraska…
Ryan slaps the ball out. Check out how far away from the ball Van Bergen is. But he's got his head up, he's disengaged from his blocker, and he's pursuing the ball.
One funny bounce later and it's in RVB's hands. Brian keeps saying that fumble recoveries are just luck and 50-50 propositions. I would disagree and say the fumble recovery percentage is more of a function of the number of each team's players near the ball when the fumble happens. In this case, we were a little lucky because Nebraska had more guys near the ball. But if RVB isn't hustling and getting off his blocker, our chances of getting that ball go from slim to none. So yes, luck plays a part, but I don't believe it's JUST luck or that it will always regress to the mean..
…and Mattison did spend a slice of time describing his deep-seated hatred of "loafs." But so did the tweaked-out LB coach from Illinois who spoke in ALL CAPS. The tweaked-out LB coach from Illinois bellowed his distaste of loafs to three rooms, only one of which he was occupying, for about twenty minutes. The differences there are not great. They're certainly overwhelmed by the fact that these fumble recovery rates are across a sample of 15 or 20.
Here's a last stab. Look at those Alabama numbers, which stretch back to a time when they were run by incompetents. Now they're run by Nick Saban, collector of all first round draft picks and ruthless destroyer of offense. Saban's arrival has coincided with Alabama's fumble recovery rate going… nowhere, maybe getting a tiny bit worse. If coaching had a significant impact on fumble recovery rates, wouldn't Alabama be a perfect case study?*
I think that coaches think they have an impact here, but the things they do are all the same things: run to the ball and be alert. There's no technique and no strategy, so the impact they can have in this department is limited. Therefore Michigan's recovery rate last year was an anomaly and we should not expect it to repeat, or even expect it to be significantly above the 50.3% national rate.
Of course, I said the same stuff about this during the Rodriguez era and the thing stubbornly failed to turn around. If the universe is determined to make me look stupid at least this time I'm hedged properly.
*[I know one team's rate is a hopelessly small sample size but this argument is addressed to people who aren't going to take the numbers to heart.]
I'm not answering this guy's PSU question.
We're all tired of the Penn State tragedy that has been occupying the headlines since the fall. Some are talking about the conference removing the school as a member. While we've heard such an idea echo throughout the sports world, no one has actually talked about the criteria for the Big Ten actually removing a member. We've also been inundated with schools switching conferences over the past few years and the procedures for making such departures. So, by now, most of us can recite the hoops a school needs to jump through in order to swap conferences. My question is, what is the Big Ten's procedure for removing a member from its ranks?
I don't know if they even have one but I assume it's something along the lines of getting everyone together to vote on stuff, and then giving them a bunch of money for breach or just to prevent the inevitable lawsuit.
But… seriously? We're talking about removing a university with 40k people involved with it because of one very, very tragic event? I get that the Penn State athletic department had warped itself into a place where common human decency took a back seat to covering your ass, but the people responsible will be held accountable and the culture of the place will change radically. The unique situation PSU found itself in will not repeat. As long as they take the proper steps to assure that, let's just grimly recalibrate how we feel when we look at the Paterno statue and move on. A start: apply the same FOIA laws to Penn State that apply to public universities everywhere.
Annihilating the PSU program is pointless. Maybe I can see hobbling it for a bit, but when we start talking about booting universities from conferences or cancelling their nonconference games and forcing them to play on the road for two years or the death penalty or the NCAA fate worse than death, you lose me. While I've been pretty uncompromising in re: JoePa himself, at some point you have to think of the town, the university, and the program as things that aren't just JoePa. There's a massively damaged community out there whose only crime was to believe in Joe Paterno. They've been getting the 2009 Illinois treatment for going on a year now. At least give them the escape of a crisp fall day against Wisconsin, conflicted though it must be.
I'm all for the symbolic eviscerating of Paterno's record, and if you want to slap some other sanctions that erase the "one of two schools never to have been hit with a major violation" claim, fine. Burning down the program doesn't affect any of the perpetrators more than jail and death does.
It can't happen here?
What nags at me about Penn State is this: How far is the "Grand Experiment" away from "This is Michigan"? Obviously, I don't mean, "Do you suppose we've ever aided and abetted a predatory pedophile?" But let's face it: We've seen "the good of the program" used to defend some behavior we wouldn't countenance in another context.
I think in this case what allowed the culture to develop was the cloistered nature of Penn State, culturally and geographically. The main reason this most likely couldn't happen in Ann Arbor is there are a lot of people in and around Ann Arbor who couldn't care less about football. "This is Michigan" on an optic-yellow T-shirt might mean Bo or Desmond or Yost or Man-Ball. But "Michigan" means JFK and the Peace Corps on the steps of the Union, the polio vaccine, and Space, Bitches, Space. I'm not saying everyone in State College loved football; I'm not saying everyone affiliated with the Michigan football program "just lugs the damn refrigerator" as quietly as they should. I am saying enough people of non-athletic consequence pass through Ann Arbor for one reason or another that a sports coach who spends too much time saying "look at me" is going to get his comeuppance before a jury is hearing 48 counts of criminal sexual conduct against one of his assistants.
No one who puts any stock into the importance of "the program" is immune from having his perspective skewed a bit, of course; the Florida A&M band was big enough that they could initiate newcomers however it wanted -- until one of them got killed. But I feel like a cosmopolitan locale -- be it a state capital or a cultural center -- provides a deterrent on any one entity getting TOO big. In State College, there was no adequate deterrent. The Sandusky scandal was likely a perfect storm for which the ingredients will never again exist: Among other things, we've likely seen the last of the 40-plus year football coaching tenures. But I think the next time we're walking toward Stadium and Main on a Saturday afternoon and we pass someone walking in the opposite direction -- toward some library or lab or city hall -- hauling some figurative fridge we'd never care to bother with, it's worth thinking gratefully, "This is Michigan."
Mostly I just posted this so people could read it. Comment follows out of obligation.
Michael Weinreb described the strangeness of this event after growing up in State College beautifully for Grantland*. His piece tends to confirm your hypothesis. I believe that if we were to transport Bo into an anachronistic Whole Foods at the height of his popularity, at least half the people in there would wonder who the jerk making fun of the meat was. Any sports fan who spends a lot of time in Ann Arbor has had the sort of mutually jaw-dropping conversation with someone from the opposite pole of sports/art.
Meanwhile, the university itself is sometimes kind of sort of at war with the athletic department in a way common across the country. Rodriguez fought with the admissions department, sure, but so did Lloyd Carr. Lloyd Carr! And he lost from time to time. The local media is all up in Michigan's business. Carr (Lloyd Carr!) had to deal with the local paper bombing Michigan's practice of giving athletes easy classes, soon followed by the Free Press stretching the most minor of major violations into a leathery program condemnation. Unlike Penn State, Michigan is subject to open records requests. So, yeah, It can't happen here.
But it is an extreme outlier. It's easy to feel good about not having that be possible. Maybe we should take this as an opportunity to learn from what went on at Penn State and adapt to prevent things in the 1-5%-as-horrific range from happening here. Michigan complies with FOIA requests but charges outrageous prices to do so, blocking certain investigations. When the Daily asked for 400k employee purchasing card records they were quoted a price of "unspecified thousands of dollars"—the same records cost $200 from MSU, $181 from Iowa, and were free from Illinois and Ohio State. That is a pale shadow of the PSU secrecy that should be dispelled.
Other than that concrete suggestion, I'm not sure what actions Michigan could take, or even what the problem might be given that Michigan's coach has been around one year and probably won't make it past 15 before retiring.
*[Yes, he was sour about Michigan's team at some point over the last year. Let's get over it.]