mesmerism! presidential assassinations! circuses on fire!
When Michigan and Ohio State rotated off Purdue's schedule in 2005, the eyes of a nation (and a blog) envisioned ill-gotten Rose Bowls or at least Januaries spent in Florida. This did not so much happen. Instead the Boilermakers' big prize was an Insight Bowl berth against a Maryland team that had scratched its way to bowl eligibility despite being good in not one statistical category. Three hours and many errant passes later, Purdue's two-year reprieve from the Big Two ended in a 24-7 loss. Cue the first serious mutterings about Joe Tiller's job since the great mustachioed one rolled in from Wyoming.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. I hate to remind readers convinced the words that appear in this space are even slightly useful and edifying about this, but in the above-linked preview I was preparing for a Boilermaker onslaught:
Oh yow. Loaded for bear are the Boilers and it is going to piss people off. You have not two but three quarterback-splintering defensive ends, linebackers that in any other year would be amongst the best in the league, a quarterback I like an awful lot, and a set of wide receivers that finally has the mutant death freaks Tiller's been waiting his entire life for. ...
mgoblog would consider Purdue a serious contender for the conference title even if they played Michigan and Ohio State.
Purdue ended up out of the bowl picture and inaugurated MGoBlog's burgeoning tradition of picking one Big Ten team, overrating the hell out of it, and watching it implode spectacularly. Why did this happen? In large part, horrible play from Brandon Kirsch, Curtis Painter (Painter did have a valid excuse: extreme youth; also he improved last year), and every single back seven defender who suited up for Purdue over the past two years.
Quarterbacks occasionally blow up and take whole teams with them, but the defense thing was odd. Just as the Big Ten was getting used to the idea of Brock Spack cobbling together a functional, often tough defense out of rubber bands and Sharpies, the bottom dropped out. At some point after Stu Schweigert left Purdue apparently stopped recruiting defensive backs, instead scrambling to field a roster of black-clad smurfs no doubt pulled directly from upper-level mechanical engineering courses. Unfortunately for the Boilers, World of Warcraft loot does not spontaneously materialize when you jam your flash drive into your ear. Thus two years of unrelenting failure to defend the pass (111th in 2005, 104th in 2006) and -- once a host of fine defensive linemen graduated, leaving Anthony Spencer and nothing else whatsoever on the line -- one year of the same utter failure to defend the run.
All those guys are back, as are virtually all the other guys on the other side of the ball. But so are the big boys. Purdue is going to have to run to stand still.
Please do not be fooled by the numbers at right. Purdue's seemingly explosive 2006 offense was greatly aided by the schedule -- which brought forth a I-AA team, two MAC teams, and Notre Dame but not Michigan and Ohio State -- and the Purdue defense, which was so bad that it forced the offense to go for points and yards at all times even against the dregs of the schedule. Purdue scraped by Miami (Ohio) 38-31, beat Ball State 38-28, and even gave up 35 points to I-AA Indiana State.
Against the tougher defenses on the schedule, all two of them, Purdue was fairly inept. When Wisconsin came calling, Purdue put up three points. Penn State shut the Boilers out. Proceed with caution.
Rating: 3. Remarkably, redshirt junior Curtis Painter has now flailed his way through one and a half seasons as Purdue's starter without proving himself particularly competent or getting yanked by the notoriously trigger-happy Tiller. Chances are a third season of muddling will end with Painter holding a clipboard; it's now or never.
Painter did improve radically in his second year as a starter, but he had a long, long way to go to get there. In 2005 Purdue adopted the closest thing to a run-first mentality they've had in the Tiller era, going with a dubiously successful spread option game based on Nevada's "pistol" formation where the quarterback often lines up halfway between the center and a traditional shotgun snap. This almost achieved run-pass parity -- Purdue threw only 16 more times than they ran it in '05. Painter came on in relief of Brandon Kirsch midway through the season and blazed his way to 96th in passer efficiency, completing 52% of his passes despite playing in Tiller's sophisticated short passing game and throwing five picks to three touchdowns.
Things did improve last year. Purdue went back to its gunslinging ways -- Painter's 530 attempts were only exceeded by the crazed systems at New Mexico State, Hawaii, and Texas Tech -- and Painter's completion percentage was an almost respectable 59%. Yards per attempt were an above-average 7.5, and 22 touchdowns is an impressive total even if it came paired with 19 interceptions. But... not so fast my friend! This is where Purdue's improbably soft schedule deceives. Take a look at their performance when only conference games are considered (all ranks are compared to the rest of the Big Ten):
|All Games||Conf. Only|
|Comp %||59.5% (T-3rd)||57.4% (6th)|
|YPA||7.5 (5th)||6.7 (6th)|
|Int||20 (11th)||12 (T-9th)|
|TD||24 (2nd)||9 (7th)|
Purdue had a decidedly mediocre passing attack despite missing the second- and third-best pass defenses in the conference*. Any appearance of "good" is pure vapor.
And who can you track this to? Purdue had a veteran line returning last year, one that gave up relatively few sacks (Purdue was 22nd in sacks allowed). Dorien Bryant and company appear to be a highly competent and deep set of receivers. Jaycen Taylor and Korey Sheets combined for over 1,400 yards at better than 5 YPC. Everything appeared to be in place for a genuinely explosive offense, not one that would roll up big yards against Indiana State and then clunk out three versus Wisconsin and zero versus Penn State.
The inescapable conclusion is that Painter is the issue with the Purdue offense. I noted my skepticism re: Painter last year and it's worth reiterating:
What does '06 hold for the now-sophomore Painter? Probably additional pain. Painter's iffy stats were gained against a who's-who of D-I's worst pass defenses (MSU, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois) and Penn State, who killed Painter to the tune of 6-17 for 60 yards. His last statistical reference point,
high school, doesn't imply he'll make a great leap forward: as a senior he only completed 51% of his passes. The implication is that Painter's probably unsuited to Purdue's dink-and-dunk passing game, as he either failed at in in high school or was asked to bomb it deep instead. Either way it bodes unwell. Purdue should be happy if he makes gradual progress this year with an eye towards proficiency in '07.
There was gradual progress, and this is the "eye towards competency" year. But given that dubious 57% completion rate in conference -- one that probably would have been around 55% if the Big Ten played a round robin -- and Painter's wretched spate of unforced errors against a horrible Maryland pass defense in the bowl game, I remain skeptical even a thoroughly veteran Painter will ever be more than average. Dude just can't throw straight.
*(as measured in terms of yards per attempt.)
Tailback & Fullback
Rating: 4. Fullbacks don't exist at Purdue, so this unit consists solely of senior Jaycen Taylor, the nominal starter, and junior Kory Sheets, his nominal backup. Last year the pair split matters almost right down the middle:
You can see that Taylor was more effective as both a runner and receiver despite seeing scanty time in Purdue's opening triptych against I-AA and MAC foes; this is why he is the nominal starter going into the year. That distinction is going to be ceremonial as Tiller rotates the pair to keep them fresh. Sheets is slightly bigger and more of a straight-ahead guy (though he's no pounder, he is the default choice on short yardage); Taylor is the shiftier one and the possessor of the headshot at right, which was immediately admitted to the inaugural Big Ten Headshot Hall of Fame along with J Leman's remarkable mullet-flag combo.
There's good reason to expect continued success for the Boiler platoon even in the face of stiffer competition. The duo was good even against the tougher run defenses on the schedule, combining for 120 yards on 28 carries versus Illinois, 88 yards on just 17 carries versus Wisconsin, and 59 yards on just 14 carries versus Penn State. Though Purdue's heavily skewed run-pass distribution (57% passes; by way of comparison zone-mad Michigan ran 57% of the time last year) no doubt helped those averages, few teams could hope to match Purdue's productivity against that level of opposition. Purdue is in good hands here, even if they choose to use said hands sparingly.
Wide Receiver & Tight Ends
Rating: 4. It's hard to believe Dorien Bryant is still suiting up for Purdue. He's a perfect storm of circumstance for the Brooks Bollinger Memorial Eighth Year Senior Award: a major contributor as a freshman -- probably Purdue's second best wideout even then -- he was spectacularly decapitated by Ernest Shazor in the waning moments of a tight game against Michigan, fumbling just as Purdue neared game-winning field goal range. Then the Boilers dropped off the schedule for two years. All I have are fuzzy memories of the guy getting killed some time ago and a vague recognition of his existence well off my radar. By all rights he should be in his second year in the NFL (or, more likely, Arena League) by now.
But he is not and thus the Boilers have what's probably their deepest and most intimidating wide receiver corps in the Tiller era. Bryant alone has 167 catches and 2,028 yards over the past two years. An excellent fit for Tiller's YAC-heavy spread attack, Bryant is a slightly less explosive version of Steve Breaston with reliable hands. Junior Greg Orton leapt into the starting lineup a year ago, catching 58 balls for 790 yards. Orton's 6'3" and possesses deep speed and leaping ability, a dangerous complement to Bryant. He's also damn physical:
Even wide receiver Greg Orton ... mentioned the physical play when asked how he improved during camp.
"By being more physical," he said. "Coach called us out on the physicality, so we made a lot of physical plays."
Olivia Newton John has nothing on these guys.
Most non-Purdue offenses would stop there, but the Boilers also have TE Dustin Keller and sophomore Selwyn Lymon. Lymon was a top 100 recruit a couple years ago who picked Purdue over Michigan. His 33 catches and 580 yards as a redshirt freshman are impressive numbers, but they'd be more impressive if Lymon hadn't done almost half of his damage in one ridiculous game against Notre Dame in which he had 8 catches, 238 yards, and two touchdowns. After that outburst and a decent showing (4 catches, 60 yards) against Iowa he clunked back to earth, catching just twelve balls over the last eight games of the season. He's got the same size and athleticism Orton does, though he's a bit of a improbable injury magnet. Last season he missed some time after getting a paintball in the eye; this offseason it was the more conventional but more dangerous nightclub stabbing. Would someone get the kid a Wii or something? Check that, he'd probably just throw the controller into his spleen. Make it a 360.
Rating: 4. The right side of the line, including senior center Robbie Powell, returns intact. Right guard Jordan Grimes was second-team All Big Ten a year ago and is getting some All-American buzz, for what that's worth; Junior tackle Sean Sester is entering his third year as a starter. Experienced and bearing at least a moderate amount of hype, this trio is a major strength.
The left side of the line, however, is a question mark. Gone are tackle Mike Otto and guard Uche Nwaneri; projected Otto replacement Garrett Miller missed spring practice with a shoulder injury and just underwent a knee scope. He's out for at least the beginning of the season and perhaps beyond. Junior Dan Zaleski is the man drawn into the lineup; his height (6'4") is something of a red flag at left tackle, where 6'5" is usually considered a minimum
these days. There's some coach-puffing here; I doubt it's legit. The Boilers have to hope Miller gets healthy.
Meanwhile, three underclassmen compete for Nwaneri's job. I know nothing of them save their recruiting rankings, which were mediocre. Even that is of scanty predictive value: offensive linemen are notoriously hard to project, especially once you get past a few specimens that are obviously marked for stardom. At least there are three of them. One should prove adequate.
The operative theory here has always been that Purdue's defense is consistently underrated because they tend to face more opponent possessions playing opposite the frenetic Tiller offense, but last year they were just plain awful all around. A completely green secondary existed only to watch opponents sail into the endzone unopposed, and it was the strongest unit on the team not named "Anthony Spencer." The run defense ceased to exist, ceding nearly five yards a carry and finishing 114th in the country. They gave up 191 yards per game overall and 225(!!!) in Big Ten play despite missing the Big Two. Putridity would have been a step up. Disgusting wretchedness would have been a pleasant distraction. Mere averageness would have been celebrated like James Laurinaitis coming within a mile of Brent Musberger's turgid manhood. It was bad.
So the eternal conundrum: is it good to return nine starters when they were so resolutely awful a year ago, especially when one of the non-returners is Spencer? Since many of the starters in question were non-redshirted sophomores and freshmen with very good excuses for sucking like "can't drive," "doesn't need to shave" and "still kind of into the Wiggles" the tentative answer in this case is yes. But please don't hold me to that. I mean, my god... the triple digits!
Rating: 3. Only one starter departs, but he happened to be the only competent player on last year's defense and a first round NFL draft pick: Anthony Spencer. Spencer was some kind of hero a year ago, collecting a staggering 26.5 TFLs and 10.5 sacks despite being the only identifiable threat on the Purdue defense. He even picked up six pass breakups. Now he's gone; surprisingly there might be a player or two left behind.
Spencer's bookend, senior Cliff Avril, played Biggs to Spencer's Woodley with six sacks and 15 TFL of his own. A glance at the game-by-game stats shows a slight bias towards the delicious cupcakes Purdue opposed but not a major one. Already established as a fair-to-pretty-good Big Ten defensive end, Avril will push for All Conference honors in his final year. If he gets there it'll probably be second team, but that's not out of the question.
Opposite Avril will be either senior Mike McDonald or junior Alex Magee (pictured). Normally the scanty playing time McDonald received would be a major red flag, but he was a JUCO transfer a year ago and defensive end was already in capable hands. He's got a year to do something; replicating Spencer's production is highly improbable, but he's not necessarily going to be the suck. His contribution is a total unknown. He'll miss the early part of the season with an ankle injury.
Magee, on the other hand, has seen the field but as a defensive tackle. At nearly 300 pounds he's not going to edge-rush anyone and will be a liability against the pass (he had 2.5 sacks in extensive time at tackle last year) but should be decent against the run.
The reason Magee is moving to an unnatural postion is Mike Neal's healthy return. Neal was injured prior to the Notre Dame game and missed a good section of the season; even when he returned he wasn't fully healthy. Now he is and has claimed a starting spot:
"He's going to be an anchor,'' Spack said. "He commands a double team and is athletic enough where he's going to give some centers a hard time. Mike can make plays. He's really an end in a tackle's body.
"A huge part of our front this year will be our tackles and he's going to be a big part of that.''
Maybe this is true? He did blow a midly competent returning starter out to end.
Redshirt junior Ryan Baker, he of the elaborate and elongated recruiting saga (Baker waffled between Purdue and Notre Dame, finally committing a month and a half after Signing Day), started last year and proved an adept pass rusher for a defensive tackle with six sacks. That much penetration coupled with only 2.5 non-sack TFLs brings his run defense into question, though. Someone on the line has to be at least partially culpable for the run defense. It wasn't Spencer, and it probably wasn't Avril either. Baker's a little light for a DT at 288 and only had 25 tackles last year. Number can be deceiving for DTs, but might he be one of Purdue's many issues against the ground game? If McDonald is healthy and effective Baker might be relegated to passing downs.
Rating: 2. This has been a major sore spot for the Boilers over the past few years and things probably aren't going to get any better in 2007. Senior Stanford Keglar, when his first name isn't busy mocking Michigan's academics, spends his time starting -- he's entering his fourth year doing it -- and watching opponents motor by him as he flails his stubby arms. In three years he has nine TFLs. As Mike Valenti would say, "MAKE PLAYS!"
Middle linebacker Dan Bick led Purdue with 95 tackles a year ago but has had a tough time staying on the field. He returned to practice just days ago after battling a nasty neck injury. Still on anti-inflammatories, Bick is no guarantee to remain on the field.
Weakside linebacker and redshirt junior Anthony Heygood was a running back until half of the 2006 season had elapsed. He was moved to linebacker, picked up six tackles, and now projects as Purdue's best option there:
"He's clearly our best weak-side linebacker," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "And if you grade him out over the entire spring, he was our best linebacker overall."
I suppose it's not impossible that Heygood pupates from little-used running back to standout linebacker in under a year, but if history is any indication -- remember Travis Thomas' ill-fated move for ND -- that Tiller quote probably means "our linebackers are bad" instead of "Heygood is good."
Rating: 2. Defensive coordinator Brock Spack is a straight-talking, mustachioed sort who's prone to frank evaluations of his charges. His word is far more valuable than that of most coaches when attempting to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a particular team, and he's got an interesting take on the much-maligned Purdue secondary:
"Our front seven must shut down the running game," Spack said. "All I hear about is our secondary, secondary, secondary. I'm so sick of it. The secondary didn't hurt us last year. Watch the tape, show me where it hurt us. We didn't give up many long balls last year.
"Where the secondary hurt us was when a long run broke, we'd whiff, miss a tackle. But the secondary didn't hurt us with the pass very often. We don't lose games because of our secondary, and they are the most improved part of our team."
Spack's at least somewhat wrong. Despite a respectable pass rush, Purdue finished 81st in opponent passer efficiency. Brady Quinn was 29 for 38 for 316 yards, Brian Cupito 20 for 34 for 205, Drew Tate 17 for 23 for 253. Colt Brennan laid unholy waste to the secondary: 33 for 48, 434 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Purdue's defensive incompetence was a ten-man operation with Anthony Spencer doing what he could, and the secondary shared in that.
But maybe he's not entirely off. 81st in opponent passer efficiency is the best ranking Purdue could muster last year outside of Spencer and his sacks, and the secondary figures to improve significantly from a year ago. The top five players return; last year each was thrown into the fire before the umbilical cord was cut. The crispy quintet:
- JUCO transfer Terrell Vinson, starting cornerback
- true freshman Royce Adams, starting cornerback
- true freshman David Pender, nickelback
- true freshman Brandon Erwin, starting free safety
- JUCO transfer Justin Scott, starting strong safety.
Not one of these players even had a spring practice to acclimate to the college game before being thrust into the starting lineup. The results were predictable.
This year things should improve, as freshmen thrust into starting lineups tend to do. As a bonus, Purdue also get to deploy the services of hyped safety Torii Williams, a star-crossed fellow who's missed the last two years with injury. He's unlikely to start behind two established players, but will provide another option in case of injury or continued suckitude from either starter. Six deep and now not entirely green, there's a possibility this unit experiences a remarkable turnaround. Or they could just continue being bad. Check back in November for my prediction.
Rating: 1. The departure of redshirt freshman Tim Dougherty for Louisville stings badly. He was in a tight competition with returning starter Chris Summers for the placekicking job that Summers was horrible at last year, going 8 for 20 and chopping years off Joe Tiller's life. There is one other option on the roster, true freshman Brody McKnight, but if he was third string behind the previous two and ends up starting chances are the Purdue field goal kickers will again be amongst the worst in the league. This is a spot at which Purdue would probably prefer not to return a starter.
Also a problem are the return units. Purdue was 99th on punts and 87th on kickoffs. This seems more likely to be a wholesale lack of blocking than any deficiency on the part of the returners, since the main guy taking kicks back was the explosive Bryant. Freshman corner Royce Adams returned the punts and did so poorly. Returns will likely be disappointing once again.
Punter Jared Armstrong, decent a year ago, returns.
The theory of turnover margin: it is nearly random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are highly likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|2006||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|-0.07 (66th)||11||17||2.21 (56th)||20||9||1.43 (22nd)|
Despite a turnover number extremely close to zero there's a lot to look at here. Painter's interceptions should come down as he matures and makes better decisions, but that should be offset by a major fumble correction. Purdue was +8 a year ago, which is well into the realm of fortune unlikely to repeat. Expect this number to drop a bit. Well... don't "expect." TO margin is so low-event and swingy that you shouldn't expect anything, but chances are this is moderately negative at year's end.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
Anthony Heygood is a half-season removed from being a fourth string running back; he's now the starting weakside linebacker. Alex Magee, 300 pound defensive tackle, may be a starting end.
Dumbest Thing In CFN Preview
What to watch for on offense: An unstoppable passing game.... with Dorien Bryant, Selwyn Lymon, Greg Orton and Dustin Keller returning, the passing game that ranked sixth nationally last year should be unstoppable.
Sixth nationally if you only pay attention to the most shallow indicators. CFN in a nutshell: an inch deep and a mile wide.
BONUS! This isn't from CFN but is too good to pass up:
Painter's accuracy wasn't the problem last season. Consistency with his accuracy was the problem.
The theory advanced is that Painter was good in some games and bad in others (which is true of every player in the country) but come on! Come on!
When I was in high school, an English teacher of mine showed us a documentary about Walt Whitman. It was the kind of documentary in which Alan Ginsberg made frequent appearances, once saying that because he had slept with this o
ther dude who had slept with some other dude who had slept with some other dude etc etc etc who had slept with Walt Whitman, he, Alan Ginsberg, had kind of sort of had sex with Walt Whitman. Which is all terribly exciting when you're Alan Ginsberg, I guess.
Anyway, all the interstitials in this thing were men hammering things and hammering things just like the fellow above. Every cut between interviews had ten to twenty seconds of men hammering things on anvils. And every one of them was completely, floppily naked. So, yeah. My associations with this picture are probably not the associations of people who attended Purdue.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
With 20 starters returning and reason to expect improvement from the vast majority of them, Purdue's ceiling is sky-high. If questions on the left side of the line are resolved satisfactorily, the only thing holding Purdue back from a Brees-era offense of terror is Curtis Painter's ability to take advantage of his proverbial weapons. The defense doesn't have anywhere near that sort of capability even in the rosiest point of view available, but there's reason to believe the secondary will improve greatly and sort of a vague hope the line could be okay to good, though the linebackers will probably be subpar at best. So I'm saying there's a chance Purdue is a serious threat to something other than Joe Tiller's job security. 10-2 can happen.
If Purdue's issue on the defense is not so much its vast (and now former) youth but rather a sheer lack of talent, last year's fiasco could repeat itself. This is really unlikely what with all the returning starters, but neither is an Illinois-like jump into the top 30 or so defenses a guarantee. Curtis Painter has the most inflated numbers in college football; if he plateaus the result could be ugly. With Purdue's MAC games against usual power Toledo and last year's champion Central Michigan, a humiliating loss there is possible, and limping through a 4-8 season not out of the question. Yes... between 10-2 and 4-8, this preview has basically abdicated on serious narrowing.
Painter's problems appear to be twofold:
- he's still learning not to throw into coverage
- he can't throw straight.
One expects the former to improve significantly as he goes into a second full year of starting. He should find the offense easier to command and significantly cut his interceptions. The latter, however, will remain an issue. The projection here is that he'll be totally average, the fourth or fifth best quarterback in the league. This should combine with two talented tailbacks and four excellent receiving options to create an offense that's actually good instead of 2006's fools gold as long as that left tackle thing ends up resolved satisfactorily.
The defense should improve greatly just because it would be hard not to. But I have a hard time seeing any unit on it above average except maybe -- maybe -- the defensive line. A running back starts at WLB; no one emerged in the secondary like Vontae Davis did at Illinois; Spencer is gone. I hesitate to offer any specific predictions with so much in flux, but... uh... totally mediocre, prone to getting battered into oblivion by big time run games, but average against the pass?
|9/1||@ Toledo||Probable win|
|9/8||Eastern Illinois||Functional DNP|
|9/15||Central Michigan||Probable win|
|9/22||@ Minnesota||Probable win|
|10/6||Ohio State||Probable loss|
|10/13||@ Michigan||Probable loss|
|11/3||@ Penn State||Probable loss|
|11/10||Michigan State||Probable win|
|11/17||@ Indiana||Probable win|
As you can tell by the above I see few games Purdue shouldn't either win or lose... but few games they couldn't win or lose, either. The Boilers look to be a clear step behind the big boys in conference but are eminently capable of upsetting any of them; they look a clear step ahead of the conference's bottom but capable of dropping a game to any of them. It'll probably even out to 8-4 and an Alamo Bowl berth. Getting there might be wild.
This is the part where we flesh out our opinions on specific teams. As part of the two-preseason-poll thing we have this: a roundtable in which people, bloggers and commenters alike, are invited to take a look at the preseason poll and answer the following questions:
Who is overrated?
Who is underrated?
This roundtable has a quick turnaround, so I'll be gathering responses for a roundup post Monday in which I'll attempt to summarize the general feeling and highlight the best reasons given. Get crackin'!
Oh, programming notes. Oh yes. So. Um. A few things:
- On the morning of the Appalachian State game you can catch me on WJR at 7:35 AM. Should be about ten minutes. More likely you'll be asleep, but...
- if you think that's a ridiculous time to get up I will also be on WAAM 1600 for their pregame show. Starts at 10 AM, tentatively scheduled for a half-hour. Also...
- This fall I will be on Channel 4's "Sports Final Edition" on a weekly basis. SFE runs at 11:30 Sunday nights (-ish, depending on Sunday Night Football's length). The first probably very nervous and horrible one will be this Sunday. It's only three minutes so chances of communicating useful information you don't know are probably pretty slim, but during the season there will be clips of plays and a sort of UFR-y breakdown of them, which will hopefully be cool. So, yeah. There's that. I am accepting donations of cigarettes and blindfolds.
Marques Slocum! Right. Facebook indicates that Marques Slocum is dinged in some fashion:
Marques 'Grand Marques' Slocumis f***in' mad right now cuz im f***in' hurt but its cool cuz ima be back real soon, ima grind through dis bitch! EARLY!
(BTW: Jesus, Marques, do you have to have every single available Facebook widget on your profile?) There was a post on the Rivals free board from "Master Raptor" -- who has been accurate in the past -- indicating that Slocum had a dislocated shoulder, but that was disputed. I submit that Slocum knows if he is hurt or not, so he is.
Yeah, whoops. MVictors has a nice review of HTTV 2007 with a salient criticism:
- No where did the guide break down Michigan's special team units. How is Zoltan going to win the Heisman if he doesn't get some mention this publications such as this?
This is true and it is my bad; it was like a week before publishing that I realized I had totally ignored special teams. But he likes the rest of the book! So does my Grandma! Buy it!
Note: if you see last week's poll it's a cache thing, I think. Refresh should cure it.
Hurray, that's the poll hurray. If you're interested, you can see all the individual ballots here.
Hey, kids! What's going on? We've all got this poll here. USC is your #1 by an overwhelming margin, as you might expect. The fruitcakes who think USC is not the greatest team in the history of all time (links all go to ballots):
- Falcon Nation voted for LSU.
- Dawg Sports voted for Michigan. (Awww.)
- Cock & Fire and Dump Dorrell went with Texas.
- Bruins Nation and The Bemusement Park went with West Virginia.
- 50-Yard Lion and Frank McGrath voted for Florida.
- The Enlightened Spartan picked Wisconsin.
So there you go.
There are some significant differences between the Blogpoll and the AP:
- Michigan is #3 and Texas #4 with WVU #5 in the Blogpoll; WVU, perhaps bolstered by schedule-rankers (a practice verboten here), is #3 in the AP.
- The only mid-major in the Blogpoll is #22 Hawaii, which is #23 in the AP. TCU and Boise State are #22 and #24, respectively, in the AP.
- Bloggers believe in the OBC: South Carolina is #23 and not present in the AP.
- Bloggers do not believe in Rutgers, ranking them #21. RU is #16 in the AP.
- Despite the first place vote, Wisconsin comes in at #9 instead of #7 in the AP.
- Oklahoma is #6 instead of #8.
Wack Ballot Watchdog:
This chiding is saved for in-season thing. Now everyone's got an opinion that's as defensible as any other (not at all) because no one's played anyone.
Note: the CSS below is messed up. Sorry. Will fix ASAP.
Now on to the extracurriculars. First up are the teams which spur the most and least disagreement between voters as measured by standard deviation. Note that the standard deviation charts halt at #25 when looking for the lowest, otherwise teams that everyone agreed were terrible (say, Eastern Michigan) would all be at the top.
USC is the least divisive team, obviously. Michigan follows, then Texas and Oklahoma. More interesting are the most disagreed-upon teams in the poll: Arkansas, Georgia, Florida State, and South Carolina. Arkansas has all the Nutt trauma, Georgia has a true sophomore QB and no offensive line, Florida State an entirely new offensive brain trust, and South Carolina has a bunch of returning starters plus the OBC.
Ballot math: First up are "Mr. Bold" and "Mr. Numb Existence." The former goes to the voter with the ballot most divergent from the poll at large. The number you see is the average difference between a person's opinion of a team and the poll's opinion.
Mr. Bold is Ramblin' Racket. This is due in no small part to RR ranking GT #10, which also won him the CK Award. Other ballot weirdness, with the caveat that this is a preseason poll and RR is entitled to whatever opinions he desires so long as he can defend them: #5 Cal, #6 Arkansas, #7 Oklahoma State(!!! -- a misclick? must be an OU misclick), #17 Ohio State, #18 Oklahoma (!!! -- not a misclick!), #19 UL, #20 UW. Lucy: 'splain, please.
Mr. Numb Existence is USC blog Conquest Chronicles. As per usual there's not that much to comment on in this category. Congratulations to CC for being most in-tune with the blogger hive mind.
Next we have the Coulter/Krugman Award and the Straight Bangin' Award, which are again different sides of the same coin. The CKA and SBA go to the blogs with the highest and lowest bias rating, respectively. Bias rating is calculated by subtracting the blogger's vote for his own team from the poll-wide average. A high number indicates you are shameless homer. A low number indicates that you suffer from an abusive relationship with your football team.
The CK Award for preseason ballot #1 goes to Ramblin' Racket for ranking Georgia Tech #10. I have a long memory for this: Ramblin' Racket won this last year for ranking the Jackets #8. What part of "Chan Gailey Equilibrium" does RR not understand?
Also, for a blog that wants Karl Dorrell run out of town on a rail for being the worst coach in the history of the universe, Bruins Nation sure is enthusiastic about UCLA's chances this year. What's the deal? If he's really that awful a coach how can that ranking be justified?
Straight Bangin' Award continues a rich tradition of being the near-exclusive province of Michigan bloggers -- a bunch of Eeyores, we are -- by going to the M Zone. Michigan is #11 on their ballot. Also note the more philosophically consistent position of Dump Dorrell, if you would.
Swing is the total change in each ballot from last week to this week (obviously voters who didn't submit a ballot last week are not included). A high number means you are easily distracted by shiny things. A low number means that you're damn sure you're right no matter what reality says.
Swing doesn't exist in the year's first poll.
Blogger's totally f-ed up and won't let me bring up the old poll template. When it ceases being so I'll post the first Blogpoll of 2007.
Carr says things here; the captains say things here. Full audio here. There wasn't a lot from the captains that can be used as tea leaves for the position battles ongoing, but Jake Long did drop a couple names on the offensive line:
â€¢ On sophomore offensive lineman Stephen Schilling ... "He's had a great camp so far. He got a lot stronger in the off-season, and he's got quick feet. I think he's really impressed the coaches. He's been pushing guys around and his footwork has gotten better. He's only been here two weeks and he's been able to pick things up right away. He's a smart guy. He's powerful. I'm really impressed with how smart he is. He's picking everything up real well and improving the offense."
On the younger players on the offensive line ... "They've really stepped up. You can really tell that Stephen (Schilling) worked hard in the off-season. You can tell he got a lot stronger; his footwork and technique has gotten a lot better. He has a great work ethic, and you can tell he really wants the job. David (Molk), for being here just over two weeks, he's really picked up the offense. He's a smart guy, and he's so strong and powerful. He's really been impressive in his blocking and picking up everything he needs to."
Molk's push has been made possible by injury to Alex Mitchell and Jeremy Cuilla, who was one of many guys missing a week here or there. He moved over from center. Impression: wary. I liked Molk as a recruit, but he's pretty undersized and is a true freshman. Seeing him on the field against anyone other than Appalachian State would be uncomfortable. Schilling, OTOH, has a death grip on right tackle and looks on his way to a Jake Long-level career.
Carr had a lot more to parse. More on Schilling:
At right tackle, Steve Schilling has had an excellent fall. He's an extremely talented guy, with great size and athletic ability. He's a guy that is smart and that loves to play. He will be a great player here someday.
"Mark Ortmann has done a very good job and has competed well. Perry Dorrestein ... it's just too close to call at this point."
I call BS on the "too close to call" given the nonstop Schillingfest going on -- Carr was responding to a general question about all of the position battles going on and went right to him. He's the man.
We have a kickoff guy: Bryan Wright. We do not have an actual kicker. Frowns. Alarm. Etc. I do like that Wright has a big leg and has locked down the kickoff job. With kicks from the 30, an excellent kickoff guy is worth his weight in gold. And it can't be Brabbs/Neinberg/Finley bad, right? Right?
"The fullback competition is very intense. Mark Moundros has had a very good fall. Vince Helmuth is competing well. I think that will go right down to the wire, as far as the fullback position."
Probably not a huge deal either way.
Middle linebacker is down to two:
At the Mike linebacker position, John Thompson and Obi Ezeh -- those two guys are really in a spirited competition. I think it's safe to say both of them are going to play a very important role.
This answer is more notable for the absence of JUCO transfer Austin Panter than anything else. A redshirt is now a serious possibility. Carr said the competition would extend into the fall.
On the weakside, Jonas Mouton is one of a parade of ankle sprains/twists; Chris Graham has "really improved as a pass defender." Graham retains the starting job going into the fall.
Cornerback, 2007's Position of Dread:
Johnny Sears has had an outstanding fall. He's a guy who when we recruited him ... he really played a significant role a year ago on special teams. He made some great plays on the kickoff. He's a guy that plays without any fear. He's a very tough, hard-nosed player, and I think he's really matured at the corner. He's had a very good fall.
That's the second shout-out from the coaches after English raved about him on WTKA. I and anyone who saw him last year remain skeptical, but Sears is a guy whose potential might take a bit longer to reach given his lack of high school experience. Brandon Harrison also got the "excellent fall"; "Vance was very pleased" with Morgan Trent. I dunno how well this meshes with both Donovan Warren and Troy Woolfolk seeing the field as freshmen.
Free safety is not necessarily Stevie Brown's job:
Stevie Brown is really a physical player. He's still a young player, has a lot of things to learn. Charles Stewart has made the move in there. I like both those guys; I think they are both going to play. I think they are both guys that are going to make a real contribution in a lot of areas on this team. That position right now is probably up for grabs, so we'll see what happens there.
A classic glass half-empty or -full situation. Is Brown not worthy of the hype? Is Stewart proving himself a useful safety? Dunno.
Johnny Sears has done an excellent job returning punts. We practiced yesterday morning in the stadium in a torrential rain. It was a very valuable practice from the standpoint of learning how you have to play different when the ball is wet. That's particularly true in the return game, as a receiver, as a quarterback and center ... I think we learned some things yesterday. ... Greg Mathews is really a reliable guy in terms of handling the football, and that's what a return guy has to prove.
I like this answer. No offense to Mathews, but when his name is plugged as a potential punt returner images of Diallo Johnson dance in my head. Sears has speed to burn and it appears he's the leader at the moment. Also called out as potential guys here: James Rogers and Donovan Warren. I would still expect a Rogers redshirt.
Kick returners mentioned: Brandon Minor(!) and freshman tailback Avery Horn. Carr mentioned some tailback depth concerns with using Minor, which was my initial thought too.
Right tackle is Schilling's; the line is set assuming a reasonable return for Mitchell. Panter is not the starting middle linebacker; Sears, Harrison, and Trent are all getting unreasonable amounts of praise that could be highly dubious. Stewart and Brown are locked in a battle for the free safety position; someone will return kicks and punts.
Few changes, though I did add Tennessee at #17, bumping a bunch of teams down. Poll now features no count-'em no non-BCS teams after dispatching #25 Hawaii. I feel a little bad about this but not particularly.
My selection of Iowa was questioned. A response: It's always bad when you lose a longterm starter at quarterback but Drew Tate didn't exactly play his ass off last year. His departure will be slightly less of a problem. Jake Christensen is the obvious replacement and a highly touted recruit. He'll probably be a dropoff but he's been groomed for a couple years. At RB, I like Albert Young and Damian Sims, especially if Sims can remain healthy, and the WR corps returns intact. Maybe. Pending Dominque Douglas's status after stealing lots of hats.
On defense, Iowa returns everyone on a pretty good defensive line. Brian Mattison is an underrated player; Ken Iwebema is getting some hype as a potential high NFL draft pick, and the tackles are getting to the point where they're actually experienced and large enough to damage people. King and Kroul were just sophomores a year ago, and King showed a lot of promise when he wasn't injured -- infrequently. Two starters return at linebacker and they have some nice recruits there in Jeremiha Hunter and AJ Edds. I will not say anything positive about the secondary. I hate it. It is loatheable.
Also, two things: Iowa was highly, highly negative in TO margin a year ago (111th) and will probably repair that -- Tate was responsible for much of it -- and there was a window in which Ty Willingham was killing ND recruiting and Illinois was still laboring under the pre-Zook ineptness (instead of the very particular Zook ineptness, which has awesome recruiting). This created an opportunity for Iowa to raid a bumper crop of Illinois recruits, who are now juniors entering the starting lineup. I think Iowa has major potential to be the surprise of the season, and not just because they miss OSU and Michigan. But I rated them #2 last year and they are Dead To Me so take it with a grain of salt.
I still hate Penn State #8. I do. I would be more comfortable with them at 12 or 15 or something but I can't find anyone below them I really believe in. I am still skeptical about UL as an actual power team, Oregon was a mess last year and its QB played baseball (and no one else is nearly as enthused as I am anyway), Florida loses nine defensive starters and its quarterback and still has no running game. I dunno. Maybe I should shove them higher just based on recruiting rankings and Meyer's ability to mitigate whatever issues his team has brilliantly. But... man. That's a lot of losses. I also hate to a slightly lesser extent OSU #9 and Wisconsin #11 (down one, I slid UL up), but both teams should have defenses that are at least solid and pounding running attacks that are the potatoes to the meat on the other side of the ball.
I'm still looking for feedback; this ballot is due tomorrow at 10AM but there is a second preseason ballot in a week.
Yessssss. The much-rumored return of Carson Butler is official:
Michigan tight end Carson Butler, who had been kicked off the team last spring, has returned to practice, coach Lloyd Carr said.
Mike Massey has "won the starting job" according to the News, though that's likely a distinction without a difference with the prevalence of two-TE sets in the zone game. Less good things in that article: Alex Mitchell is beaten up and will miss the Appalachian State game and possibly Oregon. It'll be interesting to see if we get a Schilling-Ortmann combo on the right side.
(Said article is an insta-post from an ongoing Carr presser. Will update with relevant info when transcripts become available.)
tWaWoW. That's a supercool abbreviation for "The Wit And Wisdom Of Weis," something that originated in a previous post and is going to be an erratic feature as long as Charlie Weis keeps saying inane, pompous things.
Anyway: a couple people emailed me about this Clausen-Natty Lite thing, which is totally uncompelling as collegiate hijinks go. Man named "Hand" soliciting a prostitute: hilarious. College freshman making a beer run: dog bites man. BGS was right about a hysterical article from local wannabe muckracker Jeff Carroll and, in general, the ridiculous hubbub about a nothing offense. Buying a 30-rack of Natty Lite is the most masculine thing Clausen's ever done. Celebrate it.
But the incident did provide an opportunity for Charlie Weis to say something about it. Listen, kids, and learn:
"I think it's out of ignorance - and by ignorance I mean lack of knowledge," Weis said.
We keep a list of everyone's money! We put the list in a safe place! Weis went on to point out that despite Clausen's obvious affection for Billy Idol's haircut, he wasn't getting beer to stick it to the man:
"I don't think he was defiantly trying to get himself into trouble with the law."
Oh. I see.
Vote for Ned. Deadspin is inducting people/things/memes/horses into its hall of fame. As fans of college football and things that are 100% pure Colombian awesome, you should go vote for Ned, the injured FIU Panther who risked life and limb to hobble out onto the field when FIU just came into the OB.
Do it for your country.
Grist. Ryan Mundy, now a Mountaineer, on the differences between the two S&C programs:
"It's totally different down here from the strength and conditioning program to the practice schedule. It's just a different type of attitude," he said. "Compared to Michigan, which is an already established program, down here at West Virginia we're right at that peak right now and we've got to go over the hump."
As far as the strength and conditioning program is concerned, Mundy says West Virginia's program is much more intense than Michigan's. Other players that have transferred to West Virginia have said similar things in the past, explaining that at some other places the players coming into the program are physically bigger and more explosive. West Virginia develops it.
"Down here we do a lot of Olympic lifts â€“ squats, power clings, hang clings and things like that â€“ and I hadn't done that type of stuff since high school," Mundy said. "I had to get my body back used to doing those types of movements. As far as the practice down here we run after practice and we never ran after practice at Michigan."
Any S&C zealot wishing to use this as ammo, you're welcome. It'll be interesting to see what progress he makes this year, though Mundy's problems were always more mental than physical. I respectfully disagree with this assessment of his play:
"I bounced back and I played in all 12 games last year and I played well," he said.
Captain stuff. Okay. I don't get the fretting about Chad Henne not being a captain. Michigan's had three forever, and there was a returning fifth-year senior who was a captain last year filling one slot. One slot had to go to the defense. And Mike Hart was neither of the above players. You can make a strong case that Ghandi would have been passed over in that situation. So a minor barrage of comments worrying about a lack of leadership on this year's team and Maize 'n' Brew's disappointed post about our overlooked quarterback strike me as strange. Approximate impact on season, IMO: zero.
We gon' die. The basketball schedule was released yesterday and holy lord it's the polar opposite of last year's trip through Candyland. Nonconference:
Fri., Nov. 9 Radford Ann Arbor TBA TBA^ Sun., Nov. 11 Brown Ann Arbor TBA TBA^ Thu., Nov. 15 Georgetown
Washington, D.C. TBA TBA^ Nov. 21-24
Great Alaska Shootout Anchorage, Alaska TBA
d align="left" valign="top">TBA^ BIG TEN/ACC CHALLENGE Wed., Nov. 28 Boston College Ann Arbor 7:00 p.m. ESPNU Sat., Dec. 1 Harvard
Boston, Mass. TBA TBA^ Sat., Dec. 8 Duke
Durham, N.C. TBA TBA^ Wed., Dec. 12 Oakland Ann Arbor TBA TBA^ Sat., Dec. 15 Central Michigan Ann Arbor TBA TBA^ Sat., Dec. 22 UCLA Ann Arbor TBA TBA^
Georgetown, UCLA, Duke, Boston College, and a variable Great Alaska Shootout that could feature another two or three good teams, plus two games against the likes of The Ladybug School For Lads have been replaced with Big Ten conference games. Welcome to Michigan, John Beilein.
Ha. Shawn Crable on his fateful helmet-to-helmet hit:
"I looked at it right after the game. I knew what happened, me, personally," said Crable, an Ohio native. "I never understood that. All year, (Smith) takes off running; that's like Michael Vick taking off running. Then he gets 10 yards down the field, he gets hit like he's a running back and then, all of a sudden, you say you can't hit him in the helmet. Why can't you?
"I hit him like he's running with the ball. I understand if he's standing in the pocket and I came and blindsided him and tried helmet-to-helmet. If he leaves the pocket, he turns himself into a runner. Why do I have to treat him any different than I treat a running back?
"In a similar position, I'm going to have to do the same thing again. It's different. I'm 6-6, and he's like 5-7, so it's hard for you to tell me I've got to go lower to hit him."
Crable has a point, especially when the week after a UCLA defender leveled John David Booty in the exact same fashion, wasn't flagged, and got a weeks' worth of praise for it. I'm going to stop thinking about this before smoke starts coming out of my ears.
Etc.: UFR spreads; good luck in your endeavor. Ron English talks. This is not relevant at all -- SEC teams as Arrested Development -- but as "College Football Teams as TV Shows/Cars/Hot Sauce Varieties/Plastic Molecules" posts go it's by far the most detailed and well thought out I've seen.
Yesterday Michigan picked up a commitment, its 14th, from PA h-back/linebacker Christian Wilson. What follows is a comprehensive assessment of him based on that old standby, the Google search.
If you unwisely decided that "Dick Butkus fake* takes over a crappy high school team" was a good show to watch, you may remember Wilson as the injured captain of Montour on the show Bound For Glory. That didn't work out so well: Butkus, only paid for eight weeks, rolled out of town a couple weeks before Montour ended their season 1-8. Wilson's still angry about how he was portrayed on the show:
"(I was mad) because the way that they came out with it," Wilson said. "The show wasn't the way that they predicted it to be with all the drama. They basically turned it into what they wanted it to be, and that really wasn't what it was. That's what made me mad the most. It made me look like something I'm not."
Hurray benevolent ESPN overlords.
Anyway, Wilson's recruitment is somewhat odd. Despite a flood of early, prestigious offers (by May, Wilson had offers from...
The Demon Deacons have already offered as have Michigan, Ohio State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, Clemson, Maryland and Louisville (first offer last September).
...and that number setteled around 40-50 in most articles starting around midsummer) he's only a mid-to-low four-star recruit to the guru services. Rivals ranks him #235 in the 2008 class; Scout pegs him at #292. ESPN is far higher on him, grading him an 81 and ranking him #107 in their ESPN150. Their scouting report($) projects him as a 240 pound OLB:
Flashes the speed to chase plays down from the backside with a great short-area closing burst on contact. That skill at 225 pounds is what separates him. He can generate force quickly for his size and bring the wood with him on tackles. In coverage, he shows his offensive experience by displaying great ball skills and awareness. Demonstrates fluid hips and athleticism in his turns and crossovers, but his instincts to read the quarterback and pattern match are what really stand out. ... At times, he plays stiff with lacking good change-of-direction skill. However, we are also talking about a college sized linebacker who can split out at wide receiver and stretch a defense. Wilson just needs time to polish up, and add technique to his raw skill. If a college team can be patient developing this kid -- they could have future stud on their hands.
Michigan, though, intended on bringing him in as an H-back in the mold of BJ Askew or Aaron Shea:
"I went to the Michigan spring game a while back and it was really cold," Wilson said. "It was like 30 degrees and they didn't get as many people out there as they thought. The coaches are really smart and they said they could see using me a lot. The want me for H-back and are one of the only schools that have already specified a position."
That may have changed recently, with Michigan changing its offer to "wherever":
Michigan initially recruited Wilson as a running back, but he's also considered as one of the Wolverines' top linebacker prospects. Wilson doesn't prefer one position over the other, but he says he's more comfortable on offense because that's where he's played his entire life.
Last year he played both ways; he'll do it again this fall:
The previously injury-plagued Wilson is stronger and healthier and focused on improving upon his junior campaign, when he rushed for 970 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also recorded a team-high 79 tackles.
I'm a bit less excited about the Wilson commit than I would normally be given his array of offers -- h-back doesn't seem like a position of huge import and there's a convincing case that Ohio State's pursuit was less than fevered -- but he's still a versatile player who has two ways to find the field, the size to be a Big Ten linebacker or fullback/TE, and some guru support.
Random things. This was mentioned yesterday but bears repeating. Wilson has some shiny-ass teeth:
People might be surprised to know that ... I brush my teeth like a million times a day.
Also, he's apparently the Antichrist** (and all this time I thought it was Jim Tressel):
Poems by Christian Wilson: 6 / 14 next poem >>
I Am The Antichrist
Flames licking at my body
I start to rise out of the depths
From darkness i shall come forth
And walk among you on your earth
Will you recongise who i am?
Will you bow down on your knees?
A gift i bring to you, its called pure hate
An emotion you have never known
This feeling do you like it?
If he sacks Jimmy Clausen the ensuing matter-anti-matter reaction will destroy the planet! Maybe we should keep him on offense.
"Bound For Glory" is the story of the Montour High School's quest to turn a losing football program into a winner under the direction of coach Dick Butkus, the NFL Hall of Famer. And that's the lie. Butkus is not the coach. He might be the coach on the TV show, but he's not the real coach of the Spartans. Lou Cerro is the real co
**(just to be clear, this isn't actually Christian Wilson. It's some 21-year-old emo kid with other masterpieces like "Anger and Pain," "Demons Inside of Me" and "Revenge of the Crow." But hell yes his suggested nickname is going to be "the Antichrist." )