landing spot. will be interesting to see how he does.
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Michigan is poised for a major in-state recruiting haul that could include Ambry Thomas [left, Rapai]
When 247 created the industry composite rankings, there was no longer a good reason for me to continue putting together the old Big Ten recruiting rankings posts. In the absence of those, however, I haven't done a great job of providing an overview of conference recruiting in the roundups. This new, recurring feature should rectify that issue—I plan to publish these on a monthly basis.
While it should come as little surprise that Ohio State and Michigan have separated themselves from the pack, the current rankings of the rest of the conference aren't exactly what you'd expect. Via 247, here's how the Big Ten team rankings currently stand:
[After THE JUMP, separating the conference into tiers.]
The Big Two
There's no fun way to put this: not only does Ohio State have the top-ranked 2017 class in the country, they have it by a healthy margin. 12 of their 13 commits are composite four- or five-stars; the only exception is top-ranked kicker Blake Haubeil. The Buckeyes are heavily involved with several top uncommitted prospects, including five-stars Jeffrey Okudah, Trevon Grimes, and Chase Young. Four-star RB Todd Sibley is almost guaranteed to end up elsewhere after OSU told him he'd have to grayshirt, and five-star CB Shaun Wade is looking around a bit; there's likely to be attrition from within the class. That said, it's going to be very tough for any team—Michigan included—to overcome OSU's lead.
You are, in all likelihood, quite familiar with Michigan's class, which currently ranks ninth in the country. If Jim Harbaugh closes as expected, they're likely to be in the top-five range by Signing Day.
The Second Tier
Five-star DE Josh Kaindoh was a huge pickup for DJ Durkin.
There's a gap between OSU and Michigan, and then another one between Michigan and Iowa—while the Hawkeyes are only two spots behind the Wolverines in the national rankings, there's a healthy 25-point separation in their 247 Composite score. Iowa, Northwestern, Maryland, Nebraska, and Wisconsin currently form the second tier, one that's certain to change as a couple notable omissions fill out their classes.
Iowa looks likely to fall back to the pack. They got two big-time early commits, one a legacy in five-star IL DE AJ Epenesa, the other a surprising pickup in four-star TX RB Eno Benjamin. Six of their other eight commits are three-star in-state prospects and they're not among the favorites for other blue-chippers. This will still be a solid class for them if they hold onto Epenesa and Benjamin.
Northwestern is 12th nationally, one spot behind Iowa, due to sheer strength in numbers: they have 13 commits, but not a single four-star among them. Pat Fitzgerald has found success targeting Texas recruits the high-end Big 12 schools aren't heavily pursuing; Northwestern has five Texans in the class, more than any other state.
The hire of DJ Durkin has paid off on the recruiting trail for Maryland, ranked 15th nationally. If a Big Ten program is going to challenge the top two, it'll be Maryland, as Durkin is doing an excellent job of keeping DMV-area talent close to home. Five-star DE Josh Kaindoh, a DC transplant playing for IMG Academy, was a massive pickup in that regard, and the Terps are hanging right with OSU in the race for five-star MD DE Chase Young.
Mike Riley has pulled in nine commits from eight different states for Nebraska (17th nationally), including the sixth-ranked pro-style QB in Californian Tristan Gebbia. The Huskers are among the favorites for two top-tier California cornerbacks, five-star Darnay Holmes and four-star Deommodore "Clamp Clampington" Lenoir. Landing either would be a coup.
Five of Wisconsin's ten commits are in-state prospects, and it should come as little surprise that both of their four-star pledges are offensive linemen. The Badgers rank one spot behind the Huskers in the national team rankings, but Nebraska has a better shot at landing the top-end prospects to keep them in the top 20.
The Third Tier
While Penn State only has eight commits and only ranks 21st in the country at the moment, they're going to surpass several of the teams listed above before the end of the cycle. There are already four four-stars in the class and James Franklin has PSU among the favorites for five-star APB De'Andre Swift, four-star OG Robert Hainsey, four-star OLB Nathan Proctor, and four-star TE Matt Dotson, to name a few.
After Chris Ash managed to convince a few top New Jersey recruits to stay in the state, at least for now, Rutgers comes up next in the rankings. Four-star NJ OT Micah Clark is the jewel of the class; if Rutgers falters during the season, which would come as little surprise, several other programs (Michigan potentially included) will try to pluck him from Ash's grasp.
At long last, we've reached Michigan State, which sits one spot behind Central Michigan at #31 in the team rankings—so far, their playoff appearance isn't paying off on the recruiting trail. Now that KJ Hamler has his much-coveted Oregon offer, legacy Hunter Rison could be the only prospect standing between MSU and a shutout among the top ten in-state players. Of the uncommitted players on that list, only Hamler and Deron Irving-Bey look like decent bets to end up in East Lansing; Oregon may have jumped into the lead for the former, while Michigan has picked up its pursuit of the latter.
There's a veritable gulf between the Spartans and the rest of the Big Ten. MSU has eight commits and ranks 31st overall; Minnesota is next at #65 with three commits. Given the uncertainty surrounding the coaching staff after Jerry Kill's departure, it's hardly a surprise the Gophers are struggling to land recruits.
Given the hope that Lovie Smith would jump-start recruiting because of his NFL success, Illinois' class can only be categorized as a major disappointment. They also have three commits, only one ranked in the top 850 overall prospects, and they hardly have any Crystal Ball predictions in for three-star recruits—the lone four-star they had picks for, guard Kevin Jarvis, is committed to MSU.
Indiana follows with three three-star commits all ranked below 800th overall. That still puts them well ahead of Purdue, which has been stuck on one commit: low three-star dual-threat QB Griffin Alstott, son of Boilermakers legend Mike Alstott.
— Max Olson (@max_olson) May 26, 2016
everyone some people. Others get tiny American flags. First Ken Starr, and today Art Briles. For Baylor to fire the best coach in their history by several light years, the reports that have already come to light are probably the tip of the iceberg. They're bad. They're very bad. But programs will go to extraordinary lengths to keep coaches as good as Briles around, so expect a bombshell. Like, another one. If "football team brings down university president" isn't enough for you.
Oh and here it is:
Key findings of the Pepper Hamilton report, according to Baylor: pic.twitter.com/BBKkE1ach9
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) May 26, 2016
That'll do it. Last time I mentioned Baylor I said you could "go either way" on Briles, which wasn't particularly clear: I meant whether he should lose his job, not whether he was implicated in this or came off well. Moot point now, and obviously there's no way to read Art Briles as anything other than despicable.
I wonder if the NCAA will get involved here. This is a million times worse than anything Ole Miss has done. Giving people money is generally helpful to them. Enabling sexual assault is… not. This should be the very definition of lack of institutional control; Baylor is systematically overlooking felonies to make their football team better. This is Paterno-level stuff here.
Pause. … Yeah, I mean that. Baylor created more rape in the world. This is probably worse, at least in terms of the actions taken by the football staff, than the Paterno thing since it appears people actively got involved in direct violation of title IX.
Like whatever man. This is my opinion on the #1 jersey:
I'm placing "Braylon Edwards on the #1 jersey" in the Never Talk About This Again bin. It's right next to the Fab Five.
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) May 25, 2016
I offered this opinion because like clockwork someone asked Edwards about #1 because someone had the temerity to issue it.
No offense to the Fab Five or Braylon Edwards, but I have massive fatigue about these topics. I don't want to hear about how Jalen Rose asked Sandy to the dance but Chris Webber already did that and now one of them is mad at the other and they haven't talked for 15 years. And I don't want to hear about Braylon Edwards's quest to take the One Jersey to Mount Doom and his inevitable opinion that anyone who hasn't taken the One Jersey to Mount Doom shouldn't get to wear it. I know how he feels about this. We can take it as read. I know that Jalen and Chris are in the world's longest performance of Mean Girls. I would rather hear about anything else.
Well maybe not anything else. It turns out that firing Jason Whitlock is necessary but not sufficient to have a successful venture. The first piece that's been social media'd into my lap from The Undefeated is this article on how black people don't do analytics from Michael Wilbon. Wilbon talks about how stats are dumb about as frequently as I talk about how people are just in charge of things, but usually he doesn't bring damn near 20% of the American populace with him. At least he included someone bombing his dumb ass in his own column:
“So many front offices are staffed by guys like me, who didn’t play the game, who didn’t come in through the coaching ranks … Don’t tell me that there are no black people who are good at math. There are black people who expert at qualitative analysis,” Elhassan said. “I worry that it becomes a way to exclude. Don’t tell me there aren’t any black people on Wall Street who are passionate about basketball. These people exist. Wall Streeters, people with qualitative analysis backgrounds. I know them. I went to school with them. I just don’t believe that one ethnicity is more predisposed to this than another. You realize, of course, that this is the new gateway into the game … into sports?”
I'll let Elhassan speak to the wider implications of Wilbon's piece. I just want to focus on Wilbon's inability to grasp what he's even saying. This paragraph is a perfect encapsulation of Wilbon's worldview:
My friend and ESPN colleague J.A. Adande relayed a conversation he had a couple of seasons ago with Stephen Curry when the then-future MVP was transitioning from shooting guard to point guard. Curry told Adande one of the biggest differences he noticed immediately was playing the point took him away from the corners of the court, where he felt most comfortable taking 3-pointers. Curry didn’t cite any numbers, just his comfort level shooting from the corners relative to the top of the arc. Only later, after the shift, did we learn how much better Curry was from the corners. One stat, according to ESPN Stats & Information, assigned Curry some number in excess of 100 for his 3-point sniping from the corners. This tells you just how bogus the exercise is if the “percentage” reports to be greater than 100.
Step by step:
1. Curry says playing PG takes him away from the corners, where he thinks he shoots better.
2. Statistic created by ESPN confirms this.
3. Wilbon agrees that this is true.
4. Wilbon dismisses the stat because it is over 100.
5. Wilbon thinks this means ESPN believes Curry hits more than all of his shots from the corner.
That is the most ignorant thing ESPN has put in the world for years and yes I am including First Take. Wilbon doesn't bother linking to or explaining what this metric is, because he's a columnist and that means he can put a piece on the internet that references something else on the internet without telling you what that is. But I bet one dollar that this metric, as many are, is calibrated such that a league average player gets 100.
In the very next paragraph Wilbon whines that efficiency metrics are per 100 possessions instead of per 48 minutes. If black people really were the monolith Wilbon suggests they are, they would do well to assemble and vote him out of the race. Ditto SAS, who apparently got on the same bandwagon in a Sportscenter clip you literally could not pay me to watch.
Etc.: David Schilling blasts the Wilbon article in a witheringly entertaining piece. Saddi Washington profiled. Samoans happy to get a visit from Harbaugh. Ross Fulton on OSU's defense in 2016. Josh Rosen on UCLA's endorsement deal. Hockey gets a commit from Jake Slaker, who had 42 points in 57 USHL games this year. Also team captain. 19.
[Ed-S: We asked SBW to cover one of the best teams in Michigan sports history. Previously: Postseason primer]
All photos from Bryan Fuller
The Ann Arbor regional featured one of the more noteworthy upsets of the opening weekend of the NCAA softball tournament. Fortunately for Michigan, it didn’t happen to us. The Maize & Blue marched through the regional with relative ease, not quite hitting on all cylinders, but never seriously threatened either. Before looking ahead to the upcoming super-regional showdown with the Missouri Tigers, let’s take a quick look back at how Michigan became one of 16 teams in the nation lucky enough to go to practice this week.
The Wolverines started the weekend off against a Valparaiso team still trying to figure out just how they found their way into the tournament in the first place. With a record well below .500, the Horizon League tournament champions were one of the strangest sights in regional play in years. Michigan didn’t wait long to get on the board, with senior super-star Sierra Romero lining what’s known in Ann Arbor as a “Rom-Bomb” over the wall in the first inning. In addition to giving Michigan an early lead, the solo shot gave Romero her 300th career RBI. The Wolverines added a couple more in the 2nd, but were not able to fully solve Valpo’s pitching until the 5th inning, when all Hell broke loose. 5 singles earned Michigan 3 runs and brought about a pitching change. The change didn’t help, as the relief pitcher walked the next three batters on only 14 pitches to drive in the game-ending runs. Megan Betsa was majestic in the circle, ceding just one hit and one walk while piling up 9 Ks in the 8-0 run-rule walkover.
On Saturday, Michigan was expecting a tougher challenge, and they got one from an unexpected source. Instead of the presumptive challenger Notre Dame, the Maize & Blue had to square off against Miami (NTM), who had upset the Irish with a controversial 3-2 win on Friday. Betsa was again phenomenal, but the story of the early part of the game was Redhawks hurler Amber Logemann, who didn’t allow a hit until the 4th inning. In the 4th, though, Michigan showed a tendency familiar to anyone who watched the 2015 NCAA tournament. A good pitcher can get through Michigan’s order once, maybe twice. After that, though, the offense starts to lock in on tendencies & weaknesses, and the runs can come in bunches. 2 runs in the 4th led to 4 more in the 6th, and Michigan finally had the breathing room they wanted. Hutch took advantage of the extra cushion, resting ace Megan Betsa for the rest of the game. After a wobbly start put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, Driesenga retired the next 6 batters she faced on 6 consecutive ground-outs, securing a 6-0 win.
To no one’s surprise, the Irish shook off their Friday funk and emerged from the losers’ bracket to face Michigan in the regional final on Sunday. The Irish have seen their season end in Ann Arbor again and again in recent years, and would need to take 2 in a row from #2 Michigan to avoid the same fate in 2016. Sierra Romero sent a message early on that the “luck of the Irish” wasn’t going to apply in Ann Arbor, getting her money’s worth on her 300th career hit, launching a first-inning long ball for the 2nd time on the weekend (the blast was also good for her 299th career run scored, extending her own NCAA record). Another Sierra home run, this one from Sierra Lawrence, put Michigan up 2-0, but an unexpected blast from Irish lead-off hitter Karley Wester trimmed the lead back down to 1. Again it took a few innings for Michigan’s bats to acquire target-lock, but when the Irish gifted Romero 1st base on an error to start the 5th, the Wolverines were determined to take advantage. A bunt single & a walk loaded the bases, and singles from Aidan Falk and Lindsay Montemarano stretched the lead to 6-1. The Irish would get one back in the 6th, but never seriously threatened to catch up to the heavy favorites.
On the weekend, Michigan outscored their opponents a combined 20-2. On a historical note, Sierra Romero joined the extremely exclusive 300/300 club (hits & RBIs), and moved to just one run away from creating an entirely new 300/300/300 club (hits, RBIs, & runs-scored). For a team of Michigan’s caliber, the victories were expected, and celebrations were moderate compared to scenes around the country. The Wolverines will not be satisfied with anything less than a trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, and they know that just one team stands between them and that goal.
[Hit THE JUMP for a Super-regional preview]
That team is the Missouri Tigers. Rich in postseason experience, no current Missouri player has ever missed the NCAA tournament, and their only recent early exit came in 2014. They have struggled at the super-regional stage, however, missing out on the WCWS every year since 2011, and will come to Ann Arbor hell-bent on changing their run of second-round misfortune. While Michigan beat the tar out of Mizzou in an early-season matchup, winning 13-0 in a 5-inning run-rule decision, no one is expecting to get away that easily a second time. While Missouri has had plenty of ups and downs this year, they ended their regular season strong before absolutely blasting their way through a home regional. Beating BYU once, 9-0 (5 inn.) and Nebraska twice, 8-0 (6 inn.) and 9-0 (5 inn.), Missouri became just the second team under the current format to win three regional games in run-rule shut-outs (2014 Washington was the first). To get a sense of the streaking team making the journey to Ann Arbor this weekend, let’s take a look inside their roster.
On offense, Emily Crane is the unquestioned headliner, leading the team with an impressive 17 home runs and coming in 2nd with an equally eye-catching .415 batting average. She is far from the only threat, however, with Sami Fagan boasting a sparkling .425 average with 11 long balls to boot. Chloe Rathburn also has a double-digit home-run total (11), while Taylor Gadbois gives Mizzou 3 separate batters hitting over .400 on the season. Indeed, with 7 players hitting over .320 for the season, Missouri is one of the few teams with an offensive line-up that can come close to Michigan’s for sheer lack of weak points. Once the Tigers get on the base paths, that’s when the real trouble starts. Only Southeastern Louisiana (a dismal Southland Conference team) steals more bases per game than the Tigers, and no serious team is close. Aidan Falk gave Michigan fans a big boost of confidence, throwing out one of the deadly Wester sisters in the regional – she’ll be asked to make more than one repeat performance during the super-regional. This is an offense that can and will score runs in multiple ways.
In the circle, Missouri seems fully committed to ace Paige Lowary at the moment, who went the distance in the regional. It is true that she got shelled when these two teams met earlier in the season, but in her defense, she was still recovering from a taking a rocket come-backer to the eye just days earlier. The injury may help explain the fact that she has retained the ace role, despite an ERA more than a full run higher than that of Danielle Baumgartner, the only other Mizzou pitcher to have seen major action this year. Neither pitcher’s season stats dazzle the eyes, with both carrying middling K/BB ratios, but each appears solid. Lowary has been on fire lately throwing 16 scoreless innings in the regional, fanning 13 and holding opponents to a .127 average on the weekend. Michigan will need to find a way to break her momentum. Lowary gets her share of strike-outs, but is not a master of the art, so Michigan should get some chances to make contact. Making that contact count will be critical. Missouri just might give Michigan a little help in that department, ranking an unremarkable 50th nationally in fielding percentage.
Missouri comes to Ann Arbor loaded with weapons, and Michigan fans with long memories will recall the disappointment in 2010 when another 15 seed, Tennessee on that occasion, spoiled Michigan’s national title dreams at Alumni Field (the deciding game was the first softball game I ever attended, incidentally). Nevertheless, Michigan is the substantial favorite in the best-of-three series. Where Missouri is good, Michigan is great, scoring an average of around 1.5 more runs per game than the Tigers, giving up just under 1 fewer earned runs, and fielding in the top 5 instead of the top 50.
Missouri is more than capable of playing spoiler, but if Michigan performs at their top level, there is nothing the Tigers will be able to do. With senior legend Sierra Romero playing in her final home series, along with fellow seniors Sierra Lawrence, Kelsey Susalla, and Sara Driesenga, focus should not be an issue. If you’re looking for a difference-maker, though, your answer is probably junior hurler Megan Betsa. Betsa is currently the nation’s strike-out queen, blowing away a staggering 11.3 hitters per 7 innings. If Betsa is off, Michigan could get in trouble, but if the Ks start to add up for the Tigers, it should be just a matter of time before the Wolverines put the required runs on the board.
No matter what, a thrilling weekend is in store for certain. Only a fortunate few will be able to watch history unfold in person, but the rest of us can tune in on ESPN/ESPNU. We’re at the business end of the season, and it’s time to go to work.
Michigan can't afford to lose their best back you say? [Upchurch]
Following a good laugh over one of those offseason #content lists where they name random skill position players at recognizable schools, we thought maybe a real answer might be good for, you know, an offseason #content list. So:
So who IS Michigan's most irreplaceable starter?*
David: In most years, I think there would be a few clear-cut, shining star answers. And while Michigan’s ceiling would not be as high without some of its premiere talent, I’m not sure those particular players are the most irreplaceable. Let’s try a Top 3, this time…
1. Mason Cole. He’s played LT for 2 years and has done a very solid job despite not being ideally-sized for that position. Now, it appears he will be starting at center, which just tells you how much smart of a player he is. Michigan basically has four proven OL starters, one highly-rated probably starter, and a couple of depth guys that no one really knows how they’ll turn out. Losing Cole would mean that everyone more-or-less has to be a hit in their respective positions. That COULD happen…but will it? Ehhhhh…I don’t know. Losing anyone else on the OL and Cole can move if it would allow M to put its best five on the field.
2. John O’Korn. Ok, this miiiiiiight be a reach, but I’m going off of some potential and I get to be the guy on the staff that goes rogue sometimes. I do think that JOK has the highest ceiling on the team in a position that does not quite have the depth…yet. I think we still need one more season of injury-luck in this department before the options absolutely explode. There is still some uncertainty with him, obviously, but he’s shown the physical [in]tangibles to have some backing for what he can do…in addition to belief in QB development under Harbaugh. Plus, like mobility, etc. Perhaps Speight would be adequate –or even successful- enough, but I’m personally not sold, yet.
3. Jabrill Peppers. I’ve been arguing with a buddy about this spot for a while, now. What it came down to for me is that Peppers is the backup everything on this team. I actually believe if he had to play guard or weak-side end for a couple plays, he would hold his own. Seriously though, in addition to Peppers playing his 5 positions on the field where you know he’ll line up and be awesome, he could potentially take over a starting role at 3-4 of them and there would be very little drop off from the nominal starter. On most teams, Peppers would be the cornerstone of any defense. And while he is certainly important, this defense is SO deep that he do almost whatever is needed and not be depended on to do one certain responsibility…in addition to being to handle most single-position responsibilities. Get it?
[After the JUMP: offseason #content, plus Rashan Gary's hudl highlights are embedded again]
Seth: I bitched when we came up with the question that we'll all agree on Cole. So I'm ignoring the question and answering the opposite. Let's just say an evil deity came down and said Michigan is going to lose one and only one starter, and it can't be a fullback or any other part-timer, or "the winner of X position battle." And then he asked me to make it a gimmicky top five because evil Sophie's Choice gods are evil like that. Here's who we'd probably survive:
5. Bryan Mone. The 2nd NT is a starting position, but Michigan was fine last year until they lost Glasgow too. Mone's got one injury redshirt so this would just make him eligible for a 6th year, provided he recovers again. Glasgow-Mone is an awesome 1-2 punch, but living with Glasgow and Hurst (who should be a 3-tech) at NT wasn't so bad last year, and living with Mone through 2019 might make that up.
|Slot doesn't count as a starter on a Harbaughffense but Grant Perry should do fine if Michigan loses their #1 H-receiver. [Fuller]|
4. Either safety. I think Kinnel can play either position, and a medshirt on Thomas or Hill would give the 2017 defense two non-underclassman warm bodies instead of one. But losing one means you can't lose another all year.
3. Non-Mason Cole OL. As long as you have Cole you can play your 6th offensive lineman wherever he's best suited. Hate to lose Mags/Braden/Kalis after all the time they've played together, but I don't see any of those three as an NFL guy.
2. Hurst. He may be the best option at 3-tech but never have there been so many good ones. If Quick Burst Mo Hurst goes out you can still put together a really good season with a combination of Mone/Wormley/Gary/Godin/Taco at 3- and 5-tech.
1. De'Veon Smith. Yes, the guy CBS put No. 16 in the country. This is less a knock on Smith and more about depth at RB and what non-Fournette/Elliott type can get you versus other options. Last year Pro Football Focus had Heisman candidate RBs Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette at +32.4 and +32.2 for the season. For comparison, Joey Bosa was twice that, and Jourdan Lewis was +21.7. So what's the difference between Smith and some really good backup options?
We'd miss Smith's blocking and trucking, but you can have a very good team with Drake Johnson, and hit a very high ceiling with Ty Isaac, and might have a four-year starter in one of the true freshmen. Michigan is worse without Smith, but that's true for any starter.
Call it what you want: nickel, SS, SLB, Money, Jaguar, Tractor, Pup, whatever. Peppers has it down. [Fuller]
Adam: If we're looking for one irreplaceable starter, it's Jabrill Peppers. He's like guacamole: so perfect in so many roles. Need a "linebacker" who can sit in the flat and snack on screens? Peppers can do it. Looking for a dip that pairs nicely with those leftover blue corn tortilla chips somebody brought to your barbecue? Guacamole can do it. Need a Dude who can carry a slot receiver down the field? Peppers has that guy locked up. Looking for a condiment that will get you to gladly buy an $8 burrito just so you can spend one more dollar to add it? Guacamole's got that locked down.
Noah Furbush has garnered praise from the coaching staff, and when they bring someone up unprompted I believe that he's truly doing well. If he sees 40 snaps this season, I'm sure things will go smoothly. The problem is we really don't have a good feel for how he'd do with anything resembling significant playing time, so right now the drop-off between Peppers and Furbush is significant enough that I think it pushes Peppers over Lewis in terms of importance.
That's without even considering Peppers' importance on special teams and offense; the yards he saves when he teleports to the ball on fair catches and the inevitability of him breaking one make him irreplaceable in that phase as well. Look at what Charles Woodson did against Ohio State in 1997 and you'll see why I have a hard time putting anyone above Peppers on this list.
Ace: I’ll keep this quick, since this is already getting long. Gimmicky top five, ahoy.
5. Amara Darboh/Jehu Chesson. Michigan has two excellent starting receivers, an emerging slot-type in Grant Perry, and very little in the way of depth. Drake Harris and Moe Ways both could break out, but we don’t have much to go on with either save for recruiting hype and the occasional practice report. After that, it’s all freshmen, who notoriously struggle to make an early impact at the position.
|Michigan has some very good corners if they lose Lewis, but none are on Jourdan's level. [Barron]|
4. Ben Gedeon/Mike McCray. While the defensive line and secondary should mitigate the need for the linebackers to be outstanding, the prospect of throwing a true freshman into the starting lineup—or a guy who played H-back last year—isn’t an enticing one.
3. Jourdan Lewis. Michigan could still field a quality duo with Clark/Stribling, but it’s hard to overstate the value of a true shutdown corner.
2. Mason Cole. The real point of concern on the O-line, depth-wise, is at tackle; between David Dawson and Patrick Kugler, Michigan should be able to come up with something half-decent if they need to replace someone on the interior. Cole isn’t just Michigan’s best lineman, however—he’s also their most versatile, and would certainly move out to tackle if Newsome or Magnuson exits the lineup. Losing Cole would put a ton of pressure on both his replacement at center and Newsome, as well as putting the O-line one injury away from potential disaster.
1. Jabrill Peppers. There’s nobody who can replace what he brings to the team. He’d probably rank this high for his role on defense alone. Add in his contributions to offense and special teams and he’s #1 with a bullet.
Brian: This is long enough already that I should probably just agree with people. I agree.
BiSB: The people demand HOT TAEKS.
Alex: Hot take: we go 6-6 if De'Veon Smith goes down. Just CANNOT lose that guy.
BiSB: Hotter take: Michigan's most indispensable player was Willie Henry. The season is already doomed.
|Special teams can swing a game you know. [Fuller]|
Brian: I will say that any noise tackle shaped object going down will make me start planning an invasion of Heaven. I am so so so sick of confronting OSU's murderball offense with a converted DE playing nose tackle. And just because Michigan has two of them doesn't mean that spot is secure. NT is a spot with two starters.
Bubble wrap for Glasgow and Mone, stat.
Ace: Serious, semi-hot take: Kenny Allen is more indispensable to this team than De’Veon Smith. (That’s going to read as bashing Smith but freshman kickers scare the crap out of me.)
Alex: 100% of all special teams snaps > 40% (or whatever) of RB snaps. Plus the gap between Smith and friends is pretty small.
BiSB: Getting to the OSU game with Glasgow/Mone, Hurst/Wormley, and Taco/Gary intact would make me Happy Panda. But if you asked me to strike one down, I genuinely don't know which I'd choose.
Ace: I… I think it might be Gary? Which seems INSANE.
Alex: I'd probably give up ligaments / joints / whatever for any of them. I'm trying really really hard not to just assume that Gary will be a Suh-like impact player by the end of his Michigan career.
Give in to your feelings.
An irregular series in which I fix all of a sport's problems.
10. Get rid of the penalty for flipping the puck out when you're in the defensive zone. This is exactly icing and should be treated like icing. The only competition for worst rule in sports is what happens when a football player fumbles and the ball goes out of the endzone.
9. Non-shootout wins are three points. The NHL is the only league in any sport in the world in which some games are worth more than others. This is so very dumb. College hockey uses a model where you get three for actually winning a hockey game, two for winning a shootout, and one for losing it. It is not an offense to God and math.
8. Widen the blue line. The blue line is a lovely demilitarized zone that is both offensive zone and defensive zone, so you can touch it and not be offsides. The puck can touch it and not exit the zone. Both of these things are good. No offsides whistle in the history of hockey has improved the experience of a neutral fan. Widening the blue line reduces these whistles.
7. In fact let's get rid of offsides whistles (almost) entirely. Instead of stopping the game, you can just continue playing hockey. An offsides team can't score. Game continues. Once team ceases being offsides you can go score.
6. And add passive offsides. If you can't tell already, I hate offsides in hockey. It boggles that if one guy is offsides then everybody is. If you're on a rush and one guy is a hair over the line, he and only he is offsides. Let him tag up; let everyone else continue playing. If an offsides player does anything other than try to get onside, I guess you can blow the whistle, you game-stopping ninny. But if offsides guy is headed for the blue line, let him get there.
5. Gradually introduce Olympic ice. Olympic ice is a lot of fun, but currently impractical for buildings not set up with a 100-foot-wide sheet already. The NHL should force new buildings to be Olympic-sized, leading to a transitional period where some rinks are small and some are wide and there are all kinds of home/away effects, kind of like baseball. Also there will be an increasing number of big rinks on which standing a guy up at the blue line is super difficult and skill is more important. College hockey already has a number of Olympic sheets, and the transition is both jarring and fun.
4. Just embiggen the goals already. Goalies won. Whether it's equipment size or improved technique, the fundamental truth about hockey over the last 20 years is that goalies win and we give up and to restore the proper tension of a hockey game we're going to admit they win and tweak the size of the goal.
Most protests about this are luddite or ludicrous. One common protest is that expanding the goal invalidates records going forward. It does not, at least any more than the various equipment advances have done so. Ken Dryden versus any modern NHL goalie is QED here:
Dryden's pads are not only smaller but infested with mice and 10-20 pounds heavier. Also he doesn't know about the butterfly. Goalies win, expand the net by the width of the posts, all CLANG events now are goals, add 2-3 per game, it's a good time.
This is important. The current state of hockey is too close to baseball, which is dumbly random, because the goalies can cover up big differences in team quality.
3. A team doesn't clear the offensive zone until the puck gets over the red line. Michigan actually experimented with this in an exhibition a few years back. It was deeply weird but it rewarded teams who could actually get ahold of the puck in the defensive zone and increased the number of shifts where one team was scrambling around defensively and it felt like the team with the puck absolutely had to score.
2. Force teams to change goalies on the fly once a period. This would be awesome.
1. Teams have the option of putting a guy on the ice without skates. Offsides does not apply to him. Goals he scores count double. The thing that hockey has lacked for far too long is a broomball player. What does the world's best broomball player look like? I don't know. You don't know. We've waited far too long to find out.
Left to right: WMU’s Zach Terrell, Ohio’s Frank Solich, Kent State’s Terence Waugh
College football’s still a ways away, but now that we’re getting close to Memorial Day – when the national preview magazines start appearing at bookstores – we might as well take a look at the CFB landscape. While the sport’s third estate won’t receive as much ink as the superpowers and the playoff race, the mid-major conferences around the country are part of what makes college football so great. Now that the sport is divided into the Power 5 and Group of 5, there’s a decided hierarchy for the have-nots, but at least one of them is guaranteed a game against one of the big boys in a New Year’s Six Bowl. For the true college football fan, at least a cursory knowledge of the Group of 5 conferences is a must. Because of their regional proximity to the Big Ten, I’ll start with the MAC.
[article after the JUMP]
PJ Fleck, maybe the next in line to get a big promotion in the coaching world
The MAC is known for providing coaches with stepping-stone jobs on their way to greatness, but oftentimes, the first fruits of the MAC coaching fraternity are usually swept up by lower-tier Power 5 jobs with hard roads to success. Most then get Peter Principled. This past coaching carousel saw Toledo and Bowling Green lose very good coaching prospects to Iowa State and Syracuse, respectively. Whether Matt Campbell and Dino Babers succeed at those new jobs or not, one thing’s for sure: bigger schools will always look to the MAC for coaches, so there will always be attrition at the top in what’s been generally a very homogenous and egalitarian league, historically. The biggest name right now is Western Michigan’s PJ Fleck, who recruits extremely well and may be smartly holding out for a bigger job than the mediocre high-major names he’s been linked with.
Anyways, the “Cradle of Coaches” moniker is not the best thing about the MAC – that would be what’s affectionately known as #MACtion, a unique brand of high-octane football played on cold mid-week nights across the Midwest. The MAC has staked out the least-desirable TV slots for their conference games – understandably, as the only way that a game featuring two random Group of 5 teams makes it onto ESPN is if they’re playing on like a Tuesday night – and those usually competitive and typically entertaining games have become a Thing for a more serious portion of the CFB viewing populace. It doesn’t even really take the relatively big names to make for good matchups, though late-season games between division title contenders have the potential to be truly excellent. For those who love the bountifulness of the modern college football viewer’s guide, #MACtion is a small but imperative piece of the pie. Let us all be thankful that the MAC is willing to step up and ably fill the college football void from the late-night Saturday games to the now-customary Thursday night fare.
Coach Dino Babers and quarterback Matt Johnson, formerly of Bowling Green
In 2015, the class of the conference was Bowling Green. Led by Dino Babers, a branch of the Art Briles coaching tree, the Falcons had a predictably potent offense, defeated two Big Ten teams (Maryland and Purdue, but still), and coasted by Northern Illinois with ease in the conference championship game – the third straight matchup between the two (BGSU is 2-1). Bowling Green wasn’t the only MAC team to pull a notable road upset in September, as Toledo defeated Bret Bielema and Arkansas by the wonderful football score of 16-12. The Rockets – a BGSU rival (though in the opposite division) – were the only MAC team to defeat the Falcons last season.
The West was a mess: four teams (Northern Illinois, Western and Central Michigan, and Toledo) finished with identical 6-2 league records, which handed the division title to NIU, who had just one intradivision loss. While Northern Illinois retained its stranglehold on the division, Toledo was probably its best team; two MAC teams finished in the final F/+ top 25 – Toledo ranked 21st, Bowling Green 25th. Toledo actually received proper attention from the traditional polls, as they were ranked at the time of both of their losses to NIU and WMU. A bowl win over a very solid Temple squad after the departure of head coach Matt Campbell was probably the highlight of the MAC’s bowl season – Western Michigan and Akron each won their first bowl in program history.
Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush during one of the MAC’s biggest rivalry games
The conference is split into tidy six-team divisions: East and West. Every team that’s in the MAC has been in the league since at least 1998, though there have been a few teams that entered and quickly exited within that time – Marshall, UCF, Temple, and UMass. Central Florida’s time in the MAC is still a head-scratcher, but I guess their three-year stint in a Rust Belt conference was the first in a slow climb up the conference ladder. George O’Leary’s first season (of what would eventually be a decade-long tenure) at UCF was the Black Knights’ last in the MAC before managing to move to the Conference-USA. In that 2004 campaign, they went 0-11.
Nowadays, the East has five of the six MAC teams from Ohio (Akron, Kent State, Miami, Ohio, Bowling Green) as well as Buffalo. Toledo is in the West with the directional Michigan schools – Central, Eastern, Western – along with Ball State and Northern Illinois. The MAC Championship is held annually at Ford Field, and the conference champ isn’t automatically slated for any particular bowl.
Toledo players celebrate on the field following a stunning win on the road over Arkansas
Shots at Goliath
As usual, the MAC is paid to serve as September cannon fodder for the Big Ten (there are seven games total between the two conferences this year). If that seems like fewer than normal, the Big Ten’s move to a schedule with nine conference games (and thus only three non-conference games) may be why.
14 games against Power 5 conferences in all:
- Western Michigan @ Northwestern (B1G)
- Bowling Green @ Ohio State (B1G)
- Kent State @ Penn State (B1G)
- Miami @ Iowa (B1G)
- Akron @ Wisconsin (B1G)
- Ohio @ Kansas (Big 12)
- Ball State @ Indiana (B1G)
- Central Michigan @ Oklahoma State (Big 12)
- Eastern Michigan @ Missouri (SEC)
- Western Michigan @ Illinois (B1G)
- Ohio @ Tennessee (SEC)
- Central Michigan @ Virginia (ACC)
- Kent State @ Alabama (SEC)
- Buffalo @ Boston College (ACC)
The Underdog Bites Back? Maybe?
Ohio vs. Kansas jumps out immediately because the Jayhawks are still a D-II program digging out of the Charlie Weis trailer. I wonder if Frank Solich has fond memories of Lawrence. Anyways, as far as games featuring real Power 5 teams go, Western Michigan’s two trips down 94 into the Land of Lincoln should be interesting: the Broncos face Northwestern in the season opener – strength-on-strength in that one between WMU’s O and NU’s D – and Illinois a few weeks later. Western getting a win against Lovie Smith’s first Illini team is likelier, but an upset against Northwestern (fresh off a ten-win season) is also possible.
Otherwise, there aren’t really any other obvious candidates. Missouri was just wretched on offense last year and would be given scares (or L’s) by a couple different MAC teams, but not Eastern. Boston College is another offensively dysfunctional Power 5 outfit, and perhaps Buffalo – in its second year under Lance Leipold, the former Wisconsin-Whitewater D-III Dynasty guy – will give them a good fight. Northern Illinois did last year, but ultimately fell short by a field goal.
Just Take the Check and Oh No There’s Blood Everywhere
Well, Bowling Green was legit good last seas— okay, yeah, we’ve seen Ohio State feast on their in-state MACrifices before. However, Kent State traveling to Tuscaloosa to face a hyper-talented reigning national champ is worse. Godspeed, Golden Flashes.
Dynamic WMU receiver Corey Davis will get even more targets in 2016
3 Teams to Watch
While the reigning conference champs must replace a very good head coach, there’s still good reasons for optimism in Bowling Green: Dino Babers thrived quickly after replacing Dave Clawson, there’s some degree of consistency between he and his replacement, Mike Jinks (another pass-happy Air Raid acolyte), and most importantly, the Falcons find themselves in the lesser of the two MAC divisions. Despite losing a ton of excellent skill-position players, BGSU returns most of what was a great offensive line – surely they’ll experience some growing pains early, but the potential for another really good offense is there. Jinks was a high school coach as recently as a few years ago and doesn’t have any Midwestern ties, so there might be some transitional issues, but ultimately he’s walking into the best situation (in paper) in the MAC East and he’s tasked with keeping the program in cruise control, not building something from scratch.
Even though they weren’t competitive in a conference championship loss to Bowling Green (and they were just utterly destroyed by Boise State in their bowl game), there’s still good reason to think that Northern Illinois will be in the thick of the MAC championship race again this year: the Huskies have won the MAC West six times in a row, winning the league in three of those seasons (and receiving the MAC’s only BCS Bowl ever). Last year, NIU was competitive – though strangely conservative – in a close loss to Ohio State, but by the end of the season, they were onto their fourth quarterback, a freshman walk-on. Drew Hare, a dynamic dual-threat quarterback recovering from an Achilles injury, is the front-runner to lead the offense; in recent years, the Huskies have developed an attacking small-but-fast defense that’s well-equipped to handle the style of many MAC opponents. While Toledo or WMU might be better bets to win the MAC West, NIU is still at the heart of the discussion until proven otherwise.
The best Directional Michigan MAC Team looks to be Western (sorry Central), as PJ Fleck will start enjoying the fruits of a roster comprised almost entirely by his own relatively highly-rated recruiting classes. The Broncos have continually signed the best classes in the MAC during Fleck’s tenure, and the talent advantage they have should pay dividends yet again – mostly on the back of what should be a powerful and balanced offense. They return All-MAC candidates at quarterback and receiver in Zach Terrell and Corey Davis, and boast a strong running back tandem in Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin; most of a stable offensive line returns, though the best lineman (LT Willie Beavers) graduated. Western’s defense has worryingly plateaued at mediocre as its offense has improved year-over-year under Fleck – perhaps a bevy of returning starters will see an experience bump. Last year, Western faced Michigan State and Ohio State in non-conference play, and get Northwestern and Illinois this year, which is a considerable upgrade. With an upset or two, WMU could quickly stake a claim as one of the frontrunners for a spot as the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six representative.