As we enter the long off season and soft whispers of how Onwenu is going to be so much better as a 2nd year player than Kalis was as a 5th, or O'Korn is so much better than Speight due to film at Houston (oh wait, that was last winter), I thought I'd take a look at the long Michigan drought of elite RBs.
As I sat there with jaw agape as they flashed Dalvin Cook's 6.5 yard per carry CAREER average my heart grew envious at the parade of elite RBs that seem to happen to other universities but seemingly not mine anymore. The 5 stars don't hit, the 4 stars don't turn into surprise stars, only the Hart stars happen and even that has been nearly a decade ago.
The one upside of age is you have memories. Memories of sheer athleticism rarely seen in the game in the form of Ty Wheatley- Bo Jackson like. Memories of singular amazingly games in the form of Timmmmmmmy Biakabutuka.... days when UM regularly beat those heathens to the south (insert deep sigh here). Mike Hart was a great RB, one of the all time leaders in rushing yards in NCAA history. Upon research, in historical context he was almost a clone to Thurman Thomas and Marcus Allen - great college RBs. But it's truly been 3 decades when we enjoyed the type of RB that FSU employed last night ... and Indiana has enjoyed multiple times.. and Wisconsin... and OSU... and Georgia... and well you get the point.
Since I like data I thought I'd break it down. Who have been the great RBs in college football since the Wheatley/Tim era. And was my age making me romanticize those 2? (short answer - no, they were among all time greats in YPA).
First, for context - here are all of UM's all time leaders by YPA at 5.0+ and at least 2500 yds - Tim and Ty at the top and by large margin. The only similar era was Butch and Jaime back ending the 80s; the time this boy fell in love with UM football.
- Some of these guys were before my time so it helps appreciate where they are in the context of the game. Honestly I've never heard of Gordon Bell or Lawrence Ricks. Sorry WD. Rob Lytle was sort of a bad man... I didn't realize how bad.
Now we go to the broader world. Let us remember, different eras - different workloads, different offenses, different defenses (or in the modern Pac 12 world, almost none outside of Stanford and Utah). But still averaging 6.0 PER carry puts you in elite territory. So below is a list of all NCAA runners from 1990 forward who played in a P5 conference who (a) averaged at least 6.0 YPA (b) had at least 2500 yards in a career - an arbitrary number I chose which signaled at least some longetivity and (c) had at least one 1000 yard season signifying he was "the man" at least for 1 season. I also threw in some "legend" types from pre 1990 so you can get an idea of where they ranked.
I put these in 3 categories: (I) Alba - i.e. video game numbers >=7.0 YPA (II) Kelly - i.e. damn son, 6.5-6.9 (III) JLH, 6.0-6.4 . I also created a Beckinsale section at the end for context of some of the legends who didn't quite make the cut, some who surprised me ala Herschel Walker. I also did it because... Beckinsale.
7.0+ Video Game #s, You've been Alba'd
|Boom Williams**||7.0||2,478||UK ('14-'16)|
|Henry Josey||7.0||2,771||Missouri ('10-'13)|
- Melvin Gordon was unreal. I think we lacked appreciation as that was the era Wisconsin might as well have been playing in the Big 12 as we barely saw them here at Michigan.
- Mike Rozier was just as I was a young lad learning about football; knew he was good - didn't realize he was quite *THIS* level.
- Tevin Coleman - again in the class of "really, THAT good?"
- I looked up the last 2 guys - Boom Williams is a "change of pace" back at UK that I snuck in as he is barely under 2500 yds. I would have never guessed he would be on this list.
- Confession - I've never heard of Henry Josey who apparently played at Mizzou not long ago. Mr. Josey - I apologize.
6.5-6.9 Damn Son, Minka'd!
|Levron Williams||6.8||3,095||Indiana ('98-'01)|
|Barry Sanders||6.8||3,556||OK St|
|Duke Johnson||6.7||3,519||Miami FL|
|Ronald Jones*||6.5||2,014||USC ('15-Now)|
- I vaguely remember Levron Williams. I would have never thought Levron Williams basically put up Barry Sanders career #s (granted Barry was very heavily weighted into 1 year). That puts 2 Indiana guys in the top 12. Is the world still flat?
- I'm familiar with Duke Johnson - he was wasted away on some bad Miami teams.
- LaMichael James - had a hell of a career.
- Truny Canidate - one of my all time fav NCAA names.
- I included Ronald Jones as he is 2 years into his career and already at 2K yards, well on his way to 3K+ - again I had no idea how great he was doing.
6.0-6.4 Super Impressive, JLH'd.
|D'Onta Foreman||6.4||2,774||TX ('14-Now)|
|Kenjon Barner||6.2||3,623||Oregon ('09-'12)|
- D'Onta Foreman is (most likely) headed to the first round along with Fournette and Cook. It's a golden era for RBs all the sudden with Perine out there too.
- James White ..Wiscy. Again, just a tip of the hat to the Wisconsin assembly line. It's one thing to get 4000 yds at 4.8 yards per carry but these are massive chunks per run at 6+.
- Ricky Williams - bad a$$.
- I didn't appreciate Kenjon Barner that's for sure.
Other Assorted Bad Asses, Legends Section - Kate!
|Thurman Thomas||5.1||4,847||Ok St|
- Until you see it like this you don't realize JUST how much of a machine Wisconsin RBs have been.
- Tony Dorsett - what a player; before my time in college but in my time as a Cowboy.
- I thought Walker would rank higher in yards per!
* Tomlinson did NOT play for a P5 but being such a great player I decided to make an allowance
**Just missed the cut of 2500 but I included them
One day we will have a 6.0+ yard back again. I hope to be alive at that point.
I know that the title and timing of this diary imply a hot-take. I truly don't mean for that to be the case. My intent here is to rationally weigh the pros and cons of the last two seasons in attempt to grade Harbaugh's tenure thus far.
- Immediately turned around a losing culture. Brought fight into a team coming off a 5-7 season, reignited the passion of the fanbase and righted the national perception of Michigan Football.
- The record overall; to double from 5 wins to 10 wins in one year is an INCREDIBLE coaching job.
- Dominating wins against three 9+ win teams in Florida, BYU and Northwestern. (I know that these teams were only fringe Top 25, but these were the types of teams that the only way Hoke could win would be in nailbiters).
- First road win in a hostile environment in 5 years, in a game we controlled (at Penn State in their White Out; last win in a non Northwestern/Indiana/Illinois-esque environment was Notre Dame in 2010).
- First bowl victory in 4 years.
- Overall, continuous player improvement and development throughout the season, something unseen in the previous decade of Michigan football.
- No "bad losses" to teams that were inferior to us (in terms of either record or overall capability).
- The Michigan State tragedy. Even though we had ample chances to be up by more than one score before the punt occurred, not sure that I can hold this against Harbaugh. MSU was a Top 10 team in 2015 that went on to win the Big Ten; while it will never not be excruciating that we lost, losing by 4 points on the biggest fluke in decades of football to a strong opponent can't be looked at too harshly. Especially with a team that was 5-7 the year before.
- Ohio State...yeah, this one there is no excuse for. It's not that we lost, it's how we lost. A beatdown of historic caliber, at home in The Big House. No Michigan team had lost that badly against OSU in Ann Arbor in more than half a century. And before people come to crucify DJ Durkin, the offense only scored 10 non-garbage time points. That would never be enough to beat Urban Meyer, even if DJ called a perfect game on the other side of the ball.
2015 Grade: A- (overall, incredible coaching job, but the magnitude of failure against the Buckeyes, especially at home, disqualifies a pure 'A' grade in my book)
- In the thick of contention for championships until the bitter end of the regular season; something no Michigan team had done in 10 years (since 2006).
- Three wins over Top 15 teams, one in absolutely dominating fashion (Wisconsin, Penn State, Colorado).
- Undefeated 8-0 record in The Big House, with 7 of the 8 victories being by more than one score and the other a game we statistically dominated. This was the first undefeated home record in 4 years (2012).
- Defeating Michigan State in East Lansing. Yes, the Spartans were trash this year, but winning a rivalry game on the road, comfortably, is an accomplishment; especially being the first win there in 9 years (2007) against a coach that has had our number.
- Huge waste of potential. Michigan had the most experienced team in the Big Ten, two of our three "tough road games" featured teams significantly and unexpectedly worse than they were a year prior, Ohio State had the youngest team Urban will have for a while and still we could not get over the hump and win a conference (or division) title.
- Harbaugh's first loss to an inferior team, at Iowa. Michigan was outcoached, outplayed and out-toughed by a team with significantly less talent (and a significantly lower paid coaching staff) than we do in a game that, with a win, likely would have delivered us into the playoff.
- Losing to Ohio State...again. Look, we got fucked over by the refs in a game that was close enough that bad calls made the difference. However, it shouldn't have been close enough for the refs to help them win. We had a senior team against a team full of sophomores and lost, for the billionth time in a row. At some point we have to win The Game, doesn't matter what the excuses are. Harbaugh joins Rich Rod as the only coach in history to start with back to back losses to the Buckeyes.
- Fourth quarter collapses become a trend. All three of our losses this were games in which we led in the final two minutes of regulation. Add in MSU 2015 and 2/3rds of Harbaugh's losses at UM have us losing a lead in the final minutes of regulation. This is a disturbing trend and the sample size is becoming large enough to be worrisome.
- Continual development was either non apparent or simply did not exist. I don't think anyone would say that this team was better in November than they were in September (wins/losses and opponents aside).
- Record stagnation. I understand that 10 wins does not constitute a bad season in any absolute terms. But given the potential, this team should've finished better than 10-3, the same record they had in 2015.
2016 Grade: B- (As much as it pains me, I can't go higher than this. No matter the margin, losing 3 out of your last 4 games is brutal).
Overall Grade: B+
I want to, but I can't give Harbaugh a grade in the A range due to the season that just finished. A 10-3 record in the context of 2015 was a great success, but a 10-3 record in the context of 2016 is a failure. If I included off field stuff (recruiting, academics, etc.) it'd be enough for an A-, but I want to focus on results from the playing field here.
I still believe in this staff and the direction we're going 110%. I just think it will take us a little longer to get there than we hoped.
To those who suffered through reading this diary (which I'm sure has plentiful typos, I am much too tired to proof-read), what do you think? How would you grade Harbaugh's tenure so far in its very young state? Did I miss any good or bad things in either season?
Forever and always, GO BLUE!
As 2016 comes to a close on MGoBlog, we find ourselves deep into bowl season, watching unlikely matchups produce unlikely outcomes before tens of people in most cases. Indeed, as I post this, we are mere hours from our own bowl, and come what may, the Orange Bowl is a rather nice achievement in only the second season of “The Harbaugh Era” here in Ann Arbor.
We began the year with a bowl win against Florida, so it would only be fitting for this team, which came so close to being in the playoff and was well within the range of being in for most of the regular season, to beat another major P5 school in the state of Florida. When that game kicks off at 8 PM tomorrow evening (those of you reading this after the game can just skip this part), we will all be united in our wish that Michigan makes the Seminoles leave Sun Life Stadium sad.
After a year in 2015 which went far better than expected perhaps, we went into this season with some elevated expectations, maybe far beyond what we thought they might have been. That is to say, many of us – myself included – altered our theory on the trajectory of this team based on that first year. Still, as I have had time to process what happened in Columbus and what happened in Iowa City, I find myself mostly at peace with where we sit as 2016 comes to a close. I know several people were saying “this was the year”, much of that because of all the talent that is either graduating, leaving for the NFL, or potentially (as of this moment) leaving for the NFL. That being said, I have a suspicion that we will have multiple opportunities for it to be “the year” under Jim Harbaugh – I find myself not terribly worried about that, even in the face of disappointment in November.
On a personal note, in a year that began with a health scare for me, watching Michigan football – and really Michigan athletics in general – continue to provide us with great moments is something that was essential to me getting over what I had been experiencing, at least on a psychological level. We can argue about the status of Michigan basketball, but in those weeks back in January when I was basically confined to my house and not allowed to even lift a fucking garbage bag, Michigan basketball was something that helped me get through. The point here is that as a proud alum and fan of my alma mater, it means more to me than most people appreciate and in some eerie moments in my life, I came to appreciate how much it meant. “It” being Michigan, of course, and Michigan athletics being, in a way, a practical expression of all that.
Even through an OT season which was a little more trying than usual, culminating in a couple stints in June and July where there was not a new thread for almost a day, we managed to stay together as a community, despite things like “The Walking Dead” and “Game Of Thrones” obviously not being everyone’s cup of tea. It is during those moments in OT Season, however, when I think we learn the most about each other – that is to say, that this site is populated with a significantly large group of hopeless nerds, and quite honestly, I think we’re all the better for that. If nothing else, even if you’re starved for sports content in those early summer months, you can find some personal enrichment. Not many blogs which cover one university’s athletics for the most part can do that for you. It is one of the things that makes this place unique.
I would like to close this out by saying a couple things. First, hopefully everyone had the best 2016 possible and hopefully everyone has an even better 2017. Second, as much as some of you have seen me bitch on Twitter, I am actually weirdly proud that I find myself a moderator on this site and – while I know some of you disagree with the means and methods and deletions quite strenuously – I still do my best to help the staff make it a nice experience and will work to do better in 2017.
Have an excellent New Year,
Let's get to know our upcoming opponent the Florida State University Seminoles!
Click on the player's name to bring up their picture. HINT: Set width to 150 when posting the image
Let me first start by saying that just a couple days ago, I “celebrated” the first anniversary of what has been fortunately my only health scare which required hospitalization. Since that time, I’ve been to six followup echocardiograms and a few more followup appointments, and each time, I’ve made steady progress up to just last month, when we discovered that my heart had returned to normal function again. I am still on the medication for now, but I am basically where I was last year now when it comes to overall fitness and stamina.
Even in those rather frightening days just before Christmas last year, there was the presence of MGoBlog to take the edge off some very emotionally moments, but also now, in a relatively quiet period as we await the Orange Bowl and ramp up for our conference schedule in hoops, there is still the gift of community that MGoBlog provides.
It isn’t just a gift at the holidays, of course – no one ever liked that gift that was so awesome on Christmas morning and by the middle of January was taking up space in a closet. Much like those gifts we eschewed as youngsters perhaps, MGoBlog is a gift that remains useful and relevant throughout the year. When we are in the thick of football and basketball season, this is the place to be for pregame, in-game and post-game items as well as all the news that surrounds South Campus and even some that doesn’t. When we are looking for things to say in the middle of June, we tend to find something that at least most of us can discuss. Bound by a common love of all things Michigan, we also manage great discussions on movies and books as well as how to express anal glands, for those into more esoteric but still possibly useful discussions.
It is also not one of those gifts that you turn on and off at will – the blog is here for your Michigan needs around the clock, it is a community that never seems to really go to bed and it is a community where, when it is at its best, you can see discussions evolve around some facet of a sport in ways that you can’t get in other places. Whether that is a thread that deploys statistics or a thread which delves into the cultural memory of Michigan fans or a thread which will soon be removed, you can test the knowledge and the snark of the MGoCommunity and almost never be disappointed. Among sports blogs, such a place is indeed a gift.
If you’re like me, it is a gift that continually finds different expression, whether that be in the form of something you hadn’t thought about before that changes your perspective, or a new person who provides fresh insight and adds to the collective experience. Almost every day, if you look hard enough, there is something that sparks a thought that changes how you see some facet of Michigan athletics, however minor. Like a Rubik’s Cube, each day the configuration is slightly different and each day you can find a route or a combination that you have previously left unexplored, or indeed never even considered.
As much as we complain sometimes about how we can’t have nice things, I contend that we as a community have at least one – our own eccentric, imperfect but well-meaning corner of the sports world called MGoBlog. As much as some of your threads make me want to throw things and put my head through the laptop screen, even in the moderator role and for as long as I have been a regular here (nearly six years), each day I find new reasons to like this place we have and new motivation to at least help keep it the nice place that it is.
Have a most excellent holiday season,