"Coach Mattison told me what the Ravens were about, what he thought," Beyer said. "He definitely encouraged me. I hold his opinion in high regard."
In the aftermath of the CMU game, I’ve seen a few comments about running backs that go something like this: “If you took out X’s long run, his YPC would have only been Y, so he really wasn't that effective,” or variations thereof. This got me thinking a little about the limitations of using YPC to summarize running back performance, so I've put together a couple ways of looking at running back performance against Central.
First off, sample size concerns are rampant. Statisticians frown on many, many things, but they take particular umbrage when you do anything with a really small sample (read: less than 30). But, like our beloved coaches, we live in the real world where we have to make decisions based on incomplete information; so we continue on despite the limitations of the dataset.
Strength of competition is also suspect. We don't know for sure how good CMU will be this year, but we do know they were outscored by fifty points in the only game they've played this year. They may not be great this year.
Yards per carry is calculated by summing all rushing yards for a player and dividing by number of carries, making it an average (or sample mean). A sample mean is a very useful way of summarizing data with one nagging flaw: it is particularly vulnerable to outliers. The median, on the other hand, as the most central value, can be interpreted as a more typical expectation for a dataset. One extremely high or low value will have virtually no impact on the value of the median. Here's an example: Derrick Green's YPC for the CMU game was 6.1, 2 whole yards higher than Toussaint's 4.1. But Green's median carry of 3 is an entire yard shorter than Toussaint's 4. The YPC might lead you to conclude Derrick Green was a better bet for getting yards than Toussaint, but the median says at least 50% of Toussaint's carries went for 4 or more yards in comparison with Green's 3 or more yards. Since If you needed four yards for a first down, you may want to give it to Toussaint. That's potentially valuable information not contained in the YPC. Then there's the pesky fact that TD runs have a maximum length. If we're two yards out from the end zone, that's the maximum the player can get for that carry. This artificially lowers the YPC of a player who gets the ball over the line; in particular Toussaint's YPC would probably have been higher.
The table below contains a few measures of central tendency for the players who had at least 3 carries (three is still too small, but a line had to be drawn somewhere and Rawls' touchdown seemed to merit his inclusion in this list). Rawls gets no standard deviation because three is a small number.
QB Devin Gardner wins the YPC sweepstakes with a blistering 7.4 YPC bolstered by a median carry of 6 yards. I would advocate getting this man some more carries, but that's a) already happening and b) potentially troublesome for our passing game. Regardless, Gardner does a good job here no matter what metric you use: no negative yardage, a great longest run and two touchdowns on only 7 carries. At least for this game, our shiny "more passing-oriented" quarterback was our most effective running back, which speaks a bit to the value of athleticism at that position.
Among the running backs, Toussaint and Green duke it out for maximal effectiveness depending on which measure you use. Green wins on YPC, longest run, and least negative minimum run. Toussaint had a higher median, most touchdowns, and most carries. Rawls has the highest median of the RB's, but since he only had three carries, sample size tells us to pay no heed.
____ Yards and a Cloud of Dust
Hearkening back to the days of Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust (TYaaCoD), I wanted to know who was more reliable if you need three yards every time you rush. The table below contains the percent of carries the player achieved at least three yards, embodying the spirit of slightly-in-jest Schembechlerian Michigan Football.
Personally, though, I find three yards slightly lacking. If you run three yards every rushing play and you rush every play, you end up facing 4th and 1 every series. Our Fearless Leader would still go for it on fourth down every time (Heil Hoke!), but it's not an optimal situation to find yourself in. What you really want is someone who can pick up 3.5 yards or so every play, so you get a new set of downs after every three. The play-by-play is unhelpful in this regard, however, only listing integer values for yards. So I also calculated the Four Yards and a Cloud of Dust (FYaaCoD) metric, which is how the table below is sorted. If you get four yards every carry, you can go on rushing forever.
I did make a slight modification to the success rates of both metrics: I counted a touchdown as a success regardless of how many yards the play was because there is no further to go.
|Row Labels||Total Yds||Carries||TYaaCoD||FYaaCoD|
For TYaaCoD, you would want the following players rushing in order: 1. Green 2. Gardner 3. Rawls 4. Toussaint 5. Smith 6. Johnson. All players are between 50% and 75% successful at getting 3 yards against CMU, which is heartening. Moving to FYaaCoD, you would want 1. Gardner. 2. Rawls 3. Toussaint 4. Green, 5. Johnson 6. Smith.
There's some shuffling when you move to FYaaCoD: Derrick Green drops from first to fourth, and Smith falls to sixth at a slightly disappointing 29% success rate. Rawls still has only three carries, but two of them pass the FYaaCoD test, so he has a terrific success rate of 67%. Almost as good as Devin Gardner, who had over twice as many carries. Devin's ability to scramble is probably for real. Toussaint's actual strength as a running back comes through a bit more on the FYaaCoD metric. On his 14 carries, he hit 4+ yards 57% of the time, and he often surpassed four. That increases the chance of success for future plays, as the distance to the first down marker is smaller.
I thought about running the same analysis with passing yards, but it didn't feel right since yards per catch vary widely based on the play. Your wideout running the deep route will end up with more yards per target than the slot ninja you toss the bubble screens to. That is more schematic than based on individual skill. It is true that running plays are also not all created equal. But every running play starts behind the line of scrimmage and heads as far as possible into enemy space, making comparison a reasonable exercise.
Any statistical summary is just that: a summary. We lose information when we look at average, median, min, max, total yds, TYaaCoD, FYaaCoD, etc. that is available to us in the actual dataset. Our lizard brains just can't process significant amounts of data in numerical form in any reasonably quick fashion. But there is one thing we are great at: reading charts. So I've assembled the information from each rushing effort for everyone with 3+ rushes in order from least yards gained to most. I've colored the touchdowns Highlighter Yellow™ so you can include/exclude them from your mental calculations as needed.
For recent time's sake, Drake Johnson. Fare thee well, 2013 Drake. We hardly knew ye.
A. We were completely misguided to push for Devin-Gardner-to-wide-receiver last year when his natural position is clearly running back. The fact that QB's get an extra blocker has no bearing on this.
B. At this exact moment in time, the staff's decision to go 1. Toussaint 2. Green 3. The Field. is pretty justified. We saw flashes of brilliance from both of them—maybe even more from Green—but Toussaint overall had a better day. If Green sheds a few pounds and picks up just a hair more speed in the process, though—and I think we all expect that to happen— he could become the clear #1 even by mid-October. De'Veon Smith is not yet ready for world-beating, but he did display that vaunted balance. Hold off on judgment on him at this point.
C. Charts are indeed fun to look at.
D. Norfleet had one rushing effort for 38 yds, which I didn't include in this analysis because dividing by zero is difficult and because his YPC would make Brian cry.
I thought that it might be appropriate to give a brief statistical summary of the ups and downs of the Big Ten in its inaugural weekend for 2013, and there were some interesting extremes. Granted, the averages for 12 games aren’t terribly meaningful, but they are interesting to look at all the same.
THE CONFERENCE ON OFFENSE:
The average performance in the Big Ten on offense was a fairly balanced attack – 214 passing yards and 228 rushing yards over an average of 71 plays. That’s good for 6.23 yards per offensive snap.
The most prolific rushing attack in the first week belonged to Wisconsin, which put 393 yards rushing up against Massachusetts, followed closely by Nebraska’s 375 yards rushing against Wyoming. The more paltry rushing numbers belong to Penn State and Purdue at 57 and 65 yards respectively. Teams carried it an average of 42 times and did so at a clip of 4.8 YPC as well for about 2 rushing TDs.
Through the air, the 228 yards came about as the result of a typical performance being 17-28 with 13.4 yards per completion and 8.1 yards per attempt being the conference average. Further, the Big Ten averaged 2 interceptions and 2 passing TDs in its games. The average completion percentage of a Big Ten team this past weekend was 61.43%. Illinois gained the most yards in the air – 415 on a conference-best 29 completions (37 attempts). The least successful passing attack belonged to Minnesota – 10-23 for 99 yards.
Big Ten teams scored an average of 39.5 points, including a typical performance of 2 FGs and 5 TDs. Indiana scored the most points far and away with 73 of them on Thursday, and then at the other end of the spectrum, there was Purdue and their 7 against Cincinnati.
There was a wide variation when it came to the number of first downs earned as well. Against the conference average of 21, Indiana managed 29 first downs against Indiana State, and at the other end, Purdue managed 12 first downs in their game. On third down, the average performance was 7-15 – Michigan converted the most with 10, but Wisconsin had the highest percentage at 72.7% (8-11).
THE CONFERENCE ON DEFENSE:
On the other side of the ball, the Big Ten gave up an average of 357 yards, broken down into about 240 yards passing and 117 yards rushing in a typical game. They defended an average of 73 plays, yielding 4.8 yards per play.
Although this could be blamed on a host of things, Michigan State yielded only 11 yards rushing to Western Michigan on 27 attempts, or an average of 0.4 YPC, far and away the best performance statistically over the weekend. Purdue owns the worst performance in rush defense, yielding 221 yards to Cincinnati across 47 attempts, or 4.7 YPC. It is important to note, however, that UNLV was getting nearly 6 yards per carry against Minnesota. The conference average was 3.4 YPC on defense in the first week.
Wisconsin owns the best overall performance in pass defense this weekend, giving up only 112 yards in the air, followed by Michigan at 144 yards. By a considerable margin, Northwestern’s 455 yards given up in the air to Cal rates as the worst performance on pass defense, although Purdue, Illinois and Nebraska were giving up longer passes on average.
The conference allowed an average of 18 first downs to teams, with the most being the 35 that Nebraska handed to Wyoming, and the fewest being 11, or the number allowed by Penn State against Syracuse. Third downs were difficult to convert if you played the Big Ten in general – the average success rate was 5-16, but Northwestern allowed Cal to convert 10 times, and Nebraska allowed Wyoming to convert just once. That being said, Wyoming didn’t need to get to third down very much.
THE CONFERENCE WHEN KICKING / PUNTING:
Big Ten teams average 4 punts for 177 yards over the weekend, or a shade over 40 yards per punt. Michigan State did an awful lot of punting – 11 of them for 423 yards, whereas Michigan and Wisconsin only have one each. Interestingly, Michigan State turned it around to have one of the best punt return performances, returning 5 of them for 52 yards, but Indiana returned 4 punts for 90 yards.
When it comes to kickoff coverage, Indiana and Michigan got quite a bit of practice in, being in this situation 12 and 10 times respectively. Indiana managed 777 yards of it for an average of 64.8 yards per kick with 6 touchbacks. That’s against the typical performance of 8 for 479 yards and 3 touchbacks. As for kick returns, Minnesota and Illinois both took one to the house and racked up 148 and 135 yards of return yardage respectively. Despite scoring the most points, Indiana owns Week 1’s least impressive performance on returns – 3 for 31 yards.
As the programmers at Infocom would say, "The point of the game is to discover the point of the game."
Brady Hoke on Notre Dame's decision to pull out of the annual rivalry game:
"We have unbelievable rivalry games at Michigan. The Notre Dame game, that rivalry, which they're chickening out of…they're still gonna play Michigan State, they're gonna play Purdue, they don't want to play Michigan."
Coach Hoke said it best, and the concept speaks for itself, so I don't have much to add.
I do want to point out that I've included iOS 7 parallax wallpapers for both iPhone screen sizes. I've been using iOS 7 in my other life as an app designer and it really bugged me that last week's wallpapers didn't look right on the new OS. I'll experiment with iPad-flavored parallax wallpapers later in the season.
The image below is a preview only. You can get the widescreen, iPad and mobile wallpapers at The Art. The Art. The Art!.
Follow me on Twitter @thearttheart for updates.
I'm back for another season. I figure if Brian can write 41,000+ words before a single game is played, the least I can do is give you the link to the boxscore and my casual fan's take on the game. It's been a long off-season. I coached my son's 3rd and 4th grade basketball team to a perfect 16-0 record; it helped having the Trey Burke of 4th graders on my team. My son was more like Jordan Morgan. He set a lot of screens. As a result, I was asked to coach one of the all-star teams. We went 2-7, derailing my dreams of someday replacing John Beilein. I did get to see lovely downtown 29 Palms, including both major intersections, and coach at UCSB's Thunderdome. Then, this summer, true blue Michigan Man, ST2, passed away from cancer. I will be sprinkling in some M-related anecdotes this season in tribute. See the last section as an example. But enough about me and my relations, on to the link.
Burst of Impetus
* The tone was set early on when true freshman, Dymonte Thomas, blocked a punt with his abs and 5th year senior Joe Reynolds scooped it up and ran it in for the first of many TDs. OK, be honest, who had Joe Reynolds in the "first player to score a TD" pool? Anybody? This site has an obsession with "prison abs". A site search turned up 104 hits for the term. In my opinion, punt-block abs >>> prison abs. The funny thing was, after hearing all about Dymonte Thomas during last season, the recruiting season, spring practice, the off-season, and fall camp, I saw #25 jogging off the field after the punt block and thought, "Thomas who?"
Captain Morgan's Crew
* The past couple seasons, I thought that Desmond Morgan wasn't quite there yet. He was missing a little something (experience, size, outright thumping ability?) that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Well, the first impression from this season suggests he's ready to be the Mike, and all that entails. JR III got a lot of hype this off-season, but I'm here to tell you that Desmond Morgan is the man. He led the defense with 7 tackles in limited playing time.
* 24 players recorded a tackle, and three more made the defensive stats section. The defensive stats has columns for solo tackles, assisted tackles and total tackles. It's the next 8 columns that I look through. They are what a basketball coach might call the hustle stats. There were lots of extras this week.
* Eight players recorded nine TFLs, led by Cam Gordon's 2.5 for 11 yards (2 were sacks). Cam also had a pass breakup. Beyer and Ojemudia also got sacks. Last year, Beyer looked like a lineman trying to play linebacker. He looks leaner and quicker this year, in other words, he looks the part. Could he be the breakout player this year on defense?
* Josh Furman had 5 tackles, and I thought he showed his incredible speed on a few plays. Yes, he made some tackles down the field, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he busted the play. It could mean he did his job and covered up for someone else who missed an assignment. Missing Kovacs and Gordon could have spelled DOOM, but I thought Wilson and Furman did OK. It will be good to get Gordon back next week.
Master of Social Work
* During the game, the B1G announcers pointed out that Devin Gardner has already graduated and is now pursuing a Master's of Social Work degree. ST2's greatest educational experience was his time at UofM pursuing his MSW. /ST3 wipes away a tear.
* Gardner started the game by throwing an interception. The one thing I was looking forward to this post-Denard season was fewer INTs. Oh well, better that occurred in game 1 than game 2.
* After that, Gardner returned to doing his Vince Young impression. I saw Young beat us almost single-handedly in the Rose Bowl, and the best compliment I can give a college QB is to compare him to Young.
* Gardner finished 10-15 for 162 yards, with 1 TD passing.
* Devin also ran for 52 yards on 7 carries. His 7.4 YPA bested Denard's 7.2 of last season. They are two completely different types of runners, but both give you the impression that the defense is playing in quicksand. Denard might take three steps to get five yards, to Devin's two steps, but they both cover the 5 yards in the time it takes for the defense to take one step.
* I'm left-handed. Whenever I see a left-handed QB throw a pass, I think, do I look that strange throwing a ball? Morris had a nice start to his M career, going 4 for 6, with the now required INT.
Joe Reynolds, Deep Threat
* Another show of hands, who thought our deep threat this year was going to be Joe Reynolds? He was one of 8 to catch a pass.
* Offensive linemen don't tally stats in the MGoBlue boxscore. They do pave the way for the running attack and hopefully keep the QB clean for the passing game. CMU's defense had 0 QB hurries, and 1 minor 3 yard sack. Bravo, big uglies.
* I tried watching the interior of the line during the game, but that is so hard to do. I'll wait until UFR's to pass judgment, but my initial gut feel says that Glasgow performed better than expected, Kalis played like a freshmen Hutchinson (I don't remember how Hutch played as a freshmen, the point is, Kalis did not play like a senior, All-American linemen, but he held up well) and Miller has some work to do.
* Derrick Green was the leading ballcarrier, thanks to a 30 yard run. He finished with 58 yards on 11 attempts. Touss and Gardner completed the 50/50/50 club, each surpassing 50 yards.
* Overall, we netted 242 yards on 5.1 YPC, and ran for 6 TDs. What does that portend for game 2? Competence, I hope.
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet was everywhere. He was returning kicks, returning punts - some well, some not so well - running end arounds, catching passes, and covering punts. I wouldn't be surprised to see him wearing #98 on Saturday. Wasn't Harmon known for doing everything, including kicking PATs? Don't be surprised to see Norfleet replacing Gibbons before the year is out.
I'm an international umpire
* Another thing I did this summer was to umpire at the Junior International Badminton Tournament at the club. We had kids come from 8 foreign countries and they got stuck with me, a complete novice, calling their matches. That's a roundabout way of saying I'm going to try to be more considerate of the umps this year. The operative word there is "try."
* We were called for 7 penalties for 55 yards. It seemed like double for both figures, but that's what you get in a first game, and that's why you don't schedule Alabama for your first game.
* My Dad had a good friend who worked for the Secretary of State's office in Michigan, many years ago. Those are the guys who are in charge of the license plates. So one day, my Dad asks his friend, "how do you guys assign license plate numbers? and oh, by the way, if '100 BLU' hasn't been assigned yet, do you think you can hold that one for me?" Sure enough, a few weeks go by, and Dad gets his new plates in the mail, opens up the envelope, and there is "100 BLU". Dad worked in state government, knew some politicians, and as a result, knew quite a few state trooopers. So he asks one, "is there any law about marking up a state license plate? like, say, for instance, if I were to put a little sticker on the plate?" The State Trooper tells him it's technically illegal, but as long as it's not offensive, he can probably get away with it. So Dad has a "%" sticker printed up, and places it ever so carefully between the 100 and the BLU. And that is your 100%BLU story for the week.
P.S. Next week I promise, less me and more game coverage. But come on, 59-9, right? Allow me a little leeway.
Edited to correct erroneous Nebraska spread included previously.
There is already a snowflake thread going about B1G football performances here:
I was in the process of creating the table below, showing the difference between point spreads and actual scores, when that thread was posted. The table does add a numerical value to the discussion, but not really any huge surprises. Yes, Purdue really crapped the bed against Cincy. Even though Purdue wasn't expected to win (they were the only B1G underdog) the way they lost and by how many points does not bode well for them this season. But, even though they won their games, MSU and OSU also underperformed by quite a bit. Obviously points and point spreads don't tell the whole story, like how monumentally inept MSU's offense looked, and how strong their defense looked.
At the top of the table was Michigan followed by Minnesota, Indiana, and Northwestern. On paper at least, Northwestern's point total against a PAC 12 school was impressive.
Here's the table. Spread 1 is the pre-game spread, Spread 2 is the actual spread based on the score, and the final column is spread 1 minus spread 2.
|Team||Opp||Spread 1||Score||Spread 2||Sp1 - Sp2|
|7. Iowa||N Ill||-3||27-30 (L)||3||-6|
|8. Ill||S Ill||-17||42-34||-8||-9|
|11. Pur||Cincy||10||7-42 (L)||35||-25|
Edit: My intial amazement at Nebraska's four point spread turns out to have been a misreading of the line on my part (I was looking at the line for the game listed below the Nebraska game). I didn't double check until Farnn showed amazement as well. Fortunately, most posters seem to have ignored this diary so far. I've corrected the table and deleted my ignorant comment about Nebraska. Nebraska sucked in that game, especially for a night game at home against an opponent they should have blown out.
This will be a bit of an abbreviated post because, well, 59-9 tells a pretty compelling story. Sure, I will try to tease out some larger trends from the game, but the biggest takeaway is that UM destroyed a MAC team in the way you expect the winningest program in college football history to do so, and nobody really seemed that surprised. Given the relative struggles the past half-dozen years, that’s the biggest Best I can point out.
Best: The least sexy 59 points you’ll ever see
As Brian noted in his “Five Questions, Five Answers” preview, the Al Borges offense we’re going to see is not the spread that was trotted out under RR and limped along until the end of the Denard era. While I take issue with the “wrong side of history” supposition of this decision, I agree with Brian that Borges’s offense will remain dynamic and creative enough that the ghost of Mike Debord will stay in his comically 90’s room for the foreseeable future.
That’s like, totally your opinion
But 52 points were scored by this offense without much in the way of trickeration or going for 2 points on the first two TDs, you twerp. It was an efficient, dominant performance with wrinkles here and there but also a consistent scheme that was frankly missing during the Transition. As Ace noted there are questions about the line, but Kalis MANBALLED a couple of guys and held up well; I expect Miller to struggle at times but should improve with more reps to at least competent. This offense will undoubtedly struggle at times when teams are able to collapse the inside of the line, and the WRs need to create more separation than they did today, but overall it felt like the type of performance one expected from this unit. It should be the best in the conference unless OSU figures out how to block people, and even then I think the plethora of backs and TEs will continue to keep Devin reasonably clean and away from too many hits running the ball.
Best: Who needs redshirts?
The usual suspects played – Morris, Smith, and Green on offense; Charlton and Thomas on defense. Not unexpected burning men like Gedeon, Butt, and Stribling also suited up, and while I’m a little annoyed if Gedeon only plays on special teams this year, you have to think the coaches like what he brings on defense to push him into a more prominent role. Lewis is a bit of a head scratcher, but Norfleet had some troubles early on with returns and Lewis is a shifty guy in space. But overall, I’m not a fan of redshirting except when the guy in question really wouldn’t help you (i.e. most linemen, small-ish WRs, anybody in the secondary unless they are unbelievable), and basically everyone who played acquitted himself well enough to warrant more playing time in some capacity.
So yeah, the defense looked REALLY fast out there. Thomas on the punt block practically yanked the ball out of the punter’s hands, and throughout the game CMU players were hit as soon as they touched the ball. Early on it seemed like Countess was playing off the WRs too much, but then every time the ball was sent their way he stuck the receiver almost immediately. Other than one or two plays toward the end, the secondary kept everyone in front of them and rarely did you see much separation. Under Hoke, it sometimes felt like Mattison and co. had to gameplan teams into spots to compensate for a lack of athleticism at certain positions; at least after today it looks like those limitations are disappearing quickly. It isn’t quite LSU/Alabama speedsters out there quite yet, but this is another check in the “good recruiting” checklist for this staff.
Worst: We can’t have nice things
Listen, I’m as neurotic and cynical as the next guy when it comes to sports, but at some point it just gets old. I will admit to being a bit down about the early play calling and will remain a Borges questioner until such time as I learn how college offenses work, but at some point the liveblog became one big bit*hing session+ once it was clear UM was going to run away with the game. All of a sudden you have people questioning Derrick Green’s ability to run through contact, Frank Clark’s inability to get to the QB (I will admit to being in this group initially), and every non-TD run or non-intercepted completion as proof that some component of the team wasn’t “working” or was a point of concern. The hive mind of the liveblogs can adopt misguided stances and I get that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, but the team just scored 59 points against a bowl team, held them to a couple of field goal attempts with 3(!) of 14 drives longer than 30 yards, and averaged 5.1 yards per carry and 10.5 yards per attempt. They played pretty well folks; let’s enjoy the win for at least a day before we all try to Gladwell our way through trends from one game.
+ I never understand *’ing out the vowel in a cuss word. I think we all know that “f*ck” doesn’t refer to one-time Tiger’s first basemen Robert Fick, yet everyone apparently thinks removing the ‘i’ in sh*t is going to throw everyone off the scent. Either blot out the whole word or leave it alone. /HOTSPORTSTAKE
Had 106 yards on 4 returns, and was a couple of broken tackles away from housing at least 1 of those returns. He also recorded 38 yards on his one run, and overall looked like a dynamic component of the offense. He’ll never be an every-down back and I doubt he’ll reach the heights of Breaston (who seemingly was both faster a bit more elusive in small spaces), but he gives this team a legitimate return man for the first time since, I don’t know, McGuffie, and the type of guy who can take those once-a-game Ronald Bellomy WR runs and make them work because the other team can’t immediately assume that’s why he’s on the field.
Worst: Out of Nowhere!
Fair warning: this section is going to be one big wrestling analogy. Since I was around 6 years old, I’ve been a huge fan of professional wrestling. I watch it on television, Hulu, and Youtube every chance I can. I once rented every Wrestlemania (9 of them at the time) and watched them straight, without blinking, and probably lost a gallon of water with the drool that fell from my mouth. I loved Jake Roberts and Damien so much I cried when Earthquake “squished” him during their feud. I was a little Hulkster, then a member of the Warrior nation, followed by a heartbroken Rocker fan (seeing Shawn kick Marty Jannetty and throw him through the barbershop window taught me to never trust anyone in a leather jacket). I was a fan of the Dangerous Alliance and marked out so hard when Stunning Steve became Stone Cold and ushered in the Attitude Era along with DX, the Rock and Sock Connection, Kurt Angle, and washed-up MMA guys like Tank Abbott and Ken Shamrock. Hogan creating the NWO with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall set the world on fire for a bit, and Goldberg speared anyone with a pulse into next Tuesday. TLC wasn’t a way to treat a lady or a TV channel with weird shows about future diabetes sufferers; it was a brutal contest with enough splintered tables and broken limbs to remind you how fragile the human body is. Innovators like Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio showed you little guys could rise to the top, and Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit shed the “Vanilla Midgets” label to become champions even though their careers ended suddenly (and in Benoit’s case, horribly). Even with the relatively fallow period that followed Brock Lesnar’s departure to NFL training camps and, ultimately, the UFC, I still enjoyed watching Batista, JBL, Orton, John Cena, and the rest soldier on. And with the ascension of “Indy” guys likes CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, plus the healthy growth of the development system and the indy feds like ROH, PWG, CZW, and the like, it is a good time to be a fan.
Over this time, I’ve seen the medium evolve and grow, and mostly for the better. Guys train harder and take better care of their bodies, match quality is higher, and storytelling has evolved to the point where major sports blogs have writers dedicated to covering it. It isn’t necessarily still real to me, but I definitely see it maintaining a place in my sports life going forward.
One change I have noticed over the years, though, is the proliferation of “spontaneous” in-ring moments and moves that you just didn’t see back in the 80’s and early 90’s. It used to be when a guy was going to hit his “finisher”, he had some setup – Hogan gave you the big boot before running the ropes and dropping the leg; Ric Flair gave you the knee breaker and then actually had to lock in the figure-four; and even “quick hitters” like the Ultimate Warrior and Shawn Michaels still had some setup before they finished you off with their splash or superkick. But around the time Austin hit the scene, guys started in with the reversals and the quick finishers; Stunners to everyone, Diamond Cutters off chokeslams, Tombstones off cross bodies and Sweet Chin Musics off jumping attacks. Now every move was “out of nowhere”, culminating in Randy Orton RKO’ing literally everybody off ever-more convoluted triple-lindys. As Brandon Stroud of With Leather always laments, guys just need to stop jumping around Orton and they’ll win all the time.
So what’s my point? Well, one of the things that has changed about following college sports is that because of the multitude of mediums covering the games, you really aren’t “surprised” by anything before the teams step on the field. Sure, Gordon being suspended for the first game was relatively unknown, but even then there was a board post on the topic two hours before the game. I knew the vast majority of the depth chart weeks before it was released, heard the insider buzz about certain players stepping up while others floundered, and even knew the basic structure of the offense and defense, including quite a few wrinkles, despite the best attempts by the Fort to keep them under wraps. On one hand it makes fandom more engrossing and “fun” because my knowledge is more thorough and nuanced, but the “Christmas morning” feel of watching the team line up that first game is lost a bit when you’ve already read about the N64 and Easy-Bake oven in the nondescript box three weeks ago. And with all that information, expectations can explode to unreasonable levels; witness the post above with people complaining about the young running backs.
The inexorable march of progress is such that we’ll only get more insider information and in-depth analyses of players and recruits, and on the whole that is a positive for both fans and the game. To be a well-rounded fan, you need to read and keep up on your teams to an almost-unhealthy degree; otherwise you are basically Skip Bayless or Lou Holtz without the clothing budget. About the only time you can ever be surprised anymore is when you….
Best: Play the Game
For despite all of the predictions and charts, the acronyms and the tomes written about the game, nobody knows will happen during the game until the teams actually line up. Fitz looked great out there, making cuts and accelerating through holes opened up be a much-improved offensive line. Devin looked shaky earlier but played well in the end, accounting for over 200 yards in about 2.5 quarters of work. Morris, Green, and Smith all had their turns out there and showed promise. the depth on defense, previously a figment of the fevered imagination of our benevolent overlord, showed up in spades. Countess looked like the corner everyone expected last year before he was hurt, while Thomas, Wilson, Stribling, Morgan, Ross, and Gordon all stepped into more prominent roles and played well (I recognize Wilson blew at least one assignment). Even guys like Clark, whom I’m more down on than others, played reasonably well. I know it’s one game, but it was nice to be surprised by guys actually playing football in a game that mattered.
Worst: Big Ten!
Oh where to start. MSU struggled to move the ball against the other, other directional school last night, and no amount of BTN spit-shining will change that. As noted earlier, OSU went for 2 twice because (a) Meyer wanted to make a point, and (b) that point is that he is a *ick. And even with all of that early success, a 4-8 Buffalo team was touch-and-go with the #2 team in the country, at home, for most of the game. Illinois looked competent against Southern Illinois but still only won by 8, Cincy pounded Purdue by 35 as perennial Most Awesome Name candidate Munchie Legaux stood tall in the pocket. PSU held on against Syracuse but looked like it will be years until the effects of those sanctions allow them to regain their stronger position in the conference, and Wiscy ran over UMass like they always do against overmatched squads who are lactose intolerant. At least they can run the ball with James White. Oh yeah, and Iowa lost to NIU because of course they would. At time of this post teams like NW and Nebraska are still playing, but I doubt we’ll learn much about either team win or lose (though if they lose to Wyoming and/or Cal, I’m going to book my tickets for Indy tomorrow).
But overall, it was not a banner weekend for the conference. The Big 10 isn’t great at football outside of the top couple of teams; that’s been an annoying reality for a couple of years now. The conference isn’t dying or falling behind anyone not named the SEC, but the Big 2, Little 10 mantra is gaining traction every day, and I’m not seeing much evidence down the pipeline that it will change any time soon.
Best: UTL II
Hey, it might be fun…