Years ago, the University of Michigan's football team was in supposed turmoil. It had been years since Michigan won a national championship, and years since a Big Ten championship. The head coach was effectively a replacement for the legitimate guy, exiled in a media firestorm.
Coming into the season, Michigan seemed to be a distant third behind two conference juggernauts, and that embattled new coach was on the hot seat, to the point of the athletic director getting asked whether or not this guy was good enough, on a live pregame show. That AD defended the coach by saying he's set up to have a great year, and then we'll see.
That embattled coach, of course, was Lloyd Carr. That year was 1997. Michigan was coming off of some 4-loss seasons, and hadn't won a conference title in five years. Carr, who bcame the head coach after Gary Moeller's public meltdown, was seen to potentially be just a transitional guy.
I'm not joking. That clip is below.
At the 5:28 mark, Don Shane questions the future of Lloyd Carr as Michigan coach. At the 3:22 mark, Michigan State head coach Nick Saban spouts generic platitudes about systems and preparation while looking shifty. And at the 13:10 mark, Keith Jackson welcomes you to an afternoon at Michigan Stadium, mentioning Michigan's star defender Charles Woodson, and officially beginning The Greatest Season In Recent Michigan History.
This year, the atmosphere is the same. Michigan is in chaos, according to most of the die-hards. Last year was the worst offense ever, and the team is taking a step back! Devin Gardner had a bad year, and he's the starter again! The offensive line! Michigan State is legitimately good now! It's been X long since Michigan won this thing, or did that thing! Records! Everything off the field! We'll be fine. In fact, we'll be better than fine. Michigan will be good this season. For that matter, Michigan will be borderline great this season. Michigan will do the things that will bring all the national critics around, only this time, they'll be back with a team built upon a foundation.
Michigan football has not been the most fun, record-wise, since 2005 or so. Individual years can be debated, and some games were legitimately exciting. But for what seems to be the tenth season now, Michigan football isn't what we thought it was.
Here's the thing, though: all the pieces are there for Michigan to have a great year. All of the on-field pieces are there for Michigan to be a great team. All of the attrition and injuries to our rivals are there for Michigan to have a great year. Everything within the schedule sets up for Michigan to have a great year.
Michigan returns Devin Gardner, a senior quarterback who was incredibly injured for most of last season, a season that basically ended when this one player was beaten down to the point of not being able to go. Michigan returns a defense that held the team in games last year, and continues to improve. Across the board, Michigan's roster is improving with the maturity of existing players and an incoming recruiting class that includes one star playmaker and a ton of depth. And, the two most glaring problems of last season are gone, personnel-wise. Everything sets up nicely. The pieces are there to have a great team.
Which brings all of us to the upcoming schedule. Appalachian State, Miami, Utah, Maryland, Indiana, Rutgers - all wins. Six wins. Northwestern just lost their top player, win #7. Michigan blew out Minnesota last year, that's win #8 this year.
Is Notre Dame winnable? Absolutely. The Fighting Irish just lost a notable number of starters in an academic scandal, their quarterback situation is worse than ours, and they are always worse than expected. Win #9.
Is Penn State winnable? Of course. Penn State has a new coach who is talking a big game, but that roster still has more structural problems than Michigan's. Penn State will end up coming down a notch from the hype, they will struggle a little over the course of the season, and that will be win #10.
Can Michigan win in Columbus? Sure. This isn't the Rich Rod years, where Ohio State would come out and simply outscore an overmatched Michigan squad. This isn't another game where Michigan will lose in Columbus, because that's just how things are now. MIchigan beat Ohio State in 2011, lost in 2012 due to field-goal kicking and a bad offensive half, and was a two-point conversion away from winning in 2013. Now, Braxton Miller is out for Ohio State, and things are looking grim in Columbus. Is this win #11?
Can Michigan win in East Lansing? Sure. Michigan State had a great defense propel them to a conference title last year, but they've lost some playmakers. Can Michigan's defense rise up to reduce the defensive advantage? Maybe. On the other side of the ball, can a Nussmeier/Gardner offense outduel Connor Cook? Probably. Look, this game isn't a likely win. But it's not hopeless to the point of the Rich Rod years or anything. It could be win #11, win #12, or simply a close-fought loss. All of those options are in play.
It's an optimistic look at the season, but it's not unrealistic. All of those things stand a better chance at happening than a repeat of 2013, where the offense was built around a strong offensive lineman and quarterback, the lineman was an ass, leading to the quarterback getting injured and the offensive coordinator's utter hopelessness. This isn't that. This won't be that.
Right now, our biggest problem seems to be that the general attitude towards the whole team is that of a dismissively negative one. Once a closer look is taken, all of the pieces seem to be potentially great, with everything coming together. Just going by realistic on-field expectations, Michigan will go, barring chaos, at least 10-2, with those two losses being close. That biggest problem is simply the scars of the recent past.
And to reference recent history, the worst case scenario is 2011 with more optimism for next year. Optimism in guys like Morris and Peppers, optimism in having all of our rivals at home, optimism for what is to come.
Here's where the negativity comes in. The only two things against Michigan having a great year is idiotic off-field moves and a steady stream of national pessimism that leads to a third thing: local dread. All of these things are easily removed, and will be removed as time passes.
Once football kicks off, everything else will be forgotten. That means you, Dave Brandon, proverbially standing on a highway off-ramp into Ann Arbor, hoping that the incoming traffic will roll their windows down to buy tickets. That means you, memories of 2013, those of the infinite stream of rushes into the middle of an unblocking line. That means you, Arizona bowl game that literally doesn't exist anymore. All of you, gone once actual football starts up.
The reason why these kinds of things become spectres that haunt places like this, is that the college football season is so brief, and the summers so long, that these kinds of things become bigger than they are. There's literally nothing going on, but the appetite for Michigan discussion (or any team, for that matter) never goes away. When easy discussion bait comes up, like Dave Brandon, everyone hops to get it on it, because we're starving to talk about something. Once the game starts, we'll all move on.
It's the same as the sputtering end to 2013. Last season, from the Penn State game on, was almost entirely terrible. Terrible in every possible way, leading to a whole summer with that taste in our mouths. Once the games begin, and we see what the 2014 Michigan team can do, that 2013 team will fade. It will fade into a rough collage of barely beating Ohio State, that field goal against Northwestern, and that horrendous Nebraska home game.
(Playing the games will also cause another unfortunate discussion topic to fade away - Michigan's terrible home schedule. Yeah, we all agree, there are no standout games at home this year. Penn State is not Michigan State, on many levels. No big names are coming in as random highlights on the non-conference schedule. Everyone understands. But once the games begin...that home schedule will be somewhat of an afterthought.)
This leads to the second mark against Michigan, that stream of national pessimism that comes over the course of the summer, cresting in an August of overreaction. The two preseason polls came out, Michigan was unranked in both. The rest of the country, which casually looks at Ann Arbor and sees the faintest glimpse of a rebuilding project, tosses some votes for us sparingly. Which leads to worry and panic, because Michigan isn't ranked.
That ranking, with wins, will come. As someone who tracks the polls more than most, I'd say Michigan gets an official ranking after a win against Notre Dame at the earliest. Michigan is 37th in the AP poll, and 32nd in the coaches' poll, and will inevitably rise with wins and opposing attrition.
Once that happens, of course, everyone will be in town to write/speak/yell about how Michigan Is Back. Michigan's undefeated through their first six games, and Penn State comes to town this week! Michigan just beat Penn State, they're 7-0! Doug Nussmeier is the real deal, so is Brady Hoke! Devin Gardner for Heisman! This team could go to the playoffs! Anyone reading this can see these headlines coming. It happened from 2009-2011. Denard was gonna win the Heisman, remember?
In case you doubt this will happen, look at Notre Dame. Notre Dame flailed their way to an undefeated season in 2012, and everyone was stumbling to write a paean to Notre Dame's return to greatness. Despite a team that wasn't actually that good, the story of the 2012 college football season was ND, from November until January.
If Michigan starts undefeated, that national tide of positivity will come our way. All the momentum of the old days will be back again, as Michigan will be back in the eyes of the national media. It's an easy story, one that would be covered extensively, especially in the Big Ten with Ohio State going down in Miller's injury. Someone will be the media darling towards the end of the season, and it will be the winner of the Michigan-Michigan State game. However, if Michigan is the winner...we'd be the story of the year going into the Ohio State game.
Once all of that starts to happen, and it will, the pessimism of the Michigan fanbase will go away. It will go away until some sort of collapse, pop back up again, and disappear. Michigan football might not have the same offseason aura as the '90s, but it will certainly feel like the summer of 2012, when anything seemed possible after a season that restarted everything.
That leads to the best case scenario for this time next year. We all know what the worst case scenario that is, in whatever little permutation that would be. The best case scenario is a full winter and fall of positive energy coming out of Ann Arbor, with a solid season going into a stacked schedule towards next season.
The last thing that a great season will dismiss is the dread. The fear of another season of getting proverbially kicked in the ribs, of dealing with another offseason of low self-esteem brought on by bad memories. If Michigan has a great year, 2015 will begin in optimism. A high ranking to start the season. A schedule that features two rivalry games at home, a transition out of mid-majors in the preseason, and the return of true/high expectations. All will be well. We just have to get there first.
So I, er, lost my nearly completed draft of Reading the Tea Leaves 2014, and now I’m rewriting it from a barely-worth-the-name-of-DSL connection under threat of dengue–carrying mosquitos in an equatorial megalopolis. Outside there are people with megaphones, leading either an opposition rally or aerobic exercises—both of which have taken place on previous mornings before 7 AM. I am tired, I am sweaty and yet I want to talk to you about our prospects in 2014!
The Big Questions
- Is our defense elite or just good?
- To what degree can tempo and scheme upgrades mitigate the loss of two tackles to the NFL and continued uncertainty everywhere else on the OL?
- What is a realistic goal for our program in 2014?
On #1, I’ll split the difference between Michigan 2013 and MSU 2013. Returning nearly everyone means a moderate upgrade at nearly every position. Also trading an undersized Jibril Black and underutilized Quinton Washington for rehabbing Ondre Pipkins* plus Willie Henry is, at worst, a wash. I expect Frank Clark, Jake Ryan and—yes—Jabril Peppers to remind us of (the exciting part of) the good ol’ days. Strong safety is the big question mark, and without an answer, we might get burned here and there. But overall I like our personnel and I like the aggressive new direction—we were too soft in 2013. I’m quietly confident that our defense will take people by surprise and end up the best of the Greg Mattison era.
On #2, it depends on what part of the season you’re talking about. Early on our OL should be pretty bad. The question then becomes: what can Doug Nussmeier call to take pressure off of it—especially considering the loss of both starting tackles to the NFL? I’ve waxed eloquent on the virtues of Inside Zone, and Nussmeier’s Inside Zone-based offense at Alabama, which was predicated on the startling premise that teams should run hard and inside for positive rather than negative yardage. I imagine Nuss will add “pass quickly, horizontally and into space” in order to take advantage of our deep receiving corps, get LBs to back off and thus force opposing defenses to beat our young OL with their DL. And as questionable as our OL looks, there aren’t many high-quality DLs in the Big 10.
Nussmeier’s tenure at Washington involved a lot more spread concepts than at Alabama. Given our quarterback and his skills as a runner, we may even get back into the “run the QB; run the QB; QB oh noes” business. But don’t expect anything to be pretty until the OL starts to click (and even in the rosiest scenarios, that will take a few games). I firmly believe that by repping Inside Zone to insanity, we’ll finally see consistent improvement in the run game over the course of the season. How much? Unclear. But I expect we’ll finish the season feeling like the OL and run game are, at least, trending in the right direction. Before that, it’s Tresselball time, baby.
Question #3 asks us to consider both #1 and #2, as well as our schedule. Before looking at the schedule, though, let’s consider a best-case scenario for combining a dominating defense with a work-in-progress offense:
MSU 2013 (11-1).
…and a worst-case scenario:
MSU 2012 (6-6)
Both MSU teams married a dominating defense to a questionable offense. A big difference between MSU 2013 and 2012? Schedule. In 2012 they played us and Wisconsin away, as well as soon-to-be-undefeated Ohio and a Notre Dame team en route to the National Championship Game. Add in tough Iowa and Nebraska games and there you have it. In 2013, by contrast, they played a worse ND (though they lost**), a worse us at home and, crucially, no Wisconsin and no Ohio (during the regular season at least). The difference isn't just reducible to schedule (in 2013 they beat Iowa and Nebraska on the road, whereas in 2012 they failed to beat either at home), but MSU developed into a superior team in part because a weak schedule gave an initially bad offense room to grow into an offense confident enough in its abilities to not lose and occasionally even win games. Incidentally, this is exactly what we need to happen to our offense this year.
So is our schedule likely to facilitate such a transformation, or will it more likely lead to the black-end flameouts we experienced in 2009, 2010 and 2013? As others have mentioned, we have exactly 3 games scheduled against teams that had more wins than us in 2013, and all are away. Prior to recent developments, many pundits had us losing all 3—and with good reason. I had us just below the tossup threshold for ND and Ohio, and MSU a likely loss (don’t shoot the messenger). But now an already shaky Notre Dame squad has lost an additional 3 defensive starters; meanwhile, Ohio—already missing Hyde and 4 starting OL—has lost Miller for the season. That doesn’t make either game a likely win, but it does move them into tossup or even “tossup plus” territory.
But what about the other kind of potential loss—you know, the ones you are *supposed* to win but flub, look past or otherwise underestimate, like PSU or Nebraska 2013 (or, more worryingly, like Akron 2013***, Toledo 2008 or Appalachian State 2007)? Utah could be one, and Penn State another. Maryland maybe, but probably not. Outside that, well, Rutgers are terrible, Minnesota can’t beat us and Northwestern lost its two dangerous offensive players (Kain Colter and Venric Mark) on an offense we haven’t had that much trouble containing. There’s Appalachian State, which frightens me in all kinds of existential ways, but really shouldn’t pose much of a problem (emphasis on “shouldn’t”). I do expect us to drop one somewhere, but overall I see our schedule tilting closer to MSU 2013 than MSU 2012. In other words, we have a rock solid case for 8 wins, a realistic shot at 9 and a theoretical roadmap to 10+.
APPALACHIAN STATE (.80) – They are not App State 2007, but neither are we Michigan 2007 (arguably the most talented squad of the Carr era). Still, this is one we should win and by a comfortable margin—even with the early season problems. The uncertainty reflects respect for the team that gave us THE HORROR and memories of last year’s hiccups against Akron and UCONN.
At NOTRE DAME (.55) – You’d think all the dismissals, our recent victories and the graduation of Tommy Rees (who was fairly effective against us over his career) would make this more likely than “tossup plus,” but it’s away and I expect a hostile crowd to bring out the growing pains on our OL—even with all the missing starters on ND’s defense.
MIAMI (NTM) (1.00) – Our only MACrifice and our first “guaranteed win.”****
UTAH (.67) – Utah were
horrible up-and-down last year, but are expected to be significantly better this year. May give us some trouble, but we should still win in the end.
MINNESOTA (.90) – On paper, the Gophers are decent; in reality, they can’t beat us in Ann Arbor (or anywhere). Minimal uncertainty, as usual.
At RUTGERS (1.00) – The second “guaranteed win.”****
PSU (.60) – This is the “should win” game I’m most concerned about. It’s not that I think PSU is all that good, but rather I’m afraid we’ll look past them (to MSU). On the other hand, while James Franklin should be an upgrade for their program in many ways, I don’t think he’s as good of an in-game coach as Bill O’Brien, so a repeat of last year’s 4th quarter outcoaching seems unlikely.
At MSU (.33) – Dantonio’s program does have its off-years, and they are also losing a lot of key personnel. On the other hand, they’ve got a system that keeps replacing disciplined redshirt seniors with disciplined redshirt juniors, and we haven’t won in East Lansing since 2007. We have a better shot than we did last year, true, but the worm hasn’t turned in our relationship yet.
INDIANA (.80) – Explosive offense, meet defense designed to mitigate you; inept defense, meet offense that *might* be clicking by this point (relatively speaking). A game that could get annoying, especially if there’s a Sparty hangover, but we really shouldn’t lose this one.
At NORTHWESTERN (.75) – Some close calls recently, but they won’t have the guys who usually give us fits (Colter and Mark). Also not away, but “away.”
MARYLAND – (.75) – Good skill players on offense, a decent enough starting lineup on defense and positioned right before The Game. If this was on the road, I’d be concerned.
At OHIO (.50) – This game has been close each of the last 3 years, even though in each of those years one team was considered to be significantly better than the other. I expect another close one in 2014. But whereas with Miller I had this as .40, now it’s hard to see how a team breaking in 4 new OL, new RBs and replacing a potential Heisman candidate/genuine dual-threat QB with a redshirt freshman (or underwhelming sophomore) is going to get enough yards against our defense. On the other hand, their DL is pretty much guaranteed to own our OL, even with the predicted improvement over the course of the season. And it’s in Columbus, where we haven’t won since 2000 (sad face). It’s hard, given past history, to say we are favored, but I do think we have an excellent chance of ending that streak.
2(1.00) + .90 + .80 + 2(.75) + .67 + .60 + .55 + .50 + .33 = 8.70 wins
Breaking it down, I favor us in 10/12 games and strongly favor us in 8/12. We really should win 8 games this year. A predicted win count of 8.83 also suggests we are significantly more likely to win 9 or more than 7 or fewer. You never know, but I’d say a season in which we beat ND, lose to MSU, lose one dropped one egg and coin-flip against Ohio seems like a good bet. That would put us at 9/10 wins, depending on the outcome of that last game. (We might also drop more than one egg, but a better defense, schematic upgrade on offense and easier schedule should limit the number.)
Getting past 9 wins, though, would probably require the balance of intangibles to really go our way: not only talent, execution and the right balance of aggression and caution in play-calling, but also a positive balance on fortuitous turnovers, a lack of devastating injuries and fewer soul-crushing penalties going our way than theirs. This does happen (2011!) but sometimes it doesn’t (2012!). Never forget that a few bad calls or throws can turn a 10 win season into an 8er.
Alas, we kinda sorta need 9 wins to keep the program moving forward. 8 might be enough to buy Hoke another year, but less than that and the pitchforks come out. Even 8 would keep us in a bad kind of limbo. On the other hand, 9+ would show progress, shore up recruiting and illuminate a path for 2015, when nearly all of the personnel pieces—painstakingly cobbled together after the recruiting/attrition disasters of 2010 and 2011—look to be in order. Whether this truth breeds hunger or desperation is one of the million dollar questions of our upcoming season.
In past years I’ve asked: what Star Wars movie or Song of Ice and Fire book will our season resemble. The answers: Attack of the Clones (2012) and A Dance with Dragons (2013). Did you like A Dance with Dragons? I did not.
This year our theme will be the Aliens movies. I’m using another list from the same site as template, though omitting the Predator and AVP films in order to simplifying it to 5 categories (even though, as any comic nerd of the early 1990s knows, they exist in the same universe). I also switched around the rankings of Prometheus and Alien3 because, well, s/he was wrong.
Metaphor: Alien is unquestionably the best entry in the series and arguably the best sci-fi/horror movie of the color film era. We’re back to being the Gold Standard, baby!
Scenario: 12-0 or 11-1. We chart a similar path to MSU 2013: our defense is elite, our offensive is good enough, the playcalling is better on both sides of the ball and fortune is with us. In all likelihood, this means we’ve made it to the Big 10 Championship Game and beaten at least 2/3 of our rivals.
Probability: .10. Not likely at all—but not unimaginable either. Check it: our defense will probably be one of the 2 or 3 best in the conference and there are no elite offenses on our schedule. On the other side, the new offensive scheme and philosophy will hopefully keep opposing defenses from stacking the box, meaning they’ll have to beat our not-good OL with their DL. That might not mean much but for the fact that there are really only 2 good DLs on our schedule. A 1/10 chance isn’t very big, but it’s something.
Record and Metaphor: Aliens may not be quite as good as Alien, but it is still really good—one of the best action films of the 1980s. Full of memorable scenes, characters, and (prophetically, I hope) ends with a badass beatdown of the ultimate villain.
Scenario: 10-2. Essentially, we are almost as good as in the first scenario, but lack the consistency and singularity of vision. In other words, something goes wrong somewhere, like it did against Iowa in 2011 and in nearly every year under Carr. But the ship rights itself. And we are totally actiontastic.
Probability: .20. Now we’re talking plausible! As I mentioned above, this is where we end up if things consistently roll the right way, like they did in 2011 and didn’t in 2012. After all, I’ve got us favored in 10/12 games. However, that doesn’t mean I expect us to win 10 games—this type of model doesn’t work like that. There’s still too much uncertainty for me to really get behind a 10-win season. But there are two plausible roads to 10 wins: take 2/3 rivalry games on the road and drop one elsewhere or take 1/3 rivalry games and not drop one anywhere. I don’t think either is super likely, but ND making the National Championship Game in 2012 wasn’t super likely either.
Record and Metaphor: 9-3. While David Fincher’s entry is by no means bad, it isn’t great either. Put another way, it’s the kind of movie you don’t turn off if it happens to be on HBO, and enjoy it enough to watch again the next time that happens. But you never love it, and after some time it ends up lumped together with all the other movies that fit the same description. That was the deal for every ho-hum 9-3 season of the Carr era. Only now we haven’t actually had any 9-3 seasons for a really long time. In fact, we’ve only had 1 season in the past 7 where we had more than 8 wins. So maybe ol’ ho-hum Alien3 ain’t lookin’ so ho-hum anymore.
Scenario: A 9-3 team is the embodiment of “good enough, but not that good,” and that’s what the sum total of our on paper strengths and weaknesses, set against the sum total of our schedule, most strongly imply we will be. As such, I see 9-3 as the most likely outcome if the balance of intangibles comes out roughly even. After all, we do play all our rivals on the road and have a massive question mark at OL to go along with the depth and talent on defense and relatively easy home schedule.
Probability: .35. The most likely scenario according to THE MATH, and the one I suspect (along with many of you) will be the final outcome of our season. The version most pundits picking 9-3 is: lose to ND, MSU and Ohio and beat everyone else. I don’t think that’s the likeliest scenario, especially given roster issues at ND and Ohio (as well as recent history in our rivalry with ND), but also considering the now oft-mentioned propensity of our team to drop at least one egg—usually but not exclusively on the road. Going 1/3 against our rivals and losing to someone like PSU or Utah feels more “right” to me.
Metaphor: A film you were all geared up for but largely disappointed by. It does feature some dazzling moments and exceptional individual performances, but on balance it just isn’t very good. The narrative is confused and full of inconsistencies, while some of the characters keep doing incredibly stupid things. Put that helmet back on!
Scenario: 8-4. We lose all 3 rivalry games plus one more, or we go 1-2 in the rivalry games and drop 2 more. Blech.
Probability: .30. Pundits who don’t predict 9-3 tend to settle on 8-4, and there’s good reason for that: we’ve thrown away games in each of the last two seasons, so why expect that to change now? You might counter argue with: “major changes in offensive and defensive philosophy, that’s why.” But we still don’t know how quickly the shift from Borges to Nussmeier will pay the expected dividends. And it’s important to note that teams with great defenses and struggling offenses don’t always go to the Rose Bowl. MSU 2012 is instructive, as are Michigan’s 1995 and 1996 teams.
5. Alien Resurrection
Metaphor: Directed by the supremely talented Jean-Pierre Jeunot and featuring a screenplay by Joss Whedon—what could possibly go wrong? Nearly everything, that’s what. As Whedon later said: “"It wasn't a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines...mostly...but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They… just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable.”
Scenario: 7-5 or worse. Our defense is not as good as expected and/or our offense is as bad or worse than last year. Coach: meet hot seat. Athletic Director: meet pitchforks.
Probability: .15. Not outside the realm of possibility, but I’m also just not seeing this as very plausible either.
In sum, this model predicts there is an:
- 85% chance we win 8-10 games.
- 65% chance we win 8-9 games.
- 35% chance we win 9 games
- 30% chance we win 8 games
- 20% chance we win 10 games
- 15% chance we win 7 or fewer games
- 10% chance we win 11 or more games.
Rhetorical Question: wait, should recent turmoil at Notre Dame and Braxton Miller’s injury upgrade our chances? Didn’t you say yourself that there’s a clear roadmap to 10 wins?
I did and they certainly do—but not as much as you’d think. ND has roster depth on defense and our OL is almost guaranteed to struggle in that early game. As for Ohio, yes, Miller did pose a major problem for us—far greater than any posed by his backups. But there are other issues for us in that matchup that you just can’t ignore. Like us, they face turnover on the OL. But like us, they also have an offensive scheme that should produce improvement over the course of the season. And on defense, they have one of the only DLs that can shut down run lanes and pressure quarterbacks without help.
Of course, this “uncertainty model” makes certain baseline assumptions: that our defense will be better than last year; that our OL will struggle early but show improvement over the course of the season; that we are upgrading, schematically, on both sides of the ball; that our opponents will perform largely as advertised; and that the balance of intangibles will be roughly even. If any of these assumptions proves incorrect, or if I under/overestimates their effect, the level of uncertainty will shift in one direction or another, as it has in past years.
I’m somewhat concerned that most of these assumptions tilt in our favor, but our defense and schedule alone should provide some insulation from the worst-case (under 6 wins) and near-worst (6-7 wins) scenarios. It really does seem like a choice between 8 or 9 wins, with a solid chance of 10 if things consistently roll the right way. They typically do not, but occasionally they do, so there’s that. I’m a cautious optimist by nature, and the model does say 9 is more likely than 8, so I think that’s the most likely outcome. Daring choice? Hardly, but it does feel right to me.
The implications of a 9-3 season are relatively clear: increased job security for the coaching staff and, for fans, a sense that things are moving in the right direction. On the other hand, 9-3 isn’t quite good enough to end the speculation either. At some point, Hoke and company are going to have to win that Big 10 Championship they’ve been talking about since coming to Ann Arbor. We may still be a year early for that, but we at least need to see that a path to that is clear.
ADDENDUM: Retro Movie Designations
We’ve learned that 2012 was Attack of the Clones and 2013 was A Dance with Dragons. Since we’re going back to a science fiction film theme, I figured I might as well bestow retro film designations to each season since Carr retired. Here they are:
2008 (3-9): Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace – a film you had high hopes for even though you knew it could never live up to your expectations. But you never expected the heavy dose of Jar-Jar and that kid. Five minutes of Darth Maul aside, a cultural atrocity.
2009 (5-7): Wolverine: Origins – a film that had a few cool scenes near the beginning but fell apart midway and just kept getting worse as it went along.
2010 (7-5): A.I.: Artificial Intelligence – a film based on a cool premise that felt like it was moving in the right direction until it ended with 30 minutes of unforgivable garbage.
2011 (10-2): Rise of the Planet of the Apes – a film you assumed would be mediocre but ended up being surprisingly good.
2012 (8-4): Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones – a film that had its moments, but unfortunately also had its Jar-Jar moments.
2013 (7-5): Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – a film directed by William Shatner.
*I also read the presser in which Hoke says Glasgow would start over Pipkins and I am as mystified by it as you are. Assume it either means Pipkins isn't quite healthy yet or it's a motivational tactic.
**Transitive property FAIL: we keep beating ND and ND keeps beating MSU in an era when MSU keeps beating us.
***Technically a win, but portended ominous things that mostly came to fruition.
****Guarantee not recognized in any US state, territory or foreign polity.
It's that time again. Wow. It's already that time again. That glorious time of year when Saturday afternoons bring bliss and heartache, elation and dismay, victory and defeat. It's time to cheer for the Champions of the West (ironically in the B1G East) and sing Hail To The Victors until our voice is gone. When do we play and to whom do we send defeat? All that and more are answered in the following wallpaper gluttony. In case you missed some of the earlier wallpapers I made in the off-season, I've included those. I hope you enjoy these as they are a labor of love for my MGoBrothers and MGoSisters. We may not always agree on everything (Is Art Deco cool? Is Hoke the man for the job?), but one thing we all can agree on is that we support our Wolverines and to hell with Ohio State.
I figure I should get this in now before the annual Brian Cook killer content tsunami hits next week (so stoked). This is an exercise if have done publically twice now (2010, 2013) and its turning out to be a worthwhile thing to do. I think last years results are about as good as can be expected and suspect that it will be difficult to match them again. That’s not going to stop me from trying though.
Here are a few process/assessment notes to help you judge where I’m coming from on these. As with all fortune tellers I try to give myself as much wiggle room as I think I need. I think I can generally get the tier correct even if the number is off somewhat.
- Getting within 4 points of the actual value is good enough for me to call it a bingo. In essence I'm claiming an error of +/- 4 rating points. That’s kinds of a wide berth but I think seeking for more accuracy than that is a fool’s errand.
- In cases were I see the potential for high variation, I post a range (sometimes narrow, sometimes wide). This is partially to help me list the guys in the order I think they'll land and partially to maximize my opportunity to be right. If the actual result goes through the window I claim it as “on the money”, otherwise I use the closest goal post to conduct the assessment. This is about identifying potential and likely threats.
- I try to be as positive as I can about these assessments. It is my nature to be optimistic and look for the ways good outcomes might manifest. If the stated range is below or contains 130, that's my polite way of saying that I think the player might post a poor performance. I'm not going to predict a dude is going to suck because that's a shitty thing to do. If the predicted range is below/contains 130 and the player end up below that, I count it as a bingo: I thought he would struggle and he did.
- If the player listed gets beat out for the starting gig, the assessment transfers to the new player. I try to figure out either who I think should be the starter or who will be. If I get that wrong then so be it and bad on me for not teasing it out. Plus, it should avoidable by waiting to post closer to the season.
I try not to pop my collar this hard but I'm very pleased with the results from last year. The chart below is a brief tabulated review of what was said and what played out.
|"…there’s regime change in West Lafayette and the Boilermakers only have 5 starters returning on offense. ...will do well to post a 125."||125||116.1|
|"It wouldn’t be a shock if he jumped up to the low 130 range but that would be a neat trick….125-135"||125||119|
|"I think Sokol can do 125."||125||126.5|
|"I’m thinking freshman Chad Henne and Braylon Edwards here. "||130||134|
|"MSU’s offense improves to the basic level: meaning Maxwell (or alternate) posts a 130-ish passer rating (125-134)"||130||135.5|
|"I’ll wager that it takes a year for [the new offense] to hum and look for Stave to slide a little to the 140 range"||140||138.1|
|"This will be his fourth year as starter and at this point he has leveled off at the seasoned veteran level for a passer."||140||140|
|"I expect Nate to return to his 130 form."||130||140.7|
|"It’s possible either [Coffman or Sudfeld] will be the guy this coming season but I’m going to assume Coffman’s experience gives him the nod. 130 – 140"||140||142|
|paraphrasing: potentially a monster but will most likely fall from the monster category to the really friggin good category.||145||146|
|"I view Kain’s rating as stable and unfortunately can’t see him doing more than a 130 … I think he’s better than that but the numbers don't lie."||130||148.3|
|"The YPA and TD% are where the magic will happen for OSU...If those numbers improve, then Braxton will keep folks up at night. I suspect they will. 145 - 160"||160||158.1|
Six of the twelve ratings predictions were very close to the actual value. I would never had guessed it could be this high. Either this stuff is more predictable than I ever would have imagined or The KNOWLEDGE has taken over my computer. Of the 12 Big Ten QB’s assessed only two 2 broke out of the expected tiers: Nathan Scheelhasse and Kain Colter.
Scheelhasse gets a tip of the cap for defying the numbers and pulling off the Stanzi Leap even though he had to overcome scheme and support issues. Colter’s case was a flat out miss. I stated that I felt like he was better than I could justify with the data; that was wrong he had previously performed at the monster level in 2011 but his roll expanded in 2012 and I assumed it would continue to expand and therefore continue to reduce the oops-pow-surpriseness of using him as a changeup. It didn't and the change-up nature of his role along with his skill set allowed him to be a part time monster.
But, Tommy Rees was my pièce de résistance:
Looking forward, maybe Tommy finally says [eff] it and let’s it rip a bit in his last go around. To me that looks like Tommy Reese 2011 with fewer Interceptions. That means 135 –140, probably. … Otherwise, he is what he is: 130.
|Year||RAT||ATT||CMP%||YPA||TD||INT||TD %||INT %|
If lower completion percentage and higher YPA don't constitute “eff it, let it rip”…well, I disagree.
/dirt off my shoulder
/appeal for authority
One more thing, this year I’m trying to account for schedule strength both in retrospect as well as looking forward. Retrospect is easy, I’m just looking at Football Outsider’s 2013 Passing Defense S&P+ and looking at how many defenses were easy (bottom 30), hard (top 30), and in between. Very arbitrary, but its better than nothing.
Looking forward I have taken 2013 final rankings and looked at the number of returning starters as well as returning defensive production (percentage of tackles returning) to get an idea of where I think teams are likely to end up. I also bake in mean regression in the sense that if you’re #1, you’re not likely to be that again even if you remain good and if you’re terrible regression should pull you up. It’s all kinda vague and this diary is already super long so here’s the chart I put together to help me figure out which of the B1G schedules I expect to be QB friendly or not-so-friendly. This chart is forward looking:
Kam Bryant, Appalachian State
|2013 Rating: 151.1||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||183.6||148.2||116.6||221.9|
Eh boy…Kam Bryant was kind of good last year. And, he actually improved his completion percentage from the previous year. Sure, sure, FCS, but you still have to make the ball go where you want it to. They had a lot of returning players last year and I can’t figure out why they lost so many games. My guess is bad defense and the fact that they we in the first year of a coaching transition. This year they once again have a lot of experience returning on offense including all 5 offensive lineman with 126 career starts among them. So, like, good QB, veteran team, um, uh…eh boy. Its good that we like our defense this year.
Projection: too many unknowns
Everett Golson, Notre Dame
|2013 Rating: 131||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||129.8||136.8||111.0||185.9|
Obviously, having Golson return is good but he wasn’t that good of a passer in 2012. Remember, Notre Dame’s defense was stellar that season and Goslon could bail himself out with his legs. I think the passer rating factors prove it: low accuracy, meh YPA, low TD rate, awesome INT rate. The TD and INT rates are what they are because Golson would simply pull the ball down and run rather than force the ball into a bad spot. Smart.
However, I wouldn't say he’s a a scary runner either judging by his rushing stats from that season. Sure, he can do some things but we’re not talking about Johnny Football here. He’s two off-seasons removed from that performance and I expect his skill level to be much improved. Nothing to do but work on technique. Yeah man, he should be pretty good.
The scandal type substance going on down in South Bend damages the defensive roster for the most part. Otherwise, ND has some to replace 2 starters on the offensive line and new primary receivers. Notre Dame has recruited very well under Kelly so I don't expect them to have a problem finding the answers.
Andrew Hendrix, Miami (OH)
Hendrix was an ESPN four-star prospect in the class of 2010 and was simply stuck behind Everett Golson and Tommy Rees the whole time. Realistically, last year would have been his first real chance to start and though Rees wasn’t a stellar QB he was a solid one. Chuck Martin, Miami's new head coach, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame the last two seasons and actually worked for an eventually replaced Brian Kelly at Grand Valley. This is a pretty good situation, in that regard. Unfortunately, Miami has a new head coach for a reason, they stunk the last 3 years and were particularly bad last year. Their offensive line is all upper classmen but have very little starting experience between them.All told, I think Miami can have a decent offense this year and Hendrix should do well.
Projection: 135 – 140.
Travis Wilson, Utah
|2013 Rating: 129.6||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||118.1||139.6||149.5||50.8|
Wilson played and started in nine games last year, leading Utah to a 4-2 start, including an upset win over Stanford. But then he hurt his throwing hand and his season ended after suffering a concussion against Arizona State. Wilson also played in 12 games in 2012 so, this will be his third year as a starter. Utah offensive line will be young on the right side and but returns 3 players who are now upper classmen. Their leading receiver from last year (Dres Anderson) is back as is their leading rusher (Bubba Poole) but Poole doesn't look like a dynamic runner to me.Wilson should be decent.
Projected B1G Rankings
Danny Etling, Purdue
|2013 Rating: 116.1||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||116.8||112.6||110.7||147.4|
True freshman Etling generally played to his rating during his first year as a starter and with poor support around him and a new coaching staff. On top of that Purdue's schedule was light on the cupcakes—probably because they didn't play themselves (zing!)—yet they played the normal amount of good and manageable teams. So the deck was stacked way against Etling last year and that is also reflected in his rating. That said, his INT% was very good which bodes well for his decision making.
Etling will naturally improve as a second year player and the Boilermakers return experienced skill position players. Unfortunately, they need to break in new starters at 3 locations on the O Line so that's bad for Danny. Also, Akeem Hunt does not look to be a very dynamic runner according to my little RB Rating thing. But, I expect the passing defenses Purdue will be facing to be generally favorable*.
Projection: 125 – 130
Gary Nova, Rutgers
|2013 Rating: 124.7||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||110.9||128.2||139||93.75|
I understand why that Gary Nova anti-hype video exists now… The team/scheme stuff looks OK and RB Paul James looks legit though he missed some time last year with a broken tibia. Also, the schedule Rutgers tilted against last year ended up being pretty soft from a QB's perspective so there's really no excuse - Nova straight up performed poorly last year. Its on Nova and his coaches to improve the efficiency of the passing game.
Unfortunately, Nova is probably maxed out in terms of improvement. Dude is a senior who was a returning starter that had played in 18 games and started 13 going into the 2013 season. If he was going to make a leap, it should have showed up by now. Their offensive line returns plenty of experience, James will tote the rock like a boss, the offense returns 9 starters, and the defense returns a lot of production. Unfortunately, I think Nova is what he's going to be: a mediocre QB. For the record, I said similar things about Ricky Stanzi going into 2011 and he threw an egg at my face.
Mitch Leidner, Minnesota
|2013 Rating: 131.9||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||113.8||144.1||112.0||217.6|
Mitch no longer has to worry about competing for the starting spot after Phillip Nelson transferred in the offseason. This should allow him to focus on learning the offense and improving his game. Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot to base a projection on other than his recruiting profile and Kill’s track record for developing QBs. The offensive line for the gophers returns a lot of experience and RBs Rodrick Williams Jr. and David Cobb should both be able to contribute to Mitch’s progression. Between the line and the backs, Leidner should find enough time to be okey but his skills are grossly lacking at this point in time.
J.T. Barret, Ohio State
File Not Found, Man. When I find myself in a desert of data I turn to Proxy analysis. I did this to great affect in 2010 when trying to figure out what might be possible out of Denard that year. The thing is, there was *some* data to work with there. We knew he wasn’t a very good passer but that it sounded like he had tangibly improved to the point of being a viable QB. Here, we’ve got nothing. Well, not *nothing*…
We know the style of QB he is (Dual Threat), the he was a well regarded recruit (top 100-ish, 4 star), and that he’ll be playing in a very good offensive system (Urban Meyer). The proxies that I think are reasonable comps are listed in the table below.
The bigger problem here is that Ohio State’s offense just got gutted. With the loss of Braxton Miller they only return 4 starters and have an offensive line that has the same issues as Michigan’s does. I don’t doubt that there’s talent available but getting good at this game requires experience and there’s only one way to do that: play. Their two leading rushers (Miller, Hyde) are gone and though Ezekiel Elliot and Bri’onte Dunn are talented, they’re inexperienced…and so is everybody else! The run game can’t cover for the pass game and the pass game can’t cover for the run game.
In terms of schedule, Ohio State will have to deal with Virginia Tech, Michigan State, and Michigan all of which I project to be very good defenses and they’re light on cupcakes. I think this is the second toughest schedule in the conference behind Maryland.
That’s a bad overall mix, y’all. We are dealing with Ohio State so maybe things come together, but those are headwinds...that’s a daggum hurricane. I’m expecting JT to be in the lower end of his proxy range.
Projection: 130 - 135
Trevor Siemian, Northwestern
|2013 Rating: 126.4||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||133.9||129.9||110.0||126.5|
Trevor was the primary QB for his second year last season and his performance was bad though he showed significant improvement over 2012. The only factor truly lagging his rating was TD rate which probably had something to do with Kain Colter’s skill set. The other three factors are right around where you'd expect them to be for a QB with a rating of 126. The offensive line did give up a lot of sacks last year between he and Kain Colter and the loss of Venric Mark as a backfield weapon certainly hurt, but Trayvon Green did just fine as a primary back so the run game must have been OK. I will say that NW's schedule was light on cupcakes last year as they played only 3 teams I would consider to have weak pass defenses where typical B1G schedule features about 5 of those not including FCS teams. So that's a tough draw that might help explain some of the performance problems.
This year Siemian returns for his 3rd year as a primary starter with an offensive line that has a ton of experience on it. Although Venric Mark has moved on, Treyvon Green is a capable back. I think NW's B1G West schedule will be QB friendly and Trevor should put in his best performance yet.
Tommy Armstrong Jr., Nebraska
|2013 Rating: 124.3||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||99.85||133.1||151||63.8|
Armstrong split time with Ron Kellogg filling in when Taylor Martinez was injured last year. Both Taylor and Kellogg are gone now so Tommy is the man. In regards to his performance, he struggled pretty hard with his his completion percentage and interception rate which are both kind of hideous. His run-to-pass ratio is pretty high but he doesn't look like an ultra dynamic runner either judging by his Rusher Rating. That doesn't sound very ... intimidating. His YPA was solid and his TD% was elite so if he can improve his accuracy and the support/scheme stuff holds, he could do some damage. He was a first year starter that split time last year whereas he's the man now so he could definitely show rapid year-over-year improvement.
We know from Denard Robinson how quickly a player can develop into a devastating weapon in the right system and situation. For Denard the right system was worth 20 or points in passer rating. Tommy is currently under the Mendoza line so gravity is pulling him up and Nebraska's schedule looks workable from a pass defense perspective so, I can see him easily improving his passer rating by 10-15 points or so; 20 points is not out of the question. The problem is that, although Armstrong has good RBs behind him in Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross, Nebraska needs to replace a lot of experience on the offensive Line. He'll be better, but he's got a ways to go before he's Taylor F. Martinez. I think he can get there, just not sure if he get there this year or next. High variance here.
Jake Rudock, Iowa
|2013 Rating: 126.5||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||130.5||123.6||129.5||111.2|
Ruddock's first year as a starter was...OK relatively speaking. INTs are what done it. His YPA is also pretty weak. The schedule he faced wasn’t particularly difficult either. So, lack of experience really is the number one thing standing out to me. In regards to the support he had, the Gain% by the running backs looks fine and the sacks were low so it looks like the offensive line did their job. Unfortunately, the wrath that AIRBHG hath wrought has left the Iowan Dilithium stores in dire straights and the Hawkeye running attack was a plodding, cloud-of-dust type of game. There is one guy though: Jordan Canzeri. He didn't get a lot of play last year but he looks legit by the numbers. If I were a Hawkeye fan I'd want to see Canzeri’s role expand in a big way.
Getting back to Ruddock, a year of experience and the switch to the B1G West should bode well for him. The OOC slate is QB-licious and, the way I see it, the top tier B1G pass defenses are in the B1G East. Iowa returns a decent amount of experience on the offensive line and Canzeri is at least available, whether or not he's the guy remains to be seen. With Iowa's defense needing to reload a bit, this could be a breakout year for Ruddock.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
|2013 Rating: 134||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||130.36||136.3||128.2||151.1|
That was a solid true freshman campaign out of Hack last year: *nice* INT rate with all other factors being where they should have been. He was missing a dynamic running threat but throwing to Allen Robinson is a nice outlet to have. Here again it looks to me like the offensive line did their job just fine in terms of Gain% and Sacks so his biggest hurdle was probably straight up experience. He has that now.
Unfortunately, what he doesn't have any more is Allen Robinson, Bill O'Brien, and an experienced OL. Learning a new system isn't easy no matter how talented you are. Then sprinkle in the schedule: Penn State will have to deal with Michigan State and Michigan in the B1G East. And, oh yeah, UCF's pass D wasn't so bad either last year and they're returning a lot of experience and production. On the plus side there are also some pretty soft pass defenses on there, too.
If I'm Hack, I want Akeel Lynch to by my main backfield weapon as he's the most dynamic runner Penn State has as far as I can tell from my shuper shweet command shenter. Regardless, there are very
shtiff stiff headwinds blowing in Happy Valley. I'm looking for Hack to improve completion percentage and maintain his touchdown and interception rate but expect to see his YPA go down. Net result: flat passer rating. That said, there’s no way I can drop him any further on this list in good conscience.
Wes Lunt, Illinois
|2013 Rating: 137.3||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||143.0||154.3||121.4||79.2|
Wes Lunt got hosed. He won the starting gig at OKST as a true freshman in 2012 but got injured and his the job so he transferred. He posted a rating of 137 on 131 attempts which is pretty good even when you discount the lesser competition he faced. The TD Rate and INT rate weren't up to par, but that's typical of a first year starter. Having to sit out 2013 after transferring, he's had the opportunity to absorb Bill Cubits offense from the sideline which should help him get on plane faster once he sees the field. Illinois returns 4 of its OL and a pretty good RB in Josh Ferguson, but they need to replace their best receiving option. The schedule difficulty for 2014 is fine from a QB's perspective.
Connor Cook, Michigan State
|2013 Rating: 135.5||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||129.3||130.7||137.0||202.1|
Connor Cook is getting a lot of love this off season and why not, my man has a Rose Bowl ring. Forever and ever. But the defense got him that ring; all he had to do is not screw things up. That's my take on the situation. I will say that Cook's INT rate is outstanding but given that his completion percentage was just okay I think that's more a product of a conservative offensive game plan than the residue of well honed skill. There’s just no way to reasonably expect him to be able to repeat that INT rate. And, since he didn't have to play against his own team, the schedule he faced was easier than most of his interleague peers. Then there's Jeremy Langford who is a solid back to hand off to, so... solid initial season but that's all as far as I'm concerned. His rating is probably inflated due to the INT rate.
Looking ahead, he'll have more experience, Langford, probably an expanded playbook, still doesn't have to play vs. MSU, and a pretty normal OL situation so: he should be able to post some nice numbers but I’m not seeing anything better than early Kirk Cousins just yet. That'll do pretty nicely if you ask me.
Joel Stave, Wisconsin
|2013 Rating: 138.1||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||143.3||134.0||146.8||108.9|
In my write up about Stave last year I indicated that while I liked Stave, I thought his stellar passer rating from 2012 might slide back due to issues with switching offenses in the Bielema departure. It looks like that is exactly what happened. His completion percentage and TD rate both improved but his YPA and INT rate plummeted. The drop in YPA might be attributable to the scheme change but the INT rate is that of a guy who tried to force things to happen.
This year the Badgers return 4 on the OL and Melvin Gordon is definitely the next great Badger running back (where do they find these guys?). The issue he'll have to overcome is the loss of all of his primary pass catchers most notably Jared Abbrederis. The schedule is pretty QB friendly as LSU in week 1 presents the only formidable defense they should see all year. This is another situation where he could get better and not change his rating.
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
|2013 Rating: 142||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||136.1||142.1||146.5||138.3|
Sudfled slayed two former incumbents (Roberson, Coffman) to claim to the starting role early last year. That's kind of a big deal as those guys weren't scrubs and Kevin Wilson knows quarterbacks; dude has game. It was his first season with extended starting experience and he put up really good numbers. The skill factors (CMP%, INT%) were slightly low relative to his rating but they were still good. They system/support numbers (YPA, TD%) were great which is exactly what I’d expect from a Kevin Wilson offense targeting Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes with good QB play. The schedule last year was appropriately challenging as well. Very good performance.
Heading into this year Sudfled returns with a great track record, more experience, all 5 of his offensive linemen, and a dangerous RB in Tevin Coleman. He does have to deal with both Michigan State and Michigan but going up a against tough competition didn't phase this guy last year. I think WR Shane Wynn can step in just fine for Kofi Hughes but the loss of Latimer will hurt the vertical game. I think they find enough answers to stay dangerous.
C.J. Brown, Maryland
|2013 Rating: 135.9||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||130.1||144.4||121.8||154.7|
I don’t think I like this guy. Not because he's bad but because he might be pretty dang good. I'm thinking about a Kain Colter type of guy that doesn't get taken out of the game for a less dynamic player. In 2011 he started 5 games and was set to be the incumbent in 2012 but he had to take medical redshirt in that year due to a torn ACL he suffered in a non-contact drill during fall camp. Last year was CJ's first full season as a starter and his completion percentage was OK, but his YPA and INT rate were very good; a low TD rate is what held his rating down. Plus, he was a dynamic runner out of the backfield in his first season after ACL surgery. So, like, no thanks. Send this guy back. Oh yeah, he did all that against a tough schedule...Florida State, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Clemson. Two elite pass Ds and to good ones. Now I REALLY don't like him. Nope. No me gusta. Not even un poquito.
It keeps getting worse. Remember Juice Williams? The OC at Illinois calling plays for him is currently in the same capacity at Maryland calling plays for Brown. He's been there 3 years so the system should be well established and the Terp OL is in normal shape. The offense returns 8 starters. Now I really hate him. /Doc Holliday #tombstone
His only issue is the schedule. He has to face 3 probably good pass defenses in Michigan State, Michigan, and Syracuse and no real Illinois-level cupcakes. Don’t sleep on this guy.
Projection: 140 - 150
Devin Gardner, Michigan
|2013 Rating: 146.1||CMP%||YPA||TD%||INT%|
|Single Factor Rating||136.3||156.7||140.9||122.6|
I’m about to officially become the self-proclaimed Devin Gardner hype man. In fact, I’m going to feed the machine some cash money for a 98 jersey. That’s a good friggin’ jersey. Look at that thing….
News Flash: I ab-so-lu-te-ly L-O-V-E this guy. I would have taken him as the most talented QB in the league even before Braxton Miller sustained his unfortunate injury. That's not a slight to Braxton—dude has game—but that's how much potential I see in Devin. I’ve had him on Monster Watch since last year but blah, blah, offensive line, yadda, yadda, borges, blah. Yeah man, there is *one* known bad, and we cant see how it’ll become a known good. So what? There’s a lot to like about out situation, man:
I'm assessing the schedule as unfriendly to QBs not because I expect many tough games but I don't see as many vulnerable defenses for him to feast on as a typical B1G schedule. That said, there is only one defense that should pose a problem—Michigan State. Whatever I’ll grant them the ability to simply fill the loss of a first round defensive back (Dennard) and a multi-generationally-died-in-the-wool-spartan-baller (Bullough). Big deal, those grow on trees. What? Denicos, Isaiah, Tyler, and Micah are gone too? Psh, ‘Duzzi’s got pockets full of guys better than that. Be warned whereas the practice squad’s just crawling with replacements better than those guys, just you wait. You don't have to believe me this is an acurate statement.
….Otherwise I think it will be a very manageable schedule to say the least.
Devin’s backfield (Green, Smith) frankly haven’t had the opportunity to show their talent because they weren't capable of displacing Fitzgerald Toussaint as starter last year and blah, blah, offensive line, yadda, yadda, blah. But we’ve been worse off going into the season in the very recent past. Even those guys, the offensive line, they’re talent laden (no reason to believe otherwise yet) though still incubating. Do you really want to be around when a god damn baby alien breaks through its shell? Do you? I do, but only because they’re on my side, hoss.
And the weapons, the weapons! The guys Devin will be throwing to are either obnoxious already (Funchess), have shown us real dynamism in the open field (Norfleet), or have observable talent backed up by that sweet, delicious, gloriously unconfirmable-yet-undeniable off-season hype (Darboh, Canteen). Sheeit, I’ll bet on the come no dizzo, all day er’day, son. Scurred money don't make none, holmes. And Chesson, my man, just blowing punk asses up like a neo Lamar “Guns-Don't-Kill-People-I-Do” Woodley.
Yeah, I said it. And it’s too late for take-backs. Lamar. M---a. F---in’. Woodley.
I can see it now
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~diddly do, diddly do, diddly do~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Second and a long two, deep in the fourth quarter at the Spartan thirty-five. Michigan’s down four. The Refs peel away a two tons of flesh and bone and sinew to reveal the ball then quickly scramble to spot it. Several players from both teams sub in and out but most of them are running to the spot jaw-jacking like boys do when they’re about to throw down.
[Is Darboh limping!?! You gotta be f---ing kidding me!]
On his way to the spot, Devin looks towards the sideline and reads the play call, then stops dead in his tracks and swags a little as he rubs his hands together out of anticipation.
[Huh? Oh snap…its about to go down for real].
As he gets to the line of scrimmage, Devin barks out a call to the linemen and does some Bruce Lee ninja nunchaku hand motions for the receivers. The ball is on the right hash and the team settles into Pistol Trips TE with Norfleet, Chesson and Funchess on the line, at the boundry.
[…the f--- is that?]
The line settles for a moment, then Devin motions the TE to the left side of the formation. “Hutt!” The back shows play action before flaring to the left flat ad Norfleet drops into a into the right flat.
Safeties and LBs close down hard on ‘Fleet and the offensive line pushes the defensive tackles and ends play side. Fleet takes a hard jab step forward then drops his left foot towards the feild.
[huh? oh sh---]
Before Dantonio can say ass, Fleet hurls a cross-field pass to Devin who has set up behind a convoy running up the hash.
Glide, glide, touchdown. WHAT!?!
[Can you say trickeration, m---f---er? Tanscontinental Railroad in the m---a f---in’ house! CHOO-CHOO, BABY! CHOO-CHOOOOOOO!!!!1!!1111]
Vodka, tequila, [other stuff]… make some babies. Do it again.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~diddly do, diddly do, diddly do~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ahem… I’m very interested in seeing how this season plays out. Go Blue.
Projection: M---er F---in’ MONSTER (or 145, whichever actually happens).
I am the artist formally known as Drkboarder and I thought I'd do a little gif recap of the rollercoaster from last year and start working on the gifs for this year. I plan on doing this as often as there is something interesting (may not always be UM related).
I was going to do an Ode to Al Borges gifset but I ripped on him enough last year, time to move forward. EDIT: But here's a video from last year: http://youtu.be/Cl9raMN24Rg
The rest of the B1G results wrapped up in a gif:
The beginning of the 2014 season of Tales from the Gif:
Hopefully we will have plenty of reasons for happy gifs this year. Go Blue.
BONUS hockey gif:
Michigan faced a tougher test against the Mantova Stings, which will move up to Italy's second divison this year, than they had in their first three games of the Italy tour. Despite falling behind early in the third quarter, however, the Wolverines still managed to win with relative ease, holding the Stings to ten fourth-quarter points to win 96-76. Michigan finishes with a perfect 4-0 record in Italy, and they'll head back to Ann Arbor this weekend.
Zak Irvin led the team in scoring for the fourth time in four games with 16 points to go along with ten rebounds. Six other Wolverines, including three freshmen—MAAR, Ricky Doyle, and Aubrey Dawkins—finished in double figures. Full box score (click to embiggen):
Tweet of the day goes to this guy:
— Kevin McCarthy (@kevmc21) August 22, 2014
Basketball-related Macbeth reference? TMD.
Postgame quotes courtesy of the athletic deparment.
Michigan Head Coach John Beilein
On what can be gained from today's game in comparison to the previous three contests ... "Every game has helped us in different ways. These games are not about the score, but experiencing playing basketball with a team like we have right now. As we went through the games, we saw new things that we have to learn. Today we played a very experienced team; they had a plan. They haven't been practicing a lot, but the things that they ran are a part of European basketball everywhere. They picked us apart at times, however we scored some points, too."
On whether or not the team got what he wanted them to get out of the Italian Tour ... "Without question. The number one thing is that we got extra days of practice and we also got to play these four games. Close to that in importance is the relationship-building we were able to do on this trip. From player-to-player, player-to-coach and coach-to-player, that was really tremendous. Now let's all get home safely, and this will have been a tremendous trip."
Sophomore Spike Albrecht
On the experience as a whole, from a basketball perspective ... "It was a great experience for everyone and a lot of fun. I was happy with the way the guys came over here and played and the unselfishness that I saw, especially from the freshmen; they were unbelievable. They had a really strong showing over here."
On the way the team responded to a tight second-half score in today's game ... "That was one thing I was looking forward to seeing. When things went a little south, how would we respond? We did a great job refocusing and bringing lots of energy. Our depth was great tonight; we had guys stepping up off the bench and we really played well."
On the experience from a team bonding perspective ... "It was unbelievable -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We got to see things most of us have never seen in our life and may never get to see again, so to be out here because someone else was willing to pay for it is special. We can't thank them enough for the opportunity. It means a lot to every one of us."
Junior Caris LeVert
On the takeaways from this four-game tour ... "It was a great experience coming out here, especially for the freshmen to get comfortable with our offense and our defense and go out there in a game setting and do what we've been practicing."
On the resilience the team showed in the second half of today's game ... "They were up in the second half, so we had to turn up the defensive intensity. We knocked down some shots in the third and fourth quarters, so that was big for us. Off the bench, Muhammad really played well when I was in foul trouble, so that was huge for us."
On the experience from a team bonding perspective ... "Only a couple of guys had been over here -- I think Mark and Derrick, so for us to come overseas and play basketball and be with each other like this was a great bonding experience. We went to some great places like the Vatican and the Colosseum, so it was a blessing to be able to come over here."
Sophomore Derrick Walton Jr.
On how he felt about his performance in today's contest ... "The key for me was just being aggressive and knowing that the team needed me tonight. I came out and hit shots I'd be expected to hit during the season, so the early start was important."
On the four-game tour as a whole and what it has done for the team ... "Mostly it built confidence. For the freshmen, being able to come out and play with us to get a couple of games under their belt gives us team chemistry."
On how the team will benefit down the line from this set of games ... "In the Big Ten, no game is going to be a 20-point game like we had here. It's all getting us ready for the one-possession, two-possession games. As far as getting out and jumping on teams, we've done that in the past, and it doesn't happen often but when you're playing like we have it can always be a possibility."
On the experience from a team bonding perspective ... "It's brought the team a lot closer together. We have a lot of young guys that we've only seen for a couple months, so being able to room with them, talk with them and learn about their personal lives, it brings us closer together on the court. It makes for better continuity out on the floor."
Finally, here are the full combined team/player stats from the four games in Italy (click to embiggen):
Caveat on the turnover/steal/block numbers—those weren't available for the second game, so the totals may be a little misleading. A big thanks to the Michigan basketball media staff for compiling these; I believe they had to do three of the games by hand.