This past summer my new BFF It's Harambe took on the thankless task of asking his fellow MgoBloggers to rank the top 25 Michigan athletes of all time. As the list was revealed it was clear to this reader that some of the most notable players who competed during the athletic stone age (pre-internet) had been forgotten about. This weekly diary will take a look at the more notable players from our past to remind everyone of what they did and why they deserve to be honored and remembered.
On hearing the news of having his jersey retired ... "I had never really even thought about it because it doesn't happen as much in college basketball as it does in pro basketball. I thought the University of Michigan had given me so much already in the chance to play here and an education so I felt I won out in that deal."
Rudy Tomjanovich used an outstanding jump shot and a knack for grabbing rebounds to average 30 points and fifteen rebounds per game and earn All-America honors in 1970. An outstanding high school player in Hamtramck, Michigan, Tomjanovich's accomplishments in the first three years of play in Crisler Arena (1967-1970) made him one of Michigan's basketball immortals.
Over the course of three seasons, the 6-7 forward corralled 1,039 rebounds, still the highest total in Michigan history, and twice led the Big Ten in rebounding (1968-69 and 1969-70). He led the team in scoring in each of his three seasons, totaling 1,808 point, sixth on the all-time list. His 25.1 career scoring average ranks second only to Cazzie Russell. Tomjanovich still holds the Crisler Arena records for single game scoring and field goals (48 points and 21 field goals vs Indiana, 1/7/69) and single game rebounding record (27 in Michigan's first game in Crisler Arean vs Kentucky, 12/2/67). His best rebounding effort came against Loyola in 1969 when he grabbed 30 caroms - tops on the Michigan all-time list.
Rudy was selected in the 1970 NBA draft as the second overall pick by the San Diego Rockets (the franchise relocated to Houston in 1971), for whom he would play the entirety of his NBA career. He was also drafted in both 1970[ and 1974 by the Utah Stars of the ABA. In his eleven years in the NBA, Tomjanovich had a scoring average of 17.4 points and a rebounding average of 8.1, earning five All-Star Game selections in the process (1974–1977, 1979). He is the third-leading scorer in Rockets history behind Hall of Famers Calvin Murphy and Hakeem Olajuwon. Because his last name was so long, the back of Tomjanovich's jerseys would read "RUDY T.", rather than his 11 character name.
Despite Tomjanovich's noteworthy career as a player, he is perhaps best remembered for an infamous occurrence at the height of his playing career. In a December 9, 1977 game, the Los Angeles Lakers' Kermit Washington punched Tomjanovich. The blow shattered Tomjanovich's jaw and face and inflicted life-threatening head injuries, leaving him sidelined for five months. He eventually made a full recovery, but his playing career slowly came to a halt and he was forced to retire in his mid 30s. The story and aftermath are recounted in the John Feinstein book The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever.
On February 10th, 2003 Rudy’s #45 joined Cazzie Russell’s #33 as the only two jersey numbers ever retired by the University of Michigan. On that day Rudy said the following;
"This is a highlight in my really blessed basketball career. The reality of it all is they didn't have to do this for me. They've done enough because they made my dream come true back in 1966 when I got to play here. It was my dream. I was a highly recruited player and I read the letters but the only place I wanted to be was right here because I just love the basketball program. When I got a chance to play here, it was a dream come true. I really got a great basketball education here. They helped me to get drafted high as the second pick in the NBA. I love both my coaches -- Dave Strack, and Johnny Orr was just getting started."
For those wondering I downvoted myself cause I was looking at the post and accidently clicked the down arrow and there's no way to undue the action!
This is going to be a short one. I didn’t get home until late Sunday night, only finished watching the game in full around 9:30 pm. Of course, after weeks of relatively uneventful games that let me ramble on for 5,000 words, an actual, compelling contest breaks out and I’m going to be quick-hitting the whole thing. Ah well.
Best: The Lewis
For a certain vintage of Wolverine fan, The Woodson has mythical properties. It came during that magical 1997 season and, along with the punt return against OSU, was THE signature play for Woodson during his final year. From a contextual standpoint, the play had everything you wanted: the opponent was a rival that was actually pretty good (MSU was ranked as high as #11 that year and were definitely turning into the best version of those Saban teams), the stakes were huge on a season level (UM was #5 in the country), and the game itself was still close late in that third quarter. And in the moment, all of the elements were perfect: Woodson displaying preternatural instincts and athleticism to be in that position, to stretch out every inch of his body, the amazing control to corral that ball and land with a foot inbounds, even the way the referee signalled the turnover with one of those emphatic arm swings you usually see when umpires punch batters out or when Shelton Benjamin's jaw was greeted with some Sweet Chin Music.
It was a perfect distillation of football, of all those coach-isms you hear spouted by announcers of players "just needing to make a football play" as they choke a bit on the faux nostalgia. It's a moment that feels both of the time and timeless, one of the greatest players in college football's history putting his stamp on the timeline while the sidelines seem to to be outfitted only with rejected windbreakers from Eastbay. And the fact that everyone who wasn't in East Lansing that day saw it in 4:3 aspect ratio on some oversized "standard definition" tubed TV made it more indelible because it required a certain article of faith. We didn't have super-clear HD signals on massive flatscreens and DVRs; you saw MSU's QB get flushed toward the sideline, toss it up and out of bounds to live another day, and the next moment you saw Woodson just dripping in swagger from the sideline while the ref said it was UM's ball and it all seemed insane and unbelievable, a defiance of physics and unspoken laws of football. You hear rival fans complain about UM often living on past glories, and there's some truth to that, but every year I find myself watching this play a couple of times and every time it still fills me with the same giddiness, the same excitement, the same logic-defying awe that a person catching synthetic leather in his hand can take my breath away. And it stands up; it'll always stand up.
For a new generation, I hope Jourdan Lewis's interception in this game takes on such reverence, because it deserves it. Like Woodson, even outside of the context of the game the mere mechanics of the play were pretty remarkable. First off, it’s man coverage with Lewis trailing Rushing and only daylight ahead of him. Thomas was somewhat in the vicinity of the play, but had Lewis let that ball get past him I’m not sure anyone stops a TD. Also, like a lot of Hornibrook’s throws, it was a bit short, meaning that Lewis had to judge on the fly that he was no longer trailing the intended receiver but was starting to wall off the “defender” on his own reception. To those watching on TV, it’s obvious the ball is slowing up, but on the field and going at full speed, I have to imagine this wasn’t as clear. Plus, if the ball was coming up short, the corner is always susceptible to the cheap PI call as the target tries to “fight back” to the ball, forcing Lewis to play it as it flew. And finally, he had to make that play with full extension and only one hand.
I know there are #GameTheory reasons why Lewis should have just batted that ball down (1st-and-goal from the 8 vs. around midfield), but this is college football, and so "knock it down" isn't a given. But regardless, it was an amazing play by a player I think some people have forgotten about amongst the stars on defense. But while Peppers and the line have gotten the lion’s share of the attention these first couple of games, and Stribling and (before his injury) Clark played great while Lewis was on the mend, it’s Jourdan who was the All-American last year and hasn’t missed a beat since he took the field.
Now, Lewis probably isn’t going to receive the accolades Woodson received during that year; if anything, another defensive player will be getting that love. But this team still has the same goals, and if they attain them it’ll be because of players like Lewis making plays like that.
Best: Eater of (Cheese) Worlds
Oh boy, the defense.
Where to start? Wisconsin’s isn’t a dynamic offense, but it still came into the game averaging around 410 yards per game; they finished the day with 159 yards. They didn’t crack 100 yards rushing or passing despite averaging about 200 in each phase coming into the game. Despite only recording 2 sacks on the day, UM’s defense allowed exactly 3 drives (out of 13) over 4 plays, with no drive being longer than 37 yards. Wiscy’s lone score came after a 46-yard interception return, and for the game were only in UM territory 3 times. If last weeks’ game was an ass kicking, this was a smothering.
At no point did Wisconsin show an ability to move the ball consistently, and at times it almost felt like they just wanted to give the defense a breather before sending them back out.
In addition to the fantastic coverage by Lewis all game, he also had 4 solo tackles, including a couple against the run/off screens that stifled what could have been dangerous plays. It took him a couple of weeks to get on the field, but he was an All American when he ended last year and is probably better thus far this season.
On the other side, Stribling had a really solid day. He had 2 picks, played really solid defense despite being the clear focus of Wisconsin’s (admittedly anemic) passing offense, and didn’t let anything break long on him. There was one mistake in the 4th wherein he sort of tripped and let Jazz Peavy get open with yards of open space only for Hornibrook to overthrow him, but otherwise Stribling played almost as well as Lewis. With Clark out for the year, it’s nice to see that Stribling can still give UM great coverage opposite Lewis.
The defensive line, as usual, dominated the opposition. This was a pretty stout Wisconsin line that could not get anything going on the ground, and the lack of sacks and TFLs can in part be attributed to the relatively small number of plays and the fact Hornibrook rarely looked to throw the ball deep. And when he did, he had to get rid of the ball in a hurry as the pocket collapsed around him.
About the only area that had some issues were the linebackers in coverage, as both McCray and Gedeon seemed to lose contact with Wisconsin receivers and running backs for substantial gains this game. But even that is picking nits; the one TD scored was on a perfect throw with Gedeon giving decent coverage; sometimes you just get beat by a good playcall and execution.
Honestly, I’d like to write more about the defense because it feels like I’m short-changing them, but what else is there to say? This is the second week in a row where nobody busted big, and the rest of the time the unit was just gnashing up playcalls and spitting out the remnants for 2nd-and-long. Without hyperbole, I’m not sure there’s a team they’ll play this month that will be able to break 300 total yards against this defense, and both Rutgers and Illinois have strong chances of seeing the Michigan side of the field only at the end of quarters. I’m going to have to spend part of my time this week finding ever-more-humiliating images to encapsulate what this defense does to mortals.
Best: Two-Dimensional Offense
You look at the raw numbers (130 yards rushing at 3 ypc, 219 yards passing at 6.8 ypa) and it feels a bit underwhelming – coming into the game, UM averaged 52 points and around 470 yards per game. But watching the game, it felt like the offense was working hard against a really good Wisconsin defense (even down star LB Biegel) and finding ways to move the ball. Speight was under fire throughout this game (4 sacks, 3 more QB hits, and a dozen other times where one or more Badgers were bearing down on him), and handled it pretty well. There were a couple of times he spun away from pressure, kept looking downfield, and didn’t panic with the ball.
As per usual it seems, his worst throws were when he was reasonably clean; his pick was thrown between 4 Wisconsin defenders, and he nearly had another ball picked off near the endzone in the first half while sorta statring-down Grant Perry. He’s never going to be a 2016-style “playmaker” like Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson, but he plays within himself and keeps the team in a game (63%, 219 yards, 1:1 TD:INT). And his final TD drive was borne from a calmness that has been his trademark this season, throwing a perfect ball to Darboh for the winning score.
(As a quick aside, Darboh is having a great final year. Him and Speight are clearly on the same wavelength, and he’s displaying some quickness to complement his physicality. He beat the Wisconsin corner here by a step or two, and picked up another first down on a slant where he outran the trailing player. He’s not a burner, but there’s an athleticism emerging here that UM can absolutely exploit).
The running game also felt solid even though they recorded 200 yards less on the ground than against PSU last week. Excising sacks and end-of-game runs designed to bleed the block, UM averaged about 4.5 ypc and picked up 11(!) of their 21 first downs on the ground. And they did so despite losing Grant Newsome for half the game (and, based on early reports, the rest of the year), conscripting Bushell-Beatty into the lineup with mixed results. And against a Wisconsin front that loves to bring pressure, the backs kept moving forward (only 2 TFLs for 2 yards).
Isaac felt like the star of the game for the backs, consistently slicing through creases and picking up yardage, especially in that second half. Of course, he also almost coughed up the ball deep in UM territory with barely anyone around, which brought back nightmares of his game against Maryland that basically stapled him to the bench. But he recovered nicely and really is a solid talent when he can keep the ball secure. Smith plowed through guys (though he missed at least 1 big cutback on the first TD drive that would have picked up a first down), while Evans had a nice early run and also caught a ball for a first down. It was weird to not see Higdon a week after his coming out party against PSU, but otherwise everyone you sort of expected to show up did and performed consistently, which given how this running game has looked in the past is whole-heartedly welcomed.
What got Michigan was it’s inability to end drives with points. UM had 23 more plays than Wisconsin (76 to 53), 13 more first downs (21 to 8), held the ball for 11 more minutes (35:41 to 24:19), won the turnover battle 3-1, and the field position battle by 8 yards per drive. But they also went 3/15 on 3rd down. They had a couple very makeable FGs they missed and had a couple more drives into Wisconsin territory that died due to costly penalties and sacks. Some of that you expect against a top-10 defense like Wisconsin’s, but this was a game that shouldn’t have been so close late in the 4th. A big part of Wisconsin having a shot to win a game like this hinged on UM’s offense struggling to put them away, and that nearly came to fruition. There isn’t a team on this schedule save for OSU that can slow down UM’s offense, but there are quite a few teams that can absolutely turn bad plays into gifted points. That needs to be shored up quickly.
Worst: Kenny Doggins, Amirite?
Something is wrong with Kenny Allen. He can sorta still punt, but if there is really such a thing as yips, he’s got it with kicking FGs. I’m not blaming him; kicking a football sounds incredibly stressful, especially since perfection is the baseline and you have so few opportunities to make amends. Blow a block or give up a long TD, and you’ll (probably) be out there on the next series with a shot at redemption. But there might only be 3-4 times a game when a kicker can ply his trade, and thus misses are amplified. But it might be time for UM to either find a different FG kicker or change their approach offensively in those situations. I assume Harbaugh will look into all options, including going for it on reasonable 4th-down distances, but I think we’ve seen enough evidence that something is amiss and until it gets resolved, there’s no reason to keep playing roulette.
Also, and this will be an ongoing complaint, but can this team just settle on a spread punt formation? I get when you are playing dinosaur football you trot out all the favorites, but the way an overmatched team stays in games is with special teams miscues, and there were a couple of punts late in the game the Badgers had chances to return because there were 2 gunners and nobody else for 10 yards. If you are going to block the kick, then go for it, but a standard formation that half-assedly puts pressure on the kick while leaving returns exposed seems like the worst of all worlds.
Worst: TV Clock Management
Complaining that football games take too long isn’t new; all those unpaid amateur athletes apparently still have bills that only EA Sports* and heavy-duty trucks shilled by a self-professed “asshhole” can pay, and that isn’t going to change. But as someone who was watching this game in pieces at a 90th birthday party, it was, I guess, the opposite of a blast to watch the last 3 minutes of Definitely Not Back Texas vs. Oklahoma St. when I fired up the DVR Sunday night (oh, and watch a video of a college QB going all Dude Perfect throwing a ball to his friend on a Jet Ski). Games don’t fit into nice little 3-hour chunks like they used to, and yet still scheduling games into those blocks just leads to the inevitable overruns and frantic channel flipping as you have to find something called ESPNews 7.5 so that you can watch kickoff recorded on a portrait-oriented video from a production guy’s iPhone 5. And the thing is, we’re all football addicts; you could schedule the game to start at 4 and we’d still watch. And with #Pac12AfterDark, Saturday games have actually become a 14-hour bender for the rabid fan. But don’t force me to watch two teams I don’t care about run out the string either.
* I’ll admit, I do think this particular commercial is clever. Doesn’t mean I need to see it every couple of breaks.
Best: Another Rivalry Game!
So UM will finally leave the cozy confines of Ann Arbor and travel to hated rival [citation necessary] the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. They are of course coming off a stirring…a, nevermind.
Yeah, this will be ugly. UM isn't going to score 58 like OSU because, well, what the Buckeyes are doing is a bit unreal (and probably a bit unsustainable), but they'll dismantle Rutgers just as easily. And given that it's UM's first road game, I'm looking more to see how the offense looks in a hostile-ish setting, given the fact they'll be going to MSU, Iowa, and OSU later on in the season. You always hear the adage that defense travels, but the offense is still just wonky enough that I'd like to see them put a couple of TDs on the board early. That said, again, this game should be out of reach by halftime, though I suspect Harbaugh will play it straight for a bit longer. Still, UM should head into their bye 6-0 and primed for the meat of their schedule, and we’ll have a Wife Day worth discussing.
We saw a little glimmer of how the blog handles its adversity during the first half of the Colorado game when things did not go all that well, needless to say, but yesterday in a game against a conference opponent with a legitimate defense, a game that some strangely thought we could dance through, we received an interesting insight into game-long adversity.
Despite winning, we managed to do something that we haven't done in all the time I have been doing this - nearly literally doubled the fucks.
In the first four games, we managed to accumulate 487 fucks, and in three hours of old school Big Ten drudgery, we accumulated 422 fucks. If there's a headline from the game that applies to this little feature, it is definitely that. Although we tacked on a 25% increase in shit and a nearly 50% increase in "damn" in just one game, the totall fucks were something to behold. Now, granted it was concentrated around one phase of the game which came pre-imploded this time around, as well as the Newsome injury and a couple other events, but still it was fascinating.
So, let's take a look at the tempo-adjusted fucks - our FART (Fucks Adjusted For Real Time) rate for this game was 2.110, or essentially a little over 2 fucks per minute of total airtime, and our SHART (Shits Adjusted For Real Time) was 0.325, so we used shit sparingly in this game and went right to fuck. FAP Rate (Fucks Adjusted For Total Plays) comes in at 3.271, or a little over 3 fucks per snap. Both FART and FAP are at their highest levels since 2015 Penn State.
The combined FART / SHART, or SQUIRT, came in at 6.492, which indicates a pretty stressful fuck-filled game, heavy on the fucks compared to shits. The last time it was that high? 2014 Rutgers, bur let's never discuss this game so long as we all shall live, right?
As for the thread itself, across 2,100 replies we had 941 tracked instances, which comes to an overall efficiency rating of 2.23, but as you can see below, when you have a thread that by itself accounts for about 27% of all tracked instances over five games, it's easy to achieve that. Interestingly, all efficiencies so far this year have been in a range between about 2.90 and 2.20, which means we're overall pretty steady-handed about the season so far, I think.
If we look at the Original Six analysis with normalized values, you can see how much Colorado and now Wisconsin stand out as games have gone so far this season.
So, Colorado - heavy on "shit" and "suck", and Wisconsin was heavy on "fuck" and "damn" in comparison to other games. Seems like seasons of old to me. Maybe we 're settling into that familiar pattern of Michigan football stress after all.
Rutgers should be interesting in a different way - perhaps not so stressful this coming week.
And now for your obscure stats of the day...
With today’s win against Wisconsin, Michigan is now 8-6-0 against the AP No. 8 ranked team, since Bo’s first season in 1969.
During that time Michigan has played more games (14) against the AP #8 than against any other spot in the rankings; Michigan has played 13 games each against AP #1 and AP #9.
Before today, Michigan’s last win against the AP #8 was October 15, 2005, the last-second thriller against Penn State that finished 27-25 when Chad Henne found Mario Manningham in the endzone with no time on the clock; it would be the Nittany Lions’ only loss of the year as they finished No. 3 in the rankings.
Michigan’s last loss against the AP #8 was last season, November 28, 2015, when Ohio State won 42-13 in the Big House on the way to a No. 4 final ranking.
With the win Jim Harbaugh (at Michigan) improves to 1-2 (.333) against the AP top 10, and improves to 4-2 (.667) against the AP top 25. Jim Harbaugh is 11-1 (.917) against unranked teams.
Michigan improves to 43-46-2 (.484) against the AP top 10 since 1969, and improves to 100-92-3 (.521) against the AP top 25. Michigan is 321-54-5 (.851) against unranked teams during that time.
Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke went a combined 1-10 against the AP top 10 after Lloyd Carr's very impressive 18-9 (including nine straight wins early in his career) had built up Michigan's record pretty nicely in that regard.
We have seen days of clouds and passing showers, and Saturday, unfortunately, will be no different. We have one low pressure system at the surface and another above it in the upper levels of the atmosphere- both helping to funnel in rain. The good news? Showers look to break up a bit more for the game. Not going to rule out a thunderstorm, so we'll keep an eye on things. It's simply going to be another one of those game days where you'll want the rain gear, particularly if you'll be out early. Temps will be near normal for this time of year and we'll have lighter winds if that's any consolation!
Make sure you've got the tent set up for the tailgating site for this one! Temperatures through mid-morning will be in the upper 50s with an ENE wind at 7-8mph (leaves rustle). Rain is likely, and some downpours look likely early on in the day. Definitely another day for a hat and keeping the new white shoes at home as it may get a little muddy! Rain does look to break up a bit getting into the lunchtime hour, and you may even see a little brightness going through the early afternoon. Not going to rule out another passing shower or even a storm, so keep that tent up and the poncho handy! Midday temps will be nearing 65 degrees, and winds will be shifting to come out of the SE, still around 7mph.
Plenty of clouds for this beginning! Also keeping that chance for a rain shower or storms to move through, so we're definitely going to be watching for any lightning nearby. Winds will be out of the SE at 7mph with a temp of 66 - pretty close to where we should be for this time of year, so we can't complain a whole lot (well, maybe complain about the rain chance :P ).
Struggle is real for the sun today. It'll be trying, and not having much luck. We'll see mainly overcast skies with the chance for rain hanging on. We'll drop a degree to 65 but keep SE winds light - right around 5mph (just enough to feel it on your skin). Our chance for rain goes down a bit during the later part of the game, so hopefully that means the score will go up!
Light wind conditions will continue through the rest of the night, generally out of the south. Temps will fall slowly, only down a degree or two from the half as you're leaving the game. The chance for scattered showers will stay with us through the rest of the night and into Sunday. Staying out til the end? We're looking at mid 50s, low 50s if you're up for the sunrise! Sunday we'll have a lesser chance for rain, so traveling shouldn't be an issue if you did so for the game. Let's beat those badgers! Let's go blue!!
Christina Burkhart is the morning meteorologist for ABC in Flint, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
(Guess what? I published a book this offseason. It’s about baseball. The Cubs. The White Sox. And that one time they played each other in the World Series. Check it out. It’s only available via Amazon Kindle right now, but a paperback, print on demand option is in the works)
Good morning, everyone! Tomorrow is the first day of October. Or should I say Chalktober?
I’m beginning the middle month of the regular season by making it rain chalk dust. It’s a full slate of conference games in the B1G for the first time this season. And I’m picking heavy chalk in five of them. Those who have been following all along know I am not much of a chalk player. I am an Underdog Whore. I don’t care who knows. But there are a couple major drop offs in quality down the B1G pecking order, that a lot of games require you to side with the favorite because there is absolutely nothing to hang your hat on with the underdog. The favorite is just significantly better. Or the underdog is significantly worse. Looking at you, Northwestern. Later in the post, we go a bit coast to coast and find our underdog groove. But locally, we’re dining on chalk. Let’s roll through the picks. And if you like a game not shown below, don’t hesitate to shout it out in the comments section. We’re all here to help each other.
(Season Record, 8-8-1. B1G Conference Games, 3-1. Picks are in bold with team selected listed first.)
Maryland -10.5 over Purdue: Maryland has put together a solid start to their season. They've been efficient, but not explosive with solid run blocking. There's not much to say on this game, so instead I'm going to call out a Pick To Click. It'll be one of my new favorite players: Lorenzo Harrison. The freshman has already emerged as Maryland's top tailback, leading the team in carries and averaging 6.5 yards per rush in non conference play. He's a player to watch as conference play begins. If he becomes a 20-carry back for Maryland this fall, then they've discovered a nice weapon. He'll get those carries against the Boilermakers. He'll go over the 100-yard mark for the first time and score two touchdowns. His second score will clinch the win and cover for the Terrapins. Obligatory Perry Hills Interception Watch: Since the Terps did not play a week ago, Hills is still at zero. And a team that led the nation with 29 picks a year ago, including nine games with at least two interceptions and six with at least three, still has not thrown the ball to the other team in 2016.
Indiana +7.5 over Michigan State: OG Anunoby flirts with a triple double, Thomas Bryant owns the paint, and James Blackmon hits key 3s down the stretch. The defending league champion Hoosiers, finally getting MSU on their home court, run the Spartans off the fl---Wait. This is a football game? Crap. The Hoosiers have no chance.
Or do they? They're ranked two spots ahead of MSU in the latest S&P. Those projections actually give the Hoosiers a 56-percent chance at winning. What in the name of KenPom is going on in that computer? Here's what: An Indiana pass offense that's 8th in yards per attempt and 24th in passer rating should have their way with an MSU pass defense that's 70th in yards per attempt allowed and has struggled so far on passing downs this year. At least in a perfect world that's what happens.
The winner of this game will be decided by which quarterback bounces back from a shaky outing in a loss a week ago. Hoosier QB Richard Lagow's bad outing included a school record 496 passing yards against Wake Forest. But five back breaking interceptions undid it all. His first two picks resulted in at least a 10-point swing against Indiana. The Hoosiers chased those points the rest of the game and never back caught up. As for Michigan State's Tyler O'Connor, his shaky day included 4.86 yards per pass, four sacks and three picks, giving the Spartans their own turnover problems. On paper, the Hoosiers secondary (and maybe their overall defense) is performing better than State's. I cant believe I just wrote that sentence. It's probably not true. But some of the early numbers on the Hoosiers defense are pretty good (for them) and is a huge leap forward from all the previous years in, well, pretty much the history of time. If those numbers even hold up a bit after playing an alleged B1G heavyweight, you can bet you'll see a chart in next week's column showing the improvement. I like Indiana to stay within a touchdown and if Lagow averages less than one pick per half, they might just pull off the upset and finally bring home the Old Brass Spittoon.
Ohio State -38.5 over Rutgers: It's time to put at least one rivalry aside. #GoRutgers #BeatOhio #ShockTheWorld. What a rotten two week stretch for the Knights. After Ohio State this week, they play Michigan next Saturday. The real betting for this game should be on Over/Under props for the combined margin of defeat the next two weeks for Rutgers. Last year, it added up to 75 points. The Knights enter this stretch-and the rest of their season--without their best weapon Janarion Grant who tore his ACL last week. That seems bad. I'm betting the combined margin the next two weeks goes over 90 points. And the Buckeyes will provide half of that this week in a 45-0 shutout.
Iowa -13.5 over Northwestern: Here are two offenses that succeed on just a couple of drives and basically stink the rest of the game. Eleven of Iowa's last 21 real drives have ended with a punt or turnover after five plays or less. Against lowly Rutgers, they had two nice drives at the end of the first half, but moved the ball only 3.75 yards per play on their other nine possessions. As for Northwestern, they don't have good drives. They just hit 2-3 plays a game and pray their defense can make it stand. Guess what? It is not working. After a 10-win campaign a year ago, they're headed towards a 3-win season unless something changes fast. I suggest beginning with the offensive coordinator. The Wildcats are 111th in yards per play and 102nd in offensive success rate. Neither team is living up to their defensive hype either. Northwestern could not get off the field in losses against Western Michigan and Nebraska. The Wildcats are 74th in yards per play allowed, a year after ranking 7th in the country. Iowa has been pushed around trying to defend the run and rank 86th nationally in yards allowed. Over the last two weeks, Iowa has faced 112 rushing attempts as North Dakota State and Rutgers controlled pace and the ball. Northwestern could probably run Justin Jackson for 30 carries and 103 yards, shorten the game and try to win it in the end like the Bison did and the Scarlet Knights almost did. Both teams are near the top of the charts in defensive field position, so look for long fields that neither offense will be able to traverse competently. In the event either offense marches deep into opposing territories, both teams are pretty solid at red zone defense. Either way, this will be an ugly game to watch. The Hawkeyes will be without their best wide receiver Matt Vandeberg, whose caught more balls this year than the rest of his positional group has combined. But a return home peaks the Hawkeyes interest after sleep walking in New Jersey a week ago. Northwestern could run like the last two teams did against Iowa, but they wont. Their offensive line is a disaster. And it’s always been a little sneaky how bad the Cats rushing offense is despite Jackson’s eventual yardage number. It’ll be like every game so far for Northwestern: A fight to get to double digits. CJ Beathard will hit tight end George Kittle on two big pass plays that put the distance between the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats. Iowa wins 25-9.
Minnesota +3 over Penn State: How does Penn State's football season go off the rails? Coming home and losing to the Golden Gophers in front of a restless Happy Valley crowd days after James Franklin received the dreaded vote of confidence from his AD. You know what? I think that's going to happen. The Gophers are in the top-20 in both offensive and defensive success rate and are in the top-10 in success rate on both sides of the ball on standard downs. Penn State, meanwhile, is not efficient at anything, except ensuring their quarterback is under constant siege. Meanwhile, on defense, they're 103rd in yards per rush allowed. In their two games against Power-5 foes, they've given up 6.35 yards per carry. Now they play a Gopher team with a hot stable of backs and a decent running quarterback. Tailbacks Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Kobe McCrary combined for 197 yards on the ground a week ago and are averaging 6.1 yards per carry on the season as a trio. Watching Penn State live last week, only two positives really stood out. The brilliance of Saquan Barkley and punter Blake Gilliken. But the Gophers are holding foes to just 3.1 yards per carry and they have a great punter in their own right in Ryan Santosa. Besides, I have a rule. If you just watched a team in person lose by 39 points, bet against them the next week as a favorite. Alright, I just made that rule up. But it's bucking for formal approval this weekend. While only catching a field goal in this match, it's worth pointing out Minnesota is 14-6 ATS in their last 20 stabs as an underdog. Prediction: James Franklin tapes 49-10 on the lockers of his players next year during Michigan-Penn State week. Unfortunately, his players at Florida International won’t understand the message.
Nebraska -21 over Illinois: Nebraska is looking like Nebraska again. That's not a statement that their 4-0 start means Nebraska is back. It's just their style of play and identity looks familiar: A fanatical devotion to the running game. Their standard down run rate is 70.7%, 15th highest nationally and eleven points above the national average. A year ago in Nebraska's 6-7 season, they only ran the ball on standard downs 60% of time. So far this added determination to the run the football is working. Their 51% success rate running the football is 13th annually and 9.5 points better than the national average. They're back to running their quarterback. Tommy Armstrong has had at least 11 carries in every game this year, after only two such games a year ago. He's coming off his best back-to back-starts of his career, averaging 7.4 yards per pass or rush, en route to 673 total yards in wins and covers as chalk against Oregon and Northwestern. Devine Ozigbo has emerged as the lead back. His stats aren't eye popping, but he's given the Huskers a physical presence running between the tackles. He and Terrell Newby are a solid 1-2 punch to go with Armstrong's legs, pacing Nebraska to 5.15 yards per rush and 242 yards on the ground a game.
The Cornhuskers start has pushed them into contention for the B1G West crown. The oddsmakers at Sportsbook.com have Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa all at 7/1 to win the B1G, so it's basically a betting dead heat. Nebraska's schedule does set up for a run in October. After this game against Illinois, they travel to Indiana and host Purdue. They should be 7-0 and entrenched in the top-15 of the national polls heading into a showdown in Madison in Week 9. But considering the Badgers play Michigan and Ohio State these next two weeks and how shaky Iowa has looked so far, the Cornhuskers will probably enter November controlling their own fate in the division even if they lose to the Badgers later this month. But here's something else to consider. Does any team in the West have an offensive weapon like Tommy Armstrong? Some might say that's a back handed compliment. But consider me another buyer on Armstrong’s conference player of the year candidacy. The often maligned senior is well on his way to authoring a special season. And at this point, it would not be a surprise to see them in the B1G Championship Game.
So far the opposite of what happened last year is happening to Nebraska. They are Team Regression To The Mean, but in their favor. All those close losses a year ago? They're 1-0 in tight games this year with that big win over Oregon. They were -12 in turnover margin last year. They're +6 so far this year. Last year, Northwestern's Clayton Thorson nearly outgained the whole Nebraska team in a Wildcat win. Last week, it was Armstrong who almost outpaced Northwestern's 388 yards with 378 yards on his own as Nebraska cruised to a win. How does that impact this week? Last October, Nebraska blew a 13-0 fourth quarter lead in a loss to the Illini and Armstrong had one of the worst games of his career. This October? Armstrong continues to put himself in B1G Offensive Player Of The Year talk with another game of over 300 yards in offense. One of Ozigbo and Newby goes over 100 yards. And the fourth quarter lead will be beyond insurmountable. Nebraska wins 45-16.
Michigan –10.5 over Wisconsin: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Nebraska are a combined 12-2-1 against the spread this year. The rest of the conference? Try 11-23 ATS. Can you say Big 4, Little 10? The first of at least five games between the Big 4 sees Michigan installed as a whopping 11-point favorite over the Badgers. Since the Badgers already own big wins over LSU and MSU, most people who I've bumped into express amazement the line is so large in UM's favor. I mostly nod in agreement. The reality, however, is this number is the exact number Books hung in the summer when they released their Games Of The Year lines. So not much has changed. Well, except for everything. The Badgers are suddenly playoff contenders. And Michigan's cake early season schedule has a major speed bump in front of it.
Look for the defenses to dominate the game. Michigan is the most disruptive team in the nation, ranking first in havoc rate and second overall in defensive success rate. That Badgers aren't too shabby themselves, ranking 12th and 13th in those categories against a harder schedule. They have a zillion linebackers all automatically programmed on a simple, yet lethal high motor, tackles for loss setting. They’ll need to pluck a clone off the bench to replace injured star Vince Biegel. Michigan at least has the offensive weaponry to challenge Wisconsin. Their offensive line against Wisconsin's front is a much better match than it is for the Badgers when their offensive line goes against the Michigan D. The Wolverines have DeVeon Smith, whose been a stud in pass protection. Their top three pass catching targets will be playing in the NFL next fall. I will not lie. I am not convinced Wilton Speight can handle the Badger D. The clunkiness against Colorado lingers in my thoughts. Please don't tell Dad. But at least he has a supporting cast.
What does Wisconsin have? Keep in mind this is the 90th ranked team in yards per play going against the 13th ranked defense in yards per play allowed. The Badgers are rushing for just 3.94 per attempt. They have not been able to run the football in 17 games. It's the new normal. And it's not changing against Michigan. Troy Fumagali will be a thorn. Most of his catches have moved the chains for the Badgers. But I'll believe Wisconsin quarterbacks not committing killer turnovers when I see it. Remarkably, the Badgers have possessed the football for 50:16 of a possible 60 first quarter minutes this season. They have had at least 10:44 minutes of possession in every opening frame so far.
If Michigan is able to run enough offense early in this game, they might end up playing with a comfortable lead the rest of the way. Otherwise, it'll be a rock fight. DeVeon Smith's generally aces his blitz pickups. An assortment of Wolverine defensive ends finally expose Ryan Ramczyk, the Badgers transfer from UW-Stevens Point at right tackle whose been stellar so far through the first four games. And Michigan dials up some well timed big plays en route to a 24-10 win.
Before getting deeper into this post, let's point something out. Check out some of Saturday's Big-12 games: Oklahoma (-3.5) at TCU, Kansas State at West Virginia (-3.5), Texas at Oklahoma State (-3). Those are three pretty good games. And nobody is talking about them. But when you've seemingly fallen out of the playoff chase--save for one team that never, ever plays any interesting games this early in the season and is a total disgrace off the field--you get lost in the shuffle. Most of the Big-12 chatter the last couple of weeks has centered around crazy expansion talk. It might as well be May. It'll probably be a crazy chase for their league title. But who knows how to factor it or the games this weekend? I'm pulling for Oklahoma and Texas to win this week, but only so there is at least some positive buzz and excitement for next Saturday's Red River Shootout.
Now the rest of the post and more picks.
Stanford +3.5 over Washington: Tune in to see what a Christian McCaffrey "slump" looks like. It features ranking second nationally in rushing yards per game and being on pace to rush for over 2,000 yards if Stanford at least reaches the Pac-12 Title Game like a year ago. He's been more workhorse than explosive runner in the early going. He only had five games of 26 or more carries in 14 games a year ago. He's already done that twice in three games this year in conference wins over USC and UCLA. But he has not had the impact in the receiving or return game yet. He's averaging almost 5 yards less per catch this season. If you take out his longest--a 56 yard catch and run against USC--he's going for less than six yards a reception. He returned his first punt of the season back for a touchdown against Kansas State, but it was nullified by a penalty. Since then, he's only had two punt returns. And his kickoff return yards are down from 28.9 per return to 21.3. Getting back to those decreased receiving numbers, it's probably not a good sign McCaffrey leads the team in catches and yards. First year starter Ryan Burns is throwing for 2.5 yards less per attempt than the departed Kevin Hogan did a year ago. Somebody in the Cardinal wide receiver group needs to step up.
Washington has come out of the gates like gangbusters, averaging 45.8 points per game and ranking 3rd nationally in offensive success rate. Sophomore QB Jake Browning and his band of tiny receivers have been torching teams. They have weapons in the backfield with Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman. And while McCaffrey has been struggling to get his return game going, the Huskies are in the top-20 nationally in punt return and kickoff return average thanks to Dante Pettis and John Ross. The Huskies are rolling, but they've played, per the S/P rankings, 95th ranked Rutgers, 111th ranked Idaho, 62nd ranked Arizona and FCS team Portland State. They needed overtime, albeit on the road, to defeat that 62nd ranked team. Stanford is way more battle tested with all three of their opponents this year ranked 34th or higher. This Washington program has been hunting a breakthrough win for years. Do they finally bag one? Stanford's defense is 15th nationally in havoc rate causing a disruptive play on 21.1% of defensive snaps. That could come into play after Washington gave up four sacks a week ago to Arizona, one of the least disruptive defenses in the nation.
What will happen? Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips pick up where they left off a week ago against UCLA and take over the game up front. It's enough to keep the Huskies' offense at bay. The Cardinal are without a couple corners, but it's a deep spot on Stanford's depth chart. Christian will be Christian. That's enough to keep Stanford in any game. This will be a fun game. Somebody will win by a field goal, but I don’t know exactly who. So we're taking the field goal and the hook with the underdog Cardinal.
One other quick Pac-12 note. All of us here are #TeamBuffs after Colorado upset Oregon last week. What an unexpected SOS boost for Michigan. Hopefully, it's the gift that keeps on giving all fall. This week, Colorado is favored over Oregon State. It's only the third time the Buffs have been chalk in a Pac-12 game since joining the league. And what a favorite they are! Right now, it's by 19.5 points. Or, more points than Michigan was favored over them 2 weeks ago. The last time Colorado was double digit chalk? Try Week 10 of the 2008 season against Iowa State when they were still in the Big 12. In other Pac-12 games, Arizona State is at USC (-10), Oregon (-2.5), on a 2-game losing streak, travels to Washington State, Arizona is at UCLA (No Line Yet) in the Pac-12 After Dark Game on ESPN, and Utah goes to Cal.
Wait. How about a second Pac-12 pick....
Utah +2 over Cal: The Utes have historically been one of the game’s best underdog programs. And that tradition has carried over to its new league. Since joining the Pac-12, the Utes are 17-9 ATS as an underdog. In this game, you get a team catching points that's 22 spots ahead of it's opponent in the S&P Rankings. Cal has showed a lot of offense in the early going, but they face their first real, physical defense of the season. Utah is 4th in sacks per game, 24th in tackles for loss per game, and 5th in havoc rate. Cal is 110th in yards per play allowed. They Bears do not play much defense, unless missed tackles count. Utah's power run game should own this contest.
Clemson +2.5 over Louisville: Bettors love Louisville. Do you recall their Week 3 beatdown of Florida State? The line opened that week at FSU -3, was steadily bet down to -1, and on the morning of the game swung all the way to Louisville -1. Everyone jumping on the bandwagon won easily. This week against Clemson? The same thing happened, but swifter with a heavier swing. Most books posted an early line favoring Clemson by 3 or even 3.5 points. By Tuesday, every book had done a 180 and listed Louisville a 2-point favorites. That's a 5-point line swing in less than 48 hours four full days before kickoff. And for good measure, the line has sprouted a hook since then. Louisville is everybody's team this year. And the momentum has made the Clemson Tigers and DeShaun Watson a home dog in at night in Death Valley. We’ll take the Tigers, almost on principle. It promises to be one of the best QB duels of the season. It's the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite in Watson going up against the current, overwhelming betting chalk to take the trophy in Lamar Jackson. Jackson started this race as a 50/1 shot, but is now -300 (must bet $300 to win $100). The next shortest odds are Christian McCaffrey at 8/1, while Watson is 10/1. All four of Louisville's games this year have gone over the total. All four of Clemson's games have gone under the total. Cue the Something's Got To Give sound effects. And good luck making heads or tails of it if you play the total.
Elsewhere in the ACC: Florida State (-11) plays North Carolina in a game between the 121st and 82nd defenses in yards per play allowed. And Notre Dame (-11) hooks up with Syracuse featuring the 104th and 112th defenses in yards per play allowed. That's probably why the totals have been set at 70.5 and 73.5 in those games. Did the Big-12 expand already?
This is your Official Hurricane Warning: Check out Miami. Don't look now, but the Canes are projected to go undefeated in the regular season. Brad Kaya has been solid. They're running the ball with so many different backs like it's 1999. Unlike a lot of teams in the league this year, at least they have good looking defensive numbers. But are they for real? They've rolled up numbers against nobody. We'll see them take on Georgia Tech this week in their first game of the season against a Power-5 club. The Canes are 7.5-point road chalk.
Navy +7.5 over Air Force: Most folks probably don't know that Navy and Air Force play this weekend, beginning this year's Commander In Chief Round Robin. But rest assured Over/Under players are well aware. I have stated before that I do not play totals, especially unders. But if you like playing them, it is hard to overlook recent history when the Services Academies play each other head to head. Over the last 11 seasons, the under has cashed at a 25-7-1 rate when Air Force, Navy, and Army meet in their rivalry games. And it makes sense, doesn't it? All three teams love to run, run, run, run the football. Then, they run it some more. The result being a constant running clock, limited possessions, and just not enough time to score the points needed to go over the total. This trend is not a secret. The total for this game had plunged four points from 51.5 to its current number of 47.5 since the opening of betting. But the same thing happened in two of the three games a year ago, and the unders still easily cashed. I've stated many times I dont play unders. I am the biggest Under jinx in the world. If I played this under, they would fly in Rich Rod and Mike Leach to be the honorary play callers. But I do like Navy catching these points. Navy as an underdog is my Jam. Like sexy red heads with glasses. Navy is 42-21 against the spread as an underdog since the start of the 2003 season. Giving them points against Air Force and you're just adding curves and swagger to that Ginger. Did you know the last seven times Navy has been an underdog against Air Force, they've won the game outright? My family knows. The Christmas presents were bigger those years. Anchors Away.
Teaser Toledo +11/Western Michigan +4: Here' what a teaser is. Don't judge me. It's a sucker bet, I know. But in my defense, I can be a degenerate at times and it's not as much as a sucker bet as a parlay. Whatever.
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Let's take a tour of the Mid American Conference!
One of the best #RealRivals in the college game hits when Central Michigan and Western Michigan hook up tomorrow in Mount Pleasant. It's FIRE UP CHIPS! in one corner. And ROW THE BOAT! in the other. And if you can find a local book who'll let you take bets on blood alcohol content of random fans in Mount Pleasant, always roll with the over. This year, it's not just a party. The teams have three combined wins against Power 5 schools this season. They're led by two hot coaching commodities. And it's an early swing game in MAC title chase. The Broncos are skillful at the field position game and will spend all day giving the ball to Jamauri Bogan and Javarion Franklin. Their run success rate is almost seven points better than the season average. They are more than comfortable scratching and clawing their way to third or fourth down and shorts and pounding their way to a conversion. They're converting more than half of their third and fourth down attempts, with seven conversions on fourth down already on the year. The Chippewas lean on the talents of QB Cooper Rush and the explosiveness of his targets. Rush has 13 touchdown tosses, averages 9.2 yards per attempt and leads the conference in passing yards per game. They're fifth nationally with 28 plays of 20 or more yards, 25 of which have come off the arm of Rush. His top three receivers average over 15 yards a catch and a fourth goes for 14.3 yards a catch. Unfortunately, two of those targets are out of this game. Historically, the Mid American Conference turns with the hot quarterback, but Western will be too much here........Akron and Kent also hook up Saturday in another league rivalry game, but this would only interest me if the teams suddenly decided to play basketball against each other instead.....Is Northern Illinois suddenly the worst team in the MAC? The Huskies have won three of the last five conference championships, at least a share of six straight MAC West titles, and played in eight straight bowl games. But they have hit rock bottom. They're out of the 2016 gates with an 0-4 start, have the 121st ranked total defense and just lost to Western Illinois. They open league play as 4-point underdogs at Ball State. It's just the fifth time since the start of the 2011 season that the Huskies have been regular season dogs in conference play.......Bowling Green is suffering a similar fall. The Falcons have won two of the last three league crowns and are coming off one the program's best seasons in school history. But their swagger might have left along with Dino Babers. They're off to a 1-3 start, but they're coming off a 74-point loss to Memphis. They've allowed 77 points in a game twice. They're only win is a one point squeaker against North Dakota. What's worse is they're only 2.5-point favorites against Eastern Michigan. That's significant because the foe is, well, Eastern Michigan. It's the 35th straight league game the Eagles have been the underdog, only the seventh of less than five points and, as long as the line doesn’t increase, the first time of the less than a field goal. Pretty heady times over at Eastern. They're 3-1, defeated Charlotte two weeks ago as a road favorite and upset Mountain West Conference Wyoming at home a week ago. Was that the best 2-week stretch ever by Eastern? Pretty close. A win here matches last season's win total.......Meanwhile Toledo opens the weekend for the league on Friday night at BYU. What a great test for the Rockets, who enter the game averaging 563.7 yards and 42.7 points per game. The Cougars are already this year's hard luck team. After beating Arizona by 2 in the opener, they've lost by 1 point to Iowa, 3 points to UCLA, and 3 points to West Virginia, the latter ending with a BYU interception at the goal line. That's a challenging schedule for almost anyone. But Toledo isn't a breather for the Cougs. Not only are the Rockets ranked 11 spots higher in the S&P than BYU, but they are also ranked higher than any of BYU's four previous opponents. The Rockets are on a 15-4-2 run against the spread. Toledo does not typically see the physical type of play, let alone this kind of road atmosphere--in the MAC. It will be interesting to see how they can handle it. I think they’ll be alright, enough at least to cover the inflated line on the teaser card. If they win tonight and Western wins tomorrow, then the Rockets-Broncos match the day after Thanksgiving could not only be for the MAC West, but it could be a battle of 11-0 teams. If that happens, we'll all remember this teaser bet from 1,000 words ago that I didn't even attempt to give a rationale breakdown on.
Do we want to talk about the SEC? It is a bit of a snoozer this week in the Big 1, Little 13. League head to heads include Florida (-10.5) at Vanderbilt, Kentucky at Alabama (-35.5), Texas A/M (-18.5) at South Carolina, and Missouri at LSU (-13.5). I guess it’ll be interesting to see how LSU plays in their first game after the Les Miles firing. I mean, Ed Orgeron will feature heavily in this game. All bets are off. These games only become interesting if any the favorites find themselves on the ropes in the second half.
The Game Of The Week in the league is Tennessee (-3.5) traveling to Georgia. The Vols are playing their second straight rivalry game. It’s a question of how much they have left in the tank after last week’s emotional, breakthrough win over the Gators. If they win, they all but wrap up the SEC East crown. And they’ll play Alabama probably twice. What does that mean if Tennessee goes 11-2 with both losses to The Tide? Maybe a lot of stupid SEC arguments about the need for a third game between the schools. PAWWWWWWL THE VOLS LOST BY 21 IN THE FIRST GAME, 10 IN THE SECOND, THEY EARNED A THIRD TRY. I am already annoyed. And pulling for Georgia to pull this out and take that far fetched talking point off any eventual agenda.
That’s about all I have to say. I hope I have properly set enough of the table for the weekend. Our B1G picks are Maryland –10.5, IU +7.5, OSU –38.5, Penn St +3, Iowa –13.5, Nebraska –21, and Michigan –10.5. Nationally, we’ve got Stanford +3.5, Clemson +2.5, Navy +7.5, Utah +2 and a Toledo +11/WMU +3 teaser. Our national card is heavy on the BIG GAMES. We just can’t seem to find much else for this weekend.
Good Luck and Go Blue!