in town for free camps
This post was initially designed to be a "so far" diary because it was written right around the time the initial Harbaugh offer was made. Then the holidays happened, the narrative fluctuated a bit at the fringes but didn't change much, and now we basically have confirmation that It's Happening! So some of this might sound a bit more reserved than intended, but I tried to update it where I could. I am sure much more will be written, perhaps by me, as it relates to Harbaugh in the coming weeks. Still, I figured I have more than enough content to surround animated gifs and references to professional wrestling, late-90's movies, and funny dog pictures. So enjoy. Also, Harbaugh!
Best: Big Boy Pants
The absolute biggest concern I had coming into this coaching search was watching Michigan's athletic department flub, flounder, and fart its way through the process like it did in 2007 and 2011. In 2007 it was Bill Martin floating around on a boat, seemingly caught off guard by Lloyd Carr's decision to retire despite Carr saying he wanted to in 2006 and having to be convinced to give it one more go by both Martin and President Coleman. This of course led to Les Miles being asked about taking over for Michigan while preparing to play for the national championship, which looked pretty bad when it happened and looks even worse now given how disorganized the search turned out to be behind the scenes. At the time, I think most people figured it was just Herbstreit reporting rumors prematurely, and when Michigan wound up with Rich Rodriguez it felt like an irrelevant misstep at worst.
Then in 2011, with RR gone after a desultory bowl loss to the Fightin' Mullens (until this season probably his 3rd or 4th most-impressive victory in his career), we all expected Dave Brandon to, I don't know, not be an idiot and actually perform a legitimate coaching search for a viable replacement. It isn't worth rehashing here for the same reason I don't let the 1 train's doors slam shut on my fingers, plus there are so many rumors and half-truths (Harbaugh said yes, Brandon scared him away! Brady Hoke was Michigan's #1 choice after Harbaugh! My gawd King, is that Kirk "Puntasaurus" Ferentz's music!) that is is hard to ascertain fact from fiction. What we do know is that Michigan wound up with a guy with basically a .500 record who coached like one, save for a glue factory of horseshoes in his ass during the 2011 season.
Now, there have been a couple of themes throughout the past two coaching searches: a dogged preference for "Michigan Men" who can placate a calcifying segment of the fanbase that maybe doesn't think football stopped innovating in 1997 but absolutely thinks those changes don’t apply to Michigan, "Fort Schembechler " having so much palace intrigue and agenda-driven leaks that nobody had control of the narrative, and displaying some of the worst timing this side of a 2014 UM 2-minute drill. But probably the biggest theme over these past 2 coaching changes, and really of the last decade or so, is the second-rate nature of it all. For a university so renowned for its educational and research accomplishments, for proclaiming itself a "leader and best" in so many fields and backing it up, and for having one of the most storied athletic programs in college sports history, its search for a head man seemed to lack much in the way of foresight, professional execution, or, frankly, prestige. It isn't uncommon for teams to "settle" on a second or third option, but usually after a strong play for their first choice. With Michigan's most recent coaching transitions, though, it seemed like they thought "This is Michigan" was enough.
That's why this search, even with its extended googly-eyes session with Harbaugh, was so refreshing; it finally felt like the Powers That Be were treating this like a big deal and actually acted accordingly. While the exact terms might still be a bit in flux, $49M over 6 years represents the type of offer a school like Michigan should be making for the man who will spearhead its multi-million dollar football team. No pussyfooting around, not "preliminary offer" to get negotiations started. Hackett and co. looked at the landscape, identified Harbaugh as the top candidate, and made it rain.
For all of Dave Brandon's odes to marketing buzzwords and bottom-line business acumen, and Brady Hoke's passion for "Big Boy" football, they never seemed to willing or able to translate those words into results. It was Hackett, for what feels like the first time in an eternity, who actually acted like an executive, made a plan, and followed through on it efficiently and effectively. Even if by some insane confluence of events Michigan doesn't get Harbaugh, it won't be for lack of effort or resources; it'll be because Jim Harbaugh doesn't want to coach at Michigan in 2015. It'll be because he wants to remain an NFL coach, because he has "unfinished business", because billionaire private owners will pay him way more than a public state institution should ever, whatever. And Michigan will move on, not with a sense of desperation or befuddlement that the Block M and The Victors didn't seal the deal, but with some purpose. That's all I think most people want to see out of the AD, and though the jury's still out on Hackett being a long-term solution, there's a sense of confidence and competency displayed thus far that puts the similar efforts of Brandon and Martin to shame.
If you want to read my thoughts on the idea of Harbaugh coaching, go back and check out my OSU recap. Not a lot has changed, save that I am a bit more optimistic now that he's coming to Michigan with intentions on sticking around for a bit, with the siren song of the NFL less appealing than I first thought. I mean, there are options out there for him if he wanted to stick around in the pros (Jets and Chicago are big-market teams, while the Raiders are at least nearby), yet he's shown no real interest in doing so. This is obviously a great hire for Michigan, and it feels like, for once, a confluence of events has led to everyone involved finding each other as the best option. Given what has happened the past decade or so, that feeling of contentment shouldn't be discounted. Plus, it looks like he is going to breathe some fresh air into the program by bringing in people he's familiar with, including those with (Wheatley) and without (Durkin) connections to the university. That can only help clear out some of the lingering staleness of the recent past, and any concerns about lost "institutional memory" are pretty trivial given how dysfunctional this program has been with the stalwarts in place.
I will be a bit of a wet blanket on two fronts, though, as it relates to the hire. First, in the short term (i.e. the 2015 season), I'm not expecting an amazing turnaround, at least against the good-to-elite programs on the schedule. Michigan is going to play 3 Power-5 quality outfits in the OOC (BYU is an independent but would be in the upper-half of the B1G if they joined tomorrow), including opening at Utah. The Utes might be going through a coaching transition (they are already down a couple coordinators), but that's still a very good defensive team that should be competitive in the PAC-12 next year. They do get MSU and OSU at home, but good lawd is OSU terrifying offensively and MSU should be pretty solid offensively with Cook back in the mix to complement that stout defense. I think MSU's fall from elite to very good will continue, but this isn't the MSU-UM rivalry Harbaugh probably remembers (3-1 during his four years, including wins of 27-6, 31-0(!!), and 42-0(!!!)), and all the good vibes and memes aren't going to make the WRs any faster, the QB any more experienced, and the cornerbacks any better at sticking with receivers. Plus, Michigan is looking down the barrel of trips to PSU, Maryland, and Minnesota, so it isn't going to be the smoothest of transitions back to the college game for the new coach. I'm not predicting another 5-7 campaign, and there is A LOT that will change between now and early September, but it is going to be a multi-year process for Michigan to get back to being the "Michigan" Harbaugh helped create, and barring Harbaugh pooping golden horses with a million lucky golden horseshoes, I don't expect a repeat of Hoke's first year record-wise for Jim.
The second, slightly more far-reaching concern...okay, not "concern", but inevitable annoyance is going to be that this will likely not be Harbaugh's last dance with the NFL, which means I'd be surprised if he completes the full term of his current contract before leaving again for the NFL. As others have noted, this isn't a guy going back to college because he stumbled in the NFL, and there are always going to be doors open for him to return provided he is successful at Michigan. I have little doubt that he won't, which means in 3-4 years there are going to be legitimate murmurs about Harbaugh making a return to the NFL, hopefully fueled by multiple 10+ win Michigan seasons and a return to the upper-echelon of college football. You look at other successful programs and nobody is knocking down the door for Saban, Meyer, Fisher, Dantonio, etc., so at least they have one less distraction to deal with each offseason. I suspect virtually all Michigan fans will accept that bargain, but it is an ongoing din that will only get louder the better Harbaugh does at UM. My hope is that if/when he does move on, the program will be back to its normally stable position so that the next guy will have an easy transition and, heck, there might actually be a legitimate coaching tree by then. So in summation, this is totally awesome you guys!
Best: Stability + Desirability = Awesomeability
With news that D.J. Durkin was waiting on Harbaugh to go to Michigan before joining him as defensive coordinator, plus scattered reports of Swag Mattison sticking around at least one more year, Michigan is enjoying one of those rare occurrences (at least around these parts) of optimism and stability that are usually a hallmark of successful programs. Durkin has basically been sitting on the DC position at Texas A&M for a week, yet apparently wants to get the band back together with Harbaugh and should be a welcome addition. And yes, being a DC under a defensive coach like Muschamp brings with it the usual questions of how much influence he had at Florida, but this is still a guy with the trajectory of a top-notch assistant who'll be a head coach sooner rather than later.
With Mattison possibly returning, that should help stabilize recruiting a bit in the vacuum between now and Harbaugh getting on the road, and should help reaffirm a couple of wavering guys, to say nothing of the boost the trips will have once Harbaugh gets going. This will be a small class, but with a crack recruiter in a position of some authority, that will only help the transition. Again, it's a long way to even NSD, and most of the staff remains in limbo, but Michigan should enjoy the best of both worlds with this coaching change.
It isn't news to anyone on MGoBlog that the internet can be both your best friend and worst enemy when it comes, well, pretty much anything, but especially when something as "newsy" and ripe for misdirection and hearsay as a coaching search. For every legitimate insider report or guy who actually knows a guy, you'll read a dozen random Twitter handles with 10k tweets and 25 followers, and pages of forums posts fueled by someone's brother's girlfriend's sorority sister's dad's second cousin's landscaper's adopted uncle's burned-out podiatrist's receptionist's albino twin who ran into a junior associate in the athletic department at Meijer who was buying two 12-packs of Dr. Pepper (which we all know is Jim Harbaugh's 3rd favorite drink after Earl Grey tea and the tears of MSU fans OMGOMGOMG! It's Happening!), proclaiming to know what the future holds both in terms of the front-runner as well as the internal politics, backup plans, and related scuttlebutt that drives web traffic in the modern era well after the actual thing you should care about has been resolved. Obviously you can figure out who is right and who is wrong once you have some perspective, but the internet is kinda the wild wild west when it comes to rumors, and those first couple of weeks are just chock full of idiots wanting some attention.
And to make matters worse, social media and the clear NFL/CFB divide in terms of biases creates a whole new class of semi-informed, semi-credible pundits with the lowest barrier to entry probably since you could literally stand in the middle of a town square and yell whatever you wanted at people as they passed by.
On one hand, the ubiquity of the internet lets information be relatively "free" not only in terms of who possesses it but who can disseminate it quickly; you don't need to be a friend of Ed Werder, Jay Galzer, or Chris Broussard to be given a platform to be heard; a Twitter account and $10/mo. for a "premium" account is more than enough to tell the world what you know about a hot topic, sometimes well before more established voices catch wind of it. And that, to some, is incredibly valuable information that needs to be made available as soon as possible. And while I'm sure some print journalists still yearn for their own "Deep Throat" (I'll wait...) with an established paper trail of sorts, it's far more likely that the "first" source to report something will be some random guy, because random people have little to lose if they are wrong and lots to gain, even temporarily, if they are right.
But on the other hand, what it also creates is just wave after wave of bullshit to sift through for these few nuggets of actual wisdom. I joke about the circuitous route some rumors go through, but read some Reddit or 24/7 threads and it's just burner accounts from guys at airports, janitors on night shifts, and gym buddies telling you they heard from some "big money donor" or a "buddy" whose family knows someone that something big is going down, that some assistant is booking tickets to an airfield, that rooms are being repainted and new placards being designed, and all of a sudden you've got people freaking out or celebrating, while reporters and more trusted sources of information are left scrambling to verify while sifting through all the copy-cats and trolls. It's draining to watch as an observer, and I don't even need to give a crap. And along the way, people get burned enough that lines in the sand are drawn and opinions calcify, creating a certain level of acrimony and zealotry throughout the process that creates the perfect feedback loop, where anyone who says what you want to hear is credible and anyone else is lying, an idiot, or a troll.
This race for "scoops" also creates the shit-throwers like Gregg Henson and Football Scoop who basically "report" everything they can think of in the hope that enough of it is right that people forget everything else they make up. I mean, technically they are true, but Paul the Octopus also had a nice streak going but I don't remember him trying to drive traffic to his blog. And in virtually all cases, these same guys tried to inflate their numbers by claiming the most obvious things as "news" (Brandon to be fired! Michigan is looking at Harbaugh! Lots of money is involved!). I'm sure these guys had some "sources" as they were; you sniff around enough and someone will talk. But now every time one of these guys fires off some harebrained "insider scoop" about a team, they'll have that whiff of undeserved credibility.
I get that it doesn't really matter in the end; I doubt Jim Harbaugh even knows this exists, let along how many times it's been posted across the internet. But I get why lots of fans don't obsessively follow this stuff, those who will probably see an interview on ESPN or read an article on Yahoo! about Harbaugh coming to Michigan and say "that's nice" and forget about it until the fall. The end result never changes, and at least they didn't spend weeks getting worked up about an anonymous purchase order for Dockers in size "Awesome!" being found in the Ann Arbor dump.
Worst: No F*cking way League
So yeah, I'm bitching about all of the dubious stories coming out of the internet's nether-region, but most of them all pointed toward a single reality: Jim Harbaugh is going to be the next coach of Michigan football. Sure, some tales were painted of him torn between another run in the pros and returning to the college game, and that certain teams might also be in play, but the vast majority of the rumors, especially amongst those most connected and accountable, were positive on Michigan. Well, except one group...
With the NFL guys, you are dealing with people who basically all default to the NFL PR view, but with the critical distinction that some are willing to at least entertain the possibility of some other reality also being possible. With the Schefter type, they live and breathed The Shield for so long that it takes them a couple of weeks to cut through the fog, but at least they are at least willing to reexamine their sources and accept the alternative reality. It's infuriating because they've bought into the arrogant argument that coaching in the NFL is a one-way street until the League dismisses you, but given the levels of delusion we've seen from people in charge these past couple of years it's not surprising how potent that kool-aid can be.
Then you've got guys like Tim Kawakami and Greg Gabriel who, for lack of a better word, are just ignorant about anything outside of the worldview they've crafted over decades of sitting in media rooms talking to the same 10-15 people and passing off recycled dribble as interesting and thoughtful commentary. For them, questioning the NFL isn't even possible because it seemingly violates some hard-coded rule in their own lives; you don't deviate from the norm because that would be admitting failure or, worse, that the world is evolving in ways they aren't willing to accept. To a man, I suspect you'd get a similarly dismissive response if you asked them about the viability of "bloggers".
I'll admit to being biased, but beyond the money and whatever self-affirming gains you get from being at the "top" of your field, I don't see the appeal of an NFL gig anymore. You never have complete control of a team, regardless of your titles, because a billionaire owner/group can always make your life a living hell if they disagree, you have to deal with a bunch of men who make quite a bit of money (oftentimes much more than you) and don't usually like being yelled at by their boss, the level of transgressions tend to be higher and more severe in the pros versus college, and with few exceptions you are only as good as your last season. I mean, Harbaugh will be coming to UM after one of the most successful first-time runs in NFL history, and yet because Colin Kaepernick regressed and a couple LBs got hurt (Patrick Willis) or went kinda crazy (Aldon Smith), he is on the outs and the born-on-third/thought-he-hit-a-triple Jed York is leading the charge. Say what you will about meddling college presidents, but most of them are smart enough to stay out of coaching situations until their hands are forced, and with the AD acting as a firewall a coach is going to enjoy far more freedom in college than he'd have in the pros, to say nothing about recruiting and player development benefits. And in this case, Michigan is going to pay a competitive salary, one that treats Harbaugh as one of the best at his position. This is a long way of saying I don't think Harbaugh (who just got through the inevitable clown show that ends most NFL tenures) sees this as much of a demotion, and while there will still be a couple of NFL guys dying on their wrong swords of wrongness, hopefully by the time Jim Harbaugh is running spring practice a good 75-80% of the NFL reporters will admit that Michigan has a chance.
Regardless, I do think we'll see quite a few of these responses coming from that brood in the coming weeks.
Best: Puntasaurus Extinction?
Hold onto your butts, because with any coaching transition there are going to be changes. But probably none will be as necessary and welcomed as (I hope) Michigan's transition away from the dinosaur "pro" punt style that existed under Hoke. And really, it's extinction was a long time coming. It's the perfect blend of barely-there upside (slightly easier to fake out of) and huge downsides (huge yards available for returns, over-reliance on unpredictable hangtime, less flexibility to address aggressive pressure) that made it an eyesore when it was happening and looks even more insane in retrospect. It basically cost Michigan the bowl game against USC, let Utah's Clay strike the most unnecessary Heisman pose, and consistently gave up gobs of field position that, at best, put Michigan's defense in tough spots. Because of rule differences between the NFL and CFB you don't see the Shield punt formation in the pros, so I guess I'm not 100% sure that Harbaugh won't keep lugging out the tired Spread punt formation, but since he seems to have a functioning cerebral cortex I expect Michigan will go with the more effective and prevailing formation. And while that will be a good day for Michigan football, it'll be a sad day for the few remaining puntasauruses walking the earth. Maybe InGen will bring one of them back from the fossilized remains of Kirk Ferentz.
Oh...apparently I've been informed by Google that he's still alive and being paid to coach. My apology to Iowa fans.
Best: Nobody Else is Happy
There is a saying that you'll know how good/bad a guy is based on how his current fans talk about him and his departure. When a stud coach/player leaves, you'll typically read knowledgeable fans lament the loss and speak glowingly about his past accomplishments. When he's kind of a dud, everyone makes jokes and criticizes his failings. But an equally-useful gauge of a new hire's overall perception is how rival fans respond to him coming on board, and in this case it is pretty universal that, well, MSU and OSU partisans are having a bad time.
I won't link to specific threads, but go to their respective boards and you'll read a lot of "I can't wait to beat that smug look off his face" or "He's not that great anyway. Plus, it'll be years before he's good." Yes, there are rational fans who recognize that Harbaugh is a good hire, but these aren't the "hur hur you have a fat coach" stuff you heard when Hoke was hired. Harbaugh is going to piss off a lot of people and give plenty of "material" for rival fans to latch onto, but this feels like Michigan is "back", and coupled with OSU and MSU losing significant cogs on their staffs (Herman to Houston, Narduzzi to Pitt), you can see the ire ratcheting up for both fanbases that absolutely took pleasure in Michigan's recent struggles. At least with OSU, that team has been a premiere program for decades even when Michigan was at its height; this is a rivalry again, not a clear ascension. But MSU fans seem supremely upset specifically because a returning Michigan probably pushes them down a peg in the conference; they'll still be a tough out as long as Dantonio is there, but that first handshake between the two is going to extra salty, and with more and more teams starting to "figure out" MSU's defense (at least the elite offenses are; we'll get a good idea how they respond against Baylor), I get a sense that Spartan fans are seeing that door close.
Best: Did I Mention Harbaugh? Also, Finally We Can All Get Back to Our Lives!
My wife sent me this gif while I was typing this up. This pretty much sums up the last couple of weeks.
As the Harbaugh mania continues to climax in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I thought it would be interesting to breakdown the Stanford offense from the harbaugh era. The first breakdown of my series involves the return of the fullback. Harbaugh has a great history of utilizing the fullback in his west coast style of offense. Harbaugh does not utilize his fullback as just a blocker. They are runners and pass catchers as well. The videos I have examined from past Harbaugh teams show a lot of pre snap motion by the fullback and tight end position. As I dive into my series you will also notice that Harbaugh uses so many different formations to confuse the defense. A Harbaugh Fullback needs to be versatile, and If you think about Michigan football past, several names come to mind when you think about versatile fullbacks, Chris Floyd, Aaron Shea, Leroy Hoard, Jon Ritchie and the list goes on. Michigan football has history at this position and I fully expect Jim Harbaugh to restore the position and add a few more names to the hallowed list of Michigan fullbacks.
The current Michigan roster has the following fullbacks listed:
|36||Joe Kerridge||FB||6-0||244||RS JR||Traverse City, Mich. (St. Francis)|
|39||Sione Houma||FB||6-0||242||JR||Salt Lake City, Utah (Highland HS)|
|37||Bobby Henderson||FB||5-11||236||RS SO||Hopewell Junction, N.Y. (John Jay HS)|
|33||Wyatt Shallman||RB||6-3||239||RS FR||Hartland, Mich. (Detroit Catholic Central)|
Of the listed fullbacks above brady Hoke utilized Joe kerridge the most. Kerridge was used sparingly as a runner only recording 3 attempts for 56 yards. As a receiver he had 6 receptions for 56 yards averaging 8.8 yards per catch in 2014.
Sione Houma who reportedly ran a 4.5 yard forty in high school in highschool really stands out to me. As a high school junior, Houma had over 1200 yards and 11 td's. Houma Also returned a kickoff 88 yards for a score in High school.
Wyatt Shallman like owen Marecic Shallman was a two way player. He was a linebacker and a running back in Highschool. He is versatile like Houma.
Bobby henderson????? he was a tailback in High School.
The question I have for all Michigan fans, which of the listed fullbacks above could you foresee becoming the next great fullback at Michigan?
To begin the series I embedded a senior bowl video of Owen Marecic where he speaks glowingly about Harbaugh, hard work and what it takes to succeed. This guy Is a football player and thats what you need in a fullback. Marecic is Hard nosed, tough and willing to go to war for the team.
In my analysis I decided to chose a play from the Stanford, USC game in 2009. This game is known as the 55-21 "whats your deal game". Please watch the embed for wonderful Harbaugh'isms.
ok, now for the breakdown of the fullback: The play I am referencing is a fake counter to the right side of the formation.
The play starts off in the I-formation, twins left, with the tight end bookending the tackle to the right. As Luck begins his cadence the full back motions to the weakside. This causes all three USC linebackers to shift to their right before the snap expecting a run to the weak side of the offensive formation.
The play sets up well as toby gerhart gets the linebackers to freeze with his counter step to the left, then sells the run fake by going back to the strongside of the formation, forcing the linebackers to react. By the time the linebackers realize its a pass they forcibly try to get back into their zones.
USC's linebackers did a great job reacting quickly to the play action and getting back. But their was one last sales pitch they were not prepared for. Owen Marecic is blocking the weakside defensive end and has been lost in translation. So in a matter of 3 seconds, you see see a great counter step by Toby Gerhart that freezes the linebackers, a great play fake by Andrew Luck where he keeps his eyes deep downfield before even looking toward Marecic, that sells the defense and gets the linebackers flowing back to their left. In all of this wizardry the key component is the fullback who is blocking the weakside defensive end one on one waiting to release into the wide open flat.
The link below is the actual play. Sorry but my embed was not working.
The presence of the fullback in the offensive scheme opens up another pass catching option for opposing defenses to have to account for. This gives an offense so much more versatility. This may be one of the lesser exciting reviews for many people, but it will be a relevant part of what Michigan football will do under Harbaugh. The best part of my analysis is that Harbaugh uses various formations, and he also used the read option with Andrew Luck. Get excited Michigan fans. There is no variation, or set of players Harbaugh cannot scheme around. The Current Michigan roster has the pieces it needs to be successful.
Next up: The offensive Line.
The NFL Grinch---a bitter, grouchy, internet-dwelling creature with a heart "two sizes too small"—heard all the noisy coaching festivities in Blueville. Annoyed, he decided to steal Christmas.
He pretended to be Santa Claus. He brought a bag of Super Bowl rings to Santa Clara (no, not Santa’s sister but the city where JH worked). Offering this bag of tricks in trade, the Grinch tried to steal from JH the 49 million presents that Blueville gave him. To do so, the NFL Grinch concocted not a crafty lie but a meaningless truism. He argued to JH that “Only in the NFL can you win the NFL Championship.” It was like saying: “ Only in Alabama can you visit the Alabama State Capitol.” or “Only at Grant’s Tomb can you see Grant’s final resting place.” Inhabitants of Blueville instantly saw the NFL Grinch’s ruse for what is was: just empty words from somebody full of himself
But the residents of Blueville worried still that the Grinch would steal JH and ruin their Christmas. They worried until a sports statistician working for JH showed him why the SB rings were fool’s gold. He pointed out that
-One of the best teams in NFL history went 18-0 but did not get a SB ring.
-One of the greatest coaches ever--Bill Belichick—who had won 3 SBs---has not won a single SB so far in the past ten years despite each year being atop the AFC East
-Oakland never even had a winning record for the past 12 years and to win a SB in 6 years would take more than a miracle. Suppose a new miracle worker coach could turn them into the Seattle Seahawks in 6 years. Say, their preseason SB odds increased constantly from their preseason 200-1 to 6-1 (the odds for Seattle). Even then, the chances of a single SB win during ALL of the first five years would be 0.05. —that’s less than the chances of winning a roulette bet on zero (0 ,00). During the coach’s final, 6th year—after he’s turned them into the Seahawks-- the probability of a SB win still would be only 0.14—about the chances you’d win in Vegas by betting on craps (2,3,12).
So, JH saw that the NFL Grinch’s argument about the SB was BS. Looking at his friends and family, as well as the young players and recruits in Blueville, he also realized that Christmas meant a bit more to him than a bag of rings from the NFL Grinch. JH then rejoined the joyous inhabitants of Blueville, who were singing the Victors. They all thanked JH for defeating the Grinch and saving Christmas. Then, in the far above clouds, the honorary major of Blueville—named bl-Ufer said: “God bless his cotton pickin' maize and blue heart.”
THE GIFT OF MGOBLOG
Another Christmas is upon us and I thought it might be a good time to reflect on this gift provided to us on the Internet because it has been especially useful in what has been a rather trying year for the MGoCommunity.
Like every year, win or lose, we gather here and discuss what we saw, what it means going forward and how it might be improved. We even do it in the full realization that what we say has no bearing on what occurs on the field, on the court or wherever, but we share all the same because we want our community to know how we feel.
It isn’t just having a forum for posting our thoughts that makes this place a gift, but also that those thoughts generate discussion and the standards of the blog create a situation where, in many cases, we have the potential to end up better fans or more informed fans as a result. Granted, there are threads where this is difficult if not impossible, but even in those threads, you can still find opportunities to learn and grow because you have people that will redirect the discussion or answer questions honestly. This is a very well-informed community and finding out things you may not have known about Michigan athletics is almost a daily exercise, even in the worst threads.
Part of the gift is the people who inhabit this blog as well. We cover a vast range of ages and occupations and more importantly for the blog, we represent a vast array of perspectives on Michigan and Michigan athletics. Some of us are in fact alums while many are not, but we have the common bond of passion for this school and for its teams. All of us want those teams to represent the school well and to be as excellent on the field as well as off of it. No matter the personal angle from which we approach all this, we meet in that common center.
One of the things that managed to help me get through one of the most frustrating football experiences in my mere 36 years on this planet was in fact this blog. Frustrated as I was by a team which so vastly underachieved, I came to MGoBlog as a fan – like I have for years now – to vent but also to talk about what I thought needed to happen. I tend to do that with numbers, but however you do it, we all wanted the same thing in the end. To tie that into the present, in the potential to land Jim Harbaugh, we see the things we discussed as missing, so we shall see how the next week pans out. I will say that this – if it happens – would not be a bad belated Christmas gift for the program at all.
It has been these last few weeks since the dismissal of Brady Hoke that have made me realize just how special this place can be, oddly enough. I will never celebrate anyone losing their job, but the sheer volume of content that the resulting uncertainty produced servers as proof positive that those who claimed to be numb or indifferent during the season really weren’t entirely truthful, and that’s a good thing. What all this has shown is that we do in fact care, we want success and the fact that we came within inches of posting profiles of NAIA coaches shows how deeply we care about the future of football. I don’t doubt we would do the same thing for other sports, but football is a convenient example of the enormity of this community’s concern for Michigan and its willingness – in whatever capacity it can – to help.
That there is a forum for all this where highly engaged fans can meet, share knowledge and perspectives, but more importantly, improve knowledge and allow the opportunity to walk away with a more rounded perspective…that’s what makes MGoBlog an infinitely useful gift for Michigan fans. Personally, I am glad to participate both as a user and moderator where I can and I can only hope that people find my own contributions as entertaining or illuminating as I often find those of others. Here is to a better 2015.
Happy holidays, MGoCommunity.
Michigan won this game, I believe (source)
Your Weekly B1G Hoops Column
*[I failed to post the draft correctly yesterday and I wasn’t able to correct it while traveling. My apologies. None of this data should be dated much. Nebraska has not yet played Hawaii at the time of my submission early Tuesday morning EST – Alex]
Table of Contents:
Team’s don’t change much during conference play
Hopeful precedent? (Battle!)
Hoops (and not NBA hoops) over Christmas
Talkin’ bout the Shockers
Key B1G wins in the past week
Saturday was a bad day
A SPECIAL SHOUT-OUT TO MICHIGAN STATE
Best and worst losses thus far
Poll: which team is second-best in the B1G?
1. Teams don’t change much during conference play
In data provided to me by From the Barn’s Jonathan Foster, there’s generally insignificant differences between the Kenpom rank of a team after non-conference play and that same team’s rank at the end of the season. The data only covers the last four seasons, but a team is twice as likely to have a change from –19 < [rank] < +10 than it is to worsen by more than nineteen or improve by more than ten, rank-wise:
This bodes poorly for Michigan and similarly floundering teams – Pomeroy’s rankings attempt to assess the objective quality of a team (not its potential, nor how good its resume is) and, according to this data, right now, that metric – his “pythag” rating – is usually within range of how good a team winds up being over the course of the season. As the scatterplots below show, the highest change in ranking comes from very bad teams:
Click image to enlarge
Sample size caveats apply, but I’d hazard a guess that this group of teams is generally representative of an intuitive hypothesis: teams don’t became far better or far worse (statistically speaking) after December. Or perhaps better stated: teams don’t (or can’t) prove that they’re far better or far worse after December.
2. Hopeful precedent? (Battle!)
Foster gave me the conference-wide data from 2011-2014; in that time, only Penn State (2011) managed to accomplish something Michigan will find itself hoping to do – rise from roughly the 75th-best team in Kenpom to eventually make the NCAA Tournament.
That Penn State team’s non-conference season was quite similar to Michigan’s past few weeks. The Nittany Lions lost two home games – one to a mediocre Maryland outfit by 23 points, one to a dreadfully bad Maine team that finished ranked 209th in Kenpom. Additionally, Penn State lost road contests to Ole Miss and Virginia Tech, neither of which were particularly good squads. Their best win in non-conference play was a narrow home win over #60 Duquesne; they rode a 9-9 conference record, two wins over a great Wisconsin team, and three wins in the Big Ten Tournament to a bid as a ten-seed. The Big Ten was the best conference in the country that year.
Mid-season ranking data only goes back to 2011 on Pomeroy’s site. I checked from 2005-2010 and there were only a few potentially analogous situations: in 2007, Purdue lost two tough non-conference games and dropped a bad one (to #150 Indiana State on the road) and lost to #170 Minnesota to open Big Ten play – they recovered to be a nine-seed; in 2005, Minnesota lost to two top-20 outfits and lost at home to #97 Florida State in the span of less than a week – they finished non-conference play at 10-3 and were an eight-seed.
Penn State 2011 might be the best blueprint for Michigan to follow. It was Talor Battle’s senior year* and Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones, and sophomore Tim Frazier formed a potent (by PSU standards) nucleus: they had a terrible non-conference season but were consistent enough in Big Ten play – winning the games they absolutely had to win – notched a few notable wins, both against Wisconsin, and did quite well in the Big Ten Tournament to sneak into the NCAA Tourney.
Since the conference is weaker now, I’d say Michigan might need 10 or 11 wins (and a Big Ten Tournament win), depending on who they win or lose to, to be right on the edge of the bubble. Right now, Pomeroy projects just 8 conference wins. Blerg.
In any case, improving to the point where the bubble is a legitimate discussion is objectively unlikely.
*Talor Battle was one of my favorite non-Michigan Big Ten players in recent memory. He was like a prelude to Trey Burke: undersized do-it-all point guard whose high usage was excused by a stellar assist rate. Trey was obviously better, but it was certainly something to watch Battle drag his teammates along and elevate their play in front of a seemingly indifferent PSU fanbase. Something impressive and tragic in that. Anyways, I digress.
[AFTER THE JUMP: … But Beilein? and other non-Michigan stuff, of course]