i refuse to even consider this a possibility
As much as I hate to say, I am rooting for Notre Dame this weekend against USC. I cannot stand to watch another SEC dominated BCS Championship game and the Irish are all that stand between that matchup coming to fruition once more.
Miami became bowl eligible this past weekend and made the smart decision to self impose a ban for this season. One just has to look at Ohio State to see why it was better to forego a bowl during a 6-5 season – you never know what the next season will bring. I am sure those in charge at OSU are lamenting that decision now.
Your recap of bowl affiliations by conference:
Big Ten – 8 affiliations
Rose, Heart of Dallas, Outback, Gator, Capital One, Buffalo Wild Wings, Meineke Car Care and Little Ceasars
ACC – 8 affiliations
Orange, Sun, Music City, Chick Fil A, Russell Athletic, Independence, Military and Belk
B12 – 7 affiliations
Fiesta, Cotton, Pinstripe, Buffalo Wild Wings, Alamo, Meineke Car Care and Holiday
Big East – 6 affiliations
BBVA Compass, Liberty*, Pin Stripe, Russell Athletic, Belk and Beef O’Brady’s
Conference USA – 6 affiliations
Heart of Dallas, Liberty*, Armed Forces, Hawaii, New Orleans and Beef O’Brady’s
MAC – 3 affiliations
Go Daddy, Little Caesars and Famous Idaho Potato
Mountain West – 5 affiliations
Armed Forces, Hawaii*, Las Vegas, Poinsettia and New Mexico
PAC 12 – 7 affiliations
Rose, Sun, Kraft Fight Hunger, Alamo, Holiday, Las Vegas and New Mexico
SEC – 10 affiliations
Sugar, BBVA Compass, Cotton, Outback, Gator, Capital One, Music City, Liberty*, Chik Fil A and Independence
Sun Belt – 2 affiliations
Go Daddy and New Orleans
WAC – 2 affiliations
Hawaii* and Famous Idaho Potato
At Large Bids – 5
BCS Championship, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange
Other Bids (Independent) – 3
Poinsettia (takes BYU eligible), Kraft Fight Hunger (takes Navy if eligible) and Military (takes Army if eligible)
* Liberty takes either CUSA or SEC team and Hawaii takes Mountain West or WAC team
In total, 35 bowl games meaning 70 slots that have to be filled by eligible teams. Let us see how each conference fairs in terms of eligible teams. The information below is broken down as follows: Eligible Teams (have 6 wins already) and On the Cusp (5 wins). I only have one teams left in the Still Have a Shot category. I have also provided the remaining schedule beside each team listed under On the Cusp.
Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin
On the Cusp:
Michigan State (Minnesota)
Purdue took care of business against Illinois and now just has to win against Indiana. Michigan State lost another close one against Northwestern and is lucky that Minnesota is the last game on their schedule. A lose to the Gophers will leave the Spartans at home.
Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech and NC State
On the Cusp:
Wake Forest (Vanderbilt)
Virginia Tech (Virginia)
Both Georgia Tech and Miami became bowl eligible this week, but the administrators at Miami immediately took their program out of the post season. Wake Forest and Virginia Tech still have a shot on the last Saturday of the season, but neither game is easy.
Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and Texas Tech
On the Cusp:
West Virginia (Iowa State and Kansas)
Baylor (Texas Tech and Oklahoma State)
Baylor’s huge upset of Kansas State puts them in a good position to become bowl eligible. They have two tough opponents, but as we saw this past Saturday, they can score and should be competitive. West Virginia almost pulled out a victory against Oklahoma, but they can rest easy knowing Kansas is still on the schedule though it is shocking that they are still not eligible given how their season started. Iowa State, on the other hand, reached six wins and is now bowl eligible.
Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse
On the Cusp:
Still a Shot:
Pittsburgh (Rutgers and South Florida)
Look at Syracuse! Following a big win against Louisville, they followed that up by defeating Missouri to become bowl eligible. Pittsburgh was off, so I will keep them on the list, but they have a tough game this week. If they can get past Rutgers, their chances look good against South Florida.
UCF, East Carolina and Tulsa
On the Cusp:
Marshall (East Carolina)
Rice beat SMU to set up a big game against UTEP – win that, and they likely go to a bowl game. SMU has a tougher challenge against Tulsa this week. Marshall beat Houston, knocking them out of bowl contention, but like SMU, have a tough test against East Carolina. If all three can win this weekend, the C-USA will have six bowl eligible teams.
BYU, Notre Dame and Navy
On the Cusp:
Nothing changed for the Independents – wait – scratch that. Notre Dame easily took down Wake Forest and are now in line to reach the BCS Championship after Kansas State and Oregon lost.
Ball State, Bowling Green, Kent State, Ohio, Northern Illinois and Toledo.
On the Cusp:
Central Michigan (Massachusetts)
Central Michigan took care of Miami (Ohio) and should become bowl eligible this weekend against UMass. That will give the MAC seven bowl eligible teams.
Air Force, Fresno State, San Diego State, Boise State, Nevada
On the Cusp:
Air Force obtained bowl eligibility by beating Hawaii become the 5thand final team from the MWC.
Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington
On the Cusp:
Arizona State is the last team to become eligible after Utah lost to Arizona. That is eight eligible teams from the PAC-12.
Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt
On the Cusp:
Mississippi (Mississippi State)
Missouri (Texas A&M)
Arkansas and Tennessee lost eliminating both schools from bowl contention. Dooley was immediately fired and I think we can expect that John L. Smith will gone as well. Mississippi and Missouri also lost, but they each have one game remaining. I do not expect either to win, however, which would close the SEC with eight eligible teams.
Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee State and
On the Cusp:
Troy (Middle Tennessee State)
Louisiana-Lafayette became bowl eligible by beating Western Kentucky. Troy did not win leaving them with one more chance to reach the post season.
Utah State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State
On the Cusp:
When it comes to bowl eligibility, the WAC is already set.
Of the 70 slots available, 62 teams have already qualified. I have a further 13 teams listed as On the Cusp. There is still a good chance that there will be enough eligible teams available, though only Pittsburgh remains on my Still a Shot list. Last week, I predicted that the following schools would become bowl eligible after the past weekend:
Air Force (Won)
Arizona State (Won)
Georgia Tech (Won)
Iowa State (Won)
Miami (Fla.) (Won)
Five out of seven – not terrible. With Miami taking a bowl ban this year, the remaining bowl games are itching to see more teams become eligible. I believe the following teams will become bowl eligible this week:
If correct, that would leave three spots still available to fill up all the bowl games. Three teams play after this week: Pittsburgh (if they win this week), West Virginia and Baylor. Only West Virginia looks like a sure thing. As a result, if my predictions are accurate, there is the potential for a shortage of bowl eligible teams. I will look at this further in next week’s edition.
On to law school. Not UM. Their decision, not mine.
But, that costs money too, so ticket scalping, uh, broker, business continues.
Thanks to my baseball buddies, I show up for the pre-season meeting for football program sellers, open to them, and the players on club sports teams. The varsity athletes get to keep their 7 cents per program (which cost a buck back then).
The club sports, like lacrosse, had their money go to their program.
I kind of let them think I was a baseball player (cough) so I got a check in December for my sales for the season.
Yes, this would now be an NCAA violation, as you cannot have benefits available only to student athletes. Program selling is now outsourced.
Hawking programs outside the stadium was perfect cover for hustling tickets. Which my bosses new, but I always sold all my programs, so?
On the first day of Legal Research and Writing class, taught by a recent grad, we were told we would get an “A” if we guessed his favorite number. No one did. Turned out to be #87, for Ron Kremer.
My kind of guy.
We had an undefeated season, except for an inexplicable loss at Purdue. So, beating the Buckeyes makes us the co-champs, with the tiebreaker, winning the head to head game.
The instructor tells me to meet him at such and such bar Friday night in Columbus.
A couple of bros still at the fraternity house are making the trip with me.
The trip down on Friday is uneventful, as, with Michigan plates, we carefully observe all traffic rules. We don't even drink in the car.
The national rule is that fraternity members can stay overnight in any house, so we plan on crashing at the Ohio chapter of our group.
The bar is on the aptly named High street.
In conditions that can only be described as just short of a riot, carloads of people are driving up and down High Street, singing, well, yelling, the obscene words to the greatest fight song ever written, “Hail to the mother----rs, hail to the big c---suckers, hail, hail, Michigan, the cesspool of the West.”
I ask someone what the straight metal poles are, about four feet high, regularly spaced along the sidewalk a foot or so in from the street.
Those are parking meters, is the response.
Where does the money go, says I.
Oh, now they remove that part the day before the Michigan game. Cuz one year you beat us, and people were pulling them off and throwing them through the store windows.
OK, we are not in Kansas any more.
Finally find the bar, gigantic line to get in, so we say the hell with it and head for the fraternity house.
Some Buckeyes start engaging us in conversation, being that I have Michigan attire displayed. No one else around. One guy is predicting glorious events for his team. Hands in my pockets, I calmly respond, well, we'll see on the field tomorrow.
Next thing I know, his fist has left my jaw after chipping two of my upper teeth.
There is a scrum for awhile with the two groups, and they scurry away.
Silly me. A crime has been committed. So, I walk the couple blocks back to High Street and find a payphone. To call the police.
There may be something more naïve I have done in my life, but, probably not.
I wait and wait for a car to arrive, looking at the chaos outside the window. And finally realize, they ain't coming.
At the house, there are actually a couple of football fans from Kentucky, or Tennessee, or both, who came up just for the big event, having heard what a colossal game this is. Cool.
We hustle tickets on the street.
Scoreless first half.
In the second half, Ricky Leach leads that option offense up and down the field. After one TD, our holder decides, on his own, to pick up the ball and run around the end for two points.
A 22-0 shellacking. Rose Bowl bound. Though, Rick Leach completed zero passes.
This is right up there with the births of my two children as a great event in my life.
EVERY GAME BUT “THE GAME”
In the interests of providing the board with yet more analysis of upcoming opponents, I have taken the basic offensive, defensive and scoring statistics for Michigan and Ohio State and graphed them so you can see where the successes and struggles have occurred and against which teams.
First, however, a summary table of season averages:
Passing Off. (Yds)
Rushing Off. (Yds)
Passing Def. (Yds)
Rushing Def. (Yds)
Scoring Off. (Pts)
Scoring Def. (Pts)
As you’ll note, the Buckeyes’ pass defense is not at all good, and as the graphs will bear out, in individual games, it has been exploited even though obviously not enough to win in the case of their opponents. On the other hand, our average passing yards have improved about 15% in three games with the emergence of Devin Gardner as the starting QB in place of an injured Denard Robinson (who did an excellent job in limited time against Iowa – the 40 yard run was beautiful).
The obvious thing for the Buckeyes to do is to try to establish the run and start rolling out option plays, as they have shown themselves to be capable of doing. Although we beat Air Force and Northwestern, getting to the edge is going to be extra critical on Saturday, I would think. If Braxton Miller can be held to the 3.74 yards per play that we give up on average on the ground, I would say that the Buckeye offense starts to have problems.
Anyway, looking at these graphs might provide some insight into which games in particular both teams might review very carefully. The thumbnails images should work - let me know if you encounter problems.
Ohio State - Passing And Rushing Offense By Game - 2012:
Ohio State - Passing And Rushing Defense By Game - 2012:
Ohio State - Scoring Offense And Defense By Game - 2012:
Michigan - Passing And Rushing Offense By Game - 2012:
Michigan - Passing And Rushing Defense By Game - 2012:
Michigan - Scoring Offense And Defense By Game - 2012:
Quick note – this got a little long. Not sure what got into me. Feel free to stick around.
So you’ve cried over the Haikus, seen the animated gifs, and read the numerous odes to the seniors as they leave UM. And it probably got a little dusty in whatever room you were sitting in when man-hugs were being doled out on the field.
And at the end of the day, UM was victorious on Senior Day, most of the seniors had their moments to shine, and the banner was raised for the last time in 2012.
Best: Those Who Came and Stayed Will Always Be Champions
I know that everyone has talked up last year’s seniors as epitomizing Bo’s “Stay and Be Champions” motto, but I’ve always felt this Senior class has been given a short shrift considering the environment that existed when they decided to come to UM. The 2011 class came to UM with a fair bit of uncertainty, what with a coaching change and a shift in offensive and defensive systems, but they all arrived on campus in a world where UM hadn’t missed a bowl game since Nixon was in office and had only one .500 record over that span. Like everyone, they figured UM would, at worst, suffer through a “down” season of 8 wins before challenging for more titles.
But we all know how that played out. And not only did the team struggle on the field, but off it players questioned Rich Rodriguez’s leadership and allegations of improprieties bubbled up before the season. Their reality was a program coming off the worst season in their history, with an embattled coach and a media ready to burn him at the stake. Few offensive and defensive stars could be found on the roster, highlighted by the fact that UM had two players taken in the 2009 draft and 3 in 2010, with one of them being a punting Space Emperor.
And yet, these kids showed up and played through another bowl-less year. They watched as the vultures started to circle RR and his staff, saw the defense continue to flail even as the offense finally started to come around. They fought to make a bowl game in 2010 even though it probably wasn’t enough to save their coach, and when he was replaced with Brady Hoke seemingly all of them accepted him with open arms, unlike the cooler reception received by RR in 2008. The cries of lost values and playing time were never heard and probably were never uttered; these kids came to play for Michigan and represent the University as best they could. By their words and deeds, they exceeded this bar immeasurably.
Now, I’m probably waxing too poetic about college kids; I’m sure that part of the silence is due to tighter controls inside the Fort, and I’d be foolish to ignore that some kids did transfer away from the school for reasons that probably had to do with playing time and classroom performance. But from Robinson to Kovacs, Roundtree to Campbell, this was a team of star-crossed recruits who signed up for a wounded program and rehabilitated it in 4 short years. They deserved to leave Michigan stadium the way they entered; winners and champions.
Best: The Food Court
Most people don’t realize just ingrained food courts have become to everyday life in America, as the advent of malls and massive shopping centers, increased air travel, and cross-country road trips created a necessity for centralized food stops that were both inexpensive as well as diverse so as to satisfy the disparate palates that frequented them. The classic food court tends to feature a name-brand burger joint like McDonald’s or Burger King, a Chinese food restaurant with a faintly-racist and/or suggestive name like “Fook Hing”, an “authentic” pizza place like Sbarro, an overpriced juice place for the “hippies”, a restaurant featuring the native cuisine of a country you’ve probably run roughshod through in Call of Duty, and a cookie depot for dessert. Of course, over the years these areas have evolved and adapted to different clientele and needs, so now you might find a decent sushi joint, a Kosher deli, or a shrunk-down version of a sit-down restaurant like T.G.I. Fridays or Shenanigans. But regardless of how they are constituted, the food court symbolizes options and a bit of gastronomical sanctuary in times of need.
So what does this have to do with Michigan football, you ask in your inner voice that probably sounds like Fred Savage? One of the memes of the past two years on this site is the Borges-Denard Fusion Cuisine that the offense has been forced to take on given the constraints and abilities of the parties involved. Logic goes that when you have an OC who loves a West Coast-style offense and he inherits a dynamic offensive player who is far better with his feet in the open field than standing tall inside a pocket, you try to meld the best of both to form an unstoppable offensive Frankenstein, but instead churn out an overcooked Turducken. You run the read-option while also trying to establish the run with the Pro set and I-form, you encourage the QB to scramble but also throw inside NFL windows between defenders, and you both fall back on the realization that with few exceptions, your guy is faster, more elusive, and plain “better” than the 20-year-olds trying to tackle him. And this works, most of the time.
The problem with the Cuisine characterization, though, is that it always revolved around a central, core element, one that remains the throughline across every down and dish. With Michigan, it’s always been about Denard Robinson, because since the day he stepped on campus he’s been the best offensive player on the team. During his tenure, his two best teammates on that side of the ball have been a center and a left-tackle, and it hasn’t been close. But “Denard” isn’t an offensive philosophy; it’s a “Break in Cast of Emergency” valve that kept this team afloat during the end of RR’s tenure as well as the beginning of Hoke’s.
A complete offense, one that Al Borges knows how to coach, requires options; he needs to be able to run the ball inside the tackles AND throw downfield, get a consistent push upfront to soften up the defense so that they bite on play-action, and hit the mid-distance passes to TEs as they are trailed by outmanned LBs and undersized safeties. He needs options and variety in order to dictate the flow of the game and adapt to what the defense is doing in response. In other words, he needs to be able to pick sushi one series, then throw our Gyros the next, followed by a Jamba Juice on third down. With Denard, the options always appeared more voluminous on paper than in practice, and it led to sub-optimal results when opposing defenses were able to slow down the preferred playcalls.
With Devin under center, that go-to “Denard” package is gone but it’s replaced with a more complete offense that, for better or for worse, largely relies on the rest of the team performing their duties or else the play is broken. Sure, Devin can still make something out of nothing when needed, but it’s also an offense that works like offenses of old, plus a few wrinkles like the always-effective, sparingly-used Fritz formation (THAT’s how you throw a screen). It grinds teams down through the air and ground, and given the cast of characters out there that is pretty impressive. In short, it’s an offense versus a playset, and while it pains me that Denard had to be injured for this to be occur, I think the offense (and the team) both this year and going forward are better for this maturation. The food court may have lost its signature restaurant, but the whole experience is a bit more filling when you are looking for something different.
Best: Keeping the Fritz running
I’m sure that Brian and others will go into greater detail, but I can’t get over how terrifying the Fritz/Diamond/DC bowel cleanser offense looks in select bursts. Any time that Denard and Gardner ran toward one side of the field, seemingly every Iowa defender followed them. If the two split, the defense looked absolutely lost on which player to cover, or was out of place in the event Denard Just Made A Play.
Going forward, I hope this component of the offense doesn’t disappear. It may mean recruiting another pure athlete like a Denard or Antonio Bass (please ignore the name of the clip) and fitting him in where possible, but guys like Norfleet are probably going to be most effective in running offenses with some misdirection and trickery, and rolling out the formation with players capable of throwing, running, or catching the ball is the type of “out athlete-ing” of opposition schools like UM should be doing.
Worst: Not more Questions?
Of course, I just spent 500 words waxing poetically about the state of the offense, so you’re probably wondering why I’m still bitching about the same unit? Well, on one hand you have them scoring at least 35 points per game since Devin took over, capped by Devin’s scintillating 6 TD performance in about 3 quarters of play. The team ground up the Hawkeyes both on ground and in the air for touchdowns on their first 6 drives of the game, and as ST3 noted, the WRs always had between 1 and eleventy-billion steps on the DBs. It was a dominating performance by a unit that seems to be hitting its stride.
BUT…at the same time, the past three weeks have featured some of the weaker defenses in the conference. Iowa is a solid middle in the country in terms of overall defense, while Minnesota just gave up 38 straight to Nebraska before they called the hogs off and Northwestern is, well, fine. Denard and the rest of the offense looked great against Illinois and Purdue as well, but were definitely stymied by the MSU’s and Notre Dame’s of the world, to say nothing of whatever Alabama did to them. And this has been a problem with Al Borges since he arrived at UM – the offense moves the ball easily against the dregs but grinds against tougher units.
Overall, though, it’s a unit that is definitely trending upwards, but one also buoyed by weaker opposition the past couple of weeks. And with OSU welcoming the Wolverines with a defense ranked below Tulsa, Minnesota, and 5-6 Virginia Tech, they may very well not see an above-average defense until January. So questions remain, but at this point I’m not sure we’ll have answers until 2013.
Best: We Found a Golden Ticket!
At the beginning of the season, the key question surrounding the offense was how the shotgun marriage between Denard (and by extension, the rest of the offensive players) and Al Borges would evolve in the second year. The general sentiment was the whole “square pegs and round holes” arguments you hear whenever teams are not moving the ball as effectively as they could/”should” be doing, with some siding with the pegs and others with the holes. Where you fall in this debate mirrors the arguments that seemingly boiled over every couple of weeks under RR, especially early on – do you expect Borges to alter his offense somewhat to highlight what the offense does best (i.e. Denard-centric), or do you expect him to integrate the current players as best he can into the system he knows? And when it failed, do you blame the carpenter (Borges) or the tools (the players) for the rock fights that ensued.
Borges’s offense demands accurate throws in-between levels, a running game that can find gaps on the ends AND generate holes up the middle so that teams have to respect classic play-action, and, perhaps most importantly, QBs who are smart enough to throw the ball away/take a loss when needed, but also capable of improvising and relying on athleticism when needed. With Jason Campbell in 2004, Borges seemingly met his perfect fit – a guru-approved QB with plus athleticism who struggled at times to put it together but was spectacular when he finally did. Not to mention the fact that he had two NFL first-rounders at the RB position in Ronnie Brown and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams (and a young Kenny Irons, who later was drafted in the 2nd round, was waiting on the bench under the one-year transfer rule). The Brandon Cox years that followed were less forgiving, but Borges was able to rebound at San Diego State with reasonable approximation of his 2004 Auburn team with Lindley and Ronnie Hillman, though Ryan Lindley was clearly not the same overall athlete as Campbell.
With Denard, Borges has the most athletic QB he’s ever had, but unfortunately accuracy hasn’t quite followed. While I am one to believe that part of Denard’s throwing issues are due to poor play-calling, he’s never going to be confused with a Henne or Brady out there, and this offense places more of a premium on hitting guys in stride than in out-running a safety in the open field. And because Denard is far more effective in the shotgun than in pro set formations, it eliminates running plays from Borges’s playbook, as he has shown only a lukewarm acknowledgment of the read-option offense Denard is best suited for.
But with Devin, Borges has that reasonably accurate QB who can look over the entire defense and buy some time with his legs, but who’s first inclination remains to throw the ball. Sure, he’ll run if you give him the lane, but he’s a scrambler more than a runner, and that athleticism is the type Borges seems best suited to harness, not the jitter-bug electricity of #16. So it looks like Al Borges found that last golden ticket, and it was sitting, er, stumbling around at WR all the time.
Worst: Fitz Injury
Up front, I am incredibly squeamish in a very particular way. I don’t mind blood or bruises, but whenever I see a leg twist the way it shouldn’t or an arm twist around more than about 100 degrees, I just imagine the cracking of bone and I lose it. And HD certainly doesn’t help, with its crystal-clear picture and high-quality still frames. This year we already had the horrific Marcus Lattimore injury, and now Fitz has broken any number of bones in his leg in a tackle that didn’t look that bad in real time but looks WAY worse on replay. His season is done, and while it has been a disappointing one for him statistically, he’s been a trooper all year and hopefully he’ll be able to return next year fully healthy.
Best: Greg Mattison, you beautiful bastard
Last week questions returned about this defense’s ability to slow down a dynamic offense like Northwestern, which at least early on found gaps on the edges and missed tackles were happening with regularity. While the team definitely settled down, highlighted by a 3-man front trick play to end the game, the cracks definitely shown through. So did this week smooth over those imperfections? In a sense yes, as UM held Iowa to 7 points until the game was well out of reach, and 0 catches by Iowa WRs. On the other hand, the fact that a team couldn’t connect a pass to a WR during a regulation game says quite a bit about the team’s offense, and Greg Davis’s singular goal to destroy BHGP’s soul.
But at the very least, the defense rebounded after a lackluster performance. Washington and Campbell clogged up the middle, Jake Ryan did Jake Ryan stuff, JRIII gave a great audition for a starting spot in 2013, and Kovacs ended his final home game the only way he could, recording 5 tackles and a clean-up sack to snuff out an Iowa drive. It was a great performance, and a proper send-off for a unit that has surprised everyone all year.
In particular, Will Campbell deserves credit for turning around his career a bit in this, his senior season. After coming to UM as a highly-touted recruit and struggling under GERG and the weight of those lofty rankings for 2 years, he’s made slow strides the past couple of years to being a competent DT in the Big 10, all the while keeping his nose clean and staying out of trouble. In hindsight, too much was probably expected of him coming out of high school, a monster of a child who never had to learn much technique (and certainly didn’t get much of it while in campus early on), but he’s been solid all season and helped to anchor a run defense that continues to shut teams down. I’m not sure if he’ll make it to the NFL, but his swan song has been a highlight for this unit.
Worst: Returning to Glory == 15 years
In light of Notre Dame’s divined return to relevance in college football, you’ve probably heard stories of echoes and Horesmen meeting up with Touchdown Jesus. Well, let it be said that 2012 will be the first time a Notre Dame team has won more than 10 games since 1993, and only the third time they’ve won 10 or more since 1997. Since they bottomed out at 3-9 in 2007, Notre Dame has won no more than 8 games in any season. Since 1997, UM has won 10 or more games 7 times, and were probably one Urban Meyer politicking away from playing for a title in 2006. Teams like Utah, TCU, and Auburn have all had better seasons as well, and while recruiting at Notre Dame has been solid, there is no assurance that this year’s ascension is anything more than a plucky independent team from a non-AQ conference riding some good fortune and a favorable schedule to an undefeated season. I know it’s Notre Dame and we should all be in awe of Brian Kelly turning top-1 recruiting classes into wins, but count my a skeptic on this being a true fortune turn for the Fighting Irish.
Worst: Everyone’s the worst, remix
Currently there are two undefeated BCS teams in the country – Notre Dame and Ohio State. One of them is barred from playing in a bowl game because their former head coach was a creep, and their current athletic director is an idiot. The only thing standing between the other and a Return to Glory(TM) is Lane f’ing Kiffin. Oh yeah, and an Alabama team that should have lost to Johnny Football by 20 but now has the inside track at repeating as champions and giving all college football fans another year of tie-wearing enthusiasts screaming their conference affiliation. I’m Catholic, but if Notre Dame walks out of the Coliseum still unblemished next week, I am going to start stockpiling supplies and building a boat.
And Ohio State was also the beneficiary of the now-weekly poor referee spot. You know, wait, this deserves it’s own section.
Worst: Hey ref, why don’t you bend over and use your good eye
So yeah, on the 3rd down run at the goalline of the Badger’s second-to-last drive of regulation against the Buckeyes, Montee Ball was down inside the 1 yard line. Thanks to ESPN’s super-duper sideline camera, everyone in America could see him and the ball well past the first down marker both digitally as well as on the sideline. Well, everyone except a line judge, who decided Ball and about 1 ton of Wisconsin cheese had moved OSU back 3 inches, bringing up 4th down. So of course, like any logical official the replay booth upstairs called down and said the last spot should be reviewed. ESPN then treated us all to another video clip showing Ball’s arm well beyond the first down marker when his knee hit. Brian Griese even commented that Ball would probably score on the next down and, perhaps, OSU should let him so as to keep more time on the clock.
Well, we all know what happened. The official upstairs confirmed the call on the field and Ball fumbled on the 1 inch line on the next play. Wisconsin ultimately scored to tie the game before losing in OT, but this inability to trust your eyes at least two times is becoming a trend in the Big 10. Last week it was the generous spot for Colter against UM and the PSU being robbed of a TD late in their game against Nebraska. This week’s Oregon-Stanford game also featured some weird spotting on the final Stanford drive of regulation, bringing up the question of why referees even replay ball spots if they almost never overturn them.
I know it’s a “judgment” call, but that’s true for virtually everything else in football and yet you can review many of those plays. In fact, a ball spotting is one of the least-subjective calls you can make; it’s where the ball was located when a knee or forearm touched the ground or a player’s body touched outside the field of play. You can look at a video still, see where the contact happened, then look where the ball is. You even have hash marks as helpful guideposts. The fact that it is 2012 and we are still having games decided by some myopic adherence to “human error” as part of the game is ludicrous for a billion-dollar sport.
Worst: Coaching ‘em Up.
People now equate this term with Mark Dantonio’s “amazing” ability to turn lower-rated recruits into good players, but the original master alchemist of turning 2 *’s into real stars was Kirk Ferentz. Guys like Shonn Greene, Pay Angerer, Captain America, and Amari Spievey went from recruiting also-rans to future NFL draft picks, all the while winning conference titles and bowl games against “superior” teams. And for this, both the myth and Kirk’s pocketbook grew by monstrous proportions.
Of course, the reality behind the narrative is a bit more muddled. Iowa has been sending players to the NFL at a rate that is startling higher than you probably expect; they are currently tied with Florida with the 6th-most players currently in the NFL*, ahead of teams like Alabama, OSU, Michigan, and Notre Dame. Their best players tend to be along the offensive and defensive lines, where good coaching and physical maturation can be the difference between oversized 17-year-olds becoming stars or cautionary tales for television specials about America’s growing obesity and the diseases that afflict them. And those stars, like Adrian Clayborn, Riley Reiff, Chad Greenway, and Bryan Bulaga, were rated pretty highly by recruiting services coming out of high school, and lived up to their billing.
To me, Ferentz is as much Moneyball and a favorable media presence as displaying a true ability to unearth diamonds in the recruiting rough. Norm Parker was a mainstay as DC under Ferentz until this year, and he installed a system that replaced seniors with redshirt juniors like clockwork, mitigating some talent disadvantages with a disciplined, consistent play style taught to kids for 2-3 years before they became starters (a lot like Northwestern at QB, where every year it seemed like a new RS junior QB was ready to take over). And on offense, Ferentz was all about keeping his backs clean behind an offensive line that wouldn’t necessarily blow you off the ball but could wear down the weaker teams in the conference. And when the going got tough, well, this would emerge:
And because of Ferentz’s early success, many people began to conflate his latter seasons with the prior ones into one “winning” tableau that wasn’t particularly true. Case in point, since 2004 Iowa has a record of 54-36; MSU, 53-36; Missouri 63-29. I know his best seasons were in 2002 and 2004, but his best seasons were nearly a decade ago, and he’s been averaging about 8 wins a season since 2002, with the number trending down as we get deeper into Justin Timberlake’s solo career.
My point isn’t to disparage Ferentz or his accomplishments, but to highlight what feels like a trend in the Big 10 going forward; this will be a conference dominated by OSU and UM going forward, and the “middle class” teams like MSU, Iowa, and NW will probably be squeezed out. Whereas years ago Ferentz seemed able to transform hay into gold, it looks now like Iowa is going to fall into that 7-8 wins plateau that usually drives non-Northwestern schools to “look for a change of direction” at the top. But of course, Ferentz has a contract that makes firing him virtually impossible financially at least until the latter part of the decade. So either his recruiting needs to pick up or that old “coaching magic” better return to Iowa City.
* Of course, #8 on this list is California, reminding us all that coaching may be a teeny-bit overrated when talking about certain “underdog” teams.
Best: Bring On Ohio State
Nothing much else to add except bring on the Buckeyes. This will be there season, but it should be Michigan’s as well. And if it plays out the way I think, I might break 5,000 words in my next post.
Similar to what I attempted with Iowa, I have done a comparison of average per game rushing, passing and scoring offense and defense for Michigan and Ohio State over the last decade. I went with the same format as before, placing the tables below the chart so you could see the exact figures that I had collected.
One thing that I found interesting in doing this was that, on offense anyway, these two teams have had reasonably similar production, managing to stay within a touchdown or so of each other when it comes to average scoring. Indeed, they have fairly comparable rushing and passing production on offense as well. That would lead you to a conclusion that would not be new to anyone here, of course – they can both score.
On defense, you will note that, most years, Ohio State’s rush defense has been stingier than ours, but you can also see a gradual slide in that rush defense of the Buckeyes to a point where, in the last two seasons, they have been fairly similar. Pass defenses have been a little more even through the years, but here again, you can see Ohio State’s pass defense regressing, particularly this year, whereas ours has improved, at least by the numbers.
I will have a more detailed look at this season in particular probably tomorrow or Tuesday, but I thought the board might be interested in a high-level summary of the last decade of football for both teams.
Also, BEAT OHIO.
(NOTE: These are linked to Photobucket, so hopefully the thumbnails are coded correctly - I can redo the HTML and put scaled images in the diary if people have trouble with the links.)
Michigan / Ohio State Rushing Offense (2002-Present):
Michigan / Ohio State Passing Offense (2002-Present):
Michigan / Ohio State Rushing Defense (2002-Present):
Michigan / Ohio State Passing Defense (2002-Present):
Michigan / Ohio State Scoring Offense (2002-Present):
Michigan / Ohio State Scoring Defense (2002-Present):
If there is one thing we've learned from following Team 133 this season, it's - everybody say it with me - "there's an expectation for the position." This is not unique to Michigan football. For example, the expectation for the Iowa running back position is that you will be struck down at some point in the season by AIRBHG*. The expectation for the Iowa wide receiver position is that you will have a hypenated name. With a new offensive coordinator at Iowa, a new expectation for that position has developed. He will now wander the field aimlessly while the Iowa QB goes through his progressions, which start and end with tight ends. There is also an expectation for Iowa's safety position, that he be a fair complected walk-on, who develops into the leader of the defense. Hmmm, seems we co-opted that expectation.
I bring this up because it's pretty clear that the expectations for the QB position at the University of Michigan have been raised this season. We will now expect our backup QB to be a first string WR, and if our starting QB gets hurt, we will expect him to become a 100 yard per game running back. Shane, you might want to work on your route running and learn how to read your blockers.
* After what happened to Fitz, that will be the last time I mention AIRBHG. I suggest we all retire that meme.
Burst of Impetus
* Did Iowa ever really have a chance in this game? They kicked a FG to make it 14-10 in the 2nd quarter, but I never got the sense they would challenge us. There are only so many times you can throw to a tight end before Mattison adjusts, and you sort of need to be able to stop a team from scoring touchdowns every single time they get the ball.
* Brady did go for it twice on 4th down. I guess those were big plays. He has shown a propensity to try to break the will of the opponent early in games, especially when playing an opponent that doesn't match up with us.
* 21 players recorded defensive stats, led by JR3 with 12 tackles. I would guess that most of those were after Iowa tight end receptions. Bolden and Ryan each had 6 tackles. Yay! three linebackers led us in tackles. That, of course, will happen when Iowa averages 9.5 yards per pass attempt. Michigan was at 17.4 by way of comparison.
* We tallied 8 TFLs, 2 sacks and broke up 2 passes, but were again shut out in QHs.
* The last two names listed were Brandin Hawthorne and Floyd Simmons. Each had an assisted tackle. I think Brady Hoke mentioned them earlier this week when he was being asked repeatedly about Denard's last home game. I would guess that Hawthorne and Simmons had larger dreams than being special teams contributors, but in keeping with, "The Team, The Team, The Team" theme, those two guys took on their roles and were every bit a part of the team as the two Ermahgerd guys.
* Devin Gardner was 18 of 23 passing for 314 yards. His first half would have made for a nice game - 204 yards, 2 TDs running, 2 TDs passing. He passed and ran for two more TDs in the second half for a total of 6.
* Denard Robinson became the #1 back after Fitz' injury, and probably got more carries than Brady wanted as a result. He ended up with 98 yards on 13 carries for a 7.5 yard average.
Bunches of Funchess
* I don't know if our receivers were that good, or Iowa's DBs were that bad, but it seemed like our guys were always a step or two away from the Iowa DBs, except for those few times our guys were open by 10 or 20 steps.
* Gallon caught a 51 yard bomb and tallied 133 yards on 5 catches.
* Roundtree also caught 5 for 83 yards and a TD.
* Funchess caught another TD, and Vincent Smith scored a TD on his patented throwback screen play, that was assisted greatly by Denard's being on the field.
And Justice for Rawls
* Fitz had 31 yards on 3 carries before his injury. I'm sure we all wish him a speedy recovery.
* Rawls' running plays was the one area we struggled. He ended up with 2.8 ypc on 8 carries. A lot of his runs were short yardage situation things, but we'll need more than 2.8 ypc in the shoe.
Norf and Souf
* We only punted once, and as a result, special teams weren't much of a factor this week.
* Iowa's punter is named Kornbrath. I'm not making that up.
* Two of the officials were named "Carr." I don't know if they were related to Lloyd. The Field judge was Ed Rohan, which seems fitting considering the Vincent Smith mini-Balrog YOU SHALL NOT PASS haiku from earlier this week.
* L. Trinca-Pasat had 4 tackles. Apparently, Iowa's hypenated name thing is spreading to their DL.
* When he was awake, Collin Sleeper had 4 tackles, and when he wasn't hyding from our WRs, Micah Hyde had 8 tackles and an INT.
* Steve Bigach had 3 tackles. I bring this up because his name is a perfect metaphor for the BIGGG TENNNNN this year. BIG ACK! (Hey, bonus points for me for working in a cat photo.)
Outside the Boxscore
We're nearing the end of another season, and I've started to reflect on the meaning of all this. It's just a game, right? And should big-time athletics really be associated with academic instutions of higher learning? Well, I'd answer no and yes, respectively. Back yard football on Thanksgiving is just a game. Preparing year round to go out in front of 110,000+ fans and a national TV audience, risking your health, while reporters and bloggers track every play, suggests that it's not just a game. There is something larger at stake, and I don't mean the millions awaiting some of the players upon graduation. There are life lessons to be learned along the way, that are completely in line with the goals of an academic institution. Let's look at Devin and Denard. Devin's dream was and is to play QB. When he found himself playing behind Denard, he didn't sulk or limit himself to being the backup. He found a way onto the field to help the team. When it was his turn to play QB, he prepared and performed incredibly well considering the circumstances. When Denard was injured and couldn't throw the ball anymore, did he sulk? Did he leave the team? No, he found another way to help the team, first as a mentor to Devin, and then as a contributor on the field. There will be situations those two individuals face later in life, where they will have to decide between doing what is best for themselves individually, versus what is best for the business they are working for or the family they are part of. I'm pretty sure I know how they will choose. Every now and then, sports teach us some pretty important life lessons, if we are willing to pay attention.