no wonder we hired Hunter Lochmann
THE SPRING LULL
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For some, it is a glorious time of year, when the flowers bloom, and the
butterflies unfold their beautiful wings, and life begins anew. For others, however,
it is a desolate tundra of sports inactivity, no disrespect for big league baseball
or even the pending playoffs of basketball and hockey.
For a family like THE BLOCKHAMS™, there is no lull. We reflect on the past,
we inspect the current practices, and we drool like drug addicts at the
prospects of next season. And we love every minute of it. Go Blue.
OnThursday we'll address some of the more recent leisure pursuits of some
members of the football team. And no, Kate Upton is in no way involved.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every Tuesday here at MGoBlog, and at least
every Thursday on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out our newest
feature, Friday Roughs, a spontaneous low-end comic based on trending
Michigan events, available on Twitter and Facebook every Friday.
As you most likely know, the National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA) awards an annual Director's Cup to the nation's top athletic program, based on a points formula that encompasses all men's and women's varsity sports (more info here). Stanford has won the award for the past 17 years in a row, but Michigan has been among the top performing schools in the annual standings, finishing in the top ten in 14 of the 18 years the rankings have been compiled.
Unfortunately, the past two seasons have been down years, with Michigan placing 25th (2009-2010) and 15th (2010-2011). With some resurgent programs this year, I have been hoping that our maize and blue heroes could return to their rightful place in the top ten. I decided to take a look at MIchigan's current status and forward-looking expectations.
In the last published update (3/22/12), Michigan fell from 5th place to 12th place in the standings. This Thursday, the updated Winter standings will be released, adding results for men's and women's basketball, men's swimming, and fencing. If my figurin' is correct, the updated standings should look something like this:
Michigan should climb barely back into the top ten, while Ohio State shoots up to the number two spot, based not only on basketball success, but also on winning the recent national fencing championships held in Columbus. Unfortunately, the NACDA points accumulated by the Buckeye sabre-rattlers will exceed the total points registered by the combined efforts of Michigan's men's and women's basketball teams plus Ice Hockey team. Curses! Foiled again. Yeah, the scoring system is a little flakey.
Looking ahead to the home stretch, some schools are traditionally stronger in spring sports and are likely to make a late move. If we were to project that each school's spring teams will match their performance from last year and tally up the resulting standings (allowing points for no more than 10 sports in either men's or women's categories), the projected final standings would turn out like this:
Of course, there is likely to be a great deal of variance in actual results, but this should pretty well identify who the top contenders are.
Michigan's spring prospects vary by team. Wolverine men and women gymnasts and tennis racketeers are likely to pile up some points, but it will be a challenge to just match the output of last year's successful teams. Struggling golf teams on both men's and women's side will be hard pressed to make the NCAA's this year (still, we can hope). The inaugural men's lacrosse team will not register any NACDA points this year, but it can only help to have a men's and women's varsity lacrosse program in years to come. Prospects also do not look very promising for the baseball team or either track and field team. Surprise us, please!
On the plus side, there is room for improvement over last year from the young and developing softball team, the women's rowing team, and the women's water polo team. Gals, we're counting on you!
It is all but certain that Stanford will repeat as the trophy winner for the 18th straight year. Ohio State, Florida, and California are likely to battle it out for the runner-up spot.
Michigan has a very realistic shot at returning to the top ten. We should almost certainly improve over the past two seasons. Sadly, there is very little chance of a top five finish this year or of overtaking that ohio school. Don't taze me bro', I'm just crunching numbers here. I personally have faith in Dave Brandon's determination to continue to elevate the competitive level of all of Michigan's varsity programs and I expect that we will once again become a consistent top finisher in the NACDA standings. Go Blue, one and all!
As Michigan enters year #3 with Denard starting the season at the helm and year #2 under OC Al Borges, I did a deep dive into teams that have made the leap into offensive greatness. A handy guide to going from a good offense to an elite offense in one year.
In making predictions you are always safer predicting things to regress towards the mean. I wanted to look at the teams that have gone from good but not great offensive teams to truly elite teams in one season. There were some surprisingly strong correlations within this group.
1. A quarterback with experience returning.
2. The same offensive coordinator as the previous year
3. Continuity in your receiving core
These three three aren’t sufficient conditions for making the leap, but they are necessary conditions.
From 2004 to 2011 there were 20 teams, including 2010 Michigan, that increased their offensive EV+ rating by at least 4 points per game and ended the year above 10. I wanted to take a look at these 11 teams to figure out what was necessary to make a jump like this, what might seem necessary but wasn’t and how many teams fit this same criteria but couldn’t make the leap.
It’s not rocket science to say that having a returner at quarterback is a good thing, but the exceptions to this rule prove it as much as anything. Of the 20 teams to make the leap, five didn’t technically have a returning starting quarterback. Two, Auburn 2010 and Stanford 2009, did it with future first overall draft picks. Wisconsin 2011 technically counts but Russell Wilson was a three year starter for NC St before arriving in Madison. Tim Tebow got quality field time on a national championship team despite Chris Leak’s position as starter. The final exception was Oregon 2010 when Darron Thomas stepped in to great success.
The returners themselves take all forms. There are runners like Josh Nesbitt from Georgia Tech in 2009, Pat White at West Virginia in 2006. There are pass-first athletes like Robert Griffin on Baylor 2011 and Vince Young on Texas 2005. There are future first round picks like Sam Bradford at Oklahoma in 2008 and Matt Leinart at USC in 2005.
Three times it was done with multiple quarterbacks seeing action. Michigan in 2010 saw returning starter Tate Forcier make regular appearances during the Denard Robinson injury hour every Saturday. Cincinnati didn’t miss a beat in 2009 when Zach Collaros stepped in for injured starter Tony Pike. Arizona State had the same story in 2005 when Rudy Carpenter replaced the injured Sam Keller.
How many years at the helm wasn’t a significant issue. There were as many teams who made the leap with second year starters as third and fourth starters combined. The only team to do it with a non-transfer four year starter was Northwestern in 2005 under Brett Basenez. Zac Robinson did it in his second year at Oklahoma St in 2007, Chase Daniel did it at Missouri in his third year of four running the offense at Missouri.
Not all the QB’s developed within the program, either. Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Mallett all accomplished the task after transferring from a previous school or Junior College.
On average, about 35% of BCS programs turn over their offensive coordinators in a given year. For teams making the offensive leap it drops to 10%. Charlie Weis found his famed “Decided Schematic Advantage” in 2005 (only to lose it thereafter) with Brady Quinn. Arkansas and Ryan Mallett where the only others to accomplish the feat, but the presence of head coach and offensive guru Bobby Petrino indicates the continuity was likely high.
Teams making the leap returned 75% of their value from their receiving core, nearly fifty percent higher than the average team (53%). Only four teams returned less than 60% of their receiving value from the prior, and those teams all managed to make the leap due to ultra efficient passers, Tim Tebow, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Vince Young.
Missing The Cut
Returning Running backs
My crusade to bury the position of the running back continues. Teams making the leap where all over the map on returning RBs. Texas and Northwestern both made the leap in 2005 with virtually no non-QB carries returning from the 2004 season. Baylor, Michigan, Florida and Cal all did with only marginally used carriers returning. On the flip side USC returned Reggie Bush and LenDale White in 2005. Georgia Tech, Oregon, West Virginia and Missouri all returned over 80% of the previous years carries.
It’s not that having a key ball carriers returning is a bad thing, it’s just not necessary to make the leap.
Just like the running back question, the recruiting rankings are mixed bag. Cincinnati, West Virginia, Cal, Northwestern and Baylor all made the leap without the benefit of a roster full of 4 and 5 star recruits. USC, Auburn, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma always enter a season stacked. Better recruits = better results is true but Better Results = Better Recruits is often incorrect.
Odds of Making It
Of teams that meet criteria 1-3 above (with 3 being defined at 60%) and are within 1 standard deviation of +10 EV+ (4.4 or higher) 25% make the leap to +10 or higher. 40% of this group improves but not to an elite level. That leaves 35% of teams to regress under this environment. The worst offender is Michigan State in 2006. Poised to become a potentially great offense under Drew Stanton, Sparty fell apart and dropped from a +7.2 in 2005 to a –2.6 in 2006.
Can Michigan be that team
With the loss of Junior Hemingway, Kevin Koger and Martavious Odoms Michigan falls below the 60% threshold (38%). All of the other criteria fit nicely for Michigan and when it has been done without the aid of returning receivers, its come on the back of a Heisman level quarterback performance. If year 2 of Al Borges Denard Fusion Cuisine comes together, that doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. I won’t be on record predicting a leap like year for the 2012 Michigan offense, but they are one of a handful of schools that I would even consider.
Michigan Athletics Announces Ticket Prices for 2012 Football Season
ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan Athletic Department announced Friday (March 30) the ticket pricing levels for the 2012 football season. The six-game home slate will cost $390 per ticket.
“We appreciate the contribution our fans make to our football program and Michigan Athletics through their commitment every Saturday at the Big House,” said Dave Brandon, the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics. “The financial support we receive from our fans provides us with critical resources we need to create outstanding academic and athletic experiences for our student-athletes across all of our 29 sports. Our fans passion for Michigan Football is unparalleled.”
Individual game tickets will be priced at $75 per ticket for games against Air Force (Sept. 8), Massachusetts (Sept. 15), Illinois (Oct. 13), Northwestern (Nov. 10) and Iowa (Nov. 17). The Michigan State game on Oct. 20 has been designated as a premium game and individual tickets for that contest will be priced at $95 per seat.
This is the second straight year that Michigan has moderately increased season ticket prices after keeping prices constant for the seven years prior to the 2011 season.
The athletic department will also offer ticket packs to accommodate fan interest in partial season ticket packages. Ticket packs and individual game tickets will go on sale in July.
Season ticket renewal packages will be available in early April.
"Will": A One-Down Play (w/ apologies to "Airplane!")
QUARTER 1, DOWN 1
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the game, folks. The Michigan defense starts their work at the 22. Looks like the offense is in an unusual formation, trips plus tight end all on one side of the field. Split end goes into motion. . . to the strong side! Five guys on one side? I don't know if they're trying to confuse Mattison, but they're sure confusing me!
JORDAN KOVACS: Coverage Blue-18. . . Wait, it's not trips, guys! It's quints!
QUINTON WASHINGTON: Huh?
KENNY DEMENS: Denny, Will covers the slot, not the wideout!
WILL CAMPBELL: What?
DESMOND MORGAN: I'm on him! Coverage, Black-32!
JIBREEL BLACK: What?
JORDAN KOVACS: They can't all be on the line. They're forming a second row!
CRAIG ROH: Huh?
JAKE RYAN: Split your zone with Denny, Kenny!
KENNY DEMENS: Will do!
WILL CAMPBELL: What?
JAKE RYAN: Jordan, JT will cover the flanker, but can he stay with him?
WILL CAMPBELL: What?
KENNY DEMENS: Huh?
JORDAN KOVACS: Who?
Given that my beloved undergrad alma mater is coming up to Michigan to play my beloved grad school alma mater I felt a way too early preview of how the academy football program works as well as a preview of this year’s team was in order, especially as the Academy has concluded their Spring practices and we’re going to be starved for other types of content over the next few weeks.
Differences between the Academy program and the rest of college football:
Players recruited tend to be top out as low 3-stars, most are two stars or unranked. Competition tends to run to non-BCS schools for players, there’s usually 3-4 players per class that have legit BCS caliber offers. Recruiting strategy is to cast a wide net and bring in a large group of players. There’s also an emphasis on grabbing high-school quarterbacks as they tend to be good athletes and have higher football IQ’s. I’ve seen some people express concerns that Air Force and the other academies are over-signing by typically bringing in classes of 40+ players. The difference is that every cadet at the Air Force Academy doesn’t have to pay for a single thing and in fact get paid a small salary reflecting their jobs in the Air Force and every cadet gets the same financial deal. If you leave the football team or get cut your status as a cadet is not affected and therefore there is no financial impact because you are no longer on the team. There is also no redshirting as every cadet must graduate within four years. The academy prep school performs a rough red-shirting function but the(at least advertised) purpose of the prep school is academic.
Once a player agrees to attend the Academy his path diverges based on whether he qualifies for admission straight-away or not. If he qualifies straight-away he enters the academy as a freshman goes through basic training and then gets to see the practice field starting in August. While Basic Cadet Training isn’t the starvation fest it used to be, players still aren’t on a summer weights program and they’ll still have lost some weight. Combine that with the general low recruiting profile of most players and now you know why you almost never hear about impact freshmen playing at the academies. However, the academy runs a JV team that most Freshmen play on that plays area prep schools. It runs the same offensive and defensive systems as the Varsity team and gets guys live game experience while they get recover from Basic and get adjusted to Academy life
If a player doesn’t qualify for admission right out of the gate he will go the Air Force Academy prep school in order to get test scores and grades to make admissions standards. The prep school has a team which plays in the prep school league and runs the same offensive and defensive systems as the Varsity team. If the player gets his grades and test scores up while at the Prep school, he has the option to enter the academy as a freshman. Not all of them do this, some players decide they don’t want to go to the academy based off of their prep-school experience and some are actually recruited away by other schools if it turns out they can play. Generally speaking players who go to the prep school need to be re-recruited.
Spring Practices Freshman year tend to be when the cuts happen. Players are informed whether they have the option of joining the varsity team the next year or whether they will be finding other pursuits. Generally this conversation isn’t much of a surprise and most of my buddies who got cut expressed relief that it was over and that they didn’t quit.
What does this mean to Michigan? Despite the fact that Air Force lost a ton of starters, their replacements have had more experience in live game situations in the same system than most college players taking over as first-time starters. While the loss of experience is a concern, it’s neither atypical for the academies nor likely to have as big an impact as many imagine.
The offense: Air Force uses a triple option system that is mostly wishbone based but also incorporates some Wing-T concepts from when Troy Calhoun was at Wake Forest under Jim Grobe, himself a former assistant at the Air Force Academy. The base set outside of the QB and O-line is one WR, one TE, a combo WR/running back, a halfback, and a fullback. Calhoun has thrown quite a few wrinkles into the offense and it won’t always run out as a base set, but the offense will always return to the triple option well. The offensive system is hugely productive running the ball and not so much when it comes to passing. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, nor am I going to tell you how the triple option works as smart football does a much better job than I do. Given the presence of Ryan and Kovacs on the outside edges and the effectiveness of Michigan State’s cut-blocking scheme during the trash tornado, expect Air Force to try to establish the running game through the fullback on up the gut runs and exploit the inexperience on the interior of Michigan’s D-line. They’ll probably also try to catch JT Floyd cheating up on run support and go over the top on him for deep strikes. Air Force executes the offense well and when playing teams that don’t have much experience playing them, they can catch teams off-guard. This unfamiliarity with the wishbone/triple option is the source of them upsetting power teams or keeping the game close enough for the rooting interests.
The defense: Air Force runs a 3-4-4 that in practice runs to a 5-2 type system with the outside linebackers pushed up to the line. Generally the Front 7 is undersized and the defensive backs are slow. As you can tell this leads to defense being Air Force’s vulnerability from year to year. Air Force will never have a shutdown defense, what they’re going to do instead is try to slow the other team down, frustrate them and bait them into a mistake that either puts them in an untenable down and distance or results in a turnover. Raise your hand if that sounds like the perfect way to defend Denard. The problem here is that Tim DeRuyter, previously Air Force’s excellent defensive coordinator, left for Texas A&M two years ago and is now the head coach at Fresno St. Air Force’s defense wasn’t very good last year, but the old coordinator left and the new one, Charlton Warren(personal aside: a classmate of mine) is a disciple of DeRuyter’s and will at least try to bring the scheme back, he was also one of the stars of the 1998 team that beat Washington in a bowl game and knows how to play successful defense at the academy.
The buzz from the Spring: Keep in mind that everything that’s available on the Academy’s Spring practices comes off of the (free) Scout boards or the local newspaper in Colorado Springs. Thus reports from Colorado Springs are IMO wildly biased and optimistic. The bullets that follow are based off my reading between the lines in an attempt to get closer to the truth.
- The Offense will be fine, although the starting QB is still inconsistent with the pitch, but he’s a good runner who makes good decisions in the running game.
-The running back corps is deep and looks like a major strength for the academy. The Fullbacks ran well all spring and run about four deep, Mike DeWitt came in for particular praise. The top two tailbacks are good, but depth behind them is a concern. Expect Wes Cobb, last year’s starting fullback, to start, but Jon Lee has made a ton of noise and will get a lot of carries as well. Put a gun to my head and I’d say whatever big plays come from Air Force will come from him.
-The defense still is not inspiring any confidence. The coaches seem to be trying to make up for the lack of any real playmakers by installing a high-tempo, everyone to the ball attitude. This sounds vaguely familiar for some reason. I don’t expect next year’s defense to have a Mattison-esque revival, but they should be better than they were last year.
The far too early call: This one’s going to be a long afternoon for me and whatever few other Air Force fans end up gracing the stadium. I expect the defense to get overwhelmed quickly and the offense will not be able to keep up, especially with Kovacs and Ryan shutting down the edges. Michigan 45-Air Force 17.