to play football, not to play trumpet
On a raw, cold night in mid-March of 1968, I drove with my mother to Grosse Pointe High School (now G.P. South) to attend a very unusual event in that community. Its uniqueness was evidenced by the small but very vocal group from Breakthrough, a radical-right political protest organization based in Detroit, who were on the sidewalks across from the school. Angry protest demonstrations of any political stripe were unheard of in that quiet, well-to-do suburb. This was going to be a strange night in Grosse Pointe.
What had drawn those angry demonstrators to that particular location on that night was the person who was scheduled to speak inside the school: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..
In the eyes of Breakthrough's founder Donald Lobsinger, King was a Communist traitor and agitator who was sabotaging our military efforts in Vietnam. In the eyes of the Grosse Pointe Human Relations Council, the group that had extended the invitation, King was a figure of major importance with particular relevance to the area, which had been convulsed by the Detroit riots the previous summer.
Having grown up in a very liberal household with a deep commitment to the cause of civil rights, our family sympathies with King and support for the civil rights movement was a distinctly minority opinion in the all-white and very conservative Grosse Pointe of that time.
I was only 15, and didn't know what to expect inside, but my mother was nervous about the possibility of violence, and that concern was echoed by the Grosse Pointe chief of police, who basically sat in King's lap as a protective measure during their car ride to the school.
The auditorium was packed, and King delivered a speech that concentrated on familiar themes that he had made the centerpiece of his campaign for civil rights since the 1950s. Breakthrough members interrupted King's speech several times with loud heckling from the crowd, but the most memorable occurence was when a young man began hectoring King about Vietnam. The atmosphere inside the auditorium was already very tense due to the previous outbursts, but King did something amazing to me: he stopped his speech, and invited the guy up onto the stage and gave him the microphone to state his views. He identified himself as a U.S. Naval veteran and made a short rambling statement stating his opposition to Communism. King's non-confrontational approach to him seemed to take the wind out of his sails, and defused what had been a potentially combustible moment.
The rest of the speech proceeded without further incident, and by the time we were making our way to our car, the demonstrators from Breakthrough were gone.
Just three weeks later, King was murdered in Memphis. That event was awful enough, but it was particularly so for my mother and me since we'd just seen him with our own eyes. The unrest his assassination sparked across the country was sadly predictable, and soon I was going to have a small personal taste of the depth of the local hatred for King.
One afternoon close to the end of the school year I was hanging out at the house of a girl I'd thought was pretty hot, and then the conversation randomly turned to King and the fact that I'd attended his speech in Grosse Pointe. She then announced that she was glad he'd been killed since he was a Communist traitor. I was no stranger to the casual racism that was routinely expressed by the people I grew up with in Grosse Pointe and Detroit, but to hear somebody who seemed perfectly nice and normal state their approval of murder so baldly and unapologetically to me was mind-boggling.
Her father then entered the room and then started ranting about how King was a subversive trying to overthrow the government for the Communists. I got the hell out of there since he seemed unhinged. She didn't seem quite so hot any more to me, either.
Given my family's interest in politics and support for the civil rights movement, I was very familiar with the resistance of southern politicians to integration, especially at the university level. Governor George Wallace's symbolic "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door" in 1962 in opposition to integrating Alabama was for my Missouri-born parents a symbol of the backwardness of racial attitudes that were part of their own early lives, and it seemed just plain crazy to me that anybody could be so opposed to allowing black Americans to attend the same universities as white Americans.
(Yes, there was plenty of virulent racism in the north back then too, but it didn't have nearly the amount of overt and unapologetic institutional support from politicians and elected officials that it did across the south.)
By that time I was also a young college football fan, and as my grandfather had attended UM during Yost's first four years, rooting for Michigan was natural in our house. While the UM teams then were still predominantly white, they did have notable black players, and I was well aware of the integrated Southern Cal teams of that era since the Big Ten played the Pac 8 in the Rose Bowl each year. It seemed ridiculous to me that it wasn't until the late 1960s and early '70s that the major teams in the south became integrated.
For basic info on King's Grosse Pointe speech:
For information about the integration of major college football:
After Iowa had four scores on its first four possessions, Beilein took a timeout to stem the bleeding: Michigan trailed 9-0 just a minute and a half into the game and conceded a basket on the next possession. On the road, against one of the hottest teams in the country (arguably one of the nation's ten best teams), Michigan was off to the worst possible start.
The Wolverines eventually strung together some stops and started getting open looks on offense; a quintessential "weird guys" lineup (Walton / Abdur-Rahkman / Aubrey Dawkins / D.J. Wilson / Moritz Wagner) sparked a 13-0 run midway through the half and Michigan actually pulled into the lead by the eight-minute mark in the first half. Early on, Michigan found success inside with some nifty cuts as Iowa overplayed the three (2-9 shooting from deep in the half), but Iowa led at halftime after some back-and-forth play to close the half.
Michigan hit three three-point attempts before the first TV timeout in the second half and took the lead with a banked-in Zak Irvin and-one. Over the next eight minutes, Michigan's offense stagnated with turnovers (the Wolverines finished with an atypical 13 turnovers, while Iowa had just 4) and missed jumpers; Iowa went on a 16-3 run to open up a double-digit lead. Ultimately, U-M wasn't able to keep up with the Hawkeyes' shot-making down the stretch, particularly from Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok, and wound up hitting the Kenpom spread on the nose with an 11-point defeat.
Iowa's potent offense resembles Michigan's high-powered attacks of the recent past: the Hawkeyes don't get to the free throw line too often, but make up for it with an extremely low turnover rate and great shooting from pretty much everywhere on the floor. Unlike those Michigan teams, the Hawkeyes boast size and depth; they overwhelmed Michigan on the offensive end (1.29 points per possession, per Kenpom, tying U-M's worst defensive effort of the season against Purdue).
National Player of the Year candidate Jarrod Uthoff was bothered into missing 11 shots, but still finished with a game-high 23 points. It was a group effort from Iowa though: their starting backcourt combined for 13 assists and the Hawkeyes put up shooting splits of 51% (2P) / 45% (3P) / 90% (FT). U-M's poor defensive habits were exposed by a pretty-close-to-elite offense, too frequently Iowa took wide-open, high-percentage shots with a defender a step or two away.
Michigan's offense hit 1.12 points per possession -- which is one of the best performances against Iowa's defense this year -- but some inefficient shooting from key players doomed Michigan. Duncan Robinson and Derrick Walton came into the game shooting more than 50% from three; the two totaled 5-19 from deep against Iowa today. Zak Irvin struggled against Iowa's length, shooting 33% total from the field. Aubrey Dawkins was a notable exception, hitting three three's. Impressively, Walton, Irvin, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman combined for 16 rebounds and 15 assists, but the lack of efficient scoring from Michigan's three biggest scorers was critical.
In the front-court, Mark Donnal remained the most consistent option, though he was sometimes overwhelmed by Iowa's size (Donnal's four offensive boards were a nice bonus, however). Moritz Wagner was the second big off the bench and showed skill around the basket on offense. D.J. Wilson might have played his best minutes of the season, but they came in relief of Irvin at the four -- he looks to be a more valuable asset there than at the five.
Now that Michigan's toughest three-game stretch of the season (@ Purdue, Maryland, @ Iowa) is over, the schedule gets easier. Even with LeVert's availability still in question, Michigan should be expected to win its next four games, though a road trip to Nebraska might be tricky. Still, as the team continues to develop, it's hard not to be optimistic about the return of a player of LeVert's caliber. It wasn't a surprise to see Michigan's second- and third-options to create on offense struggle against Iowa, who looks very much like the best team in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines were a pretty good team last year finishing 39-25 overall and 4th in the Big Ten. The Wolverines won the Big Ten Tournament before falling to Louisville in the Regional Finals.
The Wolverines led the Big Ten in almost every batting stat. They hit .296 as a team, averaged over 6 runs per game and were in the Top-25 nationally in walks and OBP.
On the mound Michigan was a middle of the pack team. They finished 7th in the Big Ten with a 3.81 team ERA but ranked 31st nationally in strikouts.
Jacob Cronenworth played second and was the closer; Cronenworth hit .338, led the team with 91 hits and drove in 48 runs as the leadoff hitter. Cronenworth earned second team All-Big Ten honors and signed with Tampa Bay after being selected in the 7th round.
Jackson Glines played center field and was the team leader in OBP. He hit .349 as a 2-3 hitter, drove in 34 runs and his .984 fielding percentage was third best on the team. Glines was a first team All-Big Ten selection and was drafted by the White Sox in the 10th round.
Junior Travis Maezes played third and short. After lofty preseason expectations pegged him as the Big Ten Player of the Year, Maezes posted a .297 average and 27 RBI. Maezes was a third team All-Big Ten selection; he was drafted by Kansas City in the 13th round and signed this offseason.
Behind the plate the Wolverines lose Kendall Patrick. Patrick was a low average, high power hitter who led the team with 8 home runs, knocked in 33 and was pegged 15 times hitting cleanup. His .990 fielding percentage was the best on the team.
Eric Jacobson and Kevin White were regular starters; Jacobson the infield and White in in the outfield. Both players were solid in the field but didn't make too much of an impact at the plate.
Infielder Kyle Jusick graduated. Jusick started 17 games in the infield and hit .231.
Three arms have departed from a year ago.
Matt Ogden rotated in as the 3rd starter and threw as a bullpen arm going 5-1. His 2.47 ERA was the best on the team for a pitcher who threw more than 15 innings and he held hitters to a .234 batting average.
Donnie Eaton threw 21 innings in relief with a 5.14 ERA. The third arm, TJ Shook, pitched 5.1 innings of relief.
Ramsey Romano left the program a year ago after starting 24 games as a freshman. He entered spring practice for football as a quarterback and is now playing at Yavapai College. He will attend Long Beach State in 2016.
On the Infield
First baseman Carmen Benedetti took a monumental leap forward his sophomore year. As a middle of the order hitter he led the team in almost every hitting category; batting .352 with 71 RBI, 25 doubles and 28 walks, Benedetti was named 1st team All-American.
At first Benedetti had the highest fielding percentage out all position players besides Patrick.
Jake Bivens is your starter at short. Bivens was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and earned Freshman All-American honors from various outlets after hitting .319 from the top of the order and driving in 19 runs with a .435 OBP.
The third returning infielder is Hector Gutierrez, a junior from Detroit. Gutierrez played sparingly as a reserve appearing in 21 games, starting 4. He hit .250 with 6 driven in.
The Wolverines lost quite a bit from last year's infield and the incoming class is thin. Chicago native Ako Thomas will be in the hunt for playing time in the middle infield and George Hewitt, a highly regarded recruit and brother of former Phillies first rounder Anthony Hewitt will be in line for games at third.
The rest of platoon will be between upperclassmen Michael Brdar and sophomore Matt Ross, neither who have appeared in a game, freshman Joe Pace and Jimmy Kerr.
As a junior Cody Bruder started every game between DH and left field, pairing with Benedetti as middle of the order hitters. Bruder hit .308, knocking in 43 runs and slugged .423.
In right Johnny Slater returns after starting 36 games a year ago. Slater was able to drive in 25 runs last season from the back of the order despite hitting .229. He snagged 9 doubles, two triples and three homeruns while posting a .325 OBP.
Junior Jackson Lamb was a highly regarded recruit who hit .250 as a freshman and threw nine fantastic innings as a sophomore but missed most of last season with an injury. Lamb will be in the mix for starts between all three positions.
The prized recruit of the class, California native Jonathan Engelmann heads to Michigan after a distinguished high school career saw him drafted in the 28th round by the Twins. The 6'4 Engelmann looks to be a fit for the Wolverines vacant center field position and he also features a power bat who can switch hit.
Behind the Plate
With their every day catcher gone, backstopping duties should fall to sophomore Drew Lugbauer. Lugbauer played mostly as a DH last season and spelled Patrick behind the plate, hitting .211 and driving in eight.
Junior Harrison Wenson and senior Dominic Jamett both played sparingly a year ago. They'll battle for the backup position.
On the Mound
Pitching was a sore spot at times for this team a year ago but this season the group looks to take a big step forward.
Almost the entire pitching staff has returned, starting with #1 and #2 starters Brett Adcock and Ryan Nutof.
Adcock threw 90 innings last season and went 10-4, posting a 3.10 ERA and holding batters to a .213 average. He also posted an impressive K/9 of 9.50. Adcock was named Big Ten All-Third Team.
Nutof started 14 games as a freshman and was named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. Nutof threw 80 innings posting a 3.71 ERA and a 5-3 record. He held batters to a .247 average.
Evan Hill missed the first two months of the season, but went on to start seven games and appear out of the pen. Hill posted a .450 ERA and a K/9 of 8.76.
Out of the bullpen Bryan Pall is the top returner. Pall threw 33.1 innings of relief a year ago with a 2.97 ERA and a K/9 of 8.42. Pall features a devastating slider as his swing-and-miss pitch.
Jackson Lamb and Carmen Benedetti both excelled in smaller roles, Benedetti allowed just three earned runs in 14 innings and held batters to a .085 average. Lamb threw nine innings and earned 1 run.
Mac Lozer, Jayce Vancena and Michael Hendrickson make up the rest of the group.
The freshman class is not short on arms. Eric Bakich has brought in five pitchers in this class; righty Ricky Karcher, lefties Benjamin Keizer and William Tribucher.
The two headliners of the pitching class are California native Troy Miller and Jack Bredeson. Miller was a Perfect Game All-American Honorable Mention and features a blazing fastball.
The 6'6, 235lb Bredeson, brother of football commit Ben Bredeson, has a raw power arm. His fastball reaches the mid-to-high 80's and he also features a power changeup, a curveball and a nice biting slider.
The Wolverines enter the season ranked 23rd in the country, the only Big Ten team to earn a preseason ranking.
In 2016 they'll take a step back at the plate. There's going to be a drop in production after losing upperclassmen bats in Glines, Cronenworth, Maezes and Patrick but they should see improvement on the mound.
With the Big Ten not having a clear favorite going into the year, this Michigan team should be contending for their first conference title since 2008. At the very least, the Wolverines should hold a spot in the top-4 of the conference standings.
I did some research on the D1 opponents we have played thus far and put together a little something to summarize how they've fared through this point of the season. I recorded our score against said team, what their record is, what their Kenpom ranking is, and wrote down a few notes on how their season has gone. I characterized our wins and losses against our opponents this year using this metric:
Wins: Great (Kenpom 1-25), Good (26-50), Decent (50-100), Meh (100+)
Losses: Not Bad At All (1-25), Not Bad (25-50), Borderline Bad (50-100), Bad (100+)
Road wins get bumped up one catgory. For example, our road win at NC State (Kenpom 78) gets the bump from "Decent" to "Good" for being a road win. Similarly, home losses get bumped one category down.
Elon (W 88-68): 11-6 Overall, 2-2 CAA
Notes: Elon has lost to anybody of significance thus far; a very average mid-major team.
Win Status: Meh
Xavier (L 86-70): 15-1 Overall, 3-1 Big East
Notes: Xavier has been one of the best teams in the country so far this year. They have a list of quality wins including Butler, Cincinnati, Dayton, USC, 3 SEC teams, and Wake Forest. The only loss they suffered was a blowout at Villanova when guard Evan Sumner was injured when a Villanova defender landed on his head. This team is likely to be in the 1-4 seed range come March.
Loss status: Not Bad
UConn (L 74-60): 11-4 Overall, 3-1 American
Notes: UConn hold two quality non-conference wins against OSU and at Texas, but have suffered losses at the hands of Syracuse, Gonzaga, Maryland, and Temple. This is a hard team to get a read on. Their play in the American will show whether or not this team truly is a contender.
Loss Status: Not Bad
Charlotte (W 102-47): 4-11 overall, 1-2 C-USA
Notes: Charlotte isn't quite as bad as their record leads you to believe, but they're still pretty bad.
Win status: Meh
Texas (W 78-72): 10-6 overall, 2-2 Big 12
Notes: Texas has done a quality job of defending home court this year, with a 2-1 record against Kenpom Top-40 teams (Wins against UNC and Iowa St., Loss to Uconn). Away from home is a different story. Texas has lost to Washington, Michigan, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and TCU away from home. They're going to have to step up their game if they want to make the dance, as 13 of their last 15 games come against teams that are currently Top-50 in Kenpom.
Win Status: Decent
NC State (W 66-59): 10-6 overall, 0-3 ACC
Notes: NC State started the year off on the wrong note when William and Mary ran them out of the gym. It really hasn't gotten better for the Wolfpack. They picked up a quality win against LSU, but had close games with almost every mid-major team they played. They've lost their first three ACC games by 13 points total, and are about to enter a 5 game gauntlet that includes Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, and Miami. Likely not a tournament team this year.
Win Status: Good
Houston Baptist (W 82-57): 8-7 overall, 3-0 Southland
Notes: Not a very good team. The Huskies have beaten the 3 bottom teams in the Southland Conference, and those teams all rank below 330 on Kenpom.
Win Status: Meh
SMU (L 82-58): 15-0 overall, 4-0 American
Notes: One of two undefeated teams left in D1. Their seemingly low ranking is due to strength of schedule, which is 250th according to Kenpom. They have beaten two top-40 teams in Michigan and Cincinnati. Trips to Houston, Uconn, Cincinnati, and a home date with Gonzaga will determine how good this team really is. If they could play the postseason this year, they certainly look the part of a 2-4 seed.
Loss Status: Not Bad At All
Delaware State (W 80-33): 1-14 overall, 0-1 MEAC
Kenpom: 349 (out of 351)
Notes: They are a D1 team that put up 33 points against an average defense. That is all you need to know.
Win Status: Meh
Northern Kentucky (W 77-62): 4-10 overall, 0-3 Horizon
Notes: The Norse have lost their first three Horizon league games by a combined 41 points. The only true bright spots on their season are not getting blown out by Michigan and Xavier.
Win Status: Meh
Youngstown State (W 105-46): 7-10 overall, 2-2 Horizon
Notes: Another average-at-best mid-major team. Blown out by any team of significance.
Win Status: Meh
Bryant (W 96-60): 6-11 overall, 3-1 NEC
Notes: Bryant got absolutely slaughtered in non-conference play, earning only two wins (one against a D2 squad). They're off to a good start in conference play though, with their only conference loss thus far on the road at Wagner, who currently sits atop the NEC.
Win Status: Meh
Illinois (W 78-68): 9-8 overall, 1-3 B1G
Notes: The Fighting Illini are a confusing team, as always. They have played good games against good competition, such as a win against Purdue and close losses to Iowa State, Providence and Notre Dame. On the other hand, they have also had some baffling losses, such as North Florida and Chattanooga at the beginning of the year. They opened B1G play with Michigan, MSU, OSU, and Purdue, a tough opening that certainly attributed to their 1-3 record thus far. They're going to need to pick up some more quality wins and beat the bottom level teams of the B1G if they even want to sniff the tournament bubble.
Win Status: Good
Penn State (W 79-56): 10-7 overall, 1-3 B1G
Notes: Another year, another bad Penn State basketball team. The Nittany Lions were crushed by Duquesne early in the season, and also have a loss to Radford. Their best game of the year was probably against Maryland, where they took the Terps down to the wire before succombing in the end. Likely another season spent in the basement of the Big Ten for Penn State.
Win Status: Meh
Purdue (L 87-70): 14-3 overall, 2-2 B1G
Notes: The Boilermakers are a very solid squad this year, but their weak non-conference schedule showed itself when they entered Big Ten play. Purdue suffered losses 2 and 3 on the year to Iowa and Illinois respectively. Their only other loss comes at the hands of a good Butler squad. This is a team that is going to improve as the year goes on, and if they learn to shoot like they did against Michigan on a consistent basis, they'll be a terrifying team come tourney time. Likely a 2-5 seed in the big dance.
Loss Status: Not Bad At All
Maryland (W 70-67): 15-2 overall, 4-1 B1G
Notes: Unlike Rutgers, Maryland has certainly proven that it is worthy of playing basketball in the Big Ten. The Terps only lost one non-conference game, and that was in Chapel Hill to an excellent UNC team. The Terps still have much to prove however, as their best wins have come against UConn and Northwestern, neither of which are top-30 Kenpom teams. If this team plays up to it's potential it will most likely be a 1-seed come tournament time. If not, the lowest they'll fall is a 4 or 5 seed.
Win Status: Great
Overall Opponent Record: 150-106 (.586)
Michigan Record vs.
Kenpom 1-50: 1-4
Kenpom 50-100: 3-0
Kenpom 100+: 8-0
Currently ranked 31st in Kenpom, Michigan is sitting in a good place with no losses outside the top-50 and a signature win against an excellent Maryland squad. According to Kenpom, if the season were to end right now the Wolverines would be an 8-seed. If they continue to take care of business against teams they should beat and rack up a few more quality wins, there's no reason this team couldn't be a 4 or 5 seed come March.
January 3 – Tuesday
What went right during the year of infinite pain? Among other things: Steve Stribling, Ross Ryan, Antonio Bass, and Shawn Crable.
In this hockey update, Brian talks about ‘M’ coming in third at the GLI, Jack Johnson and Andrew Cogliano getting in a public dispute, and a commitment from Trevor Lewis. It looks like Lewis ended up playing for Owen Sound instead.
January 4 – Wednesday
Unverified Voracity: Putting it to Bed gives various blogs’ opinions on the Alamo Bowl loss. Everyone is sympathetic; no, it doesn’t make anyone feel better.
Perhaps this is an overreaction to an abberrantly bad game, but let's be serious: if you were to pick any game from the Amaker era against reasonable competition and peg the under/over on turnovers, 20 would not be a totally implausible estimate. 16 would probably get you even money.
January 5 – Thursday
Bullets on Texas’ national championship over USC. This is interesting with the perspective of ten years:
Can we shut up about Mack Brown now? Blah blah blah never win big game blah blah blah never beat OU blah blah blah never does anything with all his talent... totally bleeding ridiculous given the state the program had fallen to under Mackovic and the powerhouse Sooner teams that kept Texas down for so long.
And this is as true now as it was then:
Also can we learn our lesson? All talk about "greatest ever" anything should be banned after that ESPN fiasco. Who knows? No one. Who can prove anything about anything? No one. So can we stop the inane assertions of the finest performance, best quarterback, best game ever?
A repost from the previous August showing Brian’s feelings while watching Vince Young play.
January 6 – Friday
Rumors of change are coming out of Fort Schembechler. Here is a list:
· QB coach, uber-recruiter, and all-around Boy Genius Scot Loeffler is being promoted to offensive coordinator. Or co-offensive coordinator. Or being given more responsibility in the offense. Or pissed off and about to leave.
· Former offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, who went splat at Central Michigan, is going to retake the post or co-retake the post and is being set up by Carr as his designated successor.
· Terry Malone is ceding some responsibility, or all responsibility, or has been shot.
· Jim Herrmann has a silly mustache.
· Also he may be relieved of his linebacker coaching duties, or his defensive coordinator duties, or just left to stand because that's how we roll. The mustache remains intact.
· Defensive backs coach Ron English is either about to leave for the NFL, about to be defensive coordinator, or about to undergo a strange procedure that leaves him crippled but able to deflect passes with his mind, like that cat.
· '07 uber-recruit QB Ryan Mallet of Texas has been told that Scot Loeffler will be offensive coordinator/mayor by the time he arrives and is polishing up for an unprecedented run of twelve Heismans.
· Former coach Gary Moeller is coming back to be defensive coordinator or something. Yeah, far out, dude.
· Ohio State is about to get hammered by the NCAA.
· Bobby Petrino is about to be the new coach.
· None of this will matter because Carr is still the coach and OMG LLLLLoyd is a LLLLLoser. oneoneone. two.
January 7 – Saturday
Jai Eugene is wearing a ‘M’ hat. This is cause for great excitement. It sounds like he might have even committed.
January 9 – Monday
Unverified Voracity: This Time I Really Mean It has more rumors about coordinators. Strong signs pointing to Jim Hermann finally being replaced, and maybe Terry Malone too. One possibility is replacing them with Ron English and Scot
Lafloer (as spelled by an RCMB poster) Loeffler. Also, Matt Gutierrez and Max Martin are likely transferring. Finally, the NCAA authorized a 12th game which means that 1-AA games are on the horizon. No one knew the disaster that this news meant at the time.
Unverified Voracity: Unfathomable Idahoe. A number of feared opponents are going pro which is good news. These include: Santonio Holmes, Ashton Youboty, Laurence Maroney, and…
Notre Dame TE Anthony Fasano has left early. No doubt Weis E. Coyote will construct a new tight end from the mighty sinews of his frontal buttocks.
January 10 – Tuesday
No 1-AA opponents yet. The 2006 schedule will see the addition of Vanderbilt, but it’s ok because they “will not have that Cutler guy who beat Tennessee and scared the jean shorts off of Florida.”
January 11 – Wednesday
Recruiting board update. Adam Patterson visits and is impressed. Brandon Minor isn’t worried about having Carlos Brown in the same class.
Unverified Voracity: Go Away Creepy Man deals with moral matters of the day.
January 12 – Thursday
A comparison from last year’s offense to the coming year. It should be improved; however, if things don’t go well, here is why:
· Evil Henne. This is obvious: he has to play better. He should have more opportunities to actually do something right with a (please, God) better offensive line and the threat of an actual running game, but even accounting for the myriad problems he had to deal with this year he was an average Big Ten quarterback at best, which doesn't cut it.
· Hey, offensive line, it's your mom! She says you still suck? Yoda says if the OL does not improve, the skill position talent matters not.
· Proving message board retards right. This is not a place where lamentations about Carr's utter unsuitability for anything other than janitor at a meat packing plant are offered up constantly, but Michigan has shown a tendency to fritter away offensive talent on a regular basis. This usually happens when Michigan has found itself in a "comfortable" lead (like, say, 3-0 in the first quarter) and decides to pack away the scoring offense for another day. Stay aggressive.
January 13 – Friday
Brian recaps half of his Big Ten team previews from the beginning of the season. Here is an interesting note from Wisconsin:
Stocco threw seven more passes in 2005 than he did in 2004 but had 32 additional completions, 12 additional touchdowns, and 921 additional yards. Wisconsin went from 99th to 11th in the country in passing efficiency. Sweet Fancy Moses.
What happened? Paul Chryst returned from pass-nutty Oregon State to become offensive coordinator and lived up to the ridiculous preseason message board hype--a titanic accomplishment. To put it in terms Michigan fans can understand, if Steve Stripling had the impact Chryst did, Lamarr Woodley would have beaten six quarterbacks to death this year with only his right pinky toe.
January 14 – Saturday
Basketball game versus Illinois open tread. Unfortunately, no comments exist.
January 16 – Monday
That Illinois game didn’t go so well. But hey, there was a moral victory.
You can say what you want about moral victories not existing--fair warning if you do: you're parroting dull sports press conferences and are therefore being very boring--but when you're Michigan on the road against #6 Illinois and your eleven point halftime deficit turns into a tight game you literally have a shot at winning instead of a 30 point blowout, eh... moral victories here we come.
Also, Anthony Wright committed. With not the most encouraging headline: "Michigan, Wofford watch Wright."
Recruit board update. ‘M’ started looking around at other QBs (in addition to Cone), these include Nick Stephens who they offered and Greg McElroy. Stephens went to Tennessee and later transferred to Tarleton State.
January 17 – Tuesday
Unverified Voracity: Blog Bowl. Interesting speculation about Purdue DC Brock Spack being an option to replace Hermann. That didn’t look great then, but he took over Illinois State in 2008 and has had success in the last couple years. Obviously, ‘M’ went a different direction.
Hockey game versus MSU liveblog/open thread. Doesn’t look like the game was going well, and then Brian’s cable died after the 2nd period.
January 18 – Wednesday
Yep, the game from the previous night did not go well.
Recruiting board update. Quintin Woods has committed. Interesting guy, he didn’t attend any camps and there are no substantive articles about his football skills.
January 19 – Thursday
Unverified Voracity: Actually Relevant. Idaho State is excited about Matt Gutierrez.
January 20 – Friday
Brian opines about the changes he has experienced in how he reads sports: from mainline news sources to blogs. He compares it to the comeliness of women in the north vs. the south.
I guess I grew up at 15,000 feet. I'm used to walking into a bar and having my mental girl filing go something like "no, no, yeesh, no, if I'm drunk, no, maybe, no, no, yes."
Brandon Minor commits! Concerns exist about a lack of speed, but he is a “guy who can smash face.”
January 23 – Monday
Game recap from basketball win over Minnesota. Brian took notes during the game and then commented on them in the column. Sort of a precursor to Twitter.
Unverified Voracity: Ginorbous. Jim Hermann continues to look for a new job (Cowboys LB coach is the latest rumor), and hockey splits with Bowling Green.
Recruiting board update. Thad Gibson has committed to OSU, and Sam Young has committed to ND.
January 24 – Tuesday
Part 2 of the season preview review. The worst prediction was Purdue going 10-1 with BCS bid. They went 5-6.
Recruiting board update. Jason Kates is added. This is seen a bad sign for the progression of Marques Slocum’s test scores.
January 25 – Wednesday
‘M’ is going to play MSU in basketball. It’s been a long time since they’ve had a victory over the Spartans. Can they win this time? They could.
Unverified Voracity: Doctor 90210 gives bad news about Hermann to the Cowboys and Jack Johnson possibly leaving during his freshman year. Looks like Johnson will stay for the rest of the year.
January 26 – Thursday
Horton was the Making Things Happen Guy Who Takes Over and Makes Things Happen Player Of The Game
It's no exagerration to say that [Chris Hunter] was the best big man on the floor, as Sims provided a valuable service by transmitting his acute vaginitis to Paul Davis, turning the much-ballyhooed beast of board into a nonfactor.
Brent Petway's collision with Ager didn't appear intentional to me, but I think once it was clear the two were going to bump into each other Petway decided to get his money's worth. Ager's response: hunch over and allow teammates and medical staff to swarm over him. Bill Laimbeer he's not. Ager then went 0-4 for the rest of the game, though he did have 4 FTs.
Was it unethical/wrong/evidence of the moral decay inherent in the Michigan program? Um... ask someone who doesn't regard that Laimbeer guy as something of a father figure. IMO: he didn't intentionally clock the guy, so play on.
January 27 – Friday
‘M’ gets a big 5-star OL commit in Steve Schilling.
Unverified Voracity: Just Like Life with recaps of the blogosphere rejoicing over the basketball victory. There is a basketball recruit out of Illinois who ‘M’ is recruiting who Brian keeps referring to as Eric Beverly. I don’t think he’s talking about former Lions Tight End, but rather the once Arkansas Razorback and current Houston Rocket, Patrick Beverly.
Recruiting board update including several good reports on Brandon Graham and Steve Schilling, and Jonas Mouton is looking good.
January 28 – Saturday
Open thread for hockey game v. MSU and basketball game vs. Wisconsin. Again, sadly no comments still exist.
January 30 – Monday
The basketball team beat Wisconsin, they’re 15-3, and expectations are running very high.
Unverified Voracity: Unusual Pigment. ‘M’ Basketball is ranked for the first time since April 11…1998.
Basketball gets a commitment from Kelvin Grady.
Now a source of confusion in the Grady household can be shared by the entire Michigan family... awwwww.
Also, there was a Grady cousin named Demarcus. Looks like he ended up at Northern Illinois.
January 31 – Tuesday
Recruiting Board Updated: Aaargh Edition. Jai Eugene decommitted to go to LSU. Here is the list of top remaining targets heading into signing day:
· OL Daron Rose: Dropped us, unsurprisingly.
· DT Corey Peters: Visited OSU and M recently; those two with UK and Auburn are the final four. I think the late visits to Big Ten schools that had not offered indicate serious interest.
· S Jonas Mouton: Down to USC, Michigan, and Texas, though USC has about four guys of the exact same size and build as Mouton--I doubt he ends up there.
· DE Adam Patterson: Down to Michigan and South Carolina, as the article above notes.
· DE McKenzie Matthews: Haven't heard much about Matthews as of late. He still maintains a nominal top four of Michigan, Pitt, BC, and Syracuse. With things looking good for Peters, Kates, and Patterson he may get slow-played to one of the other schools, though with the Eugene decommit we do have room.
Unverified Voracity: Don’t Tread on D. Sportswriters are coming to Detroit for the Super Bowl, and writing not so nice things about the city.
Unfortunately, no one coming into town has the ability to see past the blindingly obvious. That's why they're sportswriters--every time you set the bar for them they manage to snake under it.
Bonus Voracity: It’s Gettin’ Stale with a weird story about Jeb Bush and Myron Rolle and more good news on Jonas Mouton.
Best: The Force Awakened
As the father of a 2-year-old and with another one on the way, the era of seeing first-run movies has seemingly come to an end for the foreseeable future; in fact, over the past 3 years I think I’ve seen 4 movies in their initial run in the theatres. Over that time, many a super-hero flick, dinosaur-island romps, car-based heists, and zany comedies have been relegated to on-demand viewing. But I made a point over the holidays to see The Force Awakens, even though it meant going to a mid-week, mid-day showing on a “standard” screen with an ever-expanding-and-extremely-patient loved one in Waltham, MA.
I was born late in the “original” trilogy’s run, entering the scene a couple of years before the Return of the Jedi. And yet, one of my earliest movie memories was wearing the tape out of my parents’ copy of A New Hope, which included behind-the-scene vignettes about the artwork, animatronics, and practical effects used to breathe life into what could have been a pretty esoteric space drama. And boy did I love those movies. Yes, I’m sure part of that affection came from expert marketing, as few things appeal more to 6-year-old bronxblue than X-wings and Tie-fighters doing mock combat around AT-AT’s with light-up guns and hand-controlled head.
But another, deeper reason why I loved those movies was because it flooded the classic “good versus evil” narrative with far more color than sepia-toned bromides typically employed with movies such as this. The “good guys” were good but not wholly altruistic (Han shooting first), while the “bad guys” were evil without being over-the-tope monsters (Vader being Luke’s father and the torture that seemed to put him through). And let it be said that independent contractors are people too.
It felt “real”, human in way that you wouldn’t expect in a world populated by rock-throwing muppets, robotic trash cans, and 7-foot-tall shaggy beasts. Like most fans, it was the whitewashing of this nuance, the digitization of it all (and some gawd-awful writing*), that made the prequels so disappointing and, ultimately, disheartening. They were movies with all the shine and no soul, designed to move toys and commemorative McDonald’s meals but not add any real substance to the legacy of the Star Wars universe. So when I heard Disney had purchased the rights to the franchise from George Lucas, I was both cautiously optimistic and warily pessimistic of the new films. Optimistic because it would at least allow for the possibility of fresh ideas and voices into the universe, while pessimistic because, well, the word “Disneyfication” exists for a reason.
And so, when the reviews started to come in for the newest movie, what caught my eye was the consistent claim that this movie was a return to what people loved about those first three movies, the sense of wonder and possibility, of authenticity and stakes you need to make a space ballad about mystical forces, unrealistic technology, and Shakespearean tales work. And while I’ll agree that the movie isn’t perfect by any means, it embodies the values and character of the past while filling you with optimism about the future.
If you are reading this, you remember the last decade or so of Michigan football. The product on the field was decidedly mediocre while the experience in the stadium and in the media was downright depressing, chiefly led by Dave Brandon. To say Dave Brandon is reminiscent of George Lucas is not fair to either man, but the worst characteristics of both mirror each other quite well; both Lucas and Brandon truly loved the worlds they held dominion over, but were so tone-deaf, so blind to the realities of how those worlds were perceived under their stewardships that they threatened to irreparably sully their images. Lucas was always tinkering, seemingly never content to leave the imperfections of the past, the parts we all “liked”, alone, instead “rerendering” the originals and gameifying the new ones. Brandon always viewed Michigan as a well to continuously mine, to “improve” the lives of the few (in this case, the athletes and his staff) at the expense of the many (the fans) by treating a uniquely storied institution as just another t-shirt and hat factory. And it took rather eerily-similar events (vocally disheartened fans turning their back on what the men were selling) to lead to change.
What saved Michigan, though, wasn’t necessarily as shiny and new as Disney swooping in. Jim Hackett was nobody’s first choice as interim AD, and to read John Bacon’s account it was basically a favor to some old friends with a definite expiration date. Yet he came in and identified what UM had been lacking for years now wasn’t better seat licenses or more high-profile drubbings in NFL stadiums, but a recognition that you don’t have to completely expel the past to effect change, and that keeping that connection to what made people fall in love with you in the first place should be viewed as a goal, not a hindrance. And while Brady Hoke definitely loved what made UM great during an earlier era, he failed to implement the framework required for that success to manifest itself.
And so the calls were made, the planes flown, and the terms met to bring back Jim Harbaugh to Michigan, to bring back a torchbearer of past glories who was simultaneously able to see a different, brighter future. And over the past year, well…
In a single season, Harbaugh created a confidence surrounding the program that we haven’t seen since Carr was at the helm. In 2011, astute fans noted that UM was winning with a decent amount of smoke and mirrors; a fantastic turnover margin and a veteran defensive line helped cover up for a limited offense, and that’s how you go 11-2 and win a BCS bowl game despite gaining under 200 yards of total offense. Obviously spirits were high after that season, but you could see the cracks forming and the subsequent fall, while no less painful, at least felt somewhat predictable.
But this season had few of those hallmarks; if anything, UM suffered from a rash of bad luck and stagnation early on offensively, rounding into form midway through the year as Harbaugh’s QB whispering unleashed a Jake Rudock who set passing records and carried UM when the rest of the team faltered for times down the stretch. They never really figured out who could run the ball consistently, though Smith’s 109 yards against Florida felt like a revelation and portends a bit of hope in 2016. The receivers went from adequate to possibly the best in the conference next year, with Chesson in particular emerging as one of the best deep threats in the country. The defensive line, even short Ryan Glasgow, thoroughly dominated Florida up front after a couple of poor performances against IU and OSU, while the secondary snuffed out any semblance of a passing game by the Gators and continued their renaissance. Florida had one sustained scoring drive all game, and even that felt like one too many, helped by a couple of breakdowns and a dubious non-call for intent to deceive on the scoring pass.
Still, this is a team that should only be better next year provided the QB position doesn’t fall off a cliff, and it’s hard to imagine that will happen as long as Harbaugh is at the helm. The defense replaced a hot, young DC in Durkin with a coordinator coming off one of the more impressive performances you’ll see from a coach. Recruiting is going like gangbusters, with some of the best players in the country (hopefully) joining a rebirth of the Michigan way. And while there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road, it’s hard to see a repeat of the Hoke era in the future. Watching this game, you saw what “Michigan” used to mean, but also with a taste of what it can be in the future.
* And yes, writing prequels is inherently harder because you are trying to create drama and suspense for outcomes people already know. But come on people.
Best: Dad Rocks
Before going any further, I highly suggest you check out Jake Rudock’s post at the Player’s Tribune. It’s all a good read, but one of the highlights is that Rudock’s teammates started calling him “Dad”, I guess in part because he doesn’t use social media such as Instagram and because he’s a bit older than the average player. Now, on on hand that’s sorta adorable that a soon-to-be 23-year-old is deemed an “old man”, and on the other hand really depressing because 23 was a LONG time ago for me. Anyway…
One of the things you so often hear fans throw about when discussing sport is the relative “classiness” of players and teams. If it’s your team, you usually view your players as “classy” guys who do it right, while your rivals tend to be degenerates or hypocrites, guys who don’t do it “the right way”, whatever that phrase means. And in most cases, it’s just BS, concocted to mask the personal validation fans place on the jerseys they root for, to bolster the divinity of wins and soothe the sting of losses.
But Michigan has been blessed recently with “good guys” at the QB position. Denard was always the smiling, gregarious flash, the bright spot during the dying RR years and the best of Hoke’s tenure. Devin Gardner will always have a place in my heart for weathering gawd-awful beatings with positivity and heart, while also being the type of guy who would put rivalries aside to console a fallen foe. And then you have Jake Rudock, a guy basically forced out of Iowa who turned to Michigan for a second chance and, after weathering a tough adjustment period, led them to a fantastic season. You see him in interviews and read about him, and you can’t help but take away that he’s a thoughtful, conscientious guy who earned his teammates’ respect early on with his effort and later on with his performance on the field.
In this game, Rudock marched through one of the best defenses in the country with ruthless efficiency, completing 65% of his passes for 9 ypa and 3 TDs against no INTs. Michigan scored on all but 1 of their “real” drives in the game, with all but one scoring drive being 8 plays or longer. He kept drives going with pinpoint passes on third down, handled pressure with aplomb, picked apart a vaunted Florida secondary, and looked like a completely different player from the one we saw struggling against UNLV and Maryland to start the season. Hell, he even threw a nice block on a late Drake Johnson run that sprung him for the first. Yes, it was clear about halfway through the third quarter that some of the Florida Gators were perhaps thinking about their futures outside of Gainesville, but Rudock still helped UM dominate a team that consistently fields mountains of talent. And in the end, he finished his only year in a Wolverine uniform by joining elite passing company, being only the second QB in UM history to throw for 3,000 yards and having one of the most impressive seasons in the school’s history.
Toward the end of the game, the announcers were commenting (or rambling, if you are so inclined) about how the new “one-and-done’s” in college sports are QB grad transfers. And while it certainly isn’t as endemic and, arguably, as detrimental to the overall game as college basketball’s requirement of a year in college before going pro, it does remind you how fleeting guys like Rudock are in a team’s existence. Just when Jake started to come into his own, he’s out the door, to the NFL or medical school or wherever he sets his heart and mind. And as a fanbase, the best you can do is enjoy them while they are on campus and wish them the best. Maybe I’m waxing a bit too poetic, but in the first year of the Harbaugh experience, seeing a “good guy” like Rudock rise from the ashes and succeed was a perfect avatar for fans to latch onto. I just hope that whoever steps into his shoes next season embodies these same qualities.
Best: The Offense Should be Good in 2016
Again, I know it’s just one game, but this game was yet another example of the innovation and possibility of a Harbaugh-led offense. When I first heard Harbaugh was a possibility at UM, I worried about two things: (1), that his Stanford defenses never really figured out how to handle hyper-spread offenses like you saw at Oregon, and (2) that his offenses were a bit too demanding/reliant on the signal-caller such that they could be get bogged down with sub-elite talent. While the jury is still out on the first concern (though I’m of the belief that Brown seems aggressive and creative enough to slow most down), it’s becoming clear that the second concern should be minimal precisely because Harbaugh is such a dynamic QB coach.
Jake Rudock spoke about coming to UM precisely because of Harbaugh’s tutelage, and as the season progressed you could see Rudock become more confident and comfortable in the offense, highlighted by multiple deep throws to both Chesson and Darboh before the receivers even broke their routes. It was a player who understood the intricacies of UM’s offense as well as his coach, and that happened basically with a month of training before the season and a couple of semi-easy OOC games. Yes, Rudock is an extremely intelligent QB, but we’ve seen Harbaugh turn guys like Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick into Pro Bowl-level QBs where few others saw that potential. And given the number of viable contenders for the starting spot available next season, it’s hard not to imagine that the offense won’t pick up rather close to the way it ended.
And for whoever replaced Rudock at the helm, he’ll be inheriting an healthy collection of playmakers. Jehu Chesson has gone from a guy I compared to Luis Mendoza of the Mighty Ducks franchise to one of the best receivers in the conference, and in this game snagged another 100 yards and repeatedly beat Florida’s all-everything Hargreaves for long completions. And probably his most impressive catch was one that didn’t count, as he skied for a high Rudock throw out of bounds, coming down about 6 inches off the field. Both him and Rudock turned their seasons around after that Minnesota game, and I expect that emergence to continue in 2016.
The Rudock-Perry connection finished the season much better than how it started, with 5 catches and a TD as well as a couple FD completions. Darboh had a solid game and should be an extremely dangerous #2 receiver, especially on screens where he can simply out-muscle corners. Jake Butt wasn’t asked to do much but made a couple nice catches and generally looked like the uncoverable All-American he is. In just one year, Harbaugh has turned one of the biggest areas of concern for this team (the receivers) into the undoubted strength of the offense. And unlike the last time UM housed Florida, all of those guys are coming back.
As for the running game, well, somebody took De’Veon Smith to D.O.C. because he was showing vision and patience we haven’t seen all year.
This is probably his best game as a Wolverine given the opponent, the preceding, I don’t know, month and a half, and the fact that he was still recovering from an apparent turf-toe injury that lingered for most of the second half of the season. I still think Smith will wind up in the B.J. Askew-type role as an all-purpose FB/H-Back/RB next season, but he was instrumental in Michigan just beating the life out of a very talented Florida front 7, to the point that they were seemingly just going through the motions late in the game. Both Drake Johnson and Sione Houma also scored TDs (Johnson on a short pass), and as a team UM averaged a shade under 4.9 ypc, which is the third-most Florida gave up all year and maybe the most impressive considering the two teams ahead of them broke one big QB run (UT) or had maybe the most dominant RB in the country (LSU) leading the charge. No, Michigan did this with a bunch of guys fans charitably would describe as “meh” for most of the year.
And huge credit should go to the offensive line for keeping Rudock clean and (usually) opening up holes for the backs. Florida was held without a sack for only the second time all year, and only 3 TFLs for the definitional minimum number of yards possible (3 yards). After getting woodshedded to varying degrees by a number of the better defenses on their schedule, it was great to see the staff and players end the season on a dominant note.
Best: The Defense is Gonna Be Hella Good Next Year*
Worst: *Provided They Can Find Some LBs and Henry Comes Back
Watching Florida’s offense just get consumed by Michigan’s defense as the game progressed reminded me of 2008 Michigan-Penn State. In that game, Rich Rod unleashed MINOR RAGE in the first half and actually led at halftime against PSU thanks to some creative playcalling. But UM was throwing the kitchen sink at PSU, and at halftime PSU adjusted and UM couldn’t move the ball again. They had a puncher’s chance, but unlike in boxing football games keep going regardless of how hard a team tries, and that’s why teams like Florida and 2008 UM repeatedly got spanked. Florida accumulated about half their yards on the first two drives of the game, but after that Mattison and co. locked into stopping Taylor and that was about it for Florida, which occasionally moved the ball thanks for Harris scrambles and not much else. Their one TD came on a drive that sorta sputtered along, and at no point did they really expose any major flaws in UM’s defense. They got the yards UM was willing to give, and as the game progressed that allowance shrank and shrank to nothingness. And you could see the exasperation on the Gator sidelines as that reality became ever clearer.
Oh wait…wrong sense of overwhelming despair.
The defensive line looked as good as they have all year, repeatedly blasting into the UF backfield and disrupting the flow of the offense. They ended the game with 6 TFLs for 31 yards and 2 sacks for 24 yards along with 7 QB hits, and that didn’t include (a) an intentional grounding penalty on Harris as he was flushed from the pocket, and (b) the endzone INT he threw as a couple Wolverines bore down on him. If Willie Henry comes back, you can expect this line to be one of the 3-4 best in the country, and if recruiting goes the way it’s trending…well, you know.
The secondary wasn’t asked to do much but they played well in limited duty. Lewis matched up well against Callaway (who I think did most of his damage on the first two drives and was otherwise held in check), and boring Jarrod Wilson finished with another pick in the endzone. Stribling and Clark kept everything short, and both Thomas and Hill continued their strong play to the end the season. Losing Wilson will be tough, but it looks like safety won’t be a bag of cats next year either.
As for the LBs, Florida is the type of team this corp eats up. Joe Bolden can tackle guys when they commit, and he thumped his way to 7 tackles in his last game. Bolden did have a nice play where he attacked a linemen rolling out with Harris, forcing Harris into a bad throw before he was set. That’s the type of play you expect a senior to make, and it was a nice end to an up-and-down career at UM. Morgan looked solid, even though he again struggled a bit in space on passing downs, but generally played like a guy who should find his place on an NFL practice squad at the very least. Gedeon got the bulk of the other snaps and looks to be very good, though again this team will need to find at least 2 other players who can plausibly rotate in next year. Devin Bush should get all the chances in the world to be one of those guys, and LB remains the one concerning spot for 2016.
Still, with Brown taking over as DC and having more talent available than he’s ever had, you have to hope that he continues, if not improves, on the great year in 2015. This line is the type of game-changer you see on playoff contenders, and with Glasgow and Mone returning it’s hard not to see them absolutely dominating basically everyone in the conference save OSU up front.
Best: On to 2016
It’s hyperbolic to say 2016 is lining up for a playoff run, but if Harbaugh was able to turn a 5-7 team into a 10-3 outfit with precious few months to recruit and develop the players he inherited, one can only imagine how solid this club will be coming into next year. Brady Hoke did a lot of things wrong during his tenure, but he recruited a hell of a defense, one that should play into many of the strengths of the new DC. I’m not sure about the status of Mattison, but if he sticks around for another season to help the transition (again), that would be a plus. Yes, they need to replace 2/3rds of the starting LBs and depth is always a concern, but you can scheme around that somewhat and with guys like Peppers and Hill you have some flexibility if you need to bring a guy down into the run defense. And let’s be honest; there aren’t a lot of teams on the schedule who are going to be able to handle this defensive line.
On offense, I assume the QB competition will produce a player capable of leading this offense with the same general efficiency we saw out of Rudock toward the end of the year. And whoever that guy is, he’ll have a cavalcade of playmakers in the passing game at his disposal and behind a veteran line. I’m not reading too much into Smith’s performance against Florida, but I assume he’ll still be a solid back along with Johnson, Isaac, Walker, and Higdon, and sheer probability makes me believe one of these guys will emerge as a 1,000-yard back. I do think losing O’Neill will be felt if they can’t replicate his field-shifting punts, but this staff should be able to unearth a competent replacement and, well, the team should be better overall to offset any dropoff on special teams.
And boy does the rest of the B1G look sorta bad going into 2016. OSU obviously will be reloading with another crop of 5* studs, but losing Bosa and Elliott, two dominant players, will certainly hurt, as will the turnover on defense with Lee and Powell declaring early and the loss of Chris Ash. It’s still OSU and Meyer is a master offensive mind, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they “stumbled” to 2 losses if the defense regresses a bit.
First off, I couldn’t help watching the MSU-Alabama game and not think of the Shutdown Fullcast preview for the Miami Bowl in which the story of Spencer Hall yelling into the phone (referring to the halftime of the Alabama-ND MNC game) “Bury ‘em deep and pat the dirt, Nick!” Anyway, MSU loses a good amount of talent on both sides of the ball, and while I acknowledge the “wait, they’ll suck THIS year” call is pure homerism and probably never going to be true while Dantonio is there, this was still a team that probably should have lost 3-4 games this year and doesn’t seem to have the depth to wholly absorb the losses they’ll sustain. Terry has always been a touted backup, but he’s a different QB than Cook, and this is an offense that will have to find receivers after both Burbridge and Kings depart. The schedule is kind with OSU and UM going to EL, but they also have to go to ND and play BYU against that suspect secondary. They’ll probably still win 9-10 games, but this might be the beginning of a (slight) downturn for the Spartans.
The other half of the B1G Title game, Iowa…woof! This team, a bit like MSU, lived on a high turnover margin and a decent amount of luck/ugliness, and watching them look completely outclassed by Stanford in all three phases should officially burst whatever optimistic bubble fans had that Ferentz had really turned this team around. They’ll probably win 8+ games next year because the West is turrible, but this is the type of team Harbaugh teams just steamrolls. Wiscy was maybe the least impressive 10-win team in the country this season (sorry Georgia), and they just lost their DC to LSU. Durkin and Maryland might be competitive in 2-3 years, but his “homecoming” to Michigan Stadium will not be pretty. IU is breaking in an entire new offense it seems, and as we’ve seen Team #CHAOS is as likely to self-destruct as direct that energy toward an opponent with good players. And I’m still waiting on “offensive guru” James Franklin to stop spray-tanning his skin to Hulk Hogan-level and field something possibly resembling an FBS offense. And hell, that defense isn’t going to be able to keep bailing him out.
So yeah, 2016 isn’t nearly as daunting as perhaps it looks on paper. My assumption is that if UM can get past MSU, The Game will resemble the 2006 affair as a de-facto pre-playoff game. Fall 2016 is still a LONG ways away, but I’m pretty excited about what the next 8 months hold for this team and program.