fair point that
As most of you undoubtedly have, I’ve been struggling to figure out my expectations for the 2011-12 football season. On the defensive side of the ball, things are looking up. On offense, however, there are signs of inclement weather, which may pose problems come September.
Galactic Punter II aside, special teams remains the foul abode of ancient demons and Boschian nightmares. On the other hand, it's still very, very early. So I tried to work through the most plausible scenarios rationally, to assess their relative likelihood based upon what we know now, and where things may be headed. No fancy statistics or charts here, just old-fashioned logic and informed speculation. Take that with a grain of salt, and please tell me what I’ve got right and what I’ve got wrong.
1. Roses-Tinted Glasses
Scenario: Basically everything goes right. Mattison’s schemes and emphasis on fundamentals produce not improvement, but a seismic shift in our defensive performance. We tackle, we swarm and we don’t lose contain. The young, middling recruits of yesteryear turn into MEN who play MANBALL. Over on offense, Borges shows his utilitarian side, keeping plays and formations that were effective last year, but also introducing new schemes that dramatically improve our scoring efficiency and flexibility against stout defenses. A running back or two establish themselves as go-to guys, putting less pressure on Denard’s feet and keeping him healthy. Denard does still dazzle us with his running ability, but he also looks comfortable in the pocket and shows maturity as a passer. Hagerup ensures we dominate the battle for field position, and thanks to Matt Wile, we can actually kick field goals!
Record: 10-2, or a really good 9-3 in a parity-filled year, a chance to play for the inaugural Big 10 Championship game and a possible trip to Pasadena.
Odds: 9/1. Given our recent luck with injuries, a big and uncertain transition on offense and the gauntlet-style conference schedule we face, I’d rate this as possible, but highly unlikely. Too many things would have to come together: too many gaping holes on defense filled with underwhelming sophomores and rusty seniors, too many apparent problems in our execution of the West Coast offense wrapped up quickly and emphatically, too much pressure on a true freshman kicker and too many depth issues at key positions all over the field solved with fairy dust and magic wands.* Of course, surprise performances do happen from time to time. How about PennStatein 2008-9? That was a team that had been decent but kind of “meh” the year before, and had a host of pre-season issues making a championship campaign unlikely. Another example closer to home would be our 2006 team—lots of returning starters but some uncertainty based on staff changes. Still, those were teams that could consistently win with defense. We’re just not there yet. And besides, if there’s one thing we’ve come to expect in 4 of the past 5 years, it’s the ruthless smashing of dreams by Angry Michigan-Hating Gods. Don’t get your hopes up.
*An 11-1 scenario would also likely require some help, in the form of criminal charges beyond the pale of re-instatement in East Lansing, Apocalypse Tressel in Columbus and locust plagues just about everywhere else in the conference.
2. Remember the Alamo…er…Outback Bowl!
Scenario: Mattison’s coaching and more experience on the DL and in the secondary produce immediate dividends on defense. We upgrade from “historically bad” to “somewhere in the middle.” Teams just can’t score on us like they used to, we hold steady on 3rd down with some regularity and tackling is as tackling does. We adjust to life in the West Coast offense pretty well, do better in the field position battle than last year and manage to kick some field goals here and there. However, we do suffer from some transitional pains on offense, and, despite improvement, are still not great on defense.
Record: 9-3 or 8-4, with a signature win over “Little Brother” or “Ohio.”
Odds: 6/5. As I see it, this is the most likely scenario. We win a couple we’re supposed to lose, but lose at least one we’re supposed to win. Iowa and MSU, in particular, look ripe for the pickin’. Perhaps we even beat the boys from Tatville! That said, we should probably splash ourselves with the cold water of reality: our schedule is still brutal.* Going 5-3 or 4-4 against ND, SDSU, MSU, Northwestern, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and OSU seems like a plausible outcome for a team with a still-explosive-but-somewhat-slowed offense, a still-questionable-but-fast-improving defense and an extra year of experience and conditioning for our pantheon of returning starters. Beyond that lie clouds, fantastic things to stare at and imagine as corporeal, but are in actuality little more than concentrations of moisture in random shapes. This is where we appear to be headed, or perhaps more accurately, this is where we should be headed. So wax nostalgic about the Lloyd Carr years, friends, for they may be back.
3. Gator Vu All Over Again…
Scenario: Our defense may get better, but it’s still not up to snuff against proper competition. Our offense, on the other hand, has a rockier-than-hoped-for transition to Borges’ West Coast scheme. The combination of these two factors doom us to a different kind of the same mediocrity we experienced in 2010. Or, things do go according to plan, but injuries rear their ugly head and things fall apart during the toughest part of the season. Either way, at times we put it all together, and at others, nothing seems to work.
Record: 7-5 or 6-6, and a rematch with the
Odds: 9/5. Sadly, this is another plausible scenario, and an obstacle to our return to Big 10 relevancy. Basically, start with all the factors outlined in the Outback scenario, and then add a few drops of cyanide. Said cyanide can take multiple forms. Take, for example, the home-and-away factor in the pivotal 8 games mentioned above: ND, SDSU, Nebraskaand OSU are at home, and MSU, Northwestern, Iowa, and Illinoisaway. Location held constant, all those away games are winnable; playing them away makes them less so. The home games, by contrast, include the two we’re least likely to win no matter where they are played. Despite everything I said in the last entry, this is a problem. Another one is depth, and what a few unlucky injuries could mean to the best-laid plans of mice and men. Can you imagine us going 3-5 or even 2-6 across that stretch? I can. Of course, our roster doesn't appear as frighteningly thin as it was last year,* and all that experience will count for something. Hopefully it will. If not, 2011 could look a whole lot like 2010.
*It didn't look quite that bad in May 2010 either.
4. A Moonwalk to Oblivion
Scenario: In this final scenario, everything that can go wrong does. Mattison’s coaching can’t turn this ragtag bunch into anything even approaching competence, and Borges goes all square-peg-meets-round-hole on our offensive personnel. Our RBs continue to sputter, and our WRs, it turns out, really aren’t suited to a West Coast offense. Denard gets injured, or regresses into an interception machine. We still can’t kick a damned field goal.
Record: 5-7 or worse. No postseason and another hard sell on the recruiting path.
Odds: 9/1. We can sleep relatively well tonight, because this isn’t too likely. But it does happen sometimes. In 2009, Charlie Weis took a Notre Dame team stacked with upperclassmen and promptly went 6-6. Though our expectations aren’t as high or as delusionary, our schedule is likely tougher. We’ve also had a string of bad luck and poor coaching decisions the past few years, which contributed to our historically bad defenses and—in 2008 and 2009—our sputtering offenses. If this string of luck and poor decisions continues (albeit in different form), it would severely complicate the transition currently under way. As I see it, this would take another injury-and-attrition apocalypse like the one that produced our Decimated Defense in 2010 combined with another “shock-therapy” transition on offense like we had in 2008. To be frank, I don’t think it’s too likely for lightning to strike twice in two years, and a return to 2008 production is unlikely, given differences in personnel.* All that said, our vat of returning starters, apparent upgrade in defensive coaching and reassuring noises from Borges about using shotgun sets and QB keepers make this is about as likely as going to the Rose Bowl. In other words, not very.
*But the consequences would also be more painful, given what we expect from Denard n’ Co.
Inevitably, some readers will draw connections to our recent coaching change and the on-going feud between the Rich Rod loyalists and the Hoke brigade. I do have my opinions on this topic, but I’d rather not go there. Suffice to say, Rich tried his best to put something special together here, and it just didn’t turn out the way he hoped. Dave Brandon made a decision to change things because he didn’t see a roadmap to sustained success, and felt the Michiganbrand was suffering as a result. Only time will give us a concrete idea as to whether Brandonmade a good or bad decision. I’m not trying to comment on the wisdom of that decision, or lack thereof.
A narrow miss on KY QB Zeke Pike leaves Michigan looking for another quarterback in the class of 2012. While there are still some big name options left on the board, the Michigan staff is expanding their search and exploring all options. New York QB Chad Kelly (6'3", 205 lbs) is one of the prospects being evaluated. Kelly made a trip over to Ann Arbor this past Monday after taking in Purdue and Michigan State. Here's a look at his film and what he had to say about the trip.
TOM: Tell me about your trip, what did you get to see in Ann Arbor?
CHAD: We basically took a visit through everything, the academic center and the Big House.
TOM: Was that your first time in the Big House?
CHAD: Yeah it was. It was pretty sweet. I didn't realize how big it was and how if you yell it echoes within. It was just crazy how big it was, it was really special.
TOM: I know Michigan hasn't offered you yet, but what were the Michigan coaches talking to you about on the trip? Did they tell you what you need to do to earn an offer?
CHAD: Yeah, they said that I have to go to camp, but we will see after Friday. Coach Mallory will be at school on Friday to watch me throw. We talked to Coach Hoke and Coach Borges basically about the same thing.
TOM: So you might still camp then, depending on what happens Friday?
CHAD: I might be.
TOM: What was your overall impression of the trip? How did it compare to the other two visits, Purdue and MSU?
CHAD: My impression was that it was a great program and they're turning it around from the past few years. I think it compared pretty well and overall it was a good time.
TOM: For any fans that haven't seen you play, what do you think you do well and what are you working on?
CHAD: I think my strengths are keeping the play alive and looking downfield to throw. I'm working on better decision making and for people that might not think I'm a pro style quarterback I have a very strong arm.
TOM: I'm sure you get asked this in every interview, but I have to ask if your uncle, former NFL quarterback Jim Kelly, has been helping you through this process.
CHAD: Yeah he has. He's helped me with knowing where to go check out and everything. Sometimes I work out with the Bills and get insight on everything so that helps too.
TOM: As far as your overall recruiting process, do you have a timeline set or do you know when you want to make your decision?
CHAD: In the process I'm just checking everything out, trying to find the pros and cons of all these schools. I will make my decision before the season though.
TOM: What about narrowing down your list, do you plan on doing that soon?
CHAD: Yes, right after my visit to Alabama in early June.
[ed: press release. dump all your "he's not working out!" hopes]
May 4, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan sophomore guard Darius Morris (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward HS) has decided to forego the remainder of his college eligibility and remain as an early entry for the 2011 NBA Draft.
"There have been long discussions with my family, friends and my Michigan coaches," said Morris. "After gathering all the information possible, I have decided to stay in the NBA Draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball.
"This was a difficult decision; however, in the end I decided to go with my heart. Playing professional basketball has always been a dream for me. I feel this is the right time for me to pursue that goal. It will be hard to leave the University of Michigan; however, I truly believe the basketball program is moving in a very positive direction.
"First of all I want to thank everyone at the University of Michigan and all its great fans. I would not be in the position I am today without the guidance of Coach (John) Beilein and his staff. I appreciate all the support I have received from all my teammates and everyone involved with the program. I will forever be a Michigan Wolverine. Lastly, and most importantly, I must thank God for blessing me with this opportunity."
"We, as a staff, have watched Darius grow as a person and as a player these past two years," said U-M head coach John Beilein. "His improvement on the court has been the result of his God-given talent and his intense desire to become the best player he can be. His work habits, especially in our individual skill development time, have been outstanding, and we all witnessed the results of his efforts this season.
"Over the past month, we have worked with the NBA advisory committee and several NBA teams by gathering information to assist Darius and his family in exploring his options. We know they put a lot of thought into this important decision.
"Darius has been a catalyst in the continued growth of our program and we wish him nothing but the best in his professional basketball career and beyond. He will always be a Michigan Wolverine."
Morris, who was an All-Big Ten Conference third team selection by both the coaches and media, helped the Wolverines to a 21-14 record and a trip to the NCAA Tournament third round in 2010-11. He recorded the largest margin of improvement in scoring in the Big Ten, jumping from 4.4 points per game as a freshman to a team-best 15.0 points per game this past season.
Morris broke the U-M season record for assists with 235, becoming just the third Wolverine to record 200-plus assists in a season. He recorded the third triple-double in U-M history with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists against Iowa (Jan. 30). Morris tallied seven double-digit assist games, including a career-best 12 helpers against Concordia (Dec. 6) and Bryant (Dec. 20). Overall, Morris led the Big Ten with 6.71 assists per game, putting him fifth in the nation.
In two seasons in Ann Arbor, Morris started 53 of 67 career games, compiling 666 career points (9.9 ppg), 197 rebounds (2.9 rpg) and 319 assists (4.76 apg).
The NBA Draft, comprised of two rounds and 60 total selections, will be held Thursday, June 23, at The Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Since I'm out in Arizona I have been saying Saguaro ATH DJ Foster (5'10", 180 lbs) was more than worthy of an offer for some time. He finally got a Michigan offer Monday, and I caught up with him to talk about it. Here's a look at his defensive film and what he had to say.
TOM: I know Michigan offered today, but who came out to see you?
DJ: Coach Ferrigno stopped by school today. I couldn't really talk much, you know how that goes. Today was the first day of spring ball though so he watched a little bit of our defensive practice. After that he said that I had an offer from Michigan. Auburn was out today, they didn't offer but they told my coach that they might be offering pretty soon.
TOM: I know your coach, Coach Sanders, has been saying Michigan should have offered you for awhile now. Where is your interest level at with Michigan?
DJ: My interest is pretty high. When Cyrus [Hobbi] took his visit last year to Michigan he said it was hands down the best campus he had ever seen. That stuck with me, so I hope I can get out there to see it. Plus all the tradition and history they have, and I know a few guys out there like Taylor [Lewan].
TOM: I'm assuming when you say you want to get out there that it would be for an official visit, and not an unofficial visit?
DJ: Yeah, I plan on taking all five of my official visits. I'm definitely going to try to use them on schools that I can't really see on unofficials. I would love to use one of them on Michigan.
TOM: I know Michigan is kind of late to the party here, but do you have a top group yet?
DJ: As of now I kind of have a top five, but schools keep offering so it keeps changing. Right now it's USC, ASU, Oregon, Stanford, and Cal. That changes all the time though, like when schools like Michigan offer. My top three is probably USC, ASU, and Oregon for now.
TOM: To jump back to Michigan, have the coaches told you what they're recruiting you as? You're so versatile you can probably play anywhere.
DJ: Michigan is recruiting me as a defensive back. I'm fine with that, I like either side of the ball.
TOM: Speaking of your versatility, can you describe your game to people that haven't seen you play?
DJ: I can adapt to anything. If they want me to play receiver or cornerback, I'll work hard no matter what. I have some size and power, and I have very good vision. I don't really know if I'm better on offense or defense, I like both sides. I have people tell me both, some people say they see me as a defensive back in college so I don't know.
TOM: Since the Michigan attention is coming late, is there still a chance for them? I know you said your interest is high, but what does that mean?
DJ: Definitely, I like Coach Ferrigno, so they definitely have a chance. That's going to be big for me is the relationship with the coaches, and my parents are going to have a say in it. I'm not going to rush into anything, and like I said I'm going to take all my official visits.
It's been an eventful few days, and by the time most of you read this Michigan will have gotten its newest commitment. Outside of that commitment here's a look at a few other prospects and future happenings. As always you can find more updates on my Twitter page, and please feel free to email me with tips and questions at TomVH@MGoBlog.com.
6'5", 260 lbs.
Matt Godin recently announced that he was ready to make his decision. He's yet to decide on how he will announce it, and is currently mulling over a few ideas.
I decided on my date because my family is all going to be home, and it's just the right time to do it. I feel, other than these three schools, there is nowhere else I would like more.
That date is May 12th, and the three schools are Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. I will let you know how Matt decides to announce his decision when he tells me.
6'4", 210 lbs.
Another instater that had been planning on making his announcement within the next weeks, Thompson sounds like he's now wavering on what to do.
I did [have the announcement scheduled] but I still don't think it will happen. I'm just not ready, it's too much. I think I'm far from a decision to be honest. There was a team that was looking good, but now there are others that have come aboard and I'm not sure if I'm ready.
Apparently there are some bigger name schools that are showing Thompson interest and they may have caught his attention. I, for some reason, didn't take this to mean that he really isn't going to announce on the 11th. Just don't be surprised if it doesn't. There may be a few questions that need to be answered with Michigan and their two TE commits.
5'11", 167 lbs.
I know it's a bit early to be talking about 2013 prospects, but Thomas already holds a Michigan offer and he was just on campus in Ann Arbor.
I went up there [Saturday] after the MSU spring game. I really, really like Michigan. I like how they do their schooling and they put school first and then sports. I was supposed to go up there awhile ago, but I couldn't because of baseball.
Besides the Michigan offer Thomas also holds verbal offers from Michigan State and West Virginia. This visit to Michigan gave him a chance to talk to the coaches and see the facilities up close.
The coaches were just really nice about everything. They walked me around different places, and they showed us the locker room and the lounge. They didn't really sell me on anything, they were just telling me about the program and what they have to offer.
Although Thomas admits to being an Ohio State fan, he says he will take a more business approach to his recruitment.
I am an Ohio State fan, but I'm going to look at what's best for me. I don't want to pick a school and then say I wish I would have gone to Ohio State. I also don't want to pick Ohio State and say man I wish I would have gone to a different school. I'm thinking about committing after my last game of my junior season, so we'll see what happens.
Thomas really likes Ohio State, but I take him at his word that he'll be unbiased in his approach. He's in contact with 2012 RB Bri'onte Dunn, FWIW.
Ohio LB Joe Bolden decided to commit in person in Ann Arbor because it was more respectful.
Ohio RB Bri'onte Dunn has not re-opened his commitment from Ohio State, but he will be visiting Michigan soon. He just got an in school visit from Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. I believe there is genuine interest there from the Dunns. They are interested to see the outcome of the NCAA investigation at OSU.
DT Ondre Pipkins will narrow his list in June, which will also be around when he's visiting Michigan. He told me that he will likely make his final decision later on, but there is a chance it could happen in the summer time. He said an earlier decision will depend on how his summer visits go.
Pennsylvania RB Greg Garmon is visiting Michigan in the next couple weeks. He wants to learn more about Michigan, who is in his top three with Penn State and North Carolina. The Tarheels currently lead.
New York QB Chad Kelly, nephew of Jim Kelly, will be visiting Michigan today [Monday]. He does not have an offer yet. Like the rest of the unoffered QBs, he might have to wait to see how everything plays out before he gets considered.
Yet another new Wolverine, and we're on the front page again. Action since last rankings:
4-27-11 Ohio State gains commitment from Frank Epitropoulos.
4-29-11 Michigan gains commitment from Joe Bolden.
4-30-11 Michigan State gains commitments from Benny McGowan, Zach Higgins, and Riley Bullough.
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All rankings will be on the 5-star scale this year (when available) for easier comparing across services. Full data after the jump.