in town for free camps
After much debate, hand-wringing, and a barrage of angry emails, we now know who, where, and when Michigan will be playing over (at least) the next two years. While popular sentiment among the Michigan (and OSU) fan-base indicated a strong (if not universal) desire to see the aforementioned rivals placed in the same division with their annual showdown preserved as the marquee/final game of the Big 10 regular season, it appears our athletic director wanted something different. In his comments before and after the decision to divide the Big 10 was announced, Dave Brandon repeatedly emphasized his desire to see Michigan and Ohio State eventually meet in a Big 10 Championship Game. I, for one, also find it much easier to believe that Brandon, a powerful former CEO with strong political aspirations who once burned a letter from Subway on national TV backing one of the biggest brands in all of sports, got exactly what he wanted, rather than to assume that the combined clout of Michigan and Ohio State was unable to influence this decision, especially when what they wanted (or at least should have wanted) appeared to be the most beneficial arrangement (or at least not a harmful one) for the conference as a whole.
At first glance, more Michigan-Ohio State, higher stakes Michigan-Ohio State, and ultra-hyped Michigan-Ohio State in super-primetime may seem like a good thing. Who doesn’t want more of a good thing? If one Game is good, two is better, right? Why not make the Game bigger and better and take it to a whole new level if we can? Sadly, however, this is the kind of juvenile, short-sighted enthusiasm that brought you Caddyshack II, four bajillion books/shows/movies of wildly varying quality about vampires, and the latest Van Halen album featuring their eleventieth lead singer.
In essence, a potential U-M/OSU rematch in the Big 10 Championship Game is a McRib. While potentially appealing at first glance, it is not a good thing.
It stands out, boldly, above all the bland items on the menu. The crisp, tangy pickles. The bigger than average bun. The slow-roasted pork goodness slathered in succulent BBQ sauce (What chance do the traditional ketchup and mustard we’ve enjoyed since the dawn of time have against such competition?), with just a few fresh-sliced onions for balance. Add in the limited availability, the once in a blue moon novelty, and every one of us has at some point succumbed to the temptation of the McRib.
Then reality sets in. The flimsy pickles have the consistency of used condoms. Most of the seats at the sterile, NFL domed stadium are occupied by corporate sponsors and disinterested local dignitaries, meaning that the fans will have access to roughly 1/10th of the tickets they would get in a traditional Michigan-OSU game. The barbecue sauce appears to just be ketchup with the subtle addition of more brown. See the Block M used to spellout “Michelin” or “Midas” or some other automotive giant. Watch as the guy who sold the most mufflers in Minneapolis gets to “dot the i.” Wait a minute, this bun was baked in 1974! Is that Joe Theismann down there in a bomber jacket, waiting to throw a football through a surreal-sized can of Mr. Pibb? You look at his face on the gargantuan jumbo-tron and wonder what has received more surgical treatment, the knee LT demolished or the frighteningly alert-looking face that is the same shade as the football in his hands. You examine the “pork patty” (there are no actual ribs involved in a McRib) and realize it is nothing more than a water-logged rectangle of pressed pork gristle, powerful preservatives, and what appear to just be big globs of fat seemingly injected in for the hell of it. And what about that prior meal (i.e. the annual regular season finale between Michigan and OSU)? It is rendered as insignificant as a single pickle that has escaped its bun, eaten as an unsatisfying appetizer. All that matters is the McRib (as your time on the toilet will soon illustrate).
Some say, who cares? “I never order the McRib, and besides, it is hardly ever even available.” I say, that is the genius of the McRib. It makes itself scarce, it disappears for a year or more at a time and when it returns we have all but forgotten what happened last time. We see the picture that so little resembles the product and we are again powerless to resist. Even if we regularly avoid the danger, the fact that it is even on the menu makes it certain that some day we will be stuck with the explosive diarrhea that is a meaningless regular season finale followed by an atrocious corporate-sponsored rematch.
In 2011, the Wolverines return a bevy of talented players on both sides of the ball. OSU, always formidable, will be led by a senior Terrelle Pryor. In short, we may very well end up eating our first McRib next December. When it makes us all sick, hopefully Dave Brandon (with his extensive experience in the food service industry) will see the error of his ways and keep this crap off the menu.
From the Offense diary: Received a big response from the pre-fall depth chart that I threw pretty arbitrarily in a diary about a month ago. There were quite a few to expand it, so I included those requests with the updated depth chart for the Purdue game this weekend. I will try to keep this as organized as possible: rivals star ratings in parenthesis, since it was requested, names are followed by media guide class and measurements. (All classes are “true” – whatever, Walk-on = W, Former Walk-on = FW ) The depth chart was a 2 deep so there is some imo beyond the first 2 names listed, but it is an educated imo. Offense from yesterday => http://mgoblog.com/diaries/nd-offensive-depth-chart
DE: Ethan Johnson, Jr 6-4 285 (4), Hafis Williams, Jr 6-2 285 (3). This wasn’t much of a battle leaving spring practice but Williams made his presence known in the fall. Williams is supposed to provide a bit better run stop over Johnson who is better with pass rush. Johnson was an undersized DT last season and his production suffered because of it, totaling only 32 tackles. Johnson, in one of the fall interviews, talked about getting to use some of his pass rushing moves again, which he hadn’t had the opportunity to use since he was in high school. Sounded pretty excited about it.
NG: Ian Williams, Sr 6-2 305 (3), Sean Cwynar, Jr 6-4 280 (4), Brandon Newman, Jr 6-0 300 (4), Tyler Stockton, So 6-0 290 (4), Louis Nix, Fr 6-3 350 (4) This is probably the most overly stacked position on the team, with there being only 1 position on the field. Williams has the strength and the size to hold the starting spot now after a season of beefing up. Newman or Cwynar could be his backup depending on if the staff wants more run stop (Newman) or pass rush (Cwynar). Stockton will make this a big position battle next year and Nix is going to be a bruiser if he gets his weight down to where the staff wants it. Williams had scored a total of 39 tackles last season as a NT, he brings the most experience to the position and is one of the strongest on the team.
DE: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Jr 6-4 283 (4), Emeka Nwankwo, Sr 6-4 290 (3). KLM is looking to improve his production from last year, where he was only able to amass 46 total tackles. That was his first year starting as a DE in the 4-3 he was oversized and out of position, he will do better this year. Emeka talked about a bit this year, its good he made the 2-deep but I am not sure what to really expect from him.
OLB: Darius Fleming, Jr 6-2 247 (4), Prince Shembo, Fr 6-2 243 (4). Poor Fleming, embarrassed by a frolicking Forcier last year, he played nearly the entire year out of position at DE in the 4-3. Oh the humanity, ND’s best pass rusher playing 40lbs light on the line instead of rushing from his natural position at OLB. The defenses shortcomings all seem obvious 9 months later. Fleming totaled a measly 29 tackles last year, yeah that won’t be the same this year. All right so this is the first example, well of the more obvious anyway, “are you sure?” moments with this 2-deep. Prince Shembo will not see the field before a couple other OLBs on the roster but he is listed in the 2-deep. It is probably partly because of the hold Fleming has on the position, that it will be rare that he comes out of the game at all, but it was a little odd. To Shembo’s credit though he has turned a lot of heads this summer; I don’t think he will redshirt but I don’t expect him to see any meaningful snaps either. He will be one to watch in the future though.
ILB: Carlo Calabrese, So 6-1 240 (3), Anthony McDonald, Jr 6-2 238 (4), David Posluszny, Jr 6-0 235 (3). This position is going to change quite a bit throughout the year, I do not know who will start in week 2. It is a good competition though, McDonald appeared to be the leading candidate coming into the fall, and all 3 guys saw time with the 1s. McDonald may be a little nicked up from the past 2 weeks of camp which is why he isn’t set to start but if I was to put money down right now I would bet UM will see him first. All 3 are new starters at the position, Carlo is the only one to not see game time last year, which isn’t surprising as he was a true freshman. This ILB position is not of the same importance as the one below which is why Calabrese has been able to step up into the position battle so quickly.
ILB: Manti Teo, So 6-2 245 (5), Daniel Spond, Fr 6-2 225 (4). It is really a shame UM fans didn’t get a formal introduction to Teo last year. Teo only played 2-3 series in the game but still was able to rack up 2 tackles, one of which was on Forcier where he actually caught from behind and dropped him for a loss, it was a thing of beauty. In Teo’s freshman year he racked up 63 total tackles and didn’t start his first game till UW in week 5. He is going to be one of the best linebackers ever to play at ND. Teo is ND’s field general on defense and the only player on defense to do anything against all 3XX lbs of Chris Stewart in the Oklahoma drill. Enough Manti love, this now brings us the 2nd occurrence of “are you sure?”. Spond another freshman LB to break the 2 deep is very unlikely to see the field before either of the other 2 ILB’s mentioned above. He’s done well in the fall though, Spond also is one of the “5 QBs” from the past recruiting class.
OLB: Kerry Neal, Sr 6-2 245 (4), Brian Smith, Sr 6-3 245 (4), Steve Filer, Jr 6-3 235 (4). This was the last position battle to be settled on the defensive side of the ball and is likely to be ongoing throughout the season. All 3 guys will see time on the field this year, and the competition is quite encouraging; Smith led all linebackers last season in tackles with 71. Even more encouraging is Smith’s natural position is OLB not the MLB he played last season in the 4-3, both a depth and talent issue at the time. If Neal has passed him on the depth chart he must have done pretty well in the off season. Filer is the fan favorite for his overall athleticism on the field, there were a lot of happy people when he was named as a candidate for the starting spot. This position is another case of “any of the 3 could start week 2”, whomever isn’t starting is likely the next guy in at the other OLB spot above before Shembo.
CB: Darrin Walls, 5th 6-0 190 (4), Lo Wood, Fr 5-10 178 (3). Walls the final member of the 2006 recruiting class will be returning for his final year of eligibility. The CBs were one of the most abused positions in 2009, often left out on an island while a failed Tenuta blitz was called. Walls in particular had a hard time of it last year, coming back to ND after a year off, he admitted he wasn’t as prepared as he needed to be last year. He amassed 27 tackles, at a CB position I believe he held all season. Lo Wood should be a pretty house hold name for UM fans. Wood has had to step up this off season after the team lost sophomore EJ Banks for the season. He has so far answered the call, as the staff hasn’t had to add anyone new to the secondary since he was thrust into the spotlight as it is.
SS: Harrison Smith, Sr 6-2 214 (4), Daniel McCarthy, Jr 6-2 205 (4). Both safety positions were up for grabs coming into fall camp but both spring incumbents locked them down. Harrison Smith is back at SS after a season of poor experiments last year that saw him all around the field. He lined up as an OLB, ILB and S last year in what was a poor attempt to get the best players on the field. Smith is a sure tackler when he knows where is supposed to be which wasn’t always a common occurrence; whether it was confusion from the blitzing schemes or just learning at the position I am not sure. He accounted for 69 tackles last year as a junior, which was a small drop off from his sophomore season. Harrison appears to be a lot more comfortable with this year’s defense, at least in interviews anyway. Dan McCarthy will get his strongest chance to contribute this year as a junior who has been stuck behind many team leaders in tackles the past few years, his brother Kyle one of them.
FS: Jamoris Slaughter, Jr 6-0 195 (4), Zeke Motta, So 6-2 210 (4). Has there ever been a better name for a safety than Slaughter? I mean come on, what else do you need? Motta saw a lot of special teams action last year and some garbage time as well, he can cover a lot of space on the football field quickly for a guy of his size. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some meaningful minutes on the field this year.
CB: Gary Gray, Sr 5-11 190 (4), Robert Blanton, Jr 6-1 192 (4). I didn’t even realize he was a senior already, anyway he is the 2nd returning starting corner from last season. Gray did well in his second season last year, he wasn’t picked on as much as Walls was. He also came up with an impressive pick against USC last year returning it for 30 yards. Gray suffered from the same issues as did Walls, stuck on an island with a QB given too much time to throw the ball. Blanton is likely first candidate to play in nickel packages, he is the most talkative player in the secondary for all the right reasons. He has quick feet and quick hips that helped him to major playing time his freshman year. Even though he didn’t start last season he still tallied 38 tackles off the bench.
So there you go, that’s ND’s starting defense going into week 1. Lots of questions still to be answered, but I can’t say I have seen this much confidence being shown from a defensive staff at ND in quite some time. Manti is the Crist of the defense minus the ACL recovery. He leads the team in practice and will lead them on the field, I cannot say enough about him as you can see. I cannot say with any certainty how good the defense will be this year, but I expect it to be a mix of the how they played a few years ago and how UC played the last few years.
UC in 2008, http://web1.ncaa.org/football/exec/rankingSummary?org=140&year=2008&week=19
The entire front seven is excited about the move back to the 3-4, and I cannot stress enough that this is the scheme they were all recruited to play when they signed their LOIs. That recruiting class was rated the highest in the nation in 2008. 16 of the 23 members of that class are in the 2 deep, and another 4 are likely to see significant playing time this year. Lots of potential on this roster, hopefully Kelly will help them grasp it.
A look at Michigan’s opening opponent through the eyes of PAN*.
When Michigan Rushes
Let’s kick the season off with a nice chart, Michigan Rush Offense PAN vs. UConn
Last year the gap between the two was worth nearly two points a game and this year it is projecting to narrow slightly. This projection is probably on the pessimistic side for Michigan as UConn has four consecutive years of decline on rush defense and nothing would indicate that Michigan would see a drop versus last season’s performance on the ground.
Since Rodriguez had experience against UConn while at West Virginia, those matchups provide another, better data point of comparison. In four games from 2004-2007 West Virginia averaged 6 PAN/game offensively and UConn averaged 0 PAN/game defensively. In other words, West Virginia’s ground game average 6 points per game more than the average team that played UConn and the Huskies defended the Mountaineers about on par with the average team.
Based on both West Virginia and Michigan experience, the numbers indicate that Michigan should have an opportunity to do some damage on the ground on Saturday.
When Michigan Passes
Michigan was pretty average passing the ball last year but UConn wasn’t great at covering the pass. The historical numbers are a bit all over the map, the Huskies had a 10 point negative swing from 2008 to 2009.
UConn returns a lot of their defense from last year but the one position group that will be replacing players is the secondary. In 2009 the team had to deal with the midseason murder of starting cornerback Jasper Howard, putting a little perspective on the mostly on-field issues Michigan’s secondary has faced. Of the top 11 UConn players in points taken last year, the only three not returning this year are cornerback Robert McClain, 25 PT, 2nd on team and first among DBs, DE Lindsey Witten, 20 PT, 4th on team and first among DL and S Robert Vaughn, 15 PT and 2nd among DBs.
With the year to year variance these two teams have shown in passing and defending the pass, it is difficult to tell who will pick up the advantage when Michigan puts the ball in the air.
When UConn Runs
Michigan saw their first dip into negative PAN against the run last year, while UConn is coming off back to back strong seasons on the ground.
The UConn running back situation is one where PAN sheds an interesting light that is hidden by tradition stats. Last year UConn split the carries almost evenly between Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon (235 vs 239). Todman ran for 1188 yards and 14 TDs while Dixon had 1093 yards and 14 TDs as well. Despite those very similar stat lines, Todman’s performance was worth 16 points and Dixon’s nearly offset the gains with –15 points.
Unfortunately for Michigan Todman is back and Dixon is gone. The historical trend indicates that Michigan should have the advantage, but with a quality back in Todman returning, Michigan will need a much improved defense performance to limit the UConn rushing attack.
When UConn Passes
After a dreadful stretch through the air in 2005-2008, UConn bounced back last year with their best showing in five years.
UConn has two QB’s with starting experience coming back. Cody Endres who took over in mid-season after an injury, was a modest 1.1 PAN whereas this year’s starter Zach Frazer was a worse –1.5 PAN in action at the beginning and end of the season. Frazer posted a similar –1.6 in 4 games in 2008.
Despite the higher value, Frazer beat out Endres again for the job this season and Endres went on to get suspended for the opener, leaving UConn with the sole experienced QB for Michigan. Unfortunately, Michigan’s secondary will make this matchup interesting, but at least the Huskies are able to trot out a world beater at QB even if he does have 2 years of experience.
History in Openers
When factoring in quality of opponent, Michigan best two games of the Rodriguez era have been the openers. 2008 felt very disappointing at the time, but taking an eventually undefeated and Alabama crushing Utah team to the wire, was the best performance of the season. 2009 saw a much much weaker opponent in Western Michigan, but the utter dismantling Michigan displayed made the 2009 the highest rated game Rodriguez had at Michigan to date. Success in openers had been the norm for Rodriguez at West Virginia. 3 of his last 4 were double digit PAN and two were over 20.
UConn’s sample size is much smaller. 3 of the last 7 years they have opened with 1AA opponents and the four years have seen performance within 5 points or so of average.
Head to Head
In the last four meetings Rodriguez and West Virginia owned UConn. West Virginia average a PAN of 13 while UConn came in at –5 PAN. Even after giving the Huskies a break for how good West Virginia was for several years, they still did worse than average against them.
The 2007 game is a bit of anomaly on this chart. It looks like UConn outplayed West Virginia but the Mountaineers completely dominated the Huskies in the game. The PAN is off because two first half fumbles by UConn meant the offense didn’t have to do much heavy lifting to build a 17 point lead after the first drive of the second half. A 17 point lead means that the plays stop counting towards the PAN, but WVU just kept going. To the tune of nearly 400 yards, 29 PAN all after they already had a 17 point lead. So in other words, 2007 looks like a good performance by UConn, but in reality a couple fluke plays got them in a hole and once they were there, West Virginia buried them.
The All In Look
The history is on Michigan’s side, the two year trend is on Michigan’s side, the strength in openers is on Michigan’s side, the head to head coaching matchup is on Michigan’s side and with homefield, I have Michigan pegged at about a touchdown favorite with about a 75% chance of starting the year off in the win column.
*PAN is calculated by assigning every play a value based on how much the play helped or hurt the offense’s chances of scoring. Every down, distance and line of scrimmage combination is assigned an expected value, the average points scored across college football in that same situation. If a play increases the expected value, the respective teams and players are credited with the amount of increase.
All plays are then adjusted based on strength of opponent. Plays against weak opponents are penalized and downgraded while plays against strong opponents are bumped to reflect the degree of difficulty.
Only games against FBS (D1A) opponents, games against FCS (1AA) opponents are non-existent in any numbers used in this work.
Qualifying Plays (QP) are all plays in the first half and plays in the second half when the game is within two touchdowns. End of half run out the clock drives are also excluded.
My earlier thread discussing the accountability of RR and his staff received mixed reviews. Given the interpretation that I was negative about the prospects for the 2010 season, this post will seem bipolar. It is not bipolar, as my last post was a positive statement about accountability and even stated that I expected 8 wins this year. I was too timid.
I believe Michigan will win 9 games, and, no, I have not begun drinking yet today. I actually would offer the following prediction range:
7 wins – 9%
8 wins – 15%
9 wins – 60%
10 wins – 15%
11+ wins – 1%
And I have not taken any drugs today. In truth, I have surpassed the Mathlete with exhausative calculations…
…but while I give you a glimpse of my Beautiful Mind, I will not (i.e., cannot) explain the science behind it all. I can, however, translate these definitive probabilities into human terms.
I coach sports at a very high level: 6 to 12 year olds. One thing I have learned from a decade of that and my overall sports experience is that success, in the short term, is less about Talent and more about Will. Now, this is no great revelation, and I am equally certain that the REPLY button is smoking as the “Talent matters” crowd jumps into action. And indeed, over the long haul, Talent matters. Thus, in 2009, Michigan Willed itself to a 5-2 start with two close losses (yes, and close wins, too), but then, in the middle rounds of the fight, fatigue, reality and lack of Talent overcame them.
So while Will trumps Talent in the short term, Talent trumps Will in the long term. And usually, the Talent with a Will wins it all.
Is this post going anywhere?
Let me use eye-pleasing bullets to speed things along.
- Teams do not respect Michigan anymore. Teams will expect to beat Michigan. That is when danger strikes, when Appy State and Toledo and Boise all rise up and teach painful lessons. Michigan, now better, will be taking on the teaching role early this season after being the student much the last two years.
- Will (motivation, team, underdog role, us-against-the-world) is going to propel Michigan over top of UConn and to a 5-1 start (sorry, I think ND’s offensive maturity, even in a new system, is going to allow them to win a shootout). It could be 6-0, however, but because I am a noted naysayer, I put forth 5-1 (wins against UConn, UMass, BG, Indiana, MSU).
- At this point of the season, Michigan’s Talent will be in a different place than 2009. At mid-season 2009, the following players were not potential contributors, where in 2010 they will be:
Name Pos. Yr. Exp. Ht./Wt. Hometown (last school)
3 Jeremy Gallon WR Fr. RS 5-8/171 Apopka, FL (Apopka)
4 Cameron Gordon S Fr. RS 6-3/208 Detroit, MI (Inkster)
5 Vladimir Emillen S So. 6-1/202 Lauderhill, FL (Plantation)
6 Je'Ron Stokes WR So. 6-0/187 Philadelphia, PA (Northeast)
7 Devin Gardner QB Fr. 6-4/203 Oak Park, MI (Inkster)
7 Brandin Hawthorne S So. 6-0/202 Pahokee, FL (Pahokee)
8 Terrance Robinson WR So. RS 5-9/173 Klein, TX (Oak)
12 J.T. Floyd CB So. RS 6-0/183 Greenville, SC (J.L. Mann)
14 Teric Jones S So. 5-9/194 Detroit, MI (Cass Tech)
15 Thomas Gordon S Fr. RS 5-11/208 Detroit, MI (Cass Tech)
15 Michael Cox RB So. RS 6-0/215 Dorchester, MA (Avon Old Farms)
17 Jeremy Jackson WR Fr. 6-3/196 Ann Arbor, MI (Huron)
26 Isaiah Bell LB Fr. RS 6-1/237 Youngstown, OH (Liberty)
27 Mike Jones LB So. 6-2/207 Orlando, FL (Edgewater)
28 Fitzgerald Toussaint RB Fr. RS 5-10/199 Youngstown, OH (Liberty)
33 Stephen Hopkins RB Fr. 6-0/236 Double Oak, TX (Marcus)
34 Brendan Gibbons K Fr. RS 6-0/245 West Palm Beach, FL (Cardinal Newman)
44 Mark Moundros FB Sr. RS 6-1/234 Farmington Hills, MI (North)
45 Obi Ezeh LB Sr. RS 6-2/240 Grand Rapids, MI (Catholic Central)
50 David Molk OL Jr. RS 6-2/270 Lemont, IL (Lemont Township)
56 Ricky Barnum OL So. RS 6-3/284 Lakeland, FL (Lake Gibson)
57 Elliott Mealer OL So. RS 6-5/310 Wauseon, OH (Wauseon)
64 Christian Pace OL Fr. 6-2/259 Avon Lake, OH (Avon Lake)
65 Patrick Omameh OL So. RS 6-4/293 Columbus, OH (St. Francis DeSales)
73 William Campbell DT So. 6-5/324 Detroit, MI (Cass Tech)
75 Michael Schofield OL Fr. RS 6-7/281 Orland Park, IL (Carl Sandburg)
76 Quinton Washington OL Fr. RS 6-4/307 St. Stephen, SC (Timberland)
77 Taylor Lewan OL Fr. RS 6-8/283 Scottsdale, AZ (Chaparral)
82 Ricardo Miller WR Fr. 6-4/212 Ann Arbor, MI (Pioneer)
83 Jerald Robinson WR Fr. 6-1/191 Canton, OH (South)
90 Anthony LaLota DE Fr. RS 6-4/263 Princeton, NJ (The Hun School)
- This isn’t a precise list, but a general point illustrated by our current offensive line depth. Last year, the depth was thin and Molk’s injury exposed a lethal liability. This year, the OLine is deep, deep, deep. Those extra new contributors mean the world in avoiding positional meltdowns.
- Now the long-haul has settled in. Michigan will then take three of the next four games with better talent than all but Iowa. At this point, we are 8-2 (wins against PSU, ILL and Purdue).
- Then: Wisconsin and Evil. Hidden in the Mathlete’s world is something about probablilities, and it becomes harder and harder for Evil to keeping winning. I see a split of these games, hopefully winning the last OSU-Michigan November regular season matchup.
Book it, Meeechigan Dano says. 9-3.
Let the mocking begin!
(Note: If the secondary is hit by injuries, I revise to 2-10.)
Received a big response from the pre-fall depth chart that I threw pretty arbitrarily in a diary about a month ago. There were quite a few requests to expand it, so I included those requests with the updated depth chart for the Purdue game this weekend. I will try to keep this as organized as possible: rivals star ratings in parenthesis, since it was requested, names are followed by media guide class and measurements. (All classes are “true” – whatever, Walk-on = W, Former Walk-on = FW ) The depth chart was a 2 deep so there is some imo beyond the first 2 names listed, but it is an educated imo. Here is the Offense, I will do Defense tomorrow.
QB: Dayne Crist, Jr 6-4 235(5), Tommy Rees, Fr 6-2 210 (3), Nate Montana, Jr 6-4 215 (FW), Andrew Hendrix, Fr or Luke Massa, Fr. Biggest change here is Rees breaking the 2 deep over Montana. I am not sure on how much separation there actually is between the 2 of them, it was a strong battle all camp per the media, but as Rees is the younger by a lot he may have been given the nod just based on his future potential. There will still be a big drop off in experience, yes experience, and ability at the 2nd position no matter who comes in. Nice to see Rees be competitive so quickly, he was an EE, but it doesn’t really fortify the position over what we knew going into the fall. Crist is 100% and practiced without a brace throughout the summer, I still expect to see him in one on game days.
WR: At the beginning of camp there was only 1 known WR (Floyd) with many expecting Kamara to get the second one followed by a bunch of hunches and gut feelings. As camp progressed Floyd locked down his spot as expected and as did recently moved, from RB, Theo Riddick. In the final 2 weeks of camp it was a 3-way battle for the final spot between Tailer Jones, Duval Kamara and Shaq Evans, a week later it was a battle between Jones and Kamara and that is how they finished. Evans just announced his transfer, likely to Oregon it seems, though it isn’t only depth related but I would expect it to be a factor. On to the depth chart:
(X, L – R, I think): Tailer Jones, Fr 5-11 187 (4), Duval Kamara, 5th 6-4 225 (4).
(Z): Theo Riddick, So 5-11 198 (4), Robby Toma, So 5-9 175 (3)
(Y): Michael Floyd, Jr 6-3 227 (5), John Goodman, Jr 6-3 207 (3)
You know Floyd already, Jones is my favorite recruit from the last class, once a Stanford commit Weis flipped him back to ND and he held strong through the coaching change. If you want to see a DB get abused search for his highlight videos from last year, worth the time. The X spot could very well be an “OR” situation depending on the match up the coaches are looking for. Expect to see Kamara on the field quite a bit; I would have said the same about Evans if he hadn’t transferred as well. Riddick as I mentioned was recently moved from RB, which he played last year as a true freshman. I don’t remember how much UM saw him last year, but lets just say he has some speed to burn. The last RB to transition to WR made out pretty well in the end, the staff sounds pretty confident in what Riddick is capable of. Beyond the 2 deep there isn’t much I can say, Chris Collinsworth’s son, Austin (Fr) had a chance to crack the 2 deep and may see some garbage time this year. Otherwise it is mostly freshman destined for red shirts at the position.
RB: Armando Allen, Sr 5-10 205 (4), Cierre Wood, So 6-0 178 (4), Robert Hughes, Sr 5-11 245 (4), Jonas Gray, Jr 5-10 240. The new name here is Cierre Wood, star of the spring game, he showed everything ND fans had hoped for this spring and fall by cracking the 2 deep. It was clear everyone was behind Allen going into the summer, but just how it would shake out was anyone’s guess. Hughes is still also listed as a part time full back and Jonas has just as much size if not more from summer workouts. I really see a division between the “Speed” and “Big” backs here and the Speed backs are the ones on the depth chart. Both Jonas and Hughes will see the field but just how is a bit unclear; Kelly is really high on this position group, they will be getting a lot of touches.
TE: Man I love tight ends, enough man-crushing. Kyle Rudolph, Jr 6-6 265 (5), Tyler Eifert, So 6-6 242 (3), Bobby Burger, 5th 6-2 248 (FW), Mike Ragone, Sr 6-4 245 (4) The whole country has met Rudolph, not a lot more to say. The big riser here was Eifert who now weighs in at +25 his freshman year, he has filled out to say the least. You can expect to see his name for a few more years as he still has 4 years of eligibility left, as of now. Ragone was the faller, after his off the field troubles in the off season, and past off seasons it may be part disciplinary part never getting over his knee injuries. Burger is a utility player, he can line up at TE or FB and HB. He transferred to ND and then walked on his junior year, nice little story. The staff is very confident in Eifert, Kelly named him as someone he needs to find a place for on the field. You can expect to see 2 TE sets often.
LT: Zach Martin, So 6-4 290 (4), Matt Romine, Sr 6-5 295 (3). Martin is the first or three new starters on oline. He was originally slated for guard with the previous staff but was moved by the oline coach when he saw how quick Martins feet were. Seems to have worked out so far as he locked up his starting spot 2 weeks into camp. Martin was expected to take the spot over semi-incumbent Romine after spring ball.
LG: Chris Stewart, 5th 6-5 351 (4), Chris Watt, So 6-3 310 (5). Stewart is the first ND football player to not only play but also play while he is going to law school. (You can expect to hear that once or twice more this year on NBC) Stewart is huge, huge and strong, huger (yeah I know) than his listed 351; I expect he and Robinson (RG) to be the jumping-off-points for the running game. Watt was a late addition to the 2-deep, he is also the #3 center, I expect he will see the field more than a couple times as the season goes on.
C: Braxton Cave, Jr 6-3 301 (4), Chris Wenger, Sr 6-4 298 (4). I expected Wenger to hold the position down, but after he missed a few practices with a concussion it opened the door for Cave and he locked it up. I am sure both will play and both will start, I don’t know if this position battle will end anytime soon, which is a good thing. ND officially returns 2 starters now on oline.
RG: Trevor Robinson, Jr 6-5 295 (4), Mike Golic, Jr 6-3 283. Not a lot has been said about this position in the last 3-4 weeks. Robinson was expected to have this spot locked down after the staff tried him out at tackle a bit in the spring, and he did. Same with Golic, I don’t remember hearing either Golic mentioned much this fall at all.
RT: Taylor Dever, Sr 6-5 297 (3), Andrew Nuss, Sr 6-5 297 (3). This was also a position battle going into fall practice and was just a quickly locked down by Dever as Martin at LT. Freshman Christian Lombard, 6-5 290 (4) was talked up quite a bit late as a RT candidate, but hasn’t cracked the 2-deep as of yet. I expect to see him quite a bit as the year goes on though.
Expectations: I already hit on the running game a bit, but for emphasis Kelly has repeatedly talked about how strong a group he thinks they are, they have been one of his surprises from the fall. Armando Allen hasn’t shown to be much of an every down back and has gotten pretty banged up as each season wore on, Cierre Wood is the perfect fix for that. He has great vision and awareness on the field and brings good speed and athleticism to get up field quickly. Both big backs may only see situational touches but the way Kelly talks about the unit I really doubt it, not really sure what to expect here to be honest. The passing game is pretty straight forward, Crist needs to protect the ball and get it to his play makers which he has many beyond Floyd and Rudolph, the offense will hinge on his play more than anyone else. With the addition of 2 TE sets the possibilities are enormous, Eifert at 6-6, Floyd at 6-3, Rudolph at 6-6 and Kamara at 6-4, which one will the defense double team? Each one can get it in the end zone. The potential is there for some big numbers on offense but it all comes down to Crist.
Defense tomorrow, probably
There have been numerous excellent diaries on the subject of recruiting prior to Rodriguez. I am not trying to replicate that work. However, I read a couple comments to the effect that, to paraphrase, "this is Rodriguez's team now, its year three and the Carr years should have little or no part in the discussion about how the team performs this year".
I agree that Rodriguez has to do the most with what he has. Also, I will stipulate that there have been some seriously questionable recruiting moves, like pursuing Demar Dorsey, that look terrible in hind sight.
That being said, I fear the reason we will go 7-5 this year is because of the defense. I was predicting 9-3 in the spring but I had Emelien, Woolfolk, Turner and Dorsey as our starting defensive backfield. Hell, last fall I expected us to be 10-2 or 11-1 in 2010 because I thought our starting backfied would be Turner, Woolfolk, Warren and Cissoko.
But I digress. The stat I wanted to highlight is starting 4th and 5th year players. The majority of excellent teams in the country are heavily weighted toward older starters. On defense, Michigan has four-Ezeh or Moundros, Mouton, VanBergen and Banks. (I expect Rogers to get beat out.). You can't blame the loss of Woolfolk or Warren on either Carr or Rodriguez, but I do blame Carr a little for not having any other 4th and 5th year guys to replace them.
Want to know what our competition looks like? On defense, 4th and 5th year players
We are still at a competative disadvantage on defense due to a lot of things that are out of Rodriguez's control. As Brian has argued in the past, a coach should probably get 4 years at least to get his program together so you can see what his seniors can do. Also, don't forget that Rodriguez's 3rd year players are mostly Carr's. So far only Martin has proven to be an impact player from that class on defense.