to play football, not to play trumpet
I noticed a trend in Michigan's performance that reversed itself completely, and I don't know what to make of it. Observe - the following are summaries of scoring by half for Michigan's first four games against competitive opponents (Eastern, Western, and loloware state are excluded):
Vs. Notre Dame
First Half: M 17, ND 20 (-3)
Second Half: M 21, ND 14 (+7)
Michigan rallies in the second half for the win.
First Half: M 21, IU 23 (-2)
Second Half: M 15, IU 10 (+5)
Michigan rallies in the second half for the win.
Vs. Michigan State
First Half: M 6, MSU 10 (-4)
Second Half: M 14, MSU 10 (+4)
Overtime: M 0, MSU 7 (-7)
[Second Half + Overtime]: M 14, MSU 17 (-3)
Michigan rallies to tie at end of regulation, but loses in overtime.
First Half: M 14, Iowa 20 (-6)
Second Half: M 14, Iowa 10 (+4)
Michigan rallies in the second half but comes up just short.
Notice that, in each game, Michigan does better in the second half than it did in the first, even when taking into account overtime versus MSU. Michigan does not always win, but they stay strong and improve in the second half. And then, after DSU, this happens:
Vs. Penn State
First Half: M 10, PSU 19 (-9)
Second Half: M 0, PSU 16 (-16)
Michigan hangs in there for the first half, but then things get ugly.
First Half: M 13, Ill 7 (+6)
Second Half: M 0, Ill 31 (-31)
Michigan leads at the half, but then things get ugly.
First Half: M 24, PU 10 (+14)
Second Half: M 12, PU 28 (-16)
Michigan leads by two scores at the half, but then things get ugly.
FIrst Half: M 17, W 21 (-4)
Second Half: M 7, W 24 (-17)
Michigan hangs in there for the first half, but then (say it with me now!) things... get... ugly!
What is going on here?
I don't know. There are a lot of reasons why one team might do better or worse in the second half of a football game. One team might be better conditioned and the other might tire. One team's coaches might make better adjustments to the other team's game plan. One team might start out hyped up on adrenaline while the other team comes out flat. The truly puzzling thing, though, is how Michigan has gone from second half rally team to a second half fall apart team, with a clean, complete, utter reversal of tendencies somewhere around mid-season. Is it a psychological phenomenon? Have Michigan's offensive game plan and defensive vulnerabilities been figured out to the point that any coach can, after a half game of observation, pick them apart? Your theories are welcome.
Here we are a deep in the home stretch and it's perhaps the most dramatic weekend of the Big 10 season. Three teams (Purdue, Indiana and Illinois) face bowl elimination games today. Three others (Michigan State, Michigan and Minnestoa) can clinch bowl eligibility, but a lose puts them in a make or break game in next week's finale. A seventh (Northwestern) wants more win because even though they already has the six required for a bowl they dont want to be part a 6-6 logjam and they'v been snubbed with that 6-6 record in the past. Oh, and, by the way, the Big 10 Championship will be decided when Iowa and Ohio State swap paint in Columbus. Rose are on the line and thats always a special day in the Big 10.
Anyway I like the matchups tomorrow. A natural rivalry with Northwestern/Illinois as both teams enter on the uptick. MSU/Purdue with bowl implications galore for both programs. Iowa's defensive line trying to take Pryor's head off. The ongoing drama that has been Michigan's season takes on Wisconsin in one of Big 10's most underrated sereis from a classic value. Here are the picks.
Indiana at Penn State, noon, BTN. Lines, PSU -25, O/U 55.5
The greatest moment in Indiana-Penn State history took place on November 5, 1994, during the Nittany Lions first visit to Bloomington as a member of the Big 10. The Lions were smoking hot back then, in fact they were the top-ranked team in the nation at the time. Kerry Collins, Kijana Carter, Bobby Engram, Kyle Brady, Joe Jurivicious, Brandon Noble, Kim Herring. And on and on and on. This team was stacked. They beat Michigan 31-24 in Ann Arbor and dropped 63 points on Ohio State. They should show that game more often on the classic networks.
And, they pretty much rolled the Hoosiers that afternoon. They were up 21 points with the clock winding down. Then, magic happened. IU hit a long bomb for a score. Recovered on on sides kick. Scored on another long bomb. All in the span of the game's final 30 seconds, with the last TD coming as time expired. They did, however, convert a two-point attempt after that score to make the final score 35-29, with 15 points coming in the final half minute, mostly through desperation heaves into the air.
The scores didnt impact bettors as the underdog Hoosiers had already covered the number before any of those scores. But, the game had a major impact on the polls. When the votes were counted the following day, the Nittany Lions had been knocked out of the top spot. Voters now favored Nebraska in both polls and Penn State never saw the top ranking again. In a clear case of voters doing nothing more than checking the final score, Penn State was punished by a freaky series of events that turned a dominant effort into something that looked close. I was at this game. It was not close. Not in the least bit. This was gift wrapped for Nebraska. Eff You Nebraska! Every corner of you, even you Omaha. Ghey Counting Crows song.
So, one of the best teams in Big 10 history ended up slighted in the final polls. And, for Indiana, its the most relevant thing the football program has done on the national scale in the last 20 years. For that, it stands as the top moment in this series' history. Well, until the Hoosiers pull off the win next year in their home away from home in Maryland, where they do crab cakes and IU football like nobody's business.
The Pick: IU +25......Look, I'm a realist. IU is not winning this game. But, the Hoosiers have been green with profit all season, logging a 7-2 ATS mark. They've largely outplayed their opponenets this season. And, while I dont think they stand a chance in heck hanging point for point with the Lions, they enter this game confident and expecting to do well. PSU might sleep walk a bit in the early going hungover still from last week's OSU game. I think the Hoosiers get at least three scores in this one and PSU has not shown an offense that runs up the score on anyone, so that will be more than enough to keep IU within this number. I think IU's active front might cause a turnover or two out of Clark who has never looked good against teams with active, athletic ends and OLBs, which the Hoosiers have. It wont be enough to win, but enough to keep this one competitive into the second half.
Northwestern at Illinois, noon, ESPN Classic. Lines, Illini -5, O/U 48
Illinois has seemingly turned their season around, but they still need to win out in order to get to a bowl game. The public must be convinced that Illinois is back enough to be counted on the win games. They're favored in this game. Northwestern, meanwhile, is coming off a physical win against Iowa. Two weeks ago, who would you guess to be favored in this game? What if we spilled the beans and granted a NW win over Iowa? Could you still forsee the Illini as chalk, even at home? I would not have.
That's not to say Northwestern is playing all that good. But, I like Mike Kafka's game. Illinois is still giving up a lot of passing yards and Kafka, despite playing a bit hurt, will still torch the Illini secondary and make plays with his arm. It does not look like Juice will play this game after being knocked out last late week. I think NW's steady defense will contain the RS Frosh Charest in his first start.
The Pick: Northwestern +5.......I am not ready to trust Illinois as a favorite. No way. And, I've always liked Northwestern as an underdog when they're playing fellow December bowl hopefuls. Neither team is perfect, but one is coached by Ron Zook, the other by Pat Fitzgerald. I like the Cats.
Michigan State at Purdue, noon, ESPN. Lines, MSU-3, O/U 53
Personally, I think Michigan State has had a disappointing season. This was supposed to be a 9-win team and a Big 10 sleeper, at least according to their fanbase and a lot of pundits, trying to sound smart by going off track when forecasting the league back in the summer. They just have not been able to close out games, furthering a Spartan tradition about as old as the program itself. I dont think they're guaranteed another win this season as this one will be a dog fight and they host Penn State next week.
Two weeks ago they were road favorites at Minnesota and gave up 42 points in a game that was out of control for them from the start. I once thought MSU could be primed for a late season run, but that game reminded me that MSU cant stop the big play on D and are vulnerable to good, balanced offenses. Right now, that's Purdue. I wont be shocked if the same thing happens in this one with Purdue seizing early momentum on offense. Sparty has not packed its defense for road trips this season, giving up over 30 points a game in their travelers. Purdue's offense has more than enough to continue those numbers.
I'm not sure where MSU is right now. They're neither playing their worst, nor their best ball of the season. They're kind of just average. Purdue, meanwhile, with one glaring exception, is playing their best ball of the year over the last month. At home, desperate for a win to stay alive for a bowl, I think they continue that upward trend. Bolden will outrush the Spartans and Elliot will outduel another first year QB for the second week in a row.
The Pick: Purdue +3........the home team is 9-2 ATS, Purdue is 5-2 ATS as an underdog, Sparty is 2-5 ATS against the Big 10 and 1-4 ATS in their last five trips to Ross-Ade Stadium. It's like a Harem of Trends. What could go wrong?
Iowa at Ohio State, 3:30, ABC. Lines, OSU -17, O/U 37.5
A lot of air leaked out of this game with the Ricky Stanzi injury. After watching the redshirt frosh Vandenburg struggle mightily and look lost trying to steer his team at home against Northwestern, how in the world is he going to get anything done on the road against the mighty Buckeyes? Its not hard to imagine the OSU D swarming this kid and turning this game into a rout on that side of the ball.
But I dont count the Hawkeyes totally out of this game. Nobody on their defense got hurt last week. They're still a nasty bunch. There DLine will dominate OSU's Oline. They make other teams QBs look bad and we finally get to see this defensive unit go up against Terrelle Pryor. While Pryor has played well of late, I stand by what I said weeks ago on the MGoPodcast that when these clubs play take the Under on all Pryor prop bets you could find. So, it was a little disappointing to find out this week that I could only find four prop bets geared on Pryor's performance. For laughs, lets take a look at them.
Completions, O/U 11.5
What will he throw first: Interception +170, TD -220
Rushing attempts, O/U 12.5
Will he rush for a TD: Yes -220, No +170
I could talk myself into the Under in completions. And, I didnt really take rushing stats into account on those words many weeks ago. He seems a lock to go over 12.5 rushes. I have never really done player props in the college. I dont see myself really starting here, but, who knows, in the wake of Michigan game I may do something rash.
The Pick: Iowa +17.......I like the Iowa D a lot, I like the Kirk Ferentz Game Management Plan, I love Tressel Ball to betray the heavy chalk, I think the Iowa DL mauls the OSU OL, I think the Iowa OL holds their own against the OSU front, and I think Iowa's receiving threats can get open enough where the new QB can lead a few scoring drives. I dont think OSU has the ability to score enough points to cover this suddenly huge number. For most of the season, this line as been OSU -9, but we saw the line skyrocket this week almost overnight in the wake of Iowa's loss and Stanzi's injury. I have a feeling the final ends up falling into between those numbers.
Michigan at Wisconsin, noon, BTN. Lines, Wisco -85, O/U 55
This game has also seen a big jump in the line from midseason to now. Pretty much the whole way from summer into early November, the line in this game hovered between -3 to -4 Wisco. We all know now that line actually opened this week at -10 before settling into the 9/8.5 numbers we're seeing everywhere now.
In this game, you have two of best young offenses in the league. So I dont see why you shouldnt expect the continuation of the total trend that has seen Michigan games in the Rodriguez tenure go Over the mark at a two out of every game clip. I know the Badgers have some good defensive numbers, but they've had a hard time matching up on their schedule at times with teams with a wide range of weapons in the passing game. Michigan may not be a fully functional Rodruguez offense yet, but it has those weapons. And, a good enough run game to keep the whole defense honest. If the tackles can hold up enough of the time, I dont see why Michigan cant put forth a good scoring effort.
Obviously, they're going to need it to hang around in this one. But this has traditionally been one of the closest series that Michigan has played. I dont see why these teams wont play another one. These teams arent as far apart as people are making it out to be.
The Pick: Michigan +8.5.......here's another reason. In all games between the 4-11 teams in the league ( a natural cutoff because of the amazing drop off from really good top 3 teams to the equally dazzling mediocre other eight), the underdog is 12-5 ATS. Considering I am just 9-8 ATS in those games, this is something I should have been doing all along. We have three of those dogs with Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue. I like my chances to get two out of three.
The first matchup, where the rubber meets the road. This is clearly a huge battle of strength vs strength. If Michigan is going to win on Saturday, they have to find success in the running game. With some unique elements to Michigan's running game, there is at least the potential that they could provide a real challenge to the stout Wisconsin rush defense.
Michigan O: +3 (20)
Ignoring what appears to be a major outlier in the Illinois game, Michigan's rush offense has had their three best Big 10 performances over the last three weeks. In fact, if we selectively choose those three games, Michigan's run offense averages out to a spectacular +7.2, which if maintained over the course of the season, would be good for third nationally behind Georgia Tech and Nevada. Now that is obviously being very selective, but at the same time, there is nothing in the other 8 games that indicates Illinois was anything but an outlier and Iowa, PSU and Purdue have all been very solid games.
Wisconsin D: +3 (15)
This is a Wisconsin defense that essentially has not had a bad day of rushing defense all year. With that said, you can see that their overall value is highly inflated because MAC and WAC teams can't stop Northern Illinois and Fresno State on the ground and Wisconsin could. In the Big 10, Wisconsin is a good but not great +1.1, good for about 5th in the Big 10. Don't get me wrong, this is a very good run defense, but some of the numbers can be a bit misleading.
There is a huge challenge and what I believe to be a real opportunity for Michigan on the ground. If Wisconsin wins here, game over, if Michigan wins here, game on.
Pass OffenseNeither team has stood out here as either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.
Michigan O: +1 (49)
Michigan's pass offense appears to be headed in the right direction. Against Illinois and Purdue Michigan posted its best passing performances since September. +3 and +5 are good but not great numbers, but Michigan's offense will need to find points and opportunity wherever it can and a third straight game in the +'s could come in very handy.
Wisconsin D: +0 (56)
It has been a very mixed bag in pass defense for the Badgers this year. A great game against Purdue and host of other solid performances have been tempered with last week's dreadful showing against Indiana and poor games against both Iowa and Minnesota. The Fresno and State games both netted out in the middle, but even those games featured quite a few yards, TD's and interceptions.
There will be no easy wins on the offensive side of the ball for Michigan this week, but Wisconsin has demonstrated that their defense can produce a wide range of outcomes, opening the door for Michigan to look good until...
Rush Defense...uh oh.
Michigan D: -2 (103)
This one doesn't look so hot. Still sitting in the triple digit national rankings after the debacle at Illinois, this is not the opponent to have an off day against. Because...
Wisconsin O: +3 (13)
Playing the selective game here, as well, if you remove the Iowa game Wisconsin is averaging about +6.5 in the those four games which is right where Michigan has been removing its bad game. The only difference is that Michigan has to face the very good Wisconsin rush defense and Wisconsin gets to face something less than that.
Best case scenario here is probably a Penn State like performance where Wisconsin gets 150-200 yards but it takes 40+ carries to get there.
Pass DefenseThis match-up is nearly identical to the Michigan pass offense in that both teams are decidedly average.
Michigan D: +1 (41)
This has been the one metric that has never felt quite right this year. The feeling is that surely this unit is much worse than 41st nationally. I have looked into this a lot and come up with a couple of ideas. There are a couple of things coming into play here. #1, started the year with a very strong September, putting up a big number against Western, holding our own against ND's 6th ranked passing game and then going 0 TD's 4 INT's over the next 3 games. #2, Warren's pick 6 against Iowa dramatically changed that game score. #3 and I think this is the biggest. The game of football is changing and tilting towards the pass. Performances in the past that would have seemed poor, are now closer to average as the passing games have evolved and a play calling balance shifts more towards the pass.
Wisconsin O: +0 (54)
Since the blowup against Michigan State in the Big 10 opener, Wisconsin has been on a bit of a rough stretch through the air. They have had a 2/7 TD/INT ratio and averaged nearly -3 over the last five games.
I don't consider anything a sure thing the way Michigan's pass defense has looked lately, but this is a Wisconsin team that doesn't show any major indications of being able to greatly exploit it either.
PaceThis will be another battle of contrasts as Michigan takes its 12.1 possessions a game against a Wisconsin team that has kept its games under the 11 mark.
TurnoversWith the exception of throwing picks, Wisconsin has been about as average as they get in the turnover department. Overall the point impact (not turnover margin) of turnovers for Wisconsin has been -4, 69th nationally. They have a higher volume of both picks thrown and caught and are right in the middle on both fumble categories.
Special TeamsMichigan should have a decided advantage over the mediocre special teams of Wisconsin. If Olesnavage can regain his form and put last week out of his mind, Michigan should have the advantage of two solid kickers. With the exception of Michigan's kickoff return, don't expect a lot to happen on the other units as both punt teams outshine the oppositions return units and Wisconsin hasn't been great on kickoff return themselves. Stonum should have the opportunity to keep plugging away, however, as Wisconsin has one of the poorer kick coverage units in the conference.
PredictionsWisconsin 35 Michigan 27
Wisconsin's rushing game and a bit of home field advantage provide the difference. There appear to be opportunities for Michigan to close the gap, but the gap between these teams right now is very real. Has the potential to be a very interesting game.
Penn State 35 Indiana 13
Illinois 24 NW 21
Ohio St 17 Iowa 7
Purdue 28 Michigan St 31
AUGUSTA, Ga. –The Augusta Sports Council announced today that University of Michigan fifth-year senior punter Zoltan Mesko (Twinsburg, Ohio/Twinsburg HS) is one of 10 semifinalists for the 2009 Ray Guy Award, presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate punter. This is the second straight season that Mesko has been selected as a semifinalist for the award.
Mesko and Iowa’s Ryan Donahue are the only representatives from the Big Ten Conference. Following are the other semifinalists: Drew Butler (Georgia), Peter Caldwell (Utah State), Desi Cullen (Connecticut), Johnny Hekker (Oregon State), Chas Henry (Florida), Jeff Locke (UCLA), Rob Long (Syracuse) and Matt Reagan (Memphis). Mesko, Donahue and Henry are the only returning semifinalists from last season.
Mesko leads the Big Ten and is sixth nationally in punting with a U-M season record 45-yard average. He has helped the Wolverines lead the conference and list second nationally in net punting (42.4 avg.). Mesko has been extremely proficient in all phases, with 15 punts over 50 yards, 15 fair caught and 13 downed inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. He has punted 43 times for 1,934 yards, including a 66-yard season long punt against Western Michigan.
Mesko has already been named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team and is a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award and the Danny Wuerffel Trophy. He was a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, presented by the National Football Foundation, and is a candidate for Academic All-America honors after being selected CoSIDA Academic All-District IV first team last week.
A national voting panel will trim the list to three finalists, who will be named on Nov. 23. The 10th annual award will be presented live on ESPN during the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show on Thursday, Dec. 10. The winner will be honored at a banquet by the Augusta Sports Council and The Augusta Chronicle in late January 2010.
In last week's games, Maryland lost to NC State 38-31. But not so fast my friend. Maryland scored one TD on an INT and another on a kick return, and added a field goal late. Still, a decent showing by the Terps, for the Terps.
Utah State and Hawaii had an arena football-like game. Hawaii won 49-36 and put up almost 700 yards of offense. So neither game was particularly awful. In the User Contribution Bowl, CSU lost to UNLV 35-17. CSU had 424 yards to go with those 17 points, so they win the "Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing" award of the week.
This week is a veritable Super Bowl of bad games. So, rather than just drawing names out of a hat, there will be actual analysis (before drawing names out of a hat). As Brian pointed out, we're treated to Syracuse v Louisville in the "Hey Look, Basketball Has Started" bowl. Both teams are 3-6, neither team has a win in conference. Syracuse has played 3 Big 10 teams, including beating Northwestern. Louisville's wins consist of Southern Miss, Indiana State, and Arkansas State. Louisville's offense/defense is ranked 74/62, but much of that must come from weak competition. Syracuse is ranked #93, and Louisville is #88, for a total of #181. The game is at Louisville, FWIW.
The winner for lowest total ranking of the week is VMI v Army. VMI is #224, Army is #143, total of #367. Army has crazy offense/defense rankings at 116/12. I don't know what to make of that. Land mines in the end zone? VMI is in a whole other galaxy. Losses to Costal Carolina, Stony Brook, and Liberty? Don't forget that Sagarin only ranks down to #245.
In major conference action, UCLA plays Washington State. Washington State's offense is ranked one slot ahead of EMU, and defense is one behind Florida International. UCLA has beaten K-State and Tennessee, while WSt. has been creamed by everyone but Southern Methodist. But, UCLA's offense is only ranked #98, so who knows. UCLA has been rotating QBs, which is never a good sign.
Speaking of Eastern, they play for the "Michigan Directional School" award against Western. Both teams have defenses ranked in the +100s, so look for lots of points. Eastern is winless, and don't look for that to change. (For those of you keeping score, Central has beaten Western and Eastern). Total ranking of this game is #291, mostly from Eastern's #179 ranking, but Western's #112 helps.
Like I said, it's a trainwreck of a week, and I can't even get to Kentucky v Vanderbilt or Tulane v Rice or San Jose St. v Utah St, et cetera et cetera.