"The face of the operation is Briatore (referred to exclusively in the film by his colleagues and angry, chanting detractors as "Flavio"), an anthropomorphic radish who spends most of his time at QPR plotting to fire all of the managers."
This is to be the second in a string of diaries looking for reasons to think positively about the upcoming season. For my first edition, I covered DBs.
For those of you that did not read my first entry, I'm writing these because it is depressing to think that we're going to go 3-9 or 4-8 again. This is not meant to be a 100% honest look at everything, I intentionally have my Maize and Blue glasses on; I'm looking for the positives here. Still, if you think we're going 9-3 or 10-2 I hope you're right, but that seems lofty. The aim and tone of this is set to show we can go 7-5, or maybe 8-4 if we get some bounces. Additionally, I don't have the time or patience to do extensive research, there is a lot of opinion in here, with some stats and background research, but not a lot.
For my second submission, I'll look at LBs and try to convince everyone that overall we are better off at this position than last year. I can't stress enough that "better off" is relative...
Okay, so as an intro, I feel like I was a lot more frustrated with our middle linebacker play than most, particularly in coverage. The curl zones and flats (7-15 yards, from sideline to sideline, roughly) are usually the linebackers' responsibility . It seemed like anytime an opposing team had a 3rd and 5 or 3rd and 10, these are the zones they would attack. By and large they were successful. They kept the chains moving, scored points and caused us to be the 2nd worst defense in the big 10 statistically. So, definitely plenty of room for improvement.
Obi Ezeh: Definitely our most seasoned guy. His play was hot and cold last year, showing flashes of promise, raw athleticism mixed with misreads and blown coverages. I don't really remember his recruitment, but if rivals is to be believed, he was actually recruited as a 3* running back (you'll have to select 2006 fromt he pulldown menue). So I know what you're thinking: Why do we have a 3* running back playing linebacker? Well, I don't know. What I do know is that this isn't a 'simple' transition like the transition from corner to safety is thought to be. This takes time. He was a redshirt sophmore last year. With another year of experience and learning, given the position change, significant improvements can (and probably will) still be made. I think we see a noticeable uptick in his play this year. He was our team leader in tackles last year, by far (98 vs. 76). With the extra experience, he will cut down on his blown coverages and hold down the middle.
JB Fitzgerald: True freshmen last year who saw the majority of his action on special teams. At 6'3" 230 and running a 4.7 coming into college, he's built in the mold of the old school middle linebacker. These are almost exactly the same physical attributes John Thompson had coming in. Thompson, however, was a 3*, whereas Fitzgerald was a 4*. With identical physical stats, to garner the extra star Fitzgerald must have more intuition and/or physicality. I'm hoping Barwis can chop 0.1 or 0.15 seconds off that 40 time, because to realistically be decent in coverage, he'll need that speed. However Thompson (who will always hold a special place in my heart due to the Wisconsin pick six) definitely lacked instincts. He bit on fakes and was in the wrong place at the wrong time more than he should have been. He was also slow in coverage, but I have no real reason to believe Fitzgerald will be any faster. I do, however, believe he will have better instincts and can fill Thompson's role just fine.
Others: Kenny Demens was a 4* linebacker that I believe redshirted. He was average size coming in at 6'1" 225 and decent speed running a 4.6. Haven't seen him play yet, so it's possible he ends up at OLB. If not, he may well be the most athletic of the inside linebackers. I can see him getting some duty in passing situations, and maybe push for more playing time toward the end of the season.
Mouton: This is a guy who throughout last season we said has potential. He does. He was second on the team in tackles. He was a DB coming into school, and a 4* at that. he was a redshirt sophmore this past season. Before this past season he had only seen action on special teams. The position change along with limited action explains the occasional bonehead play. I really think he's going to surprise a lot of people and is going to surpass Ezeh as our best linebacker this year. And that's not a knock against Ezeh, because as stated above I think he's going to be good.
Evans: In a word... bad. Evans just is not that skilled. He started one game, saw decent action, and still was only in on 4 tackles. He'll probably start the season with the starting job. Nothing against him (he was only a 2*, afterall), but I hope somebody starts outperforming him midway through this year. But, he is around if we need him. And, he should be improved.
Others: As stated above it is possible Kenny Demens ends up outside. He was already kind-of broken down above. Also, we have Heron. He seems destined for special teams play, but who knows. Maybe he'll get a chance if Demens or Evans doesn't pan out. There is also a couple of freshmen, but they are 3* types and probably need some time to develop. One of them (Brandon Hawthorne) is enrolled early, so maybe he'll be better than anticipated. Finally, there's always the possibility of a young, large safety-type making the move to OLB (Vlad Emilian?). Who knows? This second OLB spot is going to be interesting.
In the middle, Ezeh will be improved. Not just improved, he will be good. JB Fitzgerald is ready to play run-stuffer, but will probably have to work on his coverage.
On the outside, Mouton is making his move. He won't be an all American, but he cracks all big-ten (2nd team), and I bet he'll be in the running for most improved player on the team. The second spot on the outside is a little bit shady, but worst case scenario, we have an improved Evans.
Finally, we have Kenny Demens who could be a coverage ILB or if we're lucky, an every down OLB opposite Mouton. Anybody have any info on where the coaches are putting him?
At any rate... I see LBs as a whole being the most improved group on the defense. This is more of a function of them having so much room to improve than amazing play. Overly optimistic prediction? Yes: they will be better than average this year, even for Michigan defenses if they can figure out that last OLB spot. Not all-time great linebacking corps, but better than average.
I started liking the allusion of Steven Threet as John McClane - a competent, skilled professional thrust into a role he never could have expected with a completely different set of rules and a constant, grumpy boss of sorts on the sidelines criticizing up and down his actions. And sometimes UM fans would see him hit or throwing or hit or intercepted and it's easy to think back to watching McClane walking over broken glass... you knew it sucked but it had to happen to beat the bad guys. And I'm sure even Threet must have thought "Yippee-Ki-Yay Motherfuckers" when he lead UM over Wisconsin, especially when he awkwardly galloped 40 yards or so before hilariously covering the ball with chin, arms, elbows, knees, EVERYTHING TO AVOID FUMBLING to the amusement (and relief) of us all. But McClane wins at the end. He throws a guy off a building, gets the girl and then finds himself in some horrible, semi-similar airport situation blablabla. Imagine if John McClane had just found an open fire door, helped some heavily armed SWAT cop just out of the academy in and then walked off for a Slurpee. This metaphor sucks (Who's Carl Winslow in that season?) but you get the idea:
It was painful, he didn't expect to be there, he was there, he shot some bad guys, he got banged up pretty bad, but he didn't save the day.
And we have to be okay with that.
One thing of note to add as an addendum to Brian's post is that by his own admission Threet was isolating himself completely from anything sports media related while taking counsel from one of the most derided, albeit successful, QBs in recent UM history - John Navarre. Sometimes quarterbacks seek to play big football and are horrified to see that with it comes a duty of sorts to the public to not only succeed but to put up with criticisms. Something like the sins of the father, high profile football, particularly at a school like UM that rides their QBs harder than (insert inappropriate joke) can frustrate and dampen a young quarterback's positivity. With the fact that every major newspaper reporting on Forcier included a tidbit about how grateful he was to have the "help" and "teaching" of Sheridan and Threet, almost in a way that could be read as condescending, I would not be shocked if an heir apparent emerged in Ann Arbor the day winter semester began and, with the writing on the wall and a high profile position barely in grasp, though assuredly nowhere near in hand come 2010, Threet left.
For now I have one simple request: Tate Forcier watches all 3 Die Hards, sees how they end and, maybe, takes out a grim faced revolutionary with a stellar performance. If he wants to QB sneak in the OSU game by strapping the football to his back with wrapping tape - I'm all for it. Just finish the damn movie.* Because right now we're all watching a team limp over broken glass and it really...really sucks.
*And that he brings along Samuel L Jackson. And leaves behind the Apple computer kid.
There have been a couple board posts about the game-day experience at Michigan Stadium in the last few days, ranging from the boring nature of Michigan fans to unflattering comparisons to Michigan's louder, more raucous and fun football schools. FWIW, such has struck a chord with me, and I've decided to post my first diary (diatribe?) on MGoBlog about it. Why? It's a valid question; I probably could have found a more productive way to spend the last 20 or so minutes. At the heart of the matter I felt so compelled to point out, in my opinion, is that where some may see 'boring', they should instead see Michigan culture and something of which to be proud.
For starters, the Michigan Stadium experience has to be considered on its own terms. It’s dishonest to compare Michigan's traditions to those of others schools hoping to come out with a break-even rubric. If it was all about noise, 'white-outs', and 'jump-around', then the hierarchy of college football fandom (and 'intimidation') in the Big Ten securely has its leaders.
However, when you think about it, you'll notice that's not remotely the case. Noise is nice, loud is good, and I'm all about drunken high-fives and back-slapping when it's appropriate. But that's not what Michigan Stadium is about.
Michigan has "the Victors". Only a handful of schools have such a storied and inspired/inspiring fight song, and even less with a band talented enough to do it justice. Michigan has the "Let's Go Blue" bell, Temptation and the Hawaiian War Chant. There won't be any jock-jams, amplified synthetic noise, or corporate pageantry at Michigan Stadium. The focus will be on the field, on the Band, and on Tradition. (Having said this, I'm not against amplifying a "Let's Go Blue" bell, Michigan fanfare, or the sound of keys jangling over the PA if it will get the whole stadium clapping and cheering together. PA prompts to cheer are OK with me so long as they don't overwhelm focus off the field).
On the scoreboard, Michigan Stadium proudly lists the years for all 42 conference titles, 11 claimed national titles. Michigan has had 150 All-Americans, 3 Heisman winners, and over 870 overall wins (leading the NCAA). These are the stats that each of the 107,501 Michigan faithful exude en masse every game-day; some express the Michigan tradition with facepaint, maize shirts, blue shirts, no shirts... and for many, in no Michigan apparel at all. And I think we should be OK with that. Because to me, having a grandpa at the game who sits quietly and watches his 100th, 150th or 200th win at U-M with little to no fanfare of his own making doesn't take away from my game experience but has a hand in making it.
When the new additions are completed, Michigan Stadium will draw over 108,000 people (young, old, alums, students), and we can rest assured it will be a classy crowd: folks who've come to watch a game played the Michigan way, and chances are they'll see the other team lose.
Conversely, every time an opposing team comes to the Big House, chances are slim they're coming away with a win. Michigan's all-time wins: 872–294–36 (.740); the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Such is a level of intimidation that a bunch of idiots in white t-shirts, or dancing around to music that wasn't even cool in 1992, can only dream to achieve. What more do you really want?
As I’m trying to emphasize, the crowd and "intimidation" of Michigan Stadium can't be considered along the same terms as most any other school. It's my sense that many MGoBloggers would like the U-M experience to match game-day at Bobby-Dodd, the Swamp or Tiger Stadium. My response to this is that stadium (and collegiate) experiences in southern and certain western states where you can wear t-shirts and shorts year-round, attend night-games, and project sports-bar culture into football Saturdays are on a different plane than their mid-western counterparts. You could almost do a case-study on the geographical/sociological factors contributing to 'fandom' with these comparisons. Because I find that kind of thing interesting, I'll continue.
First: If the Michigan crowd could wear t-shirts to every game and didn't have to bundle up in fleeces and coats as the temperature drops, then you would see 108,000 people wearing the same shirt to every game-day. Same would likely create a mob-mentality, and people would be more apt to yell and cheer with singular voice and purpose. As it is at Michigan, when folks have to start donning heavier clothes, each fan is individualized in his/her own clothes and winter-gear. Individualization detracts from extroversion, and people become less apt to cheer with 'one voice'. (There are interesting psych studies on the issue of fans and mob-mentality I would link to, but you can just Google it and find some for yourself).
Second: Michigan Stadium has to some degree been forced to stick to the Saturday afternoon schedule in lieu of greater 'fandamonium' at night-games because of restricted game-day commuter options. You and I may likely agree, a party-atmosphere is at the heart of the game-day experience at all of the schools we sometimes fantasize Michigan could level up to. Unfortunately, Michigan, as home of GM and the Big Three, emphasized family cars over trains and busses. Without a viable option to commute after rounds of collegiate revelry, people have to be considerate of their commutes home. No/less spirits prior or during the game = less "spirit" in the Stadium.
As for the night-games, I've read scholarly opinions that people become more extroverted in the dark and under the light than during the day-time. I believe there's truth to this. However, Michigan Stadium has its hands tied a little bit here; I think we'd have to wait and see if a night-game experiment could still draw the same crowd and revenue as the afternoons. I would guess that the Stadium would be louder in any event.
Third: winning has a funny way of ‘stuffying up’ a crowd. Teams with winning traditions attract front-runner fans; and to a degree these people don’t do the term “fan” (short for “fanatic”) justice. As a by-product, the winning program may often realize the unfortunate result of having its biggest rival seemingly boast “better fans.” This bothers me more than anything: that Yankees fans are somehow less "fanatical" than Red Sox fans. I've heard the same problem with respect to our neighbors across the Pond; Manchester United fans vs. Liverpool.
All else being equal, I would suspect that if you thinned the Michigan Stadium crowd by eliminating the fair-weather and/or front-runner fans from game-day, and then transplanted the remaining fans into a Stadium that trapped noise instead of sending it into the ether (Autzen?), you’d have a very loud and enthusiastic group.
Last: weeks ago, someone posted a great article written by Mitch Albom discussing the state of the State of Michigan. It was a really well-written piece, irrespective of your affinity for the author. In the column, Albom discusses the "Michigan fan" in sociological terms: as humble, respectful, tradition-oriented folk. I think there's something to this, and it correlates to the type of crowd you see at Michigan Stadium.
For me, I tend to embrace these factors as a fan, because it speaks to unique qualities about what makes Michigan football "Michigan Football". Where you see boring, I see Michigan culture. As an out-of-state student (NYer), I considered the humble friendly nature of most mid-westerners with whom I engaged as an asset to the state and to the school (it's a stereotype, but well-placed in my opinion).
Where you might demand volume in decibals, I look in awe at the volume in numbers for a Stadium that demands its fans to actually drive to game-day. It may be a lot to ask of family-men and women to commit to an hour+ trek to the Stadium, have their family tailgates, and then up the excitement level for 3 hours only to get in their cars and sit in traffic on the way home. The people blogging on this site represent a faction of the fans who probably would up the ante upon entering the Stadium, but most fans at that point are just going to want to watch the game on their bums, cheering wildly after TDs and interceptions but in restrained merriment throughout.
When all is said and spoken for, you're left with a very "Michigan" (I hope not boring?) experience: an unrivaled sense of support for the home-team, loyalty through thick and thin (numbers dropped at the Stadium in 2008, but never below 106,734 [Miami-Ohio]; think about that), and above all, pride. Pride for tradition, and pride for the men on the field. I think and I hope that the players sense same. I get the impression that they do, because I believe this is what’s at the heart of being a “Michigan Man”: an athlete deserving of such unbridled, almost religious, support. I would imagine the opposition senses it, especially our mid-western rivals; such would certainly intimidate me as a player, as far as any level of noise could intimidate. It’s my new hope that when fans look out across the masses at Michigan Stadium, even the quiet ones, they’ll have a greater sense and appreciation for the thing that is the Michigan Experience, and Michigan Culture. In my opinion, it’s really something to be proud of.
If booing has become an issue at Michigan Stadium, I'm glad I didn't witness it during my run at U-M from 2000-2004; I don't remember ever hearing multiple fans boo. It's unacceptable. If it ever happened, the 'booers' would have been sorely derogated. I sincerely hope this is not becoming a recurring problem.
So, like many people, my thinking is swinging between the depressing "Argghhh here comes another 3-9 season" and unrealistic expectation of "Tate & D-Rob are the 2nd coming of my lord and savior". I tend to fall more toward the former than the latter, and that is depressing.
So, in a series of diaries I'm going to try to convince myself, and maybe some of you, that significant improvement is on the way this season. If you think we're going 9-3 or 10-2 I hope you're right, but that seems lofty. The aim and tone of this is set to show we can go 7-5, or maybe 8-4 if we get some bounces.
For my first submission, I'll look at DBs and try to convince everyone that overall we are better off at this position than last year. I can't stress enough that "better off" is relative...
Donovan Warren: Warren is a stud, he was in on 52 tackles, had an interception and 4 pass breakups. Considering it seemed like the opposition went at him relatively infrequently, this is quite impressive. He seems to be a sure tackler, and limits the YACs (yes, I do remember the slant that went for a TD, and that seemed like an isolated event). I think most are pretty confident with him, so I won't waste more time here.
Boubacar Cissoko: I assume he will be taking care of duties on the other side of the field. This probably makes everyone kind of nervous because he is so smurf-y, but i'm going to try and talk you into it. In spot duty as a freshman, he broke up 3 passes (tied for 2nd on the team) and was in on 15 tackles. Also, he's FAST with a (fake) forty time of 4.4 coming out of high school. Let's not forget that he was a 4* to rivals even with his height, and it's their job to know these things. He should be at least serviceable. Morgan Trent was a huge letdown for me this past season after showing promise as a junior, so I'm hoping Boo-Boo can fill his role, though probably not in the leadership realm.
Others: After that, I think incoming freshman Justin Turner has a chance to play a role similar to what Cissoko did last year. He also has the size Cissoko lacks. In a perfect world, he is successful enough to move to a full-time corner for the last third of the season. This would allow Cissoko to move to a nickelback role, which is his true calling in my opinion. I don't think that will happen, but it's the ceiling of what he can achieve as a true frosh. We also have Woolfolk and Johnson who have some game experience. They certainly can't be every-down players unless they've shown some significant improvements but they add depth and a little veteran knowledge to the mix.
The only contributing CB we lose is Trent, who as previously mentioned was a disappointment this season. I think he had a good head on his shoulders and was a good leader, but he was exposed as kind of meh as far as his raw skill and instincts go. His stats were similar to Warren's, but it seemed like they went at him twice as much. He also gave up a few big plays that don't show up on the stat sheet.
Oh god, how could these be any worse? What a nightmare in 2008. Okay, enough of that, here comes an analysis of the players.
Stevie Brown: I'll be gentle on this one since this is a relative comparison to last year, and not judging on an absolute scale. At worst he's the same, but it is much more likely that he improved at least some. I'm not saying he'll be "good", but he should be better than last year. I'm really hoping the best for this kid, he shouldered a lot of blame last year, and some (though not all) was undeserved. He may have played poorly, but man he took a ripping when he clearly was trying his absolute best and was more upset than anyone at his failings. Would love to see him get some redemption. Moving on.
Michael Williams: Who is going to fill in for Harrison? Other than QB, I think this is the most important question on the team for next year. It isn't because Harrison was great (he was average at best, just looked good in comparison to Brown). It's because we all witnessed, painfully, exactly what poor safety play can do to a defense. Just imagine how much worse things would have been last year if our two safeties had been Stevie Brown and... Stevie Brown. No thanks. Anyway, I think Michael Williams is the kid most ready to step into the other starting role. Not only does he have the most game experience (18 tackles, 2 for loss), he also was a 4* recruit to rivals coming into college. He was the only not-terrible DB in the Illinois game last year. In fact at a quick glance at UFRs, I did not see one negative play for Williams all year (I only looked at a few games, definitely could have missed something). I don't know what reasons the coaches had for not playing him last year, but those reasons couldn't have been good enough. My only concern here other than inexperience is speed. Coming in, rivals lists him with a 4.67 which is not very quick for a DB. I can't find anything more recent. Silver lining? 2 years of Barwis hopefully improved his speed and at safety, much more than corner, you can overcome a lack of blazing speed with heady play (which the lack of negatives in the UFR suggest he has).
Brandon Smith: He (I think) redshirted last year. He was a 4* to rivals with 4.5 speed, and he was a big dude at 6-2 210. He had 9 INTs in high school his junior year and was an Army All-American. He is a wild-card in this race and could go either way as a total bust, or push Williams for the starting position.
Others: We have a frosh righteously named Vlad Emilien. He'll probably end up an LB, but maybe he'll play some safety as a true freshman before he bulks up and makes the transition. There's a chance he's underrated, since he was injured for his senior season, but there is probably just as good of a chance that the injury set him back and he's overrated. Let's hope for the former. Artis Chambers left so, like... bummer. That leaves freshmen Adrian Witty and Mike Jones and other people that we better hope don't see the field. If they do, not to be a jerk, but: yikes.
Cornerbacks we should have an improved Donovan Warren, an improved Cissoko that hopefully can be the equivalent of Morgan Trent, and a freshman that has a chance to play the role Cissoko played but with better size. We also have a couple guys that can handle spot duty, and they even have some minimal experience. Net gain.
Safeties we have a he-must-have improved Stevie Brown, one guy that saw spot duty and showed a lot of promise, and another somewhat unknown guy that came in highly rated and was red shirted. Actually, you know what? Screw this. There is no possible way our safeties are worse than last year. Even if they are a push (they will be better than a push), with the improvement at corner our defensive backfield shows a net gain.
OFF TOPIC: Somebody less stupid than me should post a formatting how-to. I want to use neat bullets and bold and such, and this being my first actual submission, I have no idea how to do that.
UPDATE: I know how to bold things now. Woooo progress.
I tread lightly seeing the bashing the Mallett post took, but I am always fascinated with how every little decision or event can send your life in a different tangent and how it effects everyone else. Since it was the game I have most wanted in my entire life, I submit what if the ref doesn't call Crable for a late hit??
Michigan with their offense on a roll drives down to defeat the Buckeyes and the 06 game surpasses the 69 game in Michigan lore as they "win 1 for Bo".
Michigan then goes down and pounds Mike Hart into Floridas quick but light defense and we harass C. Leak all night on our way to a NC.
A spent Lloyd Carr almost surely retires and Long, Henne and Hart head off to the NFL. Lloyd Carr with his legacy restored and 2 NC's in his pocket is allowed by Martin to virtually name his successor.
That by all accounts leaves Miles out and we end up with Debored at HC and Loeffler running the offense and English running the defense.
Heading into 07 the team looks much like 08 did. A lot of holes on offense with a young oline and a QB battle between the older Forcier and Mallett, but experienced WR in Arrington and Manningham.
My guess is today on Mgoblog we would be discussing 2 "down" years while we were in the Alamo and Citrus bowls and how we need to fire Debored. In the meantime we speculate on the greatness of our next stud QB Nick Montana as Loefller rolls out the red carpet for Joe and his son and the ND nation recoils in horror at the prospect of Montana's kid coming to Michigan. Most are pumped about Montana coming, but there is another faction saying we need someone more mobile like Gardner because Loeffler has been down in WV studying the spread from Rodriguez, who is riding high after winning a NC in 08, and we are looking to incorporate some spread concepts into our packages.
Color me frustrated with the Bracketology World this morning.
Catching up with the mock brackets last night, I expected Michigan to surge a little bit. I had convinced myself they might find their way into enough fields to build a consensus spot in the Bracket Matrix. If not that far, they would be no worse than on the cusp of the field.
Yeah, um, about that, ah, well funny thing, it seems my analysis was a wee bit off.
Ironically, Michigan, despite a great road win and plenty of fellow bubble teams falling around them, actually lost ground in the last comprehensive Matrix update. Before the weekend, Michigan was third to last out of the field, according to the full view of the Matrix, which tracks upwards of 55 mock brackets. Monday night, however, they had been downgraded to sixth to last out.
Looking deeper into the Matrix eased only some fears. Only 28 brackets were updated today to include games played through the weekend. So, not all the "votes" are in. But, still, Michigan was only in five of those 28 brackets. I expected that number to be at least twice as much.
Michigan does not appear to have separated themselves at all from the group of teams just left out of the field. Michigan is one of the final eight teams on the outside looking in, according to the Bracket Matrix.
Of those teams, Michigan, at least, passed Kansas State as they're in one more bracket than KSU of those 28 fields updated yesterday. Rather surprisingly, Michigan only received the same amount of invites as Penn State and Providence. Georgetown, Creighton and USC, meanwhile, remain in more of these 28 fields than the Wolverines.
Spinning some of these numbers positively, you do notice that seven of the eight final teams out, Michigan included, basically have been given equal accord. They're all scattered in just enough brackets across the entire 55-bracket spectrum to make a dent in the Matrix and be included in the final group out. It is within Michigan's grasp to out perform all of those teams from here on out.
Southern Cal, the team in this first eight out group with the most bids, has not paid in full for their loss late Sunday night. The Trojans are in 28 fields (compared to the average number of fields from the other seven in this group ,9.5, with UM in 9 fields), however more than half of those bids came from brackets that have yet to be updated to include the weekend's results. The Trojans should lose support as more mocks come in. Who will get those bids?
Michigan's losing record in league play right now might be the one thing that’s keeping UM from sweeping onto one of the final bracket lines.
Michigan has a decade's worth of mediocrity to overcome as far as perception goes. Coming to the table with a losing league mark is something you only want to do if you're a tournament regular and folks are already conditioned to giving you the benefit of the doubt. Michigan is not in either category. Despite improved play from the Big 10, Bracketologists dont seem inclined to include a team from the league that’s below .500. And, most appear to be having a hard time talking themselves into granting seven bids to the league.
Not all Bracketologists feel this way. One, The Bracketeer, whose mock field is affiliated with, of all things, a Creighton Blog, sneaks the Wolverines in the field. He explains that in each of the last two seasons a team with a losing record from a BCS league netted an invite. As of now, he feels Michigan will benefit from that gift. Mr. Bracketeer, the Mgoblog Community salutes you for going to extra historical research mile on behalf of the Maize and Blue.
Michigan needs to force everyone else's hand this week with a pair of conference wins. It will push UM to 8-7 in the Big 10. In the updates one week from today, I would be more than interested in hearing arguments for keeping UM out of the field, considering they would have a winning league mark, big time OOC scalps in Duke and UCLA and as many wins against the RPI top 100 as anyone else on the bubble.
What surprised me when looking into the fields that updated yesterday was the fact that for every field that had Michigan just missing the cut, there was a field where Michigan didn't seem to be in contention and left off of whatever 'final group left out' list thrown out there. There is a fairly wide range of opinion on the Wolverines. And, the more prominent brackets out there are among those driving the inconsistent judgment on the Maize and Blue.
Michigan is on the up tick according the Matrix administrators. In their own field at the Bracket Project, Michigan remains excluded from the field. They don’t list who their final teams out are, but in the mock NIT Field, Michigan is a top seed, moving up from a 3 seed last week. Moving up on the NIT Bracket lines is progress, right?
Michigan was the last team out of Lunardi's field at ESPN. He also pointed out in an interview on the WWL that the Wolverines could easily play themselves into a bid. The Wolverines were also the biggest mover of the week in the Bracket Junkie's field, going from 7th to last Out to 3rd to last In. Those two are annually considered among the most accurate Bracketologists. Those are good signs.
You know who else gets acclaim for their accuracy and brilliant mock brackets? Bracketology 101 and College Hoops Net, both of whom continued to downgrade Michigan. In B101, Michigan's fall mirrored their overall decline in the Matrix with UM going from third to last out to sixth to last. Siegel at CBH had been a long holdout for UM's chances, but in his bracket Monday, he doesn't even have the Wolverines listed among the final eight teams left out. I dont feel comfortable about Michigan's standings if both of these guys have Michigan falling farther out of range for bid.
Bottom line, it's up to Michigan to gain people's support. If they have a winning record in their final regular season games, they will notch at least two more wins against teams currently in the field. They will also notch at least one road win. With more bubble carnage also expected between now and then, its still safe to assume that three more wins, enough to clinch a .500 league mark, will be enough for Michigan to earn an at large bid.
Looking elsehere along the Bracket Matrix, here a couple of other observations:
Bracketologists gave Cincinnati a mulligan for their road loss to Pitt over the weekend. That's fair enough considering the Panthers might be the best team in the nation. Of the 28 brackets updated Monday, CU remained in 18 of them. The Bearcats recent run up the Big East standings gave them enough capital to absorb a loss to an elite team. Can they afford two? Most of the brackets have them clinging to a 12 seed. The Bearcats next play Saturday afternoon at home against Louisville. I dont think they get a second mulligan with another loss.
The Miami Hurricanes are in jeopardy of being swept out of most fields. There were more new brackets Monday, by a 15-13 count, that had Miami out of the field. By that metric, the Canes are the team most in danger of falling out the Matrix. They travel to Florida St Wednesday night and host Boston College Saturday afternoon. Those are two games that might be as important as any other games along the way for Michigan's eventual chances. The Wolverines are decidedly anti-Da U from here on out.
The Mountain West Conference continues to receive four bids. I promise to no longer get worked up about this though. In the Matrix, BYU, SDSS and UNLV remain in a vast majority of fields, but all three are on the 11 line. I dont think any of those teams can afford losses at that projection and not fall by the wayside if other bubble teams perform well. After spending the last couple of weeks collecting wins against the bottom half of the league, we finally see a run of head to head matchups that might end up being elimination games relating to next Monday's brackets. New Mexico at BYU, BYU at UNLV, SDSU at NM, UNLV at Utah, BYU at SDSU are all on the schedule from now until the end of the month. The league could cannabolize its at-large bids between now and the end of the month. It will be hard to keep the losers of those games in mock brackets as we get closer to March, especially if other bubble teams perform well.
Beware Creighton. The Bluejays suddenly are in more updated fields than Michigan. The Missouri Valley Conference had been on a six-year run of receiving multiple bids into the dance. That ended last year. But Creighton and league cohort Northern Iowa are trying to start a new streak. What's intriguing about the Jays position is that, unlike most mid majors this time of year, they can really improve their resume in their final four regular season games. They play MVC fourth place team Evansville tonight. On Saturday, they have a marquee Bracket Buster game against well known George Mason, where a win will impress. After a road game against last place Missouri State, the Jays close the season on ESPN playing third place Illinois St. If they win those games, they will be in the tournament as long as they dont flame out early in the MVC tournament. How many losses will it take to implode their at large hopes. One? Two? This is a storyline to watch between now and the end of the month.
Did Texas A/M just breathe new life into their season? They have a poor man's Michigan resume with a pair of OOC wins over LSU and Arizona sparkling their profile. But, they are three games below .500 in conference play in a league regarded to be below the Big 10. Yet, getting lost in the Bracket Matrix for some time reveals the Aggies in a surprising amount of final groups left out of the field. And that was before last night's resume win over Texas. They have one of the easiest slates of all the bubble teams from here on out, although they do have three league road games to play. Still, the Aggies have to be considered a threat again.