Yesterday, as I watched Michigan's awful performance against Michigan State, I wondered about who is Michigan's worst rival, Ohio State or Michigan State.
I am precluding this by mentioning that football is the most important, basketball is great, but still just a distraction from football's dead period. Also, we can leave out Notre Dame and Minnesota, the fact that Notre Dame is non-conference, Minnesota has been owned by Michigan recently, and the fact that game is not even played annually.
Call it whatever you want, heresy, channeling Gary Moeller perhaps, but I believe Michigan State is Michigan's worst rival. Maybe I say that because I live in Grand Rapids, west side of the state, where there are almost two State fans per Michigan fans, and not many of those Michigan fans really care. Or perhaps, in light of State's win in football this past year, or the debacle last night, I have a newfound passion for hating MSU this year. Also, there are not really too many Ohio State fans, that I see at least, I do not really know of any that live around here. They might live in southeast Michigan or in the Toledo area where the rivalry is seemingly most heated, but I am not really aware that many Ohio State fans exist in most of the state of Michigan.
I think that the Michigan-Ohio State bloodbath (not that I've had much experience with the rivalry) really is a tremendous rivalry, but to be honest, I believe that it is a rivalry that is based loosely on mutual respect, or at least acknowledgement for the other's program. I did actually just say that. Michigan is a better program by far, more class, dignity, intelligence, etc. but I have to say that Ohio State is a decent program. Also, I think that the Ohio State rivalry is by far the best rivalry in the state of Ohio, with Michigan fans and Ohio State fans going at it constantly. However, in the state of Michigan, particularly in West, North, and Central Michigan, even around Ann Arbor, Michigan State is a bigger rival, not by much more than the Buckeyes, but still more. The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry is based purely on the inferiority complex set on MSU by Michigan (which is not without merit, frankly it's true). Michigan State hates Michigan so passionately that it is really amazing. Michigan however, feels that State is just another win, and never gives them any credit for anything; and Michigan State takes that as an insult which only adds to the rivalry. Add to the inferiority complex the annual recruiting battles (especially in Detroit, which Michigan typically wins), the success of michigan now and in the past, and the fact that Michigan State rally does not compare with Michigan in respects to tradition, talent, history, or even fan base. Also, I could say that Michigan-Ohio State is fueled by the ESPN, SI, etc. hype on the rivalry, which is really just an excuse to fill their telecast, magazine, web site, whatever. That really just adds to the perception that Michigan-Ohio State is a bigger rivalry than Michigan-Michigan State, it is still an excellent rivalry, but I'd finally give kudos to Michigan State for once and call them a bigger rival. ESPN in particular hypes rivalries way too much, and I've heard it a few times during the North Carolina-Duke game by Dickie V, how that fits in I do not know. Rivalries are a huge thing, but they are mainly a product of the fans which goes down to the players, coaches etc. but not a national thing, moreover a localized one.
Maybe I say this because I am incredulous that State won this past year, or that they chanted Go Green, Go White, (Can't Read, Can't Write) after winning said game, followed up with a "little sister" chant, at the Big House. Or, maybe I held on to hope that Michigan would upset them last night. Maybe it was recent frustration in most of the recruiting battles in-state as of late (except William Campbell, yes...), or perhaps that I am outnumbered by State fans here in GR. I guess that most of what I am saying is a matter of present circumstance, or maybe I haven't experienced the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry for real. (Note: I have gone to the past four or five Ohio State games at home, and go to almost every home game, so I have seen the fervor in person.)
I guess what I've tried to say is that, at least right now, and around here, Michigan State is a bigger rival than Ohio State. Not by much, but still a little bigger ( at the very least, around the same).
Agree? Disagree? A matter of opinion?
(I am bracing myself for the explosion, so try not to be too vicious here, I am a fellow Michigan diehard, so insults are really not too appropriate).
Go Blue, little brother.
Alright, finally, the winter of our discontent has a bright spring in sight!
The time of year coming up is one of the best -- Spring Training opens in a week or so, conference basketball tourneys are around the corner, CCHA and NCAA hockey playoffs coming up, the Masters, NCAA and NIT bball tourneys, opening day in MLB, spring football, Wimbledon, Premiership gets into the final stretch and the College World Series which, for me, punctuates the end of Spring.
Whoa -- for a sports fan, this upcoming time of year is really fine, exceeded only (perhaps) by fall,with college football, NFL, MLB playoffs and World Series, the PGA tournament (which sort of kicks off fall for me), hockey training camps and start of the season, NBA (meh), and the opening of the Premiership season.
The real low of the year is right now, after the NFL conference championship games and before the start of the spring seasons I already noted -- the Superbowl punctuates mid-season NHL, NBA, college bball, Premiership, all in sort of a lull at that point. This time of year is sort of buzzard's luck for sports fans -- can't kill nuthin' and nuthin's dead. No wonder the Auto Shows and Boat Shows and Fishing Shows at the conference centers get any attendees at all -- even walking around looking at things you can't afford beats watching January and February sports on TV!
Oh, yeah, life begins anew very soon.
The groundhog can just bugger off.
In one of the most vexing, muddled and up-in-the-air bubble situations the college hoops landscape has seen in recent years, Michigan split their games last week, but in the process elevated their overall profile.
A week after nearly unanimously falling out of most mock brackets, Michigan regained some footing by thumping everybody’s trendy dark horse Penn St by 20 and then going toe to toe on the road against top ranked Uconn. While the Wolverines upset bid fell oh so short, the game effort against the Huskies helped prove to most college hoop observers that UM can compete and beat tournament caliber teams. Also helping Michigan’s cause this week was the continuation of collapses at Notre Dame and Georgetown, several Big 12 bubble teams going winless on the week and fellow Big 10 bubble mates Penn St and Northwestern stepping back to the pack.
Despite ending the week with a loss, Michigan found itself in more mock brackets this week. After losing four of five games to close January, Michigan entered February in only a smattering of brackets, many of which had not been updated to even include Michigan’s more recent losses.
One week into the new month, Michigan finds itself in 18 of 52 mock brackets tracked by the Bracket Project. Nearly 40 percent of the accredited bracketologists label Michigan a tournament team, despite having just gone through its biggest slump of the season. That bodes well for Michigan’s chances, if they can close out strong and bang out a few more impressive wins.
If Michigan can pull out a winning record in their final seven games, a stretch that includes marquee home games against MSU (tonight), Minnesota (2/19) and Purdue (2/26), then a tourney bid is theirs for the taking. A 9-9 league mark ought to do the trick, so long as they do not have an embarrassing flame out in the Big 10 tournament and lose to Iowa or Indiana in a first round game.
The final two teams in the Amaker era broke even in the Big 10, but were denied a bid. Those teams failed to close strong. With a bid on the line in the season finale in both those seasons, Michigan failed to deliver a home win against Indiana and Ohio State respectively. Those Michigan teams did not have anything to brag about in the OOC slate either and, in fact, was routinely embarrassed in their big time non conference games.
This year’s squad is much different. To get to a .500 record in league play, they have to close strong. And, if they succeed, they will have beaten several tournament bound teams in February. And, unlike those Amaker squads, this year’s Michigan team boasts as strong a pair of OOC wins (Duke and UCLA) as anyone else in the country.
With less than five weeks until Selection Sunday, the Michigan Wolverines control their own destiny as far as earning a tournament bid. The path begins tonight with rival Michigan State in town. While awaiting tip off, here are some other observations about the latest round of mock brackets.
Blue Grass Blues
Is Kentucky in trouble? It’s hard to imagine a member of the college basketball royal family missing out on the tournament, but the Wildcats could not have picked a worse time to embark on a losing streak. The SEC has been maligned all winter with experts forecasting as few as four or three bids into the field. You don’t want to be an SEC team on the bubble right now—especially on a losing streak—as public perception will work against you.
Losers of three in a row, the Cats are already finding that public perception betraying them a bit. In the week since UK last played a game, more than one quarter (15 of 51) of the updated mock brackets have left them out of their field. Michigan, for example, is in 8 brackets which UK has been left out of, including such notables as the Bracket Project and collegehoopsnet.com.
The Wildcats are a team in need of win. Tonight’s home game with Florida (on ESPN after the MSU/UM) carries as much import for the home team as the showdown in Ann Arbor does. A win for UK really cures a lot of ills. However, a loss extends the losing streak for a team that plays four of its next five games on the road.
You know it’s bad in Lexington when fans are pining for the days of Eddie Sutton. While his tenure led to crippling probation, some folks wish the Gillespie had a bit of Old Man Sutton’s imagination as they try to fight their way out of a losing streak and off the bubble.
It was a boring week in the ACC, right? Landmark wins by Clemson over Duke and Miami over Wake during the week was followed by a weekend chalk full of dramatic comebacks. Duke, Florida State and Virginia Tech all climbed back from large halftime deficits to secure key wins. Ho hum, just another boring week in the ACC where it seems every game is not only close, but also played between final four contenders and/or good teams residing on the bubble.
It was a good week for the ACC as in some mock brackets, notably Lunardi’s at ESPN, the ACC now has 8 bids, the most of any other conference. The biggest team winner in all of this might have been Florida State. The Noles are one of five ACC bubble teams, but with all of them facing many hurdles between now and the end of the season, it’s really anybody’s guess how this whole thing will shake out. But, coming from behind to notch a road win at Clemson has the Noles, at least for now, standing out from the crowd. Most mock brackets have them securely in the field with a #7 seed or better. The Seminoles are close to being tournament locks and breaking their 10-year drought.
The rest of the ACC bubble still has work to do. Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami are still in most fields, albeit as double digit seeds. Neither of those teams can afford a losing spell or other teams will surely pass them. Maryland, the only league bubble team not in any recently updated mock fields, needs to go a prolonged winning streak to nudge back into contention.
Obviously, it’s a marquee week for the league with Wednesday night’s Duke/UNC showdown, but be sure to keep an eye on these games as their outcomes will go a long way in determining the next round of mock brackets: Clemson at BC, 2/10; Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, 2/11; FSU at WF, 2/14; VT at Maryland, 2/14; Duke at BC, 2/14; and UNC at Miami, 2/14.
Another week, another new contender in the Big 12
We’re in the process of a complete overhaul of the bubble picture in the Big 12. Spurred by preseason expectations, Oklahoma St, Baylor and Texas A/M was the conventional wisdom’s pecking order for the last few invites for a league that should be a 6-bid conference. However, those three schools are just a combined 9-17 in league play and had been ping-ponging between being in and out of the mock brackets for the last several weeks. Each school went 0-2 during the last week of play. All three have fallen off the radar of most bracketologists and will need to go on a major run from here on out just to finish break even in conference play.
What’s worse is they’ve been bypassed by new bubble teams right out of their own league. Kansas State burst onto the scene the final week of January with wins over Missouri and Texas. The Wildcats followed the act by winning two more games last week—including a gutsy road win in College Station over the Aggies—to run their winning streak to five games. After the win, it’s fair to ask if the balance of power in the league has shifted divisions. The Wildcats have a big week ahead of them. They host Texas Tech tomorrow and then welcome KU in a huge showdown Saturday afternoon. With a manageable slate down the stretch, it will be difficult to keep KSU out of the field if they notch another two wins this week.
Meanwhile a new contender for a bid also emerged in the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska followed the same model KSU did previously and used a marquee win over Texas over the weekend to jump into bubble discussion. Are they tournament ready just yet? One Nebraska bracketologist says not yet, but its just a blast to even include them into the discussion. Nebraska’s bubble situation is just like Michigan’s, in that they have plenty of big name marks on the schedule where wins could boost their resume right into the field. Unlike, Michigan, however, all those contests are on the road. In their final seven games, Big Red has to travel to Missouri, Kansas, KSU and Baylor. If they don’t get at least one win from that group of games, the Huskers will be a .500 team at best in league play. With an OOC resume devoid of any big time wins and marred with bad losses to Oregon St and Maryland Baltimore County, I doubt that will cut it come Selection Sunday.
Beware, Mock Bracket Darling
One of the more interesting trends this winter has been watching the rise—and subsequent fall—of the Mock Bracket Darling. I define this species as a team which nobody is even discussing, but after an impressive week suddenly shoots to the top of everyone’s bubble list. Two weeks ago, the Darling was Virginia Tech. After notching landmark road wins at Wake and Miami, the Hokies came out of nowhere and made appearances in just about everyone’s mock fields. Last week, bracketologists everywhere lauded Penn St, and 24 hours after their road win at Michigan St, the Nittany Lions made their own debut in the mocks.
Both teams found their new found status too much to bear. The Hokies immediately choked a big lead and lost at home to Clemson, followed by a buzzer beating loss to BC. While they won their only game last week, the Hokies place in any eventual field is far from secure. Penn St followed their appearance in the mocks by getting blown out at Michigan and losing at home to Wisconsin. After dropping a pair of bubble battles, the Nittany Lions find themselves out of most mock fields as quickly as they were placed inside them.
If you’ve become a Mock Bracket Darling, you had better watch your back.
If this trend holds up, that bears bad news for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Alleged to be a bottom half team from the Big East, the Bearcats have parlayed a recent hot run into an ‘in the field’ status by most accounts. The Bearcats run includes a win over Notre Dame and a sweep of Georgetown. With those programs cratering towards the NIT and Providence on a three-game losing streak, the Bearcats have found themselves as the last Big East team in the field. According the Bracket Matrix, 41 mock fields have posted since this weekend’s action and the Bearcats find themselves in 27 of those fields. In most of those mocks, CU is either an 11 or 12 seed and among the final teams overall placed on the board.
The Bearcats have one of the conference’s best scorers in Deonta Vaughn. They also have one the league’s top Diaper Dandies in Yancy Gates, who was just named Big Eat Rookie of the Week for the second time this season. Their coach highlights a down to the wire loss at Uconn as the season’s turning point. Hopefully, Michigan can follow suit after their near miss against the Huskies on Saturday.
Can they avoid the Mock Bracket Darling Hex? After a gimme at home against St John’s this week, the Bearcats still have games with Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse and West Virginia between now and March 1. If they can come out of the stretch alive, we might need to find a permanent place in the field for them.
Un4gettable? You had to be there
Away from mock brackets, there was a dose of Michigan related hoops news over the weekend. Do you remember Chris Weber? He played on the Fab Five and advanced to a couple of Final Fours during his years at Michigan. Allegedly.
Anyway, the Sacramento Kings of the NBA retired good old #4’s number in a dramatic ceremony Friday night. All the luminaries that you would expect at such an event showed up. Like Scott Pollard and Doug Christie. Mateen Cleaves was even there and spoke to the crowd about C-Web.
There was a little problem, however, with the crowd that night. Apparently dozens of Wise Guys showed up to honor Weber as well. The Kings did not have enough seats for them, but I am sure Chris, good guy that he is, invited them all out to his post game celebration. It was touching moment, indeed.
So consider this my disclaimer...I am a wolverine since birth, some of my greatest memories are of me and family (grandfather alum) at some of the greatest UM games ever (Orange Bowl 2000, UM vs Nuts 100th game, UM vs PSU last second win, as well as numerous hockey and bball games ....and so on)..But it just so happens i am in my senior year at the REAL UT, home of the Vols. It seems that everyone is having a pretty good time with our young firecracker of a coach we got down here, and i couldnt be happier!!!! It's about damn time somebody grew some balls around here and awoke this monster...Take the stupid comments and make a nice collage or something cuz thats about all their good for....What you seem to be missing is the assembly of some of the finest coaches and recruiters in college football, with proven track records, which single handedly stole 5 star Janzen Jackson from LSU,as well as Nu'keese and Teague from UF, not to mention 4-5 star Darren Myles. Guaranteed KIffin will win more than three games his debut season, (i love RR..i promise) despite our QB situation, our D will be sick nasty along with a stable of running backs. And if the Vols and Wolves played on a neutral field, Eric Berry would have three picks and two touchdowns in a violent 21-20 slug fest..best DB in college since Woodson and should have won the Thorpe as a Soph..(fuckin Jenkins? what a joke)
Both teams are on their way....UT vs UM Nat Title 2011?
Alright... so some of you may or may not have been part of the discussion this weekend concerning the possibility of an away jersey re-design. Since Carr had already made the order long before RichRod was hired, he had no control... and in light of the abysmal season, the conversation was that he might want to revamp the away shirts. It then became an even bigger discussion about maize jerseys, blue pants, and white on white uniforms for the maize-and-blue (that sentence alone speaks volumes).
Of course, it was at that point that I went all Jerry Maguire and tore into a mission statement-esque rant about how we must adhere to tradition. At the end of my post (go into my recent blog entries if you missed it), I suggested that we go back to the Harbaugh 80's rendition of the away jersey, featuring one-color numbers and contrasting Northwestern stripes. For those not familiar with the term, NW striping refers to the pattern of thin-thick-thin originally worn by the Wildcats in the 50's, and most of you if you wore socks in the 80's. Here it is:
But I then offered the possibility that I might create some illustrations on how we could go back to that design as a sort of throwback, and I've done just that. My idea was to create a rendition of that same design on a current uniform template, complete with shorter sleeves, form-fitting fabric template, and of course, the Adidas logo. For the sake of updating, I used the #5 instead of 4 as recognition of Forcier's upcoming uniform-- quarterback of the future, etc. Note to any uniform design enthusiasts out there-- notice that I designed the uniform with both the pants and helmet together, since we're talking about a uniform design, not just a jersey design. Too often I think teams focus on the shirts too much, then when you pair it with the helmet it looks like crap. It's all about continuity.
So the first row here shows an updated throwback design, complete with an alternate version that incorporates a small block "M" in the stripe in blue. Of the two, I really like the first, without the block M. I'd be totally HAPPY with this on our boys-- the simplicity, the implied history. I also realized what I like the most about the 80's design is the single color number-- i.e. no maize stroke around the numbers. I think it looks clean and strong, and ties back to the home jersey. Ever bother anyone else that the home has one color numbers while the away has two?
I then went ahead and created a totally new design, as if my wildest professional dream came true and Bill Martin approached me to design Michigan's away jersey. After some deliberation, it made perfect sense to me to keep the same numbers, but the question was, "What about the sleeves?" I played around with a few ideas before ultimately settling on a wide navy stripe with curved maize perpendicular strokes... obviously a throwback to the helmet motif. I followed up this idea with an alternate that features a contrasting block M above the shoulders. Of these two, I'd probably still choose the one without the block 'M'. I love uniforms with logos on shoulders etc., because they leave no doubt about who the shirt belongs to-- but I just don't think the design needs it.
So keep in mind that none of this is official, no word has emerged that the uniforms will be changed in any way, and this is totally just for fun. But thought that you guys might get a kick out of these ideas, throwback or otherwise.
GO BLUE... as in MAIZE & BLUE.
Where are all these receivers coming from?
Many have noticed, and begun commenting, on Rich Rodriguez’s apparent stockpiling of receivers. This has been addressed a bit by Brian on the recruiting board, but I thought I’d go into a little more depth to explain why every RR is building up bodies at the position.
The depth chart looks awful large. Once the 2010 commitments step on campus, the receiver corps will include Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Jeremy Gallon, Darryl Stonum, Junior Hemingway, JeRon Stokes, Roy Rountree, Thomas Gordon, Ricardo Miller, Toney Clemons, Jeremy Jackson, James Rogers, Jerald Robinson, and likely Justin Feagin. That’s 14 receivers, with only Clemons in his final year. And don’t forget there’s still four scholarship players, Kevin Koger, Brandon Moore, Martell Webb and Steve Watson, at tight end. That’s 18 pairs of hands to feed. How is he going to do it?
Rodriguez’s offense, is, of course, different than that previously used at Michigan. One important distinction is the position of Slot Receiver. RR likes to have a scat-back type of player here with a slightly different skill set than your prototypical wideout. Size and leaping ability are secondary for a slot receiver to speed and agility. Circus catches aren’t as necessary, since most routes are short. The slot is meant to catch the ball in space, then make defenders miss. Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Jeremy Gallon, and, if he moves, Feagin fit this mold. Last year, Odoms pretty much dominated this spot, but that’s not typical of RR’s West Virginia offenses. Rather, Odoms got so many balls because once Robinson went down, he was the only man standing. Starting next year, I think you’re going to see a two-man rotation in the slot, with another man always ready to go for depth at an injury-magnet position.
In case this recruiting season didn’t clue you in, Rich Rodriguez is phasing out the Tight End position. I imagine, so long as he has Koger, the position will remain in the offense quite regularly through 2011. But come 2012, I wouldn’t be surprised to see just one or two Tight Ends on the roster for a change of pace, or goal-line situations.
That leaves Stonum, Hemingway, Stokes, Rountree, Gordon, Miller, Clemons, Jackson, Rogers, and J. Robinson. For one, we can imagine Gordon moving to linebacker, although this isn’t a given; since he was offered as a receiver, and unlike Feagin there hasn’t been mention from the coaches as to a positional change, I’m gonna consider him part of the receiver corps.
That gives us 10 pure receivers on the 2010 roster, all of them options. First of all, you’ll see some redshirts on some 2010 freshmen, probably J. Robinson and Jackson. Now we have eight. Eight is still a lot. And eight is actually what we’ll need!
THE SPREAD’S NOT JUST FOR RUNNING
Rodriguez’s offense at W.Va. was mostly about the run, particularly once the astounding legs of White and Slaton and Devine arrived. But I’m going to postulate, based on the recruiting focus since he got here, that plans are to make the passing game a greater part of the expected offensive output.
The formation I believe we’ll see more and more from Rodriguez will be the one-back, 4-wide. This includes a slot, and three wideouts. In a running-based spread, the wideouts head out on routes designed to open up space for the tailback, quarterback or slot receiver to function in. So long as they are all threats 1-on-1, they have to be guarded.
But other programs that use the spread have done a better job incorporating receivers. Brian commented this year that it sometimes seems like the receivers were running random routes – anything to get the secondary away from the ball. This was highly ineffective, especially since we didn’t have a quarterback who could get the ball to these guys.
I trust Brian in most things, but from everything I’ve seen of RR, if his receiving scheme was basically saying “get open,” then it wasn’t by design so much as he had other areas to focus on.
TALENT ATOP OF TALENT
This year, you can’t fault RR if the passing game wasn’t his primary focus. New team, new scheme, yada yada, but the talent really wasn’t there. Threet didn’t have enough time to pick apart a defense, nor was the redshirt freshman prepared by experience to fully utilize their talents. There wasn’t a true go-to receiver as we’ve had in past years. Greg Mathews was the most trustworthy pair of hands. After that, Stonum was a true freshman and played like one. Hemingway had mono. Roundtree was waiting for his muscles to grow onto his 6’3 frame. Clemons had catching issues.
There’s a progression formula I’ve been using to determine a player’s expected growth in value to the team:
Adjusted Star Rating * [1/2(years-in-school / years-in-school-plus-1)] plus (Adjusted Star Rating / 1.6)
(The “Adjusted” part means I change their star rating once we see them on the field. For recruits, I just use their star rating.)
Bigger jumps occur earlier in a player’s career. What we end up with is a level of expected performance based on their talent and their year, which is roughly equivalent to the familiar star rating system. A 2.00 player is what you’d expect for a typical starter at Indiana or Northwestern. A 3.00 player is a typical starter at Purdue or Michigan State. A 4.00 player is what you’d expect from a 4-star recruit in his 4th season. Over 4.50 is an All-Big Ten performer. Over 5.00 is a 1st round draft pick.
Here’s the receivers RR had available to him in 2008:
G. Mathews – 3.83
J. Hemingway – 3.50 (out for season)
D. Stonum – 2.81
T. Clemons – 2.63
Z. Babb – 2.63
R. Roundtree – 2.50 (redshirted)
L. Savoy – 2.50
J. Rogers – 2.19
Even though there’s talent there, it’s young talent. For Big Ten, that’s average. For Michigan, it’s mediocre.
Here’s projected 2009:
G. Mathews – 4.00
D. Stonum – 3.94
J. Hemingway – 3.83
R. Roundtree – 3.50
T. Clemons – 2.88
J. Stokes – 2.81
L Savoy – 2.56
C. Gordon – 2.50
J. Rogers – 2.40
That’s a huge difference. Your top three guys are expected to perform at or near what you’d expect from a senior 4-star recruit, whereas last year we had one guy near that level, and the next was below average.
From here, it’s all uphill.
D. Stonum – 4.31
J. Hemingway – 4.00
J. Stokes – 4.00
R. Roundtree – 3.83
C. Gordon – 3.50
R. Miller – 3.13
T. Clemons – 3.00
J. Jackson – 2.81
J. Rogers – 2.50
J. Robinson – 2.19
D. Stonum – 4.50
J. Hemingway – 4.10
R. Miller – 4.38
J. Stokes – 4.31
R. Roundtree – 4.00
J. Jackson – 3.94
C. Gordon – 3.83
J. Robinson – 3.06
And if you think that’s the only part of the passing game that will improve, look at what happens to our quarterback rating in that time:
2008: Threet/Sheridan – 2.27
2009: Threet/(Forcier/Robinson) – 2.69
2010: Forcier or Robinson – 3.50
2011: Forcier or Robinson – 3.83
The offensive line, too, will see a marked progression from about 3.20 to 4.20.
So in the years to come, Michigan is going to be stocked at receiver. In the 2011-2012 seasons, it is very conceivable, barring major transfers and losses, that RR will have at least four and as many as seven superb options at wideout. There will be a considerably better quarterback, protected by a considerably better offensive line. Is all this talent really just for show, or is there something more?
THE POSITION OF WIDE RECEIVER IN MICHIGAN’S OFFENSE, 2011 TO 2012
I have to imagine that Rich Rod knows what he has at these positions, and that Devin Gardner (who, if his 5-star is for real, would surpass Forcier or Robinson by 2011), is being made aware of it. The question remains, however, how do you utilize all of it.
The answer is a Spread and Shoot.
Look at the roster for Texas Tech’s Air Raid offense:
Missouri, too, had 16 receivers. Texas carried a ton. Florida and Northwestern had ‘em coming out of their ears. And note that Michigan actually carried 19 on the roster last year, though nine of those were non-scholly walk-ons.
Oklahoma, who uses a more Pro-Style offense, had considerably fewer.
Now, the spread has at most five receivers on the field. But in order to keep using the entire down-field as a threat, it's never the same guys. They rotate...a lot! For Michigan this year, however, the rotation wasn't there. If you sent Mathews and Stonum running in circles for five plays, you'd end up with Babb and Rogers. If I'm an opposing defense, and I've got to cover James Rogers down field, with Sheridan under center, then hell, I'm gluing a 3-star cornerback to him and telling the safeties it's backfield hunting season.
If RR has any specific plans for this kind of team, I imagine those plans are more vertical than anything college football has seen for awhile, and well more than anything we’ve imagined.
Most teams today – and we saw a lot under Lloyd – send a man on a deep route as a matter of course. But there’s a drawback – if you’re sending your Super Mario deep every play, he’s going to either let up on the gas, or wear himself out in three plays.
Go try sprinting 45 to 60 yards downfield, juking and turning various angles. Now hustle back to your starting point, and do it again. Repeat six times. Have someone whack you or knock you down a few times while you’re at it.
Two things will become apparent very quickly:
(1) Darryl Stonum is in much better shape than you, and
(2) huff....huff .... huff ..... there .... is. ....no...... huff ..... f’in .... way ...... someone ..... can ...... do ..... this ... huff .... 26 times in a row!
(the Barwis pit is over there, by the way. Help yourself)
I didn’t even ask you to out-jump someone and catch a pass.
BUT THERE'S NO "PASS" IN "RICH RODRIGUEZ"
What these spread offenses do a lot of is substitute. In a year with mediocre talent at receiver, horrible talent at quarterback, and a marked and stated preference for the running game, Rich Rod had 15 players catch a ball last year. Of course, many of these are running backs. So here’s another stat: James Rogers, the 8th man on the wide receiver depth chart, appeared in 9 games. Zion Babb was in 6. LaTerryal Savoy caught four passes all year, but lined up at receiver for 11 of the 12 games. Two safeties and three cornerbacks also lined up for the offense at times.
Those are slightly above what you’d expect from a Lloyd Carr team. But that’s a lot of receiver substitution for a team starting a walk-on QB and his noodly appendage.
They're also, by the way, WAY above what you'd expect from a Rich Rodriguez team, too. Clemson under RR utilized half as many receivers. Tulane spread the ball less as well. And West Virginia, as legend tells, was the runniest of the runny.
Yes, and you can't get Ricardo Millers to go to any of those schools, either.
In his previous gigs, Rich Rodriguez was very good at maximizing offensive output by maximizing certain positions. This is great at a school where you have to make recruiting decisions early and often. W.Va. can have a big season and be a player in the national dual-threat QB sweepstakes, but they were never going to be the kind of school that's on every kid's list in the country before they even get a call. RR didn't come here to turn Michigan into West Virginia. RR came here to further his career, to do better than he did at West Virginia. There's not much further you can go with the running game than he had with Devine and Pat White. What's wrong with imagining that he actually has designs on creating college football's ultimate offense?
The offense, I think, is going to make considerable more use of its receivers every year between now and 2012. The plan, as I see it, is to not just spread the field horizontally with a 4-wide alignment, but spread it vertically by having at least two receivers who can’t be left one-on-one going deep into the secondary on every play. It’s Terrell and Walker all over again, except while Stonum and Hemingway catch their breath, Ricardo Miller, JeRon Stokes and Roy Roundtree are doing the damage. Even if the ball doesn’t go that way, the simple necessity of covering multiple deep threats will keep the safeties back, and open up some space for the slot receivers, the crossing routes, and, of course, the slippery quarterbacks and smurfs-with-jetpacks running backs.
It makes too much sense not to. It’s the purest ideal of the spread, only realized here because Michigan can actually get enough talent so that the 4th or 5th receiver on the depth chart is worth double coverage. It’s the perfect marriage of the tried-and-true Lloyd Carr concept of maximizing talent differential, with the Rich Rodriguez ideal of making the defense cover the entire field, then beating them with speed and specialty-type players.
That’s why, at least in my opinion, Rich Rodriguez has stockpiled so much talent at the Wide Receiver position.
That, and because if you’re after a 2010 or 2011 5-star quarterback, already being stocked with targets for him makes an awfully good selling point.
But that still doesn't mean they're going to all be wracking up 1,000 yards. To that, I recommend reviewing the comments these guys made when they signed. They're not "I'm going there to be the next Braylon Edwards." If there's a theme to any of it, it's "this program is on the way up and I want to be a part of it!" He's getting guys who want to win championships; okay, every guy wants to win championships -- but he's getting guys who are picking their school based on where they think they can win championships.
And if you ask me, I believe RR thinks that way too.