to play football, not to play trumpet
And now for something completely different...
Brian Kelly actually scores points in my book. He was asked about academics as they relate to his football team and gave this response:
I think we recognized that all of my football players are at risk. All of them, really. Honestly, I don't know that any of our players would get into the school by themselves right now, with the academic standards the way they are. Maybe one or two of our players that are on scholarship.
So, making sure that with the rigors that we put them in -- playing on the road, playing night games, getting home at 4 o'clock in the morning, all of the demands that we place on them relative to the academics, and going into an incredibly competitive academic classroom every day -- we recognize this is a different group.
And we have to provide all the resources necessary for them to succeed and don't force them into finding shortcuts.
I think we've clearly identified that we need to do better. And we're not afraid to look at any shortcomings that we do have and fix them.
I'm not a Brian Kelly fan at all. Dare I say that he handled this well? I think it was an honest and accurate assessment. Interesting that it mirrors what Mattison said to that recruit (forget which one) that got blown way out of proportion.
UK blog site (http://www.aseaofblue.com/2015/3/28/8304713/kentucky-vs-notre-dame-a-sta...) comparisons Notre Dame with last year's UM team:
The truth is that Notre Dame is a quality opponent, they went 3-1 against Duke and North Carolina this year. They are great offensively, well coached, and may have the best player on the floor in Jerian Grant. Notre Dame is basically 2014 Michigan wearing green and gold instead of maize and blue.
In essence, Kentucky has already played this game, it was in last year's elite 8 as well. The difference is that the Wildcats are much better this year.
This is going to be a short diary, with more a focus on college football generally than Michigan football’s last two weeks of the regular season. I say this every time, but I mean it. Also, please make sure to read my comment regarding Frank Clark and what has come out in the past couple of hours.
Best: A Michigan-free Football Saturday
Virtually everyone here is a diehard Michigan fan; I kinda doubt you’d be posting and reading this blog if you weren’t. But it should come as no surprise to many that watching this version of Michigan football the past couple of years is not an overly-entertaining affair.
So I’ve come to enjoy watching football on bye weeks because I can just enjoy football for what it is, with no real rooting interest or aneurysm-inducing reactions to what’s going on during the game. I can watch Miss. St. vs. Alabama, OSU vs. Minny, or FSU vs. Miami and just enjoy watching other teams without having to be overly critical of What It Means or The Future of the guys on the sidelines. Plus, I got to see Notre Dame blow a game to Northwestern (!) and Auburn get waxed by Georgia and get a bit of revenge for that insanity last year.
Best: Seriously, Irish?
You get down with your bad self, Pat!
Nothing is more fun than seeing ND lose due to their own hubris, and a piece of me is happy to one-half of M00N get a little bit of a gift.
Worst: Smart football?
So this conference really does suck at football.
Okay, take a step back.
This conference sucks at smart football compared to the rest of the country.
Minnesota and OSU was amazing in so many ways, from the two turnovers by Jalin Marshall (one on a probable score and another on a muffed punt that set up a Minny TD), to the worst onside kick I’ve seen in a long time (the Minnesota kicker both kicked it softly AND directly at the OSU hands guy), to Mitch Leidner going 7/19 for 85 yards and 2 INTs, 36 of those yards on one completion to Maxx Williams. But at least those are football-type events; Cole Stoudt completed 3 passes to Clemson players and 3 to Georgia Tech DBs, and two of these were returned for TDs.
No, what was amazing was Jerry Kill deciding late in the 4th quarter, deep in OSU territory and on 2nd down, to kick a 34-yard-field goal while being down 10.
Obviously, you need the FG and the TD, and on 4th down I absolutely understand taking the points versus going for a TD. But he had a bit over a minute left, and while he had no timeouts (which he used to slow down OSU’s previous drive), there was little danger in at least trying to throw to the endzone once or twice. You need that TD at some point, and passing from the 17 at least gives you some options; trying to throw from the 40 (or wherever they’d be on a successful onside) with under a minute wasn’t going to be any easier. And while Minny’s kicker had missed earlier, it was a 50-yarder doinked off an upright with more than enough distance. Instead, the Gophers ran up, spiked the ball, then trotted out the FG kicker for a chipshot and then failed to recover the onside kick. It was baffling enough for the announcers to question it as it occurred, and is even more inexplicable in retrospect.
I hate picking on Kill because he is a good coach who has helped Minnesota recover from the dregs to be a decent mid-level conference program, and his medical condition is obviously quite draining and it is a testament to him that he is performing as well as he is. That said, this was a crazy end to a game that probably shouldn’t have been that close anyway.
Best: Running Back ConfUrence?
I know PSU is known as Linebacker U (yes, and for other things). But for all the crap that the conference gets for being less innovative than others, but what it does have is the most complete and impressive collection of running backs in the country, with 4 in the top 10 nationally, including the top 2 spots.
Melvin Gordon broke LaDainian Tomlinson’s FBS record for rushing yards with 408 yards on 25 carries (!), which I’m not sure I could pull off playing NCAA Football 2014 on easy mode against Southern Directional State U. And Nebraska is no slouch defensively; they were comfortably in the top-25 defenses by FEI coming into the game, and were only giving up 3.7 yards per carry. By comparison, Tomlinson put up his yardage against Texas-El Paso on 43 carries(!). Wiscy has had some great backs in its history, but Gordon seems otherworldy right now, and for once I’m happy that the weird scheduling quirks at the conference kept him off the schedule.
On the other side of the field, Abdullah struggled running the ball, especially once Wisconsin started to pull away, but any other year he’d be in the conversation for best back in the conference despite being injured the past couple of weeks. Befitting the tire fire that has been Indiana this year in conference, Tevin Coleman put up over 300 yards running the ball and still finished over 100 yards behind the day’s leader while IU lost by 22. Similarly, David Cobb has been a major force behind Minnesota’s renaissance this year, and yet I’m not sure most people realize he’s the eighth-leading rusher in the country. And you have guys like Langford at MSU and Elliott and OSU putting up really good numbers as well.Gordon and Coleman could return next year, though I wouldn’t hold me breath on either.
As a Michigan fan it is obviously distressing to see so much talent at the running back position seemingly everywhere else except in Ann Arbor. I don’t know much about Fred Jackson and his coaching style, but it is clear that there is talent in the region and Michigan is either (a) whiffing horribly, or (b) failing to develop it into competent on-field performers. Still, it’s been fun watching these guys play so well, and I’m going to try to enjoy it because I’m not sure we’ll see this concentration of talent anytime soon.
Worst: M.C. SECher
Michigan was never going to sniff the college playoff this year, and as soon as Oregon trounced MSU and OSU got blitzed by VT nobody in the conference stood much of a change of competing for a spot; I guess OSU has a slight chance if they win out and a bunch of teams ahead of them lose, but that seems unlikely. Not only is my team not involved in this first year, but the two teams that are my mortal enemies are most-likely out, so hate-watching isn’t on the table either. So instead, I’ve been watching the past couple of weeks play out nationally with about as much detachment as one person can have for the sport.
So this weekend #4 Alabama beat #1 Mississippi State at home, #15 Georgia blitzed #9 Auburn at home by 27, #24 Texas A&M lost at home to a Mizzou team that lost to Indiana at home and probably won’t finish the year with a win against a ranked team, and #17 LSU was shut out by 5-5 Arkansas a week after nearly upsetting now-#1 Alabama. This came a week after A&M upset Auburn on the road.
Now, on the surface these results should be exciting; highly-ranked teams playing each other in important games are what college football is supposed to be all about. Well, that and money. Lots and lots of money. Oh yeah, and maybe education.
But as has been the case all year, it feels like a shell game is going on in the SEC and the media (read: ESPN) is all too happy to keep it going for the watching public. This year has seen an unprecedented number of SEC teams ranked, and in a down year for college football some of the best teams do reside in the Southeast. But these rankings have become more and more dubious as the year has gone on and we realize that teams like LSU, Auburn, and A&M aren’t sleeping giants but instead deeply-flawed outfits with inconsistent performances.
The problem is that because the perception remains that the SEC is the dominant football conference by leaps and bounds, you have this weird feedback loop wherein everyone has “good” wins and “good” losses because everyone is ranked, even though objectively they probably shouldn’t be. I know the fashionable term is SEC bias, but it isn’t even that; it’s just laziness and an inability to look beyond the numbers next to the logo.
LSU has two wins against ranked teams on their schedule – 28-24 against Wisconsin to open the year wherein the Badgers forgot to give the ball to Melvin Gordon at halftime and let LSU score 21 points, and a 10-7 fugly win against Ole Miss that had “drama” the same way a couple of drunk housewives throwing crap at each other on a Bravo show have “character development.” And yet, they were #17 in the country going into the weekend because they had losses to highly-ranked Auburn, Mississippi State, and Alabama, who themselves benefited from “good” wins against the usually-ranked Tigers.
Miss. State was #1 in the country before this weekend because they beat 4-loss LSU, 3-loss Auburn, and 4-loss A&M. Since then, they struggled to beat Arkansas and had a meh performance against Kentucky, but are still in the playoff hunt and will basically play an elimination game against Ole Miss to end the year, a team that had an okay win against Boise St. to open the year (don’t be fooled by that 35-13 score; it was an ugly game until well into the 4th quarter), a legit good win against Alabama, a victory over that same A&M team, and “good” losses to LSU and Auburn.
All of these teams are basically trading off wins; you go up and your opponent goes down, and next week you’ll trade places again. People call it “competitive balance” and that has some merit, but at some point balance becomes mediocrity, and I’m starting to think that is the case for the SEC this year. There are no dominant teams in the country; FSU is a paper tiger at #1 given how they’ve looked for weeks now, and the Pac-12 and Big-12 keeping get in each other’s way. So I get that the SEC feels like a safe bet because of their recent dominance. But actually watching these games, it feels like this year is the worst type of one for the new playoff format. Nobody really deserves to be #3 or #4, and if this was a skins game in golf you’d almost rather they roll over the 2 spots to next year when, maybe, there would be more deserving candidates. But what I do know is that barring a major immolation by a couple of teams, the SEC will probably get a 2-loss team into the playoff because of musical chairs in the polls, not because of any amazing evidence on the field.
Worst: F*cking Ohio
[Note: This report about Clark’s situation came out as I wrote this entry. Based on the details included therein, this is a bad situation for all involved and, if true, should lead to Clark’s immediate dismissal from the team. I’m leaving in my thoughts here because I feel the themes remain true.]
So I don’t know what happened to Frank Clark this weekend; seems like nobody does beyond the basics. He was arrested in Ohio for a misdemeanor domestic violence offense. It’s the most serious misdemeanor offense charge, but the heaviest penalty is up to 6 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. I’m still a registered attorney in Michigan as well New York state, but I never practiced in this area of law and have no experience in Ohio, so I’m not able to comment on the overall seriousness of the charges. But what I do know is that Frank Clark did something significant enough that police were called, he was arrested and charged, and (to my knowledge) is awaiting a bail hearing/bond posting. I’m sure there are threads out there in the ether where people claim to know more, but until I see something more credible than boojack321_UMSUX, I’m not going to take those claims with much salt.
It doesn’t surprise me that people have overreacted and started to concoct their own narratives regarding what happened this weekend; this is of course the internet, and the Michigan fanbase is as neurotic and reactionary as any others. I’ve read people calling for restraint until we hear more, others claim this is yet more proof that Hoke has lost this team, and (sadly) a number of people denigrating Frank Clark and distancing themselves from his association with Michigan. I remain steadfast in the insane belief that we don’t know enough to pass any judgment one way or another, but I’m also a philistine.
In no way should this be taken as some greater indictment of Hoke or the program; Frank Clark's actions on a bye week, miles away from campus, are his own alone. This is not Hoke's fault, nor the school's, nor anyone else's; these are the actions, whatever they are, of a single person, and in no way should be try to read more into them than that.
By this time tomorrow we should know much more about what happened and proper Internet Justice will be handed down, but it is safe to assume that Clark won’t be suiting up this weekend barring an extremely rare reversal of the legal process, and I’m guessing his final game may well have been against Northwestern. If so, it will be a sad coda to a career at Michigan that has been marked with some ignominy (the laptop incident) as well as flashes of brilliance on the field.
Obviously I hope justice is served, and that once all of the facts come out the proper resolution is achieved. That said, and I know I’m just spitting in the wind by this point, but I hope the UM community pumps the brakes a bit on the crucifixion until we know more.
So Michigan beat Hillsdale comfortably after some early-game jitters. The offense looks pretty good, and the defense has its issues with so much inexperience in the front court but it can absolutely turn it on in spurts.
I thought Walton looked great running the offense, and Caris messed around and nearly got a triple-double for his efforts. The freshmen looked like freshmen, but you can see the potential there. In particular, I thought Dawkins looked really explosive out there in his limited minutes, and should be a nice second-team scoring and energy option.
It’s early, but it was nice to watch a Michigan team take care of business and look fun and interesting while they did so.
Best: Two More Weeks!
Like most people, I’m ready for this season to end. The Clark situation is one last kick in the balls, but it should be over soon. As I said last week, I’m not excited about UM to make a bowl game if they do, but whatever, I’ll still be hoping they pull off the win against Maryland and get to 6 wins. But this year could not end any sooner.
We're slightly more than halfway through the regular season and sitting at 3-4 with losses to:
#5 6-0 Notre Dame (best win: #14 Stanford)
#20 4-1 Utah (best win: #8 UCLA)
5-1 Minnesota (best win: Northwestern/Michigan)
5-1 Rutgers (best win: Michigan)
That works out to 20-3. Heading into the bye, we just beat a PSU team that was 4-1. One could make the case that we haven't lost to a bad team. One could defend Hoke on that ground, but I'm not going to make that case.
Notre Dame has @FSU (#2), @Navy, @ASU (#17), Northwestern, Lousville, and @USC (#22). FSU will be favored by about 10 if Winston plays and about -3.5 if not. It's likely they finish 9-3 or better.
Utah has @OSU (NTOSU), USC (#22), @ASU (#17), ORE (#9), @TREE (#23), UA (#16), and @CO. That's brutal. Your guess is as good as anyone's in this year's PAC12, but mine is that they lose to USC, ASU, ORE, TREE, and UA, finishing 6-6.
Minnesota still has to face Purdue, @Illinois, Iowa, OSU, @Nebraska, and @Wisconsin. This is looking like a team that will win at least 8(!) games, possibly more.
Rutgers still has to face @Nebraska, @OSU, Wisky, Indiana, @MSU, and @Maryland. It's likely they finish 6-6 or worse.
Perhaps, just perhaps, the teams we've lost to will all prove to be decent teams.
This is going to be short and a bit low on jokes and links. I was at a wedding this weekend so had to watch the game on DVR late Sunday, but "this sucked to watch and I have better things to do than feel like crap for free" is also high on the list of reasons.
Oh, you want more? Fine.
Worst: Everything, but in a video
Best (Kinda): The First Half
I know you're sitting there saying, "BronxBlue, you picked a bad week to start crystal meth" if you think being down 21-0 constitutes a "good" half. But honestly, UM didn't play THAT badly, at least offensively. It became apparent pretty quickly that the offensive line's (relative) domination displayed against App. St. wasn't going to be reproduced against a more stout defense, but Gardner and co. seemed to compensate reasonably well. They only had one 3-and-out among 4 meaningful first-half drives, and two of those drives ended in long-but-makable FGs (it looked like the second miss was due in large part to Wile's plant foot sliding out on the turf). The other drive stalled when Gardner tried to pull back his throw as Miller was being driven back into him by Sheldon Day, resulting in a 17-yard "fumble" recovery that pinned UM deep in their own territory. UM led ND at the half in rushing, and while the pocket wasn't great, it held up enough that Gardner wasn't running for his life and was accurate and on-point with his throws and decision-making. It wasn't pretty, but it felt like an offense that was making some progress despite glaring issues up front.
As for the defense, feelingsball kicked in for me that first half. Objectively, giving up 21 points without a truly short field is pretty bad, and at times it felt like there were breakdowns at every level. At the same time, they were down Morgan before the game started, Taylor and Peppers after the opening drive, and still had question marks like Ryan out there. On ND's first TD drive, Lewis was called for two PIs that kept the drive alive, and while there was clearly contact and he could have turned his head a bit quicker, it's also the type of aggressive behavior that teams tend to get away with when not in South Bend. I mean, MSU was PI'ed to death last year when they played the Irish, and Notre Dame was equally as handsy on defense without incurring the wrath of the referees. Later on, ND nearly bumbled away a punt return deep in their own territory when the ND returner tried to, I don't know, catch the ball between his legs, only to be saved by Michigan trotting out the "old school" punt formation that leads to 1 gunner trying to beat two blockers AND tackle a returner who probably has 5 yards to get going. The last TD drive of the half had a questionable (at least in my eyes) catch for a first, and Golson made a couple of nice throws under pressure (including escaping the grasp of Clark).
My point isn't to paper over a issues in that first half, but if you had told me one team would have burned thru 2 timeouts on their opening drive, rushed for under 50 yards, and generally looked out-of-sorts to start the game, I wouldn't have expected that team to be ahead by three scores.
Worst: Stop Burning Downs
I picked up Madden 2015 for the Xbox One when it came out, and one of the elements that has been talked about is the "balance" you should expect to see running and passing the ball. In theory, that means EA has continued its improvements on run blocking, always the Achilles heel of the football world. Far too often in previous editions you would try to run inside only to have guards completely flub a block, or rush outside and find 2-3 players ready to swarm at the line of scrimmage. It's early, but it does feel like the offensive line is more cohesive, and backs are able to shed tackles and work through holes the way you'd expect them to in real life. It isn't perfect, but at a moderate difficult I've been able to reproduce believable stats for guys like Reggie Bush and Marshawn Lynch against competent defenses.
But the other part of the offensive balance has turned out to be a regression for the passing attack, or at least a dulling of the differences between offensive and defensive players in that part of the game. Whereas before elite receivers could catch most balls thrown their way, now I see far to many "50/50" balls between Calvin Johnson and assorted DBs going the defense's way, and beaten corners somehow discovering the rare 86th gear to catch up to my sprinting WR before he breaks free. For the sake of appearances, it feels like the game has tried to turn the clock back to the 1980s and make the running game as essential to success as the passing attack, which flies in the fact of today's modern game. Yes, a team needs to be able to move the ball on the ground at times, but most elite teams succeed by either throwing the ball efficiently (see the Broncos) or severely mucking up the aerial assault (see the Seahawks).
So why bring this up in the context of Michigan? Well, in the second half I counted 15 first down plays before the final drive; UM ran 10 of those times, and it was 8 of 10 at one point. On those runs, UM averaged a shade over a 1 yard per carry. Mind you, at all points UM was down AT LEAST 21 points, and even when they were down 28 they just kept burning downs with meaningless runs because they didn't want to become one-dimensional or had to give sacrifice to the great football gods in the sky that feast upon inefficient offensive philosophies.
People have joked about 14-year-olds who play Madden all day being as viable offensive coordinators as the guys currently on teams, but at some point teams need to stop trying to "keep the defense honest" with plays and start keeping them honest by moving the ball successfully. I get you want to keep Gardner healthy and not open him up to hits, but that offensive line wasn't holding up very well as the game progressed, and 2nd-and-9 or 3rd-and-7 isn't helping the offense either. I had much preferred UM just air it out that second half, perhaps getting back on the scoreboard and forcing the defense to hold back a bit because otherwise they'd had Norfleet or Funchess running free for a touchdown.
We are now entering the rapid-fire portion of the post
Worst: Just Pick Somebody
I know last week I trumpeted the two-headed monster at RB, but that was contingent on, you know, both of them being good at the position. After this game where neither Smith nor Green provided much on the ground, I think Hoke and co. should pick a back and give him the bulk of the carries to see how that shakes out. As it is, pulling them on and off the field every series (or even between downs) doesn't do much to forge cohesion or a rhythm for the offense. Plus, both players are similar enough to each other that you aren't getting the "lightning and thunder" element you'd see with, say, Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber back in the day for the Giants. It's just two rumbling clouds out there, and I'd rather see one of them get a shot to run the ball 15-20 times than split carries like they have been. Personally I think Smith is the better back right now because he seems able to consistently fall forward and get a couple of yards every down, but that's more based on a preference for shifty guys than some tangible performance. And if one can't perform, at least you've seen a whole game of it and can either go with the other option or return to the split carries. I'd hope with Miami coming to town and there being issues with Gardner and Funchess you'd see them try with a single-back attack, but I'm guessing we're going to see both guys splitting carries with meh results again.
Best: Keep Throwing to Norfleet
Yes, Notre Dame starting sniffing out those WR screens and keeping an eye on Norfleet in the slot, but he brings an elusiveness to this offense that UM needs to keep teams from absolutely loading up on Funchess. Chesson and Darboh are fine receivers, but Norfleet can pull LBs and safeties from the middle of the field when he gets the ball in space, and until Butt comes back I'd prefer him out there than an ineffective blocking TE. He has a ceiling that will probably preclude him from being a top option in the passing game this year, but he's a true junior so you might as well roll with him while you still can.
Honestly, I'm not sure what happened out there in terms of pressure from the defensive line. You look at the box score and see some TFLs, 1 sack and a couple of QB hits and it looks like another disappointing outing for a unit that just can't seem to get to the QB against quality offensive lines. And yet, ND was held to around 2.5 yards a carry on 28 non-QB runs, and Golson was definitely getting the ball out quickly to slow down the rush. It still seems like it's a line of good players without a true playmaker, and in this scheme you need a line that can create havoc so that your corners and LBs are being forced to keep up with receivers for extended periods of time. I know people want to treat this as another sign of hype being exposed, but I'm just not sure yet.
Worst: Quarterback Controversy
Argh. I get that people are troubled by Gardner's second-half struggles, especially two bad INTs, but this was a holistic struggle by the offense, and there is nobody on the roster at the QB position who could do any better. Morris has an arm but he wouldn't have had time to unleash it with ND's pressure and a lacking running game. Now, depending on Gardner's status following that late hit to end the game (why him and Funchess were still in the game is beyond me), I presume Morris will see some time, and he'll probably play fine against a bad MAC outfit. But Gardner should be starter as long as he is able to play, not only because he's the best option today but also because it might save the next QB from getting hurt.
Worst: Hurry Up
For weeks the word coming out from the coaches was that the offense was calling plays faster and experimenting with the crazy art of "tempo" offensively. Well, apparently that word means something else in Indiana because far too often UM was snapping with mere seconds left on the clock. I get that the offense is young and they are probably working from a limited playbook, but this team isn't good enough to outplay a defense that has time to react and line up based on the formation in front of them. Even if Gardner ran up to the line and said "run that last play again" a couple of times it would at least change the pace. This molasses-like must be coming from somewhere, but whether it's Hoke, Nussmeier, or Funk being worried about the line, it needs to stop.
Best (I guess): This Offensive Line will get better
I know it doesn't seem like it, but the offensive line is slowly getting better. It wasn't a great performance by any stretch, but for such a young unit the line held up decently in the first half, and even with struggles in the second half never seemed overwhelmed. It must be remembered that they are learning a new offense without anyone really "versed" on it to guide the way, and they are doing much of this education in games. There were some big screw-ups that I'm sure Brian will highlight in the UFR (I saw a coupe of runs where at least 1 lineman either got beat almost immediately or released way too early, messing up plays before Gardner had taken more than a step back), but this remains a unit chasing the faint light of mediocrity in the distance. Being surprised about the pain of the journey every week is already getting old, so I'm moving past bargaining and settling into acceptance of the crap and looking for whatever sliver of silver lining might exist.
Best: In the Land of the Blind the One-eyed man gets a good laugh
The one "positive" from the weekend as it relates to the rest of the conference season is that most of the contenders looked turrible as well. Nebraska needed a miracle catch-and-run by Abdullah to beat Steve McNair U at home, and they might as well hand out some super-rad Hypercolor shirts for the defense because those black ones are going to stay in the closet for another year. Ohio State and (in particular) J.T. Barrett looked hapless at times against Virginia Tech, especially a Hokie defense that, while less-than-terrifying current state compared to years past, is not the type of unit a young QB with accuracy issues wants to face. And while MSU had the most "understandable" loss going down to Oregon out in Eugene, the fact that they crumbled in the second half and the vaunted defense yielded 28 straight points without much resistance should be troubling to Spartan fans, as well as the team's continued inability to run the ball consistently with Langford.
Further down the standings, Iowa was thisclose to losing to Brady Hoke's old team, needing to score 2 TDs in the last 3 minutes to pull it out. Illinois struggled to put away the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky, Purdue split its epic Mitten State Directional School battle with a thumping at the hands of CMU, Maryland needed to rally to defeat USF, and poor, poor Northwestern. And only last week Wisconsin blew the game against LSU in the conference's other marquee OOC matchup. Even 2-0 PSU looks vulnerable, needing a last-second FG to beat UCF in Ireland last week before struggling to put away the Yodeling Bowden's of Akron.
So while Michigan looked absolutely outclassed by Notre Dame, sadly I'm not sure they are in any worse position with respect to this conference than they were before the game. MSU remains the class along with Wisconsin, and then there's a pretty big gap until you run into teams like OSU, Nebraska, PSU, and sorta, kinda UM. I still expect UM to finish behind a couple of teams in the conference, but nobody looks to be a high-level team save maybe MSU in the right circumstances. Michigan still has a long way to go before they'll be considered a good program nationally, but within this crappy league they could still stand as one of the taller midgets.
It doesn't matter.
Worst: I'm Irish; Where's my Luck?
Now, like a lot of Michiganders I have a fair bit of Irish heritage, in my case a couple grandparents who came to America directly from Éire. I was raised an Irish Catholic, celebrated St. Patrick's Day with corn beef and cabbage, loved both Roy and Robbie Keane, and was constantly reminded how lucky I was to not be a fine gentleman's pair of boots or a nourishing meal. And so in addition to being the butt of jokes about crippling alcoholism and an inability to tan, I've heard about the apparent "luck" of my people and the power of a clover. And yet, as long as I've been a Michigan fan this good luck never seems to apply when my team plays Notre Dame. In one of those apparent contradictions, like when both teams pray to the same higher power to bring them a victory, the fact that Notre Dame decided to call themselves the somewhat-derogatory "Fighting Irish" instead of the "Slamming Shamrocks" or "Proto Bonos" apparently trumps all other talismans or heritage.
I understand that homefield advantage is a real thing, especially in college football, and teams do tend to play better at home than away. And that advantage can sometimes manifest itself in atypical ways, such as being a fraction of a second closer in coverage, downing a punt at the 1 yard line, or a rabid crowd subconsciously influencing the referees. I don't even know where I'm going with this except to say that I'm worried the Denard used up all of our luck a couple of years ago.
Worst: There Ain't Nobody Better
I'll be frank: I don't think Brady Hoke should be let go after this season unless it becomes clear that the team is just spiraling out of control (and looking at the schedule, that seems unlikely). This sentiment isn't because I have some long-standing love for the guy or his performance so far at UM (I was down on his initial hire, and while he seems like a good guy and a competent coach he's not going to set the world on fire), but because I don't see anyone out there who is going to improve Michigan's situation appreciably. UM isn't a "destination" anymore when it comes to college football, at least not in the way that elite programs are. It has so much baggage and so many masters to please that unless you are an alum or a masochist (or in the case of Jim Harbaugh, both), it doesn't seem worth it to suffer through a bunch of 3-4 loss seasons and get pilloried by a dysfunctional media and an absent-minded athletic department. It's a once-proud program that isn't a destination anymore, one that is going to bristle when a veteran coach tries to impose his will on the institution and severely retard the rocket attached to the back of an up-and-coming coach.
When you are the coach of the Wolverines, you have to keep the old generation happy AND compete in a college football landscape that has moved well beyond Bo's glory years and the 1997 championship team. There is a vocal minority of this fanbase looking at this team from deep within their own colons, expecting it to be elite because of the block M and the ghosts of Yost without acknowledging that what used to work simply doesn't anymore. They look at RR and his "gimmick" offense as a fad, not a lottery ticket that didn't hit the jackpot but should have encouraged UM to buy another ticket for the next drawing.
Brady Hoke is trying his best; he hired a good defensive coordinator, made a switch from an unpopular offensive coordinator sooner than most expected, and continues to recruit well given the team he inherited and the recent struggles. But he's not going to drag UM back to the pinnacle of the sport, and that's okay for now. UM isn't anywhere close to competing with the elite teams in this country consistently; they just need to start winning games and keeping pace with the other squads in the conference. Hoke has a ceiling, and that is a team that wins 9-10 games a year and can hang with anyone in the B1G and most other non-elite teams OOC. Once he hits that ceiling, though, it is probably time to replace him with a coach who can take that good squad and make it great.*
So replacing him now simply weakens a team with real holes, creates another coaching search that will inevitably end badly, and probably impede the one thing Hoke has consistently done, which is recruit good players to the school. In a cold, transactional nature of internet coaching, Hoke is the guy who gets you back to the level at which you can get The Next Guy, and that's why trying to start over AGAIN with a new coach doesn't make sense.
*A good analogy is Doug Collins in basketball; he coached the Bulls when Michael Jordan was just starting to come into his own in the league, then was replaced by Phil Jackson when the Bulls were prepared to make the leap to elite
Meh: What's Next?
Got me. They'll probably win against Miami and Utah, and then the conference season kicks off. OSU is a trainwreck but it's still so far in the future that they're bound to be competent by the time UM visits Columbus. MSU looks vulnerable but not to this offense, and with injuries mounting the defense probably won't be disruptive enough to slow down MSU's attack. PSU still has holes that good teams can exploit, and while UM still can't seem to handle tempo all that well IU's defense isn't going to be able to bottle up Funchess and co. if everyone is healthy. It still feels like there are 2-3 losses waiting for this team, but Notre Dame is probably a bit better than everyone expected with Golson at the helm, and while it wouldn't have mattered overall UM probably left 7-10 points on the field. I'm sticking to my 8-4 prediction, but it's not going to be a fun ride.