"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
Since there's been a lot of discussion in various threads about conference strength, where the Big Ten can improve, voter perception of the conference affecting all of the teams...here's the quick guide to the major out-of-conference games coming up for the 2013 season. Some teams still have open dates, and some games are bigger than others, but this should do.
Here are the relatively big games for 2013. No gametimes have been announced, nothing but dates and matchups.
I realize this is very early, but this kind of thing will come in handy once further discussion of conference comparison and the Big Ten's relatively disappointing 2012 rears its ugly head again.
August 31st - Penn State at Syracuse (in MetLife Stadium, NY)
The first significant Big Ten game of 2013 features a surprisingly good Penn State team against an alright Syracuse team. Given the big-time venue (chosen because Syracuse wants to take hold of the NYC market), this game could get some attention. If Penn State wins, it's a small boost to the conference, while a loss would be pretty bad, yet not disastrous.
September 7th - Notre Dame at Michigan
Big for a variety of reasons, this would be Notre Dame's first major game of 2013, where they could be defending a national championship. (Michigan opens with Central Michigan, Notre Dame opens with Temple.) It's the last scheduled Mich-ND matchup in Michigan Stadium, and this will be on the national radar all summer.
This one has an outside chance of becoming a featured game of the week, with College GameDay, ESPN, and all of that. This one will be anticipated all summer, and it will turn into one of the year's great games.
Notre Dame will play at Purdue on September 14th and against Michigan State on the 21st, for their only games against Big Ten opponents.
September 14th - UCLA at Nebraska
One of the biggest out-of-conference games, this one could feature the defending Big Ten champion against a highly ranked Pac-12 team. This game will likely go on a prime television timeslot, maybe even College GameDay. Nebraska's result here would be the focal point of any conference recap for the rest of the season, so the Cornhuskers have to win this for everyone else.
September 14th - Ohio State at California
Ohio State could be coming off of an undefeated season, and this is their first big game of 2013. The Buckeyes should win this game, and should win it big. Obviously, I hope they do not, but this should be a conference win.
Cal will also play Northwestern to open 2013, making the Golden Bears a weird litmus test for the Big Ten next year. If California has a great season, and the Big Ten beats them twice, we must have a great conference. And vice versa.
September 14th - Wisconsin at Arizona State
Another Big Ten/Pac12 matchup, but this one should go to Wisconsin, even on the road. If the Badgers lay another egg in a Pac12 stadium, this season could feature even more "what happened to the Big Ten?" columns.
September 14th - Washington at Illinois (in Soldier Field)
Illinois is having a terrible season, and Washington is on the upswing, but this one is only important if Washington starts the season with some hyped momentum.
September 21st - Missouri at Indiana
While both of these teams are around the 6-win mark, this is still an SEC/Big Ten matchup in a Big Ten stadium. It doesn't come around too often, and an Indiana win would be huge for that program and the conference. It's the only Big Ten/SEC game of 2013, and might have even been scheduled back when it was a Big Ten/Big 12 game.
November 9th - BYU at Wisconsin
It's a late-seaosn game designed to keep Wisconsin humming on all cylinders as the season comes to a close, and a relevant Badgers team will be making the last case for the Big Ten before bowl season. With another catastrophe like this season, the game becomes the last chance for the conference to salvage itself within the polls. With an improved season, this becomes a great day to showcase how we've "turned things around".
That's pretty much it. September 14th could be D-Day for the Big Ten, shaping the conference for the rest of the season.
A full, team-by-team, out-of-conference schedule is below. Teams in capitals are from auto-qualifier conferences (and ND), teams in italics are anything below FBS. Therefore, a win over a capitalized team is a good one, and a loss to an italicized team is a disaster that clearly means we aren't as good as the SEC, or something like that.
Continuing the baseball previews in a build up to opening day this Friday, I'll look at how the team is pitching is set up this year. Previous preview posts: Initial Schedule Reaction, Maloney Podcast, A Look Back.
Michigan led the Big Ten in ERA last year and returns 74.3% of their innings. Chris Fetter was a big part of, but the returning pitchers had a collective 5.08 ERA. That would have have been good enough for second in the Big Ten. Top returner Eric Katzman, the only starting lefty, is expected to top the rotation upon his return from hernia surgery. Katzman went 7-4 last season with a 3.53 ERA. He'll be in the pen until he's comfortable with longer starts. While I'm expecting more consistency from him this season, I'm somewhat concerned about entering the season late out of the bullpen. If he gets pushed into the rotation too early, the results could be disastrous.
The depth behind Katzman should be better. Alan Oaks will start the year as the Friday guy. Oaks was used almost exclusively on offense to start the year, but after the pitching depth issues of last year started to take their toll Rich Maloney moved him back to the hill. Oaks had four starts at the end of the year. In those starts, he lasted an average of just over five innings per start, but one of his early starts against Indiana was particularly short and ugly at two innings. He had two impressive starts of seven and 7.2 innings respectively with just six earned runs between them.
While I don't expect Oaks to be a lights out starter this season, he is capable of eating a ton of innings, exactly what Michigan was missing to start last season. Other than Fetter, no one could start a game and make it through the 7th inning. It will be interesting to see how spending the entire off season preparing to enter the starting rotation will affect his performance. While I'm skeptical that he has the ability to be our ace, Alan is a key player if Michigan is going to be better this year.
Along with Oaks, I'm expecting good things from Brandon Sinnery and Kolby Wood. I've took a shine to Sinnery since his start against Eastern Michigan as a freshman. The kid has potential and a pretty good combination of pitches. He's not at a dominant level yet, but I can see him being a force in the third or fourth starter. Maloney thinks he's really making a jump, so it'll be exciting to see.
Kolby Wood has just as impressive this off season as his team's closer, registering a 1.45 ERA and 4 saves over 19 games. He's got a jerky motion, but his tall frame gives him good leverage on his fastball and the splitter he added this offseason. He should be in better shape this year. Rumor had it he had a sore wrist to end last season.
Tyler Burgoon (pictured right from BostonWolverine's flickr, which you should check out if your a photo fan, great stuff*) also makes his return to the starting rotation this season after spending the last year and a half in the closer's role. Burgoon began his career at Michigan as a midweek starter during his true freshman season. He had some success, but was pushed into late innings during the weekend because he was too valuable to use just midweek. Burgoon has also fully healed his shoulder. He has a solid repertoire of pitches, most notably his fastball and wicked slider.
Matt Miller, one of our top relievers last season, will make some starts this season. Miller was 1-2 last season with 3.70 ERA, second best behind Dufek in the bullpen. He registered 3 saves in 23 appearances with 43 K's in 41.1 innings. He did start one game last season, but it was against Eastern Michigan and Michigan was just getting guys innings. He went two hitless innings, striking out one.
*(Boston Wolverine also writes Roar of the Tigers.)
The bullpen should be better this season just due to increased depth. The pitching star of the 2009 freshman class, lefty Bobby Brosnahan (pictured at right), will return from Tommy John surgery. Brosnahan is an Ann Arbor native and during his junior year he was listed in the Michigan All-State 2nd team honorees. He had a solid offseason with the Lima Locos, so hopefully that's a good start.
Brandon Sinnery, Kolby Wood and Matt Miller might be seeing time in the bullpen as long relievers, but I think we'll also think we'll see more Matt Broder, Tyler Mills, and Kevin Vangheluwe. Broder pitched well at a lower level summer ball team, the Michigan Rams, but he's yet to get any innings at UM. Tyler Mills was Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year his senior season at Mt. Pleasant HS but redshirted last season. Kevin Vangheluwe was coming off a serious injury coming out of high school and still hasn't quite found his stuff yet. Brian actually did a solid run down of him as a recruit back at mgoblog v1.0, with this now archived Detroit News clip:
"His (right) arm was discolored," Collins said. "It was like if you held it out of a car window and lost circulation. His dad (Mark VanGheluwe) took him to get examined and they gave him some medication to disperse the clot. He contacted (U-M coach Rich) Maloney and he told them to come immediately to U-Hospital. On Thursday, he had surgery to break up the blood clot and they said his muscles were pushing against the rib cage on that (right) side. I was told it was a normal case to remove that top rib on that side. And that was done Friday. Both were successful."
Kevin looked a little bit better this summer, but he's nowhere near the level of dominance he had before the injury.
Our top regular returner that is strictly a bullpen pitcher is Mike Dufek. When away from first base, he's been used here and there as a closer. His fastball can touch the 95-96 range and his slider is pretty good. Dufek probably won't be utilized as much this year, but he'll get his chances depending on how the closer by committee goes.
Travis Smith will spend more time in the bullpen this year. He's had a rough time as a starter over the last year both at Michigan and his summer gig in the Texas Collegiate League. All of these starter/reliever combinations should be huge assets in the pen if they aren't starting on the weekend.
Rounding out the returners are Matt Gerbe and Jeff DeCarlo. Gerbe hasn't shown too much yet during his time at Michigan or his stint with the Winchester Royals of the Valley League this summer. He had an atrocious stint as a starter with the Royals that saw his ERA balloon over 36. He managed to pull it under 9 by the end of the season.
Jeff DeCarlo, well, I've always made it a point to try and not speak that poorly of him. The guy is an Academic All-Big Ten player, not a All-Big Ten player. I respect that. I just cover my eyes and cross my fingers every time I see him on the mound, partially hoping he won't give up 3 runs in an inning, the other hoping he only pegs one guy in the 1 inning he might last. And this isn't an exaggeration. His 2009 stats:
So as this season goes on, if I make references to the "DeCarlo-type outing", this is what I mean. We won't see much of him this year, but when we do, consider it a David Cone like moment, but with less Febreeze. It's a blow out one way or the other, and as a bonus, DeCarlo will have an ERA comparable to David Cone's completion percentage—not the fraction, but the fraction multiplied by 100.
Michigan has solid depth and a concentration of guys who could start or go in the bullpen. Several of those are in the running for closer, and it's always good to have a bunch of guys capable of closing out games. Hell, even DeCarlo was collecting saves with his summer team, so the future has to look brighter, no?
Michigan returns more quality pitching than the rest of the league, and it's had had a year to develop. They also get a few promising prospects back. If they stay healthy, this year's pitching could be just as good as last year's by spreading Chris Fetter's load over five or six players who weren't available for last year. The depth should be enough to keep Michigan from losing random games against conference bottom dwellers Iowa, Northwestern, and Penn State, teams that they had a 3-6 record against last year.
That makes me an optimist. An outsider's view of the pitching staff is a little bit different. Most saw Fetter as the be all end all of our staff. That was true about one in every three weekends, but again, I point to the depth issues and a couple inconsistent players. This off season was a promising one for a wide variety of pitchers. If Katzman can get fully healthy before we start to push him for innings, Fetter's loss will be survivable.
- MSU (17-11, 5-11, RPI: 33) @ #14 Michigan (22-7, 10-6, RPI: 13)
- Wednesday November 18
- Cliff Keen Arena
- TV: BigTenNetwork
- Radio: MGoBlue
Michigan returns to the floor for it's second Wednesday night special of the season against Michigan State as the two teams set out to battle for the State Pride Flag. Michigan currently leads the race including a 3-0 win over MSU by scores 33-31, 25-22, and 26-24. That's really close for a 3-0 sweep, and by all indications, that'll probably be the case again tonight.
Momentum Coming In
Michigan enters this game on a 3 game winning streak, but all three of those wins came against the 3 of the bottom four teams in the BigTen. To make it sound worse, two of those games involved Michigan squeaking by in 5 sets. That's not the way a top 15 team should be winning.
The Spartans also have struggled of late, including losing 3 of their last four. One of those losses was a respectable sweep by Illinois (the Illini are a top ten team), but the other two came at the hands of Northwestern and Indiana, teams guaranteed to finish the conference season with a losing record.
A little bit has changed since the last time Michigan faced the Spartans. In that last game, Lexi Zimmerman dislocated her thumb, and that has definitely made a noticeable difference in the team's play. While Lexi's thumb should be getting closed to healed. The last time I saw it was two weeks ago, still wrapped in the support brace. In the picture to the right, from mgoblue, you can see the thumb wrap at it's largest. You can also see some excellent control of her body.
Another player that has been missing is middle blocker Courtney Fletcher. While I don't have the exact diagnosis, her being on crutches with the ankle soft cast (or that's what it appeared to be, feel free to leave what you know in the comments) is still a fixture on the sidelines. Karlee Bruck has taken her place on the court, and has done well so far. Bruck was the starter to finish last season and has plenty of experience. She should be a solid replacement on the net.
The real loss with Fletcher's injury is on the serve. Bruck's serve is the reason she lost her starting job to Courtney in the first place. To try and keep a solid 6th server, Coach Rosen has been using Maggie Busch as a defensive specialist as a substitute. Busch has already had 7 service aces on the season, but she's very inconsistent, claiming 7 service errors as well.
What to Watch
While I think Michigan should be a heavy favorite across the board in this game, the Wolverines have been letting too many teams stay in close games. With teams like Indiana and Purdue, our team's talent can pull through. Against Michigan State, they'll have that added motivation which could really hurt Michigan. We need to keep the intensity high and not take the boot off their throats. If Michigan starts to let MSU go on any 5-0 run or better and we haven't called timeout, I'll start to worry.
Oh, and we need to cut down on the service errors.
Again, I'm not sold on these charts yet, but I think they may put a couple things in perspective.
|Serve Errors/Game||2.5||Serve Errors/Game||1.9||MSU|
|Passing Errors||29||Passing Errors||37||Michigan|
Note: I'm thinking about doing these for just televised games. They may expand to other sports if I find the time.
- UM @ MSU
- Wednesday October 21
- TV: BigTenNetwork (BTN GameFinder)
The volleyball team makes it two televised matches in a week with this special midweek conference game against Michigan State at 7pm tonight. The game will be televised live on the BTN as the two teams play for the "State Pride Flag," the volleyball version of the Paul Bunyan–Governor of Michigan Trophy.
The State Pride Flag has been passed back and forth by the winners of the Michigan/Michigan State regular season series since its inception in 1990. The flag was flown over the state capital building on September 18,1990 to commemorate the rivalry. The flag is a normal State Of Michigan flag with the motto "Tuebor," meaning "I will defend," across the bottom.
Michigan, while trailing in the all-time series 32-45 (MSU claims it's 31-46-1?), also trails 18-22 since the inception of the State Pride Flag. Despite this record, Michigan has managed to supposedly win 11 of the 19 season series. Michigan has swept twice and been swept 4 times, the other 13 years have been splits. I'm not certain how tie breaker rules work.
This game has been moved to the Breslin Center as East Lansing expects a large crowd. This is the second straight year that the game at Michigan State will be played in the larger arena. Michigan lost there last year, and the Spartans do own a perfect 4-0 record all time in Breslin. We'll see on TV just how loud the Spartans can make it. Knowing their hatred of all Michigan teams ranked higher than they are, my bet is pretty loud.
As far as this year's Spartan team, they come in at 14-6 (2-2 BigTen) with a ranking of 33rd (other's receiving votes) in this week's AVCA rankings and own a #18 RPI. They own a 2-1 record against ranked opponents, beating then #12 USC and then #12 Illinois; they were swept at home by #1 Penn State in their last game.
Michigan State is lead in kills by junior right-side/outside hitter Megan Schatzle. Megan is the younger sister of former MSU All-American outside hitter Ashley Schatzle, but she's not nearly as dominant as Ashley was. Megan will predominately play the right side, but she gets plenty of sets as she leads the team with 3.13 kills per set.
MSU will split outside hitting between sophomore Becca Zlabis and redshirt sophomore Jenilee Rathje. They average 2.73 and 2.53 kills per game respectively, which is pretty low for BigTen standards.
The lack of hitting is made up in their block. MB Vanessa King is averaging 1.03 per game while her alternate, Mischelle Nelson is averaging 0.97. As a team, they average 2.4 blocks per set, which happens to be exactly what our opponents average against us.
The key to this game, much like against Penn State, will be playing a clean service game. Michigan needs to put the pressure on the Spartans with our solid serves. We need to limit the errors and keep a level head.
The other matchup to watch is how we block Schazle. Normally, you would use a combination of your middle blocker and right side hitter against an outside hitter, leaving your outside hitter with help from the middle blocker against their right side. Juliana isn't a huge blocking threat (she's definitely a great offensive player and pretty good passer as well), so we're going to need a solid performance from Rood and Fletcher to help support that side.
|Serve Errors||207||Service Errors||151||MSU|
|Serve Recep (SR)%||.944||Serve Recep (SR)%||.945||PUSH|
|Pass Errors||17||Pass Errors||29||UM|
|AVG Oppo RPI||69.75||AVG Oppo RPI||82.7||Slightly UM|
I was wondering how Brian's ratings of the offense in his previews this year compared with last year's ratings (and for a little pain I looked at 2007 ratings too.)
 OL: 3.5
RB and FB: 4
WR and TE: 3
In case you were curious ..
Averages: 2009 - 3.58 2008 - 2.67
*This year he separated running backs and full backs, and outside/slot receivers and tight ends.
Maybe this is me grasping at straws in desperation, or maybe the mythical world of intanglibles and superstitions isn't really all that mythical or superstitious, but I've noticed something lacking this season. I don't mean a competent quarterback. I'm talking about something else here.
I'm talking about kittens! This season has seen a distinct lack of kittens on MGoBlog. Even the ef'n Garfield cartoons posted in the previews are sans cat. Sure, the kittens didn't always work, but things were never ever quite this bad before.
I'm in favor of brining back the harmless things that may or may not help out a little bit. All the old school cry babies whining about the lack of a pro style offense can get bent. That's not the problem. We need kittens.
The previews aren't the same without me reaching the end, reading the word "intangibles", seeing something of otherworldly cuteness, and guiltily fighting off a smile so my co-workers don't come running over to see what I'm laughing at once again. No amount of explaining would be able to reconcile to them why my favorite football blog has pictures of small adorable fuzzy animals every week. They wouldn't get it.
If nothing else, bring them back because kittens just make people happy. In times as dire as these, we could use a little more happy. We could use more kittens.