if you seek an image of the most Wisconsin OL ever, enter here
Important (not important). This is a frog.
I have been exhorted to call this MGoFrog and make it a thing. I'm afraid that by doing so I will give Adidas an idea for a Michigan uniform, unfortunately.
Important (important). Will Heininger features in an Outside The Lines article on mental health issues for athletes:
"I had emotional pain that was overwhelming; I would wake up, and from morning until I feel asleep -- when I was able sleep -- I had troubling thoughts that were utterly consuming," said the 2011 Michigan honors graduate. "Not a minute would go by in a day, without my depression on my mind … this, this felt impossible."
One of the things CAPA is fighting for is better treatment for these sorts of issues; read the whole thing. Both of the whole things.
"Please enjoy this punch in the nuts." –DJ Newbill
CHAOS! Did you happen to watch the rote blowouts in the Big Ten last night? You did not, because Ohio State and Wisconsin lost to Penn State and Northwestern, respectively. At home. As our own BISB said:
Michigan and Michigan State are like two dudes in a hot air balloon over Pompeii right now.
— Bry Mac (@Bry_Mac) January 30, 2014
Yes. They're trying to push each other into the lava, but yes. Or Adam Jacobi:
The Big Ten Is Full of Blood and Spiders
Jacboi has a nice table that indicates the upcoming "no days off in the Big Ten"/"this conference is so deep" announcer memes are in fact on point:
|Year||Conf. Rating||Rank||Avg. B1G||Worst Team||Rating|
|2003||.7688||5||No. 56||Penn State||210|
|2004||.7520||5||No. 62||Penn State||218|
|2005||.7862||3||No. 47||Penn State||215|
|2013||.8459||1||No. 34||Penn State||148|
The closest thing to an easy out is the Northwestern team that is a half-game out of a first round bye in the Big Ten tourney; there's not even a last year's Penn State to kick around. There's a last year's Penn State plus Tim Frazier. See cliff above.
This is good and bad for Michigan. In the Kenpom world it's good since Michigan's beaten PSU handily and has yet to play OSU, but in the NCAA seeding world you get more credit for beating 6-seed OSU and terrible PSU than you get for beating 10-seed OSU and mediocre PSU. Neither of these effects are huge, so the correct reaction is probably just to point and laugh*. (And fume at how bad Big Ten refs are.)
*[But probably not at Aaron Craft. He got crossed over for the game winner, which was Newbill rushing a wrist-flick shot because Craft was coming. Meanwhile, Tim Frazier's statline: 8 points on 9 shot attempts, 7 assists, 6 TO. No offense to Derrick Walton, but put Craft on this Michigan team and they are a juggernaut. I shouldn't have mentioned this.]
Bill Carmody: gone, but not forgotten
The Wildcat conundrum. Meanwhile, we've been talking about how fascinating Northwestern is on the podcast for the last couple weeks. And boy, aren't they? Last year they were extremely bad, around 140th on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats then:
- fired Bill Carmody
- hired Chris Collins
- graduated two low-usage, mediocre efficiency seniors
- graduated a high usage, low efficiency senior
- got Drew Crawford back
- added a pretty terrible offensive player in freshman Sanjay Lumpkin, who they play starter's minutes
For some reason, the result is a massively unbalanced version of the team they were last year. Northwestern is 11th(!!!) in defensive efficiency on Kenpom for no discernable reason whatsoever. They have plummeted to 320th on offense. Their games are incredibly watchable for unwatchable games, because you're always trying to unravel the mystery of why the Wildcats are elite on defense. It makes no sense. No sense at all. Here's John Gasaway trying to figure it out.
Meanwhile, Northwestern is a half-game out of a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament and that gets BIG TENNNN, right? I think that's a BIG TENNNN.
By the way. Michigan shot 63% from two against the Wildcats and averaged 1.21 points per possession, and Alex Olah—Gasaway's best guess as to why NW is playing so much better D—was on the court for 30 minutes.
Recruiting battles past. OSU has a couple of guys on their team that Michigan pursued, and it's interesting to see their development. Or lack thereof, as the case may be.
Michigan stopped recruiting Amadeo Della Valle so they could go after Caris LeVert, who was right under OSU's nose. OSU grabs ADV; Michigan gets LeVert. In year two, Della Valle is a very poor man's LeVert: a skinny shooting guard with some ability to drive, but one who's only getting 30% of OSU's minutes as they struggle to generate anything on offense. LeVert generates a lot of assists; ADV is generating few. Hell, LeVert has replaced about 95% of Tim Hardaway's production a year after Michigan was trying to redshirt him.
The context of the team is important, but it seems like that Michigan made the right choice on that one.
The other guy on the OSU roster Michigan was involved with is Amir Williams, OSU's mercurial center. Williams has oven mitts for hands and gets pulled on the regular despite OSU's near total lack of post players to replace him with; he has seemingly not improved one whit from the absentminded freshman I remember from two years ago. Michigan was never really a consideration for Williams, but it's kind of amazing that OSU would probably trade him for Jordan Morgan without blinking.
Either way. In yesterday's post on Northwestern's prospective union I mentioned that the NLRB had flipped back and forth on the issue of student-employees being able to organize based on assertions from a 2006 paper. In that paper the most recent ruling had gone against the students trying to organize. Well, that has again flipped:
“There’s case law for the NLRB involving teaching assistants which supports their position,” Baum said. “There have been different decisions both ways. What they’re saying is that this really is a form of litigation to bring about change because they’re asking for something very similar.”
In December 2013, the American Arbitration Association announced that graduate teaching and research assistants at New York University had officially unionized. The group is the only graduate assistants’ union at a private university in the U.S.
Demonstrating the volatility of the NLRB, graduate assistants at NYU were granted the ability to negotiate a union contract and both improved health benefits and increased stipends in 2000. But in 2005 the ruling was switched following a case involving Brown graduate assistants in which the NLRB ruled that graduate assistants are students, not employees, and therefore cannot unionize.
The recent overturn of the 2005 ruling, though, is an encouraging sign for the newly formed CAPA.
One gets the sense that the NLRB tends to blow whichever way the White House does. In CAPA's case there seems to be no way to put the cat back in the bag if Northwestern does indeed get certified, so now is as good a time to strike as any.
Typical. FERPA means whatever Universities want it to mean, so the university says they will not release any details about Brendan Gibbons. This is in line with the university's general stance on releasing information—don't do it, because we have to cover our ass. Suspicious in most cases, here it verges on appalling given the fact that FERPA specifically states this:
The text of FERPA notes that the law shouldn’t “be construed to prohibit an institution of postsecondary education from disclosing the final results of any disciplinary proceeding conducted by such institution against a student who is an alleged perpetrator of any crime of violence … or a nonforcible sex offense, if the institution determines as a result of that disciplinary proceeding that the student committed a violation of the institution’s rules or policies with respect to such crime or offense.”
With lurid conspiracy theories flying back and forth, everyone would be better off if Michigan came forth and showed everyone exactly what happened to expel a student four years after the incident that got him expelled transpired. This is not an athletic department thing, but rather a larger pattern of CYA secrecy that's beneath the university. Or at least should be.
Michigan's not the only Big Ten East power program holding introductory press conferences this month. PSU has a mostly new staff, and Ohio State poached a legendary assistant from them while also adding what appears to be one of the more competent guys from the Bielema group. How does this change things?
Nussmeier to Michigan, Franklin to Penn State, Ash and Johnson to Ohio State, Pat Narduzzi to...dammit all to hell, how can a guy mentioned in every coaching search not go somewhere?!?
How will these recent coaching changes affect the balance of power in the Big Ten East, and the Big Ten in general? Who'll still be coaching at the same place, and who will be the happiest with their guy three years hence?
Ace: If nothing else, recruiting in the Big Ten East is going to be an absolute war. We've discussed the recruiting upgrade Nussmeier provides over Al Borges in this space. Now Penn State lands James Franklin, who managed to reel in the #26 (247 Composite) class at Vanderbilt in 2013 and was on his way to repeating that feat this year before his departure; given the foundation laid by Bill O'Brien and the ever-receding shadow of the sanctions, he should be very successful as an energetic, big-name recruiter in a relatively talent-rich area. Franklin's already had three prospects commit (or flip their commit from Vandy) to Penn State since he took over; he's a coach who players commit to over a program, and now he's got a big-name program to pitch, as well.
Meanwhile, Ohio State gets the Nittany Lions' longtime ace recruiter in Johnson, who should pick up any slack lost when Mike Vrabel bolted for O'Brien's Houston staff—coaching musical chairs! It can be weird!—and Ash also carries the reputation of a solid recruiter.
|Those who've witnessed a James Franklin press conference admit Penn State won this round. [Justin Aller/Black Shoe Diaries]|
All in all, I think Michigan benefits the most right away from their recent hire, though I can also see the argument for Ohio State. The upgrade from Borges to Nussmeier should pay immediate dividends on and off the field; while OSU is very much the team to beat in the division, U-M's recent recruiting success and strengthened coaching staff should start closing the (for now, relatively wide) gap between the two programs.
The Buckeyes, for their part, landed a quality co-DC in Ash whose specialty—coaching defensive backs—is exactly what they need to patch up a porous secondary playing well below its talent level. He improved Wisconsin's pass efficiency defense from 53rd in his first season there (as the defensive backs coach) to 22nd in his third year (his second as DC and DBs coach) before moving on to Arkansas; how much he's to blame for the Razorbacks' #105 ranking in that regard in his lone season there is unclear.
[After the jump: the stuff after the jump. Also: tautology]
1/14/2014 – Michigan 80, Penn State 67 – 12-4, 4-0 Big Ten
DUNKS ON DUNKS (or layups I guess) [Bryan Fuller]
What if I told you that Michigan would lose two NBA first-round draft picks and a preseason All-American and this would do essentially nothing to their elite offense? We'll call this one "60 possessions for approximately 70 points" because we're not into the whole brevity thing. It will be directed by John Beilein, with an assist from Nik Stauskas.
A disclaimer, first: IIRC, even though Kenpom's offense and defense rankings are schedule adjusted, high fliers have a tendency to fall back to the pack when they play in tough defensive conferences. That may be simple regression to the mean or an issue with the algorithm. Anyway. I digress for a reason.
The preceding disclaimer is present because hot damn, Michigan's offense has taken the departure of Trey Frickin' Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. like a champ. Sixteen games into the season, Michigan's offensive efficiency has fallen from a tops-in-the-country 120 points per 100 possessions all the way to 119 points per 100 possessions. This mean's they're fifth instead of first*, but seriously Michigan lost the Naismith winner, another first-round NBA draft pick, and Mitch McGary and maintained literally 99% of their offensive efficiency. Hail Beilein, hail Stauskas, hail GRIII and friends. (Hail rule changes.)
That's quite a thing there.
Unfortunately, and as you've probably noticed over the last two games against not-very-good teams, the defense is really hurting. They're currently 77th on Kenpom, down from 48th last year. The eye test confirms this and then some. Michigan just ceded 70 points to Nebraska in a 59-possession game and 67 to Penn State in a 60-possession game, and too many of those were easy drives to the bucket. At one point in the second half of the Penn State game they'd pulled to within two because they scored on six of seven possessions, seemingly without breaking a sweat. Two winless Big Ten teams just combined to shoot 63% from two against Michigan. It's a problem, a large and burgeoning one.
What happened in the stat world?
- The rules changes have had a real impact. Nationwide offensive efficiency is up just under 4 points per 100 possessions. Michigan's defense has slumped worse than the average, but everyone's having some issues. The extremes don't seem to be particularly impacted—the best offense is still around 120 while the best defense is still around 86—but the distribution of teams inside hypothetical maximums and minimums has shifted.
- Michigan's free-throw defense is terrible. Opponents are hitting 74%, which is in the 300s. Michigan has to wave its arms around more and stuff. This is where Michigan misses an intimidator like Mitch McGary. Free throw defense is critical.
- Nothing else, statistically. Seriously, the stats are uncannily similar to last year, with near-identical eFG, TO%, OREB%, and FTA/FGA. The problem there is that last year's stats are after running the brutal Big Ten gauntlet and six NCAA tourney games; this year's are after seven KP100 teams and 9 real bad ones. Thus the hit when Kenpom makes his schedule adjustment.
Eyeballing it, I don't know. Burke was regarded as a middling defender at best. He had his trademark steal but was kind of undersized and tended to marshal his energy so he could do Trey Burke things on offense. Hardaway developed from definite liability to passable over his three years. Neither seemed like an impact player on that side of the ball.
McGary's loss is big, obviously, but at this instant they're only replacing about eight of his minutes per game with Horford/Morgan in the stats (McGary was at just under 20 last year and he's at just under 12 this year, though rapidly dropping.) Something else is just… off.
What that is changes. Against Nebraska the soft hedges provided the Cornhuskers easy lanes to the basket and Spike Albrecht, amongst others, had a tough time closing out in the first half. Penn State pushed it down the floor at every opportunity and was rewarded; Michigan couldn't stop Tim Frazier in transition like, at all.
The see-saw nature of the game was a reflection of the fact that each Michigan possession was essentially four points: Michigan got two if they scored and Penn State got two in transition if they missed. The six-minute lull spanning both sides of the half saw Penn State burst from 25 to 41 points, and another lull after Michigan had pushed it out to 16 saw a quick ten-point burst; in between Penn State struggled to do anything.
What that means for the mightier folk approaching depends on the opponent. Wisconsin isn't likely to push tempo; Iowa sends out waves of players in shifts to facilitate their punishing rate of play. No matter what, Michigan has to get some things figured out right now before they're exposed as paper tigers in the rough and tumble.
*[#1 Creighton($) has some truly astounding numbers, like Doug McDermott taking 37% of Creighton's shots when he's on the court and Ethan Wragge hitting 50%(!) of his 126 three pointers and two of his six(!) twos.]
Gauntlet, ice cream, gauntlet, ice cream. The rest of the season breaks down into chunks neatly:
- TERRIFYING GAUNTLET #1: @ Wisconsin, Iowa, @ MSU
- GENERALLY ICE CREAM TYPE SITUATION: Purdue, @ Indiana, Nebraska
- TERRYIFYING GAUNTLET #2: @ Iowa, @ OSU, Wisconsin, Michigan State
- GENERALLY ICE CREAM TYPE SITUATION: @ Purdue, Minnesota, @ Illinois, Indiana
Michigan's D is wonky enough that they'll probably lose a couple in the ice cream areas of the schedule—away to Indiana and Illinois are most likely—and then man I don't know what's going on with the other seven games. This offense can beat anyone; it's a little difficult to see Michigan going on the road to any of those top ten outfits and coming away with wins.
Not just a Darius Morris reincarnation. Another game, another set of swooping pick-and-roll assists from Stauskas. Michigan's big men were 7/8 from the field and added 5/6 from the line as Stauskas and Morgan/Horford eviscerated Penn State's pick and roll D. Stauskas had five assists, and no turnovers; his assist rate has broken into the nationally ranked section of Kenpom while his TO rate remains just-a-shooter low. In Big Ten play his A:TO ratio is 20:5.
Oh and he's shooting 71% from inside the arc while doubling his FT rate. Just a fantastic, fantastic offensive player, in all ways.
Stauskas got caught on some bad switches to provide PSU buckets, and while he remains a sneaky-excellent on-ball post defender his issue came before the catch on a couple of PSU buckets; switched on the center he just stood passively waiting for the post feed before doing anything. He's tall enough to front a 6'9" guy effectively enough to dissuade an entry, or at least make it a difficult pass.
LeVert also creates. Slow night for LeVert scoring, but had five assists to match Stauskas's output. Michigan does not have a Burke but their shot generation comes from so many places that it barely matters. Most of the time they have four guys on the court who can generate something, and even when Irvin's out there it's three. That's tough to deal with. Who do you hide your crappy defender against?
Hello, nurse. The only Michigan player to miss more than one two point bucket was Glenn Robinson, who had an off night inside the arc (3 of 10). The rest of the team: 16 of 18. Good gravy.
As a team, their two point % in the last three games: 63%, 76%, 68%. None of those teams are good, but holy crap. Michigan's been putting on a clinic against the bottom of the Big Ten, and it's been beautiful to watch.
HELLO NURSE. One can forgive Glenn Robinson some misses from two if he's going to put his goddamned shoulder on the backboard.
Nurse, please smother this man (WITH PUPPIES, this does not constitute a threat). Oh man, what does it take to get a charge? They broke this rule hardcore with their offseason emphasis.
Walton got run over twice in two minutes by Frazier, taking out-of-control shoulders to the chest. These were not Dukeflops. He got blasted into the end line on both, square to the shooter, and the refs just stared at him. Later, LeVert was stock-still as Newbill (IIRC) plowed into him. A ridiculous blocking call followed.
Charges were broken, but now they're even more broken. Suggestion: go back to previous year's rule, add clarification that simulating a charge is a foul, add some sort of mincing pantomimery refs have to do when they call it.
It's over. Hooray?
And lo, it ended. It ended for us before the new year, and now it's all over, all of it: the season, the BCS, the goofy bowl scheduling. Next year, there are three large games on New Year's Eve and three large games on New Year's Day, two of which are national semifinals leading to a final the next week.
The BCS itself was sent off with a grander finale than it deserved, a taut back-and-forth affair between Florida State and pretty-much-arbitrarily-chosen Auburn that worked out, unlike near-arbitrary matchups that ended up in one sided blowouts with another team with a near-identical resume looked on in disgust. With the playoff these outrages have been reduced in intensity and spread over a greater number of teams, which seems like progress.
How long this holds before expansion and realignment kicks in, I don't know. I tend to think we'll end up with an eight-team playoff sooner rather than later, and from there who knows what happens. Someone will say "but we can get more money," probably, and then things spiral on and on.
At the very least, a bunch of bad ideas have ceased to impact college football, like
- Coaches voting on teams they haven't seen and have a huge conflict of interest about
- Retired coaches voting based on what Oklahoma was like in 1975
- Computer polls that can't take margin of victory or anything else into account
- Richard Billingsley
Whether the new ideas are better is yet to be seen; they almost can't be worse.
OH GOOD. Penn State may have been an incestuous mockery of an athletic department for years, but by God did they turn that around quickly. Bill O'Brien goes so well that an NFL team scoops him up after two years and their sanction-riddled mess of a program heading for a crater is about hire away…
— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) January 7, 2014
...the guy who turned Vanderbilt from a 2-10 type outfit into a consistent bowl participant and all-around thorn in the side of the SEC. Ace and I are trying to come up with the last Big Ten coach to have 1) a job at the time of his hire and 2) a resume better than Franklin's, and, well…
[12:22 PM] Ace: is it bad that kevin wilson was the first name that came to mind?
[12:22 PM] Brian Cook: #ImitateAdam_Jacobi
…we're having some difficulty. Ace throws out Dantonio, but Dantonio's record in three years at Cincinnati was 18-17. Best we've got is Gary Andersen at Wisconsin, who implemented a hugely impressive build at Utah State. But I dunno man, Vandy is coming off back to back 9-4 years. Vandy. Which is in the SEC.
Not sure how good of a cultural fit the fiery, weird Franklin (remember that thing about how he only hires guys with hot wives?) will be at Penn State, but for a team in their situation to poach the hot up and coming SEC guy is impressive.
Unless this is all agents getting their dude a raise, but there's a lot of smoke here indicating he's the guy. Which will mean Michigan is in a division with Urban, Dantonio, and Franklin. Plus Randy Edsall. It's not all bad, I guess.
That was awesome, do it more. Twitter was agog about the ESPN News section of ESPN's BCS overkill broadcast, as it featured coaches (and Chris Spielman and Matt Millen) with instant off the cuff reactions to what was going on. I was with Twitter. Spielman's fervor for assignments came through clearly as he steamed about Auburn's screen touchdown, and then Kevin Sumlin jumped in to say that is what Auburn does, they put the eye candy in front of you for just those reasons, and everything was just terrific.
A few suggestions:
- Everyone do this all the time. Seriously, I would watch Glen Mason in a room just dying in disgust as he tries to watch Michigan run the ball. This may qualify as torture under the Geneva Convention; if it doesn't, do it.
- The game is the most important bit, so make it the whole screen, with the coaches popping in with small PIP boxes. The All-22 camera angle combined with the smaller box for the actual game was problematic, and I have a huge TV. Maximize the game size; no need to cut to visuals of Spielman, et al., when I can hear them talking.
- Cut two guys. One guy to run things, one D guy, one O guy, and Spielman.
- Send small electric shocks to anyone who talks in platitudes, like Paul Chryst did much of the night.
What I have been trying to express all year. Smart Football profiles Gus Malzahn for Grantland. This is the core of the offensive philosophy that brought Auburn from 0-8 in the SEC to the precipice of the national title in one year with a converted cornerback at QB:
Malzahn had never been in charge of an offense before. Searching for help, he turned to a book famous in coaching circles, The Delaware Wing-T: An Order of Football, by Harold "Tubby" Raymond, and followed it "word-for-word."
The genius of Raymond's book is that it's not merely a collection of football plays, though there's still plenty of that. Instead, it's primarily a treatise on how to think about offensive football. "The Wing-T is more than a formation," Raymond wrote. "It is sequence football." The animating idea behind Raymond's "Delaware" wing-T was his belief that the best offenses were built around a tightly wound collection of plays that fit together so that defenses effectively dictated the next play; each time a team tries to stop one thing, it opens itself up to something else. Beginning in the 1950s and lasting into the early 2000s — first as an assistant under wing-T innovator David Nelson, then as head coach from the mid-1960s on — Raymond fielded teams that devastated defenses. If the opposition tried to stop his base plays, Raymond had counters to his counters, counters to his counters to his counters, and so on. He amplified this "sequential" approach by "utilizing the misdirection theme to its fullest." With a dizzying array of motions, backfield actions, and fakes, Raymond correctly determined that defenses wouldn't be able to stop his offense if they couldn't find the ball.
Auburn's offense is a modernized version of that. It's like Fritz Crisler, basically, except not as wacky. Michigan does not have a tightly wound collection of plays, partially because they can't execute basic runs and partially because that's just not how Al Borges rolls. Borges does have sets of plays that are interrelated, but instead of piling wrinkle on wrinkle like Malzahn does—his thing this year was double arc blocks…
…Borges goes to a different package once his previous stuff has been figured out. And they dispense with the frippery. To me that's a philosophical thing on par with huddling.
How do you run the ball in college football? The top 25 teams in yards per carry this year, with offense type appended (note: distinction between spread to run teams and passing spread teams largely based on how many yards the QB had. Generally spread to run teams had 500+ QB rushing yards, and usually 700+).
|1||Ohio State||6.8||Spread to run|
|3||Northern Illinois||6.35||Spread to run|
|4||Auburn||6.3||Spread to run|
|5||Oregon||6.26||Spread to run|
|6||New Mexico||6.14||Spread to run|
|9||Missouri||5.66||Spread to run|
|10||Florida State||5.63||Passing spread|
|15||Arizona||5.32||Spread to run|
|19||BYU||5.23||Spread to run|
|20||Oklahoma||5.21||Spread to run|
|21||Texas A&M||5.17||Spread to run|
|22||Wyoming||5.1||Spread to run|
Yeah, it's possible to have a good running game by going under center and grinding it out, but is it likely? Four of the top 25 teams are pro-style outfits, one of which is Alabama and their overwhelming talent. Is Michigan going to be Wisconsin? I hope so, because that's the only way we get on this list.
Dolla dolla bill. We have money. Some of it comes from the only incompetent Germans.
According to a study done by the Portland Business Journal, Michigan's contract with Adidas (which is currently set to expire in 2016) is the most lucrative apparel deal in the country. Yes, more than Oregon's flashy contractual arrangement with Nike.
Per the study, Michigan currently receives a total of $8.2 million annually from Adidas stemming from the contract signed in 2007 between the two parties.
Michigan receives $4.4 million in equipment and apparel, and $3.8 million in cash. That's more than twice as much as the next-highest school in the Big Ten, Nebraska, which makes a total of $4 million from Adidas.
Part of that is the fact that Michigan has so many sports, which drives up the equipment and apparel bit. I wonder what will happen in 2016; that Most Favored Nation status Martin acquired has long driven ND crazy and Michigan's national appeal has… uh… suffered in recent years. The brand, if you will. Maybe we'll run an ad campaign about how we know our football is terrible so we changed our football sauce.
So there was a new Bacon book this year. We need to review this book. I'm going to do this with the expectation that you have either read it already or are going to. You should. It is a Bacon book. You are reading MGoBlog; either you are a person who appreciates Bacon or else a visiting Sparty looking for more trolling fodder, in which case help yourself to the board where I promise you there's plenty. Or better yet, read some Bacon—you're in the Big Ten; this concerns you too. And he says the Red Cedar is nice.
This is not a negative review, even though I have a tendency to focus on the "needs work" aspects—I'm the guy who walked out of The Return of the King after five years of unmitigated Peter Jackson man-crushing and complained that there were too many endings. So apologies to John U., who's higher in my esteem than Mr. Jackson and just about everyone whose quotes aren't emblazoned on a wall somewhere, for the plurality of minuses below.
More Bacon. Ever since Bo's Lasting Lessons, the chance to devour a new Bacon book has been somewhat of an event around these parts. As a Michigan fan it would be tough to follow the unparalleled access and insight into the Rich Rod program accomplished with Three and Out, specifically because that unvarnished snapshot was so starkly antithetical to Dave Brandon's meticulous staging of his Michigan show: You knew at the time that no true journalist would be allowed to see behind the bunting again, so it should only come as a mild disappointment that there is little about the Michigan program in this book that you didn't already know.
Fourth and Long: the Fight for the Soul of College Football is four unequal looks at four 2012 Big Ten programs, or four and a half if you count a mini-treatment that Michigan State and Mark Hollis receive as host of an Ohio State road game. In order of detail:
- Penn State from the point of view of its players, former players, coaches, and equipment managers as they find themselves taking the brunt of the Penn State Awful Thing, and the NCAA's and PSU brass's callow responses to it.
- Michigan from Bacon's own point of view of its fans, as those fans interact with Brandon's corporate-itude.
- Ohio State from the P.O.V. of Urban Meyer as he goes from win to win trying to get Zach Boren to like him, and
- Northwestern as the paragon of virtue.
Bacon set out, as is evident from the title and made clear throughout the book, to examine these four schools from different points of view (players, AD, head coach, and president, respectively), and use the findings to determine if any of the Big Ten's current models for college football are sustainable for college football in general. In it he consistently finds players and fans who "get it" while the people in control seek new and better ways to milk it.
But he could only use what he got from each school. With Ohio State the access was mostly restricted to Urban on game days. He brushes against tatgate but doesn't get into the cars or any other "everybody knows, nobody can prove" things—you have to appreciate that Bacon will never accuse somebody without proof (especially considering he's an avowed Michigan fan talking about Ohio State) but it's really hard to talk about college sports and the competitive problems therein without admitting there are relative bad guys. The Gee quote—"I hope he doesn't fire me!"—is in there in reference to the bloated role of college football head coach in America. The closest he comes to pointing out OSU's exceptionalism in this regard is when addressing the carrying off of Tressel after last year's Game:
"The Buckeyes do not run a renegade program, but they once again demonstrated they don't seem to care if their actions make others think they do."
This isn't a complaint; Bacon handled a sticky situation about as well as he could. With Northwestern he got some key interviews, particularly with Pat Fitzgerald, but no warts (this could be because they don't have any).
With Michigan Bacon was outside looking in, so he used some of the Bacon-usual suspects—Carty, the dueling barbershops, the public comments of James Duderstadt and Don Canham, Brian Cook of MGoBlog, etc. There's also an inside look at the Mud Bowl, and most interestingly, a candid interview with Michigan's band director about Send-the-Band-to-Dallas-gate. I was more intrigued by the comments made by Bill Martin on the corporatization of NCAA football, which I'll come back to. The whole Notre Dame saga is covered. Except for the band's comments most of this is old news to you.
The result is a book that's 52% about Penn State trying to survive 2012, with a bunch of stuff thrown in about some other schools and corporations to underscore a point made clear without leaving Happy Valley.
[After the jump: it's just, like, my opinion man.]
I forgot I promised Brian to do a post about this before I went ahead and launched it in Guess the Score. Anyway, meet my favorite shirt we've ever made except maybe the Space Emperor ones. Zoom? Zoom:
To relive the excuses hit the jump. To order the shirt hit the link. We're going to preorder a bunch of these for people who'd like them in time for the game.