I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
rumormongering is what the internets are for
You probably dismissed the idea of Michigan playing a huge nonconference game against Alabama in two years in Jerryworld as crackpot rumor-mongering of the sort the internet specializes in. Michigan's on the road against ND, leaving a maximum of six home games, it's transparently silly to play a college football game thousands of miles from either college, and Michigan hasn't played a neutral-site OOC game basically ever. It seemed instantly implausible.
But apparently it is happening. The contract is being signed Monday. Which is tomorrow.
The following details are unconfirmed but of interest since they come from an established source:
- Game is happening because a desperate Jerry Jones "overpaid."
- Michigan will be the nominal home team (important mostly for TV rights) and receive more money.
- There's no additional game scheduled and there may not be.
- Jones might be well-positioned to provide some advice on HD scoreboards.
This comes with a set of crazy conflicting emotions. Hurray awesome nonconference game, boo that it's in fricking Dallas in a corporate death star of an NFL stadium and not a home-and-home in Ann Arbor and Tuscaloosa. I guess that's what it takes for a lot of actual nonconference games to get done these days, but awesomeness of trip to Dallas to see M play 'Bama <<<<<< awesomeness of M-Bama home-and-home. On the other hand, awesomeness of M-Bama Dallas >>>>>>> awesomeness of M-BGSU anywhere.
[Note on sourcing: in this case I am going with one source, but he is a very established one.]
A newspaper profile of WR commit Shawn Conway mentions some trouble he got into recently:
“All my dreams came true when I got my scholarship,” he said. “I felt comfortable up there right away with the staff and the players, a lot of whom I already knew. It’s a natural fit. They make me feel at home and I’m excited for the chance to play in the Big Ten.”
Unfortunately, Conway encountered a setback in his journey. In April, he was suspended from school as a result of disciplinary reasons. He is trying to put that situation behind him and learn from his mistakes.
“I did something really, really stupid and I had to pay the price,” he said. “It should have never happened and I take responsibility for that it did. But I learned from the situation and now I’m past it and moving forward”
This won't be a surprise to people who keep their ear to the ground, as rumors about Conway's trouble have been flying around since late May, when the high school paper (of which there can only be one: it's called the Highlander) published an article about an anonymous student who'd been caught breaking into lockers on tape.
Internet buzz suggested that was Conway and a couple of independent sources confirmed it; now that Conway's been quoted saying he "did something really, really stupid" it's better to put two and two together instead of let that vague problem float out there to get Freeped. The stupid act is the one detailed in the Highlander. The article itself says that the secret being maintained by the principal (who cited the usual FERPA concerns) was of the open variety:
“I mean, when someone is involved in a disciplinary situation, then it really would be violating their privacy to discuss it at all,” Piper said. “Because they have been disciplined, they have a right to have that not made public around the school.” …
However, the secret is out.
Word of the suspension and the video tape quickly spread throughout the Seaholm hallways since the incident was captured on tape April 21.
The article goes on to describe a "tall African-American male" taking approximately 50 dollars from a locker… you get the point, and you draw a line from A to B. At this point it's common knowledge around Seaholm and since it's time to publicly acknowledge it in the Oakland Press it seems appropriate to disclose the nature of the offense since it's a two on the Richter scale.
As long as Conway stays on the straight and narrow this shouldn't impact his status with Michigan, and since he's had an improbably tough upbringing (parents divorced at four, mother sent to prison at ten, now the legal guardian of his coach) some sympathy is in order. Anything else and I imagine Conway will join the ranks of Kelly Baraka since a guy who can't keep it together for a year is not someone college coaches like to take chances on, but for now he's fine.
This has been a conflicted public service announcement.
I put up a Sporting Blog post on the latest in conference reconfiguration that covers the main news of the day, which is that the awkward moment in nomenclature we're experiencing where the Big 12 has ten teams and the Big Ten has twelve is a surprisingly stable college football isotope.
Whether its half-life is two days, two years, or two decades we don't know yet, but reports that the Big 12 lives have spread beyond Chip Brown, who is by this point basically the earthly avatar of DeLoss Dodds, to Joe Schad and Pete Thamel, and have reached the point the Nebraska rumors did last week where the sheer quantity of independent confirmation outweighs everyone's natural skepticism towards anything Anonymous Athletic Director would like to leak. The Big… er… Twelve lives.
Why? Because if they're going to rename it they might as well dub it The Texas Conference. The major sticking point with Texas's move to the Big Ten was not distance or tradition or even money but the Longhorn's refusal to share and share alike, which is fine as far as it goes. Anyone who approaches college football from an angle other than realpolitik is willfully naive. Expecting Texas to sign off on a change where they go from the king of everything to just another shiny happy Big Ten (or Pac-10) school was extremely wishful thinking in retrospect.
This is despite a ton of huge advantages moving would bring. For one, I don't believe Brown for a second when he claims Texas "stands to make between $20 mil and $25 mil per yr under a proposed new TV pkg presented by Dan Beebe" before we even get to the coming Longhorn Network. Allow myself to quote myself:
Big Ten teams are currently raking in 15 million per year with a fully-functional network spread across eight states with a ton of people. The Big 12 Texas's entire conference distribution was 10 million in 2007 and as of May 31st conference distributions were ranging between "7 and 12 million" according to the KC Star; Big Ten teams each brought in 20 million. The Big 12's current television contract with ABC goes to the 2015 season and the conference has just lost its third most attractive television draw (Nebraska) and third biggest media market (Denver). The average value of the Big Twelve's TV inventory has gone down considerably this summer.
Texas would make more money moving to the Big Ten. They'd get to join the CIC. They'd have a more competitive environment than one game against Oklahoma every year. Iowa State would no longer be on the schedule. In all absolute ways, moving makes sense. Relatively? Not so much. Now that the Big 10 door is swinging shut—Missouri's scrabbling at the lock but can't get in—and the Pac-10 seems set on adding Utah and calling it a day, the Big 12 leftovers desperately need Texas and will sign up for any lopsided revenue sharing plan they have to as long as they don't have to consider whether they should join the Mountain West or Conference USA. If Texas won't enter as an equal partner, the Big Ten won't take them, and that's as it should be.
But no one should mistake the reason the Big 12 has shed two of its best schools: it's because of Texas. If the Big 12 does end up imploding, it will be because of Texas. Realpolitik has its costs.
The Big Ten's Next Move
This guy on the message board has a bunch of scuttlebutt about Texas that reflects the above and suggests where the Big Ten will look next: the ACC. Take it for what it's worth—not much given how fast these things change—but I've gotten a couple notes that suggest the same thing. The current plan appears to be wait to see what happens with Notre Dame and the rumored get-in-or-get-out ultimatum from the Big East and then possibly look to move to 14. 16 is not regarded as a viable setup without a compelling reason.
One man's guess as to the future direction of the conference, listed from most probable to least:
- The Big Ten sticks at 12 teams.
- ND gets the boot from the Big East, sucks it up, and joins the Big Ten sometime around when their NBC contract expires. The league would then look for a 14th team (Maryland, BC, GT, Rutgers, Syracuse the most commonly mentioned targets) at that point.
- ND stays in the Big East as they are now and the Big Ten picks off a couple of the above-mentioned targets to go to 14.
- Some crazy thing happens and the league goes to 16.
If I had to guess, the Big Ten will stand pat until such time as Notre Dame gets the boot from the Big East, which may or may not ever actually happen.
i like this picture because he's about to shoot a planet-destroying laser out of his mouth
Some horse-holding may be in order in case anyone is printing up huge quantities of Pac-16 t-shirts. These reports come from a television station and a guy in Indianapolis radio and are about conference expansion should therefore be taken with a grain of salt large enough to have moons, but they appear to be independently-sourced claims that Texas and Texas A&M may be heading Midwest instead of just West.
High level sources in multiple conferences have told KCTV5 that Texas and Texas A&M are looking to move to the Big Ten Conference and have petitioned for membership, while the University of Oklahoma is planning on petitioning the Southeastern Conference to become a member of its conference.
Texas Tech can pound sand, according to KCTV.
Kent Sterling, the Indiana radio guy does have an extensive newsy background, FWIW, but his site's report is way fuzzier and it's posted by Pauly Balst, whose bio reads "Pauly Balst has a very solid reputation and track record in speculative journalism and for-profit amatuer [sic] athletics." This is not reassuring. Anyway:
College Station, Texas, based sources close to Texas A&M confirm the scenario of Texas A&M, Texas and Nebraska joining the Big 10, bringing the total to 14. … Sources also confirmed the rift with Texas Tech and Baylor is that “UT and A&M have joined together in this decision”. By adding this trio, UT does not “go to war alone in a new conference” when ongoing issues arise.
"Confirm the scenario"? What does that mean? That could be talking. It could be a D&D meeting. I'm not putting a ton of stock into that, but it's out there.
Meanwhile, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott is sounding less imperial:
“I’d say that (having an 11-team conference) is a possibility,” Scott said.
He also said that no assurances and that no invitations have been issued to any other Big 12 schools, including Texas and Texas A&M, whose athletic directors met on Thursday in Austin to discuss their future.
“There are several different scenarios,” Scot siad. “There is no defined timetable” for further Pac-10 expansion.
Colorado snapping up the Pac-10 invite and thereby bouncing Baylor may have given the Big Ten the wedge it needs to crowbar Tech off the Texas schools everyone wants, in which case thanks Baylor.
This post's information value will self-destruct in ten seconds.
(HT: Aaron and Damon Lewis.)
Just because everything is happening all at once and these things are the variety of news that goes yes-no-yes-no-yes-no in the modern world, here's a random 10PM update on one of the Stories Of Our Time.
The Only Colors isn't using DEFCON to measure its Izzo departure panic level, but on a scale of 1-10 they're at 4.5 and KJ is still "well under 50%." He admits that's moving towards things he hopes instead of things he thinks, and I might be in the same boat: I think they're inching just over 50% but admit that is also a necessarily biased opinion.
I've got some reasons, though. TOC appears to be banking on the idea that Izzo will do a Billy Donovan-esque pullout, because the people on the team are predicting a departure. Delvon Roe's dad:
Blanton, who lives near Cleveland, has not spoken with Izzo. But he said he thinks Izzo will end up taking the Cavs job. "My opinion is, I think he's gonna leave," Blanton said. "When you keep it in the air this long. ... I don' t know if he's happy where he's at right now."
That's considerably less encouraging* than the original Rexrode blog post, which just mentioned Blanton's opinion that Izzo was out without giving the details. Blanton appears to be guessing.
On the other hand, this opinion may have come from his son and appears to be an opinion shared by multiple current Spartan players:
Sources have told The Plain Dealer that Michigan State players left a meeting with Tom Izzo Tuesday night believing he was going to leave to accept Gilbert's offer to become the next Cavaliers coach. Izzo didn't tell them that, he called the meeting to acknowledge reports that he'd been offered the job, but players left afraid they were about to lose their coach.
And as if on cue given the Ethics Throwdown this weekend, Cleveland blog Waiting For Next Year just plain says Izzo is headed to Cleveland:
Sources close to WFNY have informed us that Tom Izzo has told his players at Michigan State that he plans on taking the Cavaliers job. Our sources have heard directly from players on the MSU team that Izzo informed them this week that he is planning on making the move up to the NBA level under the ownership of MSU grad Dan Gilbert.
This has caused much consternation on the twitters from local beatwriters, ESPN's Pat Forde, and various other national basketball reporting folk. And… yeah… they're not wrong. WFNY's report has been directly refuted by multiple sources, with direct quotes from Blanton. This is yet another example of someone jumping the gun.
On the other hand, this sarcasm from Forde…
Stunned that anonymous blog got this wrong. RT @LarryLage MSU asst Mark Montgomery told AP Izzo informed players Tues he has talked to Cavs
…is wildly provincial given the events of the past month—which have seen a parade of false reports about conference expansion—let alone the few months that have passed since the Chicago Sun-Times refused to let the Stoops-to-ND rumors die. Mainstream media folk pretending that blogs have cornered the market on erroneous reports are just as annoying as bloggers blithely stating that the proper amount of ethics is none.
Still: WFNY could have broken a major story if they'd just, you know, gotten it right. I don't necessarily blame them. As I discovered during Michigan's coaching search, and the Sun-Times will discover sometime in 2015 when it finally becomes clear to them that Bob Stoops is not Notre Dame's next coach, these situations are nightmares to report. Solid information is thin on the ground, minds can change in an instant, and certain parties are motivated to leak information to get what they want, whether it's true or false. Getting something wrong is going to happen.
But now that there are direct quotes contradicting their story they should give readers as much detail as they can about why they believe what they do and leave the decision in the reader's hand. They're "standing by" their original report after multiple people have called them liars. It's time to stop hiding behind "sources." That's a Sun-Times move. Here's this blog's primordial example from the coaching search, and the ur-example from the Morgan Trent Broken Hand New Media Fiasco. As it is, even if Izzo does take the job they were just wrong first.
[UPDATE: WFNY has done the full data dump suggested here. I still think they would have gotten a lot less attention straight away and looked better long term if they had gone for the soft sell, but it's a major step in the right direction.]
*(I'm not even going to pretend that I'm not pulling like a mofo for Izzo to leave. Blah blah blah, Michigan is its own program, etc: lies. The absolute best State can do is get a coach just as good, and the chances of that are small.)
Continued from yesterday's extended look at the offense.
Scheme vs. Fundamentals: Fight
If you ask about the 3-3-5 and pull the string on a Michigan coach, this is what you get:
"Too much has been made out of it, scheme-wise," Rodriguez tells Ryan Terpstra on ESPN 96.1. "I mean, a lot of people are saying we're doing this or that, but basically, what we're doing this spring more than anything else is fundamentally trying to get better – trying to tackle better, trying to be able to react to the ball better so we get more people around the ball."
Greg Robinson said much the same thing to Adam Rittenberg and reiterated that to the folks at the coaches' clinic: "The fundamentals of leverage and angle and how a player uses his eyes and hands is more important than any scheme." I'm sure if you bugged any of Michigan's position coaches they would robotically intone a similar paean to fundamentals.
To this I say: 50% bollocks! It's not that fundamentals aren't important. Anyone who saw the performance of Craig Roh and Stevie Brown relative to expectations last year knows that how you tackle, cover, and read the opponent is a huge part of a football team's suck or lack thereof. You can ask Florida State about that. But I interpret "too much has been made out of it, scheme-wise" as "I would not like to talk about the details here; let's focus on platitudes." Certain defenses have strengths and weaknesses and fit other players better or worse, and while a defense that is robotically efficient is probably going to be decent that will depend on how well the players fit into the scheme.
The line should be the strength of the defense again. Will Campbell is rounding into a load, a true NT who requires a double team and holds up against it most of the time. At other times he gets too high, but they're working on that and by fall they hope he can be an anchor in there. Van Bergen is a redshirt junior who played well in a tough spot as a starter last year and is at a more natural position where he's doing well. No one's 100% sure that Mike Martin is going to be the other DE—the coaches will try him at both spots in fall—but Campbell "needs to be on the field" and Martin is likely to be Michigan's best defensive lineman, so that's the logical spot.
Michigan would like to get Campbell down another 10 pounds or so.
At end, Banks is starting in Martin's absence. Rodriguez mentioned yesterday that they've moved Adam Patterson to the nose, which 1) just about spells the end of Patterson as a potential contributor and 2) hints that Martin is going to start in the spot Banks currently occupies. I can't imagine a 272 pound senior is going to get substantial playing time as a zero-tech NT. He may be a situation substitution in pass-rush situations, but I kind of thought they might move Martin back inside and let Banks or even Roh take a crack at a speed rush when that happened.
The backups here are pretty sketchy without the freshman reinforcements, but Anthony Lalota was a regular entrant into the backfield against the second-string offensive line. He's RVB's backup with Heininger out.
There were some concerns about Craig Roh, who's a great athlete going directly upfield but doesn't have the lateral mobility to shuffle a step or two one way and then re-route his body in time to avoid blocking angles or get a proper zone drop. He'll be blitzing a ton; Michigan will be vulnerable when the opposition is running misdirection and Roh is being asked to execute linebacker responsibilities. Think waggles, counters, reverses, that sort of thing. He has displayed an aptitude in one-on-one coverage, though. He tracked a Michigan State tight end down and raked a ball free last year in a matchup that you'd think heavily favors the receiver; there were a couple other instances where his ability to cover a guy downfield was a surprising bonus.
There didn't seem to be a whole lot of progress with Ezeh and Mouton, though it's hard to tell with the move to the new system. Their responsibilities have changed and there's a learning curve that anyone would have. Moving to the 3-3-5 should allow Mouton to blitz almost as frequently as Roh; this is Mouton's main strength.
A surging Kenny Demens has been held out the last few days.
Observer A is a major believer in Robinson, though, citing that Roh play and a few others as an example of Robinson's ability to coach up players in a short amount of time. He was in charge of Roh and Brown last year; this year he's got all three linebackers. Robinson himself believes Mouton could be a breakout player. Here is a classic Robinson-ism that will make Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician delighted: "We just need to get him to slow down to play faster." Mouton overruns plays because he's "too instinctive" and doesn't always follows his keys, as anyone who remembers his 5-minus 8-minus 3 lines in UFR can tell you.
I've been pretty positive about the idea of running Jordan Kovacs out as a box safety since he was a heady kid and solid tackler and in the 3-3-5 DVD I have that is no longer a wasted purchase, Jeff Casteel repeatedly emphasizes that those characteristics are by far the most important when it comes to spurs and bandits. As a bonus, as the weakside guy Kovacs has the luxury of playing in space (usually) unblocked, so his size won't be a major hindrance.
HOWEVA, discussions with Observer A made it clear that running a 1-high defense* constantly is a recipe for getting four verticals in your face time and again and that teams could force Michigan into a two-deep alignment by formation or playcall. Jordan Kovacs being a walk-on sort of guy, they will do this constantly until Michigan proves they can deal with it.
Why not just deposit Marvin Robinson or Josh Furman at this spot in fall? Think about it: the bandit has to roll up to the line of scrimmage and act as a force player in the 3-3-5. Force players are important. It's their job to funnel everything inside of them. (This is often called "leveraging the football.") If they screw up, the runner is outside everyone and loping for a first down. In pass coverage they have to read and drop into flat zones, play something called "flat buzz" that I'm not quite clear on yet, and generally act as a cover two corner would. So there's all that. Then the bandit will have to rotate back into a two-deep on occasion, play a deep third when they switch up coverages, blitz, respond to motion, etc etc etc. It's probably the most complicated position on the defense. Throwing a freshman in there is asking for it.
Kovacs is Michigan's best option at the bandit, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's a good option.
Spur is also sketchy. Mike Williams has plummeted down the depth chart and is now behind both walk-on Floyd Simmons and redshirt freshman (and scholarship possessor!) Thomas Gordon. Williams is healthy, FWIW. Gordon did get some daps/love/props from observers who thought he was aware and athletic enough to deal with the coverages he'll be asked to run—a "pleasant surprise"—but he's safety-sized and is going to be asked to play over a tight end. He's also a redshirt freshman. Simmons also made a few plays and might be an okay option as a backup.
Observer A evaluated this group of eight players as "slow, small, inexperienced, or injured." He didn't add "pick three," but my brain did. Michigan's got a couple of fantastic prospects for the future in Josh Furman and Marvin Robinson (plus Carvin Johnson), but a couple of painful years beckon before Michigan has any chance of getting a guy who has both athleticism and a clue on the field.
The combination of cluelessness and lack of crazy athleticism led to a couple plays were Michigan just ran a tight end straight down the seam without a bump and gave up 30-yard plays. Michigan has an adjustment they want to install, but they haven't done it yet.
*(A one-high defense has one safety in the middle of the field and is usually cover 1 or cover 3 unless the defense is playing a disguised coverage. A two high defense has two safeties approximately on the hashes and usually suggests cover 2 or 4.)
The three members of the secondary proper actually didn't scare Observer A very much. Woolfolk is pretty good, Floyd is improved—though he shared my skepticism he would ever be above average because of his speed deficiencies—and Turner, while rougher in drills, got the proverbial "just makes plays" endorsement. It's tough to tell a kid's playmaking rate based on limited observation, but the general impression I got was that Turner should be okay eventually. It seems logical that when the freshmen arrive, there might be some reshuffling with the spurs and safeties. Observer B also thought Turner "was OK."
James Rogers seemed to be doing well in drills, too. He's "beginning to learn the position," which is a sad thing to say about a
fifth year senior who's bounced around so much.
Cam Gordon is the guy at free safety, but you knew that.
Robinson's entire session at the coaches' clinic was on his tackling system, which is unusual in a couple ways: it uses different aiming points than conventional systems and doesn't ask the player to break down and wait for the ball carrier to arrive; you "shimmy" to the ballcarrier. It's also unusual because Robinson picked it up from a high school coach, something the old regime "wouldn't be caught dead" doing. Michigan's current group of guys seems far more likely to pick up an innovation being run by high schools or lower division schools than the old guys, who talked to the NFL and only the NFL, which is probably why they couldn't defend the option worth a damn for almost a decade.
Here's how Greg Robinson explains Braithwaite's hire:
Robinson used the new coach, Braithwhite as a demonstrator of technique. He said the “best demonstration” coach he ever saw in his life was Jim Colletto but he says that AB is every bit as good. The impression they give is that this guy was hired because a) he knows what he is doing and (b) he is great at demonstrating techniques to the players.
Observer B notes a difference between the offensive and defensive coaches: the offensive guys are "tireless" explaining and drawing their schemes, but it's hard to get anything out of Robinson. Where Robinson gets expansive is when it comes to the aforementioned fundamentals. There was a chalk talk in which Robinson spent a good deal of time illustrating the right way to do a "dip and rip"; Bruce Tall was also in the midst of an animated technique discussion that lasted two hours.
One of the best things about having a hybrid-laden defense is it minimizes situational substitutions in today's fast-paced modern football environment. You should be able to respond to whatever the offense throws at you without having crazy packages where non-starters get pushed into the lineup, and can adjust to bizarre formations (wildcat) on the fly.
Defense In Toto
I got a vastly different perspective from defensively-oriented observer than was provided by the posters here over the weekend. We're going to have to score some points. I think in objective "this is Michigan" terms the defense is going to be bad, but one of the main confusions batting about the internet at the moment is someone asking "is this defense going to be (as) bad (as last year)?" and someone answering "(in terms of what I have come to expect from years of watching Michigan play and taking that as a baseline) yes."
I had this same sort of foreboding Q&A with Observer A, but when I asked point-blank "will they be better" I got a pretty solid "yes," albeit with the caveat that the same guy thought they'd be considerably better than they were last year.
That doesn't mean the defense is in a spot where it will remind anyone of 2006, or even 2005. In the Saturday scrimmage the defense did well on the first couple series but "after that the carnage was brutal," with the offense moving the ball "almost regardless of what unit was facing what unit." You can get a hint of that in the quarterback stats provided by MGoBlue in the most recent Inside Michigan Football, which are 9/11, 9/12, 100 yards rushing, made a pony sort of things.
There aren't any walk-on punters who are serious threats to play; the best guys they currently have are averaging in the 30 to 35 yard range. This is Will Hagerup's job as soon as he steps on campus.
Placekicking will be an adventure. Brendan Gibbons has a big leg but is "erratic at best." Walk-on Justin Meram was the other kicker who participated in the scrimmage; he seemed accurate on short stuff but his range might top out at 40 yards on a good day.