alternate headline: man does job
The question: Of those (if any) you've visited, what's your favorite road venue for a college football Saturday? I don't just mean the stadium but the whole package--the city, the burger, the rival fans, the drive, etc. Or which would you want to do first?
Ace: I'm back from Florida and have way too much nothing planned for the next couple days, so I might as well answer the question...
Between my time at school and this job, I've managed to make it to six road venues, one of which doesn't really count because it shouldn't have ever been a college football venue: Spartan Stadium (2007, '09, '13), Camp Randall ('07), Beaver Stadium ('08, '13), Notre Dame ('08, '13), Cowboys Stadium* ('12), and Ohio Stadium ('13). If you looked at that list and said I should never attend a road game again, you're quite astute, and trust me when I say I've considered it.
|Movie night, or perhaps annoying white guy tryouts.|
My favorite, despite the particular game I chose to attend, is Camp Randall. Madison is a gorgeous college town with a phenomenal bar scene—we wandered around so much the night before the game that I can't give a recommendation besides "just go to Madison already"—and while I've heard less-than-complimentary things about their fans, we were treated well despite being a crew of intoxicated students with a couple guys who didn't shy away from stirring the pot. As is the case in Ann Arbor, the campus and stadium are conveniently intertwined with the town, so getting to and from the game isn't a pain like it is in, say, South Bend, where off-campus housing tends to be a very long, boring walk away from the stadium. While the drive to and from Ann Arbor isn't a short one, having Chicago as a stopgap is a major bonus; I'll deal with some extra traffic if it gives me the chance to visit a great city with no shortage of transplanted Ann Arborites and Michigan grads.
it's impossible to take a bad picture inside Camp Randall
Since I'm not the type to be offended by profanity, I love the in-game atmosphere, as well. Our seats in the visitors' section were at the top corner of the upper deck, where visitors' sections ought to be, and feeling the mass of red-adorned fans below literally shake the stadium during "Jump Around" was outrageously cool, albeit a bit unnerving. Despite our high perch, the sight lines for viewing the game were great, thanks to the steep incline of the seats. They don't play the same two songs over and over and over again, giving Camp Randall a decided edge over Beaver Stadium, and they don't play in front of 100,000 Ohio State fans, giving it a decided edge over Ohio Stadium. Even if the drive is a bit long, the tailgating and viewing experiences alone are worth the trip.
As for my least favorite, it's Spartan Stadium, since I won't pretend that Jerryworld is a legitimate answer here. East Lansing is one of the least charming college towns I've visited, parking there is a nightmare, the stadium is a shrine to concrete insipidity, and an all-too-large portion of the fans don't grasp that trash talking shenanigans are supposed to be cheeky and fun, not cruel and tragic. It's the only place I've been where a total stranger has attempted to forcefully remove me from the sidewalk—I did nothing to provoke this aside from wearing maize—and that occurred even though I was accompanied by a green-clad Spartan grad. At least I went there last year, so I'll get a respite this seas—DAMMIT, POWERS THAT BE, YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.
*The aforementioned "doesn't really count" venue, in case that wasn't painfully obvious.
After the jump: more things Delaney thinks we'd like to see less than New Jersey.
Trying a new feature on here, where we ask a question to the staff each week about whatever Michigan fans are obsessing about at that moment. It's kinda like a roundtable, but just one question. Please feel free to suggest future questions in the comments, and offer any other suggestions. Given the vagaries of our schedules you won't see responses from everyone every time, for example I kinda sprung this on everyone last night and anyone who keeps reasonable sleep hours probably hasn't seen the email yet.
Brian Cook: Editor, Lord Commander of the UFR, and Wielder of the Holy Stick of Snark
Ace Anbender: Recruiting Coordinator and Head of the Council on Rhymes
Seth Fisher: Associate Editor, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Handler of the Royal Pig
Heiko Yang: Press Coordinator and President of Al Borges Fan Club
Mathlete: Grand Maester of Charts and Keeper of the PAN
Blue in South Bend: Master of Twitter'ers and Vice President of Social Media Relations
And for this week's question I thought we'd go with a broad stroke:
What exactly is Hoke building here? Is there another program in modern history that it most closely resembles in expectations for annual competitiveness, ceiling, floor, and general makeup?
Brian: You ask as if we know, man. We've had two years of Brady Hoke, and still know little. He inherited a quarterback he would never have recruited, no linemen (okay, two linemen), a defense coming off a triple-digit GERG crater. We've had a Sugar Bowl winning year in which horseshoes flew out of everyone's butts and an 8-5 year that could have been a lot better if we hadn't volunteered to get rochambeaued by Alabama and Denard's elbow hadn't gone on the fritz.
You want to draw conclusions from this business? I have two:
1) Brady Hoke would win a poker tournament against the D-I coaching field with ease.
2) He could sell toilets to Ohio State fans.
This likely leads to satisfaction. But, like, am I to declare this to be something else already?
Mathlete: When Hoke came in I think the program really resembled where Nebraska was when Bo Pelini was hired. A program that was used to success and was coming off of a failed attempt to reinvent their identity. Hoke's recruiting the last 2.5 cycles have elevated the expectations beyond that level. If the on field results match the recruiting and those two continue to feed on themselves the best case scenario is a bizarro version of Pete Carroll's USC Trojans. Michigan would mirror USC with a strong program/school identity and coach that embodies it and its history. The definition of that culture will be 180 degrees different in Ann Arbor but the concept would be similar. This season will be critical in terms of timeline. I think the roster is still another year away but if the staff and team can generate a season similar to Hoke's first, the ceiling will be lifted from the program.
BiSB: In an ideal world, we're looking at the beginnings of 1990s Nebraska. The Huskers were built from the lines outward on both sides of the ball. They featured an aggressive, thumping defense with an all-consuming front seven, and an an offense that was exciting in its face-denting smashmouth boredom. Osborne's teams never lost more than three games, taking advantage of a low-variance formula and a massive home field advantage. Their prospects on any given year ranged from a mid-teens finish in the polls to a national championship. Of course, projecting anyone to become Lawrence Phillips and the Blackshirts (note to hipster alter-ego: this would be a great band name), or expecting Derrick Green to change his name to Ahman, is asking a lot.
A more realistic range would be the Red River Rivalry from the early-to-mid 2000's. Michigan and Ohio State will play the roles of Oklahoma and Texas, who dominated the Big 12 the entire decade both on the field and on the recruiting train. Their division (the South) was by far the more difficult, yet between the two of them they won every division title that decade (no one else even grabbed a co-championship between '00 and '07). They won eight of the ten Big 12 titles between them, and from '02-'10 only twice did anyone else finish among Rivals top two Big 12 recruiting classes. Each entered most years with national ambitions, with the Red River Shootout serving as an elimination game of sorts. Neither achieved dynasty status, probably because of the less-than-stellar perception of the rest of the Big 12 and the zero-sum nature of such rivalries, but both teams won national titles, and both hovered around the top 10 more often than not.
Seth: I'm not so sure the Big Two will be able to dominate so much. Consider: two weird losses in a season can make a team full of five stars seem to drop right back to the pack. In 2014 Michigan has to travel to all three rivals (THANKS BIG TEN!) in addition to facing Utah, Penn State, and Maryland at home. Three excusable losses there at the wrong time could drop Michigan well out of the race for the division and produce all sorts of Dynasty talk for Ohio State.
Hedging, I put us closer to Mark Richt's Georgia program, except with far less frequent misdemeanors and without Richt's pious sanctimony.
Hoke's first three classes are about even with Richt's in star power:
*Meyer's two OSU classes are extrapolated into three
Actually it's closer to Carroll's USC. However Carroll and Tressel kept themselves annually competitive by improving the lifestyles of their NFL flight risks. Georgia has been a (mostly) clean program in the Old West of the SEC, usually beating the softer SEC East teams they should and sometimes getting bitten by a pesky obsessive in-state rival. He even had Urban Meyer on his southern border for a time. They also proudly display their "Old Man Football" t-shirts when somebody makes fun of Pro Style offense. Over 12 seasons Richt has gone 118-40, 67-29 in the SEC, and played in three Sugar Bowls, winning one. Now imagine Georgia if Nick Saban wasn't in the same conference…
Ace: I'm late to the party and BiSB stole my answer, so this is off to a rollicking start...
I've been thinking about the basketball and football programs and their very different approaches in working to get to the top of the Big Ten. John Beilein has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to basketball strategy, and right now the hoops world at large is conforming to his style of basketball—less reliance on big men, more spreading the floor and creating layups or threes (anyone watching the NBA playoffs in the last couple years can see this is happening at all levels). Beilein is arguably better at identifying players that fit this system—and then coaching them up—than anybody in the country, and we all saw the benefits this spring.
Brady Hoke and his coaches, meanwhile, are sticking to a decidedly old-school style of football, especially on offense—this as the rest of the country trends towards high-tempo variations on the spread-and-shred. Like their hoops counterparts, the football coaches are adept at identifying and landing talent—obviously, recruiting is going pretty well lately—and like the basketball team they have a distinct system for which they're recruiting; Beilein's offense is now a Michigan signature, and smashmouth football on both sides is what the football team is hoping to make their hallmark.
Bryan brought up 1990's Nebraska, a program that stuck to an old-school style past its supposed expiration date and succeeded wildly by bringing in top talent—good lord, look at Tommie Frazier film sometime—and running the offense with masterful precision; and, of course, combining that with the famed Blackshirt defense. I think that's the peak we're talking about here, though Alabama has beaten Michigan to the punch when it comes to assembling this kind of team — national championships are still going to be remarkably difficult to win.
The floor? I think we saw it last year, though it could happen again — a key injury to a quarterback here, a couple high-profile busts there, and this team could easily underachieve, especially if Al Borges fails to adapt enough to today's game (with his increased recruiting of tights ends of all sizes, I'm optimistic this won't be the case).
It's been two weeks since Michigan's last home game, and for me and the wife it meant two Saturdays at someone else's stadium: Notre Dame and—unrelated to the Great Meeting of the Bloggerati—Georgia. The first I went with my cousin and her kid, who's about the age I was when his father took me up to campus and I got Desmond'ed. The second was with two of my best friends from college, one of whom married a major Bulldog fan and couldn't bring his kid because you don't bring kids to SEC conference games—maybe Florida-Atlantic, but people still look at you strange.
I thought I'd use the bye week opportunity to share the experiences as compared to Michigan.
South Bend and Notre Dame du Lac vs. Ann Arbor: If not for the signs (which you should ignore because they tell dirty lies) you wouldn't realize there's a city here. Northern Indiana once you leave the part you pass to get to Chicago is right out of Rudy: small industrial belt homes nooked close together right up to the point campus has to start. We parked (for free) on the south side of Coquillard Park and at this point you notice or somebody informs you that Notre Dame is a fifth of the size of your median Big Ten school. The closest thing they have to a State Street or South University is a one-block collection of chain-ish restaurants in a pair of newer building complexes that straddle Eddy Street.
Their Main Street/downtown is about 2 miles southwest of the stadium and reminds me of Kalamazoo or a smaller Grand Rapids. The College Football Hall of Fame is here but we wanted to tailgate and it's something you rope Greg Dooley into doing with you but probably not a 12-year-old.
Coming from the south you are hitting a collection of buildings constructed or heavily renovated after 2004. The stadium owns this area. Once past (and to the left of) that and the new stuff you're in something a late Bourbon king probably commissioned. And it's here you remember or someone tells you that despite the mascot this started as a French institution, and was designed to French tastes. Having been to Ireland extensively and lived in France, this is a good thing.
On to the stadium and such, after a jump.
9/29/2012 – Georgia 51, Tennessee 44
[WHAT THIS IS: I took the opportunity presented by the Michigan bye week to head down to Georgia and take in an ESS-EEE-CEE game with Spencer Hall, Doug Gillett, and Michael of Braves and Birds and SBN Atlanta. I'd gone to an Auburn game a few years back because a good friend is an Auburn guy and acquired a taste for college football tourism, which is why I went.]
You go on a plane and get off of it and eventually you end up in the upper deck of a stadium far more vertical than Michigan's and look down at everything and in that moment you get the full weight of college football.
When it's your fandom, you've got a lifetime of dog-kicking and air-walking that tethers you to the larger institution. On Sunday I ended up watching most of the Falcons-Panthers game with a couple of Falcons fans who had mostly contempt for the larger NFL*. When you're just there to catch some football, you can appreciate the thing itself. On Saturday, I wiped the corners of my eye when Georgia put that Herschel Walker run on the screen and saw Orson do the same when they put a solo trumpeter in the corner of the upper deck to play the opening notes of the Battle Hymn of the Republic as Larry Munson said the same thing he always has.
Neither of us gives a damn about Georgia; both of us are pledged to other outfits. Doesn't matter. The weight of the institution is heavy, and genuine, and involves weird things that evoke Ghostbusters…
…and that Herschel Walker run. There's a dog on the opponent's sideline with an air conditioned house, and Tyler Bray is about to take the field. Football.
I was pretty sure the guy who would leave the lasting impression would be Jarvis Jones, Georgia's missile OLB/DE. He'd spent most of Georgia's game against Missouri flossing Tiger QB James Franklin's teeth and promised to do so again against college football's leading artillery piece, Tyler Bray. That was not to be the case. Jones did little, and I left thinking "I saw Tyler Bray play."
Bray is not great. He may be good, but it's hard to tell on a Tennessee team that can't run the ball or stop the run or maintain leverage even one damn time in a three-hour football game. This only increases the enjoyment of watching Bray play as he tries to cover up for Tennessee's myriad other flaws. Bray is gonna Bray. We have Derek Dooley to thank for this.
Several times a game you will see Bray decide to unleash the dragon well before it's clear this is a good idea. If you see Bray lean back, the ball is going 40 to 60 yards. He will do this ages before it's clear this is a good idea. Bray don't care. You will see teams of orange-pantsed gnomes wind the kid up as the play develops. He'll sidestep a rusher (or fumble) as the gnomes get a satisfying CHUNK out of Bray and he clicks further back. Once sufficient chunks have been chunked, the ball will zing out of Bray's hand at lethal speeds, destination unknown but awesome.
After Georgia rolled out to a 27-10 lead that was one fluky pick-six away from being game over, they did neutrals a favor by taking a shotgun to their foot repeatedly at the end of the first half. After the first of these, the game became a series of spectacular MMA knockouts. Orson and I ended independently going "OHHHHHHHHHH" and jumping up and down and laughing when Bray would laser a flat-footed pass 60 yards downfield into coverage for a completion, or do the same for an interception, or fumble, or throw a perfect deep ball that Cordarelle Patterson would drop, or chop a linebacker down as Patterson turns a failed trick play into a knee-slapping did-you-see-that winding touchdown run that took him from one side of the field to the other.
By the fourth quarter, the Bray lean was Christmas morning. On Tennessee's second to last drive, he tossed a back-foot laser to Patterson 30 yards downfield (dropped), then leaned back to hurl a spectacular NFL interception twenty yards downfield on a line. On UT's last drive he scrambled around in the pocket, leaning back the whole way until he fumbled, ending the Vols' hopes. Bray finished 24 for 45 with two touchdowns, a third eighty-yarder dropped, three interceptions, and a lost fumble.
I have seen Tyler Bray play football, and it was everything it could have possibly been. He's three hours of jumping up and down and going "OHHHHH" as you feel a stadium you don't belong to lurch back and forth queasily, in a place that puts the weight of Herschel Walker on your shoulders.
*[As they should, since this is a league that looks at fourth and one for the game with Cam Newton at QB and says "punt." Rod Gilmore swells with pride, NFL.]
Obligatory Comparison Bullets
Apparently I only do this when Michigan has two losses. M was 1-2 in 2008 when I went to Auburn.
Auburn test: passed. The weirdest thing about that Auburn game a few years back was preparing to stand and yell on what would eventually be LSU's gamewinning drive, looking around, and having to sit down sheepishly because no one else in the section thought this might be a good moment to yell their throat raw. I really needed "they s'posed to be SEC!" to be invented already to describe that.
Anyway, on two different Tennessee fourth quarter drives to tie, Georgia passed the Fans S'posed To Be SEC test. Auburn, you're on notice.
Bands. For the second straight week I was about as far away from a band as I could be—this time it was Tennessee's—and could hear them loud and clear. Unlike Notre Dame's, this had nothing to do with amplification. They were just loud as hell. Michigan either needs to figure their amplification out or start blasting it as loud as other folks, or they won't recover their lost status. The piped-in music at Georgia was significantly less frequent than it is at Michigan Stadium, FWIW.
I asked Orson, BTW, and he related that virtually all SEC games feature both bands. They're more tightly packed than the Big Ten—or at least were before expansion—but not busing the MMB down to Northwestern or Indiana or Purdue is pretty lame.
Also the MMB should play "Paint it Black," as the Georgia band did.
Chants. Georgia fans are short on them. They have a couple of generic GO X and GEOR-GIA chants but I didn't come away from the game with anything else in my head at all. Auburn was considerably different, and Michigan has a lot of inscrutable student stuff and Let's Go Blue and the wave and whatnot. [Ed-S: They bark a lot. There's also a "Who's that comin' down the line?" responsive chant the students were doing during the walk down to the stadium]
Georgia fans. A collared shirt tucked into khakis is their equivalent of OSU fans wearing jerseys. Median names are "Tad," "Chad," and "Brad." In general looked like a group of folks keenly interested in Ryder Cup updates. Extremely friendly—didn't see anything approximating crap given to Tennessee fans, or vice versa, though there weren't a whole lot of opportunities because Volunteers seemed scarce.
Michigan similarities are obvious.
Athens. Like Bray, everything it was supposed to be, at least insofar as that can be determined in a day. Gorgeous, seemed packed with things to do, kind of like an Ann Arbor that happened to be the best place in the state to catch a show. A college town with adult things in it.
SEC tailgating: great until you turn campus into Fallout. This was also a thing at Auburn I noticed: there's a lot of extremely pretty tailgating going down on the campus itself. The equivalent would be if a large portion of Michigan's tailgating was on the Diag, which is not possible because Michigan's main campus is extremely compact and the football stadium is a hike.
By contrast, a lot of Big Ten tailgating takes place in parking lots. Michigan: golf course or parking lots. Ohio State: all parking lot. ND: parking lot. PSU: not a parking lot because it is an open field. Northwestern: parking lot. Etc.
This makes for excellent tailgating, and a lot of dead grass on campus.
Desire to play Georgia: significantly incremented. I would love to go back to see winged helmets run out of the tunnel. That would be a wow experience.
Spread is dead, part XVIVII. Four years ago at Auburn I watched a guy do this:
Auburn now does the thing where the team doesn't huddle, lines up, looks ready to snap the ball, relaxes, and then looks to the sideline for the call. Whenever Auburn would do this, an elderly Auburn fan was visibly, I-can't-set-the-time-on-this-damned-VCR agitated, throwing his hands in the air in disgust. This obvious discontent seemed to spread to the other oldsters around him as the game continued.
This was during Tony Franklin's brief tenure as Auburn OC. Four years later Auburn has won a national title with a spread option and both of these teams spent a majority of their snaps in the shotgun, refusing to huddle and looking to the sideline for play checks. Now, this spread does not equal a Rodriguez spread 'n' shred or Oregon or the Air Raid or whatever, but I was struck by how much different the conventional wisdom is now. No one had a conniption fit about any of this; it was just natural.
This is bizarre.
That is all.
Orson on the game:
One scoreboard graphic is the shell game cartoon most stadiums use as interstitial entertainment. In UGA's case, a bulldog puts an order of fries beneath one of three small doghouses, and then shuffles them around quickly while fans scream out "THREEE! IT'S UNDER THREE, Y'ALL!!!"
At one point the cartoon came to a stop, and UGA pulled up one doghouse to reveal a tiny UGA. A guy behind us, in the thickest Georgia accent imaginable, cried out:
"NOOOOOO!!! YOU WANT THE FRIES, NOT THE DAWG!!!!"
Maybe it's because Tennessee fans have been beaten down by life, but I did not see a single angry word exchanged between Dawg and Vol fans in Athens on Saturday. It was really the best that the SEC can be in terms of a passionate crowd that does not spill over into being Philadelphian assholes.
Doug takes the UGA fan POV.