good luck with that
A series covering Michigan's aughts. Previously: obsessive ESPN image breakdown.
This is a fairly standard pick-your-team exercise covering the 2000-2009 seasons. One note on the methodology: instead of considering careers we will consider individual years.
There are only two real options since Michigan saw two players occupy seven of the ten available starting slots and was robbed what should have been rampaging senior campaigns by Drew Henson (signed away by the Yankees) and Henne (constant injury). They are Navarre's first-team All Big Ten performance in 2003, the—sigh—last time a Michigan QB actually beat Ohio State, or Henne's junior year, when he could hardly be blamed for an Ohio State loss in which he guided his team to 39 points.
Season totals for those two years:
Very little to choose from. Both ended up losing to USC in the Rose Bowl in games of approximately equal competitiveness (not very), though Navarre's trip seemed more doomed by fate—one USC touchdown set up by a ball bouncing off Braylon's heel and ricocheting directly to a defender—than Henne's.
The edge is Navarre's if only because of that attempts number. Michigan '03 relied far more heavily on his arm than Michigan '06 did on Henne's, passing 47% of the time to '06's 37%. Yes, Chad Henne threw less than 40% of the time in 2006. That just goes to show the Lloyd Carr ideal: have a defense so ridiculous that you can grind out low-risk touchdowns against everyone not named Notre Dame and Ohio State. It did work once, and it almost worked in '06.
Digression over. Your shocking winner is John Navarre, a guy who was utterly and unfairly loathed during his wobbly sophomore year—during which he should have been watching Henson, anyway—to the point where it was hard to figure out where his transition from liability to asset occurred. Whenever it was, it was before the 2002 Ohio State game. Michigan spent that running into the line for nothing on first and second down before deploying Navarre to pick up the third down with a laser-accurate pass to Edwards, Joppru, or Bellamy. Edwards lost a critical touchdown on a questionable offensive pass interference call and Navarre was blasted from behind on what should have been the game-winning drive. Michigan was only able to get down to the OSU 30 before they had to take a shot at the endzone with the last seconds on the clock. My friends and I wrapped arms around each other during the timeout, and I thought he could do it.
Second String: Henne (2006).
The obvious runner-up. Other candidates are inferior seasons by the above two quarterbacks, Henson's eight-game run as Michigan's starter in 2000, and then the horrible last two years. Since Henne concluded his career during the MGoEra we can turn to a column written after the '07 Michigan State game for a summary of how he played:
I first thought "Chad Henne is a robot" a long time ago.
It was the middle of 2004. A then-freshman Henne strode onto the turf at Michigan Stadium facing a four point deficit against Minnesota. The ball was on the Michigan thirteen; the clock read 3:04.
Five plays and 56 yards later, Henne zeroed in on Z45 Part A Subsequence C Tight End Tyler Ecker, Rabbit-Hunting Mormon, crossing in front of a Minnesota linebacker; various servos and hydraulics kicked in. Henne flung a pass into Z45PASCTETERHM's outstretched arms, declared GOAL COMPLETED, and initiated nailcoeds.exe.
This weekend, now-senior Chad Henne strode onto the turf at Spartan Stadium facing a ten point deficit. He was 6 for 19 for 83 yards at that point, 47 of which came on a single bomb to Mario Manningham. The clock read 7:35.
Henne had been awful. Whether it was the unpredictable wind or his separated shoulder or some combination of the two doesn't really matter. He had been missing open receivers all day, flinging balls into the turf or the sideline or taking sacks he didn't have to. He and Brian Hoyer were locked into a duel to see who could torpedo his team's chances more thoroughly; Henne was winning. In the Michigan section, faith was running low. On the Michigan State sideline Jehuu Caulcrick was exhorting the Spartans to remember this moment, the moment they beat Michigan.
Caulcrick forgot one thing: Chad Henne is a robot.
On the last two drives he was 12-14 for 129 yards, flinging wide open outs, finding Mathews on a critical third and long, and looping perfect touchdown passes to Greg Mathews and Mario Manningham. He was ruthless, precise, and busy calculating digits of pi deep into the millions. He has a heart of nails and lungs made from old tires; his hair consists of pipe cleaners cropped short and his bones are discarded pipes. You have to whack him in just the right spot at just the right time to get his late-model Soviet guidance chip to seat itself in his shoddy southeast Asian motherboard.
Excellence was good, man.
A bloody fight here. Your candidates:
|Anthony Thomas '00||319||1733||5.4||18||68||17||271||15.9||1|
|Chris Perry '03||338||1674||5||18||63||44||367||8.3||2|
|Michael Hart '06||318||1562||4.9||14||54||17||125||7.4||0|
|Michael Hart '04||282||1455||5.2||9||34||26||237||9.1||1|
|Michael Hart '07||265||1361||5.1||14||61||8||50||6.3||0|
Close statistically with Perry's herculean, 51-carry Michigan State game pushing him past the two main contenders in terms of carries. Perry was much more frequently used in the passing game, though a 70-yard screen TD for Thomas against Ohio State made him more explosive. Thomas surpasses everyone else in terms of yards and has a significant edge in YPC, but as we're about to see a large part of that has something to do with the preposterously stacked 2000 line, which currently has four NFL starters and one Hall of Famer. Hart and Perry never had that luxury.
Perry wins here, though, for the silverware. This is in addition to the Doak Walker:
The Bo Schembechler Most Valuable Player of the 2003 football team, Perry was a finalist for the Heisman Memorial Trophy, placing fourth in the balloting. He led the Big Ten with 128.8 rushing yards per game and was named the 2003 Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year and the Chicago Tribune Silver Football Award recipient as the Big Ten's MVP.
It's brutally hard to leave out Mike Hart, but the methodology here favors the one supernova season over Hart's four (three and half) years of merely being awesome. Perry's gliding cuts and Navarre's addiction to him as an outlet win.
Second Team: Mike Hart (2006)
I know by the stats this is Thomas, but the stats don't reflect Hart's remarkably ability to glue the ball to his ribs when not inside the five against Florida and the infamous Northwestern game Thomas gave away without even being touched. Hart couldn't quite stay healthy enough to get past Perry, and that very reason makes me want to crumple up this post and start over with a career-focused outlook but it's postin' time and this is pushing 3000 words and the monster must be fed, so here he is and we're all a little bitter at Chris Perry for winning the Doak, but only just today. Hart, too, came in for summarizing in a game column, this one after the '07 Penn State game:
Mike Hart does not care. He does not care that he is the size of Toad and runs about as fast as Richard Nixon, who is dead. He does not care that Michigan ruined everything the first two games of the season as he rode a bike on the sideline. He does not care that some people think he should shut up. He does not care that his legs are on someone else's legs and there is no possible way he can worm the ball to the goal line. It takes someone like this to pull you back from despair and ennui, to turn emo week into something other than emo year.
Mike Hart does not care what came before.
All he cares about is getting there.
Third Team: Anthony Thomas (2000)
Okay, Thomas did fumble against Northwestern but he also put up 1733 yards by RAGING his way directly at defenders. The original Brandon Minor, Thomas was briefly an NFL star before his inability to change direction without bouncing off something caught up with him.
Kevin Dudley (2004)
Dudley was the inspiration for this description of the fullback's job that still lingers on as one of phrases I'm proud to have turned:
Minus Dudley, last year's fullback spot was manned by a motley crew of confused squat guys more likely to whiff entirely than crush a linebacker into a white-hot furrow of snapped limbs and smoke.
For this, and his ability to create that furrow, he gets the nod.
Braylon Edwards(2002-4, pick a year), Mario Manningham (2007), Steve Breaston (slot)(2006)
It's a brutal competition when a guy who went eighth overall in the NFL draft and another guy in the midst of what will be a productive 10-year NFL career don't make the first team, but Michigan was blessed with a ridiculous wealth of options. Since the team has moved to a spread system and even before that used a three-wide formation as its base for virtually the entire Breaston era, we will include him as the prototypical slot ninja.
The first winner is obvious. For all his problems catching simple slants, Braylon Edwards remains the second most terrifying receiver to ever put on a winged helmet:
This is not up for debate.
The second outside receiver slot is a war between the junior years of David Terrell and Mario Manningham. The stats:
Like quarterback, there is little to choose from. One small push in Manningham's direction: he rushed for 120 yards on 19 carries; Terrell had two rushes for 12 yards. (Terrell's team played one fewer game than Manningham's did, but Mario was suspended for the EMU beating in '07, so they're even as far as playing time goes.)
Both labored through iffy quarterback situations, with Manningham saddled with about four games' worth of Ryan Mallett and another four games in which Chad Henne's shoulder was essentially nonfunctional. Despite this he lit up the heart of the Big Ten schedule, going six straight weeks with more than 100 yards receiving and at least one touchdown, with the high point a five catch, 162-yard performance against Minnesota. He was shut down in the Ohio State game that year as Michigan chose between a one-armed Henne and a then chicken-brained Mallett, but rebounded to post 131 yards of total offense and a touchdown in the Citrus Bowl against Florida.
Meanwhile, Terrell was saddled with a freshman Navarre through the bulk of the nonconference schedule. That didn't matter much statistically, as he put up at least 82 yards and usually just around 100 in the games Navarre was forced to play in, but it didn't help. When Henson returned it was a steady diet: about six catches, approximately 100 yards except for the Penn State game, one win over Ohio State and a bowl nuking of Auburn (34 yards a catch on four receptions and a touchdown).
The verdict: Manningham by a nose, who had fewer opportunities to make an impact in Michigan's injury-stricken '07 offense and added more production on the ground than Terrell did. This is a reversal from the All Carr team, FWIW.
Finally, Steve Breaston is included as a slot receiver on my first team since Michigan fullbacks were increasingly situational players as Michigan moved to a modern passing offense, and then a spread, as the Henne era progressed. Dudley was the last true fullback to be able to claim anything approximating a starting job, and even before that there were a couple years in which BJ Askew was the team's top FB. Over the course of the decade the third receiver got more playing time than the FB.
Anyway, the third receiver goes inside one of the outside guys in a place called the slot and the man who defined the position at Michigan in the aughts was all-purpose ninja Steve Breaston. Nicknamed "Black Jesus" before he even saw the field by cynical messageboarders wary of his massive practice hype giving way to a skinny version of Grady Brooks, Breaston took all of one game to establish himself a threat, returning four punts for an average of 26 yards against Central Michigan. By the Illinois game he'd set a team record for punt return yardage despite having two long touchdowns called back on irrelevant penalties; subsequent opponents refused to kick to him. As a kick returner he took one to the house for the first time since the 80s against Minnesota, returned virtually every kickoff to midfield in the '05 Rose Bowl, and set up The New Math Henne-to-Manningham connection with another return to midfield against Penn State the next year. Steve Breaston went to work immediately.
As a receiver Breaston was the inspiration for the UFR receiverchart, which was a direct response to people complaining about Breaston's hands. They weren't necessarily wrong—the Year of Infinite Pain kicked off in earnest with a 17-10 loss to Notre Dame in which Breaston got open deep twice and dropped sure touchdowns—but the chart did its job, showing that Breaston's hands were an overrated flaw. His best year was '06, and while he never recaptured the magic of his freshman year in the return game that was largely because teams stopped punting to him (and Michigan, infuriatingly, refused to double the gunners). Only Anthony Carter, also the guy preventing Braylon Edwards from being the bar-none most terrifying Michigan receiver of all time, stands between Breaston and the title of Michigan receiver you'd pick to throw a bubble screen to if your life depended on it.
Second Team: David Terrell (2000), Jason Avant(2005), Marquise Walker (2001)
Terrell was just discussed. No one else quite matched his productivity save Marquise Walker, and when Walker and Terrell shared the spotlight Terrell was the man.
Avant, meanwhile, is the player I'd pick if someone was holding a gun to my head and said he'd pull the trigger unless Michigan converted this third and five. I still remember the fourth and two pass at the end of the 2004 Ohio State game that clanged off Braylon's hands, and remembering that I really, really wish that ball had gone to Avant. Here's why:
At some point during 2005 Avant dropped a third down pass that hit him in the hands, and that more than anything was an indication that it just wasn't Michigan's year.
Avant also might be the nicest guy to ever play for Michigan—up there with Brandon Graham. The only person who can't root for Avant is Christopher Hitchens.
Walker was a combo of Avant and Edwards, blessed with Edwards's leaping and Avant's ability to make the spectacular catch but cursed with Avant's lack of electric speed and Edwards's tendency to drop routine balls. It seemed like the latter flaw was something that popped up after he sustained a brutal hit early in his senior year; after that the footsteps got in his head and he alligator-armed a couple passes per game. That may have been a result of his increased deployment; once Terrell left for the NFL he went from 49 catches in a supporting role to 86 as the man in Navarre's bumpy sophomore year. He did do this:
And that alone is worthy of mention.
There is no competition. Joppru came from nowhere to become John Navarre's safety blanket, a big white Minnesota version of Avant before Avant was around. By the time he'd finished his breakout senior season he'd set a Michigan record for tight end receptions that still stands and worked his way into the second round of the NFL draft. The Texans took him, whereupon he tore his ACL in training camp every year.
Second Team: Bill Seymour (2001)
It wasn't a good decade for tight ends. Seymour was a steady two-year starter that didn't get injured all the time, have meat for brains, or fail to pitch it to Steve Breaston. He wins basically by default.
Jake Long (2007), Steve Hutchinson (2000), David Baas (2004), Jon Goodwin (2001), Jeff Backus (2000)
The first three are cake easy. Jake Long was dominant and became the first pick in the NFL draft. Hutchinson went in the first round to the Vikings and is in the midst of a Hall-of-Fame NFL career. Baas won the Rimington award. All were All-Americans their senior year. Lock, lock, lock.
The right side of the line is trickier. We're not distinguishing between right and left tackles because players tend to move to the left as they get better, we're just trying to assemble the best possible team. So we'll flip Jeff Backus from left to right tackle and put him opposite long. Backus was first round pick of the Lions and has started 144 NFL games, all with the league's most sad-sack franchise. At Michigan he was All Big Ten two years running and won the Hugh Rader award as Michigan's best lineman those same two years, sharing it with Hutchinson and Mo Williams on 2000's ridiculously stacked line.
The other guard spot is something of a downer compared to the All-Americans surrounding him, but Jon Goodwin was All Big Ten in 2001 and, unlike a couple of other ABT recipients later in the decade, seemed to deserve it. He's still in the NFL with the Saints.
Second Team: Adam Stenavich (2005), Adam Kraus (2006), David Brandt (2000), Steve Schilling(2009), Mo Williams (2000)
Williams is the most obvious, another member of the insanely stacked 2000 line who is still in the NFL. Sharing a best lineman award with Hutchinson and Backus is no shame, either. Stenavich is next, a two-time All Big Ten selection. This blog caught the end of his career and found it to be pretty good. He edges out Mark Ortmann, another good-not-great left tackle. The interior is something of a mess. Brandt, the final member of the insanely stacked 2000 line, gets a tentative nod over Dave Pearson and David Molk's freshman(!) year; Kraus and Schilling are the best of an uninspiring bunch, with Kraus's 2006 better than his '07.
Updated. The depth chart by class has been updated. Let me know if there are errors. I believe Brandin Hawthorne is gunning for a medical redshirt and that Nick Sheridan is going the GA route this year. I put Baquer Sayed on it since he seems like he has a chance to contribute. By my count, Michigan has 13 to give right now, so a class of 18 or so is probably in the cards next year.
Jalen winners. The four winners of signed Jalen Rose t-shirts: Lauren Leb, Brandon Cox, Nathan McFeters, and Brooks Dunn. Congrats. As a bonus, Jalen roped in Jimmy King so your shirts have bonus signatures.
This happened, technically. There was a meeting about the NCAA thing:
The University of Michigan Board of Regents discussed the NCAA investigation into the football program on Wednesday, The Associated Press has learned.
A person familiar with the session confirmed the probe was part of the discussion. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the school is not disclosing any details of what it calls an informal meeting.
Really? Fascinating. Details?
The person did not discuss any details with the AP.
Outstanding. Obviously, if I hear anything that qualifies as information I will relay it.
Antonio Bass, in repose. Outstanding article in the Daily on Antonio Bass, a man with cojones:
Late that night, Carr’s phone rang.
“Coach, I just wanted to tell you,” Bass said in a slow, deliberate voice. “I’ve made my decision. I’m going to Michigan State.”
Bass today says he could feel Carr’s normally warm, welcoming personality, the one Carr reserved for all his players, stiffening up. His voice became cold, formal.
“Well, Antonio, I wish you luck up there,” Carr said.
Silence. Bass held in a chuckle as long as he could before blurting out, “Nah, coach, I’m just playing. I’m ready to be a Wolverine.”
If deadly silences could kill, eh? Bass is walking in May with a communications degree.
CONEOFF. The Coner has graduated, but there must be another goofy fan favorite backup quarterback who pwns Michigan's I-AA opponent. Candidate #1 is obvious: Conelius Jones. His name is Cone from the future.
Candidate #2 has the flow, though, and support from spectacularly named walk-on Ohene Opong-Owusu. Here's Jack Kennedy:
It's… kind of good. Isn't it? I mean, given your expectations going in it vastly exceeded them, right?
In the Times. Two(!) relevant items, one of them with a big honking picture of Michigan's new athletic director and quotes from Mary Sue Coleman. It, unsurprisingly, is a trend piece on athletic departments hiring corporate CEOs:
“That business experience is almost essential,” said Mary Sue Coleman, the Michigan president, who said she also hired Brandon because he had strong ties to the university, having played football for the Wolverines and served as a university regent.
Still, she said, “It’s hard for me to imagine a successful athletic director these days that doesn’t have a deep understanding and skills for the financial side of an athletic department.”
The other is an analysis of the possible ripple effects from Big Ten expansion. OSU's president is the guy most heavily quoted. This is the most disturbing quote:
“I do think the Big Ten holds a key, maybe the key, in terms of what is going to be the next phase of college athletics,” Ohio State’s Gee said. “We need to explore this carefully. The law of unintended consequences applies most specifically to college athletics.”
I hope that this does not imply one of those super conference things that ends up with 30-team Big Ten facing off with 30-team SEC.
(Brandon HT: The Ann Arbor Chronicle.)
In the year 2000. Mike Hart's ambition remains the same:
Hart has been through a lot in his first two NFL seasons, from a torn ACL as a rookie last year to being waived and re-signed by the Colts twice this season. And he admits he contemplated calling it a career last fall and getting started on "my real life."
And just what might that be?
"I want to coach," Hart said. "And hopefully I'll be the head coach at Michigan one day. That's my goal."
"No joke," Hart said, smiling. "That's ultimately what I want to do. I love Michigan. That's a big part of me."
When Fred Jackson retires (in four years?), every Michigan fan on the planet will want one guy. No matter if it makes any sense, which it might not.
That article also contains a by now standard response to the standard "so… Rich Rodriguez?" question posed all former Michigan football players kicking around the NFL: I support Rodriguez, but he has to win.
Post-hoc validation: So, yeah, I didn't watch that awards show, and a good thing, too, since it was dumb. Let us count the ways:
- They need to get rid of whatever the Maxwell trophy looks like and replace it with a bridesmaid crying into her wedding cake if they're going to insist on giving it to Guy Who's Not Winning The Heisman Guy every year. If there's an award for "Best QB" and you don't win it, how do you win "Best All-Around Player"? Did I miss Quinn returning punts?
- I don't think Leon Hall should have won the Thorpe, but if he was going to lose it should have been to Reggie F-in' Nelson instead of Aaron Ross.
- More "We don't understand set theory": Woodley wins best OL/DL/LB, Posluszny wins "best defensive player." (For what reason? Posluszny, good though he is, is possibly the most over-decorated linebacker since these fancy awards started coming out. Though Laurinaitis is off to a good start.)
Anyway, Woodley won some stuff and he, Long, and Hall were first-team AA. Hart was second.
- n00b Maize And Blue Tailgate has some suggestions to prevent this from ever happening ever again. Among them: don't schedule more macky-cakes, play after Thanksgiving, and accede to night games.
- Stadium and Main takes a look at next year's schedule and Michigan's prospects. Outlook: good. There are few returning QBs on the schedule. More discussion of that flashing TBA.
Personally, I think we should get a middling BCS team on the road to fill that hole in their schedule. Anyone who will give us a 2-for-1 and promises to be a respectable opponent. Hell, they can even be awful next year, don't care. North Carolina, maybe? An eighth home game against a stupid team opens us up to mocking columns about never leaving home to do anything on the road. If we can avoid that and get a pair at home against a respectable foe, awesome.
We will need more players on ice. Bob Miller of the Wolverine has some brief scouting reports on players who won't get to Michigan for a long time, three '09s and '10 commit John Merril. One, Kenny Ryan, is a recruit, not a commit. Yes, he's the younger brother of punter Ross.
We will also need more players this weekend: Dest is out for a month. Jack will miss Friday's game and is questionable for Sunday, when Andrew Cogliano will be off at Canada's WJC camp. Steve Kampfer will obviously draw in, but that leaves Michigan a defenseman short for ND. Will Red drop Rohlfs back or just go with five, giving Montville a token dressing? Don't know. Do know: this is awful timing for two critical games against ND.
O RLY. So there's this book coming out on last year's Springdale HS team that eventually sent five guys and its coach, Gus Malzahn to D-I schools last year. If you are a recruitnik you may remember that OMG Shirtless Arkansas freshman Mitch Mustain committed to Arkansas, decomitted and was widely speculated to be going to Notre Dame, then recommitted to the Razorbacks. Well, yeah:
A few weeks later, Mustain backed out on Arkansas and kept silent about his plan to attend Notre Dame, waiting on a promised scholarship.
Voigt recounts how Notre Dame offensive coordinator Michael Haywood was fine with Mustain's timetable until a few weeks before signing date. Then, the squeeze began. On his cell phone, Mustain heard Haywood say the Irish needed an answer in 48 hours.
It was at that point that Mustain called Nutt and requested a meeting. Nutt agreed and then realized it was a dead period and called right back to ask, "Does your mom mind you being out late tonight?"
Mustain thought Nutt meant 10 p.m.; the coach was talking about a minute after midnight. When Mustain arrived on campus that night, Nutt was there along with Malzahn, offensive line coach Mike Markuson and new quarterbacks coach Alex Wood.
They talked and Haywood called again the next day. Mustain reminded him he wanted to visit South Bend before making a commitment. He could wait only 24 more hours, Haywood said. That day, Mustain and Wood talked for almost an hour, drawing up plays on a dry-erase board. Markuson entered the room, acknowledged the rumors of a rift between himself and Malzahn, then wrote the names of his wife and children on the board, and told Mustain, " ... I'm not going to screw this up."
A short time later, Mustain decided to re-up with Arkansas and ignore Weis and Haywood. However, a recruiting writer penned a piece that said Weis wasn't interested in Mustain because he had verbal commitments from two quarterbacks and had told them he wouldn't take a third.
Mustain's mom was furious and said Weis planted the story "just so they could look good for the national people."
One guess as to who the "recruiting writer" was. Yup: Tom Lemming. What a weird sequence of events. Unlike Texas' pressure on Ryan Mallet, which was spurred by John Brantley's desire to commit ASAP, pushing Mustain for a commitment had no possible benefit for Notre Dame. It eventually cost ND Mustain's services. Doubly weird because Demetrius Jones is a dual-threat guy a lot of people saw eventually moving to WR or wherever.
I wonder if this is just Weis-ian SOP. Martez Wilson was an ND lock lock lock lock, suddenly wasn't interested in ND -- probably because his scholarship got pulled for some reason that's probably being spun retroactively as "grades" but was more likely another deadline -- and is now presumed to be an ND lock lock lock again. Would also explain their sudden lack of interest in Barksdale if they pulled a similar stunt, since Barksdale seems like a primadonna who holds grudges. ND gave him the hard sell and he reacted adversely to that.
Etc.: the Worldwide Reader blows up some dumb anti-playoff arguments brought forth by Bomani Jones; Wetzel on UF president Bernie Machen and playoff possibilities. EDSBS was taken over by Subcomandante Wayne yesterday, BTW.
Note: I've never gotten the idea of All-Whatever teams with two running backs. Teams don't play two running backs. They play a fullback or a third wide receiver or maybe a tight end. Given spreadmania in the Big Ten, the first team offense has three wideouts. A fullback is on the second team.
Also: offensive linemen are broken down by position, which was stupid in retrospect.
Also also: MGoBlog feels sorry for Notre Dame. Since the Irish aren't in a conference, they can't get all-conference level recognition. In the spirit of the season, I've decided to share the Big Ten awards with ND. All deserving Irish players are included.
1. Troy Smith, Ohio State.
I don't want to talk about it. Fortunately, I don't have to since this is obvious.
2. Chad Henne, Michigan.
Wasn't asked to do much -- new Michigan offensive coordinator Mike Debord apparently gets a series of painful electric shocks whenever he calls a first-down pass -- but was efficient when called upon. His strike rate on bombs was exceptional this year and his overall accuracy was similarly improved after an uneven sophomore year. Henne is maturing into the player Michigan fans thought he'd be after an impressive freshman debut, though he was clearly a step behind Smith during The Game.
1. Mike Hart, Michigan
He's little, he's impossible to tackle, and he never fumbles except for that one time he did. But even that wasn't charged against him. Stupid rule, but we'll take it. The backbone of the Michigan offense, Hart led the nation in carries, finished seventh in yards, and drove Michigan up from the ashes of 7-5. He won't win the Doak Walker, but goddammit he should win something. Invent it. The Mike Hart: for being exactly like Mike Hart.
2. Tony Hunt, Penn State
Yes, he was badly outgained by Wisconsin's PJ Hill, but Hill had the following advantages:
- a quarterback
- an offensive line.
You will agree with me that these are important things to have in the game of football, yes? Hunt was the Penn State offense, such as it was. With Anthony Morelli completing a whopping 54% of his passes, teams could tee off on Hunt on anything that looked remotely like a running down. This they did, but Hunt dragged them five yards forward anyway. I went into the year thinking Hunt was average at best, but come out of it with a respect for his pounding style and yeoman service to a lost cause. Without him, Penn State reverts all the way to their 2003-2004 nadir. If you're handing out a "most valuable player" award in the Big Ten... well... Troy Smith still wins. But Hunt is second.
2. BranDon Snow, PSU
I love fullbacks, and place one on this team despite their rapidly fading relevance. Snow was the thumping hammer for Tony Hunt's junior and senior years, when Penn State's running game emerged to rescue it from the bowlless depths of seasons past. Like Kevin Dudley, Snow turns linebackers into a white-hot furrow of snapped limbs and smoke, and that deserves a "shout-out," as the kids say with the hippin' and the hoppin' these days.
1. Mario Manningham, Michigan
Missed three games and was used sparingly in another two after midseason knee surgery, but you can't overlook 19.5 yards per catch and 9 touchdowns, all of them deep balls that Manningham hauled in with a breathtaking gracefulness. Or maybe that last bit is just me. He's inexplicably, remarkably good, physically imposing in no way. The magic is in his routes, which get him yards past befuddled defensive backs, and his hands, which cradle over-the-shoulder bombs like they're kittens. Kittens of Wolverine joy.
1. Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State
IS BETTER THAN TED GINN. Okay? Okay? It's a testament to Troy Smith that the Buckeyes spread the ball around so much that four receivers ended up with around thirty catches, but it did depress the chances of said receivers getting flashy postseason awards. Well, not here. Gonzalez is fast, smart, and sure-handed, and it was he -- not Ginn -- who turned in the year's best highlight reel moment from the Buckeye wide receiving corps when he turned a short dig route into a WOOP WOOP WOOP thirty yard touchdown against Iowa. Also, he didn't drop like five passes versus Michigan.
1. Dorien Bryant, Purdue
It's a shame that Purdue only has one defensive player who doesn't suck in all the ways you can suck (DE Anthony Spencer), as a Purdue team with a competent defense would have been a fun, dangerous team to watch the rest of the Big Ten play. Bryant was the unquestioned center of that danger, a waterbug of a wide receiver who was Steve Breaston's good twin over the course of his four years as a Purdue starter.
2. Logan Payne, Minnesota
He's big, kind of lumbering, and white, but kind of good and fast and stuff. Where did Logan Payne come from? No one knows. Where is he going? The middle rounds of the NFL draft. The most unsung offensive skill player in the Big Ten, Payne ended up fifth in receiving yards per game playing in a run-dedicated Minnesota offense. He's a dedicated blocker on the edge, quick enough to take a long handoff six or seven yards, and irritatingly good at getting open in zone coverage. This was supposed to be Ernest Wheelwright's spot, but Payne was the focus of the Minnesota passing game.
2. James Hardy, Indiana
Much debate here. Hardy's numbers came in great bursts against certain crappy secondaries (Iowa, Michigan State) but were interspersed with caverns of nothing production against real teams. Still, Hardy had to deal with bracketed coverage, a freshman quarterback, and the general Indiana-ness of Indiana and still played a huge role in most of Indiana's five victories.
1. Matt Spaeth, Minnesota
I've had a throbbing mancrush on the brobdingnagian Spaeth since his sophomore year, when he spearheaded Minnesota's perimeter rushing game with vicious abandon. He slowly became a viable option in the passing game; this year he was a weapon in both the run and pass games. I won't soon forget his down block on Tim Jamison when the Gophers played Michigan: he came in motion and then blew Jamison onto he ground like he was a child. Result: 20 yards for Amir Pinnix. Plus he catches and stuff. Farewell, O Mighty Spaeth.
2. Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
...was a linebacker a year ago. This year, he's the Big Ten's second-leading receiver. Saddled with receivers named "Swan" who play like that irritating Asian stereotype from the always-unfunny MadTV, John Stocco had to find someone to throw the ball to. Someone turned out to be Beckum, a hyped defensive recruit a couple years who found an application for this athleticism on the other side of the ball. Beckum has hands and the ability to stretch linebackers down the seam. He's a mismatch waiting to happen and Tyler Donovan's favorite target in 2007, guaranteed.
1. Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
...will be a top five draft pick. Crooshed silly defenders en route to 1500-yard PJ Hill season. Yielded zero sacks. Uh, yeah.
1. Jake Long, Michigan
...will return for his senior year (please?). If he doesn't, will be a first-round draft pick. Michigan ran "zone left" on seemingly half its snaps a year ago, and Long was a major reason why.
2. Mike Otto and Sean Sester, Purdue
The Boilermakers threw a remarkable 505 passes this year. Curtis Painter was sacked only 17 times, largely because the veteran Purdue offensive line walled off opponents like whoah. (Also slightly because Purdue didn't play Michigan or Ohio State.)
Well... crap. I don't know enough about offensive lines and I haven't watched games closely enough to really tell you. So this is sketchy guesswork.
1. Adam Kraus, Michigan
I have watched a lot of Michigan games and observed the interior line play. Kraus has been solid in both pass and run protection. Occasionally he'll miss a block, but that happens to everyone, and when he does it's usually one of those playside nightmares against a slanting DL.
1. TJ Downing, Ohio State
2. Mike JONES, Iowa
2. Kyle Cook, Michigan State
On the theory that the coaches know what they're doing.
1. Doug Datish, Ohio State
2. Mark Bihl, Michigan
Again, coach agreeance by default.
Woo! Interior linemen! So hard!
...this guy definitely had to add that tiny apostrophe and obviously-not-centered E after a Northwestern fan pointed out that "Michigan Your Next" isn't English. Ladies and gentlemen, Ohio State fans!
CSTV is doing this "Battle of the Blogs" thing where Michigan and Ohio State bloggers tackle certain topics. Main page is up; my thing goes Friday.
In which I take aim at Michigan Monday. Passages of interest:
What worries me on offense? Basically, 1995 and 2003. I'm worried about Michigan coming out and being able to run the ball at will. Usually, when the game is in Columbus, I have no fears about Michigan's running game. Don't get me wrong, I don't see Mike Hart busting out like Tim Biakabatuka or Chris Perry, but the thought of Michigan getting five yards on first down every time concerns me.
Weird. The thought of Michigan running on every first down gives me hives; he's concerned about the rush defense. I do think there's reason to be concerned, FWIW, as the Buckeyes have given up quite a lot of yards per carry when opponent running backs are suffered to possess the ball, but I wouldn't expect an OSU fan to be worried about what's honestly been a pretty meh running game.
If Troy Smith gets time to throw, Michigan's secondary is vulnerable. The Wolverine safeties don't necessarily excel in pass coverage and the corners can only do so much. Leon Hall is a very good corner, and when he feels challenged, he always steps it up. Again, if Troy Smith gets time to throw, Michigan will have no favorable match-ups in four and five-wide situations. And that's why Michigan has to get to Troy Smith. If they don't, it's going to be nearly impossible for them to win.
I've addressed this before, but the persistent belief that the Michigan secondary is way vulnerable is also weird. And I agree: if Troy Smith is allowed to sit in the pocket with only one or no extra blockers in, we're screwed. But that's like saying that scoring points is a good idea. Uh... duh. For what it's worth, if OSU doesn't pressure Henne it's going to be almost impossible for them to win.
What about Michigan's passing game, you ask? Honestly, I'm not too concerned about it. Obviously, the screens concern me. In this game, they'll always concern me. But as far as the downfield stuff goes, I'll believe Michigan can have success with it when I see it. Of course, there's always the chance that Michigan has been saving something. Perhaps they'll choose to use the middle of the field more this week than they have in the past. Who knows. I feel the Ohio State secondary matches up very well with the Michigan receivers. The Buckeyes have three very good starting cornerbacks and two very good safeties. Without knowing how effective Mario Manningham is going to be, I think the Ohio State pass defense definitely has the advantage in this one. And don't forget, the Buckeye defense is averaging two interceptions per game.
See, to me something like "the Buckeye defense is averaging two interceptions per game" is a giant red flag, since interceptions are almost always someone on the offense's fault and are totally fluky unless a quarterback is hit while he throws. As a general rule, turnovers are a function of the offense's competency to avoid them, not the defense's ability to force them -- again, with the exception of quarterback pressure. Michigan is very good at avoiding turnovers.
Also: if he doesn't want to believe Manningham is healthy, that's his prerogative, but given everything we know about the nature and extent of his injury, plus the snaps he's taken in the last two games it's silly to assume he can't play. Wishful thinking. Nowhere in his column does he mention Alex Boone's status, and he didn't even play versus Northwestern. (Not that I think his injury will be an issue. The Bucks say he'll be fine, so I believe them.) Manningham is also fine, otherwise Michigan wouldn't risk him before the game -- that would be insane.
He revisits this later:
Receiver Mario Manningham. I won't be convinced he's healthy until I see it. What made him so good before his injury was his ability to cut and separate from the defender. I'm not sure he can do that as well as he needs to against Ohio State's secondary.
Seems like wishful thinking, IMO.
He's going to play most of the game this week due to Ohio State's spread attack. Ask your local Michigan fan how they feel about that. Assuming you know a Michigan fan that knows who Harrison is.
Well, you know, I wish he was like Justin King or whatever, but Harrison's been okay.
Braves & Birds takes a look at the MNC contenders and their average yards per play on both sides of the ball. Conclusions:
In addition to all the other factors that make this weekend's tilt exciting, Ohio State and Michigan look to be two very evenly-matched teams, especially when you take into account that Michigan puts the brakes on its own offense when leading more than your average college football power. (An unprovable assertion, I know, but I've watched a lot of football and I feel pretty comfortable in saying that no one employs the Milton Berle approach more than Michigan.) Michigan is a little better on offense, Ohio State is a little better on offense, and they both have wild card returners who can alter the balance of the game.
Notre Dame has no business being in the national title discussion. Against a relatively unimposing schedule, their defensive numbers are signficantly worse than those of any other national title contender and their offensive numbers are not nearly enough to make up for the shortcoming. USC should bury Notre Dame, especially if the USC team of Saturday night that can run the ball and play defense is the USC team that shows up on November 25. Furthermore, Notre Dame would either be there against a team that beat them by 26 in South Bend or in place of that team with the same record.
Amen. Lord knows what voters will do -- they have West Virginia in front of a Louisville team that beat them by two scores two weeks ago -- but I think they'd be hard pressed to dump the Michigan/OSU loser below ND given the BEAT DOWN in September. OSU would be more likely to fall than Michigan, IMO, since a potential OSU loss would be at home, the Buckeyes' primo win over Texas has recently lost some luster, and the computers are already turning up their noses at OSU's Wisconsin-free schedule.
Stadium & Main has more on the rematch thing.
I guess I should have pointed this out sooner... damn. Anyway, for much of the year the top result on Google when you type in "F*** Michigan" (sans stars) was my anti-Buckeye diatribe from last year. Something must have gotten rejiggered; now it's third. Damn.
BON busts out their "Under The Hood" series for Michigan-OSU, providing a complete statistical overview well worth your time. I also have to link anyone who busts out the time-tested and true "Charts? Charts." Charts!
Initial conclusion: approximately equal teams. Michigan slightly better on resume.