this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
the offseason is long and boring
In our continuing pursuit to explain to outsiders "what is Big Ten football," and, more importantly, "why is the Big Ten football," we turn to the world of metaphor. Or simile. I forget.
We look now at the Big Ten through the prism of the characters of Breaking Bad. Minor spoiler alerts, of course, but the series has been over for almost a year, so if you haven't seen the series GET ON THAT. Totally worth the time
Self-assured to the point of arrogance, but his brash exterior belies a deep-seated insecurity. He's not used to losing, so when stuff starts blowing up around him, he gets rattled. Everything started to go wrong when this upstart “Heisenberg” fella started to upset the order of things. He proceeded to pour unprecedented resources into chasing Heisenberg, like tailing people for weeks on end or spending $850,000 on a new offensive coordinator. He experiences successes, and occasionally seemed set to take down his quarry, but in the final confrontation with Heisenberg (who is, it turns out, family) he ends up busted and bleeding.
Walter White (aka Heisenberg)
He spending years – nay, decades – as the doormat for those around him. But then through a series of unlikely events, Walter finally found himself on top of his world. He is suddenly the one who knocks. He IS the danger. Still, his inferiority complex shines through from time to time, and he spends as much time trying to prove he isn't the man he used to be as he does being Heisenberg.
Some would call them “sleazy. ” They would prefer to think of themselves as calculating. They have a very well-oiled system and the resources to make it work. He occasionally gets punched in the mouth by Walter, and is threatened by Hank, though Goodman always stays just out of reach of the law. Also, of everyone in the show, he's the guy you really want to see get punched in the face, and you'd be like, "yeah, he probably deserved that, if not for this then for other stuff."
Careful. Almost boringly careful. Nothing is unnecessarily flashy, which is what makes him effective. At the end of the day, you realize he’s probably a step ahead of you. He will run the zone stretch six times in a row until you think “I’ll jump the zone stretch and take over the drug empire,” which is when he goes play action for 36 yards. Then goes to the zone stretch.
I suppose I could have gone with "Badger," because, well, Badger. But Badger was a chubby white guy who somehow survives. Wait...
They were there at the beginning, and for a while they kinda fit with the whole scheme. It was full of fumes, had terrible accommodations, and was in the middle of nowhere. And usually there were only a couple of people there. If you get stuck there for a couple of days, it will probably turn into the worst weekend of your life unless you can figure out how to MacGyver a battery out of some brake fluid and pocket change to get the everloving hell out of there.
She used to be a major part of the drug empire until some turmoil threw that into doubt. Despite being marked for death a couple of times, and seemingly being on the cusp of being pushed to the side several times, she continues to find ways to be relevant. She's also conspiratorial as hell; she always thinks someone is out to get her. And while sometimes that's true, it's because she did some really, really bad things.
As soon as she shows up in an episode, your immediate reaction is "ugh, this is gonna suck." She's a somewhat major character, but she does absolutely nothing to drive the plot. Instead, you just get caught up in small and annoying side-plots that just make you hate that you're spending time watching this. There is no depth to her character; she's pretty much a one-note kind of gal. But all things considered, her character flaws are pretty minor, especially when compared to some of those around her, so it could be worse.
It isn't really his fault, per se, but his arrival signaled an epic shit-storm that made everyone around him not want to be there anymore. Plus, Tortuga means "tortoise" and a terrapin is a turtle. Which is like a tortoise. So it fits.
The plucky, scrappy little guy. Historically a f*ck-up, but occasionally pulls his act together enough to pull off a train heist or something. You root for him, largely because he's the lesser of however-many evils. His style is kind of refreshing, and often acts as a nice alternative to the heavy, dour roles played by everyone around him. Also, does a lot of meth.
No one likes you. We get that you are good at some (limited) things, but that doesn't mean we want to see you ever.
"Tio" Hector Salamanca
He seems like a pretty bright guy, and despite his quirkiness you find yourself rooting for him. But then one day, someone is like "you know, with the way things are going, YOU could run things in the West Division." And he starts to get all excited, and then BLAM.
In a way, he should have seen it coming. He isn't the type to lead. He's a born middle-of-the-pack type. Nevertheless, even though the natural progression of the plot needed him to... uh... exit the plot, we felt a little bit bad that it had to happen like it did. Also, tell me this pose doesn't look familiar:
A chubby, gumpy-looking white guy who somehow manages to survive the whole damn series. He's not really a protagonist or an antagonist. You find yourself happy when he wins, but in the same way you're happy for your dog when he finally finds where you put his water dish. Sure, his accomplishments might not be impressive in the objective sense, but give the little guy a pat on the head anyway.
What is this? Wait, this is it? This is what we're doing? WHYYYYYY?????
The college football offseason is a long, lonely time. Some fans are lucky to have a basketball, hockey, or baseball team worth watching in the meantime, but for those whose monogamous life partner is college football, the offseason is between eight and nine months long, and often seems even longer. So you can imagine what it’s like to be a college football writer. Sure, you’ve got National Signing Day and spring practice. And you’ve got the occasional Fulmer Cup issues and other assorted stuff. But that won’t sustain you. No, no. You need narratives. And nothing… and I mean NOTHING… chews up clock like chaos at the quarterback position.
So, in light of that, we’ve assembled a How-To manual for selling a quarterback controversy.
THINGS YOU WILL NEED:
Having two new guys doesn’t do it. Sure, you can milk a few “who will replace Johnny Graduate?” stories out of it, but that’s just a quarterback battle. We need a quarterback CONTROVERSY.
Notice that you don’t need a bad incumbent. I mean, if the incumbent sucks, that’s fine. But it isn’t a requirement, and in fact may not be enough. Instead, you need…
A Disappointing Season
We’ll call this the Football Leadership Ability Correlation/Causation Observation Effect (or the “FLACCO Effect” for short). Regardless of numbers, the eye test, or the relentless nagging nature of numbers and stuff, people will inevitably correlate team success with the righteousness and overall gooditude of the quarterback. Win a Super Bowl? Massive contract, because you are ELITE. Go 7-6 despite incomprehensibly huge numbers? Constant complaints.
Does the defense have something to do with it? Maybe the offensive line, or the receivers, or the schedule, or the coaching? Yeah, yeah. Excuses, excuses. Winners win, dammit, and winning quarterbacks win when they quarterback. You didn’t win. You aren’t a winning quarterback.
Take, for a completely random example, the University of Michigan. Michigan was 7-6 last year, and the offense struggled. Devin Gardner led the offense. It was therefore Devin Gardner’s fault.
An Intriguing Challenger
This part isn’t terribly important, but it helps. And by “intriguing,” I don’t necessarily mean “good.” Again, if he’s good, cool. Go with it. But all you need is somebody plausible. In other words, you need a blank slate with a soupçon of positivity. You can have some data on the guy, but it better either be (a) good, or (b) scarce.
Do you have a former four- or five-star recruit lying around? Maybe he played a game or two and didn’t crash into a wall or vomit repeatedly? Cool. Go no further. You’re in.
Check all that apply:
- Did the Incumbent have a bad game at any point?
- Did the Incumbent throw any interceptions at bad times?
- Did the offense stall from time to time?
- Were there moments where the Incumbent made mental errors or displayed anything that could be perceived as weakness or a lack of desire?
- Did unrelated good things happen to other people?
Notice the lack of an “if yes, explain” box. There’s no need to go fleshing this out with context. Data points don’t need context. That’s how data points work.
Check all that apply:
- Has the Challenger ever looked good for any stretch of any game?
- Has he thrown any touchdown passes?
- Did the offense move the ball from time to time under the direction of the Challenger?
- Has the Challenger ever demonstrated positive intangibles of any kind?
- Does the Challenger have… uh… physical/demographic characteristics that seem more “quarterbacky” to some readers?
- (Optional) Does the Challenger have any trait or skill that the Incumbent lacks, or has it in greater quantities than the incumbent?
It’s all about body language. Who looks more into the game, huh? HUH?
Quarterback controversies don’t just fall from the sky. They must be conjured by a powerful force. A wizard is preferable, but failing that, coachspeak will do just fine.
Question: To be clear, when Devin is healthy, obviously he will be at some point, Shane is going to get a chance, Devin is going to have a chance or is Devin going to go in as your starter?
Answer: “I think that is an unknown. Again, we were 7-6 and we’ve got a lot of young guys. We’ve got a lot of competition. Now does Devin have the most experience – yes. There is no question.”
Did you miss it? Let’s try it again, but this time without that messy ‘rest of the answer’ crap.
Question: “…is Devin going to go in as your starter? “
Answer: “I think that is an unknown.”
See how easy that was? Heck, we can take it one step further, in headline form:
Brady Hoke: Quarterback position “is an unknown”
And we’re off to the races.
Putting it all Together
The rest is pretty simple. Rehash the disappointing season, introduce the new guy, compare the apples to the oranges, and throw in a quote or two to prove you didn’t make it up. Let’s see how this all works, and tell me if this sounds familiar.
After a disappointing 7-6 season, Michigan has a lot of questions to answer. One big question is whether Devin Gardner will be the starting quarterback next season.
Gardner started 12 games last year, but doubts linger as to whether he’s the best fit for the offense Brady Hoke wants to run. Gardner, who was recruited to run Rich Rodriguez’s spread option attack, struggled at times last year. He threw key interceptions in near-calamities against Akron and UConn, and the offense he led stalled in losses to Iowa and Nebraska. The Wolverines also lost, once again, to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. Both arch-enemies up in BCS bowl games, while Michigan ended up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Brady Hoke is under serious pressure, and he has to be looking for a change.
Enter Shane Morris.
Morris was a five-star recruit out of high school, and sat most of his freshman year behind Gardner. Morris started the BWW Bowl and showed flashes of the kind of arm strength and poise that make him a threat to take the reins for Big Blue. He threw for nearly 200 yards and completed over 63% of his passes (higher than Gardner’s 60.3% completion rate). If Hoke wants to return to the days of the big-armed pocket passers, Morris looks like his guy.
Hoke insists this is an open competition, saying instead that it’s “unknown” who will start.
Of course, I just made that whole thing up, and the only part that required me to do more than look at box scores and pull fun narrative storylines out of my ass was the last sentence. See also: here and here and here and okay stop clicking those links.
What If We’re Wrong?
Oh, that’s the best part. You can’t be wrong. You’re not claiming the new guy WILL start… you’re just saying the new guy MIGHT start. It’s 50-50. Heck, you can even give the incumbent a 60-40 edge. Repeat after me: “this battle will go right through fall camp and right up until the season opener (and maybe beyond), though if I had to make a prediction, I’d guess that Gardner starts.”
What’s even better is that almost nothing can refute your narrative, and just about every piece of news can confirm it in some way. Devin Gardner has a poor spring game? “See, the door is open.” Practice reports indicate Gardner is an unstoppable hell-beast? “The competition is bringing out the best in Gardner.”
If things get slow during the off-season, this particular well won’t go dry. You just need to add a fresh ‘source,’ such as “buzz from practice,” “sources inside the program,” or even “the word out of Schembechler these days.” You can also ask hilariously loaded questions, like asking the new guy “do you think you can be the starter?” (as if anyone is going to say, “nah, I’m not that good, so pray that this guy stays healthy ‘cause I’m basically a 7-loss season waiting to happen).
It was terrible that Hank left him in that safe house all alone. I wonder how long he stayed.
You may be starting to think to yourself “this is kinds sounding plausible.” And you might even start believing it yourself. And in doing so, you might be tempted to engage with people who think you are completely full of crap. DO NOT DO THIS. This “controversy” is an oblique attack. Stick and move. Don’t get tied up on the ropes. If you do, people will probably point out some of the following tidbits:
- Devin Gardner is going to be a 5th year senior. He’s been on campus for 51 months. Shane Morris will be a true sophomore. He’s been on campus for 10 months.
- Gardner has 17 starts as a Michigan quarterback (and another 8 at wide receiver). Morris has played approximately 5 quarters.
- Devin Gardner completed 60.3% of his passes last year. He threw for 2960 yards (247 yards per game) at 8.6 YPA. Those are pretty damn good numbers.
- In Big Ten play, Gardner threw for 14 touchdowns and 3 picks.
- And he put up those numbers despite (a) having absolutely no running game (and in some cases LESS than no running game), (2) having absolutely no pass protection, and (d) playing through a broken Devin and three cracked Gardners.
- You probably can’t name the last time an incumbent starter who threw for 8.6+ YPA didn’t start the next year. I know I can’t, and I looked back to 2005 to try to find someone. Couldn’t.
- In his most recent game under center, Gardner threw for 451 yards and accounted for five touchdown without a pick. He did so on foot so busted he was limited in practice three months later.
- Shane Morris’s bowl performance was basically a series of bubble screens and those jet-sweep-in-front-of-the-QB things that somehow still count as passes. His downfield throws were… an adventure.
- Insider buzz has apparently confirmed what history and basic logic would indicate: it’s Gardner.
- Incumbents always always always win these “battles.” In 2012, Andrew Maxwell completed 52% of his passes at 5.8 YPA. And he STILL started the opener (and likely would have continued to start if he hadn’t thrown for under 3.5 YPA).
Wow. I wouldn’t put that stuff into your articles. It kinda makes it sound like the earlier stuff was complete bullshit.
This Week in the Twitterverse takes a look at the social media happenings of the previous week, or whatever else I feel like talking about. Mostly I make fun of people who are better at things than I am. No purchase necessary, void where prohibited. Consult your doctor if this column lasts more than four hours. If you come across anything you think should be in next week's column, send it to @Bry_Mac.
So… how’s things?
It finally happened. We ran out of things to talk about.
I'm not saying we've covered most of the ground worth covering. Or that we've discussed all the interesting topics of the day. I'm saying that we have literally exhausted all topics of rational communication. You want proof? This was the national media on Tuesday:
We've crossed the Rubicon into the land of blather. What’s worse, we've still got ten weeks to go before the season kicks off, and six weeks before we even get to fall camp. Even pro basketball and hockey will be over in a matter of days, and we'll be left all alone with baseball and our thoughts. This is gonna suck.
This is also a very dangerous time for student athletes; screw something up, and it'll be talked about for weeks. Case in point, Johnny Manziel. Senor Juanito del Futbol lashed out publicly and viciously against his adopted town of College Station, and basically threatened to bail.
Manziel obviously had some kind of blowout with the coaching staff, or a teammate, or the A&M administration, or a roving band of Vikings or something.
Or he was pissed about a parking ticket. Yep, Johnny was nailed for parking the wrong way on the street in front of his house and having overly tinted windows. If everyone had known this from the beginning, we would have responded with the far more appropriate "MANZEEL BREAKS LAWS AND DOESN'T RESPECT AUTHORITAH" outrage, instead of the “OMG MANZEEL IS A CANCER TO TEH TEAM” outrage. But you have to feel a little bad for Manziel; everything the kid does is scrutinized so closely, and people assume the most outlandish interpretation of everything he does unless otherwise noted. If Twitter had been around when I was in college, I would probably have been investigated by Homeland Security for my threats to “blow Ann Arbor off the face of the planet, you meter-hawking bastards.”
[After the jump, another recruit does a Treadwell.]