Welcome back. After spending most of last week riding the struggle bus through blunder country, we return this week to examine the meat of Michigan’s schedule. The opponents in the back half of the season are of a much higher quality and level of consistency. Let’s take a look.
Wait… but you JUST said…
Hey, I know how this looks but IT WILL GET BETTER.
Yeah that’s what you said last week and now you’re leading with Illinois and we’re supposed to OOOH and AHHH like you just made the six of spades jump out of a rabbit’s ass and juggle flaming chainsaws
Look, I don’t make the schedule. Now do you want to hear about Illinois or not.
Does anyone ever want to hear about Illinois?
What if we throw in some suddenly-relevant Tim Beckman memories?
As you were.
Last year: 5-7 (2-6 B1G)
Recap: We won’t talk much about the football, because I promised Bolded Alter-Ego above that we wouldn’t dwell on this stuff. Sufficed to say that it was bad.
The Illini managed to make a competent-adjacent hire when by bringing in Lovie Smith. Smith isn’t quite the exciting new name, but he is an alum [EDIT - apprently he is not an alum. I just made that up] who might ignite a sense of “care somewhat” among the Illini fanbase. I have doubts about his ability to translate his game to the college level, but he’s a solid, reliable coach, and honestly, how much worse can it get?
When last we saw them: Michigan beat Illinois 45-0 in 2012, which still didn’t fully wash the taste of RichRod’s defenses surrendering 45, 38, and 65 points to the Illini in three consecutive years. Still, even with that, Michigan has won 41 of 47 against Illinois dating back to the beginning of the Bump Era.
Crootin’: Somewhat unsurprisingly, the situation recounted above was not conducive to an elite recruiting class. Illinois landed 25 commits, but only two were composite top-1000 (yes, that is the correct number of zeros), and none were in the top 700. Arguably their best recruit was Dele Harding, who you may remember as the guy who committed to Michigan because Dave Brandon got fired. 2016 rank: #71; 5-year ranking: #60
This team is as frightening as: A guy named “Lovie.” Fear Level = 3.5
Michigan should worry about: Dawuane Smoot continues the Illinois tradition of the Outstanding Defensive Players On Bad Illini Defenses, picking up the torch from the likes of Whitney Mercilus and Corey Liuget. Smoot is a natural pass-rusher, and possibly the best defensive end in the conference. Michigan’s left tackle situation is in flux. This could be problematic.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Poor Damn Mikey Dudek tore another ACL. Keep that man away from fork lifts. Also the defense loses everyone and probably will be bad. And Michigan gets a bye week leading into this game.
When they play Michigan: Illinois has a defensive tackle named “Chunky Clements.” I just thought you should know that.
Promised Beckman Memories:
First game: vs. Murray State, 3:30 p.m., BTN.
[AFTER THE JUMP. No I’m cereal this time, we’re getting to the good teams]
Greetings friends! We have been apart too long. Sorry, I meant to stop by for the thing, but I got busy and couldn't make it. Hope it went well. So, whatcha been up to?
As you may remember, every week we take a spirited jaunt through the Michigan schedule in an attempt to forage for useful information and hate-berries. The latter are plentiful. We just hope to scoop up a bit of the former in the process.
There has been no football yet, so for the next couple of weeks we're just going to take a quick overview of 2015 with a dash of a preview of the coming season. I also threw in some crootin' info, because what the hell. The bad news is that the first half of this preview is gonna be bleak. Not for Michigan, mind you. It's going to be a Bonus Area for Michigan, in which they will likely get to E. Honda hundred-hand slap the hell out of this lineup of old hatchbacks. But in terms of interest... yeah. Notsomuch.
About Last Year:
"Fans have a constitutional right to expect success and have high expectations" ~ James Joseph Harbaugh
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step" ~Lao Tzu
"That step better not be to the inside, son." ~Jehu Chesson, I'm assuming
The Road Ahead:
Last year: 3-10 (0-8 MWC)
Recap: As usual, Hawaii was outstanding. Temperatures remained almost exclusively in the 80- to 90-degree range. Diverse inhabitants, flora, and fauna. The Hawaiian culture is distinctive, yet each island has its own particular character. Really a must-see.
Oh, the football team? No. No no no. My bad. The football team was an abomination. 120th in the country in F+ rating. Purdue-esque offensive yards-per-play numbers (rushing, passing, and total) despite being in the Mountain West. Their only wins were against UC Davis, UL Monroe, and Colorado. They were outscored 463 to 229. It is no wonder Hawaii decided to pull the plug on the Norm Chow experience after three and a half seasons yielded an 11-39 record (with a 4-28 record in the MWC). Their new coach is some guy. His team will be bad for at least as two weeks, which is as long as it will matter for Michigan fans.
The good news for Hawaii is… uh… **shuffles papers**… ah, yes, here it is. They have a good punter. Rigoberto Sanchez averaged over 45 yards per punt last year. And… well… did I mention the weather?
When last we saw them: Michigan is 2-0 against Hawaii all-time, with a 17-point win in 1986 and a 31-point win in 1998.
Crootin’: Keep scrolling, champ. 2016 rank: #104; 5-year ranking: #100
This team is as frightening as: A gentle ocean breeze. Fear Level = 2
Michigan should worry about: Hawaii will have a game under its belt before they play Michigan. Only one team will be working through the first-game kinks and jitters, and it won’t be the Rainbow Warriors.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Sleep. Literally. Hawaii has to fly to actual damn dingo-ate-my-linebacker Australia (a 10+ hour flight) to open their season against Cal. Then they fly back to Hawaii (another 10+ hour flight). Then they fly to Michigan a couple of days later (another 9+ hours in the air), then they play Michigan at noon Eastern, which is 6:00 a.m. Hawaii time. So, you’ve got a group of gigantic humans who don’t fit in airplane seats to begin with, you’re asking them to spend three half-days in the air through eleventy six time zones in the week and a half before the game, and then asking them to play a Harbaugh team before their bodies think it is time for breakfast.
When they play Michigan: Hawaii’s quarterback might ‘accidentally’ Moxon their Athletic Director six or seven times during the game.
[AFTER THE JUMP: It doesn’t get much better]
About Last Week:
I like curling.
I don’t watch it very often. In fact, I pretty much forget it exists for 206-week stretches at a time. But for two weeks during the Winter Olympics, I’m a curling fan. And when America is curling, I’m into it. I’m chastising a guy whose name I didn’t know the week before for a thing that I am only 80% sure was good or bad. This guy has been working without pay for this goal for the better part of his adult life, and guys like me swoop in when the big torchy thing goes poof and start screaming at the TV about BROOMING HARDER DAMMIT.
The wonderful thing about spectator sports is that you can select your level of emotional investment. Athletes don’t have that luxury. For them, emotional investment is a byproduct of the tangible, physical investment. For fans, deciding to go mentally in on a team is a conscious choice. And like any other wager, the more you bet on your team, the more you have to win or lose. Odds are that you, dear MGoReader, know this phenomenon well.
I drove the four and a half hours up to the Michigan-Indiana game on Saturday. I sat by some very nice, rather intoxicated Hoosier fans, and for the first couple of hours we made amusing small talk about Indiana’s #CHAOSTEAM nature. They exhibited the kind of gallows humor you would expect from a team that had been through what Indiana fans had been through this year. They had hope, of course, but it was the kind of guarded Charlie-Brown-kicking-the-football hope. Experience taught them to guard their soul dongs against the inevitable.
By late in the third quarter, they had stopped talking as much. They had started to believe again. Thrice bitten, they had yet found the way to come back for more. And by the time Delano Hill batted that fourth down pass down, they were inconsolable. They stared off into the cold, cruel evening as if searching for the deity who had wronged them again. No one would have blamed them if they had mailed this one in. But like a poker player who had taken multiple bad beats, they went all in one last time only to lose on the final card.
Sports are wonderful and terrible because we allow them to be so.
[After THE JUMP: some fear, mostly loathing]
About Last Week:
Drake… yo, Drake… MOM MADE PIZZA ROLLS
The Road Ahead:
Indiana (4-5, 0-5 B1G)
Last week: Lost to Iowa, 35-27
Recap: All in all, not a bad performance by Indiana. The Hoosiers gave up a 65 yard touchdown run on the second play of the game, but they managed to cut Iowa’s lead to 21-20 in the fourth quarter before the Hawkeyes pulled away and Indiana was unable to recover a late onside kick.
Still, Indiana had a rough parity in yards (they were outgained 467-407), and at no point did Iowa look like they one would expect from the #5 team in the CFP rankings when taking on a team that is winless in conference play. The Hoosiers have now played Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa close… and lost to Rutgers and played very tight games with Wake Forest, WKU, and Florida International, and SIU.
Can a team still be #CHAOSTEAM if they win the games they are supposed to win and lose the games they are supposed to lose, but they do each in chaotic fashion?
This team is as frightening as: Eh. Fear Level = 3.5
Michigan should worry about: Jordan Howard. Howard is averaging over 6.0 yards per carry, and has exceeded 20 carries and 145 yards in every game he’s played in which he has been remotely healthy. He shows really good balance, patience, and burst, and can find the holes that open up in front of him. That last fact is somewhat important, ya know?
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Indiana is last in the B1G in scoring defense, 13th in yards per play allowed, 13th in yards per pass allowed, 13th in yards per carry allowed, 13th in defensive S&P+, last in opponent first downs per game, last in opponent 3rd down conversion rate, and last in opponent scrimmage plays of >20 yards, >30 yards, >40 yards, >50 yards, >60 yards, >70 yards, and >80 yards.
When they play Michigan: This is what the Hoosiers are facing:
Some would see this as a reason to fire Kevin Wilson. I see it as the best argument for why they should keep Kevin Wilson, at least for another year. Right now, the Big Ten East is a group of haves and a group of have-nots. Selling Indiana to an up-and-coming coach at this point would be extremely difficult. Dino Babers and PJ Fleck aren’t going to jump at an opportunity that will put them in the same division as Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, and Mark Dantonio, especially in a year with this many job openings. Kevin Wilson’s program hasn’t been fantastic, but by Indiana standards it hasn’t been bad.
This week: vs. Michigan, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
[After THE JUMP, nobody like Indiana]
About Last Week:
The Road Ahead:
Rutgers (3-5, 1-4 B1G)
Last week: Lost at Wisconsin, 48-10
Recap: Hayden Rettig is Rutgers’ backup quarterback. Rettig replaced starter Chris Laviano, and promptly posted a QBR of 2.9. And somehow, this was an improvement over Laviano’s 2.7.
Rutgers was outgained 426-165, and were more than doubled up in the air and on the ground. It wasn’t all his fault, Laviano was legitimately atrocious, going 4 of 14 for 31 yards (2.2 YPA) with no touchdowns and a pick. When you factor in rushes/sacks, Laviano’s 19 touches gained a total of 11 yards. That’s approximately two Subway sandwiches per pass attempt.
In conference play thus far, Rutgers is averaging 5.16 yards per play and surrendering 7.3 yards per play. That’s a negative differential of 2.14 yards per play, which is dead last in the B1G, more than a half-yard worse than second-to-last place Purdue and more than a yard worse than the likes of Indiana and Maryland. Part of that is because they have played four of the better offenses in the conference in Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Part of it is because they are bad.
On the bright side, basketball season is right around the corner…
SI forecasts that Rutgers (288) will be the worst team from a BCS conference by a huge margin: The Scarlet Knights are the only BCS-conference team outside our top 200, and we project them to go 1-17 in the Big Ten. Rutgers' projections are so bleak that we would still have them finishing last if they were in the CAA.
This team is as frightening as: the prospect of facing Rutgers basketball once or twice per year for the foreseeable future. Fear Level = 2
Michigan should worry about: Leonte Carroo…
Michigan can sleep soundly about: ...has a bum ankle and is questionable for the game, and if he does play he’ll probably be lining up across from Jourdan Lewis.
When they play Michigan: Walls may not be necessary. Michigan will probably be able to get by with those nylon extend-o ropes that banks and airport security lines use.
This week: at Michigan, 3:30 p.m., BTN
[Hit THE JUMP.]
About Last Week:
It was a bye week, so for the second week in a row, NO FOOTBALL OF ANY KIND HAPPENED.
The Road Ahead:
Minnesota (4-3, 1-2 B1G)
Last week: Lost to Nebraska, 48-25; Bye
Recap: We’ve got to start this week on a serious down note. Jerry Kill, one of the fundamentally good dudes in a fundamentally un-dude profession, announced his immediate retirement on Wednesday morning. And this wasn’t a Steve Spurrier “eh, let’s go do something else that is more golf-adjacent” retirement. Kill’s presser made clear that he wanted to keep coaching, and that he has no idea what else he’s going to do, but for health reasons he just can’t coach anymore:
Seriously, watch that whole thing. Watch it twice.
Part of being a football fan is mentally divorcing the game you see from the toll it takes on the people involved. We tend to think of coaches as being above that fray. But these guys are a different breed, and take on an impossibly overwhelming task. It is no wonder that it breaks even the strong.
Kill was dealt an even more impossible task than making Minnesota football competitive in the 21st century. It's inspiring that he tried to do what he loved anyway. It's equally inspiring that he walked away from it when he couldn't do it right anymore. I vote anything with Paterno's name on it gets changed to Kill. Except Jay.
In a football sense, Minnesota is also in a rough place. After opening the year 4-1 and getting some honest-to-god votes in the polls, Minnesota is going to have to scramble to make a bowl game. The Gophers have to find two wins among home games against Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and road games at Ohio State and Iowa. All five of those teams are in the S&P Top 25, and Bill Connelly has them winning about one more game.
This team is as frightening as: a 30 cent water jug. Fear Level = 3
Michigan should worry about: Minnesota may be inspired by Kill’s departure and turn in an unexpectedly strong performance.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: They still need to, like, score points to win.
When they play Michigan: This is basically Michigan with Direct TV vs. Michigan with Cable.
This week: vs. Michigan, 7:00 p.m., ESPN
[After the JUMP, a lot of things to sleep soundly about]