Wanting it more [Patrick Barron]
By Bryan MacKenzie
"Who wants it more."
You hear that from broadcasters and talking heads all the time. And it's usually a dumb trope to try to explain an outcome that was either unexpected or random. Who came out of the pile with the fumble? Obviously, it was the team that wanted it more. Who made the clutch free throws at the end of the game? It was the team that was hungry enough for victory to suddenly become more skilled at a particular task. That's dumb and oversimplified, right? Yep. Very dumb.
Except in bowl games.
Bowl games are the one place where you can confidently say that, yeah, motivation is probably a huge factor. Bowl games are the only place in competitive sports where teams play an entire season, take more than a month off, and then play what amounts to a glorified exhibition game. Players finally get to dip their toes into a quasi-normal student life, then they've got final exams*, and then they're asked to jump right back into the maw to play one more game.
For obvious reasons, some teams come out, shall we say, less than fire emoji fire emoji fire emoji 100 emoji. Different people treat exhibitions differently, and you never know until kickoff whether your guys are Sean Taylor, or whether they are the poor damn punter who thought this was a game.
We saw this last year. Michigan probably wasn't 34 points better than Florida, but it was pretty clear midway through the Citrus Bowl that the two teams weren't playing the same game. Maybe it was the "Christmas Camp" that was reportedly unusually intense as bowl practices go. Maybe it was the knowledge that the competition for spots in Michigan's 2016 lineup had already begun. Or maybe Harbaugh just scared the living hell out of guys. Who knows. But Michigan showed up for blood. And with Jim Harbaugh being as Jim Harbaugh as any coach in America, I'd bet good money that Michigan does so again today.
And what do we know of Florida State's bowl show-up-ishness? The Seminoles got walloped by Houston last year in the Peach Bowl 38-24 despite being a touchdown favorite. The year before that, they lost the college football playoff semi-final to Oregon 59-20. Of course, the year before that, they won the national championship. So who knows what kinds of conclusions we can draw.
If both teams arrive in force, this should be a really good game, though I'd still favor Michigan. There is no realistic scenario in which Florida State's offensive line holds up against Michigan's defensive line. Deondre Francois has already had a Hackenberg-esque season of picking defenders out of his ribs (FSU has allowed as many sacks this year as Rutgers), and the odds of him being able to stand in against this pass rush are slim. FSU's back seven has been iffy, and will be without one of the best players in the country in Derwin James. And sure. Dalvin Cook is a scary, scary dude, especially if he's healthy, but the kind of effort he would have to put forth to beat this Michigan defense single-handedly would be superhuman.
That's if both teams show up. If only Michigan shows up, this could look a lot like last year's Citrus Bowl.
* [Note: yes, I know that at some schools, this means "it's final exams for the players' tutors and/or trainers." But the good news is that some of those schools don't have to worry about bowl prep. Because they are not bowl-eligible. Because they finished 4-8.]
Michigan 30, FSU 17
By Nick RoUMel
It was the best of times, until the second play.
Michigan’s 1991 squad was #3 in the nation and featured Desmond Howard and Elvis Grbac, with Greg Skrepenak anchoring a monstrous O-Line that averaged 294 lbs.
Bobby Bowden’s Florida State squad was #1, and might have been defending national champions if not for a little “wide right” issue the year before against Miami. On this perfect September afternoon, Michigan was favored, and the home crowd was raucous.
It was the worst of times. On the second play, Terrell Buckley stepped in front of Desmond to pick off Elvis’ floater to the south end zone, and the Seminoles never looked back in thrashing the Wolverines, 51-31. At that time (nearly two decades before “The Missing Years” of R-R and B-Ho), it had been the most points ever laid on the home team in Michigan Stadium. It would have been even worse, but Florida State missed five points after touchdowns and lost a fumble at Michigan’s one yard line. (Michigan only gave up 118 points in its other 10 regular season games in’91, combined.)
It was the best of times. 1991 was the first year I had my season tickets. Before the FSU game, my Dad and I watched Michigan beat Notre Dame, with Desmond kickstarting his brilliant Heisman season with a diving TD catch on a fourth-and-one-foot play in the fourth quarter, in the corner in front of me and Dad.
It was the worst of times, the beginning of the Curse of Dino. My then brother-in-law suffered through the Florida State debacle with me, the first of a five-game winless streak for games he attended, broken only when Punt Classic and I performed a full-on exorcism before allowing him to enter the hallowed grounds of the Big House for the 1997 Ohio State game.
It was the best of times. It was the midst of Coach Gary Moeller’s successful five-year stint as Michigan coach, featuring three Big Ten titles, three top ten finishes, and four bowl wins. This run was cut short when Mo was unceremoniously fired for having an argument with his wife in a restaurant. (Just ponder that, Penn State fans.)
It was the worst of times. The Florida State “War Chant”, credited to Rob “Sweat” Hill of FSU’s Theta Chi fraternity in 1983, evolved into the Tomahawk Chop of today that was heard in Ann Arbor, for the first and only time, on that sunny fall day in 1991. (Unfortunately, Michigan fans cannot claim the moral high ground, with their own version of the chop ending in the stunningly crass “you suck!” shout, after the band plays “Temptation” - it’s almost enough to yearn for the halcyon days of marshmallow tossing.)
Twenty five years later, it is the best of times. Michigan is once again a top ten team, two cruel plays away from undefeated, and only kept from the College Football Playoff by a KGB-led conspiracy.
As for prognostications, Punt’s theory is correct. The edge cannot be determined by the players on the field, who are matched evenly enough. Instead it will be won by the team that wants it more, that has something to prove. Will Michigan flip the script from 25 years ago, and prevail in front of what amounts to a boisterous Seminole home crowd? Or will the ironically named JimBo MoLlo Fisher cunningly hand the Wolverines another stunning last-minute defeat?
Florida State is exciting, but flawed, and the metrics favor Michigan. But that hasn’t stopped the 2016 Wolverines from showing its dispirited side, even when it’s mattered most. This game gives me the same heebie-jeebies as when I first heard that war chant in 1991. I fear we cap 2016 with the worst of times.
Whoa, oh, whoa. Whoa, oh, whoa.
FLORIDA STATE 30, MICHIGAN 28
By Bryan MacKenzie
Me, thinking I know things
By Nick RoUMel
Today’s column is written by our guests from www.twosixtynine.com1. Their motto: “Half right, half the time!” Please welcome Nate Bronze and his shadowy counterpart, “Serrano.” In the meantime, Counterpunt is off looking for his lucky shirt.
BRONZE: We at “269” have barely digested our Thanksgiving feast of roasted crow, and are now back at work crunching numbers, analyzing metrics, and making bold predictions.
SERRANO: Nate, what do the data tell us?
BRONZE: Ohio State – Michigan is a big game. It has an ELO2 rating of nearly 1600. Whoever wins has an 80% chance of making the CFP.3
SERRANO: How do you know it’s not a 90% chance?
BRONZE: Because it’s a MUS4, calculated from CAM.5
SERRANO: What does Michigan need to do to win?
BRONZE: Pray for rain. There’s not much else they can do to slow down Barrett, Samuel, Weber and company. Michigan is also in trouble offensively if O’Korn plays QB.
SERRANO: Not necessarily. Expect Jabrill Peppers to get more snaps behind center, not just in the Wildcat. I believe Coach Harbaugh has been saving a lot of different looks up his sleeve for this contest.
BRONZE: They would have a much better chance if Mike Trout could play quarterback. Gosh, if he had played college football, he would have been the G.O.A.T., president of the student body, and cured cancer in his spare time.
SERRANO: Uh, right. Make the call, Nate. What’s it going to be today?
BRONZE: I have analyzed every game in each player’s college career, adjusting for factors such as strength of schedule; different coaches, teammates, and formations; injuries and even weather. This commonly known SYTYSKBATETLU6 measure tells us that Ohio State has precisely a 50% chance to win.
SERRANO: I see it differently. Using a formula that is MSIN 7 , I put Michigan’s odds for victory at 50%.
COUNTERPUNT: Enough! Don’t one of you have the balls to call this one?
BRONZE: Actually I have 50% testicular capacity...
SERRANO: ... as do I.
COUNTERPUNT: Let me have my column back, please.
BRONZE: That’s fine; I have to go clean my Mike Trout shrine anyway.
COUNTERPUNT: Here’s the call, sports fans. J-Pep takes a punt return to the house to seal the win, and strikes the pose.
DESMOND “MR. HEISMAN” HOWARD: You know Charles Woodson was also planning to strike the pose in 1997, but I paid a few players to mob him before he could do so.
CHARLES “MR. HEISMAN” WOODSON: My punt return against the Buckeyes was still better, Desmond. Plus we won the national championship.
DESMOND: Harrumph. Let our readers decide:
[Bryan Fuller, 2013]
By Bryan MacKenzie
Football is a study in chaos. It is, at its heart. an incomprehensible number of variables plugged into an immensely complicated equation. What's the defensive alignment? What's the offensive personnel group? What's the coverage call? What's the snap count? What's the protection call? What routes are the receivers running? What are the weather conditions? What's the quarterback's progression? What are the linebacker's keys? Now, put it all together with the unknown that accompany twenty-two humans trying to execute various complicated assignments simultaneously, each of which is actively opposed by at least one other human being.
Okay, now do it a hundred more times, and add the whole thing up.
|[Bryan Fuller, 2015]|
It is in this sense that we welcome CHAOS TEAM to the Big House. Indiana has spent the majority of the Kevin Wilson era being the least predictable team in the country. They haven't been all that good, but their style of trying to stress opponents into mistakes through tempo and creative aggression, combined with their willingness to give up big plays in myriad hilarious ways, has meant that Hoosier games are often unexpectedly close. And they have been peak CHAOS against Michigan. Four of the last five meetings have been bonkers in one way or another:
- In 2009, Indiana gained, and lost, the lead four separate times, losing it for good with two and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter. Indiana lost 36-33 despite outgaining Michigan by nearly a hundred yards.
- In 2010, Ben Chappell put up 480 yards passing on 64 attempts, and Denard Robinson matched him with 494 yards of total offense on 11.4 yards per carry and 17.3 yards per pass. Indiana scored a touchdown with 1:15 remaining to tie the game, and promptly allowed a touchdown 58 seconds later. Michigan won 42-35
- In 2013, the teams combined for 1,323 total yards (more than 3/4 of a mile), with Indiana's 572 yards being dwarfed by Michigan's 751. Jeremy Gallon caught 14 passes for 369 yards. Michigan won 63-47.
- Last year, the teams combined for over 1,100 yards, including 440 passing yards from Jake Rudock. Michigan scored a touchdown on the last play of regulation to tie the game, and they won in double overtime on a goal line stop.
Sure, Michigan hasn't lost to Indiana since 1987, and hasn't lost at home since 1967. But CHAOS TEAM cares not for such things. They know that if you change the initial conditions ever so slightly, it can have a huge impact on what would otherwise seem to be an inevitable outcome.
We saw how big of a difference the absence of Ryan Glasgow made in last year's game. This year, Michigan is starting a new quarterback, and the weather forecast is looking bleak. And MIchigan is coming off its worst performance of the year. Is that enough for Indiana to pull the upset? Probably not. Is it enough to make every Michigan fan yell at least once "WHAT THE HELL IS EVEN HAPPENING AT THIS MOMENT?" Almost certainly. Michigan 116, Indiana 104 (8 OT)
[Erich Upchurch, 2014]
by Nick RoUMel
So it’s just one loss, right?
Sunshine, blue skies, please go away
My girl has found another and gone away
With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom
So day after day I stay locked up in my room
I know to you, it might sound strange
But I wish it would rain
(The Temptations, “I Wish It Would Rain”)
Seriously, what’s the big deal? We’re still ranked #3 in the CFP!
I mean, “Punt Classic” and “Three” and I had an enjoyable trip to Iowa, riding the “Hawkeye Express” choo-choo to Kinnick, and soaking up the atmosphere …
… and then this happened:
We went back to our hotel and were locked out, for 14 hours (fact):
So now we’re supposed to be excited to play Indiana? Nah, we be like:
Day in, day out, my tear stained face
Pressed against the window pane.
My eyes search the skies, desperately for rain.
'Cause raindrops will hide my teardrops.
And no one will ever know.
That I'm cryin'... cryin' when I go outside.
To the world outside my tears, I refuse to explain.
Oh, I wish it would rain.
Actually, it’s going to snow. MICHIGAN something, INDIANA something less.
By Bryan MacKenzie
This has been a long week. The year 2016 has revealed and highlighted myriad cracks in an American society straining under stresses from all sides, and this week feels like the shattering culmination of those problems. Fortunately, today gives us an opportunity to return to a simpler time. A happier time. An Iowa time.
We return to a time when our playbooks, like our lives, were simpler. We didn't need five hundred channels, eleven types of avocados, and six different types of running plays. No, sir. Football was created as a union between an inside zone and an outside zone, and there was a time when we respected and honored that.
It was a time of honesty. People looked each other in the eye, and a man's word was as good as his signature in blood (which was how real men signed things). There weren't any efforts to deceive each other, or to try to cheat our fellow man. If a team lined up to run a zone left, you could rely on them to run a zone left.
It was a time of greater economic certainty. There was a time when a man could come out of the humble beginnings of a Cleveland Browns position coach, get a job with a company, and keep that job for the next thirty years. They were good jobs, too, and they paid well. I know $4.5 million per year doesn't sound like that much to our jaded modern eyes, but there was a time when that was a solid living wage. And you knew that ten years from now, you would still have a job.
It was a time when people recognized that progress needs to come at a reasonable pace. A man shouldn't get out ahead of the sensibilities of the day. The play clock gives us all time for reflection, and only a fool would ignore such a precious gift.
It was a time when we recognized vices for the weaknesses they were. Gambling is the lazy man's shortcut to the fruits of a heartier man's hard work and determination. If you can't run the ball into a stacked box, don't take the easy way out by trying to throw over the top. That's just avoiding your problems, son. And I don't care where you are on the field; if you don't gain those ten yards in three plays, you haven't earned that first down. Punt and play defense, and work a little harder the next time.
There was a time when people understood that slow and steady wins the race. And while some modern revisionists allege that "slow" is literally the dumbest possible approach to any race ever, those people are probably nerds who put more emphasis on "numbers" on a "spreadsheet" than they do on gut instincts, gumption. and grit. Or they are communists. Probably both.
Analytics geeks say Michigan is going to trounce Iowa. So do the elitist bourgeoisie in Las Vegas. But as we've seen this week, those people don't know shit. Iowa 7, Michigan 6
by Nick RoUMel
Road trip. Driving west, the landscape opening up and flattening out. If you were judging by its billboards, they’re into adult bookstores and fireworks. If by their menus, pork chops.
Hello Iowa, with your straight stretches of highway and plowed over cornfields. Hello to the Michigan caravan, beeping and waving on I-80. Hello to road music, blaring Bailey’s “Who’s got it Better Than Us?” and Pop Evil’s “In The Big House”, among a menagerie of shuffle play from Led Zeppelin to Alicia Keys to Vulfpeck. Hello to the Quad Cities, and the Homewood Suites in the middle of a desolate savannah, one hour east of Iowa City, the closest we could manage, even though we made our reservations two months ago. Dammit.
This is America. Crazy and all over the place: from serious, to porn, explosions, and football. Because if it weren’t for such distractions, we would go mad.
And what better distraction this year than Michigan football?
Week after week, nobody’s got it better than us. Michigan has gone from the depths of despair, almost as deep as this year’s Notre Dame or Michigan State misery, to #2/#3 in the country. It’s pretty exciting stuff. When I think about Michigan football, I’m not dwelling on my problems, or the rest of life. I’m just geeked, distracted and happy. Wouldn’t it be great if we won it all?
Can we do it? What does the Punt say, at the top of this page? He wrings his hands about predictions. I agree. It was reinforced this week that predictions are meaningless. Whether you call them predictions, polls, or cosmic ESP messages from another dimension, they have one thing in common: it’s all guesswork. Example: Bo would have these amazing teams, that would steamroll Big Ten opponents 45-3 and 56-7 and be poised to go #1, then go somewhere like Minnesota or Purdue as a 28-point favorite, and lose. Completely unexpectedly.
Nobody knows anything. As they say, “That’s why you play the game.”
What we pundits do, instead of making predictions, is crafting scenarios. “If” Iowa were to win, this is how it would have to happen. We’d go into Kinnick Stadium for a night game. The fans would be loud and drunk. They would have a “Hawk-Out” (people would bring their trained pet hawks). We’d get so intimidated that Wilton Speight, who is generally poised, tall, and happy, would throw four interceptions and fumble twice. J-Pep would get attacked by a random hawk and run the wrong way on a punt return.
On their side, Iowa would run a dull but disciplined game plan, with quarterback C.J. “I’m not as good as Rudock, and never will be” Beathard leading a boring but effective attack, sometimes gaining 5 to 6 yards per play, and even remembering to hand off to Akrum Wadley once in a while. They might score 14 or even—heavens!—21 points behind the drunken, hawk-tending crowd. And they would win, under that scenario.
Of course. What a sweet, simple, middle America scenario. Except for one thing: it is absolutely not going to happen. I can say this as confidently as Cassandra, or Nostradamus, who were more accurate than Nate Silver and @twosixtynine will ever be. Do you know why? Because nobody’s got it better than us. Nobody.
MICHIGAN 38, IOWA 10
By Bryan MacKenzie
Remember that roommate in college who you never saw? Like, you knew Pete lived there, and if someone asked you to list your roommates, you would include Pete. Pete's stuff moved around the house from time to time, and every month the check for his share of the utilities was clipped to the fridge. You didn't dislike Pete, necessarily, but you barely ever saw him, and you never hung out together.
Maryland is Pete. Yeah, they're in our conference. We know that. But we have essentially no interaction with them. We have almost no interests in common, and we don't understand their East Coast ways very well. They're always talking about lacrosse and crabs and how The Wire doesn't accurately depict Baltimore. So when we have to interact, we're naturally a little unsure of our social dynamic.
(For the record, Maryland moved in at the same time as Rutgers, but Maryland refuses to admit that they were friends when Rutgers moved in. Rutgers was that roommate who everyone hated. He constantly got in arguments with everyone over the stupidest crap. He was awful at Mario Kart but kept talking shit about it. He smelled bad, and after he used the kitchen it smelled like he'd microwaved a cat.)
Michigan has played five games against Maryland all time. That is fewer matchups than Michigan has had against 32 other teams, including Mount Union, Harvard, and Oberlin. But we're gonna be division-mates for a while, so we need to get used to it. And more importantly, we need to figure out how we relate to each other. Do we develop a indifference-to-their-hatred like we have with Illinois? Maybe a "no YOU have the inferiority complex" tête-à-tête like we have with Sparty? At the moment, I'm leaning towards a "Wait until [football/basketball] season" relationship like we have with Indiana.
From a pure football standpoint, this shouldn't be a terribly close game. S&P+, Sagarin, Vegas, and "I have watched these two teams attempt to football" all suggest Michigan has an advantage in every phase of the game. The Wolverines should be able to move the ball without much issue, and while Maryland's running game is above average, Michigan's defense is designed around stopping spread-to-run teams like this.
The catch, though, is that we don't know what kind of team Maryland is bringing to Ann Arbor. Are they bringing a team that will go gently into that good night, like Penn State and Illinois did? Or will they bring a team hopped up on goofballs who comes out punching, Little Mac-style, like Michigan State or Colorado? Until we know them better, it's hard to say. We don't even have much information about what a "DJ Durkin team" looks like.
There's a good chance Durkin will want to put on good show for his former team, and he certainly has as much insight into Michigan's attack but how much hatred is there for a team he coached for one year, especially when he voluntarily parlayed it into a head coaching gig? My crystal ball says that Maryland puts together a few explosive plays on the ground, but Michigan is just too much and pulls away without much effort. Michigan 38, Maryland 17
by Nick RoUMel
Michigan is in trouble today. I realize they are undefeated, but they have shown vulnerabilities in this young season that can be exploited. Maryland may be new to our conference, but they are a strong team, led by the return of Melo Trimble. After reaching the Sweet Sixteen a year ago, they could be a dark horse contender for the Big Ten title.
[Ed: Don’t be an idiot.] Wait, what? It’s still football season? Sorry, I got mixed up. I went to Michigan’s basketball opener last night with “Punt Classic,” Ken “Sky” Walker, and it was both familiar and strange at the same time. Familiar because it was Crisler Arena; Bob and Judy still sat behind us; a small pop is still $5; and there were a few players I vaguely recalled from last year. But it was also strange because there were all these new guys, like the two guards from Ohio, and the big guy from Onsted with a buzzcut and big ears, and Larry the usher wasn’t in our section anymore.
Then there was the complete mish-mash mind melt, like when they played Bo’s “The Team” speech. Clearly Bo was not talking about the basketball team. If he were he would not have said “you can go into professional football, you can go anywhere you want to play after you leave here.” Because that would have been very confusing to a basketball player. Unless you’re Julius Peppers.
But I digress. What can I say about our sort-of roommate “Pete” from Maryland, that Punt hasn’t already said? You go from not even thinking about Pete, and then one night he comes home at 2:30 AM after the bars close and randomly challenges you to a pull-up contest on the bar that some long ago tenant installed on the bedroom door. And you’re like, this is crazy, Pete; I was just about to go to sleep; but he persists. You do a quiet 16, and he does a lightning fast dozen but then drops to the ground clutching his stomach. And that’s the last you see of Pete, because the next day you wake up and his closet is empty and his dad’s car is pulling out of the driveway while Pete waves forlornly, looking a little green.
I can tell you nothing more of Pete. But I can tell you about Sparty, that cocky kid from that frat that’s always in trouble with the cops and the University administration. Sparty loves to gloat when he’s riding high, but finds a way to blame others when he screws up. He made the Dean’s list the last three years, but this year he’s on academic probation. But he doesn’t talk about that, oh no. Instead he brags that on his last midterm, he got the last two answers right and that proves that he never quits.
-- OK, let me put this parable into plain English. Michigan State was a top ten football team the last three seasons, and preseason top ten this year. How fast and far have they fallen? The best they can do is to claim a moral victory because they only lost at home by nine points to their rival.
Hell, even Pete beat Sparty this year. And Pete’s no stronger now than when he flamed out on that pull-up challenge. Actually he’s even weaker. It’s been a while since you’ve seen him. Now he’s working in tech support for some startup that even he can’t describe what they do. He’s looking a little pasty and he asks if you’re going to finish your doughnut. You finally tell him what you’ve wanted to tell him since he was your roommate in college:
Tell you what, Pete; why don’t we play a little football instead?
And maybe one day again [the Moms]
By Bryan MacKenzie
Life comes at you fast. Two years ago, Michigan State fans spent the week before the Michigan game humming gleefully in anticipation of the inevitable trouncing. Michigan State was a top-10 with a 6-1 record. Michigan was 3-4 with blowout losses to Notre Dame, Minnesota, and Utah, as well as a loss to Rutgers. Sparty entered as a 17 point favorite, and that felt low. Michigan State ended up winning 35-11, and Michigan fans were somewhat relieved that it hadn't been as DIRECTLY IN THE FACE as we had feared.
Two years later, things have changed more than a little bit. Michigan enters as a 24.5 point favorite in Vegas and an even heavier favorite to the advanced analytics people. In twenty-two months, Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown have built a relentless, remorseless monster. They are outscoring opponents 341-70. They are outgaining opponents 6.37 yards per play to 3.67 yards per play. Meanwhile, Michigan State has spent the last month losing to Indiana, BYU, Northwestern and Maryland.
But let's go back a couple of years for a moment to that 2014 game. During pregame warmups, something thoroughly unimportant happened. Joe Bolden made a one-square-inch hole in the sideline of a football field.
Pictured: blasphemy against the realm
Now, one would think that a gesture so minor (and ultimately foolish and futile) would be quickly forgotten. The key takeaway was that Michigan State was a better football team, top to bottom. They didn't need trickery or shoulder chips or #disrespekt, which is ultimately a stronger message. Man on man, State lined up and thrashed "big brother." Nevertheless, Michigan felt the need to apologize profusely, and Mark Dantonio felt the need to use it as an excuse to run in a late touchdown. This was what Dantonio said afterwards:
You might as well come out and say what you’re really feeling at some point in time, because I can only be diplomatic for so long, The ‘little brother stuff,’ all the disrespect…it didn’t have to go in that direction. We tried to handle ourselves with composure, and that doesn’t come from the coach, it comes from the program.
You know, throwing the stake down in our back yard out here, coming out here like they’re all that it got shoved up their…up their…shoved up…it got shoved the last minute and a half, and we’re not going to pull off of that.
That was the reason. That's what affected his decision-making in a football game: a tent peg. In the field. Before the game.
[These guys went long so hit THE JUMP]