"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
Season Preview Postmortem Part II
See Part I here.
I said... sweet Jesus, can we just pretend this thing never existed? Undaunted by Kyle Orton's departure and heeding the sweet siren call of eleven returning defensive starters, I... well...
...as a Michigan fan I want no part of Purdue this year. None. No thank you. Gone is All-Choke Hall of Famer Kyle Orton. Into his decidedly average-sized shoes steps redshirt junior Brandon Kirsch, who has experience and Stantonlegs. ...
The Purdue running game should be meaningfully better. The defense should be meaningfully better. Jones should cease resembling Tweek from South Park. If Kirsch can keep the Boilermaker passing game churning at a respectable level, look out, because Boilermania is about to run wild all over the Big Ten.
And I predicted... 10-1 and a BCS bid. Close: 5-6 and a home for the holidays bid.
Eerie Accuracy: Absolutely nothing. The defense fell apart; the offense was awful; the worst case scenario I projected was 7-4.
Disheartening Idiocy: In leiu of just pasting the entire document under this heading, I'll highlight some specific idiocies.
As the first edition of the postmortem indicated, I managed to get the relative suckiness of almost every quarterback in the Big Ten completely wrong, and I may have been wrongest of all about Purdue, deriding Kyle Orton as a no-talent choke artist and declaring Brandon Kirsch to be the next coming of Stanton:
Redshirt junior Brandon Kirsch is the most important player in the Big Ten this year, period. If he plays like I think he can Purdue is going to kill people, just like last year, except they will continue to kill people the entire year.
Orton spent a decent portion of the year starting in the NFL and not embarassing himself; Kirsch--apparently born with a deep psychological need to have people laugh at him--got benched midway through the year and then entered the draft early.
My assessement of the defensive line is doubly hilarious for the caveat I offered:
This is the best line in the Big Ten with the possible exception of Michigan.
...yeah. About that.
Overall: Let us never speak of this again.
Expect Michigan State to win a game or two it shouldn't, lose to Kent State or Indiana, and finish in the middle of the pack, just like always.
Bizarre win: Notre Dame; inexplicable loss: 49-14 against Northwestern; middle of the pack: check... ish. This theme continued. I captured the historical arc of the Spartan program in one fell graf:
If you were looking for a brief summary of the last thirty years of Spartan football, 2004 was your lucky year. It had everything you could want: a loss to Rutgers, heartbreak at the hands of Michigan, two totally unexpected crushings of quality opponents (51-17 over Minnesota and 49-14 over Wisconsin), and a final collapse that prevented Michigan State from going to a bowl game--one that involved giving up 37 points to one of the worst offenses in the nation and a late-game implosion against Hawaii. It had just the right mix of burgeoning hope with soul-mangling incompetence, the right mix of surprising success with surprising failure, the right mix of Duffy Daughterty with Bobby Williams. Michigan State's porridge is never too hot, never too cold, always just mediocre. On a micro level MSU is completely unpredictable week-to-week. On a macro level it's always Same Old Spartans.
Thanks, reliably unreliable MSU!
And I predicted... 8-3, 5-3 in the Big Ten. Not great, as the Spartans went 5-6 and an astounding 2-6 in-conference. Why didn't I listen to my own damn historical arc garbage?
Eerie Accuracy: I dubbed Drew Stanton "the Jesus" and I stand by that description:
If Stanton remains healthy ... Spartan opponents will have their hands full. He is an unparalleled dual threat and the best quarterback in the Big Ten. What? Henne Tate you crazy!
Stanton ended the year 10th in passing efficiency, rushed for 338 yards, and was flamboyantly distasteful. Eight-year-olds, dude. And this is "duh," but it has links to pretty pictures:
Defensive Backs: 1. I don't see how this position group can be anything other than a total disaster; Jaren Hayes looks to be Michigan State's #1 corner next year. Michigan State fans can't be happy about that.
Disheartening Idiocy: I underestimated MSU's capacity for losing games in wacky fashion, obviously, but none of the position estimates were far off. I declared the offense to be one of the best in the country; it was. I declared the defense to be one of the worst in the country; it was. The mistake came in adding 5 + 0 and getting 8.
Overall: This was looking right on until about halfway through the year when the wheels came off and John L. Smith couldn't slap enough kickers or scream at enough sideline reporters to squeak the Spartans into a bowl.
I said... chalk:
Minnesota's failures have nothing whatsoever to do with some sort of mental malaise that sets in after yet another heartbreaking loss to the perpetual Brown Jug holders and everything to do with the fact that Mason has only put together half a team. Minnesota's offense has been a running juggernaut the envy of every old-school six-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust Big Ten traditionalist but their defense has been horrible, terrible, unwatchable, repulsive... pick up a thesaurus, start at "sucktastic," and point. You'll find something that's probably a little too nice.
This does not look to change this year.
And I predicted... 8-3, 5-3. The Gophers ended up 7-4, 4-4.
Eerie Accuracy: Both my preview and the Gophers' season went by the book: bad defense, good offense, meh bowl, so most things in the preview fit under the "duh" category--hey! Laurence Maroney is good!--but I did take a shine to TE Matt Spaeth early:
Tight end Matt Spaeth is 6'6", 270 and plays like an offensive lineman with soft hands. He's excellent blocking for Maroney and when he finds himself open will come down with the ball but isn't overly athletic for a tight end and sometimes has trouble getting open. Another good year and he will start getting All Big Ten consideration.
All Big Ten TE: Matt Spaeth.
Disheartening Idiocy: I was excessively optimistic:
Swap Minnesota's and Purdue's schedules and I'd be slotting the Gophers in a BCS bowl...
I think Cupito and Wheelwright will both take big leaps forward this year but the defense will not. That should still be enough to make it to 5-3 in the Big Ten.
They didn't; it wasn't.
Overall: Good. But for a fluky punt block against Wisconsin it would have been right on.
So. This is what I think: Iowa will disappoint a bit this year. Not Mot
or City Bowl disappoint, but maybe Outback Bowl disappoint. Yes, I realize that I am betting against Kirk Ferentz and Drew Tate. Yes, I think that there is a good chance that this is going to make me look stupid. But I think what I think, and this is what I think. I think.
The one prediction most couched in "please don't stone me for this" disclaimers turns out to be right on the nose. OMG rain on your wedding day.
And I predicted... 8-3, 5-3 in the Big Ten. Correct on the conference mark; didn't see the Iowa State upset coming.
Eerie Accuracy: See above for the whole Outback thing.
Disheartening Idiocy: No one thought that the Iowa running offense would repeat its dead-last performance from 2004, but I was harsher than most on its prospects, giving an ugly 1 to the running backs and declaring it unlikely Iowa would even be average this year:
Will anything decent emerge out of this sack of cats? It's unlikely. Brownlee, Simmons, and Sims were very bad last year, and OSU fans tell me the talent elves are all busy turning Ohio State's Troy Smith into a legitimate quarterback. It usually takes two years to fully recover from an ACL tear, so Young and Schnoor probably won't be full speed. None of the three freshmen come in with high accolades. Unless there is a Mike Hart-like serendipity somewhere in the running back corps, Iowa's running game will still be downright bad.
(Bonus points for Troy Smith sneering!) Iowa finished a respectable 35th nationally; primary tailback Albert Young was 17th in rushing yards.
Overall: The best prediction offered in this space. It's hard to remember this now, but Iowa was in everyone's top ten at the beginning of the year and quite a few top fives. They were regarded as a serious national threat. This did not come to pass and the Hawkeyes did indeed end up in the Outback Bowl.
There's reason for optimism in the Worst Place On Earth. But isn't claiming the Buckeyes a national championship contender a fit of irrational exuberance, in the words of Alan Greenspan? Is this not a team that got one good game from a quarterback last year, has a running back situation featuring two freshmen and a sophomore (who has not run for 1400 yards), can't start the same offensive line from one game to the next, has exactly one cornerback and no pass rush? Isn't Ted Nugent gone?
Er... yeah, they had a pass rush, though it came via a hellacious amount of blitzing. OSU was out of the national championship picture early after a loss to PSU that was my preseason wingnut upset pick.
Texas beats OSU out of conference, and then OSU embarks on another highwire act of ugly games won and lost on punt returns, long field goals, and turnovers which they mostly end up on the good side of, but not always.
...this sort of happened before Ohio State's offense met a slew of eminently movable objects in the second half of the season, but this was half-right at best.
And I predicted... 8-3, 6-2. Ohio State was 9-2, 7-1. And maybe if Herrmann's defense could have held just one fourth-quarter lead this year it may have been on the nose.
Eerie Accuracy: Remember Ted Ginn, Heisman Candidate? No sale!
For all the hype surrounding Ginn, it's worth noting that he only caught 25 passes last year and a good number of those were screens or short, simple routes. Ginn has yet to display any route-running acumen, ability to adjust to a deep ball in flight, or sticky hands. The jury is still out. Sure, the jury's probably going to come back and say OMG TED GINN IS FAST, but I'm just saying: he's not the best receiver in the conference yet.
And maybe this fits into the "duh" category, but...
This is the best linebacker corps in the country and it isn't particularly close.
... even if that Posluszny guy somehow ganked the Butkus.
Disheartening Idiocy: At least I have a lot of company in this particular edition of Misjudge the Quarterback Badly:
Without drastic improvement, Smith is an erratic thrower prone to poor decisions who's a good runner. This makes you walk on water against Michigan and the Keystone Klinebackers, but it does not imply success against other teams. Ohio State's offense was terrible last year, and Troy Smith was a major reason why. This is not a strength.
Stupid, stupid, stupid me and my big mouth. In retrospect, this was a big flashing "SMITE ME, INEFFABLE GOD" sign:
I'll believe Troy Smith, Actual Quarterback when I see it more than once.
Yeah. Seen it. Now I officially say "I'll believe Troy Smith, guy who takes money from boosters and is not allowed to play when I see it more than once." Make it happen, big guy.
Overall: Another prediction that was humming along smoothly at midseason before collapsing down the stretch. The Ohio State offense consisted mostly of quarterback draws in the game against Texas and the Buckeyes lost an ugly defensive struggle against Penn State. Then they started murdering a collection of horrific defenses (seriously, check it out: after the Penn State game the best defense OSU opposed--by far--was Michigan's. Yeah). The offensed reached near-Irish levels of probably unjustified media slobbering and Michigan imploded, taking my prediction with it. Still, one game off in the great scheme of things, a fairly accurate picture of the team aside from that whole Troy Smith thing, and early debunking of the national-title contender and Heisman candidate Ginn thing... not too bad.
Part III (Michigan) coming soon.