I GET IT
As I start this, the clock has just expired on one of the worst seasons ever for Big Ten football.
The season ended with another embarrassment for the conference, summing up a season of negative momentum and catastrophe. The 7-5 Wisconsin Badgers, 4-4 in the conference, are your 2012 Big Ten champions. Your Big Ten champions won the conference by showing up in the title game, and getting grouped in with two ineligible teams. Hurrah.
This game, one where the Badgers blew out the scoreboard and blew away a national television audience to other games, seemed like an appropriate end to it all. Sloppy football, in the most generic of settings, with every other option more attractive.
How did we get this way? A couple of reasons, all of which can be turned around.
First, there's Ohio State and Penn State's ineligibility. With these two banned teams doing so well, they essentially knocked off all the legitimate schools on their way to useless records. Since neither school counts in the BCS standings, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions created a scenario where the talking point was constantly 'the Big Ten has no schools in the top 10/15/20...but would have one if Ohio State was eligible!'
Looking at the week-to-week polls, Ohio State's victories knocked Big Ten contenders out of the polls, and out of the national discussion in the process. In week 5, a Michigan State team that had dropped from 10 to 20 after a loss to Notre Dame faced Ohio State, and the Buckeyes' 1-point win dropped Sparty out for good.
The next week, Ohio State beat a 21st-ranked Nebraska team, knocking them out of polls for a month or so.
Meanwhile, Penn State struggled early (taking them out of any polls), but lit up the Big Ten schedule. Their 3-0 start inside the conference included Northwestern's first loss, a crippling blow in the rankings for the Wildcats.
If these two teams came out struggling in 2012, the perception of the conference is that of a strong conference with traditional winners and new blood, plus two longtime powers that will come back soon. But with their success this year, Ohio State and Penn State created wins that couldn't really be celebrated and losses that really made an impact.
Second, Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are 12-0, with two early wins over Michigan and Michigan State. Typically, both of our in-state teams can beat up on the Fighting Irish in at least one of the two games, and get a momentum-building win on a national stage. That didn't happen this year.
On top of that, both Michigan and Michigan State lost to Notre Dame before they became the nation's darlings. Notre Dame won in East Lansing as the underdogs, with a #20 ranking against the #10 Spartans. The Fighting Irish beat Michigan as the #11 team in the country two weeks later, just out of top-10 status. No honor to be gained at the time with those losses.
Third, all out-of-conference play killed the Big Ten.
It wasn't Michigan losing badly to Alabama. It was Michigan losing to Alabama after Wisconsin barely beat Northern Iowa. It was Wisconsin getting upset by Oregon State, despite that unranked Oregon State team going 6-0 to start the year. It was Penn State starting 0-2, Iowa dropping a couple early, and the week-to-week consistency of a surprisingly tough schedule beating the dregs of the conference.
Even though Louisiana Tech finished 9-3 and Illinois finished 2-10, it still looks bad for the conference at the time.
Even though Wisconsin lost to Oregon State and barely beat Utah State, two opponents who ended with great seasons, it looked bad in the national dialogue.
And having the flagship program, Michigan, start 2-2 seems to be a bad sign of things to come.
There aren't that many great games in September, so any kind of storyline gets beaten into the ground. And by the time conference play began, the Big Ten had a rough month through a stretch of shockingly tough opponents, with the effects showing all year.
Lastly, legitimate scheduling hurt the conference.
The vast majority of the nation's football fans only look at the top 25. When there's no Big Ten teams in the top 10, and barely any outside of the bottom, there's a bad perception. Sure, it's only perception, but that really is the only thing keeping this sport together.
By having a tradition-based conference where so many good teams play each other, teams are bound to drop a game or two. Of the top conference teams, here's who they lost to:
Nebraska - Ohio State
Michigan - Nebraska, Ohio State
Northwestern - Penn State, Nebraska, Michigan
Ohio State - None, but they're ineligible, so are always mentioned with a verbal asterisk
Penn State - Ohio State, Nebraska
Wisconsin - Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State
Of the top six teams, only one lost to a team outside this group, Wisconsin to Michigan State.
It was the same in the SEC, where the top three teams in each division went undefeated against everyone else.
Problem is, a loss in the Big Ten means that you're not as good as you thought. But a loss in the SEC means that the SEC is just a great conference that's so tough to win in. Perception, perception, perception.
Once again, when looking back, Big Ten teams played the toughest schedule. At the time though, it just looked like a weak conference.
All of these problems can easily be fixed next year.
It starts by taking care of business in September, and getting that momentum going for the conference schedule. In the second week of the season, Michigan hosts Notre Dame. One week later, Nebraska hosts UCLA. Those two potential wins, over 2012's most talked-about comeback teams, could set the tone for the season.
Next, having Ohio State come off probation is huge. The Big Ten needs to get teams in that BCS discussion when the time comes around, and the obvious candidates are Michigan, Nebraska, and either Ohio State or Wisconsin. The either/or is due to those two teams playing in late-September, knocking one out of the national championship discussion.
In a perfect world for the Big Ten, Michigan and Nebraska go undefeated for two months, both open up in the top 10 of the BCS, play a game with national implications, then end the season with Michigan aiming to knock off Ohio State, and Nebraska awaiting their potential shot after that. That's the best case scenario for the Big Ten, and it only happens when Ohio State is eligible.
Last (or first), the conference has to win some bowl games. If Wisconsin can upset Stanford like they upset Nebraska, it's good for the conference. If Michigan can take out Johnny Football, it's good for the conference.
Since everything comes down to perception, those wins to end the year can start some positive talk for the conference, or at least shut up the naysayers for eight months of offseason chatter.
This was a rough year for the Big Ten. Conclusively 4th out of the major conferences. Shut out of national title discussion. It was a perfect storm of suck.
But hey, next year starts tomorrow. And there's always basketball.
Now that the Big Ten is in full meltdown expansion mode, a lot of people are asking about The Game and its impact on the Big Ten championship game, now and in the future. How often both teams appear, how The Game affects the division champions for better and for worse, and everything affliated with it.
The biggest complaint has been a schedule that has Michigan and Ohio State playing each other every year, with weaker teams having guaranteed rivalries against each other. As it turns out, due to regularly dominant teams...Michigan and Ohio State typically come out on top anyway.
I looked at the Big Ten standings and results from 1969-2011. 1969 is the arrival of Bo Schembechler, the start of the modern M/O rivalry. And in 2012, Ohio State is ineligible to win the division, the first time that's happened as the game was being played.
The standings are from the regular Big Ten schedule, without it being weighted for divisional matchups. Division winners were the two teams that finished highest in the Big Ten standings, as divided up by the current divisions. (If a 4th place team was the highest of a current division's teams, they were the appointed division champions.) Ties were broken with head-to-head matchups, and if the teams did not play each other, I split the division title.
First off, here's how the Big Ten championship games would have looked like, under the current divisions.
With that in mind, let's first look at the potential for rematches.
Going by the eventual matchups, 20 seasons would have featured Michigan/Ohio State rematches for the Big Ten title, or about 47% of the time. 16 of those, or 38% of the time, were outright victories with no tiebreakers.
Those seasons are as follows: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1998, 2003, 2006, 2007
Michigan would have won the Legends division title in 28 seasons, with 27 of those outright. Michigan won more division titles than any other team, pulling ahead of Ohio State for two reasons. The first is that Nebraska, a division rival, does not factor into these seasons at all, winning zero titles in their one eligible year. The second is that Minnesota, a longtime doormat, also won zero division titles over 43 seasons. In comparison, every team in the Leaders division won a division title, with five of the six (all but Indiana) winning at least three titles.
Michigan's division titles are as follows: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007
Ohio State won a division title in 26 seasons, with 23 of those outright. The Buckeyes had a much stronger division to contend with, but much of their faults were somewhat of their own doing, from timely losses over the years.
Ohio State's division titles are as follows: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009
In only 9 seasons, the Big Ten championship game would not feature either Michigan or Ohio State, with 8 of those without any tiebreakers. In only 19% of the time, a Big Ten championship game did not feature either Michigan or Ohio State. Those seasons, with a matchup, are below.
Since there's been a lot of discussion in various threads about conference strength, where the Big Ten can improve, voter perception of the conference affecting all of the teams...here's the quick guide to the major out-of-conference games coming up for the 2013 season. Some teams still have open dates, and some games are bigger than others, but this should do.
Here are the relatively big games for 2013. No gametimes have been announced, nothing but dates and matchups.
I realize this is very early, but this kind of thing will come in handy once further discussion of conference comparison and the Big Ten's relatively disappointing 2012 rears its ugly head again.
August 31st - Penn State at Syracuse (in MetLife Stadium, NY)
The first significant Big Ten game of 2013 features a surprisingly good Penn State team against an alright Syracuse team. Given the big-time venue (chosen because Syracuse wants to take hold of the NYC market), this game could get some attention. If Penn State wins, it's a small boost to the conference, while a loss would be pretty bad, yet not disastrous.
September 7th - Notre Dame at Michigan
Big for a variety of reasons, this would be Notre Dame's first major game of 2013, where they could be defending a national championship. (Michigan opens with Central Michigan, Notre Dame opens with Temple.) It's the last scheduled Mich-ND matchup in Michigan Stadium, and this will be on the national radar all summer.
This one has an outside chance of becoming a featured game of the week, with College GameDay, ESPN, and all of that. This one will be anticipated all summer, and it will turn into one of the year's great games.
Notre Dame will play at Purdue on September 14th and against Michigan State on the 21st, for their only games against Big Ten opponents.
September 14th - UCLA at Nebraska
One of the biggest out-of-conference games, this one could feature the defending Big Ten champion against a highly ranked Pac-12 team. This game will likely go on a prime television timeslot, maybe even College GameDay. Nebraska's result here would be the focal point of any conference recap for the rest of the season, so the Cornhuskers have to win this for everyone else.
September 14th - Ohio State at California
Ohio State could be coming off of an undefeated season, and this is their first big game of 2013. The Buckeyes should win this game, and should win it big. Obviously, I hope they do not, but this should be a conference win.
Cal will also play Northwestern to open 2013, making the Golden Bears a weird litmus test for the Big Ten next year. If California has a great season, and the Big Ten beats them twice, we must have a great conference. And vice versa.
September 14th - Wisconsin at Arizona State
Another Big Ten/Pac12 matchup, but this one should go to Wisconsin, even on the road. If the Badgers lay another egg in a Pac12 stadium, this season could feature even more "what happened to the Big Ten?" columns.
September 14th - Washington at Illinois (in Soldier Field)
Illinois is having a terrible season, and Washington is on the upswing, but this one is only important if Washington starts the season with some hyped momentum.
September 21st - Missouri at Indiana
While both of these teams are around the 6-win mark, this is still an SEC/Big Ten matchup in a Big Ten stadium. It doesn't come around too often, and an Indiana win would be huge for that program and the conference. It's the only Big Ten/SEC game of 2013, and might have even been scheduled back when it was a Big Ten/Big 12 game.
November 9th - BYU at Wisconsin
It's a late-seaosn game designed to keep Wisconsin humming on all cylinders as the season comes to a close, and a relevant Badgers team will be making the last case for the Big Ten before bowl season. With another catastrophe like this season, the game becomes the last chance for the conference to salvage itself within the polls. With an improved season, this becomes a great day to showcase how we've "turned things around".
That's pretty much it. September 14th could be D-Day for the Big Ten, shaping the conference for the rest of the season.
A full, team-by-team, out-of-conference schedule is below. Teams in capitals are from auto-qualifier conferences (and ND), teams in italics are anything below FBS. Therefore, a win over a capitalized team is a good one, and a loss to an italicized team is a disaster that clearly means we aren't as good as the SEC, or something like that.
There's been some complaints recently on the message board about how BTN always shows the same cycle of classic Michigan games. Last year's games against Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio. A game from the 1997 season. An old Rose Bowl. Some original programming to top it off.
Someone speculated that lots of people go into the decision-making process for these games, from network execs to AD's. Obviously, some games are probably off the list to be shown.
This is one of those games.
Going into the tail end of the 1999 season, Michigan was looking like a team for the ages. Despite two mid-season losses, the Wolverines were in the process of ending the season strong, at 4-2 in the conference and 8-2 overall. Senior quarterback Tom Brady and Anthony Thomas led the offense, with Dhani Jones and Rob Renes on D.
Penn State, on the other hand, was going into their final home game reeling. After starting the season 9-0, Minnesota upset the Nittany Lions on the last play of their game, leaving Happy Valley with a huge upset. Still, Penn State was in the hunt for a Big Ten championship, making their game against Michigan one of 1999's last big matchups. Penn State and Wisconsin were the Big Ten's leaders, with Michigan closely behind. This game would essentially knock someone out of the race for a championship, and possibly a BCS appearance as well.
Of course, despite all of these circumstances surrounding the game, there was another subplot that factored heavily into ABC's coverage. This game was Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky's last home game, making the TV coverage Jerry Sandusky-themed. That's right. It's a Jerry Sandusky-themed broadcast.
Needless to say, the Big Ten won't be taking this game for a visual victory lap any time soon.
Watch and enjoy. The first half is in the first link, the second half is in the second. And as always, go Blue.
One of the pressing topics around the whole implosion of Ohio State University Football is how that team dominated the Big Ten illegally. The team won games they shouldn't, with the most obvious being the 2011 Sugar Bowl. Ohio State shouldn't have played as well in that game, and frankly shouldn't have been in it at all.
Everyone seems to be talking about what Ohio State's record books will look like when all this is done. Seasons getting voided, players getting wiped out, all of that.
With that in mind, I'd like to take a look back at what truly should have been. What seasons should have gone differently for the various schools tormented by Tressel? What teams got screwed out of bowl games, out of national championships, out of huge victories? There's many victims of Ohio State's illegal run besides us here in Ann Arbor.
Let's take a look back, year-by-year. Here are the basic ground rules to keep in mind:
- Ohio State wouldn't have realistically lost every game. At worst, they'd have been a version of the 2009-10 Wolverines: losing many games, but not completely out of it. So, close games in Columbus will now tip towards the visitor, and fairly close by the Buckeyes will also go towards their opponents. I'd assume that Ohio State would still be pretty good, just not great. Or, if they were amazing, simply great.
- I'm not going to go back to look for specific players, instead the entire team will be downgraded. Specifically, i don't want to wade through Ohio State game logs to figure out how much of an effect a replacement RB would have had over Maurice Clarett, for example.
- Except when it ties into Michigan, no frivolous extraneous circumstances. So, no jobs will be saved by a miracle win over the Buckeyes that leads to a random Big Ten coach keeping his job. I don't want to open up too much alternate history.
- I'm mainly focusing on the Big Ten championship race, and the national championship race, when applicable. No September non-conference wins that led to some opponent winning another conference.
- No recruiting alternate histories. The only players that would be added to different games are the guys that picked the school in the first place. This opens up one scenario later on. Existing transfers can still happen though. Ohio State gets the same general recruits they had before, only they are universally downgraded. The assumption is that Ohio State, even in bad times, would still get some great players, as they are Ohio State.
- Things in bold are major changes.
Okay, on to the games...
(More To Come tomorrow, as I do 2006-2010 then.)
And with that, the 2010-2011 Michigan Wolverines hockey season is over.
One bad turnover, one quick pass-and-shoot, and Minnesota-Duluth has won the national championship.
On one hand, I should be feeling disappointed. I should feel terrible right now. Instead, while I'm not ecstatic, there's an inner sense of contentment.
In hockey, like life, it is not necessarily the ending that is as important as the journey to get there, especially in college hockey. This is not the end of anyone's story, but merely the closing of a chapter, as we turn the page to next season, next job, and next life milestone. This is especially true in college hockey, as any team is merely a waystation for what is to come in life. Every member of that roster came into Michigan with different circumstances, and will leave changed for the better, win or lose.
It's with this outlook that I can't help but be satisfied with the season. This season was left better than it was approached, and that has to leave a great impression.
Before this season, the Michigan fanbase could expect greatness from the team only if everyone played as well as they could, and I do mean everyone. There was no surefire star on this team, no obvious future NHL'er that could carry the team all year. Instead, Michigan was a very good team from top to bottom, and greatness had to come from hard work, solid play, and a little luck.
If things came together, this story would go down as a great one. If not, this squad risked the same ignominy that the football team has had recently. Remarkably though, Michigan's stories, big and small, were as epic as we could have hoped.
Shawn Hunwick was not supposed to be a Michigan goalie. He certainly was not even supposed to become a full-time starter. Summing this up is today's New York Times article on him, titled "Walk-On Goalie Is on Brink of Title". Not "Shawn Hunwick, Walk-On Goalie Is on Brink of Title." Merely "Walk-On Goalie". Walk-on players, of any stripe, aren't supposed to get much playing time, much less at such a crucial position. That article isn't just amazed at what Hunwick has done, it's astonished that a walk-on could be the winning goalie for a national championship. Any walk-on would be amazing, especially in this role.
Meanwhile, Hunwick barely played during his freshman year, did not play during his sophomore year, and ended up backstopping a miracle run in 2010 before coming in during the biggest regular season game in school history during the warmups, and never giving up the job since. At the end of the season, Shawn had a tournament run for the ages, with game after game of fantastic goaltending. Is that anything to be disappointed about?
Carl Hagelin was not supposed to be a team MVP at the University of Michigan. No Swede had ever played in Ann Arbor before, as the Swedish path to pro hockey wove through various national elite leagues. Carl's first trip to Ann Arbor was even as an afterthought, tagging along with his brother to Red Berenson's summer hockey camp. Eventually, Hagelin settled on Michigan to continue his hockey career, coming in as a fairly unheralded recruit, and the first ever Swede to play for Michigan.
Four years later, the Michigan Hockey Pep Band was playing the Swedish national anthem before Senior Night. The student section was signing a giant Swedish flag with good luck messages. And Carl Hagelin ended his career at Yost Ice Arena as a team legend, with a last-second overtime goal to keep CCHA championship dreams alive. Over the course of four years, Hagelin has developed into a remarkable player, with team records for speed (60-0 on team races up the Michigan Stadium steps), team scoring championships, a team MVP award, being named the CCHA's top defensive forward, and being named an All-American.
At this time next year, around the time that new banners go up, and old banners get updated, there will be a Carl Hagelin plaque hanging in the north hallway of Yost. Is that anything to be disappointed about?
Four months ago, we were all somewhat worried about Michigan Hockey. The team was underachieving, as every weekend brought a loss on Friday night, before a consoling win on Saturday. There weren't that many strong weekends for the Wolverines, as it looked like a repeat of 2009-2010's struggles. Only, how many streaks could one team go on? Would this be where the luck ran out?
The fulcrum of the season, for better or worse, looked to be the Big Chill, coming up that weekend. Years of preparation went into this game, with everything seemingly ready except for the host team.
It took a last second injury to place Shawn Hunwick between the pipes for Michigan that day, and he did not give up a goal. From that point on, he was rolling, for that game, for that season.
Just over the halfway mark of the first period, freshman Jon Merrill, until that point just known as a big recruit, scored to put Michigan up 1-0. He'd score another later on, as Michigan romped to an eventual 5-0 win, and Michigan started on the first real winning stretch of the season. Nine wins in ten games put us in contention for a CCHA title, and brought another GLI championship to Ann Arbor.
Two months ago, Michigan was again reeling. The season seemed to have slipped away with two brutal losses in Oxford, Ohio. The Wolverines came into a weekend series at Miami with a chance to put the Redhawks away, and instead came out of it in 3rd place. 4-2, and 3-0. Two crucial losses, with no games left to play against the teams above us in the standings.
Michigan came back to Yost needing to win with outside luck for a championship. In the first weekend, the Wolverines held onto two games against Ohio State, both by one goal, both with great defense at the end. Meanwhile, Miami split a series with Lake Superior State, and began running out of games, ultimately getting passed by two teams.
In the second weekend, Michigan started off on Friday with a blowout win over Western, 6-3. Michigan played with desperation, scoring two goals in the first period, two goals early in the second, and keeping Western at arms length. Despite all of that, every point was crucial, as Notre Dame kept winning to stay in 1st place.
On Saturday night, it wouldn't be so easy for Michigan. Western jumped out to a 3-1 lead, Michigan fought back to tie the game at 3, and Western punched back with a goal early in the 3rd period for a 4-3 lead.
Over that last period, Michigan played like their season came down to it. After chance after chance barely missing, Carl Hagelin came into the Western zone, fired a random shot on net, and the puck squeaked into the bottom corner. 4-4. Tie game. At that point, I firmly believe that Michigan willed that puck in. The players, the fans, everyone. Everyone in that building willed the puck into the net, and there was nothing that could be done about it. Five minutes later, the same thing. One last rush before losing any hope of three points, and Carl's last shot won it. Michigan had to win this game, and we won on our last gasp.
Naturally, Michigan would win during the last weekend of CCHA play, and have Notre Dame lose, at home, on Saturday night, on three goals that were waived off, to finally win the conference title. What a way to end the regular season.
Can either of those two parts of the season be considered a disappointment?
Sure, we didn't win the national championship. We lost in overtime, of the very last game of the year. Still though, three straight tournament games where we hung on by the closest of margins, and all of them were victories? I guess we couldn't make it four straight, but three straight victories like that ain't that bad.
At the end of the day though, this Michigan Hockey team was a remarkably fun one to watch. The journey of this season was one to remember, even if the ending was not absolutely perfect. Even before the tournament, the season was filled with great performances, unbelievable games, and a roster full of players that will go down as greats.
Looking back, any Michigan Hockey fan has to be satisfied. This season was one to remember, and one to remember with pride, joy, and fondness.
And as always, go Blue.