The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
|WHAT||Michigan at Utah|
Salt Lake City, UT
8:30 pm Eastern
September 3rd, 2015
|THE LINE||Utah –4.5|
|TELEVISION||Fox Sports 1/Fox Sports Go|
|WEATHER||mid 80s, partly cloudy, 10-20 mph wind|
It's here. It's finally here.
It's safe to say things are little different this year. Yes, Utah beat Michigan in 2014, but even by that early juncture in the season M fans certainly weren't saying "IT'S HERE" in tones normally reserved for Christmas Day or a particularly indulgent Amazon Prime order.
The Utes enter the game as the favorite, though the line has creeped down a point after holding at -5.5 for much of the offseason. Both teams should look substantially different than they did last fall. That bodes well for Michigan; we'll see how it goes for Utah.
Since we don't run a FFFF in the first week, Seth threw together a diagram of the Utah starters (click for big):
Booker, Norris, Dimick, and Hackett (seriously) qualify as dangermen.
Run Offense vs Utah
holes like this one would be quite nice [Fuller]
If the biggest loss for the Utes wasn't DE Nate Orchard, the nation's leader in sacks a year ago, it was up-and-coming defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who left for the same job at Oregon State during a tumuluous offseason. In Sitake's place steps John Pease, whom Kyle Whittingham coaxed out of retirement; Peace last served as Whittingham's defensive line coach from 2009-10. Whittingham is a defensive specialist, so the impact of the coaching shakeup may be minimal, but it's worth keeping in mind. They're also switching to a 4-3, though like Michigan's "3-4" the difference may be more semantic than anything else.
Peace inherits a strong front seven even without Orchard. While the Utes only finished 50th in rushing S&P+ last year, their worst performances came against spread teams, and Michigan is very much not one of those. They're anchored on the interior by sophomore DT Lowell Lotulelei, younger brother of Star Lotulelei, who's coming off an impressive freshman campaign. The other tackle spot could be a weak point; Filipo Mokofisi is a 285-pound sophomore with two starts to his name. Utah boasts a pair of playmakers at defensive end; Hunter Dimick (4.5 run TFLs) and Jason Fanaika (4.5 run TFLs as a backup) were overshadowed by Orchard last year, but both are good players in their own right.
The linebackers are both experienced and productive; all three starters are seniors. MIKE Jared Norris led the team with 116 tackles in 2014, with 13 of those coming behind the line (nine against the run). "Rover" Gionni Paul is something of a poor man's Darron Lee, a 225-pound linebacker who's comfortable making plays in space. "Stud" Jason Whittingham, nephew of the head coach, missed most of last season but played well in ten starts as a sophomore.
The departure of strong safety Brian Blechen, a longtime standout who tallied 45 solo tackles last year, could hurt the run defense, but the Utes appear to have a ready-made replacement. Tevin Carter was one of Utah's best defenders in the four games he was healthy last year and he'll step into his more natural spot at strong safety this season.
There aren't many obvious holes in Utah's run defense, but their mediocre performance last year suggests they can be worn down; as Bill Connelly noted, they got worse as games went on last year, and depth could be even more of an issue up front this season. If Michigan's offense can control the ball for long enough stretches to force the Utes to rotate, De'Veon Smith and the rest of the committee could be in for a solid night of work.
Key Matchup: Ben Braden vs. Utah's interior line. Braden had some trouble keeping leverage in the run game last year and the Utes have guys who can get under your pads and make you go places you don't intend. I'm expecting M's line to hold up pretty well, but if Braden has a rough outing it could submarine the run game.
[Hit THE JUMP for CAN I MAKE IT THROUGH THIS PREVIEW WHILE BREATHING THROUGH A PAPER BAG LET'S FIND OUT.]
By Heiko Yang, unplugged
Now that I’m more than a year out from my full-ish part time mgoblog duties, I think I can finally admit this: I suck at watching football.
Don’t get me wrong: I love physically watching football. I love watching it on TV, in the stadium, from the press box, and especially from the sideline, which I was lucky enough to do many times over the past few years. But that’s not the issue.
It's just that on any given play I like to pay attention only to whatever is most interesting, and usually that is the ball. This is precisely what you’re not supposed to do if you want to watch the game with any sort of sophistication, and realizing this tendency (and not really being able to help it) has been somewhat embarrassing. When Ace and I started covering Michigan games together, it didn’t take more than a few quarters to figure out who should handle the analysis.
From the Ohio State game in 2011, via the Live Blog:
That run went nowhere, but Lewan planted Shazier on the ground ten yards downfield.
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) November 26, 2011
Damn, Ace. That was a great observation. You appreciated a relevant aspect of the play that was independent of where the ball ended up.
There's a guy wearing a Ghillie suit in the student section
— Heiko Yang (@Heiko25) November 26, 2011
Over the past year I’ve been learning how to be a doctor. One of the most difficult skills to acquire early on is the ability to assess a patient’s problems. There's a lot of data to consider, both relevant and distracting, when you want to fully understand the situation. You have to force yourself to stop watching the quarterback and the ball to instead systematically look at field position, down-and-distance, personnel, offensive formation, and defensive alignment, and once the ball is snapped you have to watch the how the offensive line blocks, how the defense blitzes or executes their run fits, how the receivers run their routes, how the coverage responds …
This analogy sounds ridiculous now, so I’ll stop. The point is that being an active observer, a description that I’ve found to describe good doctors as well as people who watch football at a high level, is hard work. In medicine, I have to work hard at this because I have a responsibility to fulfill. In football … for me, not so much. I never wanted it to feel like a responsibility, so I guess that’s why I never bothered to get better at it.
In a lot of ways I'm happy about this. After a work day that started at 4:30 this morning, I’m looking forward putting my brain on passive mode to enjoy the game for a few hours. No cortical function is required to cheer when the ball moves forward and boo when it does not. Plus there are so many things – Harbaugh! Peppers! Offense! Night game! Thursday?? Uniformz????? – to keep me tickled. I almost don’t care if Michigan wins or loses.
But you know what? Prognosticating based on little to no evidence is just another small liberty I can enjoy only in football, so what the hell:
Michigan 28, Utah 17.
by Nick RoUMel
Dave Brandon Answers Questions About the Upcoming Season.
I am very excited about Michigan's prospects. The oppressive feeling of embarrassment and hopelessness is gone, as surely as the Munchkins danced after Dorothy killed the Wicked Witch of the West. What do you think?
- Art S.
You simpleton. Just as those Munchkins remained short, your team will remain bad. Find another one to root for.
I'm a little nervous about the quarterback situation. Why won't Coach Harbaugh name a starter? Do you think it has anything to do with Shane Morris' concussion?
- Matt G.
What have you been drinking? Shane Morris did NOT have a concussion. Did you not read the press release that our marketing team issued in the middle of the night, after 48 hours of consulting medical manuals? It was a "probable sinus headache."
What do you think of Coach Harbaugh's pre-season antics? There's been a lot of great buzz created about this Michigan team. I'm excited.
Some coaches create more embarrassment than buzz. For instance, you don't see me running around shirtless at Toys "R" Us grand openings. I remain as dignified on the first day on the job, as I will when I eventually drive the stock price into the ground.
I don't know who to pick in this one. I truly believe we are much improved, but playing a tough Utah team on the road might be too much to overcome.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. You need to grow up. Michigan is going to get its ass kicked. I say, Utah 24-UM 20.
Now let me go back to running my toy company, please.
For the first time in years Sparty's walking into this season without a single elite guy in their secondary, but Cook + that OL should more than compensate [Eric Upchurch]
For those just joining us, this feature is the MGoBlog weekly roundtable. This week's question:
Who is Michigan's most underrated opponent? Who is the most overrated?
Underrated: Penn State. I guess this counts? Penn State might be all-over-the-place rated. But for the purposes of this content, Penn State might be the team that I am most worried about after the two rivals. We've previewed and speculated at length about their defense, which was fantastic last year. And they have possibly one of the most intriguing defensive players in the league in Anthony Zettel...who's obviously from the heart of Michigan (argh!). The question mark in Happy Valley is on the opposite side of the ball. Their offense has been 'Michigan minus one year' for the past couple of seasons, so we could be in line for a Michigan 2014 offense...oh. However, IF their O-line progresses and Hackenberg is more ceiling than floor, they have a couple of skill dudes who could make that team rather formidable. Speaking of NOT formidable, glance at their schedule. Arguably, the toughest non-conference game will be playing at Temple. There is a definite argument that they COULD anter the game against Michigan at 9-1. Maybe.
Overrated: Maryland. I've seen multiple outlets predicting this game as a Maryland lean with a 50/50 at best for Michigan. I just don't buy it (Yes, Colin...'buy' not 'bye'). Maryland lost their starting QB who was their top rusher AND passer, 4 WRs -including their top 2-, 60% of their OL which wasn't that great to begin with, and six of their starting front seven. So, if Will Likely can clone himself (and enlarge those clones) and the nation's best kicker can...yeah, I don't even know. I don't think their defense will be very good. Or their offense. I think Maryland could very easily have a rough year. If Michigan can't play well in that game, that will be troublesome.
Ok, that's it! I'm off to Utah!! HARBAUGHHHHHHHHHH!!!
[After the jump: We're bullish on States and things from Utah, bearish on Gophers and stuff]
Hello. You have made it to the end. This year's preview checks in at 42,835 words.
This Winter Hasn't Been So Rough. The bad man is gone, and a good one is here.
Quarterback. Dry white toast. Glorious dry white toast. He should really be named "Elwood," though.
Running Back. IT PUTS THE FOOTBALL IN THE HOLE OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN
Wide Receiver. Don't spook the hamstring. In fact, don't even look at it. Or think about it.
Tight End And Friends. You have been moved to tight end as well.
Offensive Line. The nadir has passed. I swear.
5Q5A: Offense. The Harbauffense is, like its progenitor, tough and weird.
Defensive Tackle. Veterans, and good ones, but not huge ones.
Defensive End. Or buck linebacker. Whatever. Can they get to the quarterback?
Linebacker. Seniors have leadership, which is why they don't join biker gangs.
Cornerback. Half awesome, half frayed thread upon which defense hangs.
Safety. JARROD WILS /is hit by shoe
5Q5A: Defense. It's pretty much the same, except Peppers.
Special Teams. Aussie aussie aussie, field goal oy oy oy.
Podcast 7.0. Many people complimented the music selection, probably because I used a Beyonce breakup song.
Heuristics And Stupid Prediction. Could go a lot of ways. I've got 8-4 and "resembles football." Seeya, sludgefart.
Preview at 2.
Holding The Rope comes out of the bunker:
For the first time last year, I found myself getting up during game action to grab something from the kitchen. There was once a time when, once the game started, I did not move from my sitting spot, as if tethered to it for eternity or the end of the game, whichever came first.
Last year, during the Indiana game, I vaguely remember falling asleep during a portion of the third quarter. It was a long week and a dreary day, and even the surprising success of Ann Arbor's own Drake Johnson couldn't fend off a doze.
Maybe I was tired. Maybe I'm getting older. Maybe it was something else: indifference, a dissipation of pointless resolve.
GQ drops a major article on Harbaugh. Hell of a lede:
The Big House, when empty, rises on all sides in limestone gray, like the machine-carved rock walls of a Midwestern quarry; on game days, the sold-out stadium—a hundred rows high, 110,000 fans in maize and blue—becomes the fourth-largest city in the state of Michigan. Here on the field this last official day of spring, 230 high school quarterbacks tune in to a former quarterback and current head coach in a block-M ball cap and a pair of slack khakis, extra-wide. This is Jim Harbaugh, and this is his dominion.
I talked to the author, Daniel Riley, at Frita Batidos one day this summer. Frita being jammed most hours of the day and night, it was loud. Loud to the point I worried that nothing from his tape would be useful. I'm glad it was, because his article reminded me about this part of our conversation about Jim Harbaugh:
“What he says now about football,” Cook says, “is that it’s worth it.”
Football's taken a ton of shit over the past few years because it is dangerous. Harbaugh knows this. I know it. You know it. But I say that life is not lived all at the same rate. Some days and weeks and months shrink away to tiny motes; some hours and minutes and moments expand to fill your consciousness.
Nice high kick, got a little wind under it and he runs Howard back—time inflates, you can pluck a dragonfly hanging in mid-flight in front of you out of the air—LOOK AT THAT oh my goodness ONE MAN GOODBYE HELLO HEISMAN
Football is dangerous. It is dangerous to play, and it is dangerous to love. And it is worth it.
[ED (Seth): Welcome baaaaaack!
It is college football season. Today. Right now. And of the many things that thing means, it means Joe Pichey, serious bbq-ing dude, is back to his weekly BBQ recipes in this space. The deal is he does the cooking, Stubb's does the sponsoring, and we all do the thing where we mentally run through the weekend and try to imagine when we can try this.]
It's finally GAME DAY and I could not be more excited. In fact before we begin I think I just need to scream something…
There have been a lot of changes in AA and a few here in the MMMGOBLUBBQ Man-Cave. We've added a few new toys and a picked up a new Pitmaster Pup along the way. Thanks to everyone's help back in April, we were able to settle on a name of "Smokey BOnes" for our new BBQ mascot. We were also able to find some tasty new recipes that Stubbs has once again agreed to sponsor, starting off with the BEER CAN BURGER. This one exploded on social media a few months back and is perfect for a tailgate.
- 80/20 Ground beef
- Onions/Mushrooms/Peppers (Any topping you can imagine)
- Stubbs Beef Marinade and BBQ Rub
- Hamburger Buns
[After the jump: the manball of burger methods]
Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker.Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A: Offense.
The theory of turnover margin: it is pretty random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|Year||Margin||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|2007||0.15 (41st)||14||15||2.46(33rd)||14||13||2.17 (67th)|
|2008||-.83 (104th)||9||11||2.42(33rd)||12||18||1.83 (57th)|
|2009||-1.00 (115th)||11||5||1.83(68th)||15||13||2.33 (83rd)|
|2011||+0.54 (25th)||9||20||2.31 (29th)||16||6||1.38 (33rd)|
|2012||-0.69 (99th)||7||11||1.69 (69th)||19||8||1.38 (28th)|
|2013||+0.38(33rd)||17||9||1.9 (64th)||13||8||2.77 (109th)|
|2014||-1.33 (124th)||5||5||2.4 (49th)||18||8||2.2 (63rd)|
I'd say there's nowhere to go but up here, but I said that during the Rodriguez era and it never happened. /kicks dirt
But… seriously, this should be a place Michigan gets a ton better. Not only are they replacing Devin Gardner with a guy who had an interception rate a quarter of Gardner's, they had a turnover acquisition rate anomalously low for anybody, let alone a good defense. With a fifth-year senior quarterback this should at least be even and if opponents don't have option of throwing at the wide open guy on most snaps, both sacks and bad idea throws should increase.
Or, you know, they might not. Turnovers are low-incident, high-impact events and sometimes the don't make any sense.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
Braden and Magnuson flip spots. A logical decision given Magnuson's left tackle frame and Braden's issues in pass protection. Braden is an awkward fit as a guard. Concern: moderate.
Poggi and Winovich move to TE. Poggi probably belonged there from the start. Winovich is odd. Speaks to concern about depth at TE. Concern: moderate.
Jeremy Clark moves to CB, Wayne Lyons to safety. Only possible interpretation is that Lyons is bad and they're scrambling a bit at the other corner. Concern: high.
Freddy Canteen moves to CB, sort of. Weird move, also speaks to concern at corner. Concern: high.
Willie Henry to SDE. The positions are similar, Wormley is a capable 3tech, seems to be looking for some extra pass rush. Concern: minimal.
Royce Jenkins-Stone to WDE. With Ojemudia and possibly/probably Lawrence Marshall in front RJS only plays if he's going to do okay. Concern: minimal.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Worst Case Barring Extreme Injury Scenarios
Michigan has a high-variance schedule this year with few outright tomato cans and few top 25 teams. The top 25 teams are both at home; Michigan has four road games (Utah, Maryland, Minnesota, and Penn State) against teams that project to be decent to good this year. Meanwhile they have a new coach. Many scenarios are plausible.
In the worst case, Michigan's second corner gets torched all year, they can't get to the QB, and the D tops out at the same good-but-not-great level they've been at for the last few years.
On offense, Rudock is a checkdown machine and Michigan is just Iowa instead of a Rich Man's Iowa. The Big Ten is weak and Michigan has a lot of experience and talent, so truly bad records are probably out of the question but it's not too hard to see them dropping two nonconference games and going 4-4 in conference to finish 6-6.
On the other hand, there are only two games that particularly alarm. Both of those are at home. OSU is a unanimous number one and is probably intractable given anything short of a miracle, but Brady Hoke played them tight the last two years with teams that were miserable. MSU is good; they have a few leaks this year.
Even if they win one of those there's enough rickety in this boat to assume they drop another game, probably the opener or road games against Minnesota and Penn State. 10-2 could happen.
I don't really know, man. I do expect a significant and immediate improvement in Michigan's play. They return almost the entire team. They plug Desmond Morgan, Jake Rudock, and Jabrill Peppers into three of the gaps—maybe up to five depending on if Peppers can hack 3-tech.
The only two guys who don't have immediate replacements or even upgrades are Frank Clark and Devin Funchess. Either would be great to have around; because of the way last season developed neither had as much impact on the field as their talent suggested they should.
Even if Brady Hoke was still around this would be a year in which the arrow should point the right way. Turnovers should head the right way. That swing should be large and could be huge. On a down to down basis Michigan was pretty good until their general derp kicked in.
Harbaugh's teams don't derp it much. That is worth a lot.
Residual chaos will still do Michigan in once or twice this year; the potential issue at kicker looms large for a team that figures to play a bunch of low-scoring slugfests. It'll look like football, though. That much we can promise.
|9/12||Oregon State||Lean to win|
|9/26||BYU||Lean to win|
|10/3||@ Maryland||Lean to win|
|10/11||MSU||Lean to loss|
|11/1||Rutgers||Lean to win|
|11/8||@ Indiana||Must win|
|11/22||@ Penn State||Tossup|
|11/30||Ohio State||Probable loss|
Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue, Iowa, Nebraska
It says 8-4 here.
Previously: Podcast 7.0. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A: Offense.
1. So what is this defense again?
Last year Michigan moved from the 4-3 under they deployed in Mattison's first three seasons in Ann Arbor to a 4-3 over. DJ Durkin seems set to return Michigan to a defense that's going to seem a lot like Mattison's earlier outfits. Whether you call this a 4-3 under or a 3-4 is mostly a semantic issue. However, it's one that's driving me nuts every time a writer for the Wolverine talks about Michigan's forthcoming 3-4 transition.
The disconnect here appears to be based on one spot, the "BUCK". Many, many teams have a fancy name for their weakside end. It often designates a guy who is a LB/DE hybrid:
"Watching film on Dante (Fowler) and experience this position has been a ton of fun," he said. " The BUCK is like the hybrid on the field. You're sometimes standing up and sometimes have your hand in the dirt. Wherever you're at at that position, you're expected to make plays. You gotta get to the quarterback as quickly as you can and make tackles."
Durkin apparently calls his fancy spot the "buck linebacker." Therefore 3-4. Durkin's buck linebacker last year was 6'3", 260 pound Dante Fowler. Fowler almost always rushed the passer from a three-point stance. Sometimes he would drop into coverage or fold back into a run fit.
In this he is exactly—exactly—like what Michigan did with Frank Clark in the under. We even have a mascot for this, Slanty The Gecko. Slanty was inexplicably the first hit in Google Image Search for "line slant football" and has featured in multiple posts that describe Michigan's nominal weakside end going SYKE LINEBACKER MORPH and dropping back as the SAM plunges willy-nilly into the defensive line. Here is an example:
According to Mattison, Michigan did this on maybe 40% of its snaps from a 4-3 in his first year at Michigan. I'd say the BUCK concept is that only more so, but I don't think it can in fact be more so.
To me the real distinction between a 3-4 and a 4-3 is in your interior line. Are your guys planet-shaped gentlemen? Do you have Louis Nix? You're probably running a 3-4. Do you have Ryan Glasgow? You're probably running a 4-3. People will talk about multiple fronts, and Michigan will run multiple fronts. All of those will be efforts to confuse the offense as they inject their DTs into gaps and get penetration.
The upshot: this is not a big change, if it's even a change at all. It is a nomenclature tweak.
[After THE JUMP: additional strategically located Peppers talk.]
1. I bet you're mad because this isn't a spread offense amirite?
I am a spread zealot, it's true. However, I am not crazy. Therefore I am happy that Jim Harbaugh is the coach at Michigan no matter what offense he wants to run.
Meanwhile, the Harbauffense is not a spread but neither is it the old style "expectation is for the position" offense. Harbaugh's offense has a certain reputation…
…and it does live up to that. It goes beyond that. Whereas the late Carr offenses tended to drive one thing into the ground over and over until it settled into a 3.4 YPC groove, Harbaugh loves to troll defenses with constant motion, trap blocking, and—yep—spread elements.
The Sugar Bowl demolition of a Virginia Tech team that a year later would hold Brady Hoke's first team under 200 yards of offense is the canonical example of the motion. Stanford shifted, and shifted some more, and continued shifting until grand cracks developed in VT's run fits.
That relies on the opponent screwing up because of your shifts and is not always going to happen… but it does sometimes. After Stanford had blown it open, Harbaugh deployed a play that I've used at various MGoEvents over the past few months. At each it plays like stand-up comedy:
They practiced that, and then used it as a middle finger.
[After THE JUMP: building Rome, explosions, Rudock]
|Kicker||Yr||Punter||Yr||Kickoffs||Yr||Punt return||Yr||Kick return||Yr|
|Kenny Allen||Jr*||Blake O'Neill||Sr*||Kenny Allen||Jr*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr*|
|Kyle Seychel||Fr*||Kenny Allen||Jr*||Andrew David||Fr||Jehu Chesson||Jr*||Jehu Chesson||Jr*|
No coaching upgrade on the team is steeper than special teams. Under Brady Hoke and Dan Ferrigno, Michigan featured adequate kicking and terrible everything else. Their usual MO was one blocked punt against an early tomato can, archaic punt coverage that was terrible even with 11 guys on the field, and return units that did little except take penalties when Dennis Norfleet finally managed to escape from ravenous packs of defenders.
John Baxter's Fresno State teams led the country in blocked kicks over the course of his tenure there—one that overlaps with Virginia Tech at its Beamerball peak—and in his only year at USC took their special teams units from nowhere to 2nd and 4th in the country in blocked punts and kicks, respectively. Special teams is a low data, high variance enterprise but if anyone's got the track record to suggest he's going to make an impact, it's Baxter.
Now about that scholarship kicker…
The holder becomes the holdee [Fuller]
This is looking hairy all of a sudden. Scholarship freshman ANDREW DAVID was immediately dumped well down the depth chart, and Michigan must turn to the walk-ons that populate any D-I team's kicking roster. One, KENNY ALLEN [hello post], was the heir apparent at punter until John Baxter rolled into town with an Aussie in tow; the other, KYLE SEYCHEL, is a redshirt freshman who fans didn't even know was on the team until fall camp.
Reports out of said camp have been worried. Those coming out of the open practice were mixed, but guys who had been around for more than a few attempts were disquieted. There are reports Michigan is reconsidering their decision to forgo a scholarship guy in the 2016 class. That is not a good sign. Neither is that OR on the depth chart.
"I dunno, is kicker" is always a valid thing to say about kickers you have not seen much of; in this case I'm just hoping for a guy to bang them in from 40 yards and in.
wait isn't this guy in twilight or something [Eric Upchurch]
The OR is much more welcoming at this spot. Things are looking just fine at punter despite the departures of both Matt Wile and Will Hagerup. Allen has been booming punts in practice for a few years now, and during the Hoke era we saw a lot of punts in practice.
And then there's that imported Aussie. BLAKE O'NEILL [g'day mate post] comes from a land down under where small children carry around football-shaped objects to punt at anything they run across that is poisonous. Everything in Australia is poisonous. (Yes, especially the koalas.) When the survivors reach adulthood, the resulting skills are impressive:
Asked if the 6-foot-2, 215-pound kicker is the type of special teams player who can change a game, Baxter nods, saying, "He's that."
"Listen," he continued, "if you put a trashcan out there 40 yards, he can usually hit it, OK? He's as accurate, and in some cases more accurate than, the quarterbacks."
O'Neill's first year in college football was last year, when he did this at Weber State:
O'Neill finished sixth nationally (Football Championship Subdivision) in punting during the 2014 season at Weber State. He played in all 12 games and averaged 44.1 yards per punt, setting a single-season punting average record for the Wildcats.
O'Neill tallied 62 punts for 2,737 yards with a long of 74 yards. He boomed 18 punts of 50-plus yards and notched 25 boots inside the opposition's 20-yard line. O'Neill ran for a first down on a fake punt and tossed a completion for a first down on another fake.
Are you ready for some punting highlights? Woo!
AUSSIE PUNTS: SKY TERRITORY sounds like a Chuck Norris movie
Not sure if he's going to be able to do the thing where he idles for a couple seconds before he punts at at D-I level, but Michigan now has a special teams coach with a terrific track record. If he can make it so, it will be so.
O'Neill can rugby punt with either foot and his directional kicking skills in the video above are creepy, Orin Incandenza-level stuff. Real life Blake O'Neill probably isn't going to be good as a fictional punter who is the highest paid player in the NFL. Probably.
[After THE JUMP: gratuitously placed Jabrill Peppers highlights designed to make you click through mooohahaha]
Last year I told you to bet on Beckman, which was correct... in a sense
I thought a fourth kid had put me into full-fledged retirement, but apparently there are few of you degenerates out there who still think this is good advice to put your [theoretical] dollars behind. Here it is, your 2015 Stock Watch.
Before we get into this season, the annual transparent review of the prior year’s predictions:
I may not be sold on Tim Beckman, but my numbers are high on [no longer] his Illinois team this year. 762 out of 1,000 scenarios run have the Illini exceeding their projected 4.5 wins this year, with over half putting Illinois in line for a bowl bid.
A big ball of mediocre. Even more pronounced than the Big Ten, I have everyone but BC (over 4.5 wins) within 1.2 games of the Vegas win total. On top of that, 9/14 teams are predicted between 3-5 and 5-3 in conference.
The Pac 12
the numbers like Cal a lot more and Colorado a lot less than the projected win totals.
One of my biggest sells of the season are the Spartans with only 5.5% of simulations seeing the Spartans exceed their 9.5 win projection.
The model is predicting about 9 wins and a virtual tie with Oklahoma, right behind predicted frontrunner Baylor.
After picking Tennessee to breakout in previous years, the model has given up on the Volunteers this season, along with Les Miles’ LSU squad. Two teams projected to overachieve, are league favorite Auburn, which despite a brutal schedule, the model pegs at 10.5 wins, a full 1.5 wins above Vegas along with the rebuilding Kentucky Wildcats.
2015: The Season At Hand, and Other Obvious Subtitles
Buying one, selling the other Pac-12 opponent
Every year in the offseason I test my preseason prediction model, tweaking the coefficients to match the model with the most accurate prediction. Usually it’s just a small move here or there, not really amounting to much. This year I looked at a new variable I called MVP effect. MVP effect looks at the points per play for all QBs and RBs on an offense. Each players’ PPP on their carries+passes is compared versus what the PPP for the team on all other players. This is the gap. The gap is then multiplied by the numbers of plays that the player was responsible for to get their total contribution. I plugged in the MVP stat and took out any stats dealing with returning QBs+RBs and saw a 2.3% reduction in total offense prediction error, and a 2.0% reduction in total error. A pretty big jump for a well-established model. This is part of the reason you’ll see some of these teams as buys or sells.
Return a lot of key pieces on offense and the defense was pretty bad and just hired a new head coach who’s not too bad at coaching that side of the ball.
Selling: Virginia Tech
I know they were young last year, but it’s been a long time since this was a good offensive team and don’t know that the defense can get them over 8 wins.
Buying: Illinois, again
See 2014 notes. For the second straight year they have a 50/50 shot at a bowl game. And they don't have Beckman. Congrats Illini fans?
Selling: Indiana, Wisconsin
See the MVP effect. Tevin Coleman is gone and who is going to generate the Indiana offense? Corey Clement will surely pile up the stats again, but there was a big gap between Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement in PPP and I can’t see the QB play making up the difference. The West is thoroughly mediocre but I have serious doubts about Wisconsin’s ability to stay above the fray.
Selling: West Virginia, kind of TCU
Like Virginia Tech, I don’t see how West Virginia is getting past 8 wins. I think TCU will be good, my season simulations have them as the 3rd most likely team to reach the playoff. The problem is that they are the least talented team in the top ten and despite massive productivity last season, I think Trevone Boykin is due for some serious regression. Definitely a chance I am wrong on TCU but I think they have the most downside risk of any of the major preseason contenders.
Buying: Oregon St
Here’s the MVP effect working in reverse. Sean Mannion was not good for the Beavers last year and now he is gone. A redistribution of the offense should bode well for Oregon St.
Michigan’s other Pac-12 opponent falls on the other side of the ledger. I don’t think Utah was as good as their record last year and another team who is going to fighting uphill in terms of talent for most of their schedule.
Going back to the Malzahn well one more time. Elite talent, elite offensive scheme. 8.5 wins is very doable, even with a tough schedule.
Selling: Arkansas, kind of Texas A&M
Arkansas’s weird season last year has been well documented as several services have vastly overcorrected heading into 2015. Taking the over on 8 wins means you are predicting the Hogs to go at least 5-3 against the SEC West schedule. A&M has a weird setup. Like A&M there is a lot of potential and risk on the roster, I don’t think A&M win total is that far off (they’re the only team on this list where my pick is within 1.5 games of Vegas) but at +200 on the under, sign me up.
Last year I brought in one of my favorite heuristics: your national champion will be on the short list of most talented, experienced rosters. It is now 11 straight years that the national championship has ranked in the top 10 for roster talent (recruiting rankings adjusted for age) and 9 of 11 where the winner has been top 4 on at least one side of the ball. Last season OSU paid at 25/1 by checking in at #4 overall and top 4 on offense.
Here are this year’s top 10 with Top 4 O/D noted.
- Ohio St (O/D)
- Michigan (O/D)
- Alabama (D)
- USC (O)
- Auburn (O)
- Florida St (D)
- Notre Dame
My season simulations have Baylor, TCU, Oregon and Michigan St all with good shots at making the playoff (and odds much higher than several of the teams on this list). It’s not impossible that one of those four wins it all, but it would be the first time in a long time that it’s happened.
Will this one simple trick turn your under achieving team into a contender?
My model loves talented, under-achieving teams (see Texas, Michigan) and it has had some of its biggest misses on teams like this. Michigan will be a big test this season. There are two general ways it can go, depending on what your underlying opinion of the team is.
1. Brady Hoke was a terrible evaluator and developer of talent and the talent Michigan has on paper is a mirage and it’s going to take a couple years to get back on top.
2. Brady Hoke was just a terrible coach and the talent on roster is there, but as yet untapped, especially on offense. It’s less about a Harbaugh turnaround than it is about a loss of Hoke and anything from Harbaugh is gravy this year.
I tend to side with #2. It’s hard to believe that all the talent on the roster were misses. Add to that the defense was pretty good already and you have an opportunity waiting to be exploited and the perfect coach to do so. All preseason predictions tend to take last year’s record as status quo, adjust for the general consensus of returners versus departures and everyone ends up in roughly the spot they started it, adjusting for maybe a game or two in the standing.
If there is ever a case to throw out last year’s record as a starting point it’s this situation. A veteran team, low hanging fruit on turnovers and special teams, a proven defense and an offense that has talent but not production and a coach who has excelled on that side of the ball.
Put me down for 9 wins and a 1-1 record against Michigan State and Ohio State. It’s optimism, it’s the model, it’s the hope that #4 will get decent quarterbacking out of the team and the rest of the team can showcase the talent and experience they have on paper.