I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Update 12/11: Added CA CB David Ross, a four star without an offer who claims Michigan his "dream school." Removed DE, er, DE Devon Still, who dropped us. Moved KS LB Austin Panter to committed. Linked to article on AZ OL Jaivorio Burkes and one on OT commitment Mark Huyge. Added CA LB Malcolm Smith. Removed some safety chaff. Moved TX LB Brandon Herron to committed. Removed IL DE Martez Wilson, VA CB Cris Hill (dropped us). Added VA LB Marell Evans to committed.
Editorial Opinion: Panter and Herron have been covered before. New commitment is that of Evans, a two-star with no reasonable argument that he might have been overlooked. He doesn't play for an obscure high school (Varina is a state power), he hasn't been injured or forced to play out of position, and he doesn't have offers that belie his ranking. Michigan snatched him away from Temple, Buffalo, and Middle Tennessee. Virginia Tech appeared to be interested...
Meanwhile, last we heard Virginia Tech was looking at Varina defenders Andre Branch and Marell Evans.
"I know the Michigan coaches are coming down this week to see Marell," he said. "I believe Virginia Tech likes him, but coach Cavanaugh didn't say a lot when he checked him out. He does think he's a good player, but Tech is in a bind since they've got almost everyone they want. I do know that Virginia Tech does like him more as a defensive end. He's the type of kid that can put on weight and run really well."
... but not interested enough to offer. So he's got that going for him. He was also his district's defensive player of the year, and you can assume that Michigan has a high familiarity with him after spending much of last year chasing after Brandon Minor, who also attended Varina. Still, the probability he's a major contributor is lower than most other Michigan recruits. Standard disclaimer that the number of stars next to a players name does not etch their fate in stone, but it is relevant.
Other bits: dropped by a couple DEs; in all probability we're going to get Van Bergen and that's it. We'll need a blue-chippah next year but with Germany, Patterson, and Graham all entering their sophomore years the lack of numbers there isn't a concern. Weird article about David Ross, a California four-star who basically begged for a Michigan offer on Scout.com. He's a soft verbal to Nebraska now and visiting Oregon... no idea what the deal is there. I moved Jerimy Finch back to safety since there seems to be a flood of linebackers incoming. Things are looking good for FL OLB/S Lorenzo Edwards.
The above-linked Huyge article is worth a read for anyone concerned about OT recruiting. Michigan's had a lot of high-profile busts and low-profile successes recently, so I'm not particularly worried. It would be nice to pick up Romine or Elliot, though.
The second annual exploration of how very wrong I was about everything at the beginning of the season.
I didn't get around to Indiana or Minnesota previews, continuing a tradition started in 2005 when I decided not to bother projecting Illinois' fate. That worked out just fine. This year, not so much. Both Minnesota and Indiana were worth mentioning. Indiana was 5-7, a loss to I-AA Southern Illinois the only thing standing between them and a Motor City Bowl berth. Minnesota scraped its way to 6-6. Both beat Iowa, a team that
- I projected to win the Big Ten
- I ranked #2 -- in the country -- in the preseason
- failed utterly in every way imaginable and is about to get rolled by Texas.
So maybe they deserved some notice.
The Scoffed At
General tenor of the thing: Won't be as hilariously awful as last year, but certainly won't be good or anything. In sum:
Strides towards competency are probable, but there's a long, long way from last year's Travelling Bye Week extravaganza and respectability.
Interesting miscellaneous error:
The Ron Zook era started out well enough with a thrilling overtime victory over Rutgers, but whenever the phrases "thrilling overtime victory" and "over Rutgers" find themselves in the same sentence their buddy "harsh reality check" cannot be far behind.
We'll get a test of this particular theory when West Virginia takes on Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl but as a general sportswriting device, "mock Rutgers" is real passe all of a sudden.
Yesssss. Last year's edition of this featured progressively worse and worse predictions about the quarterbacks of the league. The overall impression left by it was the only way I would ever get anything right about the most important position in the game was by flipping out a la George Costanza and going against every instinct I had. Well...
If things go poorly with Brasic, Zook might say "to hell with it" and insert true freshman Isiah Williams, the jewel of this year's recruiting class. Williams' implausible senior-year stats: 1,441 rushing yards at 21.8 yards per carry and 1,841 passing yards on only 128 attempts with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions. He's guru-approved and potentially the kind of guy who can lift the downtrodden into a state slightly less so a la Antwaan Randle-El. One caution: Williams only completed 56% of his passes as a senior, but it's not like Zook's going to have anything to lose after September.
HA! HA HA HA! Brasic did get yanked, Williams did get inserted -- though he was universally referred to as "Juice" -- and he did run around like Antwaan Randle-El a lot while completing very few passes. Staggeringly few, actually: around 40%. The last quarterback to start most of a season in the Big Ten and come out with a completion percentage that low must have been decades ago.
Nooooo. I was wrong, wrong, wrong about the defense:
[Defensive Line] I don't care that three of four starters return; the assumption here until proven otherwise is that the Illinois defense will be a mere rumor to opposing offenses. Defensive tackle Chris Norwood's 7.5 TFLs are nice, but that's about it as far as playmaking goes. The true sophomore defensive ends were awful a year ago and will probably be slightly less awful this year, but I'm saving all my miracle points for "Lloyd Carr understands probability"; "Illinois defensive line is half-decent" will have to wait. ... [Linebackers] See defensive line; I don't care that three starters return. This is what you need to know about the Illinois linebackers: one of them claims to be named "J Leman." No word on whether he plans on fleeing to
MyanmarBurma. [Defensive Backs] Detroit DePorres' own Sharriff Abdullah is the top returning corner; he is 5'8" and has zero interceptions and four breakups in about two full years of starting. This neatly summarizes the experience of being an Illinois cornerback: it's nasty, brutish, and you're short.
Later I reiterated my dismissiveness:
We're Sure About
The defense. The scoreboard operators at Illinois games are going to get a nasty case of George Jetson button-pushin' finger.
Moral of this story: always be wary of teams starting scads of underclassmen and returning them. J Leman, Redneck Linebacker, became a bonafide playmaker and the Illinois defense ended up thoroughly respectable at the end of the year: 38th in total defense, 32nd in pass efficiency defense, 51st in rushing defense. A big ugly 90th in scoring defense can be attributed to the short fields Illinois gave up frequently; they were 117th in both net punting and turnover margin.
Final Verdict on the Final Verdict. Official prediction of 3-9, "but an encouraging 3-9." It was 2-10, actually, but an encouraging 2-10. Overall: accurate.
General tenor of the thing: It's going to be ugly; no one will mind.
Football will continue in Evanston after Randy Walker's shocking midsummer death but wins and losses will be beside the point. That's probably a good thing for Pat Fitzgerald, thrust into the head coach spotlight at only 31 without four-year starter Brett Basanez or much hope on the other side of the ball.
Hurray for turnover theory: One consistently useful metric is finding teams at the extremes of turnover margin and projecting that turnover margin to head meanward. (This is bad news for us. We finished third this year, though one of the caveats in the theory has always been "senior quarterback." "Running back who never fumbles" is also a good one, too, so we should be relatively safe. Not so safe: Minnesota, #1 in turnover margin and losing Brian Cupito. Bottom could drop out on the Gophers next year.) Northwestern provided a perfect capsule of it in action this year:
The outlook is grim, especially when you consider Northwestern's outlying turnover ratio: they were +9 despite having a terrible defense because said defense managed 30 takeaways, including 20 interceptions. That is well into the land of flukes. With a mewling babe replacing ancient Brett Basanez, Northwestern's turnovers figure to shoot up. Probability and common sense declare that their takeaways will travel in the reverse direction. Presto: likely two-game swing to the bad.
Northwestern went from +9 to -7 and dropped to 4-8.
Continued quarterback bullseyes. Sort of, anyway. Northwestern went into the year with three guys competing for the starting job...
The only thing anyone knows about Northwestern's starting quarterback is that he isn't Brett Basanez. Sophomore CJ Bacher and his six career completions are projected to start, and this concludes the Bacher scouting report. I've scoured the Internets for any information on him and every preview -- every preview -- says "Bacher is in competition with Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka."
(The next sentence contains what was probably the first "ha, quarterback named Kafka!" joke captured in captivity: "Some venture to guess he will start, probably because Kafka keeps turning into a beetle." Zing, indeed.) ... I bet on Bacher, but claimed that "whoever the starter was" would see the Northwestern offense revert to the spread-option-happy version run by Basanez as an underclassman, when having him throw was inadvisable. Bacher was slowed by a fall injury; Kafka and Brewer split time proving
that they were very bad quarterbacks indeed; Bacher returned to claim the starting job and did it with his arm, not his legs; and youbetcha I'm claiming this as a correct prediction:
If Bacher's arm is as accurate is reputed he'll get the opportunity to toss a lot of short throws to possession receiver Sean Herbert and Sutton, but Northwestern is going to revert from hoping their quarterback wins games to hoping he doesn't lose them.
Impression of the Northwestern offense under Bacher gleaned from the frigid Michigan Stadium benches: screen screen screen punt. Repeat until you lose. (He did improve radically given more time -- see first half versus OSU -- and is a major reason Northwestern should improve significantly a year ago.)
Side effects. On pint-sized dynamo Tyrell Sutton:
without Basanez's arm keeping safeties honest Sutton may find the sledding significantly tougher as a sophomore. If we make the safe assumption that whoever the starting quarterback is can't approach Basanez's efficiency and command of the offense, the only way to keep that eighth man from finding his way into the box will be to establish someone, likely Kim Thompson, as a deep danger. That requires not one but two untested players to step up -- unlikely. All eyes will be on Sutton* in '06.
Sutton's YPC dropped from 5.9 to 5.3; his carries slid down to 189. None of this is necessarily his fault.
Thank you for not defying expectations. Short but sweet on the Northwestern DL: "This is probably going to be the worst defensive line in the conference other than Indiana." 92nd in rushing defense, 110th in TFL, leading sacker had 3.
On the DBs:
Long Northwestern's glaring weakness, it would be folly to expect sudden improvement from this unit but for the first time in a long time there is something resembling a flicker of hope.
Ended the year 71st in defensive pass efficiency, which is almost mediocre and the best number this unit has posted in a while.
Final Verdict on the Final Verdict: I usually have a wide spread for the teams in the worst-case-best-case areas, but with Northwestern it was uncommonly narrow: 5-7 best, 3-9 worst. I projected them 4-8, and that's where they ended up, though I didn't see that New Hampshire loss coming. Also accurate.
Post-hoc validation: So, yeah, I didn't watch that awards show, and a good thing, too, since it was dumb. Let us count the ways:
- They need to get rid of whatever the Maxwell trophy looks like and replace it with a bridesmaid crying into her wedding cake if they're going to insist on giving it to Guy Who's Not Winning The Heisman Guy every year. If there's an award for "Best QB" and you don't win it, how do you win "Best All-Around Player"? Did I miss Quinn returning punts?
- I don't think Leon Hall should have won the Thorpe, but if he was going to lose it should have been to Reggie F-in' Nelson instead of Aaron Ross.
- More "We don't understand set theory": Woodley wins best OL/DL/LB, Posluszny wins "best defensive player." (For what reason? Posluszny, good though he is, is possibly the most over-decorated linebacker since these fancy awards started coming out. Though Laurinaitis is off to a good start.)
Anyway, Woodley won some stuff and he, Long, and Hall were first-team AA. Hart was second.
- n00b Maize And Blue Tailgate has some suggestions to prevent this from ever happening ever again. Among them: don't schedule more macky-cakes, play after Thanksgiving, and accede to night games.
- Stadium and Main takes a look at next year's schedule and Michigan's prospects. Outlook: good. There are few returning QBs on the schedule. More discussion of that flashing TBA.
Personally, I think we should get a middling BCS team on the road to fill that hole in their schedule. Anyone who will give us a 2-for-1 and promises to be a respectable opponent. Hell, they can even be awful next year, don't care. North Carolina, maybe? An eighth home game against a stupid team opens us up to mocking columns about never leaving home to do anything on the road. If we can avoid that and get a pair at home against a respectable foe, awesome.
We will need more players on ice. Bob Miller of the Wolverine has some brief scouting reports on players who won't get to Michigan for a long time, three '09s and '10 commit John Merril. One, Kenny Ryan, is a recruit, not a commit. Yes, he's the younger brother of punter Ross.
We will also need more players this weekend: Dest is out for a month. Jack will miss Friday's game and is questionable for Sunday, when Andrew Cogliano will be off at Canada's WJC camp. Steve Kampfer will obviously draw in, but that leaves Michigan a defenseman short for ND. Will Red drop Rohlfs back or just go with five, giving Montville a token dressing? Don't know. Do know: this is awful timing for two critical games against ND.
O RLY. So there's this book coming out on last year's Springdale HS team that eventually sent five guys and its coach, Gus Malzahn to D-I schools last year. If you are a recruitnik you may remember that OMG Shirtless Arkansas freshman Mitch Mustain committed to Arkansas, decomitted and was widely speculated to be going to Notre Dame, then recommitted to the Razorbacks. Well, yeah:
A few weeks later, Mustain backed out on Arkansas and kept silent about his plan to attend Notre Dame, waiting on a promised scholarship.
Voigt recounts how Notre Dame offensive coordinator Michael Haywood was fine with Mustain's timetable until a few weeks before signing date. Then, the squeeze began. On his cell phone, Mustain heard Haywood say the Irish needed an answer in 48 hours.
It was at that point that Mustain called Nutt and requested a meeting. Nutt agreed and then realized it was a dead period and called right back to ask, "Does your mom mind you being out late tonight?"
Mustain thought Nutt meant 10 p.m.; the coach was talking about a minute after midnight. When Mustain arrived on campus that night, Nutt was there along with Malzahn, offensive line coach Mike Markuson and new quarterbacks coach Alex Wood.
They talked and Haywood called again the next day. Mustain reminded him he wanted to visit South Bend before making a commitment. He could wait only 24 more hours, Haywood said. That day, Mustain and Wood talked for almost an hour, drawing up plays on a dry-erase board. Markuson entered the room, acknowledged the rumors of a rift between himself and Malzahn, then wrote the names of his wife and children on the board, and told Mustain, " ... I'm not going to screw this up."
A short time later, Mustain decided to re-up with Arkansas and ignore Weis and Haywood. However, a recruiting writer penned a piece that said Weis wasn't interested in Mustain because he had verbal commitments from two quarterbacks and had told them he wouldn't take a third.
Mustain's mom was furious and said Weis planted the story "just so they could look good for the national people."
One guess as to who the "recruiting writer" was. Yup: Tom Lemming. What a weird sequence of events. Unlike Texas' pressure on Ryan Mallet, which was spurred by John Brantley's desire to commit ASAP, pushing Mustain for a commitment had no possible benefit for Notre Dame. It eventually cost ND Mustain's services. Doubly weird because Demetrius Jones is a dual-threat guy a lot of people saw eventually moving to WR or wherever.
I wonder if this is just Weis-ian SOP. Martez Wilson was an ND lock lock lock lock, suddenly wasn't interested in ND -- probably because his scholarship got pulled for some reason that's probably being spun retroactively as "grades" but was more likely another deadline -- and is now presumed to be an ND lock lock lock again. Would also explain their sudden lack of interest in Barksdale if they pulled a similar stunt, since Barksdale seems like a primadonna who holds grudges. ND gave him the hard sell and he reacted adversely to that.
Etc.: the Worldwide Reader blows up some dumb anti-playoff arguments brought forth by Bomani Jones; Wetzel on UF president Bernie Machen and playoff possibilities. EDSBS was taken over by Subcomandante Wayne yesterday, BTW.
This is not about Florida. It is not about Florida. Comments will not be about Florida. There is no Florida. There is only Zuul.
Visitors, Michigan is not your football program. One thing this Recent Event Not Involving Florida has done is reveal the deep-seated weirdness of Michigan in relation to the rest of the world. Anyone who sat through WVU and Rutgers' three overtimes to catch Lloyd Carr's rare appearance on SportsCenter probably wondered why he bothered at all. His entire segment consisted of a brief appeal to not punish Michigan for finishing its schedule before Thanksgiving followed by "I don't want to campaign" repeated ad nauseum until the helpless anchor bid Carr adieu. His only other public statement before the fateful Event came on Michigan Replay, when Carr said this:
I just think that based on some of the comments the Florida coach has made in the last two weeks, he has been campaigning strenuously for a berth in the championship game and making some statements about Michigan that I think were inappropriate. That certainly is going to stir a controversy, and who knows what that's going to lead to.
The press, desperate for any word out of Carr's mouth, slapped up story after story on that single phrase "I think [his comments] were inappropriate," delivered with all the ferocity of a euthanized koala bear to Jim Brandstatter on Michigan Replay.
Oddly, this has spurred a lot of passion. Stewart Mandel's bizarre response:
I wasn't particularly thrilled with either coach's approach, and I think the whole exchange marked a particularly ugly moment for the BCS. ... [Stuff criticizing Meyer snipped]
All that said, I thought Carr's response to Meyer went completely overboard. Never once during the final two weeks of the season did Meyer say anything derogatory about the Wolverines. He never even said his team was better than Carr's. All he said was that Michigan had its shot at Ohio State and that he felt his team had earned the right to get its shot at the Buckeyes. So don't give me this "Carr took the high road" nonsense.
It's not like this is a great shock or anything, but Mandel's plain wrong. In the immediate aftermath of the Ohio State game, Meyer is the one who went overboard:
"If they do that (rematch), there should be a playoff system next year," Meyer said. "And I do think those are great teams, because I tried to watch every snap, but I believe as we move on, we need a playoff series. I think if that (rematch) happens, I think it's over. All the presidents would need to get together immediately and put in a playoff system - like, now. I didn't think it was possible to do with all the stadiums and selling tickets, but I believe there's enough firepower out there now to get that done."
Should the Wolverines upset the Buckeyes in a rematch, Meyer would not consider Michigan the champions.
"Absolutely (there would be no national champion)," he said. "If I'm Ohio State, I go get a bunch of rings and say, 'We won the national championship.' That's not right."
Aside from the strong implication that Meyer's been watching too many Larry The Cable Guy specials, that's a blindingly stupid statement and undoubtedly what Carr was referencing as "inappropriate." I hate deploying the word "whine," which -- along with "drinking the Kool-Aid," "thrown under the bus," and "special" -- is one of the four leading indicators that the person you're dealing with is a bonafide moron, but goddamn, son, that's a whine right there. It probably warranted some mild opprobrium on a regional, little-watched coaches show. As a Michigan fan it ticks me off a bit, and I'm glad Carr called him on it. Mandel's assertion that Carr went "overboard" and thus forfeited the high road which you're goddamn right he took -- that road was less "high" than "orbital" -- further proves that whenever you ask a Northwestern graduate about Michigan, they lose their capacity for rational thought. (Something like "I could have gone there, not suffer miserably for four years, and come out with a degree just as prestigious" does not sit well.)
Exhibit B is PTI's Michael Wilbon, also a product of Northwestern, who called Carr a "Neanderthal" in the aftermath of the Recent Event, then said he'd acquired all the negative personality aspects of Bo without any of the positives. And there's the litmus test. Either you see Carr and by extension the entire Michigan program as a throwback to the bad old days... or a throwback to the good old days. You exhort Carr to emulate Mamet characters or exalt Lloyd as the dumpy guy from the Mac commercials (in one of the weirdest analogies I've seen work in a while).
In short, you believe in what the ads call The Michigan Difference or you don't. If you don't, that's fine, but then at some point we're going to do our version of the Nebraska thing and ditch it. What's Nebraska now that they chucked Frank Solich and the triple option? Just another mediocre North division team that loses the Big 12 championship game. They ditched it, and I bet in their heart of hearts they regret it.
In the end, I don't really care about narrow aisleways or too-small seats or cold metal bleachers. I don't care about the infinitesimal chance that if Lloyd Carr had spent the last two weeks on a media blitz that we would be in the national championship game. I don't care that Michigan's never going to have a recruiting run like USC or go on some five-year streak where losses flash across the sky with the infrequency and populace-terrifying inexplicability of comets. Or rather, I do care about all these things but I regard them as a necessary cost of doing business, because I believe that Michigan does stand for something that other athletic programs do not. And whatever that thing is, it is deeply intertwined with Lloyd's refusal to do anything resembling campaigning.
What I care about is that when you enter Michigan Stadium all it advertises is itself, and what I pity is the kind of person who would walk in and think about all the revenue they could make if they would just stop being cavemen.
Right, so hockey coverage has been nonexistent. This changes... now!
The Story So Far
Yuck. Awesome. What? ARRRRGH.
Basically that. Michigan started the season with a walkover of overmatched opponents, though the Saturday UConn game provided a dark foreshadowing of what was to come when Michigan was sailing through, up 6-0, when they let the UConn Connecticut Huskies of UConn Who Suck score five straight goals in a game no one saw because it was on at the same time the Penn State game was. So what happened? You got me. I was busy watching Alan Branch eat Anthony Morelli's face.
...but I can guess!
- Matt Hunwick got walked around at least twice.
- Billy Sauer faced several slapshots from the Josh Blackburn zone of you let that in?
- The third and fourth lines got caught in their zones for entire shifts.
- The freshmen defensemen brought gift baskets overflowing with turnovers.
That's wild speculation, mind you.
After an understandable split with Miami -- one of the three teams in the CCHA who have separated themselves from the pack at this early date -- Michigan faced perennial Hockey East bottom-dweller Northeastern and freakin' split, losing 3-2 despite outshooting the Huskies 47-20. (Many goals, few shots will be a theme.) That loss will be a PWR anchor all year. The season's low point came the next Friday, when Michigan went to Munn and turned a 3-1 lead after one into a 7-4 loss.
Then they ran off seven straight wins. Go figure, I don't know. They even kept the puck out of the net, keeping opponents to two or fewer goals in five of the seven wins, and against fairly quality competition: two MSU games, two against UNO, one against Wisconsin (though the Badgers are inexplicably terrible this year). Then came Minnesota, the #1 team in the country, and an 8-2 loss featuring four (four! F-O-U-R!) shorthanded goals, a dismal loss to Western that featured horrible play from Sauer, Hunwick, and Chris Summers, and a skin-of-their-teeth win at Lawson featuring Steve Jakiel in net. Jakiel did not exactly show himself to be Michigan's knight in shining armor, giving up 5 goals on 29 shots.
Michigan stands at 12-5-0 right now, headed for another tournament bid and neck-and-neck with Notre Dame and Miami for the league title but not a serious threat to do anything in April unless they stop fishing the puck out of the net every five minutes.
What's Gone Right
- TJ Hensick. Long dogged by accusations of selfishness -- though not from this quarter -- Hensick's senior year is turning into the best display of passing I've ever seen anyone in a Michigan uniform put on. Kevin Porter has Milan Gajic disease something wicked but still has 13 goals and 16 assists because he's getting two glorious chances per period on Hensick's wing. David Rohlfs was such an offensive force he played D for the past two years; this year he's averaging over a PPG and has already smashed past his previous season high for points (13 as a freshman forward) by seven. Why? Because Hensick is a dirty mofo, that's why. Theory: they should put Brandon Naurato on his wing just because he can shoot, and that's all he can do. It worked for Andy Hilbert.
- Jack Johnson. An erratic freshman season where Johnson won the crowd's admiration but not many games has been followed up by pure domination. A force at both ends of the ice, this is the Jack Johnson who went in the top five of the NHL draft. One thing: someone who does not play 30 flawless minutes a night should probably be the one getting fighting majors when Sauer gets run.
- David Rohlfs. Sure, he's the beneficiary of all those Hensick passes, but let's review: 10-10-20 with little powerplay time from a player who was a non-entity on offense before this season. Red always liked Rohlfs, placing him on the powerplay when he was a freshman, but never got much production out of him. Rohlfs does the dirty work for the Hensick line and gets rewarded for it. May be playing himself into Edmonton's fall camp.
- Brian Lebler. For a guy who never scored in junior, Lebler sure has some stickhandling ability. He makes a lot of smart little plays, takes the body, and is working his way up onto the Cogliano line slowly but surely.
What's Gone Wrong
Billy Sauer. We're approximately a year and a half into Sauer's career and there's no evidence he's good at hockey. While Sauer's not exactly playing behind the 1994 Devils here, he's also posting a .892 save percentage. Last year he posted a .898. In the USHL he did a little better at .904, but was still beat out Shane Connolly -- now Brian Elliot's backup at Wisconsin and a major suck vortex his freshman year at .885 in nine games, five of them rare UW losses -- and his .911.
That's the statistical case against him. He saves nothing. The anecdotal case against him is equally simple: last week against Western Michigan I'm pretty sure I saw him toss his blocker at a shot that wasn't even on net and deflect it into the goal.
This is different than Al Montoya, who clearly didn't give half a crap his junior year and had a proven track record of being damn good. There was always a chance he would snap out of it. Sauer has left a trail of "meh" in his wake and it's unlikely to get any better. Unfortunately, Noah Ruden's gone and Jakiel... well, Jakiel was beat out by a recruit we have coming in next year and traded. Also, five goals against.
Still, we've seen a lot from Sauer and all indications are that he's just a bad goalie. Platooning Jakiel may reveal him to be a better option.
Defensemen not named "Jack Johnson" and "Tim Cook" (seriously!). (That Cook-to-forward experiment was a disaster I hope we won't see repeated -- with Dest out for the next month with a shoulder injury and Jack gone for the WJC, I'm sure to get that particular wish until at least January. Cook has turned into a reliable, uninspiring defenseman. At forward he may as well not even have a stick. Anyway.) I don't know what's with Matt Hunwick, but ever since the game-losing goal against Wisconsin where Hunwick's man split him and a shocked Jack Johnson, I panic when I see him one-on-one against an onrushing player. And shockingly, I've been right to do so this year. People just dance past him on a weekly basis. It's amazing. Senior captain: take the damn body.
Summers and Kampfer have been turnover machines and generally tetchy, but as freshmen they have a built in excuse. Summers, at the least, skates gorgeously and clearly has tremendous upside, but too many times this year he's weakly attempted to purse-check his opponents and watched them waltz in for scoring opportunities.
- Lines without Hensick and Cogliano on them. The third line is close to getting off the dreaded MGoBlog naughty-word-for-poop list, but we need more crash and bang and less "help I can't break out of this zone." The only guys on the team who are minus overall other than statistical blip Anthony Ciraulo? Turnbull, Lebler, and Bailey (a frightening -9). The fourth line is a mishmash of JJ Swistak 2006 -- no offense, Fardig, I always liked Swistak -- a guy who can't do anything but shoot, and whichever walkon is so not being Trevor Lewis on this particular night. Effective? Not so much.
A fundamentally flawed team that's riding the brilliant performances of a few amazing players. Hensick, Johnson, and to a certain extent Andrew Cogliano are carrying the team. The offseason defections of Lewis, MacVoy, and Swystun are being felt keenly, as that's the difference between the Michigan teams of years past where gu ys like Gajic and Ryznar were our third-liners and this one. While no one would ever confuse Gajic and his sawdust stick with stardom, he was still a plus player who you could count on for double-digit goals and a whole lot of gorgeous misses. Once you get past the Hensick and Cogliano lines, the offensive skill consists of some flashes from Lebler and the (very) occasional wicked wrister Naurato gets off. Top heavy are the Wolverines.
Defensively, Johnson's dominant and then Mitera and Cook are competent. Hunwick is still an enigma; Dest and the two freshmen are turnover machines. No quarter necessary.
And then there's goal. While Sauer's not the only issue -- he's been five goals worse than a goalie with an NCAA-average (.904) save percentage, and removing those five goals moves Michigan up from 44th of 59 in GA all the way to... 37th! -- he, like junior Montoya before him, has been obviously subpar. Combine that with festival de turnover and hello sir I would like you to have a breakaway, especially shorthanded and you get bad.
Good news: if the defense tightens up and cuts down on the opposition's chances and the third line gives up and just traps the hell out of everyone, the top-end talent on Michigan's roster is enough to outscore just about anyone. Bad news: unlikely to happen, and Sauer's probably not going to get a visit from the Goalie Fairy with five-hole caulk anytime soon.
In a battle all the way with ND and Miami for the CCHA title. Probably finish second. Tournament bid as a 2 or 3 seed; fate depends heavily on opponent. WCHA = WCH-dead. Grinding team a la Cornell? Probably okay. Frozen Four unlikely; national championship verrry unlikely.
Commit #18 is another linebacker: Brandon Herron from Sugarland, Texas, a high school teammate of Michigan legacy and cornerback commit Troy Woolfolk.
One word to describe Herron: project. He's 6'2" and under 200 pounds. He plays defensive end for his high school. So he's the size of a safety, playing defensive end, and projected at linebacker. You can mark the redshirt in pen. If I could make an analogy, he's like Toney Clemons, if Clemons had spent much of his time playing running back.
The upside is treasured and cliched athleticism. I guess this is supposed to be a good quote from his coach:
"Brandon is a carnival fair freak. There is not a drill that a coach put him through that he can't do better than anyone else."
That could be a way of saying "can't really play football right now." Freelance recruiting guru Jim Stefani agrees:
80 Brandon Herron LB 6'2 198 4.55 Sugarland Fort Bend Dulles Texas Herron has tested exceptionally well the past couple of years at combines, but he didn't really start receiving offers until this past spring and is still emerging as a high-level prospect. Perhaps because he's a bit of a 'tweener between LB and safety. He will need to get bigger to play 'backer at the next level, but there's no doubting his speed, quickness (4.25 shuttle), strength (15 reps as a soph) or leaping ability (37-inch vertical). Looked very good at the Texas summer camp. OFFERS: MO,UTAH, UTEP, MICHST, MIN,NW, OKST,KANST, NEB,AZ, TT,LSU
Texas was reportedly on the verge of offering...
The Longhorns apparently were close to offering two prospects after their camp - linebacker Brandon Herron and defensive end Brandon Joiner. Apparently, nothing new has developed if any new in-state offers go out, those are the ones to expect from UT.
... but didn't. That's no shame, as Mack Brown picks and chooses whoever he wants from the fertile recruiting grounds of Texas these days. Herron then was a soft verbal to Nebraska before reversing course, claiming Michigan as his leader. He officially visited last weekend, got an offer today, and committed. Rivals and Scout have him a three-star; ESPN rates him a 77 ($), which is pretty meh.
Side note: On Woolfolk from an article on Dulles:
Defensive back Troy Woolfolk was the first to commit to Michigan and followed up his verbal with superb play. The 6-0 defensive back excelled at safety, picking off six passes.
"Moving Troy to free safety made all the difference," Dulles coach Jim Creech said. "No one could break the long one on us because of his speed and he really helped us on defense with his physical play. I really believe he's a safety."
Chances he's a safety at Michigan are reading zero, but it's more data.
Oh, yeah: wool judging!
This happened over the weekend. I was, uh, busy with something else.
Michigan commitment #17 is an unusual one: JUCO linebacker Austin Panter. Michigan hasn't taken a JUCO since the days of Russell Shaw in 1997. The reason usually cited is that it's hard to get dodgy JUCO grades to transfer, but Panter maintains a 3.8 GPA at Butler County CC and originally decided on junior college not because of academic concerns but in an effort to get more exposure. His Iowa high school was tiny, playing eight-on-eight, and he had little opportunity to earn a scholarship at a major school thre.
There's little out there on Panter, but he does seem like a good prospect. He's Rivals #17 JUCO, a four-star with good measurables ("4.5" forty, as per usual, 6'3", 220). He was the defensive MVP of his league. Arkansas and Minnesota were the first schools on him, which doesn't sound particularly appealing, but JUCO recruiting is a weird world I don't have a handle on. His school doesn't allow recruiting until after the season, so there seemed to be a fairly quick transition: Panter finishes season, gets interest from a couple BCS programs and then Michigan swoops in. An early enrollee, he'll come in at middle linebacker and compete for a starting job with redshirt junior Johnny Thompson.
How does this affect the 2007 class? Not much. Panter comes in with two years of eligibility. He could take a redshirt year if he needs or wants to, but that would defeat the whole purpose of scrambling for a JUCO linebacker. By the time anyone who comes in as a freshman is ready to play, Panter will be gone. Consider this a linebacker back-dated to the 2004 class.
What does this imply about next year's linebackers? There's little upperclass depth and potentially some questions about Johnny Thompson. Beyond next year's projected starters (Graham-Thompson-Crable), Michigan has junior Brandon Logan and three redshirt freshmen... and that's it. Brandon Graham ending up on the line as soon as he showed up radically changed the linebacking outlook, as he was by far the surest thing in last year's class and the most physically ready to play. Panter will help bridge the gap between this year's crew and the Mixon-Patilla-Ezeh-Whoever We Get This Year generation.
Note: if you see last week's poll it's a cache thing, I think. Refresh should cure it.
Hurray, that's the poll hurray. If you're interested, you can see all the individual ballots here.
Yes, that's Michigan #2. Full disclosure: last night I sent out an email reminding voters that, unlike the other polls out there, the BlogPoll has a specific mandate to rank the teams in order of who is "best," whether you arrive at that conclusion by resume or another method, and that rematch concerns should not influence voting. (This would seem fairly straightforward since the BlogPoll isn't, you know, able to set up a rematch. But one of the oddest things about the BCS-aftermath articles were quotes from AP voters like this:
AP poll voter Michael Vega of The Boston Globe said he wasn't against a rematch but found it hard to justify one this time.
"I had to reconcile a fundamental problem with giving Michigan a chance to win the national championship when it didn't even win a conference championship," he said.
Uh... for a newspaper guy you're not up on current events, Mr. Vega.)
We do have two voters who succumbed to minor Harris-ism by breaking up the OSU-Michigan-UF trifecta in the first three spots: 50-Yard Lion ranks Michigan behind both Florida and LSU while Bevo Sports has LSU #2, Michigan #3, and Florida #4.
Another discrepancy of note: Wisconsin keeps creeping up despite having proven little in the other polls, but BlogPollers knocked the Badgers down a slot behind Oklahoma. Also, USC was hurt less by its loss than in other polls.
Risers: It was mostly just sliding up where others fell, but Wake Forest did leap Virginia Tech to become the highest-ranked ACC team. As mentioned, Oklahoma leapt Wisconsin.
Fallers: USC took a four-spot tumble after gacking against UCLA, as did Rutgers. Georgia Tech finally slouched its way out of the poll.
Wack Ballot Watchdog: Suspended this week.
Now on to the extracurriculars. First up are the teams which spur the most and least disagreement between voters as measured by standard deviation. Note that the standard deviation charts halt at #25 when looking for the lowest, otherwise teams that everyone agreed were terrible (say, Eastern Michigan) would all be at the top.
Ballot math: First up are "Mr. Bold" and "Mr. Numb Existence." The former goes to the voter with the ballot most divergent from the poll at large. The number you see is the average difference between a person's opinion of a team and the poll's opinion.
Mr. Bold is Eagle in Atlanta, and it's easy to see why: USC plummets from #2 to ... wait for it ... #17 after their UCLA loss. Rutgers also drops nine after a triple overtime loss at West Virginia, who re-enters the poll at #21, three spots behind Rutgers. Having all those teams so low makes a lot of other teams berry, berry high and results in "Mr. Bold."
USC... #17? Can we get an explanation on that?
Mr. Numb Existence is Double Extra Point again. For the fourth time. Uncanny or a cynical attempt to get attention? You make the call!
Next we have the Coulter/Krugman Award and the Straight Bangin' Award, which are again different sides of the same coin. The CKA and SBA go to the blogs with the highest and lowest bias rating, respectively. Bias rating is calculated by subtracting the blogger's vote for his own team from the poll-wide average. A high number indicates you are shameless homer. A low number indicates that you suffer from an abusive relationship with your football team.
The CK Award is also Eagle In Atlanta's. Going for a clean sweep of the nasty ones, he is. Boston College #19 doesn't seem too offensive, though.
Straight Bangin' Award is Burnt Orange Nation for the second straight week for ranking the Longhorns a spot worse than the poll at large. This is probably not a sign of mental illness. Moving on.
Swing is the total change in each ballot from last week to this week (obviously voters who didn't submit a ballot last week are not included). A high number means you are easily distracted by shiny things. A low number means that you're damn sure you're right no matter what reality says.
Mr. Manic-Depressive is Badger Sports. Why? They forgot about Oklahoma last week.
Mr. Stubborn is Frank McGrath, who bumped last week's losers do wn only a tiny bit.