Notes from today's press conference:
- Though there have been more explosive plays from the offense in camp this year, Rodriguez said it's not necessarily because the defense has been subpar. The offensive players in camp this year have better skill sets as a group than last year's, and the execution has improved with another year in the system. It's hard to tell if big offense plays mean offense == good or defense == bad, but when they go back and look at film, they can decide whether the defensive player was playing his assignment and was beaten by a good offensive play, or if there was a blown assignment.
- In case you were doubting that Rodriguez is pretty hands-off with the defense (last year's Purdue game notwithstanding), he said he's not quite sure exactly what the defense is doing. They're teaching well, and on track to where they should be. He won't concern himself too much with the defensive side of the ball until it's time to start drawing up gameplans.
- The first group on the defense is pretty good, but they are just a couple injuries away from having a scary lack of depth.
And from the practice session:
- Last year Brian said something along the lines of "this team can only execute one new thing per game, and when the offense is fully installed, it could be pretty dangerous." This was obvious itself (what with West Virginia being 5th and 15th in total offense nationally in his last two years there, and dropping to 59th with the same talent in the first year he was gone), but there was so much evidence of this going on today. There were tons of looks that weren't even hinted at last year: Tight end lined up as an H-Back, jet motion from slots, misdirection and slots being involved in the option game as pitchmen, even a little bit of pistol. Once the offense has the full playbook at its disposal, you'll see one of the more creative offenses out there (thankfully, as this was something I didn't think was necessarily coming).
- Martavious Odoms was out (red jersey) with headaches, Mathews wore a green jersey for the first half of practice, it looked like Moundros(?) was also in a green jersey, and Barnum is still out with the same ankle injury.
- Same old story with how players look: Denard is getting good velocity on the ball, though he has a bit of accuracy work to do, Kelvin Grady looks pretty good catching the ball and moving with it after the catch, Terrence Robinson dropped a couple of passes.
And your photo gallery:
It's a funny hat. The second funniest thing about Celebrity Jeopardy is that it's so, so true. (The first is Norm Macdonald.) Celebrity anything is so, so true. I was just watching the bit of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire where they bring out a celebrity* and Winona Judd was asked "if you have three shirts and four pairs of pants, how many outfits can you make." The answers were "goat," "Saturn," "i," and IT'S TWELVE YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME but she sat there, flummoxed, until Regis punched her in the face and deposited eggs in her stomach in the manner of all Notre Dame graduates looking to reproduce.
I thought that was a spectacular dumb celebrity event, but then Patricia Heaton showed up and showed us all what spectacular truly was:
WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN WIN. She got racuous applause for multiplying because everyone felt terrible about her education. At Ohio State. And she still doubled the GNP of Sierra Leone.
*(This was not my executive decision, for the record. I only watch Golden Girls marathons.)
The following article is a little old but I ripped it out of an Unverified Voracity a little ways back because Steve Sharik posted an excellent diary on what we can expect from the defense this fall and it felt like it would be a standalone post. (BTW: Sharik has posted another diary about the triple option, which Markus from Carcajous(!) has followed up on.)
So the quick/spinner lingo that we've been using ever since Greg Robinson was hired, confusion over which led to commenters on this here blog to coin the term "deathbacker" has been clarified. One term does not exist, and the other one has been superseded:
There’s not much hybrid about the linebacker-safety position Stevie Brown will play this year. Robinson said he doesn’t call the position “spinner” or anything else. “He’s our SAM,” or strong-side linebacker, Robinson said.
There is, however, new terminology for the defensive line. Robinson calls those positions the quick, power, nose and tackle. The “quick” is the hybrid linebacker-end you’ve heard about (Brandon Herron); the “power” is an old-school defensive end (Brandon Graham); the “nose” is your typical nosetackle (Mike Martin); and the “tackle” can sometimes flex out and play end in four-man fronts (Ryan Van Bergen).
Wait, so Stevie Brown is a strongside linebacker? Um. I had assumed he was the weakside linebacker, who is a protected player in a 4-3 under and gets "his meat cooked." (That's how Jeff Casteel described the weakside LB/S in the 3-3-5 DVD I purchased when I thought Casteel was going to be the DC around these parts. The strongside linebacker "got his meat raw," which meant he usually had to deal with a blocker. Those terms have been rattling around in my head for two years now, and now they'll be rattling around in yours. Mwa ha ha.)
A protected player doesn't usually have to take on blockers and can just run to the ball and (hopefully) make a tackle. This fits in well with a converted safety at linebacker, but I'm (and we are, right?) pretty leery about Brown even if he's not taking on blockers every play. This won't make much difference against spread teams—it'll be worlds better than pretending Johnny Thompson can cover anyone—but if Wisconsin and Michigan State don't suck I can see him getting run over consistently. That's assuming they don't make a change for power-running teams, which was an excellent assumption under Shafer (Johnny Thompson third and long what?) but hopefully won't be one under Robinson.
Sharik talks about what he expects the defense to be in the diaries, and it's not a 4-3 under. It's kind of a 4-3 under, actually, but it's flipped:
I assume that Graham will most often be the weakside 5 technique. Not only that, he'll probably be a "wide" 5, meaning he'll line up a yard outside the tackle, angled in at the tackle's nose. This means two things: one, he won't be inside (generally) and therefore two, it will be virtually impossible to double him in run situations. (He'll probably be doubled in pass situations, but that's likely to happen regardless of his alignment. This tends to happen when you are a freak of nature and can make QB's look like Beetle Bailey after an angry Sarge has gotten hold of him.)
Mike Martin will play a weakside shade or 1 technique (usually), meaning those two beasts will be on the same side of the DL most of the time. I would think opponents would run away from those two, which is where Michigan will have a numbers advantage. So, the offense will have to chose between:
A: running at two future NFL 1st round draft picks at DL, backed up by a potential 1st team all B10 middle LB (Obi Ezeh) and a former 5-star recruit at weakside OLB (Mouton)
B: running where the defense has superior numbers
Michigan showed this formation for most of the spring game… sort of. Van Bergen went out early and Graham played sparingly.
Ezeh as a potential first team all-conference player is a considerable stretch, but the rest of it sounds good. In a 4-3 under the deathbacker sits even farther outside the tackle and is used as a freelance sower of chaos a la Shawn Crable; this is something I assume you'll see on passing plays. Having all the hybrids around allows Michigan to flip which side of the line those guys show up on without revealing a personnel change:
The "quick" can play strong side or weak; so can the "spinner." The "quick" can play w/hand down or not. The "spinner" can play on the LOS, at LB depth, or even in the secondary. The "quick" can play on the LOS or at LB depth.
This jives with comments from Van Bergen that he's usually going to be a three-technique defensive tackle but will move out to a five-technique defensive end from time to time when Michigan either goes with a two-gap look (infrequently, IME) or flips the deathbacker to the other side of the formation.
It certainly sounds good. Sharik details the various packages his high school team ran last year, which are customized to the opponent's strength and provided considerable flexibility. I'll be terribly pleased to see a defensive back-type object heading out into the slot against spread sets instead of Johnny Thompson. And opposing teams are going to have to prepare for a multitude of looks. In theory, it's a defensive equivalent of Michigan's offense and when it's had talent in the past it's been excellent.
Whether or not the Michigan defense has "talent" in the overarching sense is yet to be determined.
BONUS HYPE: I've been talking up incoming freshman Craig Roh for a while now, saying that despite his wiry frame Michigan will be virtually forced to use him because of a lack of deathbacker depth. And lo, it is so. Rodriguez on the crab man:
"It’s only been one week, but he’s got some natural ability, pass-rush wise, and we’re teaching him some different things in the scheme of our defense. But I think he could help us at least in a pass-rush mode and then as he continues to learn the defense he’ll do more and more of it."
Van Bergen, meanwhile, says he's "raw" but is a "really skilled" pass rusher. It might take him a couple games but I'd be surprised if he's not a part of the nickel package, and soon. If he's not that means Brandon Herron is way better than he has any right to be.
There were two ways that the Michigan offense’s inexperience showed with disadvantages in the snap count. No, I’m serious. They were something of opposites: 1) Early in the year, we saw the Infamous Frozen Line play, in which Michigan tried (sometimes successfully, though the referees didn't necessarily see it that way) to draw offsides calls by snapping the ball whenever an opponent crossed into the neutral zone. 2) Opposing defenses were really, really good at jumping Michigan’s snap counts last year.
Exhibit A, from the Utah UFR:
I don't get it. So Sheridan does the normal hand-slap thing to indicate he wants the ball but this time there's a pause before Molk snaps it. In the interim, Utah jumps offside because they've been timing the snap. Okay, super. Then Sheridan rolls out as the offensive line remains motionless and heaves one downfield to a blanketed Mathews, who leaps and makes the catch. Why not just run a play there? More later. (DO, 1, protection N/A)
The first time this play was run, Michigan got a hopeful jump-ball completion to Mathews. Michigan gets Utah again here, except the refs don't call the obvious offsides. Thanks, guys. Threet hurls the usual sideline route to Stonum. It's accurate but well-covered and broken up. (CA+, 1, protection N/A)
The second time was a drive-killing 3rd down incompletion (which, if the offsides had been called adequately, would have been a free first down).
So, Michigan got somewhat hosed by the referees on one of those, and got lucky on the first one. However, later in the year, we saw a similar occurrence against Minnesota. Defense jumps offsides, ball is snapped, pass is basically a hopeful jump ball downfield. The difference is that, like, the offensive line blocked, and it looked something like an actual play. This adjustment to the “free play” play showed, at the very least, growth by the coaching staff over the course of the year. More likely, it showed that Michigan will run an effective play when a flag is down for offsides.
On to exhibit B, from the Michigan State UFR:
MSU jumping snaps
Okay, Michigan State's crappy cornerbacks are going to press our crappy receivers all day and not get hurt by it, which will be a major factor in the bubble screen's ineffectiveness. Anyway, on this play State is slanting right to the direction of the play, robbing Schilling of any angle to block a DT lined up inside of him. Also, MSU appears to be timing the snap, as will become relevant later. The DT beats Schilling to the spot and Minor is tackled at the LOS.
Hated formation with a WR covered up. On this play the entire State DL pushes the entire Michigan OL into the backfield; it again looks like they're timing Molk's snaps. As a result, Minor has to cut back behind everyone and does well to get back to the LOS.
Again State jumps right at the snap; this one looks onside. Moosman has something of a tough time with the early-mover, who ends up lunging at Threet just as he throws, knocking this open post route off. (BA, 0, protection 1/2, Moosman -1)
Argh. This goes for a first down but Molk(-600000) holds on a bubble screen, partially because State is again jumping the snap count. (CA, 3, screen)
In the wrapup sections the matter came up again:
This actually came up in a mailbag earlier this year, at which point I said this…
“I’m pretty sure Michigan isn’t using no snap count whatsoever, it’s just that the count is silent. DEs don’t have license to time the snap with impunity. There will be variable pauses between the clap and the snap.”
…and promptly forgot about it.
As we now know, there weren't really variable pauses between the hand clap and the snap, which allowed Michigan State to jump the snap count time and again to mostly good effect. They picked up a few offsides calls, but they also got incompletions, stuffed runs, and sacks because their guys were moving before Michigan's OL could even get out of their stances. They were offsides on another two or three plays, but didn't get called for it.
But! It's clear Michigan State was very well prepared to play this edition of Michigan; they scouted out all the wheels and such and timed the snap counts and exploited Michigan's tendencies on offense wickedly. (On defense, OTOH, Michigan broke tendencies and largely played well save for four enormous errors turned in by Stevie Brown and Boubacar Cissoko.)
Aside from varying the snap count a little and picking up those offsides calls, Michigan could do little about it.
There was a little something Michigan could do about it, which David Molk took care of a couple times:
State has obviously been jumping the snap; this time Molk lifts his head and waits, drawing a DT offsides.
Michigan’s snap counts were all the same last year, much to the delight of opponents. This year, with a more experienced offensive line, might we see a little more variety in the snap counts, despite the likely starter at QB being a freshman? I would presume yes. Michigan’s coaches are a smart bunch, and they did what they could last year with limited talent, experience, and prep time. All of those things are an entire year better in 2009, so some variety will be mixed in. I’ll go back to Brian for the grand finale, this time from the Penn State UFR:
My theory: Michigan is implementing portions of a whole gameplan trying to find something that works. They then practice the hell out of their plan and break it out, finding early success.
However, I, and I think a lot of other Michigan fans, thought "I really hope they have a curveball coming up" in the second quarter; they did not. Once you get past the game plan, Michigan has no backup. So we've seen teams adjust to the offense and have success stopping it.
When does the backup plan come in? Well, 1) when Threet's elbow gremlins step off, and 2) when these guys get past the training wheels stage and have a base they can fall back on.
Now that Michigan’s offense will have the training wheels off (and hopefully Forcier can be a non-gremlin version of Threet), there will be more variety in multiple aspects of the game.
no, no, maybe
1. Does the CCHA rejecting Alabama's bid start to pave the way for Penn State to go varsity?
Probably not. All the reasons Penn State varsity hockey was unlikely the last time this blog addressed the topic still apply minus one: no conference to go to. Now Penn State could slot into UNO's spot in the CCHA and play a bunch a games against Big Ten teams and Notre Dame, which would put their program on decent footing financially. The CCHA, meanwhile, would be much more likely to accept a name school like Penn State.
That's a big hurdle gone and improves the chances of Penn State varsity hockey from 0% to something nonzero. But the rest of the pile of reasons it's not likely to happen—expense, Title IX, likely doormat status at the start—still apply. We can also toss "endowment-crushing economic collapse" on the heap now.
There is one wild scenario in which I could see some movement: the Big Ten Network wants content on Friday and Saturday nights and thinks that the CCHA with Penn State would be enough of a financial draw that they chip in.
[Side note/question: the CCHA's persistent attachment to Fox Sports Net is weird, since FSN craps all over college hockey whenever they've got a Wings game from 1985 to replay. I can only assume there's a contract that doesn't expire quite yet, because the BTN would be a natural fit for the league. Every team not in Alaska is in the footprint, and nothing else ever happens on Friday night.
Also, the glorious high definition of last year's BTN-broadcast Ohio State game left me crippled the next time I tried to squint at a Fox Sports' two-pixels-a-second stuff. Complicating factor: Fox is 49% owner of the BTN.]
2. Back in 2004, what (if any) were the reports out of practice in terms of the quarterback situation? I don't think it even occurred to me before he took the field that Henne might be the starter for the first game. All of the praise heaped on Tate so far made me want to check for a comparison.
Unfortunately, this blog started up just before the Rose Bowl that season and I can't go back and tell you definitively. What I remember (and this may be wrong; commenters are encouraged to provide their own take in the comments) is that Henne was recognized as an incredibly advanced high school quarterback and there was considerable uncertainty as to whether Gutierrez or Henne would get the job.
However, Henne was a surprise starter. I remember the muttering in the pregame warmups as it became clear that Gutierrez wasn't throwing and Henne was running the first-team offense. It was clear Gutierrez was injured and IIRC the base assumption was that Henne only had the job until such time as the real starter got healthy. This was not a correct assumption.
Just wondering, how many scholarships we have next year? I thought I heard we had 20, but then we had a whole slew of kids leave the program. Don’t we get those scholarships back? Shouldn’t we be thrilled when these kids leave the program when they can’t play for us anyway?
I just looked on Rivals and it says we have 18 kids committed. If we still stand at 20, that means we’ve pretty much hitched our wagon to these 3 star kids (who are probably better than that, based on their fit in our schemes) instead of waiting until some of the bigger name kids commit in Feb.
Do we have more than 20 scholarships?
Thanks for the help!
Yes, Aarronn—last name Herrmann FTW?—Michigan gets those scholarships back. Did you miss the constant bitching about this fact re: Alabama? This blog's current count stands at 20 but that's under the following assumptions:
Moundros and Kelvin Grady on scholarship until they graduate.
Morales and Sheridan are not.
All fifth-year players return.
No one leaves for the draft.
There's no other attrition.
Some of those are highly likely to be faulty: Bryan Wright and the Coner are not going to get fifth years unless they have incriminating photos of the coaching staff. And there's six months between now and signing day; it's likely a couple players leave the team for reasons of playing time, academics, or injury. (I had a dream last night that three more players left the team, FWIW, but I think they were all Marell Evans again.)
That will push Michigan's class to 23, 25, or even more. Add in a decommit or two and Michigan's still got a ways to go before its class is complete.
You're not wrong about hitching the wagon to three stars, though. This class is going to lag behind the average Michigan class, as discussed earlier. As long as Michigan fills their open scholarship and retains this class, though, it'll be a minor hindrance unless it happens again next year.
Brian,One thing I have noticed is that you freak out at the possibility of Nick Sheridan starting the season opener or any other game during the rest of his time at Michigan. My question is, Would it be all that bad if he did win the starting job come September 5th? Now before you wonder where I have been for the last 18 months, hear me out. If Sheridan has improved immensely during the spring, summer, and first few days of preseason and he outright beats both Forcier and Robinson, shouldn't that be encouraging? Now we do have 2 or 3 legitimate QB options. Wouldn't it be a good thing if Magee and Rodriguez could open up a majority of the playbook to a junior who actually has game experience and has started a D1 game?I was at the spring game and was able to see Forcier and I have been keeping up on what his teammates have been saying about him and I am very excited and I am trusting this year will be much better than last. However, they are saying good things about Sheridan as well. I think it would be great if Forcier was slowly worked into more and more snaps during games and by Eastern or Indiana, he's the starter.I guess I just won't be surprised if Sheridan or Forcier starts vs. Western.Your further thoughts and reasoning behind not wanting Sheridan to ever play again except in mop-up duty.Thanks,Adam
I don't mean to slam Sheridan, who's just a guy put in an impossible position trying to make the best of everything. And I don't mean to slam Adam, who seems like a perfectly nice, if insanely optimistic, guy.
That said: were you under a rock last year? Do you remember what happened? I hate Godwin's law right now. I mean, what is your instant reaction to this AnnArbor.com video headline:
Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan discusses - rather, avoids discussing - what he brings to the table
I know what it is. I know it in my bones. I know it in the bones of my bones. If you try to tell me it's not the cheap, obvious joke I will call you a liar.
I know you specifically disclaimed this sort of response, but… you're not allowed to do that. It is the correct, inevitable response. If Rodriguez chooses to play Sheridan at any point when Forcier is still mobile, that's either a huge failing in judgment or recruiting.
A brief recap of last year: 46% completion rate, 4.5 YPC, 2 TDs, 5 INTs. That's far, far worse than any true freshman starter in recent college football history save Jimmy Clausen, and Sheridan was a redshirt sophomore. He's a walk-on with zero recruiting profile with no indication he's got any upside. Why would he improve "immensely"? Why wouldn't Tate Forcier improve at a similar rate? Why isn't Forcier obviously ahead where Sheridan was last year given their vastly divergent spring games*? What part of the playbook can Sheridan, who's slower and has a weaker arm than Forcier, run that someone else can't?
Even immense improvement would only get Sheridan to the level of your average freshman quarterback. And even if that happens and it's close between Forcier, who should be better than your average freshman just because he's been bred to be a QB, and Sheridan—doubtful—you'd have to be nuts to go with a redshirt junior over a true freshman. You'd have to be triple nuts to go with a redshirt junior who completed 16 of 49 for under 150 yards in the last two games of the year and was clearly, totally inadequate in the process. You'd have to be sextuple nuts to go with him a year after you picked him over a superior quarterback based on practice performance that turned out to be a mirage.
Sheridan was asked if he felt he was being written off, and responded like so:
“No,” Sheridan said. “Not at all. Nope.”
Well… I'm writing him off. I am Time Warner. Sheridan is AOL. If he proves me wrong, well, fine. I suggest you join me in the most obscure country ending in –stan we can find.
But he definitely won't. Absolutely. I'm positive about this. Stop suggesting otherwise. Football coaches have to take team morale into account when they craft their public statements and have to keep their hotshot freshmen on their toes to keep them focused. That doesn't mean we have to believe them.
*(By this I mean Forcier's 10/13 + 50 yards rushing + 5 TDs in 2009 versus Nick Sheridan's interception-fest in 2008.)
[Editor's note: I'm handing the blogpoll ballot to Tim this year; it was always a little weird to act as both a voter and the poll's editor or whatever.]
Voting criteria: As per Brian's mission with the Blogpoll, my goal will be to rank the "best season" at a given point. Very early in the season, pre-season ranking may be a contributing factor to "best season" (unless you get pasted in your first game, a la Clemson). After 3 or 4 games though, it should transition into a resume ranking of which teams you've beaten, and how convincingly.
1. Florida. They're probably a near-unanimous choice at the top, and with good reason. The Gators return all 11 starters (and their 10 backups) on a defense that finished #9 in yardage and #4 in points ceded. By the way, they also return The Tebow Child. The holes on this team are basically nitpicks when you look at how solid the rest of the lineup is.
2. Texas. The Longhorns are in a similar situation as Florida: they return most (though not all) of a pretty good defense, a robo-QB in Colt McCoy, and a solid core on offense. Texas will have to prove that the pass rush is still strong without Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton, but returning 4 starters on the offensive line, including 3 who were all-conference to some degree, gives a sense of certainty on that side of the ball while the defense has some time to come around.
3. USC. I'm hesitant to put the Trojans here because they lost so much talent in the NFL Draft. However, it's hard to find another team that deserves to replace USC here. With an outstanding defensive player in Taylor Mays and an already-impressive offensive line that returns almost entirely intact, it's hard to bet against the team that recruits at least as well as any other.
4. Oklahoma. I was initially hesitant to put Oklahoma in the top 5, because their offensive line, though it performed as well as nearly any in the country, loses four multi-year starters. Considering it struggled against the more talented defenses the Sooners faced (18 sack yards, only 107 rush yards against Florida, 3 sacks allowed and only 48 rush yards against Texas, 4 sacks allowed and 25 yards rushing against TCU), and that could bode ill for a rebuilding line. Still, the defense, while only mediocre last year in the high-flying Big 12, returns nearly everyone, and could be better this year than last.
5. Alabama. The defense, which owned fools left and right through most of last year, as Florida, Utah, and Georgia were the only teams to hit the 30-point mark - and the Bulldogs only did it in garbage time in a game that was a blowout at halftime. The offense loses quite a bit, otherwise the Tide would probably be among the nation's top teams. Still, I like Julio Jones no matter who's throwing it to him.
6. Virginia Tech. Tyrod Taylor has to live up to the hype sooner or later, right? If he does it this year, VT could be a very dangerous team. They boast a bruising attack on offense (though diminished with the loss of Darren Evans), and their always-rockin' defense returns 7 starters. The offense being able to come together without the rising star RB will be key for the Hokies.
7. Cal. I came into the offseason thinking that Minnesota's tilt with Cal would be a winnable non-conference game for the Big Ten. While any game is theoretically winnable, I have changed my mind on the Golden Bears. They return 8 starters on defense, including the entire secondary. The linebackers may be a liability, but there is enough talent there to make up for a deficiency. On offense, Jahvid Best is enough to like Cal, but hopefully a restructured offensive line will be able to get him into space.
8. Georgia. Though the Bulldogs lose their starting QB and RB, the entire offensive line is back, along with most of the defense. They were overrated to start last year, but maybe slightly lower expectations will help this team, especially with a slightly stronger core.
9. Ohio State. It is super-annoying to continually rank Michigan's biggest rival this high, but them's the ropes sometimes. While Ohio State has a lot of weak-ish areas, I don't see any serious liabilities. Terrelle Pryor might mature (or he might get in a fight and be kicked off the team, if there's a just and loving god), the offensive line will be boosted by some guy at left guard, and the defense in Columbus, as much as it pains me to say, reloads year after year. Since the Buckeyes weren't elite last year despite having more talent, I could see them moving down from this spot.
10. Ole Miss. I do not like the Rebels this high, do not like it one bit. However, what other reasonable options are there? Houston Nutt's team is riding a wave of momentum of last year's upset of Florida and a huge win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. I think they're likely to fall flat a couple times during the season, as this team wasn't as good last year as the hype indicates (Wake Forest? Vanderbilt? South Carolina?).
11. Penn State. Daryll Clark and Evan Royster will really have to carry this team on offense, as the majority of the offensive line and most of the receivers have left Happy Valley. If Clark can consistently lay like he did early in '08, that might not be a huge problem. Defensively, the front 7 should be pretty good, though there isn't a ton of depth along the defensive line. The secondary is scary though, as all 4 starters depart, and AJ Wallace's situation is in question.
12. Georgia Tech. This may be my first wildly divergent team, but look what Tech returns: Only every starter on offense (save one), and 8 defensive starters. Losing 3 outstanding defensive linemen might hurt them, but nearly everyone else is back. Also, I just really want to see this team do well, because the offense is so damn much fun. If they can smooth out the offensive production in year 2 under Paul Johnson, it could be a fun season in Atlanta.
13. Miami (Yes That Miami). Randy Shannon has been stockpiling talent in Coral Gables over the past couple years, and it's only a matter of time before they break through and start reliving the glory days (either that, or Shannon is gone). Jacory Harris was a more efficient passer last year than starter Robert Marve, and if you believe in talent over scheme, the defense has to be awesome sooner or later.
14. Oklahoma State. I really, really like Dez Bryant, and Zac Robinson can certainly get him the ball. Though both guards are new, the offense has plenty of experience at the other positions. Defensively, there are more questions. The unit wasn't too good last year, and losing 5 starters isn't going to help. If they can slow down some of the better Big 12 offenses (no easy task), the Cowboys could have a quality 2009 season.
15. Iowa. I didn't like Iowa heading into the offseason, but taking a closer look at how the team actually performed, especially over the second half of last year, convinced me otherwise. Shonn Greene is a special back, but the offensive line that helped him to 1850 yards last year returns 3 starters, along with a couple of upperclassmen to fill the void. Speedster Jewel Hampton is no Greene, but he'll have to get at least a bit of success behind that line. Defensively, the Hawkeyes should be golden if they can handle the losses of their two defensive tackles.
16. Illinois. This may be a bit high for the Illini, especially coming off a bowl-free year. However, Juice Williams, Rejus Benn, and Co. showed some serious flashes of brilliance last season. If they can harness all that power for good, this can be an awesome offense. The defense has some serious question marks, but the Illini might be in "outscore everybody" mode.
17. TCU. The Horned Frogs have been among the better defensive teams over the past few years, so I don't doubt their ability to rebuild a bit on that side of the ball. Returning sackmaster Jerry Hughes should help smooth the transition for 7 new starters on that side of the ball. Offensively, the line is the question mark, but it's got some older players, even if they don't have starting experience.
18. LSU. The offense will be less tumultuous with Jarrett Lee on the bench instead of throwing touchdowns to the other team. Jordan Jefferson wasn't exactly a world-beater himself, but at least he wasn't giving away points left and right. Defensively, plenty of starters return, but they'll have to improve as well: they gave up more than 50 points twice, and over 30 thrice more.
19. UCLA. They weren't particularly good last year, but I'm totally feelin' the Rick Neuheisel vibes, man. That and the QB situation should be improved by removing Kevin Craft from the starting spot. The offensive line is experienced, which should cut down on QB pressure and the resultant turnovers. Defensively, 7 starters return.
20. Nebraska. It's time, especially with the division entering something of a down period, for the Huskers to return to their rightful place at the top of the Big 12 North (where they've been only once since 1999). The defense should see some real improvement in year 2 under Bo Pelini, especially with so many offensive skill players leaving the Big 12 North.
21. Boise State. I don't like basing pre-season power rankings on a projected finish, as that's not what power rankings are supposed to be, but Boise state has been so consistently excellent over the past decade (averaging fewer than 2 losses per year) that it's hard to doubt them. They'll have a chance to prove themselves early in the season, as they kick off 2009 with a Thursday game against Oregon.
22. Notre Dame. South Bend, Indiana: Where 5-stars go to die. Notre Dame has loaded up every February, and has been between awful and mediocre the past two seasons. The Hawaii Bowl victory has everyone high on them, but Notre Dame also lost to Syracuse, and was mostly outplayed by a terrible Michigan team, only winning thanks to 6 Wolverine turnovers. The light schedule will have pundits falling in love with them, but this Irish team is nothing special.
23. Pittsburgh. The defense returns 7 starters, and it was actually pretty good to start with last year. The offense takes a big hit with the loss of LeSean McCoy, but senior Bill Stull should be a steady quarterback. The offensive line has some experience, and the Panthers look like the early favorite in the Big East. Also, including Pitt gives me an excuse to post a picture mocking Notre Dame.
24. Clemson. The Tigers are routinely one of the most talented teams in the ACC, but that hasn't meant results. As a matter of fact, Clemson has never even won the Atlantic Division, despite being favored at some point in each of the past three seasons. CJ Spiller is among the best offensive playmakers in the ACC, and a pretty good offensive line will clear the way for him. The defense returns 8 starters. The team chemistry seemed to improve after Dabo Swinney took over last year.
25. Oregon. This may be my version of the "OMG OLE MISS BOWL VICTORY WOOOO!!!!!1," but Oregon looked kind of awesome against Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl, and Jeremiah Masoli really came of age. The offensive line will be mostly new, but that hasn't prevented Oregon from putting up huge rushing numbers in the past. The defense could be a huge question mark, but what team at this point in a ranking doesn't have obvious deficiencies?
The whole thing:
Where have I gone horribly wrong? Let me know in the comments.
Note: In an effort to remove the enormous and uninviting block of text from the top of the recruiting posts, I've excised the recruiting board update from the post itself. It can still be seen on the actual board.
Elsewhere in Committed Prospects...
OH CB Commit Courtney Avery is already known as a multi-talented player: On top of being a defensive back, he's also a startlingly accurate quarterback for his Lexington team. Add a new segment to the resume, as he's also a very accomplished hoopster.
Avery, who originally planned to play football and basketball for Stanford, will focus solely on football at Michigan. Did another national championship leave him second-guessing the decision?
"I'm going to miss basketball, but I'm comfortable with the decision I've made," he said. "This was just a chance to go out and play one final time.
"We started a dynasty together and we wanted to finish it together."
The AAU national championship was his team's third in a row.
Devin Gardner is now a 5-star, and the #4 overall QB on Scout (moves that I predicted would happen, though perhaps not this early). He also passes William Gholston as the #1 in-state prospect.
Cornelius Jones leads Spartanburg to a 13-0 scrimmage victory.
Slightly Longer Shots
AZ S Marquis Flowers "knows two visits he plans to take" ($). Considering the article is written by a staffer from The Wolverine, we can assume that one of those two visits is to Ann Arbor.
Michigan is likely done recruiting running backs unless they can land an elite prospect (i.e. Eduardo Clements), but should they need a backup plan, FL RB Cassius McDowell is probably a good bet. A good friend and former teammate of Denard Robinson, he's the new leader of Deerfield Beach. Also interesting is the fact that the Bucks ran a Wing-T offense last year, but will transition to a spread in 2009. Great timing, guys.
OH S Latwan Anderson has West Virginia, Michigan State, and Georgia atop his list right now, with the Mountaineers leading the way. Michigan seems to have slipped out of his recruitment, though he plans to take his visits before deciding.
CA RB Anthony Barr, who had up to this point had only been on the periphery of Michigan recruiting attention, has included the Wolverines in his final five, along with USC, UCLA, Notre Dame, and Cal. He's a big dude at 6-4 and 223 lbs, so perhaps the Wolverines like his upside at linebacker? He won't decide until his football season is completed.
MD LB Josh Furman will definitely take a visit to Ann Arbor, along with planned visits to Maryland and Virginia Tech. He will announce his decision at the Maryland Crab Bowl, which The Google Machine says takes place on December 19th.
One of the last remaining players interested in Michigan from the DeMatha contingent is S Lorenzo Waters. He includes Michigan in his top four, along with Maryland (the favorite), Miami (That Miami), and Wake Forest.
Other People's Money (and Four-Stars)
OH TE Alex Smith has been "committed" to Cincinnati since February, but the solidity of that commitment has not been constant over time. At this time, he is in an off-again phase with the Bearcats, and the Wolverines have an opening:
As positive as that experience was, it did not propel the Wolverines over a familiar hurdle of theirs when it comes to recruiting tight ends -- scheme.
Despite the assurances offered, Smith remained skeptical about how prevalent a role the tight end will play in Michigan's new offense...
Michigan's best chance at dispelling what it contends is a common misconception about how it uses tight ends will come on the field this fall. Getting Smith back on campus so he can witness the increased productivity of the current tight end tandem of Kevin Koger and Martell Webb will be a major priority. Smith plans to oblige the request, but he plans to do the same for a few other programs as well.
"In no order I'm liking UNC (prior visit), Michigan (prior visit), Wisconsin (prior visit), Miami, LSU and Kentucky (prior visit)," he reported. "Two or three (will receive visits), for sure. I don't know how many I need to take because after going places, I know what they have to offer and there's no real need to go back. I still want to (make a commitment) pretty early (in the season).
So, it looks like Cincinnati is basically out. As long as Michigan uses the tight end effectively this fall, the Wolverines are probably at the top of Smith's list. Smith is also quoted as saying that Michigan is his mom's #1 choice. HOWEVA, Michigan isn't in Smith's top list in this Kurelic article…
When asked to name his top choices Smith said, "Cincinnati, then Wisconsin, then North Carolina, and Kentucky is in there too."
…though he does list Michigan first when asked what schools he'd like to visit in the near future.
In the Trenches
After the commitment of OH DT Terry Talbott, the need at this position is likely for one more high-level DT.
FL DT Louis Nix, a longtime commit to the hometown Miami Hurricanes, has opened his recruitment. He will officially visit Notre Dame, and will also consider Michigan along with Florida and Florida State.
There is some confusion over the official visits of PA DT Sharrif Floyd. Michigan fans are up in arms that Bill Kurelic wrote an article with Ann Arbor not among his destinations. I wouldn't worry too much quite yet, though, as he sounds less than definite in those plans (emphasis mine):
"I'm going to take all five official visits," Floyd said on Tuesday evening. "I'll probably visit Penn State, Ohio State, South Carolina and Florida, something like that."
So, less than certain. He's also said in the past that he definitely will not take an official to Penn State, so this can all get quite confusing. For now, I'd say Michigan fans should be in wait-and-see mode with Floyd. Additional fluff on Floyd, noting that he'll play offensive guard this year, along with maybe a bit of linebacker(!).
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, though a top-5 list a couple weeks ago did not include Michigan, FL OL Torrian Wilson has narrowed his list to three, with Miami, Stanford and Michigan remaining. The Wolverines had been his favorite earlier, but Miami has come on strong, and will probably be the team to beat. And let's check out some video from SoFlaFootball, for good measure:
Season preview fluff on OH OL Commit Christian Pace:
Christian Pace, a 6-4, 270-pound two-way tackle, was first team All-SWC last year and will attending the University of Michigan on a football scholarship in 2010.
He also plays defensive tackle. For the record, that's by far the tallest I've seen him listed (most reports say 6-2ish, though he's listed at 6-3 on the recruiting sites). Avon Lake also scrimmaged against Midview over the weekend (Friday to be precise), and posted a photo gallery on their website. The only good Pace photo from the gallery can be seen at right.
Wrapping up the OL talk is the official visit docket of one Seantrel Henderson. The top OL in the country will take official visits to Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC. Florida, and Notre Dame. Michigan is absent, as you can see. Not that I think the Wolverines will be added, but I take this list with a grain of salt since it comes from the mouth of his father, not Seantrel himself. It also includes Notre Dame, while Henderson the younger has been adamant for some time that he's not interested in the Irish. Either way, MIchigan is likely no longer a player.
Michigan still leads (still!) for PA teammates Brandon Ifill and Cullen Christian, though Ifill says Maryland is even with the Wolverines. Byrnes wideout Nick Jones wants to make an Ann Arbor visit. Michigan seems to be out of it for OH S Kurtis Drummond. MI DE CJ Olaniyan seems to really like... Oklahoma State?
Removed FL LB Christian Jones. Michigan is outside of his top 6 ($).
FL RB Demetrius Hart confirms that Michigan is his only verbal offer so far, and though he seems to favor Michigan, he no longer plans to make an early decision. He will, however, try to enroll early at the school he ultimately chooses.
FL QB Teddy Bridgewater doesn't really like calling the signals. Does that mean a move back to wideout for college? If so, Michigan interest might not be worthwhile.
NOTE: Tim just posted a press conference recap. Don't miss the Actual Reporting.
NEW FEATURE! Registered users can now go into their account and add their twitter profile. Doing this will create a little widget underneath the diary entry forms that will, if left alone, automatically tweet the diary you're posting. BONUS FEATURE/STUPIDITY! Posts also have a "ShareThis" link in case you want to facebook/email/twitter/whatever something that's on the blog. I thought I implemented this a month ago but when I checked to see if anyone used it and there were zero hits I got suspicious. So, yeah: I was the only one who could see it. Smooth.
UPDATE: Amazingly, I did the exact same thing with the twitter module. It's available to all now.
MUSTACHE UPDATE! Well… yeah. Here you go. These, from Don Hammond, are suitable for nightmares, fake facebook profiles, and elaborate alternate universe fictionalizations of all varieties… wait.
Okay. Now go:
God help our opponents. Evil Goatee Rodriguez won't.
TICKETS! Michigan is about to just put some ticket packages on sale, starting at noon. The packages are 2 or 4 seat blocks for Eastern, Delaware State, and either ND or Ohio State. Single game tickets for Purdue, Indiana, and Penn State(!!!) are also going to be available.
PLANES! AND CAMERAS! Reader Michael K. Brown has posted a fantastic set of aerial pictures of Michigan Stadium. One example:
Michael K. Brown
MORE NOISE! The luxury boxes you see above have promised a noisier Michigan Stadium from the instant they were conceived and have spurred multiple mailbags with readers asking if the increased noise reflection will turn Michigan Stadium into Death Valley. AnnArbor.com clarifies that oversized metallic dandelion test from a year or so back:
When Michigan ran tests on the sound in Michigan Stadium earlier this year, it wasn’t done to test how loud the 100,000-plus seat structure could get when the Wolverines’ defense is on the field, but rather to make sure every nook and cranny of the place could actually feel the sound.
“What we were doing is testing out the theory of where the dead spots would be based on the new sound system in the north end zone scoreboard,” Michigan executive associate athletic director Michael Stevenson said. “There was an engineering study more than anything else.”
This might help out with the previous discussed can't-hear-the-band issue, too? It can't hurt. Lloyd Carr, for his part, has grandiose dreams:
"…the stadium is going to be much, much louder this year because the windows are into the boxes and it’s in my judgment based on what I heard last fall and what I see, I don’t think there’s going to be a louder stadium in the country.
“Unless it’s Oregon.”
Maybe I just included that part for inevitable hat tips from Oregon blogs, maybe not. I ain't telling.
TRIPLE OPTION! Smart Football writes on the evolution of the spread offense and highlights one adaptation that Michigan might deploy frequently this year:
On the base zone-read, the quarterback just looks for any crease to the backside.
But if we add a second read to the play, he now seeks out the outside linebacker or backside support player. He will run right at that player’s outside shoulder. If the defender stays outside or refuses to commit, the quarterback will cut it up inside. Depending on how athletic the QB is — think Pat White or Vince Young — this can be a big gainer. If the linebacker attacks the quarterback though, he pitches it to the runningback or receiver swinging around. This player has to get into a “pitch relationship” with the quarterback, usually something like five to seven yards away and one to two yards behind the quarterback. It is his job to maintain this relationship. The quarterback really only wants to pitch it if the defender flatly attacks him; the worst thing is for a defender to be able to bat down the pitch and recover the ball as a fumble.
…The pitch phase from spread is often a bit clunky or obvious, however. Most of these teams don’t base with two runningbacks, and as a result they had to motion a guy in to show it, often tipping off the defense. Plus, one of the points driving the spread is the desire to get the ball to the receivers in space; an offense that ends up compressing itself into two-back formations is, in many peope’s eyes, going the wrong direction.
Michigan might not base with two tailbacks this year but they're going to show it a lot, and they should with the surfeit of good options in the backfield. That will make the triple option from the zone read a viable, consistent threat.
Michigan's has the possibility of being extraordinarily multiple this year: they've got two or three slot receivers, a fullback, two tight ends, three or four tailbacks. Everything from four and five-wides to double TE ace sets to traditional I-form is possible. If it works they can confuse the hell out of everyone. And if it doesn't, they can try something else.
Etc.: Greg Paulus is Syracuse's starting quarterback. God help us if he doesn't suck, though the 180s from local rabblerousers on the matter will be hilarious.
Ricky Barnum and Thomas Gordon have minor ankle injuries, Mark Moundros has a minor foot injury, and Donovan Warren has a minor knee injury. Walk-on Zach Johnson is also slightly dinged up.
Fitzgerald Toussaint is out for 2-3 weeks with a shoulder injury. With the running back depth the team has, he might end up redshirting unless he can make some serious strides when he is back healthy.
The UConn series was officially announced, and the 2013 game in Hartford will be Michigan's first on the East coast since traveling to Boston College in 1995. Playing in front of 40,000 fans is not as exciting about playing in front of 110,000, but Rodriguez doesn't worry about how many people attend away games. This will be a good opportunity for Michigan fans in New England to see the team in person. If the return game is moved to another venue (Foxboro was mentioned), Michigan wouldn't have the say, that would be on UConn.
QBs We Have:
The young guys are still learning the Michigan offense. Then next phases are learning what defenses will do, then knowing how to counter the things the defense will do. Denard and Tate aren't flustered, despite their inexperience, though Sheridan is the seasoned vet of the group. Talking to Sheridan, he says he's fully healthy from the broken leg. He's up to 220 lbs, and says he's a whole new player from last year, making quicker & better decisions.
QBs We Don't Have:
- Jason Forcier will not be playing for Michigan, as the grad school and eligibility things didn't work out. Though Rodriguez would let him be around the program, it's likely that Jason is ready to move on from the football chapter of his life.
- Greg Paulus has been named the starter at Syracuse, which doesn't surprise Rodriguez. He's a great athlete and person, and he's very intelligent as well. Rich wouldn't be surprised to see Paulus have great success.
Ryan Van Bergen Notes:
Says he's 6-6, up to 275lbs. He plays inside, also learning some 5-technique. The defensive line likes GERG - he's a front 7 coach, and he teaches players why they're doing certain things, rather than just saying "Do it because I'm the coach." Van Bergen also said there is a marked difference in guys going harder during practice this year. The offensive line is a good example, as they've been staying after practice to fine-tune things.
- GERG will be on the field for games, and Gibson moves up to the box to make room for that.
- The changes to the roughing the punter rule will not have a huge effect on Michigan's punting game, as most of their roll punts are still kicked inside the tackle box.
- Justin Turner is practicing in pads, but he's slightly behind in his conditioning.
- There won't be as much DL depth as RR would like this year, but there are only about 2 senior starters on defense, so it will improve next year.
- The corners look good with Warren, Cissoko, and Floyd, but they need a fourth to step up.
You want UConn to be a good team this year. Seeing the Huskies do well this fall will vindicate the selection by the AD. The Huskies are young on offense this year, with nearly all of the projected starters at the skill positions in their sophomore or junior seasons. They're young defensively as well, though the seniors are distributed a bit more evenly across the three units. Make no mistake: UConn might have a decent team this year (especially with no dominant team in the Big East, as there was during the Rich Rodriguez tenure in Morgantown), and they should be even better in 2010. Bill Martin didn't schedule a doormat.
When To Watch Them
The Huskies don't play in any of the now-traditional Big East Thursday night games, but they'll be on TV enough to catch a game or two over the course of the year:
- 9-12-09, 12PM: North Carolina, ESPNU
- 9-19-09, 5PM: @ Baylor (No TV yet)
- 10-24-09, TBA: @ West Virginia
- 11-21-09, 2:30PM: @ Notre Dame NBC
You'll See Him
Zach Frazer (RS Jr QB) - Frazer was a 4-star QB in the class of 2006, and he signed with Notre Dame. After spring practice in 2007, it became clear that he wasn't going to be out Jimmy Clausen for the starting job (which, lol how that’s turned out), and he decided to transfer to UConn. He sat out the 2007 season in Storrs, and became the team's #2 in 2008. He will take over for Tyler Lorenzen as the starter in 2009, and will be a polished 5th-year senior in his second year of a new system by the time Michigan sees him next year.
Jordan Todman (Soph RB) - With the departure of workhorse Donny Brown, the Huskies will look to a new source to power the running game. Todman only carried 47 times last season, though in the Brown-centric UConn offense, that was the second-most by a running back. This will be fans' first time to seriously evaluate Todman as a feature back.
Kashif Moore (RS Soph WR) - Moore burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman last year, and became the Huskies' leading receiver (which didn't mean much in last season's offense: he ended up with only 1 touchdown). He'll continue this year, and perhaps develop into a pro prospect by the time Michigan sees him.
Zach Hurd (RS Jr OG) - Hurd played in every game as a backup in 2007, and started every single contest at right guard last year. He's the only starter on the UConn OL who started at the same position last year as he will in 2009, and also returns for the 2010 game. Considering the Huskies' offense last year was run-run-run, a new offensive line probably bodes ill for this season. However, the UConn coaches are hoping that a more highly-touted QB and a developing, young, receiving corps might allow them to be a little more creative and move the ball in other ways.
Scott Lutrus (RS Jr LB) - In 2007, Lutrus was a (redshirt) Freshman All-American, and he reprised it last year with a team-leading 106 tackles. Most fans outside of Big East country may know him best as a friend of Fat White Guy Rob Lunn. He'll be a team leader in his redshirt junior season, and have tons of experience when Michigan faces the Huskies.
CB Jasper Howard (Jr CB) - Howard will be in his third year as a starter when Michigan faces UConn. He picked off 4 passes last year, and started every single game. He has also acted as a a punt returner for the Huskies' special teams unit, taking one all the way back in 2008.
But Not Him
Mike Hicks (5th Sr RT) - Hicks will be a 4-year starter for UConn. As a redshirt freshman, he started 9 games at right tackle, to go along with starting every game the past two years (the vast majority of them, again, at right tackle). He'll help UConn succeed this year, but if he's a standout for the Huskies, Michigan fans can breathe easy, as they won't have to face him.
Robert Vaughn (Sr FS) - Vaughn hasn't been a longtime starter for UConn, only having started 14 games over the past two years, but he was able to excel last year, named as a second-team all-Big East performer. He was third on the team in tackles with 67, while picking off two passes. He'll be done roaming the secondary after this year, so Michigan fans won't have to worry about him.
Connecticut, after a resurgent year behind Donny Brown in 2008, will be rebuilding this year. Every preseason magazine picks them to finish 6th in the Big East. They graduate a fair amount of talent, but aside from Brown and the offensive line (and of course Lunn), it doesn't look like they're losing too much that can't be replaced. With a new offensive coordinator and a guru-approved quarterback, they might pass the ball a bit more this year (and a bit more successfully). The team is laden with sophomores and juniors in the 2-deep, so 2010 should be a pretty good year in Storrs—just in time for Michigan to face them. There's a decent chance Michigan fans' perception of this game changes by the time 2010 rolls around. For a bit more on the Huskies, check out a diary and forum post by the_white_tiger.