I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
You're going to have to endure one last blast of off-topic blogging for a few days starting July 27th. Porque? Well, um... remember how I admitted to liking televised poker? This is largely because I play. A couple days ago I finished turning a $55 entry to a step tournament into a berth in...
...The Main Event. So I'm all goin' and stuff and will relate my experiences in this space, because how often does one get to sit down at the world's biggest poker tournament? If you're me, probably once. I hope I last long enough to make it worth writing about. Also I hope I win.
Don't bust out on the first hand.
If at any point I am sitting with Johnny Chan and he folds to my raise, immediately start parroting the scene in Rounders in which Mike McD convinces himself he should go to the WSOP after bluffing out Chan:
Chan: Did you have it?
Mike: Sorry, John, I don't remember.
I'll do both roles here, Chan in a high-pitched falsetto and Mike in a rumbling basso worthy of John Wayne. After four or five times, I'll grab a couple chips -- pink for Chan, natch -- and act out the lines as a puppet drama. I'll continue until Chan throws his orange at me.
If at any point I find myself being needled by Mike Matusow, launch into following soliloquoy:
Hey, Mike, do you remember Loveline? Adam Carolla, Dr. Drew, sexy sexies, good times all around? Yeah. Great show. Remember the times when some twentysomething girl would call in and describe her incredible/improbable/outrageous sexual exploits to the rapt crowd? Yeah. It got to the point where they wouldn't ask the girl if she had been abused, but when it happened?
Yeah. I'm just sayin'. It's like Clue. Pick the relative, place, and orifice. I say Uncle Sully, rec room, mouth.
If at any point I find myself to the right of Phil Ivey I will fold until the table breaks up. Unless Phil Ivey is reading this, in which case I will get aces every hand.
If I get far enough to actually be on TV, and find myself in a big TV-worthy hand, I will tell the world that Lloyd Carr needs to stop punting on fourth and medium when a first down seals the game.
Over at EDSBS. This one is an exercise in vanity... I'm not sure why anyone would care about autobiographical details but I'll play along. Everyone loves talkin' about themselves.
1. Education. List the region of the country you were born in, what universities you attended and at least one other you would have attended if your alma mater didn't exist.
Er. "Region of the country" is "outside of it." Dad working for an oil company == birth certificate that says "Saudi Arabia" on it and a giant pain in the ass whenever I cross a national border.
I attended Michigan and got two computer engineering degrees from the place. If Michigan didn't exist I would likely have ended up at a reasonably priced dork factory that isn't the kind of place that cares whether or not you were in the National Honor Society and all that crap. Illinois? Northwestern? Georgia Tech? None of these seem like remotely acceptabe answers.
2. Sports Affiliations. List your top 10 favorite teams in all of sports in descending order. For instance, your alma mater's football team may be number 1, but perhaps there is a professional team that squeezes in before you get to your alma mater's lacrosse team.
Descending as in in least important at top or most? I dunno. Anyway, there are tiers in this one:
Life And Death
1. Michigan Football
2. Michigan Hockey
More Important Than Voting
3. Detroit Pistons
4. Edmonton Oilers
5. USA Soccer
Special Holding Cell For Team Without Hope Or Accomplishments Coached By Man Without Fashion Sense Or Recruiting Ability That May Once Have Held Great Interest But That Seems So Long Ago Now I Mean Seriously
6. Michigan Basketball
7. Detroit Lions
8. Denver Broncos
9. Detroit Tigers
10. Michigan Baseball
3. Movies. List the movie you've watched the most, your favorite sports related movie, the movie you secretly love but don't like to admit it (possibly a chick flick or b film), and the movie you were (or still are) most looking forward to from this summer's season.
Most watched: Probably a tie between the Big Lebowski the answer to part B. This answer can come as no surprise to anyone who's caught an "in the parlance of our times" reference in this space.
Favorite sports movie: Rounders. Even if you (quite reasonably) contest the idea of poker as sport, Rounders is a sports movie down to the opening/closing thrilling "game scenes" against the recurring enemy. In Rounders it's John Malkovich with a ludicrous Russian accent and a propensity for making pelvic thrusting motions, which officially makes him the best sports movie villian ever. Ever-ever.
Shame flick: Does Rush Hour count? Probably not, since it has Jackie Chan in it. How about The Rock? A thoroughly dumb Jerry Bruckheimer movie starring Nicholas Cage has to be eligible for this category.
I have no idea what movies are coming out this summer, but I did hear tell that they called Samuel L. Jackson in to actually say "THERE ARE MOTHERFUCKING SNAKES ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING PLANE." That's awesome and enough to make one want to see Snakes On A Plane.
4. Music. List your favorite band from middle school, high school, college and today. Also, as with the movies, include the song you secretly love but don't like to admit. If Nickleback is involved in any of these responses, please give a detailed explanation as to why, god, why.
Middle school: I don't know if I had a favorite band per se, but I did listen to the two competing rap stations almost exclusively. The first album I ever bought was the soundtrack to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie and my favorite song on it was T.U.R.T.L.E Power, so whoever did that probably.
High School: They Might Be Giants.
College: Ben Folds Five? Or perhaps Robert Earl Keen?
Now: Andrew Bird. Or Interpol or Ted Leo.
Shamelove song: Toxic, Britney Spears.
5. Books. Favorite book you've finished, worst book you've finished and the book you really should read but haven't gotten around to it.
Worst: Things Fall Apart. Actual line that burned itself into my head due to sheer crappiness and has persisted in my memory for more than a decade: "Yams were a man's crop, the king of crops." Add in Chinua Achebe's infuriating career built largely upon declaring Heart of Darkness racist and viola: extreme dislike.
Should Read: I can think of nothing I have some deep desire to read that I have been somehow prevented from acquiring. I should probably expand the Stanislaw Lem I've consumed.
6. Travel. Favorite city you've every been to and the one place you still must visit before you shuffle off this mortal coil.
Favorite city: Galway, Ireland
Unrealized Destination: I have this idea that a friend and I should travel from the very top of Chile all the way down to Tierra Del Fuego and write a travel book about it called "Two Idiots Versus Chile."
7. What do you love most about college football in 20 words or less?
Sitting in Michigan Stadium 45 minutes before the opener; everything seems possible and only sunburn is definite.
[A quintessential Michigan fan answer that avoids the actual playing of the games, eh? -ed. Shut up. And go away, you're Kaus's gimmick.]
I don't think anyone's picked up on this distressing nugget of news yet, but it's pretty stark. When I was previewing Michigan State I ran my eye across the vast array of stats provided by the Big Ten website and found this in the "conference only" section:
TOTAL DEFENSE G Rush Pass Plys Yards Avg TD Yds/G
1. Ohio State.......... 8 646 1523 525 2169 4.1 12 271.1
2. Penn State.......... 8 948 1595 573 2543 4.4 16 317.9
3. Michigan............ 8 1167 1868 568 3035 5.3 18 379.4
4. Michigan State...... 8 1567 1670 536 3237 6.0 31 404.6
5. Iowa................ 8 1018 2292 627 3310 5.3 21 413.8
6. Purdue.............. 8 1389 2047 618 3436 5.6 22 429.5
7. Minnesota........... 8 1478 1986 563 3464 6.2 31 433.0
8. Indiana............. 8 1715 1821 583 3536 6.1 35 442.0
9. Northwestern........ 8 1699 2062 642 3761 5.9 28 470.1
10.Wisconsin........... 8 1917 1913 613 3830 6.2 28 478.8
11.Illinois............ 8 2090 1909 601 3999 6.7 46 499.9
Great googly moogly! The horrendous, Jaren Hayes-featuring Michigan State defense was the fourth best in the conference despite yielding over 400 yards a game! "Three yards and a cloud of dust" was more like six and change. Exactly three teams could be described as "not total crap" with even the slightest degree of accuracy, and one of them was Michigan's totally mediocre unit. The mind boggles. The national rank (in yardage) of each Big Ten defense over all games:
5. Ohio State
12. Penn State
Middling To Bad-Ish
This Fortune Cookie Says "Onside Kicks Are Your Friend"
87. Michigan State
(I totally should have saved "great googly moogly" for this bit. Er, how about...)
Sweet fancy Moses! What happened? Some hypotheses:
- The sudden spread-happiness of the Big Ten increased the efficacy of previously inept offenses like Indiana and Illinois. Meanwhile, its tendency to lengthen the game with scads of incomplete passes gave their defenses even more chances to play matador.
- Laurence Maroney and Brian Calhoun.
- Generally solid defenses like Iowa and Wisconsin were gutted by graduation; Purdue's usually decent unit was caught up in the team-wide Boiler implosion.
- Ancient quarterbacks. Every team outside of Indiana and Illinois started the year with an quarterback with at least a half-dozen games under his belt.
- Jim Herrmann.
Maroney, Calhoun, and Herrmann are gone, but the only quarterbacks on their way out are Michael Robinson, Brandon Kirsch, and Brett Basanez, and Kirsch lost his job at midseason anyway. No team has decided to abandon the spread. The two defenses that were actually good lost nine (OSU) and seven (PSU) starters. It's unlikely that any of the bottom-feeders miraculously find some backbone. All signs point to it raining touchdowns in the Big Ten next year.
...and this will be an Onion story too implausible to actually be funny.
"Everything happens for a reason."
That's the moldy maxim Reed Baker heard again and again as one college after another crushed his basketball dreams.
On Wednesday, Baker realized his consolers were right.
The former Bishop Verot High School standout accepted a full basketball scholarship from the University of Michigan, just hours after returning from a whirlwind visit to the Ann Arbor campus.
Oh, so we got a point guard? Cool. Can't be worse that Jerrett Smith, and he's probably pissed after some misunderstanding with Duke or UConn or UNC...
Signing with the Wolverines ends a seven-month odyssey for Baker, who first signed with The Citadel in November.
In March, however, coach Pat Dennis resigned and the school made it clear Baker was no longer a desired commodity, releasing him from his commitment.
REJECTED BY THE CITADEL? Surely this is some sort of misunderstanding and the Citadel is ruing their rash decision to sign this late bloomer. I bet the latter half of this Odyssey of his is filled with more imp--
Baker landed at Birmingham Southern in April but learned in late May that the school would be dropping from NCAA Division I status to Division III in 2007-08 because of finances.
Oh God. On the school totem pole you have your "U of" at the top, your "State" just under it, and then quite a long way before the "Directional State U" schools. Birmingham isn't even a state. It may just be some guy's house. Baker is good enough to play for a team composed of the southern portion of some guy's house. In D-III. There can be no more indignities, can there?
Earlier this month, the Air Force Academy offered Baker a full scholarship but pulled it after learning he had a peanut allergy, which violated the academy's extensive physical requirements.
I have an allergy to point guards late of service academies and Directional Some Guy's House U, but I find Tommy Amaker somewhat less strict with his extensive physical requirements. Well, at least they scouted the guy; maybe he's a diamond in the--
"He said I was the first guy he gave a scholarship to without seeing him play," Baker said of Amaker. "He said he liked my court savvy and the intelligence of my game."
AAAAAAAAAARGH. AAAAAAAARGH. Meet the new Ba, same as the old Ba.
Blah blah blah hope for Amaker and Baker's success blah blah blah let this in no way be construed as a shot at what may indeed be a fine young man blah blah blah. Wake me up when we're having the mock turtleneck bonfire on State Street (NOT Directional Some Guy's House Street.)
If you were looking for a brief summary of the last thirty years of Spartan football, 2005 was your lucky year. It had everything you could want: a humiliating 35-point loss to Northwestern, heartbreak at the hands of Michigan, an incredible -- in the "this is too strange to possibly believe" sense -- special teams meltdown against an OSU team they should have beat, an unexpected victory over a quality opponent (Notre Dame), and a final collapse that prevented Michigan State from going to a bowl game -- one that involved a loss to Purdue and a 41-18 waxing at the hands of Minnesota. It had just the right mix of burgeoning hope with soul-mangling incompetence, the right mix of surprising success with surprising failure, the right mix of Duffy Daughterty with Bobby Williams. Michigan State's porridge is never too hot, never too cold, always just mediocre. On a micro level MSU is completely unpredictable week-to-week. On a macro level it's always Same Old Spartans.
And if you are the type of MGoBlog reader I need to consider a restraining order against, you recognize the previous paragraph as a near-doppleganger of last year's Spartan intro:
If you were looking for a brief summary of the last thirty years of Spartan football, 2004 was your lucky year. It had everything you could want: a loss to Rutgers, heartbreak at the hands of Michigan, two totally unexpected crushings of quality opponents (51-17 over Minnesota and 49-14 over Wisconsin), and a final collapse that prevented Michigan State from going to a bowl game--one that involved giving up 37 points to one of the worst offenses in the nation and a late-game implosion against Hawaii. It had just the right mix of burgeoning hope with soul-mangling incompetence, the right mix of surprising success with surprising failure, the right mix of Duffy Daughterty with Bobby Williams. Michigan State's porridge is never too hot, never too cold, always just mediocre. On a micro level MSU is completely unpredictable week-to-week. On a macro level it's always Same Old Spartans.
Ah, Michigan State, how my blogger self loves thee: not only was that the most accurate thing I've ever written, but I may never have to write a new Michigan State intro for as long as I live. Rotate in Rutgers, Lousiana Tech, Hawaii, or Central Michigan in the "humiliating loss" slot, occasionally move Michigan into the "unexpected victory" slot, find the most hilarious available collapse, lather, rinse, and repeat. In the rare event Michigan State finishes more than a couple games away from .500, simply blow it off as random chance and project a reversion to the mean the next year. Viola: preview.
Is there anything that could upset the natural balance of things? Yes. He wears number 5, but he can't kick or play defense.
Last Year: Outstanding both running and passing the ball. Fifth in total offense and eighteenth in scoring despite having no reliable field goal kicking. A balanced attack that finished in the top 20 in both rushing and passing. The good witch of the Michigan State team, and one that returns every skill position player save The Severely Average Jason Teague. The line? Er.
I pull the trigger until it goes "click."
Rating: 5. Last year Drew Stanton (AKA "The Jesus") made a remarkable transformation from a crazy-legged scrambler who happened to occasionally throw with great accuracy to a great quarterback, period. He is accurate in the pocket or on the run, in total command of the Spartan offense, and still capable of taking off when the situation demands it. The numbers show it: Stanton finished 10th nationally in passer efficiency. The win-loss... eh, not so much, but one can only do so much when you are playing opposite a defense as offensive as Michigan State's. If you require validation outside of his collegiate stats, Mel Kiper projects him as a top-five pick in next year's NFL draft.
By cutting down on Stanton's scrambling MSU managed to keep him mostly healthy in '06 after an injury-plagued '05 season that burned the words "Damon Dowdell" and "Lousiana Tech" deep into the nightmare psychoses of Spartan fans worldwide, but Stanton picked up some sort of nagging hand or arm injury late in the year that affected his performance. The candybones reputation he picked up after his first year starting may or may not be justified, but it goes without saying that the Spartans without a healthy Stanton are only a threat to John L. Smith's job security. Backup Brian Hoyer has gotten good reviews and was a mildly touted recruit a couple years ago. He's not Stanton, but he isn't Dowdell either.
The little crapper that could.
Rating: 5. Even though John L. Smith in his infinite weirdness gave then-freshman Javon Ringer the most unflattering nickname in the history of sport when he called Ringer "That Little Crapper" after one of his more impressive performances a year ago, Big Ten defenses would do well to Beware The Crapper. A combination of academic issues and a poorly-timed knee blowout scared off major programs, but the chance Michigan State took on Ringer looks to be paying off in spades. Despite splitting time with both The Severely Average Jason Teague and 230-pound bulldozer Jehuu Caulcrick, Ringer led the high-powered Spartan offense with 817 yards on just 122 carries. For those scoring at home, that's 6.7 yards per carry. Yes, there is a caveat: an awful lot of those yards came against the easily-befuddled defenses of Illinois, Nortwestern, and Indiana. But if you're going to downgrade his performance based on that you must also take into account his 4.8 YPC against Ohio State, the top run defense in the country last year. Ringer is for real. With an extra year of experience and the vast majority of Teague's carries he'll make a name for himself.
The backup running back is a bit of a surprise: redshirt freshman AJ Jimmerson. Jimmerson was one of the jewels of last year's recruiting class and was clearly the second option behind Ringer during the spring, passing Jehuu Caulcrick and running for 128 yards in the spring game. Jimmerson's a bigger back with the patience to set up his blocks, an effective but not dynamic runner.
The aforementioned Jehuu Caulcrick must be an atrocious linebacker, because his skills at running back are only middling. He's a load to bring down at 230-some pounds but does not have the bounce or change of direction to deal with defensive players who aren't blocked like they should be -- probably a major issue this year. His workload will be limited to short yardage for the most part.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends
Rating: 4. 6'6" man-beast Matt Trannon returns for his Brooks Bollinger "Didn't You Graduate In 1894?" Sendoff Tour. If anyone passes the look test on the Spartan team, it's Trannon, a mortal lock for Kirk Herbstreit's annual uncomfortable "These Guys Look Good In A Uniform" list. The problem is that Trannon's hulking monstrosity does not come attached to a pair of hands that can catch or a pair of feet that can elude. A perpetual disappointment for Spartan fans who see a 6'6" Spartan wideout and think Plaxico Burress, Trannon has one more chance to make good on his promise. Will he? Survey says no. He'll be all right, again, and leave the Spartans wondering what could have been.
Trannon is joined by a cast of fairly average thousands: sophomores Terry "Annoying Chris Berman Nickname Waiting To Happen" Love and Devin Thomas, seniors Jerramy Scott, Kyle Brown and Kerry Reed. All sav
e Thomas had 28 or more catches a year ago. Scott led the way with 49. Add in redshirt sophomore Kellen Davis, a rangy pass catcher of the sort all the rage in the NFL at the moment, and you have a wide receiver corps with unmatched depth.
The catch is there's no guy at the top of the pyramid. Everyone is good but not great. As one RCMB message-boarder put it, State has "a bunch of .300 hitters with no homerun threat." Thomas is getting plugged by Smith as that threat, but has a lot of experience to make up on those in front of him. Keep an eye on him if he sees the field, as JLS will be banking on his ability making up for his inexperience.
Rating: 2. Three consistently excellent performers from one of the nation's most underrated offensive lines depart, leaving this unit the only one that could prevent the Spartan offense from replicating their explosive performances over the past two years. One VHT recruit, Roland Martin, steps in at guard, but center and left tackle don't even have that small luxury. Every starter from the '04 line is gone and only the meh -- guard Kyle Cook and RT-turned-LT Mike Gyetvai -- return from '05.
Attempting to project the performance of players one's never seen at a postion that the layman can hardly comprehend anyway is a futile task, but, hell, let's guess. One of the brilliant bits about the JLS offense is that it doesn't demand stone-cold NFL killers to be effective. The passing game relies on rollouts and copious play action to keep the quarterback clean and quite frequently works from a two-back shotgun set, giving MSU a wide array of options in blitz pickups. The running game concentrates on hittin' em where they ain't. You don't have to drive your man off the ball, just engage him long enough for Ringer to dash past on whichever side looks more appealing.
So even a bad line won't kill the Spartan offense, but if I was a State fan I would no doubt go around telling people that I got into Michigan. I would also regard this article from the News ominously:
Michigan State might finally have a defense worthy of confidence.
The Spartans ended spring football practice Friday with a scrimmage at Spartan Stadium, and though no winner was declared, the defense could have claimed victory.
The defense created five turnovers and stifled the offense early.
As is discussed a few inches down, there is no hope for the Spartan defense. Any sign of a pulse from it against a Michigan State offense that should be excellent bodes ill for those Motor City Bowl dreams. Also foreboding: the line's performance against Ohio State once a couple starters were lost to injury. Stanton went from fairly comfortable to running for his life in no time flat; OSU collected around a half-dozen sacks.
The offensive line is the potential achilles' heel of the 2006 Spartans and its performance is the greatest variable in their upcoming season. Unfortunately for MSU, the early returns are not encouraging.
Last Year: Wretched; only saved from Illinois-level numbers by the offense. Yielded 5.0 yards per carry. Only Wisconsin and Illinois were worse. Allowed opponents to complete 63 percent of their passes. Only Illinois was worse. Finished above only -- you guessed it -- Illinois in defensive passer efficiency. Even though the defense had the advantage of playing opposite their ravenous, time-killing offense they finished 87th nationally in total yardage. This was good for fourth(!!!) in the conference.
The good news? Wristbands for everyone!
The defense swears it's better. They say the secondary is improved and that the new wristbands will cure all of the missed signals and coverage breakdowns.
Uh, yeah... about that.
Rating: 1. Whether or not losing a bunch of starters on a crappy unit is a good thing or not is largely a philosophical question. Michigan State must get philosophical this year after losing Michael Bazemore, Brandon McKinney, and infamous-non-fumble-returner Domata Peko. In their place steps... well, someone. Probably.
Senior defensive end Clifton Ryan moves inside to tackle. He was listed at 302 a year ago and only gathered three sacks a year ago, so chances are he's moving to a more natural position. Except Ryan led the team with those three sacks... so maybe they need his mildly explosive (or at least extant) pass rush on the outside.
Redshirt junior Bobby Jones and JUCO transfer Ogemdi Nwagbuo will fill out the tackle rotation; both had some rough times during the spring and project to be crappy. The RCMB's scouting report on Nwagbuo is "huge but clueless."
Projected defensive end starters Brandon Long and Justin Kershaw are meaningless names to me. What we know: Long was a middling recruit out of Ohio a couple years ago and redshirted last year. He's a bit undersized -- or was when the weights on the MSU site were last updated -- at 230 pounds and plays at the "rush" position. He'll probably be mediocre at best and vulnerable to the run. Kershaw is a redshirt sophomore. Last year he had four tackles, one each against Kent State, Hawaii, Illinois, and Purdue. When Kershaw chose MSU, his other offers were from Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota, and Cincinatti -- a fairly good list of the worst defenses in D-I. He'll probably be bad.
In sum: one experienced, decent player in Ryan, and then a vast wasteland of guys who haven't ever seen a meaningful snap and were panned by recruiting gurus. Sure, they could be better.
Rating: 3. What hope there is for the defense lies in this unit. All three starters return, and though they weren't great shakes a year ago there is a good bit of athleticism in the unit. "Bandit" linebacker SirDarean Adams and senior David Herron are both potential breakout stars if Ryan and whoever starts next to him can occupy blockers. Josh Thornhill is more pedestrian but is at least okay. One thing to watch for is the relative frequency of tackles from this unit. It is usually bad news when a safety is your leading tackler; it's worse when he has nearly 40 more than any linebacker. If Nehemiah Warrick ends up with a lot of tackles eight yards downfield like Eric Smith did a year ago, something has gone wrong with this unit. It must improve for the defense to go anywhere positive.
Q: How do you know when your defensive backfield is in bad shape?
A: When a guy with a name "Cole Corey" is kicked off the team and this causes concern.
A familiar sight.
This projects as another disaster zone. JUCO transfer Nehemiah Warrick, Peter's cousin, is getting a lot of buzz at safety, but is unlikely to improve upon the performance of the departed Eric Smith, a third-round NFL draft pick. Even if he pans out he'll be taking a lot of angles on players the rest of the secondary has let free. I have yet to discover who the starter opposite Warrick will be. Cole Corey is gone for shenanigans. Greg Cooper, who started every game at safety a year ago, has been moved to corner. Could it be improbably named Otis Wiley? Sure. The bet here is they'll be bad.
Starting cornerbacks Cooper and Demond Williams were not impressive a year ago -- though Cooper was playing
free safety, as mentioned -- but will probably improve some with age and experience. The Cooper move bespeaks a lot of insecurity in the secondary, though, as there is no obvious replacement for him at free safety. Either he was so bad at FS that he could not plausibly return or the alternatives at corner are so distasteful that a move was necessary. Neither alternative inspires confidence. Add in a pass rush that is not likely to be fierce and viola: a recipe for Spartan toast.
Kickers & Coverage
I don't think English has words to properly express precisely what happened when kicker Tom Goss stumbled onto the field last year. Let's try broken Spanish:
DISASTRO EXTRAORDINARIO!!!! AY AY AY SOY MUERTE! LOS SPARTANOS SON MUERTES! MUERTE MUERTE MUERTE! DISASTRO! DISASTRO! TRAGEDIA! DISASTRO!
Michigan State made five of sixteen field goals a year ago; the team long was 32 yards. A point of reference for Michigan fans: this was Brabbs/Neinberg/Finley but worse.
So, yeah, if either kicker from last year wanders on the field to do anything other than fetch the tee the Spartans are in bad shape. There are two candidates to replace the incompetents. 6'6" Todd Boleski is getting hype from the newspapers but has not impressed message-board partisans, who hold out hope for incoming freshman Brett Swenson. If a suitable replacement can't be found, JLS is crazy enough to go for it constantly -- which might be a net benefit if you listen to game-theory nerds.
Punting appears to be a different matter if you accept the surface-level statistics -- senior Brandon Fields and his career average of 45.6 yards per kick, a Spartan and Big Ten record, return -- but not so fast, my friend. Hurray and break out the Ray Guy, right? No. Fields has a giant leg, but his tendency to bomb it deep often comes at the cost of a line-drive and an excellent opportunity for some tiny bastard to pad his return average. Prone to shanked or mishit punts, Fields' leg was good for a measly 75th nationwide in net punting.
One thing to watch for this season when the Spartans face dangerous returners like Ginn or Breaston: strange line-drive bounce punts. Fields employed them to middling effect two years ago against Michigan; the punts were indeed unreturnable but they were often extremely short. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Non-Conference: Decent. Two tomato cans in Idaho and Eastern Michigan, one respectable opponent in Pitt, and the annual megaphone game against Notre Dame.
Conference: Fortunate. MSU misses Iowa and Wisconsin and gets two big swing games against Purdue and Minnesota at home. Trips to Ann Arbor and Happy Valley are the only intimidating road games.
We're Sure About
Stanton and Ringer. They're both great players in an offense that is perfectly suited to their talents.
We Have An Idea About
Defensive Line and Secondary. Sure, they could get better. Maybe. More likely they're going to be berry, berry bad.
We Have No Clue About
The Offensive Line. Three new starters. One returning starter, Kyle Cook, out with an injury during the spring. Possibly manhandled by the Spartan defensive line, which projects as awful. Critical for those Motor City dreams.
An Embarassing Prediction, No Doubt
The offensive line holds together after an initial shaky getting-to-know-you period and the offense hums along just like it did this year. The defense is not wretched, but it ain't good, either. Swenson is the kicking savior. That adds up to 9-3.
The spring practice was more indicative of the offensive line's ability than the defensive line's. Stanton scrambles for his life, Ringer's production drops, and the offense is average. The defense is just as brutal as expected, and a further series of hilarious Spartan mistakes loses a game or two. JLS goes 4-8 and gets some lovely parting gifts.
Without a miracle from several players on the defensive side of the ball they're just going to suck. Where does the pass rush come from? You can excuse Long for not showing up a year ago as a 230 pound true freshman, but Kershaw is much bigger, had a year of experience, and got four garbage-time tackles despite the complete lack of production from the starters. MGoBlog has a cardinal rule of player projection: if you're not a true freshman and you're stuck behind a terrible player on a terrible defense, there is a 90% chance you are a terrible player. The coaches have nothing to lose by trying a kid out in that situation -- is the defense really going to get worse? -- so if you find yourself watching the carnage, you are in no position to correct it. There will be no pass rush; the secondary is going to remain impotent.
Offensively, the line is likely to take a major step back with only two returning starters and that half-disaster in the spring game. That should dampen Stanton and Ringer's production somewhat, but JLS has produced on offense everywhere he's ever been no matter the situation. He'll have to gameplan around it but the offense should still be very good, but not doors-blown-off.
Wins: Idaho, Eastern Michigan, Illinois, Indiana
Probable Wins: Minnesota, Northwestern
Tossups: Pitt, Penn State, Purdue
Probable Losses: Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame
No Chance: None
Round down a bit for inevitable Spartan collapse in one game, and you have 7-5.
This is always difficult, but I have to turn my sarcasm off for a moment.
This is a helmet currently being auctioned on eBay. It, of course, is a beautiful Michigan winged helmet signed by everyone from Jeff Kastl to Alan Branch to Zoltan Mesko. Helmet proceeds benefit the Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance. This is a rare opportunity to get Zoltan The Inconceivable's autograph and support a good cause. Big ballers are advised to bid away.
The NHL Draft came and went over the weekend. Three Michigan players went in the first round: Trevor Lewis at #17 to the Kings, Mark Mitera at #19 to the Ducks, and Chris Summers at #29 to Phoenix. Goalie Billy Sauer went in the seventh round to the Avs.
Oft-burned Michigan hockey fans are leery of that Lewis-to-the-Kings thing, as over the past few years LA has cruelly ripped both Mike Cammalleri and Jeff Tambellini away from Michigan in the final runup to the season. Mitigating that somewhat: Cammalleri and Tambellini were both seniors-to-be and not, say, freshmen. LA has also let Brian Boyle develop away at BC. Chances are Lewis will stick around for three years, and I'll take that from an NHL first-rounder.
The other development is Billy Sauer's precipitous plunge down the board. Before the season his name was being tossed around as a second or third round pick, but apparently scouts do watch games. The door is open for Steve Jakiel.
A hat-tip so massive that it's more properly a sombrero-tip must go to Yost Built for the ultimate response to any Penn State argument (SFW but w/ sound). The next time some half-deranged guy in blue and white approaches you to scream about Big Ten conspiracies or Lloyd Carr's two seconds, just show 'em that and they will admit that they deserve to win no more football games ever.
Oregon uniforms: still dumb. Everyone's put in their two cents on the sheet-metal and acid-inspired Duck unis, but only Uni Watch has actually talked to the people responsible for them. Most revelatory passage:
Nike's Oregon program is all geared toward catering to the athlete â€” not just in terms of the uniform's performance-based aspects (which makes sense), but also in terms of aesthetics (which doesn't, at least to me). They hold focus groups with the players, have the players submit design sketches, and so on. So if you think these unis look like they were designed by a bunch of 20-year-olds, well, to a certain extent they were. "They want to feel intimidating, like gladiators coming into the arena," Van Horne told me. And about the diamondplate pattern, Hatfield said, "It's basically a graphic representation of toughness. The players want to look tough â€“ it's a tough sport, there's a lot of intimidation." Frankly, I think this is all pretty stupid, but hey, 20-year-olds are stupid.
Remember when you played around with NCAA's create-a-school mode and made the Peoria Pink Pom-Pom Pirates? Yeah, this is like that. Except horrifyingly real. And this quote is the only thing I've ever read that has made me seriously question Michigan's uniforms:
The Nike people are well aware that the approach they've taken with Oregon and with some other schools wouldn't fly with some the country's more conservative programs. "The University of Oregon is willing to partner with us on this approach, and I don't think you'd find that in too many Division I programs," Hatfield told me. "If we walked into Joe Paterno's office and said, 'How about putting "Penn State" on the left leg of the pants?,' we'd probably get tarred and feathered. We think it's great that there are these storied programs around the country that have tradition, and you just don't mess with them. I love Michigan's uniforms; I love the simplicity of Penn State."
Ack! Change 'em now! (Lukas says he pointed out to Nike that they did indeed "mess" with Michigan's uniforms by adding useless frippery in the form of that damn piping.)
Anyway, the Best Oregon Uni Zinger Award, 2006 edition, goes to the Georgia Sports Blog:
This is the answer to the not-so-hypothetical question 'how hard do you have to try to be the state's primary punchline when your in-state rival is the Beavers?'
Um... guys... You go one of two ways on Ohio State fans: they should probably remember that whole "Cooper" thing or they have the attention span and memory of confused ferrets. Your answer is probably the latter, since
- Fans of this particular team with two-count-em-two returning defensive starters are getting their hubris in while they can by batting around the idea of a "two-game season," and
- The two games the Buckeyes figure to actually play next year are against Texas... and against Iowa. When someone pops his head up to speak as the voice of reason it's to chide us for not believing in Penn State.
I hate you guys. I hate you guys so much.
Update 6/15: Linked to David Arnold article and a second -- dude is fast -- plus one on commit Vince Helmuth's further attempts to throw things really far. Removed SC LB Scotty Cooper (Clemson), S Marshall Jones (USC), CB Marcus Gilchrist (dropped us), OH S Sidney Glover (IU), NC RB Marcus Houston (NC). Linked to article on Mitchell Schwartz. Added MI WR James Rogers as a commit; also moved TX CB Troy Woolfolk to commit. There's very little on Rogers on the internet, but Michigan Elite football has a brief story and some video. Added IL DT Josh Brent, LA DT Rolando Melancon, and CA S Malachi Lewis. Linked to another one of those big ol' Fox Sports articles and an article on Toney Clemons.
Editorial Opinion: Camp has come and gone with the two aforementioned commitments, who were briefly discussed earlier. There's little to be found on either at this point as both Woolfolk and Rogers are sort of sleeper types. There are no surprises on those removed from the board.
As per usual, the roundup articles on Fox Sports have a information on Michigan targets both serious and hopeful. Information from the latest:
- OK OL Matt Romine still lists Michigan and plans an unofficial visit.
- CA RB Curtis Shaw -- an offeree -- "favors Washington slightly" over a host of other schools including Michigan.
- IL OL Dave Molk received a Michigan offer at camp and "may decide by August."
- TN LB Brian Smith, a Notre Dame legacy favors (duh) Notre Dame:
"I really want to go to Notre Dame." Smith told Scout.com. "Notre Dame has always been my dream school. My dad went to school there, played football there, and I never missed a game growing up. My favorites right now are Notre Dame, Michigan, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Florida and Michigan State."
Malachi Lewis, a versatile running back/receiver/safety from Rio Mesa High in Oxnard, Calif., picked up an offer from UCLA this week, and USC could be next. Lewis also has offers from Cal, Georgia Tech, Washington, Michigan and Nebraska.
... and KS DE Christian Ballard, who apparently committed to Kansas before he realized that, uh, he could go somewhere other than Kansas.
One of the two articles on David Arnold is your fairly standard track-exploits stuff, but the other is in-depth and highly recommended and not only for its Arnold-related content, as it sheds some light on Michigan's recruting process in general...
``You need to have a great junior year; you need to go 100 percent,'' longtime Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr said. ``Because when we watch film, we watch the whole game film, and we will watch the plays that you're not involved in to see what you look like on tape.''
Carr told them to take standardized tests at least three times and to enroll in challenging courses. Michigan, he said, wants more than a great football player; the Wolverines want someone who stands out from his peers.
Arnold's also writing a journal for the Akron Beacon-Journal. The latest entry discusses his trip to Michigan camp:
We went into the indoor facility to do the 40-yard dash and vertical jump. My jump was 36-6 and I ran a 40 in 4.57 (electric timing). I ran a 4.3 something (hand-timed) in my track spikes. ... Then we went to lunch. I went with a select few that had lunch with the coaches in the team meeting room. We watched the Michigan game from this past season against Iowa.
I had to wait around to talk to coach (Lloyd) Carr. There were some guys over there, so I had to wait my turn to talk to him. He said to keep doing good work in the class, and that they're going to wait until the beginning of my senior season and evaluate my first couple of games and if everything goes well, they'll offer me then.
I'm not disappointed. I think I did all right. Pretty decent day.
Arnold, like recent commit Woolfolk, is a Michigan legacy who projects as a defensive back. Unlike Woolfolk, he does not have an offer. I'm rooting for him to get one, I mean...
... how could you not?
TSN is even higher on Michigan players and recruits than Red Line was, placing Mitera, Summers, and Lewis in the second half of the first round in both their straight talent evaluation and mock draft.
Mitera checks it a #15 in the talent evaluation and goes to the Canadiens at #16 in the mock draft. Note the contrasting takes from the CSB and ISS:
From NHL Central Scouting - Is a good skater with a smooth stride...is strong on his skates and is hard to move off the puck...good backwards skater who pivots well...makes crisp first pass and likes the long pass...effective shot blocker used in all game situations...solid hitter who finishes his checks and always gives an effort.
From ISS - He demonstrated some abilities that would warrant a high ranking and then all of a sudden he vanishes for a period of time. His size and strength are impressive and he does have some skills but urgency and a consistent effort are going to be required for him to fulfill his expectations.
CSB has him #20, but ISS is much harsher on him, ranking him #48.
Summers doesn't sneak into the top ten a la Nystrom like the Red Line mock, but he's still a solid first-rounder to McKenzie (#18). No comments from ISS but CSB says the following:
From NHL Central Scouting - Very good skater with agility, mobility and lateral quickness...has very quick feet and good balance...smooth and sure lateral mobility opens up passing lanes for him to move the puck quickly with confidence...good passer who can hit the open man...good shot from the point...showed value and versatility by playing wing at the end of the season.
He goes nineteenth to the Ducks in the mock.
And finally Trevor Lewis gets some first round hyperation, showing up at #21 on McKenzie's list and coming off the board at #25 in the Mock Draft. CSB on Lewis:
From NHL Central Scouting - Can intimidate the defence by his ability to change direction at top speed...can shoot the puck on the fly, won't hesitate to pull the trigger on the puck...scores big goals, makes big plays as the go-to guy...comes back hard to cover his man and supports his own defence down low in his own zone...good leadership qualities.
I am out for the rest of the day, but fear not. We near July. The NHL and NBA are done. The US is out of the World Cup. Monday we put away all childish leagues, start in with the Big Ten Season Preview, and start screaming "FOOTBALL!" at friend, acquaintance, and total stranger alike.
6/22/2006 - USA 1-2 Ghana - EO World Cup
I'm pissed. I'm pissed off about the penalty kick and I'm pissed at Bocanegra for not booting the ball out of bounds like every kid from six on up is taught to and I'm pissed at Claudio Reyna for giving away a goal and generally being useless and I'm pissed at just about everyone aside from Onyewu and Dempsey. But mostly I'm pissed about Bruce Arena.
This makes no sense, really. I still believe I've seen a dozen tackles in this very World Cup equivalent-or-worse to Mastroeni's fateful mistake that have been yellows or even no booking at all. Pope's first yellow was a joke -- the man he was marking pulled Pope on top of him -- and the incompetent Uruguayan had no idea Pope was carrying yellow when he booked him a second time. You can't really blame Arena for Claudio Reyna's horrendous gaffe or Marcus Merck's gift PK. And you can't blame him drawing into what turned out to be the tournament's real Group of Death. I still believe that this was a knockout-stage team hamstrung by things beyond its control. One less horrible PK and one slightly more accurate header from McBride or Onyewu and the USA emerges from its group and nobly falls to Brazil. Arena remains a genius. Tacos for everyone.
That did not happen, however, and thus we must confront harsh reality: Bruce Arena's tactical decisions were worthy of Isiah Thomas. Not once in this tournament did Arena deign to start a second striker next to Brian McBride, who is wonderful in the air but lacking service and support did very little with his time. At some point it the question morphed from "Did Eddie Johnson nail Arena's wife?" to "How many times did Eddie Johnson tie Arena up and force him to watch the Grown-Ass Man nail Arena's wife?" At a later date, the answer was revealed: eighty-five. Entering a game the US had to win to advance, Johnson was passed over in favor of yet another 4-5-1, this one featuring Demarcus Beasley even further out of position as a sort of holding midfielder. When Claudio Reyna -- no doubt suffering from acute soccer-pansyitis after gifting Ghana its first goal -- gimped his way off USMNT fields forever in the 40th minute, Ben Olsen came on with the US down a goal. Ben Olsen. This is a man eloquently described by commenter Andrew as a "combination of Ryan Mundy's tendency to be out of position and Jeremy LeSeur's tendency toward dumb penalties." He is a defensive midfielder. He looks and plays like a crazed third liner in hockey. He does not help you score goals. Johnson did not come on until minute sixty, by which point it was far too late.
Is it any wonder that the US managed just four shots on goal the entire tournament? Arena coached like he was planning on tying his way to the second round; not a bad idea with the particular strength of the US: counter-attacking. But that went out the window when Robocop blasted a ball past Keller in the fifth minute and Arena seemed utterly clueless when forced to adapt. Maybe the fault lies more at Donovan and Reyna and Beasley's feet than in Arena's head, but at this point I just want a Dutchman. Or Klinsmann. Or just anyone who doesn't remind me very strongly of Lloyd Carr with a two-touchdown lead.
No tacos. No tacos for anyone. Just mail.
Update: Sweet Fancy Moses:
Here's one to get the rumor mill working overtime. I was at WDR, German state television early this morning talking to Boris Inanici, their ace reporter who has in the past has been embedded with the national team. He told me that Jurgen Klinsmann, the German national team coach will quit after the World Cup regardless of whether the 'Mannschaft' wins the whole thing or not.
He then told me that Klinsmann has already been seen with the top brass of the US Soccer Federation and that there is a very good chance that he will take over the national program when Bruce Arena steps down, which Arena has said he will do.