Conquest Chronicles is all asking Michigan blogs questions, and I'm all answering.
1. Have you recovered yet from Michigan's exclusion from the national championship game? We've heard the "experts" give us their opinion on why Michigan dropped from 2nd to 3rd without snapping the ball. What do you think really happened here?
Recovered? Well, I'm still mad but I have managed to stop crying myself to sleep.
As for what happened, there's no debate after all the quotes we saw: the question "who is the better team" was discarded. I find this irritating but want to move on.
2. We admire Lloyd Carr for having enough dignity to refrain from campaigning for BCS positioning. Pete Carroll has the same approach. Still, it was nice to hear Carr call out Urban Meyer for his whiny Tuberville impression. What's your take on the "southern inferiority complex"? What do you think about this season's conventional wisdom, which is that the Big-10 is weak ... despite having arguably the two best teams in the country?
The Big Ten is pretty weak this year from a certain perspective. Ohio State doesn't benefit from the fact that Ohio State is really good because they don't have to play themselves. They basically had a two-game season.
Iowa didn't show up, Michigan State collapsed, and Penn State and Purdue are teams with one good unit and one atrocious one. Wisconsin is a good team but arguably less proven than Boise State, who at least beat good Hawaii and Oregon State teams. I don't mind admitting this. What is bothersome is that when the Big Ten is up -- as it was last year -- the SEC drumbeat continues unabated. No matter what the facts on the ground are, there's always someone waving the SEC flag. Usually their arguments have all the coherency of The Orgeron on crystal meth, but it doesn't matter, and it results in a media environment where mediocre-to-bad Georgia and decent Tennessee play a sloppy game you could see any week in the Pac-10 and get an SI cover declaring the SEC to be "SIMPLY THE BEST." And what wonderful cover subjects for that particular assertion.
Anyway: I've always found this bit of contrived math to be interesting as regards schedule difficulty. Let's set up two situations.
Team A plays six teams it has a 70% chance of beating.
Team B plays five teams it has a 75% chance of beating and one team it has a 45% chance of beating
The average number of wins in these situations is equal: 4.2. But the chance of going undefeated is 11.76% in the first scenario and 10.67% in the second. This is by no means definitive, but it does suggest that the sort of test represented by travelling to Ohio State is a far greater danger to national championship hopes than playing in a conference where South Carolina is slightly less crappy than Iowa. This is apropos of little, I suppose, but look! Math!
3. After losing to Ohio State and now seeing Michigan's remaining hopes dashed while other teams made their case on the field, what is your assessment of the Wolverines' psyche going into preparations for the Rose Bowl? How will Carr get them ready?
I give little credence to the idea that Michigan's going to come out and play crappily because they're pissed. This isn't Kansas State falling into the Alamo Bowl against Purdue. The words "Rose Bowl" and "USC" get the attention of anyone associated with the Michigan program. I also don't think they're likely to come out more fired up because they've been passed over.
I do guarantee, however, that no matter the outcome of the Rose Bowl dim columnists will credit the BCS for Michigan's performance. If Michigan wins, they will be righteous warriors incensed at the folly of the BCS. If they lose, they will be dispirited and uninterested in any prize that's not a crystal football. Fire Joe Morgan coined a term for this: hindpsychology.
4. What is the general impression of Tressel abstaining from his poll vote, his vote for UM would have surely put you guys in the title game. Some have commended him for staying neutral others have hammered him for not having the guts to take a stand. How do you feel?
Um... Tressel's vote wouldn't have mattered either way. During D-Day I wasn't surprised or concerned. I probably would have done the same thing in his position, since however he voted it would have been spun as an insult to his opponent. If he had gone with Michigan, Florida would have bulletin board material about bias and not wanting to play Florida and SEC disrespect. If he had gone with Florida, Florida would have claimed disrespect since Tressel wanted them instead of Michigan. There would be dozens of columns, all of them very, very dumb, about the vote and what it means.
As far as I can tell, the argument for having Tressel cast a ballot revolves around "balls" and stuff about how he signed up to vote and knew what he was getting into, but Tressel's job is to do what's best for Ohio State and that's what he did.
One. Since we are in the post-season pre-bowl window and this is an year ending in an even number, the BCS has screwed up or not screwed up but chosen some team over another team for reasons that aren't very good at all and everyone wants to talk playoffs.
General Outline of various arguments.
A. Bowls schmowls. The BCS has already rent the traditions of college football. Arguments that posit the loss of bowl tradition as a major hazard assume that there is much of one anymore. Agreed that returning to the pre-BCS days when everyone understood the "M" in "MNC" was so so very real would be nice. Agreed that dropping all that for a playoff system would be a choice that, at the very least, would be difficult. But we don't have that. Also, a small playoff would not significantly impact most bowls. No one watches the Poulan Weedeater Bowl because of the distant possibility that it will have an impact on the national championship. These are the reasons you watch the Poulan Weedeater Bowl:
- Evil hospital janitor has stolen remote.
- Close relative of player or coach.
- Run college football blog from mother's basement.
That is all. The only bowls harmed by a playoff are the big ones, and seriously: who cares about the fate of games played in the Superdome or Arizona or the rickety Orange Bowl?
Rose excepted; you'll see later.
B. This is a playoff. It is a stupid playoff. But it is a playoff. There are two teams. They play. Then there is off, or whatever. Stealing from myself:
The situation reminds me much of the old... well, it's not really a joke, but, you know, the canard where a man asks a woman if he would have sex with him for a million dollars and she says "yeah, I guess." The man then asks her if she would do the same for five dollars and she asks, "what do you think I am?" to which the man replies: "We've already established what you are, now we're just haggling over the price." The BCS and the bowls have already established what they are. Now we're just haggling over the number of teams.
At the end of the Not Fiesta Bowl on January 8th, some team will lift a championship trophy. They will put on hats that say "national champions." Ohio State fans will mortgage their Trans Ams to buy leather-bound encomiums to the '07 Wonderboys that relatives who live out of state will read to them during holidays or whatnot. The BCS is trying to have it both ways but it only has it one very stupid way.
C. A playoff is not perfect; do not pretend that this disqualifies it. Common argument:
An 8-team playoffs [sic] sounds good in theory, but in reality you are creating yet again another problem by having teams laying legitimate claims on one of the top-8 spots and being left off. What about a Texas squad with a healthy Colt McCoy? Is Boise State really going to be [+at, sic] the Longhorns if McCoy is healthy?
To take an extreme example, there is controversy when Air Force gets in or Manhattan is left out in the NCAA tournament, but no one really cares as soon as the games start because they're obviously not the best team in the country. Meanwhile, Auburn and Michigan and Oregon (etc.) fans will go to their grave complaining about the damn voters or the damn formula. (Disclaimer: god no, we don't want "January Madness." A playoff's size is a tradeoff between acquiring every available contender with a legitimate argument and preserving the importance of the regular season, and anything more than around 8 teams sacrifices way too much of the latter for way too little of the former.)
Anyway, arguments like this are akin to turning down surgery on a gangrenous limb because you don't want to have a peg-leg (hhhhyyyyarrrr!). Just because a playoff is still a little broken does not mean that it is not a preferable option to something that is almost always broken.
D. Yes: Irony. Used correctly, even. European soccer has no need of playoffs. Each team plays each other team home and away. They have a perfectly balanced schedule; whoever emerges with the most points is crowned the champion. Europeans, when quizzing Americans about the sports across the way, invariably express shock and dismay when it's revealed that after 80 or 160 game regular seasons the results are basically thrown out and then teams play a few games to determine who gets all the glory. Why bother playing? I don't know. You have all this data that suggests Team A has accomplished so much more than all the other teams in the league, then you ignore that in favor of an unpredictable crapshoot. See: World Series, 2006. This is what anti-playoff advocates hate. The idea that this year's Ohio State team would be put into an eight-game blender that may anoint a two- or three-loss team national champions is an anethma.
But... really, what has Ohio State proven? Little. They have suggested much, surely. This isn't a shot at Ohio State, but rather a simple observation that the Buckeyes have played 12 games and only two of them have come against ranked teams. Evidence suggests that they would finish with the best record if they were to play some magical round-robin against all of I-A. But it's a flimsy assumption that has precious little evidence to back it up. We have no way to reasonably compare Ohio State to anyone in the Pac 10 or SEC or ACC. College football's addiction to creamy nonconference nougat drives down the number of comparison points to almost nothing and leaves us guessing. The irony is this: college football, the sport that could most use a playoff to resolve its champion, is the only one that does not.
Properly constructed, a playoff that features a two-loss team winning it all could very well justify that team's national championship in the traditional vote-for-the-best-team (unless that would make a rematch) fashion, as they would have slogged through three games against premiere competition and won them all. More on this later.
E. Save The Children. You are a bad person who needs to be spanked if you bring up academics. Tell that to every other level of football or basketball or hockey or whatever, all of whom have vastly longer seasons than NCAA D-IA.
Three. Current theory.
A. Yes. Yes, yes, yes, a playoff.
B. The utmost priority is maintaining the importance of the regular season. Losing = bad. Berry, berry bad. Not so bad that a team like Michigan 2006 or Auburn 2004 (who didn't even lose) or Oregon 2002 sits at home pounding sand, but bad. Tier seeds such that there's a big difference between scraping in at the back end and dominating college football.
C. No Jim Walden. Or anyone of his ilk. No current coaches. No dug up old fossils who can't tell a football from World War I. Instead, a small group of smart people who love college football and can think rationally about it with a clear mandate.
D. Mandate. Pick the best teams based on accomplishments on the field. Heavily prioritize schedule difficulty, especially in the nonconference. Treat close losses to quality competition as evidence of suitability. Look past the number in the loss column.
Four. Current proposal.
A. Six teams. Six is a good number. Six teams means two byes for the top two teams in the country and makes one loss a big deal and a seco
nd loss a bigger deal.
B. No autobids. As a natural consequence of things there will often be conference champions in the playoff, but as much as I think Wake Forest is a cute story, they would be dead weight in a tightly constrained playoff field like this one.
C. Home games. Eliminate ludicrous travel requirements and up regular-season importance in one fell swoop. If you're higher ranked you get to play the game on your home field in the first two rounds.
D. Pick your poison. Seed only as far as you have to, then let teams draft their opponents. In this current format, the #3 team would have a choice between the 5 and 6 teams with the #4 getting the leftovers. The #1 team would get its choice of the first round survivors.
E. By committee. A dedicated team of people who do this year-round who are geographically distributed.
F. Final. At the Rose Bowl.
Five. Hypothetical this-year bracket.
#1 Ohio State versus #4 USC / #5 LSU
#2 Michigan versus #3 Florida / #6 Louisville.
Interchange Florida and Michigan if you so desire.
Point on two loss national champions promised earlier: if USC or LSU slogs through 1) USC or LSU, 2) Ohio State on the road, and 3) Michigan/Florida/Louisville, than they would have a mountain of skulls unmatched by any of its competitors. Keeping the top two seeds out of first round games is a mighty incentive to finish in the top two that also provides the neat service of damping any claims of robbery should those teams lose by preventing them from claiming another victory over top competition.
Sorry about the hiatus. I switched the blog over to Blogger's newfangled beta thing (look: tags). I did this last night in the hopes it would do all the busywork when people were snug in their beds. Hopes: crushed. Anyway, back now.
Update 12/11: Added CA CB David Ross, a four star without an offer who claims Michigan his "dream school." Removed DE, er, DE Devon Still, who dropped us. Moved KS LB Austin Panter to committed. Linked to article on AZ OL Jaivorio Burkes and one on OT commitment Mark Huyge. Added CA LB Malcolm Smith. Removed some safety chaff. Moved TX LB Brandon Herron to committed. Removed IL DE Martez Wilson, VA CB Cris Hill (dropped us). Added VA LB Marell Evans to committed.
Editorial Opinion: Panter and Herron have been covered before. New commitment is that of Evans, a two-star with no reasonable argument that he might have been overlooked. He doesn't play for an obscure high school (Varina is a state power), he hasn't been injured or forced to play out of position, and he doesn't have offers that belie his ranking. Michigan snatched him away from Temple, Buffalo, and Middle Tennessee. Virginia Tech appeared to be interested...
Meanwhile, last we heard Virginia Tech was looking at Varina defenders Andre Branch and Marell Evans.
"I know the Michigan coaches are coming down this week to see Marell," he said. "I believe Virginia Tech likes him, but coach Cavanaugh didn't say a lot when he checked him out. He does think he's a good player, but Tech is in a bind since they've got almost everyone they want. I do know that Virginia Tech does like him more as a defensive end. He's the type of kid that can put on weight and run really well."
... but not interested enough to offer. So he's got that going for him. He was also his district's defensive player of the year, and you can assume that Michigan has a high familiarity with him after spending much of last year chasing after Brandon Minor, who also attended Varina. Still, the probability he's a major contributor is lower than most other Michigan recruits. Standard disclaimer that the number of stars next to a players name does not etch their fate in stone, but it is relevant.
Other bits: dropped by a couple DEs; in all probability we're going to get Van Bergen and that's it. We'll need a blue-chippah next year but with Germany, Patterson, and Graham all entering their sophomore years the lack of numbers there isn't a concern. Weird article about David Ross, a California four-star who basically begged for a Michigan offer on Scout.com. He's a soft verbal to Nebraska now and visiting Oregon... no idea what the deal is there. I moved Jerimy Finch back to safety since there seems to be a flood of linebackers incoming. Things are looking good for FL OLB/S Lorenzo Edwards.
The above-linked Huyge article is worth a read for anyone concerned about OT recruiting. Michigan's had a lot of high-profile busts and low-profile successes recently, so I'm not particularly worried. It would be nice to pick up Romine or Elliot, though.
The second annual exploration of how very wrong I was about everything at the beginning of the season.
I didn't get around to Indiana or Minnesota previews, continuing a tradition started in 2005 when I decided not to bother projecting Illinois' fate. That worked out just fine. This year, not so much. Both Minnesota and Indiana were worth mentioning. Indiana was 5-7, a loss to I-AA Southern Illinois the only thing standing between them and a Motor City Bowl berth. Minnesota scraped its way to 6-6. Both beat Iowa, a team that
- I projected to win the Big Ten
- I ranked #2 -- in the country -- in the preseason
- failed utterly in every way imaginable and is about to get rolled by Texas.
So maybe they deserved some notice.
The Scoffed At
General tenor of the thing: Won't be as hilariously awful as last year, but certainly won't be good or anything. In sum:
Strides towards competency are probable, but there's a long, long way from last year's Travelling Bye Week extravaganza and respectability.
Interesting miscellaneous error:
The Ron Zook era started out well enough with a thrilling overtime victory over Rutgers, but whenever the phrases "thrilling overtime victory" and "over Rutgers" find themselves in the same sentence their buddy "harsh reality check" cannot be far behind.
We'll get a test of this particular theory when West Virginia takes on Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl but as a general sportswriting device, "mock Rutgers" is real passe all of a sudden.
Yesssss. Last year's edition of this featured progressively worse and worse predictions about the quarterbacks of the league. The overall impression left by it was the only way I would ever get anything right about the most important position in the game was by flipping out a la George Costanza and going against every instinct I had. Well...
If things go poorly with Brasic, Zook might say "to hell with it" and insert true freshman Isiah Williams, the jewel of this year's recruiting class. Williams' implausible senior-year stats: 1,441 rushing yards at 21.8 yards per carry and 1,841 passing yards on only 128 attempts with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions. He's guru-approved and potentially the kind of guy who can lift the downtrodden into a state slightly less so a la Antwaan Randle-El. One caution: Williams only completed 56% of his passes as a senior, but it's not like Zook's going to have anything to lose after September.
HA! HA HA HA! Brasic did get yanked, Williams did get inserted -- though he was universally referred to as "Juice" -- and he did run around like Antwaan Randle-El a lot while completing very few passes. Staggeringly few, actually: around 40%. The last quarterback to start most of a season in the Big Ten and come out with a completion percentage that low must have been decades ago.
Nooooo. I was wrong, wrong, wrong about the defense:
[Defensive Line] I don't care that three of four starters return; the assumption here until proven otherwise is that the Illinois defense will be a mere rumor to opposing offenses. Defensive tackle Chris Norwood's 7.5 TFLs are nice, but that's about it as far as playmaking goes. The true sophomore defensive ends were awful a year ago and will probably be slightly less awful this year, but I'm saving all my miracle points for "Lloyd Carr understands probability"; "Illinois defensive line is half-decent" will have to wait. ... [Linebackers] See defensive line; I don't care that three starters return. This is what you need to know about the Illinois linebackers: one of them claims to be named "J Leman." No word on whether he plans on fleeing to
MyanmarBurma. [Defensive Backs] Detroit DePorres' own Sharriff Abdullah is the top returning corner; he is 5'8" and has zero interceptions and four breakups in about two full years of starting. This neatly summarizes the experience of being an Illinois cornerback: it's nasty, brutish, and you're short.
Later I reiterated my dismissiveness:
We're Sure About
The defense. The scoreboard operators at Illinois games are going to get a nasty case of George Jetson button-pushin' finger.
Moral of this story: always be wary of teams starting scads of underclassmen and returning them. J Leman, Redneck Linebacker, became a bonafide playmaker and the Illinois defense ended up thoroughly respectable at the end of the year: 38th in total defense, 32nd in pass efficiency defense, 51st in rushing defense. A big ugly 90th in scoring defense can be attributed to the short fields Illinois gave up frequently; they were 117th in both net punting and turnover margin.
Final Verdict on the Final Verdict. Official prediction of 3-9, "but an encouraging 3-9." It was 2-10, actually, but an encouraging 2-10. Overall: accurate.
General tenor of the thing: It's going to be ugly; no one will mind.
Football will continue in Evanston after Randy Walker's shocking midsummer death but wins and losses will be beside the point. That's probably a good thing for Pat Fitzgerald, thrust into the head coach spotlight at only 31 without four-year starter Brett Basanez or much hope on the other side of the ball.
Hurray for turnover theory: One consistently useful metric is finding teams at the extremes of turnover margin and projecting that turnover margin to head meanward. (This is bad news for us. We finished third this year, though one of the caveats in the theory has always been "senior quarterback." "Running back who never fumbles" is also a good one, too, so we should be relatively safe. Not so safe: Minnesota, #1 in turnover margin and losing Brian Cupito. Bottom could drop out on the Gophers next year.) Northwestern provided a perfect capsule of it in action this year:
The outlook is grim, especially when you consider Northwestern's outlying turnover ratio: they were +9 despite having a terrible defense because said defense managed 30 takeaways, including 20 interceptions. That is well into the land of flukes. With a mewling babe replacing ancient Brett Basanez, Northwestern's turnovers figure to shoot up. Probability and common sense declare that their takeaways will travel in the reverse direction. Presto: likely two-game swing to the bad.
Northwestern went from +9 to -7 and dropped to 4-8.
Continued quarterback bullseyes. Sort of, anyway. Northwestern went into the year with three guys competing for the starting job...
The only thing anyone knows about Northwestern's starting quarterback is that he isn't Brett Basanez. Sophomore CJ Bacher and his six career completions are projected to start, and this concludes the Bacher scouting report. I've scoured the Internets for any information on him and every preview -- every preview -- says "Bacher is in competition with Andrew Brewer and Mike Kafka."
(The next sentence contains what was probably the first "ha, quarterback named Kafka!" joke captured in captivity: "Some venture to guess he will start, probably because Kafka keeps turning into a beetle." Zing, indeed.) ... I bet on Bacher, but claimed that "whoever the starter was" would see the Northwestern offense revert to the spread-option-happy version run by Basanez as an underclassman, when having him throw was inadvisable. Bacher was slowed by a fall injury; Kafka and Brewer split time proving
that they were very bad quarterbacks indeed; Bacher returned to claim the starting job and did it with his arm, not his legs; and youbetcha I'm claiming this as a correct prediction:
If Bacher's arm is as accurate is reputed he'll get the opportunity to toss a lot of short throws to possession receiver Sean Herbert and Sutton, but Northwestern is going to revert from hoping their quarterback wins games to hoping he doesn't lose them.
Impression of the Northwestern offense under Bacher gleaned from the frigid Michigan Stadium benches: screen screen screen punt. Repeat until you lose. (He did improve radically given more time -- see first half versus OSU -- and is a major reason Northwestern should improve significantly a year ago.)
Side effects. On pint-sized dynamo Tyrell Sutton:
without Basanez's arm keeping safeties honest Sutton may find the sledding significantly tougher as a sophomore. If we make the safe assumption that whoever the starting quarterback is can't approach Basanez's efficiency and command of the offense, the only way to keep that eighth man from finding his way into the box will be to establish someone, likely Kim Thompson, as a deep danger. That requires not one but two untested players to step up -- unlikely. All eyes will be on Sutton* in '06.
Sutton's YPC dropped from 5.9 to 5.3; his carries slid down to 189. None of this is necessarily his fault.
Thank you for not defying expectations. Short but sweet on the Northwestern DL: "This is probably going to be the worst defensive line in the conference other than Indiana." 92nd in rushing defense, 110th in TFL, leading sacker had 3.
On the DBs:
Long Northwestern's glaring weakness, it would be folly to expect sudden improvement from this unit but for the first time in a long time there is something resembling a flicker of hope.
Ended the year 71st in defensive pass efficiency, which is almost mediocre and the best number this unit has posted in a while.
Final Verdict on the Final Verdict: I usually have a wide spread for the teams in the worst-case-best-case areas, but with Northwestern it was uncommonly narrow: 5-7 best, 3-9 worst. I projected them 4-8, and that's where they ended up, though I didn't see that New Hampshire loss coming. Also accurate.
Post-hoc validation: So, yeah, I didn't watch that awards show, and a good thing, too, since it was dumb. Let us count the ways:
- They need to get rid of whatever the Maxwell trophy looks like and replace it with a bridesmaid crying into her wedding cake if they're going to insist on giving it to Guy Who's Not Winning The Heisman Guy every year. If there's an award for "Best QB" and you don't win it, how do you win "Best All-Around Player"? Did I miss Quinn returning punts?
- I don't think Leon Hall should have won the Thorpe, but if he was going to lose it should have been to Reggie F-in' Nelson instead of Aaron Ross.
- More "We don't understand set theory": Woodley wins best OL/DL/LB, Posluszny wins "best defensive player." (For what reason? Posluszny, good though he is, is possibly the most over-decorated linebacker since these fancy awards started coming out. Though Laurinaitis is off to a good start.)
Anyway, Woodley won some stuff and he, Long, and Hall were first-team AA. Hart was second.
- n00b Maize And Blue Tailgate has some suggestions to prevent this from ever happening ever again. Among them: don't schedule more macky-cakes, play after Thanksgiving, and accede to night games.
- Stadium and Main takes a look at next year's schedule and Michigan's prospects. Outlook: good. There are few returning QBs on the schedule. More discussion of that flashing TBA.
Personally, I think we should get a middling BCS team on the road to fill that hole in their schedule. Anyone who will give us a 2-for-1 and promises to be a respectable opponent. Hell, they can even be awful next year, don't care. North Carolina, maybe? An eighth home game against a stupid team opens us up to mocking columns about never leaving home to do anything on the road. If we can avoid that and get a pair at home against a respectable foe, awesome.
We will need more players on ice. Bob Miller of the Wolverine has some brief scouting reports on players who won't get to Michigan for a long time, three '09s and '10 commit John Merril. One, Kenny Ryan, is a recruit, not a commit. Yes, he's the younger brother of punter Ross.
We will also need more players this weekend: Dest is out for a month. Jack will miss Friday's game and is questionable for Sunday, when Andrew Cogliano will be off at Canada's WJC camp. Steve Kampfer will obviously draw in, but that leaves Michigan a defenseman short for ND. Will Red drop Rohlfs back or just go with five, giving Montville a token dressing? Don't know. Do know: this is awful timing for two critical games against ND.
O RLY. So there's this book coming out on last year's Springdale HS team that eventually sent five guys and its coach, Gus Malzahn to D-I schools last year. If you are a recruitnik you may remember that OMG Shirtless Arkansas freshman Mitch Mustain committed to Arkansas, decomitted and was widely speculated to be going to Notre Dame, then recommitted to the Razorbacks. Well, yeah:
A few weeks later, Mustain backed out on Arkansas and kept silent about his plan to attend Notre Dame, waiting on a promised scholarship.
Voigt recounts how Notre Dame offensive coordinator Michael Haywood was fine with Mustain's timetable until a few weeks before signing date. Then, the squeeze began. On his cell phone, Mustain heard Haywood say the Irish needed an answer in 48 hours.
It was at that point that Mustain called Nutt and requested a meeting. Nutt agreed and then realized it was a dead period and called right back to ask, "Does your mom mind you being out late tonight?"
Mustain thought Nutt meant 10 p.m.; the coach was talking about a minute after midnight. When Mustain arrived on campus that night, Nutt was there along with Malzahn, offensive line coach Mike Markuson and new quarterbacks coach Alex Wood.
They talked and Haywood called again the next day. Mustain reminded him he wanted to visit South Bend before making a commitment. He could wait only 24 more hours, Haywood said. That day, Mustain and Wood talked for almost an hour, drawing up plays on a dry-erase board. Markuson entered the room, acknowledged the rumors of a rift between himself and Malzahn, then wrote the names of his wife and children on the board, and told Mustain, " ... I'm not going to screw this up."
A short time later, Mustain decided to re-up with Arkansas and ignore Weis and Haywood. However, a recruiting writer penned a piece that said Weis wasn't interested in Mustain because he had verbal commitments from two quarterbacks and had told them he wouldn't take a third.
Mustain's mom was furious and said Weis planted the story "just so they could look good for the national people."
One guess as to who the "recruiting writer" was. Yup: Tom Lemming. What a weird sequence of events. Unlike Texas' pressure on Ryan Mallet, which was spurred by John Brantley's desire to commit ASAP, pushing Mustain for a commitment had no possible benefit for Notre Dame. It eventually cost ND Mustain's services. Doubly weird because Demetrius Jones is a dual-threat guy a lot of people saw eventually moving to WR or wherever.
I wonder if this is just Weis-ian SOP. Martez Wilson was an ND lock lock lock lock, suddenly wasn't interested in ND -- probably because his scholarship got pulled for some reason that's probably being spun retroactively as "grades" but was more likely another deadline -- and is now presumed to be an ND lock lock lock again. Would also explain their sudden lack of interest in Barksdale if they pulled a similar stunt, since Barksdale seems like a primadonna who holds grudges. ND gave him the hard sell and he reacted adversely to that.
Etc.: the Worldwide Reader blows up some dumb anti-playoff arguments brought forth by Bomani Jones; Wetzel on UF president Bernie Machen and playoff possibilities. EDSBS was taken over by Subcomandante Wayne yesterday, BTW.
This is not about Florida. It is not about Florida. Comments will not be about Florida. There is no Florida. There is only Zuul.
Visitors, Michigan is not your football program. One thing this Recent Event Not Involving Florida has done is reveal the deep-seated weirdness of Michigan in relation to the rest of the world. Anyone who sat through WVU and Rutgers' three overtimes to catch Lloyd Carr's rare appearance on SportsCenter probably wondered why he bothered at all. His entire segment consisted of a brief appeal to not punish Michigan for finishing its schedule before Thanksgiving followed by "I don't want to campaign" repeated ad nauseum until the helpless anchor bid Carr adieu. His only other public statement before the fateful Event came on Michigan Replay, when Carr said this:
I just think that based on some of the comments the Florida coach has made in the last two weeks, he has been campaigning strenuously for a berth in the championship game and making some statements about Michigan that I think were inappropriate. That certainly is going to stir a controversy, and who knows what that's going to lead to.
The press, desperate for any word out of Carr's mouth, slapped up story after story on that single phrase "I think [his comments] were inappropriate," delivered with all the ferocity of a euthanized koala bear to Jim Brandstatter on Michigan Replay.
Oddly, this has spurred a lot of passion. Stewart Mandel's bizarre response:
I wasn't particularly thrilled with either coach's approach, and I think the whole exchange marked a particularly ugly moment for the BCS. ... [Stuff criticizing Meyer snipped]
All that said, I thought Carr's response to Meyer went completely overboard. Never once during the final two weeks of the season did Meyer say anything derogatory about the Wolverines. He never even said his team was better than Carr's. All he said was that Michigan had its shot at Ohio State and that he felt his team had earned the right to get its shot at the Buckeyes. So don't give me this "Carr took the high road" nonsense.
It's not like this is a great shock or anything, but Mandel's plain wrong. In the immediate aftermath of the Ohio State game, Meyer is the one who went overboard:
"If they do that (rematch), there should be a playoff system next year," Meyer said. "And I do think those are great teams, because I tried to watch every snap, but I believe as we move on, we need a playoff series. I think if that (rematch) happens, I think it's over. All the presidents would need to get together immediately and put in a playoff system - like, now. I didn't think it was possible to do with all the stadiums and selling tickets, but I believe there's enough firepower out there now to get that done."
Should the Wolverines upset the Buckeyes in a rematch, Meyer would not consider Michigan the champions.
"Absolutely (there would be no national champion)," he said. "If I'm Ohio State, I go get a bunch of rings and say, 'We won the national championship.' That's not right."
Aside from the strong implication that Meyer's been watching too many Larry The Cable Guy specials, that's a blindingly stupid statement and undoubtedly what Carr was referencing as "inappropriate." I hate deploying the word "whine," which -- along with "drinking the Kool-Aid," "thrown under the bus," and "special" -- is one of the four leading indicators that the person you're dealing with is a bonafide moron, but goddamn, son, that's a whine right there. It probably warranted some mild opprobrium on a regional, little-watched coaches show. As a Michigan fan it ticks me off a bit, and I'm glad Carr called him on it. Mandel's assertion that Carr went "overboard" and thus forfeited the high road which you're goddamn right he took -- that road was less "high" than "orbital" -- further proves that whenever you ask a Northwestern graduate about Michigan, they lose their capacity for rational thought. (Something like "I could have gone there, not suffer miserably for four years, and come out with a degree just as prestigious" does not sit well.)
Exhibit B is PTI's Michael Wilbon, also a product of Northwestern, who called Carr a "Neanderthal" in the aftermath of the Recent Event, then said he'd acquired all the negative personality aspects of Bo without any of the positives. And there's the litmus test. Either you see Carr and by extension the entire Michigan program as a throwback to the bad old days... or a throwback to the good old days. You exhort Carr to emulate Mamet characters or exalt Lloyd as the dumpy guy from the Mac commercials (in one of the weirdest analogies I've seen work in a while).
In short, you believe in what the ads call The Michigan Difference or you don't. If you don't, that's fine, but then at some point we're going to do our version of the Nebraska thing and ditch it. What's Nebraska now that they chucked Frank Solich and the triple option? Just another mediocre North division team that loses the Big 12 championship game. They ditched it, and I bet in their heart of hearts they regret it.
In the end, I don't really care about narrow aisleways or too-small seats or cold metal bleachers. I don't care about the infinitesimal chance that if Lloyd Carr had spent the last two weeks on a media blitz that we would be in the national championship game. I don't care that Michigan's never going to have a recruiting run like USC or go on some five-year streak where losses flash across the sky with the infrequency and populace-terrifying inexplicability of comets. Or rather, I do care about all these things but I regard them as a necessary cost of doing business, because I believe that Michigan does stand for something that other athletic programs do not. And whatever that thing is, it is deeply intertwined with Lloyd's refusal to do anything resembling campaigning.
What I care about is that when you enter Michigan Stadium all it advertises is itself, and what I pity is the kind of person who would walk in and think about all the revenue they could make if they would just stop being cavemen.
Right, so hockey coverage has been nonexistent. This changes... now!
The Story So Far
Yuck. Awesome. What? ARRRRGH.
Basically that. Michigan started the season with a walkover of overmatched opponents, though the Saturday UConn game provided a dark foreshadowing of what was to come when Michigan was sailing through, up 6-0, when they let the UConn Connecticut Huskies of UConn Who Suck score five straight goals in a game no one saw because it was on at the same time the Penn State game was. So what happened? You got me. I was busy watching Alan Branch eat Anthony Morelli's face.
...but I can guess!
- Matt Hunwick got walked around at least twice.
- Billy Sauer faced several slapshots from the Josh Blackburn zone of you let that in?
- The third and fourth lines got caught in their zones for entire shifts.
- The freshmen defensemen brought gift baskets overflowing with turnovers.
That's wild speculation, mind you.
After an understandable split with Miami -- one of the three teams in the CCHA who have separated themselves from the pack at this early date -- Michigan faced perennial Hockey East bottom-dweller Northeastern and freakin' split, losing 3-2 despite outshooting the Huskies 47-20. (Many goals, few shots will be a theme.) That loss will be a PWR anchor all year. The season's low point came the next Friday, when Michigan went to Munn and turned a 3-1 lead after one into a 7-4 loss.
Then they ran off seven straight wins. Go figure, I don't know. They even kept the puck out of the net, keeping opponents to two or fewer goals in five of the seven wins, and against fairly quality competition: two MSU games, two against UNO, one against Wisconsin (though the Badgers are inexplicably terrible this year). Then came Minnesota, the #1 team in the country, and an 8-2 loss featuring four (four! F-O-U-R!) shorthanded goals, a dismal loss to Western that featured horrible play from Sauer, Hunwick, and Chris Summers, and a skin-of-their-teeth win at Lawson featuring Steve Jakiel in net. Jakiel did not exactly show himself to be Michigan's knight in shining armor, giving up 5 goals on 29 shots.
Michigan stands at 12-5-0 right now, headed for another tournament bid and neck-and-neck with Notre Dame and Miami for the league title but not a serious threat to do anything in April unless they stop fishing the puck out of the net every five minutes.
What's Gone Right
- TJ Hensick. Long dogged by accusations of selfishness -- though not from this quarter -- Hensick's senior year is turning into the best display of passing I've ever seen anyone in a Michigan uniform put on. Kevin Porter has Milan Gajic disease something wicked but still has 13 goals and 16 assists because he's getting two glorious chances per period on Hensick's wing. David Rohlfs was such an offensive force he played D for the past two years; this year he's averaging over a PPG and has already smashed past his previous season high for points (13 as a freshman forward) by seven. Why? Because Hensick is a dirty mofo, that's why. Theory: they should put Brandon Naurato on his wing just because he can shoot, and that's all he can do. It worked for Andy Hilbert.
- Jack Johnson. An erratic freshman season where Johnson won the crowd's admiration but not many games has been followed up by pure domination. A force at both ends of the ice, this is the Jack Johnson who went in the top five of the NHL draft. One thing: someone who does not play 30 flawless minutes a night should probably be the one getting fighting majors when Sauer gets run.
- David Rohlfs. Sure, he's the beneficiary of all those Hensick passes, but let's review: 10-10-20 with little powerplay time from a player who was a non-entity on offense before this season. Red always liked Rohlfs, placing him on the powerplay when he was a freshman, but never got much production out of him. Rohlfs does the dirty work for the Hensick line and gets rewarded for it. May be playing himself into Edmonton's fall camp.
- Brian Lebler. For a guy who never scored in junior, Lebler sure has some stickhandling ability. He makes a lot of smart little plays, takes the body, and is working his way up onto the Cogliano line slowly but surely.
What's Gone Wrong
Billy Sauer. We're approximately a year and a half into Sauer's career and there's no evidence he's good at hockey. While Sauer's not exactly playing behind the 1994 Devils here, he's also posting a .892 save percentage. Last year he posted a .898. In the USHL he did a little better at .904, but was still beat out Shane Connolly -- now Brian Elliot's backup at Wisconsin and a major suck vortex his freshman year at .885 in nine games, five of them rare UW losses -- and his .911.
That's the statistical case against him. He saves nothing. The anecdotal case against him is equally simple: last week against Western Michigan I'm pretty sure I saw him toss his blocker at a shot that wasn't even on net and deflect it into the goal.
This is different than Al Montoya, who clearly didn't give half a crap his junior year and had a proven track record of being damn good. There was always a chance he would snap out of it. Sauer has left a trail of "meh" in his wake and it's unlikely to get any better. Unfortunately, Noah Ruden's gone and Jakiel... well, Jakiel was beat out by a recruit we have coming in next year and traded. Also, five goals against.
Still, we've seen a lot from Sauer and all indications are that he's just a bad goalie. Platooning Jakiel may reveal him to be a better option.
Defensemen not named "Jack Johnson" and "Tim Cook" (seriously!). (That Cook-to-forward experiment was a disaster I hope we won't see repeated -- with Dest out for the next month with a shoulder injury and Jack gone for the WJC, I'm sure to get that particular wish until at least January. Cook has turned into a reliable, uninspiring defenseman. At forward he may as well not even have a stick. Anyway.) I don't know what's with Matt Hunwick, but ever since the game-losing goal against Wisconsin where Hunwick's man split him and a shocked Jack Johnson, I panic when I see him one-on-one against an onrushing player. And shockingly, I've been right to do so this year. People just dance past him on a weekly basis. It's amazing. Senior captain: take the damn body.
Summers and Kampfer have been turnover machines and generally tetchy, but as freshmen they have a built in excuse. Summers, at the least, skates gorgeously and clearly has tremendous upside, but too many times this year he's weakly attempted to purse-check his opponents and watched them waltz in for scoring opportunities.
- Lines without Hensick and Cogliano on them. The third line is close to getting off the dreaded MGoBlog naughty-word-for-poop list, but we need more crash and bang and less "help I can't break out of this zone." The only guys on the team who are minus overall other than statistical blip Anthony Ciraulo? Turnbull, Lebler, and Bailey (a frightening -9). The fourth line is a mishmash of JJ Swistak 2006 -- no offense, Fardig, I always liked Swistak -- a guy who can't do anything but shoot, and whichever walkon is so not being Trevor Lewis on this particular night. Effective? Not so much.
A fundamentally flawed team that's riding the brilliant performances of a few amazing players. Hensick, Johnson, and to a certain extent Andrew Cogliano are carrying the team. The offseason defections of Lewis, MacVoy, and Swystun are being felt keenly, as that's the difference between the Michigan teams of years past where gu ys like Gajic and Ryznar were our third-liners and this one. While no one would ever confuse Gajic and his sawdust stick with stardom, he was still a plus player who you could count on for double-digit goals and a whole lot of gorgeous misses. Once you get past the Hensick and Cogliano lines, the offensive skill consists of some flashes from Lebler and the (very) occasional wicked wrister Naurato gets off. Top heavy are the Wolverines.
Defensively, Johnson's dominant and then Mitera and Cook are competent. Hunwick is still an enigma; Dest and the two freshmen are turnover machines. No quarter necessary.
And then there's goal. While Sauer's not the only issue -- he's been five goals worse than a goalie with an NCAA-average (.904) save percentage, and removing those five goals moves Michigan up from 44th of 59 in GA all the way to... 37th! -- he, like junior Montoya before him, has been obviously subpar. Combine that with festival de turnover and hello sir I would like you to have a breakaway, especially shorthanded and you get bad.
Good news: if the defense tightens up and cuts down on the opposition's chances and the third line gives up and just traps the hell out of everyone, the top-end talent on Michigan's roster is enough to outscore just about anyone. Bad news: unlikely to happen, and Sauer's probably not going to get a visit from the Goalie Fairy with five-hole caulk anytime soon.
In a battle all the way with ND and Miami for the CCHA title. Probably finish second. Tournament bid as a 2 or 3 seed; fate depends heavily on opponent. WCHA = WCH-dead. Grinding team a la Cornell? Probably okay. Frozen Four unlikely; national championship verrry unlikely.
Commit #18 is another linebacker: Brandon Herron from Sugarland, Texas, a high school teammate of Michigan legacy and cornerback commit Troy Woolfolk.
One word to describe Herron: project. He's 6'2" and under 200 pounds. He plays defensive end for his high school. So he's the size of a safety, playing defensive end, and projected at linebacker. You can mark the redshirt in pen. If I could make an analogy, he's like Toney Clemons, if Clemons had spent much of his time playing running back.
The upside is treasured and cliched athleticism. I guess this is supposed to be a good quote from his coach:
"Brandon is a carnival fair freak. There is not a drill that a coach put him through that he can't do better than anyone else."
That could be a way of saying "can't really play football right now." Freelance recruiting guru Jim Stefani agrees:
80 Brandon Herron LB 6'2 198 4.55 Sugarland Fort Bend Dulles Texas Herron has tested exceptionally well the past couple of years at combines, but he didn't really start receiving offers until this past spring and is still emerging as a high-level prospect. Perhaps because he's a bit of a 'tweener between LB and safety. He will need to get bigger to play 'backer at the next level, but there's no doubting his speed, quickness (4.25 shuttle), strength (15 reps as a soph) or leaping ability (37-inch vertical). Looked very good at the Texas summer camp. OFFERS: MO,UTAH, UTEP, MICHST, MIN,NW, OKST,KANST, NEB,AZ, TT,LSU
Texas was reportedly on the verge of offering...
The Longhorns apparently were close to offering two prospects after their camp - linebacker Brandon Herron and defensive end Brandon Joiner. Apparently, nothing new has developed if any new in-state offers go out, those are the ones to expect from UT.
... but didn't. That's no shame, as Mack Brown picks and chooses whoever he wants from the fertile recruiting grounds of Texas these days. Herron then was a soft verbal to Nebraska before reversing course, claiming Michigan as his leader. He officially visited last weekend, got an offer today, and committed. Rivals and Scout have him a three-star; ESPN rates him a 77 ($), which is pretty meh.
Side note: On Woolfolk from an article on Dulles:
Defensive back Troy Woolfolk was the first to commit to Michigan and followed up his verbal with superb play. The 6-0 defensive back excelled at safety, picking off six passes.
"Moving Troy to free safety made all the difference," Dulles coach Jim Creech said. "No one could break the long one on us because of his speed and he really helped us on defense with his physical play. I really believe he's a safety."
Chances he's a safety at Michigan are reading zero, but it's more data.
Oh, yeah: wool judging!