also duty-free guys falling over and grabbing their shins
So hey! At least for things that weren't football recruiting, this weekend was the anti-last weekend. I managed to miss the basketball game but did see the hockey team perform this "sweep" operation that is all the rage in Minnesota these days. Though it was hard to draw many impressions from the low-quality ESPNU feed -- it looked like it was delivered via caribou herd, though it's hard to get on anyone for televising college hockey games from Alaska -- and the sound-free broadcast, some bullets on the weekend.
Billy Sauer. I believe these will be the first unambiguously positive words I've ever written on they guy: unambiguously positive! Though he gave me the flaming heebie-jeebies at times on Saturday versus Northern (one sequence where Sauer was stuck in his net for seemingly forever, flailing around uselessly while play was going on elsewhere, stands out), he hasn't allowed a soft goal since at least the GLI. That's only four games, but that's something. Also he saved Michigan's bacon early in both games versus Fairbanks. At one point Saturday Michigan trailed 1-0 and was being outshot 22-8. He looked so poised late in that game that the panic about every shot heading towards the net that emerged midway through Montoya's junior year disappeared for a time.
Brandon Naurato? No... seriously, Brandon Naurato? A friend who shall remain shamefully anonymous said "there's a guy who won't play next year" after a goal from him -- it's been the kind of year where everything gets sarcastically assessed, even the good things -- earlier in the season. At the time it seemed plausible: Michigan brings in five forwards who are going to play and loses only two. If Cogliano, Porter, and Kolarik all stay he'd have to compete with Fardig and Hagelin for the last spot on the fourth line... as long as he doesn't spend the rest of the year scoring sick partial breakaways worthy of Hensick, firing critical cross-ice passes to set up tying-goal tap-ins, and having four-point weekends. The line on Naurato has been "boy, can he shoot... too bad he can't do anything else" for a year and a half now, but we may have to reassess him. Submitted that he's on a hot streak right now and he's not likely to keep up this torrid pace, but like Sauer he's had a bangup last four games. Now has 9-6-15.
TJ! I think TJ Hensick might be the best player I've seen at Michigan, a subset of players that goes back to '98. There's only one player in the conversation as a forward, and that's Mike Comrie. Even during the miserable 2-1 loss to Northern, your depressed correspondent found several tiny moments of pure joy watching Hensick do everything exactly right, setting up his teammates for scoring chances they couldn't finish. He's now the country's second-leading scorer; the leader plays for Air Force and thus against poor competition. (Nate Davis of Miami is tied with Hensick, but TJ has two games in hands.) I guess what I'm saying is: can we get a "Hobey Baker" chant at Yost? It's the least TJ deserves.
Hoback or Hoglind or whatever. Question for anyone in the know: is there a special Alaska ref who just does UAA and UAF games? I'd never heard of the guy they had doing the games this weekend. He seemed to do an all right job except for a tendency to put Michigan down 5x3 for two-minute chunks for little reason.
A friendly note amongst friends. As mentioned, I'm loathe to criticize anything when the luxury of a televised Michigan away game is kindly provided by ESPN or CSTV or whoever, but good Lord it can't be that difficult to get a penalty clock up. Combined with Ho-something's 5x3 carnivale, the U crew's inability to get Hockey Broadcasting 101 down would have caused several heart attacks if hockey was really popular. As it is, it just caused great irritation localized in me.
Huh? At least for the moment, Michigan is in position to receive an at-large bid to the NCAAs. USCHO's current pairwise has them in a tie for tenth with CC. I'll take a closer look at the individual comparisons sometime later in the season and attempt to determine our range of potential results; the pairwise is a notoriously flaky system prone to inexplicable swings.
Four CCHA teams are in the tournament as of right now: #4 ND, #8 MSU, #10 Michigan, and #12 Miami. No one else is in the top 25 in RPI. Interesting wild-card: the CHA's Niagara is on the cusp of an at-large bid. At #16 they'll have to move up at least two spots and hope that upsets don't happen in the major conference tourneys, but it's a possibility.
So: tourney streak has a shot, but Michigan's weak schedule down the stretch means they have precious little room for error. Hensick for Hobey. Naurato for Regular Contributor, 2007. Sauer for I'll Take Average And Like It.
Update 1/12: Linked to article on IN DT Jeff Boyd: we lead, no offer (academics)... nevermind. Removed commits Jerimy Finch and Marquis Maze. Removed everyone else, basically.
Editorial Opinion: The list of uncommitted recruits we're still in with a shot at: Ronald Johnson, Rashad Mason. We are also recruiting Jermale Hines and Donovan Warren, but they're widely presumed to be locks to OSU and USC, respectively. Mason appears to be a longshot. He's from Tennessee and is visiting various southern schools plus us. Everyone in a position to rumble about RoJo says he's going to Michigan but -- unlike Hines and Warren -- hasn't publicly expressed any sentiment about a leader.
In sum: we're waiting on Ronald Johnson and scouring for potential contributors. I'm sure a couple names will come up and commit. They'll have offers from MAC schools and few stars, but they'll be bodies who are potential contributors.
So... yeah, Finch. Even with a hypothetical RoJo commit he would have been easily the third best recruit in the class. His loss moves the class a fair chunk of the way from "disappointing" to "outright disaster." No RoJo == outright disaster, on a par with the 2000 class. If we do get him, we'll have addressed the crying needs at QB and CB from last year's excellent class and shouldn't have a Willingham-esque gap between quality recruits that's going to hammer Notre Dame's lines next year. (Other than the current gap at cornerback that's already hammering us.) There will be a lot of pressure on the Michigan staff to put together a 2008 class on a par with the 2006 group -- one bad recruiting class won't kill you but two in a row will cause problems.
Last in a series exploring MGoBlog's season previews. Previously: Dregs / Soft Nougaty Middle I / Soft Nougaty Middle II. Full Michigan postmortem coming over the next couple weeks, starting with a midweek Rose Bowl UFR not recommended for children and the elderly.
No headliners remain on the Iowa defense after two years in which graduation has taken Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux, Abdul Hodge, and Chad Greenway to the NFL, but the Hawkeyes have star power on the other side of the ball in Drew Tate (the flingingest quarterback this side of the Pecos), Albert Young, and Albert Young's cadaverous ACL. The offensive line is either experienced or OMG shirtless. The defensive line looks poised to resume the terror of the Roth-Babineaux days. The defensive back seven? Well, you can't have everything. There are indeed ominous holes at corner and linebacker.
Despite that, viewers should be prepared for a faceful of Tate this year.
I am thinking of starting up a new service to monetize the blog: each year I accept donations from fans of the three or four Big Ten teams that are getting a medium amount of top-25/Citrus-type hype. Whichever teams coughs up the least dough is treated to the full-on MGoBlog Inexplicable Mancrush season preview treatment and thus a disappointing season that ends somewhere around .500. We're two for two now. In 2005, I predicted that we'd all be eating oatmeal under pictures of our new Dear Leader Joe Tiller as Brandon Kirsch rocked our world and his OSU-M-free schedule en route to the Rose Bowl. Instead, Purdue went to the No Bowl. This year, I decided that Iowa was going to win the Big Ten (close! they were 2-6) and placed them #2 in my preseason Blogpoll.
In conclusion, I suck and am awful.
Betrayed! Drew Tate is the primary reason I was led astray. I was sold by his 2005 vivisection of Michigan -- a game the Hawkeyes somehow managed to lose despite Tate playing out of his mind -- and got caught up in, you know, the copious evidence that Tate was a killer QB:
Drew Tate is one of the best quarterbacks in the country no matter your preferred metric. He has the numbers: two straight years with around 2800 yards passing, a completion percentage hovering around 62 percent, and 22 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions last year. He has the accolades: two years on the All Big Ten teams. And for those who like talking in vague generalities, he is the very avatar of "heart" or "moxie" or whatever you people call it.
Tate must have gotten intensive offseason coaching from Courtney Sims, because he regressed badly as a senior. His interceptions shot up to 13; his touchdowns, completions, and yardage dipped despite having the exact same number of attempts his junior and senior years. Too often he would flash his essential Tate-ness only to throw a hideous Favre-ian interception or wildly overthrow or underthrow his receiver. I plead "inexplicable" here.
Right Idea, Wrong Guy. I closed my eyes and pointed at a melanin-deficient wide receiver to take up Ed Hinkel's mantel, but hit the wrong target:
Redshirt freshman Trey Stross is distinctly Caucasian and thus is guaranteed to be Iowa's annual Inexplicably Great White Receiver at some point in his career. It also helps that Stross displayed velvet hands and great leaping ability in high school.
There was no IGWR for Iowa this year -- no doubt part of their malaise, it's like Michigan without an Immobile Water Buffalo at QB -- until the Alamo Bowl, when Andy Brodell caught a couple short passes and shocked the distinctly melanin-blessed Texas secondary by running his pale ass into the endzone like he was Ted Ginn.
I think this was almost right-ish. I praised the Iowa offensive line's returning starters but worried about a true sophomore stepping into the most critical job on the line:
So those guys have a ton of experience if a fairly uncertain notion of where, exactly, they're supposed to line up before each play. Jones is the most talented, having burst into the starting lineup as a true freshman. He finds himself a preseason All Big Ten pick by The Sporting News (TSN, understandably confused, named him the fifth best guard in the country), Lindy's, and Blue Ribbon. Yanda and Elgin are both somewhere between competent to good. But there is the niggling issue of center and, oh, left tackle. ... True sophomore Dace Richardson is projected to start at left tackle. .... A large portion of the Hawkeye's success this year relies upon how effective last year's crash course as a collegiate lineman was.
Injury and the shuffling it forced opened holes all over Iowa's OL, but when healthy they were the portion of the team least likely to be a major issue.
Half understandable, half stupid. I liked Iowa defensive ends Brian Mattison and Ken Iwebema:
Junior defensive ends Ken Iwebema and Bryan Mattison were both disruptive forces as sophomores, combining for 19.5 TFL and 11 sacks. Iwebema found his way on the the media's selections for first team All Big Ten. While that may say more about the media than Iwebema in a year that featured Tamba Hali, Lamarr Woodley, and Mike Kudla, it does indicate his impressive talent.
IIRC, Iwebema suffered through some academic or disciplinary suspensions or demotions early in the season. Later, a shoulder injury sidelined him for a few games. The result was a disappointing three sacks in limited time. Mattison was excellent against Ohio State and Michigan but his 6.5 sacks were not enough to make up for the disappointing back seven. I gave the unit as a whole a 4:
A repeat of last year's performance will not be enough for the defensive line, however. Minus Hodge and Greenway and with shaky cornerbacks the line will have get more pressure on the quarterback against tough opponents than the did a year ago, when Iowa had one three yard sack against OSU and none against Michigan. If that happens again this year games against good opponents will dissolve into shootouts that Iowa would like to avoid.
You can replace "good opponents" in that last sentence with just "opponents." I thought the DL would be good enough to cover for the rest of the defense. It wasn't.
The linebackers won't be a liability.
Wrong. They were. Iowa ended up 57th in rushing defense. Though Mike Klinkenborg had an awesome name and a lot of tackles, he and his compatriots made precious few actual plays: two sacks and around 20 TFLs for the entire unit. Many of their tackles were of the variety five to eight yards downfield. Many were missed. They weren't good.
But not quite as un-good as these guys!
Adam Shada... well... is from Nebraska, if you know what I mean. He would have to buck an awful lot of history for a guy from Nebraska to become a standout corner on the collegiate level, especially as an unheralded recruit. Many cite his three interceptions from a year ago as reason to believe in his ability, but interceptions are usually fluky events and should not be relied upon for projection. Meanwhile, Godfrey was bouncing to and from safety as recently as last year and seems to have moved to corner because Iowa has no alternatives. It is always, always, always a bad sign when a player goes from backup safety to starting corner over the course of one offseason. Mediocrity here would be great.
Shada, despite his essential Nebraska-ness, was Iowa's best corner. Charles Godfrey picked up Grant Mason dise
ase and finished third on the team in tackles, a sure sign that you're excellent at giving up eight yards on third and six. He was awful. And though Shada was better, it was he who was fluttering at the edge of the frame when highlights of James Hardy's million-touchdown day were broadcast to a shocked Official MGoBlog Residence. The "2" bestowed was correct, though underrated when attempting to assess the team as a whole.
Worst what? Yeah, Iowa was three games worse than the "Worst Case" scenario presented:
Maybe the run defense disintegrates without Greenway and Hodge, but I doubt it. If it does then some wonky corners could make the Iowa defense eminently perforable again. Throw in a lot of drops from the wide receivers, the complete implosion of Richardson, and a lot of bad luck... and Iowa's still very good with a favorable schedule. 9-3.
Yeeeesh. But you know what's even more embarassing? This:
The only downers are a trip to Michigan and the shame that the national championship game is in Arizona instead of New Orleans, which prevents what would have been a beautiful joke about Tates and beads.
Iowa gets OSU in the most favorable spot possible and catches the Buckeyes early in the season when their defense still figures to be breast-feeding. Iowa wins that game, loses to either Michigan or one of the "probable wins" category, and coasts to the Rose Bowl at 11-1.
Coasts to the Rose Bowl! Never listen to anything I say again.
Best Title Ever:
Ohio State: National Chumpions! ZING!
If you ignore the actual content of this preview and pretend that the entirety of my preseason OSU prediction was "national chumpions," then it's the most accurate preview of OSU anywhere. Unfortunately, I kept going.
So I guess it's somewhat logical that when Texas loses that Vince Young guy and OSU returns that Troy Smith guy you put OSU #1 to start the season, but, uh... nine defensive starters, one reliable kicker, and two first round draft picks on offense depart and that doesn't bother anyone? Ohio State -- Ohio freakin' State -- is starting a senior walk-on who has never played a down on defense at cornerback and this raises not an eyebrow? Okay then. I have a hunch that assumptions were made: the secondary will reload. The pass rush will continue. The linebackers will be equally fierce. Ted Ginn can be a primary threat as a receiver.
But I digress. If the media was replaced with a parallel-universe version of itself that senselessly overrated the defensive side of the ball and placed great emphasis on special teams and place OSU 15th or something this intro section would be all "but wait: Marcus Freeman, a mess of five defensive ends from which someone good will emerge, and a longstanding tradition of excellence on D." The Buckeyes have many alluring qualities that nearly offset that walkon-at-corner thing.
But not quite.
This looked way worse before the MNC game.
No doubt horrible bias. One of the assertions that haunted me through the season was this assessment of Antonio Pittman:
Right: not impressed by Antonio Pittman, much to the amusement of Ohio State fans. It's hard to judge his '05 season because there wasn't much data to be had against good run defenses. It appeared to me that he was good at running through big holes and falling down when contacted but struggled to make extra yards. He's not terrible, but I don't think he's anything that, say, Jason Teague wasn't. Ohio State fans fresh off the Mo Hall era may be confusing competence for superstardom.
Pittman was and is better than that, otherwise he wouldn't be off to the NFL. He definitively showed his speed a few times this year -- and let's not talk about that -- but more impressive was his patience setting up his blockers and understanding of how plays were going to develop. I underrated him at the beginning of the year.
Recycling the goat quote. Doug Datish has a career in broadcasting waiting for him if there's a God. Again IIRC, he was the Buckeye who let loose with some hilarious smack about Notre Dame late in the year -- sadly, I can't turn it up on Google... help appreciated. In the preseason he dropped this about Quinn Pitcock:
Datish describes Pitcock with the best quote I've seen in a long time:
"I've hated blocking Quinn since I got here," Datish said. "He's like a goat. I think his legs should be reversed because he's got that weird leverage thing to them. I don't know if there's anybody better in the country."
He's not much of a penetrator but he occupies blockers with the best of them. Patterson's numbers -- 7.5 TFLs and 4 sacks -- look good for a DT, but he played end last year. Three of those sacks came in the Michigan State game, when Stephon Wheeler went out and the Red Sea caved in on Drew Stanton. (On the fourth he bowled over Jake Long to sack Henne.) His move inside makes sense since he was oversized -- 285 pounds -- and not a threat to come around the edge at end. Inside he can use his push and technique to get into the backfield as others take the edge. He's sort of a poor man's Alan Branch.
While Patterson as a poor man's Alan Branch seems a highly adept analogy, describing Pitcock as "not much of a penetrator" but a guy who "occupies blockers with the best of them" is just wrong. I did pan the ineffective Jay Richardson and pump up Gholston:
The pass rush will have to come from elsewhere, probably Cass Tech alum Vernon Gholston. In '04 Gholston was a sleeper recruit described as incredibly athletic (I've seen this picture way too often -- some creepy guy at BuckeyePlanet used it as his sig) but equally raw. Two years later he's apparently progressed better than Alain Kashama did and fought his way into the starting lineup ahead of a couple highly touted recruits. OSU's proven that they can mold defensive linemen; with Gholston's evident natural ability he'll probably be good sooner or later.
So bully for me. This unit came in as a "4," and that was a fair reflection of their talent, IMO.
Animal, etc. Your opinion of my opinion in this section will closely track with your opinion of my opinion about James Laurinaitis (totally overrated):
There's going to be a dropoff here or I'm taking my blog and going home. Freeman should be at least good, though he may be playing out of position due to shortcomings in the other two linebackers. Dispatch blogger Heath Schneider theorizes that the LB switch means Kerr is doomed and true freshman Ross Homan will end up starting once his hamstring injury is healed. Buckeye fans are salivating over Homan but the gurus were pretty meh about him and as a true freshman recovering from an injury if he starts it's a bad sign for this year.
Laurinatis obviously shows a lot of potential to start in front of highly touted JUCO recruit Larry Grant, but he's not AJ Hawk. If he is I'll cry. Kerr... who knows? I have my doubts about him. I think Grant's recruitment -- JUCOs are unusual at OSU -- speaks to question marks about the depth, especially outside, and there's a fair chance that this unit ends up disappointing. Freeman and the rep Tressel and OSU have earned keep this at a three, but it's not all roses and reloading here.
Kerr was indeed a weak spot, often kept off the field by nickel packages, Grant, and Homan. Freeman did not live up to the hype I and recruiting gurus provided; Laurinaitis exceeded it, though not to the extent Brent Musberger and silly awards committe
es would have you believe. All told there was a major dropoff, though soft competition and boatload of turnovers disguised that somewhat. Still: Mike Hart finally got loose. PSU, Texas, and Iowa (to an extent) all ran effectively against the Buckeyes. Tim Tebow, when not getting stomped on, was bulling his way forward. This was not the Hawk crew. And thank God for that.
Not so good. The Buckeye secondary was projected as dire; it was not. Malcolm Jenkins, dismissed in the preview...
True sophomore Malcolm Jenkins "wants to be in contention for the Thorpe Award this year because it means he will be helping the Buckeyes win," which is nice but fanciful. He was a meh recruit two years ago thrust into action as the Buckeyes nickelback due to a severe lack of depth in the defensive backfield. ... He was invisible during the games I saw. That's to be expected for a middling recruit pressed into service as a freshman but it also indicates that Jenkins has a way to go to replace the services of Youbouty. He'll improve, but to improve enough to be an impact corner would be a major leap forward.
...emerged as one of the Big Ten's better corners (though he's clearly a notch or two behind Justin King and Jack Ikegwuonu amongst those returning next year) and took that "major leap forward." Projected disaster and former walk-on Antonio Smith, his partner, was all right, though torched against Michigan.
Overall... Summary section:
Given the schedule the offense probably will be statistically explosive. Only four teams figure to have defenses that can even think of running with Ginn, Smith, et al. Given Tressel's tendency to play Lloydball in tight spots, though, the Bucks might not get all they might out of said really fast guys until the need to score is clear.
The defense is going to drop off significantly. This should not be a controversial statement when one of the most dominant Ds in recent college football memory loses nine starters and figures to start a secondary with almost no experience whatsoever. If Gholston does not produce, OSU is going to find itself exposing that secondary by blitzing or allowing itself to get picked apart. I find myself torn: it seems improbable that the OSU defense is going to be mediocre, but it seems equally improbable that patchwork secondary is going to be anything but.
And I said they'd go 10-2. This was obviously a couple games short, though within the bounds of Best Case/Worst case. I do think the D dropped off immensely, but a weak schedule and a ridiculous spate of forced turnovers at opportune times served to conceal the weaknesses therein until OSU's final two games of the season. I vacillate between these two scenarios for next year's OSU team:
- All of OSU's returning starters will improve and they'll regain their badass D of '05.
- Laurinaitis' strengths are wiped out because OSU hasn't recruited anyone capable of replacing their two defensive tackles. The turnovers dry up. The secondary is still pretty good, but a critical weakness in the middle of the field forces safeties up to help with the run and it's average.
Dunno which of these I think yet.
It was pointed out that Ron Lee's sudden absence from the Michigan staff passed without mention here; that it did. That occasionally happens when I throw something up on the Fanhouse that's specifically Michigan-related.
Expanding on the above-linked: Lee did seem unable to get any of his charges to improve in hindsight, but that's just hindsight. Remember when we were big fans of Morgan Trent? Yeah, that was about eight games into the season. Maybe more. Once you got past Hall the cornerback talent Lee was presented with was mediocre at best. Anyone who's followed this blog over the past couple years knows that Michigan's been snakebit at corner in recruiting. A full list of those available to Lee:
- Hall. Granted, he's very good.
- Trent. Fast as hell but seemingly incapable of cutting fast enough to bother anyone on short routes. (This may be the much-referred-to "hips" and "swivel" jargony football experts throw out on draft shows.) Was rated and came to Michigan as a wide receiver and sort of looks like a wide receiver out there.
- Charles Stewart. Future safety. Destroyed in game against Minnesota.
- Johnny Sears. Redshirt freshman sleeper who was clearly not ready. One year of varsity high school football before coming here. Lee can't really be blamed for his struggles, nor should Sears be written off just yet.
- Brandon Harrison. Five-eight guy who bounced to safety and back, played in the nickel this year. Main contribution was missing a few tackles, IIRC.
This is the long way of saying that whatever the reasons for his hasty departure, they probably aren't entirely, or even mostly, about the secondary's struggles at the end of the year. (Safeties were supposedly still coached by English, though it seems odd to have one coach for just the cornerbacks.)
So what else is there? Recruiting, I guess. It's been widely speculated that the staff shakeup last offseason was a major factor in Michigan's crappy recruiting year (other factors: 7-5 2005, ill-advised decision to split Michigan recruiting up amongst various staff members, general bloody-mindedness of the universe). Perhaps Lee was a part of that, and if you're going to have a guy who only coaches a few players, especially when your DC is a secondary coach, he'd better be a bang-up recruiter in the Orgeron mold.
So there's my completely unfounded speculation as to the reasons Lee was let go and a projection for his replacement: a pretty face who coaches "the secondary" but mostly goes into people's homes and steals the athletic children. So a Viking. Nordic hhhyyyyarr.
Bits. Tingly. Though His Eviliness Mark Shapiro left ESPN around about a year ago, those pesky "contracts" and such have left his Evil Fingerprints all over the WWL. But no longer. The Big Lead connects the dots on a string of recent cancellations and concludes:
When the powers that be at ESPN cut the cord on Stephen A. Smith's fledgling abortion of a TV show, Quite Frankly last week, it became the sixth brainchild of former honcho Mark Shapiro that was put to sleep. The only one left standing? Cold Pizza (aka 'Vietnam'), which recently lost its marquee draw, Woody Paige, and is on the verge of losing its host, Jay Crawford. (The other five shows that got clipped, says a source, are Cheap Seats, Dream Job, Classic Now, ESPN Hollywood, and ESPN New Year's Eve.)
(Odd... where are the scare quotes around "marquee draw" in "marquee draw, Woody Page"?) They've got insider email projecting a dim future for "Cold Pizza," as well. I could care less what jobless invalids can watch instead of "Heat of the Night" reruns at 10 AM on weekdays -- note to self: season 2 finale coming up Monday -- but this snippet is basically angels coming down and singing hosannahs:
All of those shows were designed to reach out to the lite sports viewer; show them a different side of sports. That was Shapiro's mantra. If Cold Pizza goes the mantra will be dead (but the show has been so whitewashed now, a warmed over version of sports center, one can argue the mantra is already dead)...
Hallelujah! Praise Norby! Now that "sports lite" extracurriculars are getting hacked to death, can we do something about the sports lite that's infiltrating the actual games?
I was going to do this... but Braves & Birds beat me to it and did it with such vicious aplomb that I could add little. Then I was going to summarize it, but Badger Sports Fan came back from the dead and did it for me. So I'll just link to the latest round of internet HeisemensPundits-bashing. In summary: the national championship game was the apotheosis of offensive scheme, never mind the 84 total yards ceded by Florida's defense. Then people laugh at him. Good times.
This has probably been posted but I'm glad Coach D is taking this rivalry seriously. Apparently he installed a countdown clock in the Duffy weight room that is counting down each second to the UM game.
Yes. That's exactly what Michigan State needs: more focus on the Michigan game to the exclusion of everything else on the schedule. Just in case they were ever thinking of winning a game after it ever again.
Query: what should this clock be labeled? ("Countdown to Disappointment" was a submission from the Victors, por ejemplo.)
I'm sure he'll be much better than Henne. The East-West Shrine game this weekend that features a few Wolverines (Breaston -- Johnny's sure to watch -- Barringer, and Biggs) and former Wolverine Matt Gutierrez, a late replacement for Chris Leak. If you find yourself without anything to do Saturday afternoon.
Yes... I'd say "likely." Toledo Blade headline on Ryan Mallett:
Texas QB likely to land at UM
We've all been stung by the insane decommit of Jerimy Finch, sure, but since Mallett is, you know, in class right this very minute I think "likely" sells our chances a bit short.
Etc.: Hairston-Porter article in the news. Must not smash face.
It's mailbag time, which means a lot of people write things that aren't me and I respond to them, hopefully in slightly less lazy fashion than newspaper guys.
First, frequent commenter Other_Andrew puts in the time to break down the Pernicious Michigan Bye effect in convincing fashion:
You once mentioned "beware the Michigan bye" or something to that effect. Two months ago, I did a little research on that issue (because I've long noticed it as well), and here's what I found:
There is quite a skew â€“ especially when you consider the fact that Michigan has the best record in the conference over this time period â€“ these teams should all have a leg up just based on the fact that they don't play Michigan. Below is place followed by conference record. There are only three instances of a finish third place or higher. Three out of 28. There are nine finishes in the bottom two (counting ties), eleven in the bottom three. Granted, Ohio State and Michigan finish near the top very often which takes up potentially high slots, but this list seems more than coincidentally lousy:
Indiana --> 4t (5-3)
Northwestern --> 10t (0-8)
Indiana --> 8 (3-5)
Northwestern --> 10 (2-6)
Iowa --> 6 (4-4)
Wisconsin --> 7t (3-4-1)
Iowa --> 3t (6-2)
Wisconsin --> 7 (3-5)
Illinois --> 11 (0-8)
Purdue --> 2t (6-2)
Illinois --> 7t (2-6)
Purdue --> 4 (6-2)
Minnesota --> 4t (5-3)
Iowa --> 11 (0-8)
Minnesota --> 5t (4-4)
Iowa --> 8 (3-5)
Indiana --> 4t (4-4)
Northwestern --> 10t (2-6)
'02: (the year OSU and Iowa missed one another, both
Indiana --> 10t (1-7)
Northwestern --> 10t (1-7)
Penn State --> 9t (1-7)
Wisconsin --> 7t (4-4)
Penn State --> 9 (2-6)
Wisconsin --> 3 (6-2)
Purdue --> 8 (3-5)
Illinois --> 11 (0-8)
Add in '06:
Purdue --> 4t (5-3)
Illinois --> 10t (1-7)
Combined record: 74-128 (36.6%)
Average place: 7.5 (note, I counted a 4t as 4.5 in all cases - three way ties get the benefit of the doubt and still only gain a half point, not a full point)
I didn't have time to pull in all the data for the other schools, so I don't know how many standard deviations away from the mean we are, but I'm guessing it's several. So firstly, it doesn't bode well for the fortunes of Indiana or Iowa next year.
However, I'm more interested in exactly why this keeps happening. Part of the reason is that the OSU game is protected and they usually finish near the top of the league. MSU is also protected and, aside from this year, they always finish in the middle. So that is probably PART of it, but that should go double for OSU considering they are protected against UM (best record over the time period) and PSU (third best record? Maybe fourth?). Yet, they missed Wisc this year and undefeated Iowa in '02. I suppose I would have to check out their entire schedule to be fair, but I don't have time right now.
My theory (might be a not-terrible one): Teams need to get fired up for the coming season early on in order to have a good year. We can look at Michigan this season for an example. As soon as Ecker was tackled by 38 Cornhuskers, every player on the team began preparation for a stellar 2006. And they delivered. [This email was sent before the Rose Bowl, if anyone takes issue with Andrew's characterization here. - ed.] So, perhaps when a team knows that Michigan is not on their schedule, they don't prepare as hard in the offseason, thinking that the schedule looks favorable. So they relax a bit and it costs them during the season. I dunno. Iowa over the next two years, missing UM and OSU will be interesting to watch. I just think that the data is too compelling to say it's just a random anomaly. But maybe that's all it is...
First, excellent work there. I tried to add up OSU and MSU's record over that timespan of 14 years and came up with impossible numbers. OSU came out as 86-26-1, which is one game extra, and despite reviewing the numbers like six times I got 50-66-1 for State, which is five games too many. Engineering, ladies and gentlemen!
In any case, our protected opponents are around 59.5% in the league, give or take a percentage point or two. Since OSU and MSU make up about 1/4th of our bye team's schedules (it's actually slightly less since occasionally a team will miss both MSU and UM or UM and OSU), the protected-games effect would explain our below-average bye opponents... if their average record was around a 46 or 47% winning clip. Thirty-six percent? Well, the football gods are angry at more than Michigan safeties, evidently.
As for your projected explanation... I don't buy it. I don't think the presence or absence of Michigan on the schedule is enough to explain things like going 0-8 in conference or whatever. Any reduced motivation because these crappy teams aren't going to get their heads kicked in by Michigan is offset by the prospect of getting away with one less hiding, IMO. Our consistently dreadful bye opponents is just the universe being bloody-minded.
Just thought I'd pass this along to you in case you haven't seen it. Gotta check out Zoltan Mesko's Facebook picture. Your Zoltan t-shirts and nicknames are hilarious, but honestly, it doesn't get much better then the man himself using the Facebook to promote his new, technologically advanced athletic prowess.
Oh, and if you check out the Facebook groups he belongs to, one of the first few that's listed is the "Official Facebook mgoblog Fan Club." Zoltan reads your site! OMG! Plus, the fact that you have a Facebook group dedicated to you with 22 members means, correct me if I'm wrong, that you have hit the big time.
And, yeah, I'm a 20 year-old college kid that doesn't even go to UM who sent an e-mail to an adult regarding an 18 or 19 year-old male's HILLLLARIOUS Facebook page. And there is NOTHING wrong with that.
I couldn't get to the Zoltan facebook page -- probably some bullcrap "laws" about "restraining orders" -- but Greg helpfully forwarded along "the Puntinator":
For those with poor eyesight, the left side reads "The Puntinator"; the right "My Mission Is To Pin You Deep." I have no insight to add here, except that's awesome.
This one is depressing.
After today's dispiriting loss, I went and looked -- I was actually at the last Michigan win in the Rose Bowl, 1/1/98. That was the last time I saw the Rose Bowl in person; obviously, it's my fault that Michigan hasn't won there since.
Then I kept looking. and found further proof that Lloyd Carr simply can't handle jet-lag. Here's the list of every game they've played since 1/1/98 west of Minneapolis:
W 11/28/98 @ Hawaii 48-17
L 09/16/00 @ UCLA 20-23 (damn Rose Bowl!)
L 09/08/01 @ U-Wash 18-23
L 09/20/03 @ Oregon 27-31
L 01/01/04 vs. USC -- Rose Bowl
L 01/01/05 vs. Texas -- Rose Bowl
L 12/28/05 vs. Nebraska -- Alamo Bowl
L 01/01/07 vs. USC -- Rose Bowl
So, yeah, 1-7 since the last Rose Bowl victory in games west of the furthest-west conference possibility. And the one victory was against powerhouse Hawaii, who finished without a single victory that year.
I'm not going to call for Carr's head. I like the guy. He's a Michigan man. But maybe he can miss the connection in Denver next time, eh?\
Yeah. The worst part is that many of those losses were flukefests: the UCLA game featured Hayden Epstein missing 27 yard field goals and an E3W headline -- "Epstein Picked Last At Kickball" -- commemor
ating the event that a football player snatched from one of my compatriot's hands and promised to show Epstein, mischievous gleam in his eye. We were about to go up two scores on Washington when they blocked a field goal and ran it back for a touchdown. The next play was a short out (IIRC) that the receiver batted into a DB's hands for another cheap touchdown. We dominated that game. *We* blocked a field goal for a touchdown against Oregon and still managed to lose the special teams battle by two touchdowns. The Texas game was a classic decided on the last play; it appeared that Shazor actually brushed Mangum's FGA with his elbow and, adding terrible unconsolable pain to injury, that the slightly deflected ball then went through Burgess' hands. Had Shazor's arm moved a centimeter either way, that field goal is blocked and everyone around these parts is a lot happier. (Let's not talk about [BOWL REDACTED].)
Right, this goes back to the Angry God thing.
What's up with people randomly posting comments on sports blogs in ALL
CAPS WITH LOTS OF !!!!!!!!! EXCLAMATION POINTS?
I meant to ask you this at the basketball game. It's like '94 when
AOL users were suddenly dropped into the depths of USENET.
It's just odd to me, because I read a lot of different types of blogs
and it's only the sports blogs where you see this type of thing (not
the sports forums, message boards, etc).
I hope you aren't referring to the commenters here, whose bad behavior usually consists of calling each other losers in the most high-faluting language available. If you're referring to The Fanhouse... well... AOL. I have to read every comment left to make sure that naughty words or tasteless jokes about Mario Danelo's death get deleted, and it makes me want to cry. I am often tempted to delete everything. But what can you do? Even the comments here took a sharp downward turn late in the season. I'm considering various schemes to combat drive-by OMG LOL flamers. It shouldn't be a problem in the offseason, but I need a button to push to cut down on the guys who spell lose "loose".
Isn't Firefox 2's integrated red-underline spellchecker the best thing ever?
Hells yes! Did I write that last one? Not tellin'.
I present the weekend in Michigan sports:
- The hockey team does its usual Saturday mail-in, losing 2-1 to a tenth-place Northern team and dropping further behind Notre Dame and Miami. Michigan is in severe danger of missing the tournament for the first time in sixteen years.
- The basketball team is obliterated by Purdue. At 2-1, the dread spectre of yet another NIT appearance looms.
- Safety Jerimy Finch, the consensus best recruit in Michigan's class not named "Mallett," decommits. To go to INDIANA. Delightfully-named tiny scatback Marquis Maze is contacted by Michigan recruiting people and mentions that Michigan coaches haven't contacted him in months and he's going somewhere else.
So... yeah. Also the Pistons lost to Atlanta and the Oilers have returned from the Year of Pronger to their usual "maybe we'll scrape into the playoffs, but maybe not" selves. I'm cranky.
What's Wrong With... Hockey.
- The second powerplay unit. I can think of no better summary of Michigan's shocking State-like lack of depth than what purports to be our second power play unit: Brandon Naurato, Brian Lebler, Travis Turnbull, Matt Hunwick, and Mark Mitera. No offense to any of those players (except perhaps Hunwick, who is a senior but still causes me to say "what the hell were you thinking?" at least once per night), but that's a checking line.
- There are two and a half defensemen I'm actually confident in. Kampfer keeps getting yanked for making horrible turnovers and Chris Summers has been little better. The NHL must really love the latter's skating (gorgeous, to be fair), because he's consistently beaten along the boards for pucks, often finds himself wildly out of position, and just gives me the heebie-jeebies in general. Throw in Hunwick's usual maddening play, and bleah.
- Goaltending. I've said my piece on this before. Sauer can't be blamed for what happened Saturday. The first goal may have been a little soft -- short side and under the glove -- but that was on a breakaway. Other than that, he was excellent. Unfortunately, that stands out as the exception.
So that appears to be defense, offense, and goaltending. The problems are comprehensive. Three guys who you can leave out of any hockey-team related bitchign you may do: Hensick, Johnson, and Rolfhs. Each has been playing near the height of his ability.
What's Wrong With... Basketball.
What's Wrong With... Recruiting.
God, I don't know. What a weird year. There's an unprecedented amount of talent in state that we manage to get very little of. Colasanti is enamored of Penn State from the beginning for some reason. Sawtelle is a Tennessee legacy. Barksdale is a needy primadonna who gets angry at the coaches for not remembering the exact sequencing of their secret handshake. Dionte Allen flees to Florida State once they tell him he can be their offensive coordinator. Taurian Washington is the second OLSM kid in two years to go to OSU. Now we've lost a recruit to... and I can't stress this enough...
Only time will tell whether Finch is brilliantly prescient or, you know, not. I'm betting on "not," myself. What a bizarre decision: premiere program coming off 11-2 season that plays in largest stadium in the country versus basketball school that occasionally scratches out a Motor City Bowl bid and plays in front of something like 20,000. This is the worst decommitment ever.
Now you'll excuse me. I have to find a flat surface to bang my head against.
Note for confused bloggers wishing to vote in the things which aren't the "Suxors." There is a form that you vote at. Here is where the Voting Machine is.
Your full list of early enrollees: Ryan Mallett, Vince Helmuth, Austin Panter, and Artis Chambers. The first three were already known to be enrolling... well... now, but Chambers is a surprise.
It's been a bad week for the kind of person who idly wonders about building a sterilization ray when he encounters most people, even when they aren't using one game, no matter how lopsided, as vindication for whatever crackpot theories they espouse. I've spent much of the week sputtering in helpless rage, so I'll let a decidedly lucid SMQB make the point:
First rule of order, as it were: recognition and celebration that sometimes this game makes no sense. Maybe we're fools for attempting to impose decorum on entertainment fundamentally fueled by its predilection for shock and anarchy.
Certain truths emerge which cannot be reconciled with any other existing facts or theories.
- - -
But we try to make coherent the naturally disordered anyway, even as our efforts at methodically synthesizing disparate facts are repeatedly mocked. In some way, then, method must account for anarchy, or inevitably succumb to it. Because this isn't science; sometimes this game makes no sense.
The bowl season - not only the mythical championship game, but also the Rose and Fiesta bowls, most prominently - vindicated the November conversation and SMQ's resume argument in myriad ways, primarily by broadcasting live to a stunned nation unmitigated dismantlings of the two teams it was repeatedly assured were "the best" and had only a little more than a month earlier engaged in a timeless struggle of wills for unquestioned supremacy rather than put on just another entertaining, emotional shootout on the same level of play as, say, Louisville-West Virginia.
But what SMQ would most like to point out in light of Monday's merciless pantsing of the team officially earmarked as the "best" in America through the three-month regular season is not that Ohio State was "exposed" or that Florida "proved" to humbled skeptics the indomitable essence that dwells eternally in its collective soul of souls. Rather, he'd like to defend the conviction that Ohio State really was, in fact, the "best" team in the nation from September through November, in the sense the Buckeyes' cumulative performance over that span deserved by all available evidence to be considered superior to that of any other team, and offer the untimely demise of that perception Monday as evidence there is nothing dwelling in the blood pumping through a team's metaphorical veins that can tell us anything about any single performance outside of itself; that is, what occurred in the championship game, like any other, was representative only of the championship game, and should inform our opinions about its participants only as an addition to the months-long whole. A prominent addition, of course, but by no means the all-defining one or, very importantly, one that can be extrapolated to prove great inner truths about certain conferences or larger trends within - unless, of course, you're willing to argue the relative merits of Ohio State's "speed," however that is supposed to be measured, and by extension that of Michigan, Iowa, Penn State and Texas, in relation to the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence of Vanderbilt and South Carolina, which each fared exponentially better against the Gators than the Buckeyes. Sometimes this game makes no sense.
Indeed. In my formative years trawling through various Rivals message boards I stumbled across a wonderfully dorky post that burned itself in my mind and fundamentally altered my perception of college football. This was in the aftermath of some Purdue-Michigan game or another that ended 31-3 in favor of Michigan. Attempting to cope, some engineer or another doodled out this ASCII image of Gaussian football genius:
|| __ __ ||
|| / \ / \ ||
\// \ / \\/
/ P \/ M \
/ /\ \
--/ ___--/ \--_____\--___
He then explained: the two uncapped pyramids are normal distributions of overall performance labelled "P" and "M"; the arrows display the actual performances turned in that day by the respective teams. On a good day for Purdue and a bad day for Michigan, Purdue could win. On an average day, they would lose but not by four touchdowns, by God. The assumption that the winner of any particular game is obviously the better team is just that, an assumption. When the score is 31-3 or 41-14 you can be fairly certain that assumption is a good one. But never sure.
One thing you would think, though: the bonafide #1 and #2 teams in the country would have pyramids damn near on top of each other. And unless probability was really screwing with us the games they produce would more often than not be worth watching after, say, halftime. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case.
As the Not Fiesta got more and more lopsided it seemed much less a vindication of the BCS for having chosen the two "right" teams and more a vicious rebuke of it for having the presumption to pick two teams at all. I've made this point before, but here it goes again: college football has the sparsest data of any sport anywhere in the world. Teams play a mere 12 games per year and far fewer than that are actual "games" rather than glorified exhibitions with a 90% or better chance of victory for a powerhouse. At the end of the year we have but the barest suggestion that one or two teams are better than the remainder, a suggestion so bare that the presumed Greatest Team Ever This Year got stomped 41-14, raising questions not about Florida's place in the Not Fiesta but rather that of the GTETY. Submitted that last year everything worked fine, but as King Kaufman points out...
It also means that three times in the past six years the BCS has offered up a Championship Game that was a blowout.
It's one thing if a title game at the end of a tournament is a rout. At least both teams plausibly played their way in. But when a system pulls two teams from the multitudes and places them in the final by fiat, that final had better be a damn good game more often than not. A lot more often. It had better be a fluke, rather than routine, for one of the teams to look like it doesn't belong.
The frequency of pretenders getting to the title game is one more reason to dislike the BCS, which brings us to about 1,800.
Eventually, the BCS is going to collapse under the weight of its own stupidity. That stupidity was in full flower this year, with the Boise State upset over Oklahoma and the Florida pole-axing of Ohio State combining to illustrate beautifully that judging teams on paper and declaring that two and only two will play for the title just doesn't work.
On the balance, there have been far fewer satisfying matchups between undisputed titans than vicious melees between indistinguishable teams vying for their place in the stupidest playoff in the world.
Which is why I felt... zo unsatysfyed after the fireworks and confetti and crystal whatever.
Ga-tors, Ga-tors, We Stick It In You.
Ugh! The official winner of the inagural MaxwellPundit?
Andre Ware. Er... Hawaii QB Colt Brennan, AKA "Timmy Chang++." I'm appalled at my fellow voters for going with the default player you didn't see fail instead of the much better, though flawed, candidates that actually played in the season's most important games. Tenuous justifications of schedule strength universal in his selections prop up Alabama (a 25-17 loss), Purdue (awful defense), Oregon State (loss), and Arizona State (awful defense) as indicators that Brennan was battle-tested or something. But shiny stats rule all, I guess.
Etc.: Entertaining story on the '87 Fiesta from ESPN the Magazine. (Via FO); problems with referees in the WCHA... hey, at least you didn't get called for like 80 penalties against the worst team in the league by a guy who has to be "Bull" from "Night Court"
Two notes from various sources:
Yards After Mundy is no more. Ryan Mundy will not return for a fifth year. His shoulder was cited as the reason and we can leave it at that.
No we can't: ARRRRRRRRGH TACKLE SOMEONE ARRRRGH.
(Note: upon hearing this news my mind wandered and I decided that he was in my Michigan Secondary From Hell, which features Mundy and Cato June at the safety spots and Todd Howard at one corner, but who's the other corner? And have I stiffed Ernest Shazor?
This also spurred further cogitation about various other Unit Groupings From Hell -- tellingly much more difficult to compile than the secondary, which sprang to mind virtually unbidden. Linebacker would be Zack Kaufman, Scott McClintock, and just lost the services of Prescott Burgess after his fine senior year. Right tackle is Courtney Morgan. David Underwood at RB, etc, etc. Let's hear it for painful thought exercises!)
Andy Moeller may be movin' on out. Persistent rumors around the Stanford campus have Moeller joining Harbaugh's staff in some capacity. He wasn't announced in a round of recent hirings that did not include an offensive line coach. There are other rumors out there about staff changes but nothing I have anything quasi-reliable on.
So. What seems clear disappears into a heap of confusion as the season clatters to a halt. Troy Smith bites the dust against Florida. Darren McFadden goes meekly against Wisconsin. Slaton's fumbles still haunt WVU, and it's not like I was voting for Brady Quinn anyway but good God the NFL has to perk up to these performances sooner or later, yes/no?
Jumble jumble. So who was the best player in the country? Hell if I know. Candidates in no particular order:
PRO: Indisputably best defensive back in the country no matter what the Thorpe people think. Crusher who mixed highlight reel hits with actual interceptions (and interceptions caused either directly or indirectly). Leader of a secondary that plain annihilated Heisman winner Troy Smith. Possesses kickin' dreads.
CON: Is a safety, and not one of those run-supporting terrors that rack up a lot of tackles. Statistically thin: 6 INTs, 34 tackles, 2 TFL. (Noted that the INTs are not thin.)
PRO: Man-mountain defensive tackle was the real motive force behind the Michigan defense all year and can't be blamed for its secondary-based implosion. One of the few Michigan defenders to show well in games against OSU (two turnovers and can't be charged with any of the damage done) and USC (key in limiting USC's run game when they bothered with it). Featured abandoning the carcass of Anthony Morelli in one of the year's iconic images. Guaranteed top ten NFL draft pick, which is not what the award is about but is an indicator of his talent at a position the layman finds hard to judge.
CON: Like Nelson, plays at a position that is not looked upon kindly by statistics. Unlike Nelson, plays on a defense that was scalded in two consecutive losses at year's end.
PRO: Is Calvin Johnson.
CON: Erased in several critical GT games this year, whether it was by opposing defenses or Reggie Ball.
PRO: Few players can claim to have the sort of transformative effect on a program that McFadden did this year upon the Razorbacks. Houston Nutt was headed for unemployment at the beginning of the year after a crushing at the hands of USC followed up by limp and fortunate wins over SEC dregs Vanderbilt and Alabama. A nooner versus #2 Auburn on CBS loomed as the first step on a downward spiral that would end in a game versus a Sun Belt foe. Then -- poof -- like that, he's gone. McFadden went Keyser Soze on the Auburn defense, staked Arkansas to a lead and they didn't look back until they ran straight into vastly superior opposition in LSU and Florida. Before the ride was over McFadden had taken the Razorbacks to the SEC championship game and a New Year's Day bowl despite playing on a team with -- and I want to make this very clear -- not even the barest hint of a functional quarterback. Also was bestowed with the year's coolest nickname: "Humanity Advanced."
CON: He was bottled up and watched his team lose the aforementioned SEC championship game and New Year's Day bowl.
PRO: Is also Calvin Johnson, basically.
CON: Missed significant chunk of the year with an injury. Of no use in MNC-shattering loss to UCLA.
PRO: A defensive tackle who throws the ball willy-nilly all over the field and to extraordinary effect. Fastest waddler in history of college football. Culpepperian/Lorenzenian dimensions always good for a laugh/wonder.
CON: Singlehandedly responsible for most of LSU's turnovers against Florida and thus actively lost his team's most important game of the season. Other players with resume flaws were usually neutralized.
...but seriously, folks...
1. Reggie Nelson, Florida. I will admit to the possibility that I have been seduced by extracurriculars that have little impact on his play on the field (Orson's mancrush, his ability to fill the disappointing shoes of the last guy who looked like the Predator, Omar Jacobs, with bone-mangling authority befitting the hairstyle -- which should now be passed on to sufficiently badass Florida safeties until the stars grow cold and dim, like the #1 finds its way onto the shoulders of Michigan receivers). But six interceptions and a convincing case from various announcers during Florida games that a fair number of the rest of Florida's staggering total of 21 picks were caused either directly or indirectly by Nelson make a convincing case outside of personal biases. Florida was fourth in pass efficiency difference in a year when knowledgeable Florida fans were downright panicking about everyone other than Nelson in the secondary.
Plus... you know you're dealing with some sort of eccentric football genius if you've ever watched the guy line up 15 yards deep presnap. Who does that? Who aligns themself like that and singlehandedly removes the deep pass from every opponent? A cover-two in one body, I give you Reggie Nelson.
2. Alan Branch, Michigan. The one benefit of Smith performing so miserably and OSU losing so heavily -- other than schadenfreude and a sudden thinning of the OSU troll horde in the comments and the crowd shots of OSU fans late in the MNC game and... let's start over.
One of the many benefits of Troy Smith performing so miserably and OSU losing so heavily in the national championship game is it allows me to vote for defensive players with a clear conscience, which I must confess was always my hope. For a long time it looked as if my MaxwellPundit ballot would be indistinguishable from that of an addled Heisman voter who only acknowledges that players exist on one side of the ball. Not so in the wake of Smith's sudden (and severe) mortality.
So here goeth Branch, which may be homerism of a sort, but all I can say is that I've watched every snap he's played this year and good God. Michigan returns Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson, two very promising players who were outstanding as mere sophomores this year, but Branch is a once-in-a-generation talent for the Michigan program. But, really, this is the reason:
For ten games this year the story was the Michigan defense, and though it came crashing down around him Branch remained steadfast in the middle.
3. Darren McFadden, Arkansas. Sheer improbability counts for something. Earns major style points for the Wildcat stuff. Featured in one of the year's turning point plays; threw touchdowns when too bored to run them in himself; arose and dragged Arkansas through the muck. This year's Atlas, and next year's, too, if Mustain doesn't improve quickly. Bonus points for nickname and tendency to zip into endzones.
4. Troy Smith, Ohio State. Hideous failure slides him way down. What do you do with this guy? He was magnificent when called upon, aside from that Penn State game, -- and even then he turned in one of the year's most memorable plays -- until the final hurdle, when he almost literally could not have played worse. There is much crowing about speed and pressure and blah blah from slack-jawed yokel country, but from this observer's perspective the only speed deficiency suddenly apparent in the Not Fiesta bowl existed in Smith's synapses. Particularly inexcusable was the final nail in OSU's coffin where he held onto the ball far, far too long, allowing Jarvis Moss to rattle it free from behind.
I still can't shake the terror that bastard engenders in me, though, so on the list he s tays.
5. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech. Pure sentiment, I'll admit, the equivalent of a Heisman voter slapping a token defender third on his ballot or that guy who voted for an Alabama punter one year. What could have been if Johnson had not saddled himself with -- and I submit that this is no exaggeration -- the worst four-year starting quarterback in NCAA history? No one knows.
Viva la defense!