The Setup: We left off with Michigan's opening game from the 1984 season, so there's clearly some catching up to do. After knocking off #1 Miami, the Wolverines fell back to earth the next week with a 20-11 defeat at the hands of #16 Washington, and a few weeks later they'd suffer their worst loss when Jim Harbaugh broke his arm diving for a fumble against Michigan State. Michigan went on to lose that game, and with Harbaugh out for the season the Wolverines stumbled to a 6-6 record, their worst under Bo Schembechler.
In Natural Enemies, John Kryk laid out the stakes for the 1985 season opener against Notre Dame:
Never was a Notre Dame-Michigan game more pivotal for both teams than the one played at Michigan Stadium on September 14, 1985.
Michigan was coming off its worst season in 17 years, 6-6, and its fourth straight with fewer than 10 wins. Some critics were suggesting the game had passed coach Bo Schembechler by.
Notre Dame was coming off another mediocre campaign, 7-5, and coach Gerry Faust was entering the final year of a five-year contract. It was believed Faust had to take the Fighting Irish to a major bowl game to have any chance of staying.
Thus, for both teams, for both coaches, this game was the crossroads. The winner would spring toward the path of rejuvenation; the loser would turn back and battle the same old demons for yet another season.
The mood was so tense in the week leading up to the game that after Harbaugh threw a couple picks in a scrimmage against the first-team defense, Schembechler threatened to bench him for Chris Zurbrugg, who'd filled in for Harbaugh the previous season with middling results.
Despite both teams' mediocre results the year before, this matchup wasn't short on talent. Michigan had Harbaugh, Jamie Morris, and a pair of All-Americans in defensive lineman Mike Hammerstein and cornerback Brad Cochran. Notre Dame featured longtime NFL QB Steve Beuerlein (though coming off major shoulder surgery), a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back in Allen Pinkett, and future Heisman winner Tim Brown at receiver.
How did Michigan get a top five NFL coach to come back to college? There's actually one word for it: passion.
The school is so passionate about football that it was willing to give Harbaugh whatever tools and control he asked for. The big money donors are so passionate that they offered to finance NFL-/Saban-like money for Harbaugh and a top-echelon staff. The fans are so passionate that they flooded onto every message board and commented on every medium every time some writer or TV person seemed likely to breath so much as "Har…" Jim's friends and former teammates are so passionate that they reportedly formed a train of callers and kept up an unrelenting press since November. And finally Jim is so passionate about his school that he gave up/set aside his (apparently real) NFL aspirations to come back to the farm.
College doesn't have the NFL's money, nor its cachet, nor is it the pinnacle of the sport. But the thing about college football is we care way more. That's why it happened.
Tooley. Derek Dooley goes on the offensive in the AJC to defend oversigning. He makes one cogent point: the SEC rule doesn't really end the practice since 25 x 4 = 100. Well struck.
Unfortunately, using that point to call out the SEC for putting a fig leaf on a PR problem falls flat after asserting two Immense Benefits Of Oversigning. The First Immense Benefit Of Oversigning:
I think over-signing is good for the student-athlete. Let me give you some hypotheticals: Let’s say a a guy gets hurt his senior year, and there’s a good chance he won’t play his freshman year of college. He has got to do surgery and rehab. What could we do in the past? In the past, we could sign him, grayshirt him and put him in next year’s class. That allowed him to come to the type of school he wanted to come to, whereas now those kind of guys have to go to a different school.
The kind explanation here is that Dooley doesn't know NCAA rules. The letter of intent is not required to give a student athlete a scholarship, as dozens of early enrollees prove every January. Brandon Knight never bothered with a LOI before he showed up for his single season at Kentucky.
The only thing the LOI does is lock the athlete into a school. It gets the athlete very little. If you're eligible and have signed a letter of intent and Les Miles has an oopsie and has 86 scholarship players, someone's getting screwed. Hint: it is not Les Miles.
The above scenario can still take place. It's just that the player you're benevolently grayshirting can still take a better offer if one comes along. He can go to the type of school he wanted to go to because he's not locked in. Dooley is protesting that not restricting athletes' choices prevents them from choosing.
The second scenario is let’s take a guy who academically not eligible. … You look at their mid-year grades and you see that they’re going to be an academic risk, or there’s a good chance that they won’t qualify. Well, then you have to make a decision. Because in the past, you could sign them and if he didn’t qualify, place him in a junior college, help him get into a junior college and give him the motivation to come back to your school one day. Now you can’t sign him, or you’re not willing to take that risk because you can’t be short on your roster. So now they’re more on their own, and they don’t get to sign with the school that they want to go to.
If they do qualify, they can still attend your school. Thus the Second Immense Benefit Of Oversigning is that players who aren't going to make it get to sign a meaningless piece of paper so they can pretend they are not going to JUCO.
So there’s a lot of good things about over-signing that gives more opportunities for good players. When you eliminate that, now you’re providing less opportunities for them.
"Opportunity" is a zero-sum game. To give a player an opportunity you have to take one away from someone else.
In conclusion, Derek Dooley is getting fired next year.
Did we invent the sweatervest? Rick Santorum* apparently wears them, which has prompted Slate to write about them. They attempt to trace the origins of the thing and think it originated in Ann Arbor of all places:
The Oxford English Dictionary lists the first use of “sweater” in 1882, in reference to the sleeve-having woolens used by rowers to encourage profuse sweating, and consequently, weight loss. By the turn of the century, the sweater, though still considered sportsman’s garb, had lost its perspiratory function and become a more standard jacket substitute. It seems to be at this point, or shortly thereafter, that the idea was first had to lop off the sleeves. In 1907, 14 members of Michigan’s football team were rewarded with an embroidered “M” sewn, for the first time, onto not regular sweaters, but sweater vests.
Like script Ohio, an Ohio State tradition comes from that school up north.
*[NO POLITICS REMINDER]
Origins and breakdowns. Our Helmets Have Wings—another Michigan blog that made a bad investment in a Rodriguez-themed title—provides a thorough breakdown of Michigan's most recent class. Michigan's percentage of recruits from the local area has been increasing:
Michigan's last three years are the most Midwest-heavy in a while. Whether that's increasing local talent or a decline in Michigan's ability to sell itself nationally is in the eye of the beholder. The most recent class appears to be the former. The previous ones maybe not so much.
Let's build narratives from them. Kenpom is irritated at the insistent narrative surrounding Murray State's first loss of the year:
It’s the manufactured stories that attempt to explain the often-unexplainable variability in a team’s performance that I take issue with. Some team salvages its season by going on a late winning-streak and the origins of the streak are explained by a players-only meeting or the team captain stepping up and being a leader, or a renewed emphasis on defense, etc. When in reality, the causes of the change may have been more complicated that anyone could truly understand. (Naturally, this xkcd comic comes to mind.)
Murray State’s loss last week provided one of the clearest such examples of this method of analysis. The general assumption after the loss was that the Racers cracked under the pressure [(1), (2), (3)] of their unbeaten record. Even the coach said so! The thing is, Murray never reached a point during the season where they were better than a 50% proposition to go unbeaten in conference. You play enough games in which you are heavily favored, and you are going to lose eventually. Put more precisely, a team that plays ten games as a 90% favorite is expected to lose once during that span, and the Racers have played a lot of such games this season, including the game against Tennessee State.
The average deviation from the Vegas line is an impressively large 8.4 points. A lot of random stuff happens in a college basketball game.
Short-sighted next-quarter revenue is everywhere. Mike Slive inexplicably adding two mediocre Big 12 schools to the SEC now threatens the annual protected crossover game in the SEC and rivalries like Auburn-Georgia because the league refuses to add a ninth conference game. This is good for the immediate bottom line but long-term it threatens to erode fandom. Braves & Birds:
the SEC has been so thoroughly sucked into the vortex of being a quasi-pro sport that short-term revenue maximization is now the name of the game. The changes to the conference in the 90s - splitting into divisions and joining a two-team playoff - proved to be beneficial in getting the league where it is today, but the decision in the works to jettison two of the SEC's best rivalries is unlikely to have any such upsides. Aside from the facts that the decision has angered the league's core consumers and could turn them against the new arrivals ("thanks, Mizzou, you cost us the Deep South's oldest rivalry and the Third Saturday in October"), the change will upset the rhythm of the season and ever so slightly diminish the quality of the TV product. The SEC is losing a little of its soul with this decision, and its soul is part of what makes the conference so profitable.
The Alabama-Tennessee game is so deeply part of the identities of the two schools that their reflexive response to "third Saturday in October" is the opponent they've played every year on that date since proto-Bear trudged out of the ocean. The SEC is dumping that tradition for 1) the opportunity to renegotiate a bad TV contract and 2) the sanctity of games against Furman and the Citadel.
An excellent idea. The long-rumored M-OSU lacrosse game in Michigan Stadium is official:
Team 133 will take the field for its annual spring scrimmage at noon EST on Saturday, April 14. Prior to the football team's debut, the Victors Classic Alumni Flag Football Game will be held at 10 a.m. inside the Big House.
Following the football scrimmage at 2:30 p.m. will be the "Battle in the Big House," which pits Michigan's first-year varsity men's lacrosse team against Ohio State.
I look forward to taking in a live lacrosse game for the first time.
Etc.: Michigan's goals against MSU broken down in the diaries; good discussion in the comments as well. The Joe sold out for the MSU game on Saturday. Odd timing for the first sellout in a while there. The Daily reminds us of Hunwick's Wildcat uppercut earlier in the year. If you want to know why everyone in the world is running him, that's why. Also because they get away with it. MHN interviews 2013 commit Evan Allen.