Dear Diary is Waving Like He Just Don’t Care

Dear Diary is Waving Like He Just Don’t Care

Submitted by Seth on October 14th, 2016 at 4:49 PM

THIS MONTH IN MGOBLOG HISTORY:

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Happy 10-year anniversary, Anthony. Anthony? You can get up now. Seriously you guys just scored or something I think.

I LIKE YOUR DISTRIBUTION

The conference win probabilities in Ecky Pting’s mid-season B1G Expectations say Michigan is likely to make it to The Game undefeated and has a 37% chance of winning out. Also it’ll be an uphill battle for one adjacent rival to make a bowl according to S&P:

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State’s expected conference wins is now at 2.7, meaning if they’re a little bit lucky they’ll finish this season 5-7. Everybody in the B1G West is mediocre except Illinois leans pretty bad and Purdue is awful.

PATRICK SEES RED, DAVID SEES BLUE

BlueBarron is Patrick Barron, whose photography was first featured in HTTV Hockey-Hoops several years back when he was on the Daily, and who’s now part of our staff. He went to Rutgers and wrote a photo journal capturing the electric atmosphere of a night game in Piscataway:

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Okay surely they looked more excited AFTER the game started.

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See? There are two dudes behind the field goal who even have their arms in the air.

Also David Nasternack, who’s our do-everything behind the scenes guy, wrote up the first hockey game.

HISTORY MGOBLUE

As Brian mentioned in his game column after Rutgers, the last time a team got beat as badly as Rutgers by Michigan, it was 1939, and the University of Chicago (HINT HINT) shut down its football team shortly after. The grandson of 1939 Michigan player Fred Olds wrote a diary about his grandpa’s team and how the OP became a fan. Those pre-War teams do still get together, though there are very few of them left.

MGrowOld has continued his own historical series, the badly titled “Forgotten Blue”, about Michigan greats that nobody has forgotten. The latest was mono-paw pitcher Jim Abbott. Fellow pitching great Jennie Ritter was before that. Rudy Tomjanovich was before that. Who’s that?

And finally on Wisconsin week we were treated to a trip down Badger Memory Lane, which was quite pleasant thankyouverymuch until 2005 ruined everything.

EARLY SPEIGHT vs EARLY RUDOCK

Blue Indy earned undying MGoRespect for coming up with a statistical comparison of Speight’s first half versus Rudock’s last year. Remember when we thought Rudock was miserable, and that put a hard cap on how good the year could go? It’d be nice to have some way to compare those. I thought to take Indy’s stats and chart against opponent pass defense:

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Good pass defenses are on the left

The big differences came early: even if UCF ends up much worse than they look to S&P+ right now, that game and the Hawaii one were more efficient than any Speight played in the first half of last year. Rudock got two really bad pass defenses and was middling; Speight blew his away. The rest are non-opponent-dependent meh performances.

LOOKALIKES:

I’ve been waiting for this series to come up with some good ones before throwing them all out there.

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Unfortunately Rutgers players mostly look like Rutgers, all Wisconsin players look the same, and Penn State players…we’re not going there.

REDSHIRTS REMAINING: Redshirt tracker is down to Peters, Walker, Spanellis, Ron Johnson, and Quinn Nordin. Keep your eyes out going forward for some of the burned shirts who might yet get a medshirt if they didn’t see the field against Penn State or after. Candidates include Davis, Nate Johnson, Eubanks, Dwumfour, Uche, Kemp, Gil, and Mbem-Bosse.

ETC. This might be a good future roundtable or a sad one. Softball ain’t played nobody.

Your Moment of Zen:

Courtesy of Red Lee.

For Anyone Who's Ever Known a Penn State Fan

For Anyone Who's Ever Known a Penn State Fan

Submitted by Seth on October 4th, 2013 at 5:04 PM

NotMyFault_1024x1024I forgot I promised Brian to do a post about this before I went ahead and launched it in Guess the Score. Anyway, meet my favorite shirt we've ever made except maybe the Space Emperor ones. Zoom? Zoom:

PSU-Blues-Bro-Maize

To relive the excuses hit the jump. To order the shirt hit the link. We're going to preorder a bunch of these for people who'd like them in time for the game.

Guess the Score, Win Stuff: Minnie Sold A

Guess the Score, Win Stuff: Minnie Sold A

Submitted by Seth on October 3rd, 2013 at 6:15 PM

Guessthescore

Should you panic for Minnesota? Well if the things that happened before have bearing on the things that occur after, then yes, you should expect Michigan to have to come from behind in the 4th quarter.

How this works again:

  1. I put up a winnable prize that consists of a desirable good.
  2. You guess the final scores of this weekend's designated game (football or hoops, depending on the season), and put it in the comments like so:
    [Michigan Score]-[Opponent Score]. First person to post a particular score has it.
  3. If you got it right, we contact you. If not, go to (5)
  4. The desirable good arrives at the address you give us.
  5. Non-winners can acquire the same desirable good by trading currency for it.

Last Week's Game:

A bunch of you funny people picked 28-24, but nobody said we'd beat UConn 24-21. Nobody wins the PANIC shirt. This week I'd better see some close scores in here.

This Week:

Hope that events which occur do not follow the events that preceded them—if Iowa gets on the positive side of offensive comparisons…

And the Prize:

Introducing the Excuses Shirt:

PSU-Blues-Bro-Maize

The covered words are not names; I don't know what you're talking about. I'm not waiting to get one. If you're struggling with the reference:

Remember:

  • Four stops from the 1 to preserve an 8-pt victory isn't on the defense.
  • No player who went somewhere other than PSU can be THAT good.
  • Pennsylvania boys have no other reason to go to Michigan.
  • Ten points ought to be a safe enough lead when going against Brady.
  • It's impossible for five future NFLers to be good at blocking.
  • There's no way all that talent comes from having won a national championship 4 years earlier.
  • The 30-yard pass on 3rd-and-12 that he didn't catch on that same drive doesn't matter.
  • It's okay to put 2 seconds on the clock for JoePa when he asks, but not for Carr when he asks a minute later.
  • It's certainly not good line play or bad blocking that got Morelli killed.
    branch-morelli
  • They spent that week preparing for Henne, not his backup.

Also remember: don't be like that.

If you can read this you don’t need glasses:

One entry per user. First user to choose a set of scores wins, determined by the timestamp of your entry (for my ease I prefer if you don't post it as a reply to another person's score--if you do it won't help or hurt you). Deadline for entries is 24 hours before the start of the game (since I won't have time to pull them on gamedays). Those caught changing their scores after the game has started will be disqualified for life. MGoEmployees and Moderators--anyone else with moderator privileges--are exempt from winning because you could change your timestamp. If you choose the score that Brian published in the official preview and it actually ends up the final score, well, that would be pretty amazing because Brian picks scores like 29-11 all the time. We did not invent the algorithm. The algorithm consistently finds Jesus. The algorithm killed Jeeves. The algorithm is just a regional rivalry. The algorithm is banned in China. The algorithm is from Jersey. The algorithm constantly finds Jesus. This is not the algorithm. This is close. Please don't let the game be.

Hokepoints: Would Bill Walsh Draft This D-Line?

Hokepoints: Would Bill Walsh Draft This D-Line?

Submitted by Seth on March 12th, 2013 at 1:10 PM

walsh_050736-- Chris Wormley

Left: Walsh. Right: Wormley by Upchurch

A few weeks ago I stumbled onto a 1997 article by Bill Walsh where he explained how he evaluates talent at each position. I then applied those evaluations to Michigan’s offensive personnel, because Borges is supposedly transitioning us to Walsh’s WCO. People requested a defensive version so here you go.

It’s probably not as useful because the closest NFL comparison to the Mattison ideal is the Greg Mattison Ravens. But then when you read about the history of Mattison’s 4-3 under defense, you find (49ers DC under Walsh) George Seifert’s ideas peppered all over. And there’s a reason for that:

Offensive evolution doesn’t matter so much when you’re talking about going back to the offense that dominated 1997. The 4-3 under defense—or whatever you call what Michigan does by shifting the line toward the nearest sideline—is more akin to a 3-4 than the 46 defense Walsh used to deploy against the run-heavy offenses of his day, or the Tampa 2 stuff that owned the period which that article was written.

Walsh’s defensive opinions are geared toward a 3-4, and that’s perfect for our purposes, since the 4-3 under is similar in personnel. When you see it you can see why:

4-3Under

So in we go again. I'm moving right now so I can't do it all in one again. Here's the interior DL and I'll cover linebackers and defensive backs in later weeks.

Nose Tackle

stubblefieldrenespips

Dana Stubblefield / Rob Renes / Pipkins via Upchurch

Walsh Says: 6’2, 290. As discussed in the article when I made all the DL recruits into Wii avatars, the NT should have his mass low; a pyramid is more difficult to move than a cube. Like Mattison, Walsh puts the hands at the very top:

Quick, strong hands to grab and pull are critical. This is common with the great tackles. The hands, the arms, the upper body strength and then the quick feet to take advantage of a moving man, just getting him off balance.

The Walsh ideal doesn’t necessarily have to take on doubles. What he looks for is the strength to not get knocked backwards, and the ability to move laterally without giving ground. The best can burrow forward and push a guard into the pocket.

Note that Walsh is inadvertently describing a 4-3 DT more than a 3-4 NT—he’s not asking for a two-gapper who sucks up doubles but a one-gapper who can’t be budged. However the first step to beating spread teams is an NT who requires doubles, since the spread 'n shred's base dive play is most dangerous when an interior OL is releasing into the linebackers.

Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Rob Renes. NFL scouts want everyone to be Wilfork, but active, stout, and sound come first.

What to look for in a Scouting Report: "Crab person" a la Mike Martin, i.e. he plays low and with great leverage. Strength—opponents can't move him. “Has excellent hands.” Athleticism: Walsh didn’t mention this but guys who are ranked basketball recruits as well seem to have a high success rate; that's obviously a mark of quickness/agility being important.qwash

What you can learn on film: Nose tackle recruits are often so much bigger than the competition that they can terrify offenses without technique. You can learn more from the plays where he flows down the line of scrimmage then makes the play. Leverage. Hands maybe but this seems to be something most will learn in college. It's paywalled (and there's a lot that's 3-techy about him) but if you have a Rivals account go watch Ndamukong Suh's high school film and how he uses his arms to dominate guys off the ball.

What could signal bust potential: We’ve seen our share of planetary objects who get lots of hype because they’re 320-pound creatures who pop average teen OL like so many zits. This is an effort position that scales dramatically with the transition from high school to Big Ten. An athletic man-child has a massive ceiling but is as likely to follow the career path of Richard Ash as that of Johnathan Hankins.

How our guys compare: The expectation here is for Quinton Washington (above-right/Upchurch) to reprise his role at Nose with Ondre Pipkins figuring in as a rotation starter and making appearances at the 3-tech spot as well. Q came to Michigan as a spread-style offensive guard highly sought after by all the right people. His switch to the defensive line was initially a swap with Will Campbell, except Washington stuck with it. It was a painful year and change waiting for him to catch up, made worth it last year when he was a pleasant surprise at nose. Listed at 6'4-300 he's on the plus side of the size curve but not to the degree Campbell was (Suh as a senior was listed at the same size). Where this project is concerned, Hoke seems to have had success in every facet except his stated goal of making Quinton two inches shorter; I like to mention that one of my favorite DTs to watch is Kawaan Short, who was listed at 6'5 as a recruit and 6'3 as a draft prospect. That upper body strength that Walsh covets in his NTs is what made Washington stand out as a recruit and contributes to the success he's had across the line.

washingtonufr2012pipkinsufr2012

left: Q.Wash's UFR totals for 2012. right: Pipkins's. Clicking bigs them.

Ondre Pipkins arrived looking pretty much exactly like an NFL nose tackle—6'3-340—and played pretty much exactly like a true freshman, as you can make out from the UFR chart above. That's technique (i.e. hands) talking—he got minuses for getting scooped and buried and eating doubles, and plus'ed for flashes of mobility.

Richard Ash has two years of eligibility left so you can't write him off yet but he came in a non-mobile planet and had to lose a lot of weight to uncover his playing body. The Walsh measureables are not favorable, at least not yet. The freshman pegged for NT (though either could play either) is probably Maurice Hurst, since he checks nearly every one of Bill's boxes, right down to a listed height-weight of 6'2-290. Mike Farrell on Hurst:

"He has a nice frame that can still add weight but what really stands out about him is his quickness off the ball and his light feet. Hurst beat most of his opponents with his first step and he was able to win the leverage game most of the time as well."

Watching his film you can see the hands (start at 0:48). The knocks are he needs to get lower (on film you immediately see that butt sticking out) and I don't see strength mentioned much. He played running back for his high school and wasn't so big that he could get by on size so Hurst probably appreciates technique. I would guess he needs some time to put on muscle before he can contribute.

[After the jump, moving down the line]

Poaching Penn State: A Probably Pointless Primer

Poaching Penn State: A Probably Pointless Primer

Submitted by Brian on July 23rd, 2012 at 1:10 PM

tumblr_krxbm1e3Lp1qa7cj8o1_500[1]

last time: irrelevant. this time: apt metaphor

The bomb. Mark Emmert dropped it, and dropped it with unprecedented speed. The actual penalties are harsh but along the same lines as they usually are: bowl bans, scholarship reductions, and fines. Penn State's ban is four years, their scholarship reductions are 10 a year for four years, their roster limit is 65, and their fine is staggering. Penn State also vacates all its wins from 1998 to 2011, erasing Paterno's name from many record books.

This is all very terrible, and let's think of the victims.

Now let's think about football with our reptile brains.

Can we poach Penn State dudes? Like specifically defensive linemen? A standard corollary to any bowl ban is to waive transfer restrictions on players whose eligibility expires before the ban does. This makes the entire Penn State roster fair game. Furthermore, John Infante says the NCAA is "considering waiving [the] scholarship limit" for schools that accept PSU transfers, something they have officially declared now. The catch is they'd have to pay that scholarship back the next year. In any case, that doesn't apply to Michigan, which is still trying to get up to a full complement of 85 after the Rodriguez attrition fiesta. Right now they've got 78 on scholarship.

The last remaining catch is the Big Ten's intra-conference transfer rule, which was recently nerfed from not being able to offer a scholarship at all to this: 

The Big Ten altered its transfer rule within the conference, starting with the 2011-12 season. The new rule allows transfers to receive a grant-in-aid from their new school, but reduces their remaining athletic eligibility by a year. That penalty could have been waived if Wisconsin did not block him [Jared Uthoff]  from Big Ten schools.

Penn State has lost the power to block transfers at all, so it may be a free for all not only for various Big East schools but also Michigan itself. Delany has taken some time out from crushing coaches' heads, Kids in the Hall style, to mention the Big Ten is likely to throw the floodgates open:

Both current Penn State players and incoming recruits will be able to transfer and be eligible immediately. Although a transfer within the Big Ten could result in some penalties, league commissioner Jim Delany said Monday that the Big Ten’s presidents and chancellors are leaning toward allowing such transfers with no penalties.

The answer here appears to be "yes."

Would we even want to poach any Penn State dudes? Like specifically defensive linemen? And maybe a tight end? A quick glance at the roster reveals a few guys who could shore up weak spots: DT Jordan Hill was honorable mention All Big Ten and Michigan could really use him at either NT or 3-tech. Anthony Zettel is a touted recruit from Michigan coming off a redshirt… but taking Zettel complicates Michigan's efforts to get 24 guys into its 2013 class since his eligibility does not expire after this year. In general, Michigan's looking for the equivalent of fifth-year transfers in basketball. Guys who might be of interest:

  • Hill!
  • WR Justin Brown, a senior who was PSU's second-leading receiver with 35 catches last year.
  • DT James Terry, Devon Still's backup last year and a guy who will probably move into the starting lineup if he doesn't flee the blast radius.
  • DT DaQuan Jones, another backup last year. He's entering his junior season and would require taking the 2013 class down to 23.
  • Maybe some tight end but it's tough to say who. PSU's most experienced returner is Kevin Haplea, who had three catches last year and is listed at 248 pounds.
  • While it's hypothetically possible an OL could transfer, no one's coming in to play backup tackle, so what's the point?

PSU's very good LBs are seniors but with Michigan returning three starters and grooming an army of youngsters behind them it's doubtful M is the most attractive place should any of them want to transfer.

Would any of these guys even want to leave? When this happened to USC, the Trojans suffered a half-dozen transfers, but the guys who left were universally backups. (That link also includes Seantrel Henderson, but he was a recruit let out of his LOI, so that's maybe not the best example.) It's doubtful any of the PSU seniors will abandon a sure starting gig for uncertainty elsewhere with coaches who haven't thought about you since you were a recruit. They're weighing certainty and loyalty over a one-year cameo somewhere else. Anyone expecting PSU's starting 22 to defect en masse is going to be surprised.

The carnage will be greater with younger kids, who haven't had as much time to develop a fondness for PSU and State College and are staring down the prospect of never going to a bowl again. This doesn't help Michigan much since they want a quick-fix quasi JUCO thing that won't force a player out of the next recruiting class. Few of the players PSU has brought in over the past few years seem worthy of sacrificing that spot. Maybe Zettel, maybe CJ Olaniyan. Past that you're looking at a legion of three-stars and two-stars, guys who don't fit Michigan's positional needs, etc.

Would Michigan even pursue these guys? Probably not. Brady Hoke was recruiting in California or the MAC when these guys were on the market. It would be a surprise if any were on his radar. They might also feel icky about raiding PSU, and they are very confident in their recruiting and evaluation.

On the other hand, you've got an honorable mention All Big Ten DL out there who might enjoy a Rose Bowl…

What about poaching guys who haven't showed up on campus yet? PSU's 2012 LOIs have been invalidated but Urban Meyer already picked PSU's bones clean before signing day. PSU's got one Rivals 250 guy, WR Eugene Lewis. Do you want him or LaQuon Treadwell? Right.

Meanwhile, PSU's 2013 class has the nation's top TE, but Adam Breneman just blew out his ACL. They've also got a touted SDE type in Garrett Sickels who briefly listed Michigan before committing to PSU. Michigan is not the team who will take advantage of the explosion.

The upshot

Michigan is unlikely to go after anyone who would have eligibility after 2012 but could be interested in one-and-done transfers. Their most obvious needs are WR, TE, and DL, and Penn State has one third-WR type and a couple of starting-ish DTs available. Michigan may look into acquiring Jordan Hill or James Terry. More likely is that the trail of refugees heads to Big East schools.

Michigan Museday is Just Big Boned, Part II

Michigan Museday is Just Big Boned, Part II

Submitted by Seth on January 31st, 2012 at 8:03 AM

2012-01-29 Museday

This is the continuation of last week's glance at the defensive line prospects from the perspective of body size against M linemen of yore at the same age. The point was to try to project what a certain body size and shape becomes and use that to relate the huge DL crop of 2012 to players we're maybe more familiar with.

This came about when I figured tried sorting the BMI (metric weight divided by height squared) of past players and found similar guys of memory ended up beside each other. Again, BMI is really for assessing whether normal people who are not 18-year-old athletes are overweight; do not interpret the numbers as any measure of how "in shape" any of these guys are.

Last week I did the nose tackles. Moving up the line is the DT, or the 3-tech. A quick technique refresher:

D-line-alignment-and-gaps-copy

Mentally shift the "1" in a 4-3 under to shaded over the center. In Mattison's defense the 3-tech is the guy lined up in the "3" spot on the line, shaded on the outside shoulder of a guard. He's the "4-3 Pass Rush Tackle," and this defense is designed to let him be more of an attacker than a "plugger." Pursuant to our discussion, greater heights that create leverage problems at the nose are not so much of a problem at 3-tech, which makes this guy more of a 3-4 DE than your traditional over-the-guard tackle. And lo the heights climb—a good 2 inches more than NT among Michigan's DTs.

6043760326_97b1775ee5_b

I thought about sprinkling in the SDEs since there's considerable overlap. Mentally start 5-techs around Willie Henry (B.Graham is above that). I'm leaving in the current players nominally slated for DT.

Pos. Name Class Ht Wt-Fr BMI-Fr BMI-Ply % Gain
3T Quinton Washington 2009 6'3 325 40.6 37.7 -7.6%
3T Alan Branch 2004 6'6 326 37.7 38.2 1.5%
3T Renaldo Sagesse 2007 6'4 303 36.9 35.2 -4.8%
3T Will Johnson 2004 6'4 285 34.7 34.7 0.0%
3T Kenny Wilkins 2010 6'3 270 33.7 35.0 3.6%
3T Larry Harrison 2002 6'2 261 33.5 40.2 16.6%
3T Willie Henry 2012 6'3 265 33.1 33.1 0.0%
3T/5T Chris Rock 2011 6'5 267 31.7 31.7 0.0%
3T/5T Keith Heitzman 2011 6'3 251 31.4 31.4 0.0%
3T/5T Matthew Godin 2012 6'6 270 31.2 31.2 0.0%
3T/5T Chris Wormley 2012 6'4 255 31.0 31.0 0.0%
3T/5T Ryan Van Bergen 2007 6'5 260 30.8 34.1 9.7%
3T/5T Greg Banks 2006 6'4 246 29.9 34.7 13.7%
3T/5T Juaquin Feazell 1994 6'4 245 29.8 33.5 10.9%
3T Norman Heuer 1999 6'5 251 29.8 33.4 11.0%
3T John Wood 1998 6'4 242 29.5 34.3 14.2%
3T Ben Huff 1993 6'4 234 28.5 33.2 14.3%
3T Alex Ofili 2001 6'4 230 28.0 35.2 20.4%
3T/5T Patrick Massey 2001 6'8 235 25.8 31.2 17.3%

You can see there's a lot of overlap, but in general the big dudes end up inside and the leaner guys are out. Latest recruit Willie Henry is right with Kenny Wilkins as kind of tweeners between NT and DT, comparable to Will Johnson, who maintained his weight (though it was much Barwicized), and Larry Harrison, who added a lot of it and played  beside like-massed Watson in a more even front.

Will_JohnsonSo long as Michigan runs a 4-3 under you need to stop looking at a 265-pound freshman "DT" and imagine him lifting his way to 300. The talk of "frame" and "carrying more weight" could matter if you're expecting Henry to be a breather for Pipkins (he might be) but not if he's a 3-tech.

After a drop-off you get to the RS freshmen Rock and Heitzman, and incoming Wormley and Godin. This is the Ryan Van Bergen/Norman Heuer*/Grant Bowman region which slowly drifts down a list of tweener 3- and 5-techs like Biggs, Zenkewicz, Banks, and Feazell, then Normal Heuer.*

Those guys were a little smaller than seems optional at the position, but they're also both quintessential Hoke DTs; if Wormley becomes RVB2 and Godin is Bowman, that would be win. Quinton Washington was a larger freshman than any of these guys, much larger than even Alan Branch or 22-year-old freshman Renaldo Sagesse. Q has dropped his BMI by 7.6% to reach a playing shape still large for 3-Tech but not as big as Branch (who was 6'6) played. A freakmonster like Branch or (pro comparison) Shaun Rogers/Tommy Kelly can do well here by bull-rushing hapless guards on a direct route to emptying a QB's alveoli…

(after the jump, you know what's coming)

Final Maxwell Pundit Ballot

Final Maxwell Pundit Ballot

Submitted by Brian on January 11th, 2007 at 5:38 PM

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:

Reggie Nelson

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.)

Alan Branch

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.

Calvin Johnson

PRO: Is Calvin Johnson.
CON: Erased in several critical GT games this year, whether it was by opposing defenses or Reggie Ball.

Darren McFadden

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.

Dwayne Jarrett

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.

Jamarcus Russell

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.

Brady Quinn

[laughter]
...but seriously, folks...

Ballot

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!

Eleven Swans

Eleven Swans

Submitted by Brian on November 18th, 2006 at 1:15 AM


Seven Swans


We didn't sleep too late
There was a fire in the yard

What do you do? I'm supposed to type. I do this. I'm here now and I have responsibility to put words here. But there are no words. I tap stuff out and erase. Everything longer than two words is crass. Now? How can it be now?


All of the trees were in light
They had no faces to show

The Michigan locker room is going to be a quiet before the game tomorrow. I envision players quietly going about their various preparations: donning pads. Taping wrists. Applying eye-black. Cinching and tying, little tasks that pass the time. In between their thoughts will flutter sidelong at what awaits outside. A few may analyze the enormity of it in their heads directly. Harris. Hart. Breaston. Most will fall into the routine that has taken them from game to game since they first put on a helmet, falling into the patterns that people use to navigate when their brains shut down in fear or alarm or panic. They will proceed down the grooves they've worn in their life, and when they emerge onto the field they will operate more on animal instinct than anything else.


I saw a sign in the sky
Seven swans, seven swans, seven swans

Sport as war may have grown trite; sport as war may be vaguely offensive with the nation vaguely at actual war. But what is left when you emerge into a maelstrom of hate under a gunmetal grey sky and meet an implacable mirror of yourself? Are we to compare it to canasta? Whist? Bridge? Knitting clubs? Michigan will battle Ohio State hand and foot. It will be vicious, maiming, disabling. The winner claims dominion. Sometimes what's trite is true. When the stakes elevate to this sort of level there's nothing else to compare it to.


I heard a voice in my mind
I will try, I will try, I will try

Sport as war, clean war, where the champions of Good meet the champions of Evil on a mutually agreed battleground. According to the established rules, after three hours one is defeated utterly. The other is triumphant. The grey stops when the clouds do. We have taken the horror of war and stripped it down to its beating, thrilling heart. The term "Football Armageddon" is only partly in jest. Victory here is eternal. In 2006, Michigan beat Ohio State. Ohio State beat Michigan. Every year this is "The Game." This is The Game of Games.


We saw the dragon move down
My father burned into coal

My mother saw it from far
She took her purse to the bed

I saw a sign in the sky
Seven horns, seven horns, seven horns

I heard a voice in my mind
I am Lord, I am Lord, I am Lord

And then you try to figure out why the stakes are so high in the first place. Why this entire week you haven't been able to concentrate on anything by war by proxy. Fake war by proxy. Meaningless war by proxy. You will suffer humiliation when the team from my area defeats the team from your area. It's ridiculous. Intelligent people do not spend a goodly swath of their life pouring emotion and precious time into a contest that affects no one and changes nothing except some inky scribbles in media guides.

You wonder why. It occurs that at some point the Michigan program acquired the traits you hold dear -- loyalty, honesty, tradition, victory. And you wonder: if you were a different person who valued other things would you care so much? It occurs that at some point the Michigan program acquired other traits you share but do not hold particularly dear -- cantankerousness, stubbornness, an inability to suffer fools gladly. And you wonder: do I like Michigan because of the way I am, or am I the way I am because I like Michigan?

The answer seems clear.

Now the man who took that rudderless program and gave it -- gave you -- all the things you like and don't like is dead. In 1969, it all started with a victory over #1 Ohio State.


He will take you

At some point, as David Harris reclines -- head against a wall, fixing his bayonet, passing the time -- the faint ratatat of drums will filter through the concrete, beating out a march. Harris will rise from his seat, take up his helmet, and stride forward. The future holds its breath for three hours.


If you run, he will chase you

There's only one thing left. Play. Fight. Win. Please.

Maxwell Pundit Week... Uh... Eight

Maxwell Pundit Week... Uh... Eight

Submitted by Brian on October 18th, 2006 at 12:41 AM

Right? Eight?

1. Calvin Johnson, GT

Off week. Still the platonic ideal when it comes to terrifying wide receivers. And velociraptors.

2. ALAN BRANCH IS IN ALL CAPS, MFERS

(Sorry, Mike... but it's badass.)

He didn't get any of the million sacks Michigan racked up versus Penn State but he was crushing the interior of the Penn State line the entire game. He had three QB hurries, including the thudding blow that removed the last of Anthony Morelli's sanity. He was double teamed in the run game and gave no ground. What does he have to do, return punts?

3. Troy Smith, OSU

...is not being asked to do much, but has been implausibly efficient when directed to use his robot body to robot throw the robot ball. Still, numbers seem sort of hollow to me. That's just me.

4. Lamarr Woodley, Michigan

He's tied for eighth in the nation for sacks and he's better against the run. Two defensive linemen from the same team on one MaxwellBallot? Shameless homerism? Perhaps, but with Peterson and Wolfe gone, but one quarterback really asserting himself, and only Johnson checking in at WR, the field is wide open for defensive players.

5. um... er.

Is there anyone left?

5. Steve Slaton, WVU

He's fast! He's playing against children!

Pit Bull

Pit Bull

Submitted by Brian on October 16th, 2006 at 2:36 PM

10/14/2006 - Michigan 17-10 Penn State - 7-0, 4-0 Big Ten

"WE'RE PENN STATE...

AND THEY'RE NOT."

-Beaver Stadium scoreboard during pregame chintzfest

"If you put a pit bull in a ring with a chihuahua, don't expect the chihuahua to win."

-Chafie Fields, former Penn State wide receiver, after the game

It's polite to respectfully clap for a fallen opponent has he makes his way from the field. It's good etiquette, etiquette of course being a sophisticated structure of lies designed to ease social interaction. Things in our section being a little touchy, I lied with my hands as Anthony Morelli jogged groggily off the field. But my eyes danced in blood.

Watching Michigan's defense gore Penn State quarterbacks was the closest I've come to watching gladitorial bloodsport. I now have some insight into the animal pleasure of a prone, wounded opponent. Unlike Derrick Williams' freak injury last year, the parade of bewildered quarterbacks wandering off the field asking for pudding was very much the doing of large angry men in winged helmets. It was... well, not right but correct that Morelli was literally knocked into next week, if not further, by Branch. Reportedly, he asked the trainers who attended to him whether his last pass had been completed. Somewhat miraculously, it had been.

Furthermore, it was correct that his backup suffer under siege for a quarter before getting crushed by David Harris and Lamarr Woodley, making way for some guy the Michigan students aptly dubbed "Rudy" no doubt picked fresh from the residents of Paternoville. Once the fluky events that conspired to place an emphatic exclamation point on the Michigan defensive line's complete-utter-total dominance of an entire football game occurred, our mental histories rearranged themselves so that they were inevitable. How could one man possibly endure an entire game of that?

The man sent out to try could not and neither could the man sent in his stead. Thus in just seven quick games, a Michigan defense faced a cornered team driving for the game and I felt nothing but irritation at the two screen passes that had allowed the Lions the faint heartbeat they possessed. The residual terror from the Year of Infinite Pain -- which had me somewhere between "alarmed" and "panicked" into the fourth quarter of a *$&#ing BEAT DOWN against Notre Dame -- had receded.

Then: near interception, four-yard out, incomplete, incomplete, ballgame. Instead of a roar there was but a flat, damp squeak as Michigan landed the final clubbing blows and emerged from the lion's den with a rug in tow. There are no arguments about this game. No two seconds, no questionable heels or holding calls or other fantasies about if this or that. There is no "if". Michigan has still not been threatened this year. No opponent has moved the ball except when fortunate or permitted to. Its dominance is unquestioned by the foes it leaves battered in its wake. Sometimes -- and I know this is hard to believe -- seven points is a very large lead indeed.

Penn State learned that Saturday. We rolled through the undulating hills, slowly bridging the gap between Beaver Stadium and I-80. In the brief windows of radio clarity provided by high points or fortuitous angles or small eddies in the general bloody-mindedness of the universe, once excitable Penn State partisans glumly pondered the future of the program. Fields uttered the above quote and several others along the lines of "this is a tough conference" and "we aren't playing Temple." His cohosts muttered in agreement. Resignation hung thick in the air.

Only the increasingly deranged callers -- the hour being late and the liquor steadily disappearing -- seemed to remember that once upon a time that scoreboard exhortation would have been something other than hollow and humorous. Once upon a time they were Penn State. Last year seems just as far away for them as it does us, a dream that we've woken up from into harshly different realities. 8-0; 0-8. A transposition makes all the difference.