Mailbag: Vintage Punt/Counterpunt, Hurst Bowl, Patterson Transfer, Getting Served

Mailbag: Vintage Punt/Counterpunt, Hurst Bowl, Patterson Transfer, Getting Served Comment Count

Brian December 8th, 2017 at 12:59 PM

UMvsOSU Program 1997 - Cover

Vintage Punt/Counterpunt.

I found my copy of the free game program from The Game 20 years ago in a box of old school stuff. Thought you guys might enjoy the Punt / Counterpunt column from that day.

Go Blue!

UMvsOSU Program 1997 - Punt-CP

Here's a zoomed in version.

UMvsOSU Program 1997 - Punt-CP

UMvsOSU Program 1997 - Punt-CP

Thanks to Nick and Ken for being a formative part of my fandom.

Hurst take.

If Hurst is worried about getting injured and the NFL draft. Lloyds of London will insure him for injury for the one game.

So you're asking Mo Hurst to literally pay for the privilege of playing in a football game that is mostly interesting because it will feature Ryan Nanni as a bloomin' onion? Nah.

I'd be vaguely upset if Hurst wasn't going to play in a New Year's Six game but more or less understand. The Outback Bowl? Hurst going in the top ten of the draft is probably more helpful to the program in the long term than whatever bonus chance he provides of beating South Carolina.

If you want players to compete in dink bowl games, there's an easy way to do so: pay them and sign them to a contract that says "you play in bowl games."

Recruiting is DISAPPOINT.

Is it fair to say, absent a change in trajectory, that '18 recruiting heads toward at best "unexciting", possibly even "disappointing"? I guess I have grown quite used to having a consensus top 100 'bell cow' (I loved it when K Jackson used to call FB players bell cows) at basically every position group, and a difference-maker (DPJ - Solomon) for each unit. Is that a reasonable standard, or is that Osu/Bama, which I don't think is realistic until we experience some playoff success and maybe never, given relative boundary-pushing of three programs. (Although the rush to Oxford has me questioning my prejudices.)    

Thanks, dirk

I'd say unexciting is about right. Michigan's sole composite top 100 prospect right now, Otis Reese, is pretty wobbly. That's a comedown from Harbaugh's first two full efforts, which delivered guys like Rashan Gary, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Aubrey Solomon, and Cesar Ruiz—amongst many others.

There are a lot of reasons for this: it's a severely down year in-state; Michigan had to hire yet another recruiting director; playing time is hard to sell when you return a zillion starters. And, yes, Michigan is working uphill for a lot of guys because they don't have a bagman network—at least that's what I've heard from guys close to the program for years. 

But the class is still 11th and should add a couple additional big fish to finish. Adding the three Ole Miss players also helps fill scholarships with talented players. And this looks like a blip. Michigan already has two five-star-ish DEs in the 2019 class plus top 100 guard Nolan Rumler and four-star LB Charles Thomas. I expect Michigan to bounce back to their previous level in 2019 now that they've got what looks like a solid recruiting infrastructure that isn't going to take a position coaching job next year.

Patterson feels.


I am sure if I posted this as a thread I would be down voted as a babe in the woods and comments of “this is what it takes to beat OSU and Alabama” would rain down from the heavens.  But i have to say, going after Peterson when you have two VERY good QBs that harbaugh recruited in the stable feels very unmichigan.  What say you?

Thank you again for all you do and next year, please think of adding Boston to your season preview tour.  We would love to host!


I don't think taking a transfer is a problem. Players at the same position as that guy might be a little cheesed off, but I'm sure Harbaugh didn't promise them they'd get to start. Because that's crazy. But that doesn't mean it's wrong. If Patterson does come in and start—which is not a foregone conclusion—because he's the best option, that's a negative for the other quarterbacks but a positive for the rest of the team.

Michigan doesn't take JUCOs because they can't get them through admissions, and I guess that's the reason taking a transfer seems weird? I find this take baffling. Recruiting kids in college isn't any different than recruiting them in high school. And if a school that was flagrantly buying guys out from under Michigan's nose suffers as a result, all the better.


So, as a lawyer I got to thinking, .Maybe a lawsuit for violating the Constitutions First Amendmenment protection of Free Speech is in order. Maybe Ill win maybe I wont Probably will) but even if not , it wont cost me one nickle. However you will need a battery of lawyers to deal the various and numerous motions I could file.  Hope you have deep pockets.

Expect to be served

Matt Mann

This gentleman was upset that I shut the comments down and has challenged me to a dance-off.



Mailbag: OL, OL, and Also OL, Third Quarter Two Point Conversion, Wide Receiver Precision, Fancystat Preferences

Mailbag: OL, OL, and Also OL, Third Quarter Two Point Conversion, Wide Receiver Precision, Fancystat Preferences Comment Count

Brian October 10th, 2017 at 1:55 PM


[Bryan Fuller]

Struggle. There is only struggle. We can ask the how and why of it but the pale fact remains that all around us is struggle. Eat At Arby's.

Brian -

I've put Drevno on my personal hot-seat given the continued struggles with the OL both on the field and in recruiting, not to mention the hiring of Frey.  With that being said, however, isn't this year different than the last two in the way they're struggling?     

I feel like our OL struggled mostly with run-blocking the past two years (pulling, ID'ing, push, leverage, etc.) while this year we're struggling primarily in pass-blocking (stunts, twists, blitzes, etc.). 

Would that indicate it is more of a player-related issue or schematic issue this year rather than an OL coaching issue? 


These questions are always in the "I don't really know" zone since they require insight into the inner workings of the program I'm not privy to. Michigan faces twists, stunts, and blitzes whether they run or pass, and the ground game has been a struggle.

There's a clear personnel hole at right tackle, where Ulizio just got yanked for Juwann Bushell-Beatty, a redshirt junior who still managed to lose his job to Ulizio. The results have been ugly so far, far uglier than last year even after Ben Braden was forced to kick out to LT:

That's Ulizio through five games, turning a motley collection of defensive ends into Brandon Graham Voltron. Ulizio's struggled less on the ground but has not exactly been good. That is a definite player-related issue, and a Grant Newsome-related issue. But as I noted in the game column Michigan has a severe issue at tackle in part because Michigan airballed at the spot in their first recruiting class.

Michigan also attempted a change in philosophy. It seem like the addition of Greg Frey caused them to go heavy inside zone, trading surprise for execution. They did not execute, so they just gave up their surprise. Michigan did go back to something that looked more like last year's diverse run game against MSU. Despite the uninspiring numbers it's been their easiest run performance of the season to look at so far in UFR. I would say there is a schematic issue caused by that change in philosophy, which may or may not end up sticking. Survey says: probably not.

[After THE JUMP: will you be more likely to click if I say the Star Force Alfisode B trailer is behind the link? It's got a funny lookin' animal in it!]


Mailbag: Air Force Scheduling Dispute, Why Freshman WRs Are Bad, 2013 Feels, Vanilla, Hummus

Mailbag: Air Force Scheduling Dispute, Why Freshman WRs Are Bad, 2013 Feels, Vanilla, Hummus Comment Count

Brian September 27th, 2017 at 3:26 PM


27-24 man, it's tight against the Falcons


Q: Isn't this why you DO schedule Air Force?

- The service-academy factor at least makes it more of an "event" game than, say, UNLV or Bowling Green.

- Gives both offense and defense experience reacting on the fly in a real game to unusual scheming.

- You're still probably going to win—and if you don't, is there really a situation in which a team is good enough to make the Playoff but for having lost to Air Force?


The first point is almost certainly why Brandon scheduled this game. There were parachutists and a flyover and some military band guys at halftime, which is fine as far as it goes.

The second point is where I have an objection. Michigan installed an option-specific defense for this game and repped it hundreds of times. All of that effort is now mostly wasted. I'm sure there's some salutary effect from having triple option burned into your head, but it's probably minor compared to getting that many reps in against the kind of things Michigan will see from Wisconsin, PSU, and OSU.

And while a loss to Air Force is not particularly likely for a top-level team, college football programs do gain and lose recruiting momentum based on wins and losses even when you're in the kind of down year that could lead to an upset. And Air Force is consistently dangerous. Since 2010, they've has beaten Boise twice. They scared the pants off a 12-2 Big 12 Champ Oklahoma. They outgained MSU's playoff team by over 100 yards but lost because they were –3 in TOs. And they nearly upset Michigan.

Is anyone going to give Michigan credit for beating Air Force? No. Are they way more dangerous and less applicable to the rest of the schedule than any other G5 buy game you can imagine? Yes. This is why the scheduling of Air Force is unwise.

Michigan did put Army on the schedule a couple years down the road, which comes with some of the same problems. Unless the Black Knights sustain this recent blip, though, it doesn't come with the biggest one: a disproportionate shot at being upset. Army occasionally puts a scare into a 7-6 PSU team. They have not beaten a legitimately good team in recent memory.

[After THE JUMP: this is not like that other season]


Mailbag: Pepcat Blah, Peters Challenge, Blueshirting, Western Existential Crisis

Mailbag: Pepcat Blah, Peters Challenge, Blueshirting, Western Existential Crisis Comment Count

Brian December 12th, 2016 at 12:03 PM

Pepcat sadness.


infrequent [Fuller]

Why did Peppers seem to disappoint on offense this season in the big games? Lack of creativity? Poor execution on his part, maybe from limited reps? OL play? Cosmic misfortune?

There are many reasons.

  • Defenses tended to absurdly over-focus on him when he entered the game. This resulted in a bunch of plays where his presence as a decoy created huge chunks for guys not named Peppers.
  • Michigan's read option package was basic. Teams started scrape exchanging against it and Michigan did not have a response to it. This resulted in a number of plays that looked like bad reads but were in fact RPS minuses. It probably would have been more effective to just single-wing, or use Peppers as a tailback.
  • He got some bad edge blocking from tight ends.
  • Cosmic misfortune always plays a role.

In retrospect the QB package should have been dumped midseason, probably after Illinois shut it down, and Michigan should have moved on to something else. They've been good at doing this so far under Harbaugh—fullback traps fell out of the offense this year—but not so here.

The Pepcat package featured something every high schooler is relentlessly drilled on these days: defending a crazy athlete QB. Michigan is not a spread option team. They are strictly dilettantes in that department. So you had a primitive attempt at spread option going up against the last ten years of defensive advancements against it. That is ceased working after a shock and awe period isn't a surprise.

Peters chatter, QB competition


daddy needs a new Andrew Luck [Fuller]


There never seemed to be much insider chatter floating around this year about how Peters was performing in practice. Obviously last year the big chatter was that, O'Korn was out performing Rudock. Question 1.)  Do we know anything about how he performed this fall in practice?

Secondly, I for one was pleasantly surprised with Speight's performance this year and I believe exceeded what many's expectations were for him.

That being said -

Question 2.) Do you anticipate any serious competition next year between a Redshirt Peters and Speight for the starting gig?

Go Blue,

After a productive spring, Peters chatter went to zero in fall camp. You shouldn't read anything into that, though. O'Korn got talked up last year because Rudock was so bad early and there was nobody else to talk about except Shane Morris, who was not a viable target for chatter after last year's Minnesota game.

Michigan had determined it was going to redshirt Peters, he got put on the scout team, and Speight played well enough that backup talk was restricted to a few off weeks. O'Korn's existence, meanwhile, kept what backup chatter existed focused on him until Indiana.

I do expect a serious QB competition this offseason. By "serious" I mean "there is at least a 20% chance someone not named Speight is the starting QB." Brandon Peters is extremely good and should eat up ground quickly since he was not one of those QB guru guys. Speight had a good sophomore season but remains someone else's QB that Harbaugh is making do with, and we saw him switch horses midstream in San Francisco. Speight's weak performance against Iowa and turnovers against OSU leave the door open for a challenger.

I'd be surprised if Peters passed Speight. I would not be shocked.

[After the JUMP: blueshirting, sartorial discussion, why do anything really I mean seriously]


Mailbag: Coachin' Poachin', Injury Redshirts, Shelton Johnson And Shelton Johnson, The Only Good Sports Movie

Mailbag: Coachin' Poachin', Injury Redshirts, Shelton Johnson And Shelton Johnson, The Only Good Sports Movie Comment Count

Brian October 13th, 2016 at 2:24 PM


Will someone raid the braintrust this offseason? [Bryan Fuller]

Coaching turnover?

In your last UV you talked about how there's basically air behind Tom Herman as far as possibly available decent head coaches go. What are the odds that Don Brown gets poached by someone? Is that something he would be looking for?



What are the chances that one of our coordinators gets a look a high level job?  Jedd Fisch or Tim Drevno probably are most at risk?  Wheatley probably stays to fill in one of their roles if they go so he can be with his son for a few more year so that’s probably not a huge deal.  Is this something that is concerning to you?  I didn’t see it specifically flagged in your post today, nor did it really matter with Durkin moving on and the staff staying put.

Similarly, any shot at OSU getting some of their staff poached (and maybe less loyalty to Urban for a chance to move up the ranks)?

Go Blue!

-Jim Dudnick BBA ‘01

Don Brown is a minimal threat to leave. He's 61 and is a DC lifer in the same way that Bud Foster is. Nobody gets a first-time head coaching gig in their 60s unless they've been promoted from within. FWIW, when Michigan hired him Jim Harbaugh said he went into that hire trying to find someone who could provide some stability and Brown provides that. This is another reason grabbing Brown was such a good move.

Things are more uncertain on the offensive side of the ball, where both Fisch and Drevno could pop up on smaller schools' radars. Fisch has already been mentioned as a potential option at FIU by Bruce Feldman. Drevno hasn't come up yet. Meanwhile they're coordinator types under Jim Harbaugh, who runs the show on O. Usually guys like that have to put in at least five years before they start getting mentioned.

Meanwhile, these days the pay bump when you get a head job at a smaller school is small or even nonexistent. Ron Turner was making 550k at FIU; Drevno is at 800k. There aren't many non-Power 5 schools who could make a compelling offer to high-paid Michigan assistants.

Fisch is 40; Drevno is 47. Both have some time to find the right opportunity before their window of opportunity shuts. They're likely to be patient, passing up jobs like FIU as they wait for a Power 5 opening like DJ Durkin got. Even then, do you want to sign up for a meat grinder like Purdue? Probably not.

I can't say with certainty that both guys will be back but I wouldn't worry about losing them to an AAC team, and it doesn't look like there will be any plausible openings in the Big Ten this year. (Purdue: nope.) I'd bet Michigan gets everybody back.

[After THE JUMP: redshirts, Shelton Johnsons, omnipotence paradoxes]


Mailbag: Wardrobe Malfunction, Offer Clarity, I Am Not Craig From Being John Malkovich

Mailbag: Wardrobe Malfunction, Offer Clarity, I Am Not Craig From Being John Malkovich Comment Count

Brian August 22nd, 2016 at 1:39 PM

It is possible that there have been MSU players with these names.

I can't believe this is real but a great friend who is an MSU grad is sure bent out of shape over it:


Love the site and Go Blue,


The worst thing about shirts like this is the five seconds where you think you should get it to troll someone and then remember that the #1 person being trolled in that situation is yourself.

Lessons from decommit central last year

While reading the latest Recruiting Overview I saw you mention forced decommitts. It seemed like a lot of those from last year, except for the most prominent one, were summer camp offers/commits. I am wondering if the coaching staff will lay off those sorts of camp offers this year due to the backlash from last year? Perhaps they will adjust how the offer is made, such as "We like you Mr Under The Radar Recruit and think you could have a potential bright future with our team. Here is an uncommittable offer than could become committable later this year if you keep your grades up/keep getting better on the field/the math at the end of the recruiting cycle works in your favor." Could we see something like this or will offers go flying out every which way again (that's how it appeared from a layman's POV) this summer?


It does appear that Michigan has altered their approach after The Swenson Incident. A number of different recruits have been on commit watch without a payoff: AL S AJ Harris and AL OL Toryque Bateman come to mind. Harris had a huge crystal ball surge for Michigan and a bunch of insiders predicting a commit. He was apparently held off and ended up committing to Ole Miss recently. Bateman came up saying it was 50/50 he would pull the trigger—which is more like 90/10 in recruit-speak—and left without doing so; it now seems like he'll be headed elsewhere. Last year both of those guys might have committed and then been let go late in the cycle.

Michigan does have a few guys they've been less than cautious with and I do expect they'll suffer/encourage decommits over the next six months. The number should be greatly reduced from last year's double-digits.

It's impossible to know exactly what conversations are going on between coaches and "offered" players but I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of Michigan's offers are conditional in some way, whether it's grades or guys higher on Michigan's board going elsewhere. I'd assume Michigan is being a lot more explicit about this, so guys aren't jumping on the future decommit train. Michigan offered MO DE Anthony Payne and FL DE Donovan Winter, sort of. They did so after Corey Malone-Hatcher and Luiji Vilain committed, so I doubt those were actual committable offers; both guys went off the board to other schools in short order. 

Michigan is continuing the offer cannon approach. They're being much more clear about which offers are "offers." Probably.

[After the JUMP: a jerk i tell you what]

Jerky tempo response


Mailbag: Brown Transition Costs, Let's Go Moo, Schedule Balance, Autobench As Cause

Mailbag: Brown Transition Costs, Let's Go Moo, Schedule Balance, Autobench As Cause Comment Count

Brian August 4th, 2016 at 2:29 PM


let me show you how we handle punks in the district, punk [Patrick Barron]

Hi Brian,

Everywhere I turn this offseason, it seems someone is writing another article lauding the aggression, complexity, blitzes, and disguises built into Don Brown's defense. These attributes have obvious upside, but are we overlooking what could be a very steep learning curve for this defense? Can we really expect these guys to flawlessly execute such a reportedly complex defense within the first year?


Stephen Bowie

There will be transition costs; there always are. When you're real good and have real good players those can be overcome. Last year's offense had a bunch of transition costs and still rocketed from 82nd in S&P+ to 30th; in FEI they went from 100th(!) to 33rd. This leap occurred despite weekly UFR diatribes about how various people on Michigan's offense still didn't really know what they were doing.

It going to be tougher for the defense to have anything similar since they were already very good. It's hard to improve much from 20th (FEI) or 2nd (S&P+). The leap from DJ Durkin to Don Brown is probably extant; it is certainly less grand than the leap from Brady Hoke to Jim Harbaugh. Meanwhile Brown's defenses have tended to tread water in year one:

2008 Maryland 56 63 75
2009 Maryland 87 64 44
2010 Maryland 14 20 31
2011 Maryland 83 74 102
2010 UConn 40 40 63
2011 UConn 56 23 34
2012 UConn 8 22 38
2013 UConn 64 56 72
2012 Boston College 63 81 80
2013 Boston College 92 98 80
2014 Boston College 30 68 36
2015 Boston College 1 5 3

There's a ton of noise in that data since we're not accounting for returning starters and the like. It still suggests that a great leap forward should not be expected.

On the other hand, Don Brown has never been handed even half of the talent he's got this year and it's almost all very experienced. Michigan's starting D consists of eight seniors, a redshirt junior, Jabrill Peppers, and Rashan Gary. While these guys haven't worked on certain things Brown does, they've at least encountered them from time to time; they can also spend the bulk of their offseason working on that stuff since you can take it as read that they've got man free coverages down.

It is a concern, but the schedule is reassuring. I'll take a series of early biffs against teams Michigan beats by 21 instead of 28 if the payoff is a defense that is finally, finally, finally equipped with the state of the art in shutting down a spread n shred. The talent available should mitigate some of those hiccups—a coverage bust doesn't hurt you if the QB is running for his life—and once those get smoothed over, Michigan's ceiling is higher.

Let's go moo


In my travels throughout the internet I came a cross a rather unique rendition of 'Let's Go Blue' that I thought should be shared. There is a man named Farmer Derek, a high level Bard no doubt, who serenades his cattle and posts the songs on YouTube. At the end of his version of Royals by Lorde he goes into Let's Go Blue and the cattle respond in kind. I don't know what should be done with this video, if anything, but I believe it should be shared and thought you should be notified. Cheers.

Sincerely yours in football,


This is a great service to the fandom, Pinball Pete:

[After THE JUMP: not cows responding to Let's Go Blue so why even bother]


Mailbag: DL Snaps, Three Star Quality, Notre Dame Resumption, Some Guy Mad At Manuel

Mailbag: DL Snaps, Three Star Quality, Notre Dame Resumption, Some Guy Mad At Manuel Comment Count

Brian July 21st, 2016 at 12:35 PM


please stop yelling at me about Gary starting, you win [Eric Upchurch]

Hi Brian,

Care to offer your guess on how the snaps will be distributed along the defensive line?

I would guess something like this:

Strongside End: 40% Gary, 20% Wormley, 20% Godin
Nose: 55% Glasgow, 45% Mone
3-Tech: 45% Wormley, 45% Hurst, 10% Godin
Weakside End: 65% Charlton, 25% Winovich/Jones/Kemp, 10% formations with only 3 down lineman.

Obviously this exercise assumes no injuries, and I ignored Lawrence Marshall who'll probably see some playing time.

Interested in your take,


Other than the fact that you project only 80% of the strongside end snaps that seems about right to me. (I assume that was meant to be 60% Gary.)

Over this offseason I've gotten a bunch of pushback about my assertion that Gary probably won't start, pushback that now seems on point after various insiders have asserted that Wormley will stick at 3-tech and Charlton will move over to WDE. But that was always a distinction without much of a difference. Even if Gary was nominally behind Wormley at SDE there would be sufficient snaps available when Wormley rests or Michigan goes to a pass rush package for Gary to make an impact. We're talking about a half-dozen snaps per game going to one guy or the other guy.

The only slight corrections I'd make would be to bump Glasgow up to 60 or 65% and bump Charlton to 70% at the expense of three-man lines.

Hey Brian-

No doubt there's been a recruiting uptick since Harbaugh came aboard....Rashan Gary is nice.  But what about our lower ranked pickups?  I seem to remember you comparing the success of Tressel 3-stars to Carr 3-stars, and the difference was stark.

Without the benefit of seeing how they pan out, how do you think JH's less-heralded guys will stack up to those of previous regimes?  vs. Tressell/Urban?  Curious if you've noticed a difference in talent/potential based on film and summer camp performance.




I don't remember that post but there is certainly a difference in quality amongst the vast plain of three-stars, one that's relatively easy to discern. However, that difference isn't based on evaluations I make with my amateur read on Hudl highlight films. It's more about the shape of a kid's recruitment.

There are three stars who end up on the radar of major schools, and three stars who do not. Maybe a Josh Uche or a Nate Johnson comes with sufficient questions for a rating service to correctly peg them a three-star, but it's also correct for teams like Florida or Notre Dame to go after those guys when their plan A gentlemen are uncertain or head elsewhere.

When we're talking about Michigan commits the players in question have tautologically garnered big time interest. That's one vote of confidence; it's better to have other votes from top 25 schools. There's a set of three stars who are targets of multiple big schools and a set who are not. My read on how the 2016 composite three-stars fit in those bins:

  • Multiple options: Nick Eubanks, Khaleke Hudson, Nate Johnson, Josh Uche, Eddie McDoom, Elysee Mbem-Bosse, Michael Dwumfour.
  • Hard to tell: Kingston Davis.
  • Not so much: Sean McKeon, Devin Gil, Josh Metellus, Stephen Spanellis.

I believe everyone in the "multiple options" section could have gone to one of PSU, Florida, Auburn, or Oregon, along with a number of other schools on that level. Davis almost certainly could have gone to Nebraska and maybe LSU or Florida but probably not. The four guys in "not so much" didn't field much if any interest from top-half Power 5 schools. Four guys out of a class of 28 is quite good.

It's hard to get a solid read on the number of comparable prospects in earlier classes. Awareness of the "offer"/OFFER distinction has crept across college football gradually and many earlier recruiting assessments take listed offers at face value when they probably shouldn't. There's more wobble in older assessments, but here's my estimate of the number of Michigan three-stars that didn't seem to get a whole lot of interest from top 20 programs. (I'm not counting MSU here since they only started recruiting like a top 20 team last year and are no longer.) You'll find some excellent players on these lists, but all told it's better to be noticed by more than one big program:

  • 2012 (9/22): Matt Godin, Kaleb Ringer, Sione Houma, Jehu Chesson , Drake Johnson, Willie Henry, Ben Braden, Jeremy Clark, Blake Bars. Godin and Bars might have had real interest from Notre Dame.
  • 2013 (7/28): Jaron Dukes, Csont'e York, Channing Stribling, Khalid Hill, Da'Mario Jones, Reon Dawson, Scott Sypniewski. I'm leaving out kickers but counting Sypniewski here since long snappers are usually walkons; Harbaugh just got the #2 guy in the country as a PWO. Dan Samuelson and Ross Douglas were Nebraska and PSU decommit three-stars and the only guys in that range who had big time offers.
  • 2014 (6/16): Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Wilton Speight, Maurice Ways, Noah Furbush, Brandon Watson, Brady Pallante. Jared Wangler was a PSU decommit.
  • 2015 (5/14): Karan Higdon, Grant Perry, Keith Washington, Jon Runyan Jr, Nolan Ulizio. Shelton Johnson was a battle against FSU; Reuben Jones against Nebraska.

Lone wolf fliers comprised over a third of the four Michigan classes before Harbaugh got a full recruiting cycle, and just 14% of the 2016 class. So yes, the 2016 class's three stars are a different caliber.

Given Harbaugh's tendency to rack up decommits it's too early to state with any confidence how many will be in the 2017 class. As of right now I'd put Joel Honigford (Oregon), J'Marick Woods (VT, maybe LSU), Phillip Paea (Oregon), and maybe Andrew Stueber (Tennessee) into the "major target" category" and Ben Mason, Carter Dunaway, Chase Lasater, and Kurt Taylor into the "not so much" category. (I'm assuming Benjamin St Juste ends up a composite four star.)

[After the JUMP: Notre Dame resumption!]


A Guide To College Hockey

A Guide To College Hockey Comment Count

Brian May 27th, 2016 at 3:22 PM

Afternoon guys,

I’ve been mulling this over for a bit and I don’t know it makes for a mailbag question, a separate post or even just a “here are some helpful links Dana” reply but here goes;

How would you guys explain (REALLY explain) college hockey to someone new to the sport?  I’m not a complete layman, I follow the team through MGoBlog and even spent a couple summers at Red Berenson camp years ago, but when it comes to Michigan athletics it’s definitely Football, Basketball and Hockey in that order that I follow.

So again, how would you guys explain college hockey to a layman or someone who wanted to know more;

- Conference makeup and where the power in college hockey lies (who is the SEC of hockey, etc) -

- RPI (convenient way to rank all 60 teams or nah?)

- Recruiting (where do US College Hockey players come from I guess…did I mention I’m Canadian?)

- Scheduling

Etc, etc.


Time to break out some bigger headers.



Penn State blew it up, but it needed to blow up [Bill Rapai]

College hockey is a bifurcated sport with two main areas of interest: the East, which consists mostly of New England and the occasional Pennsylvania team, and the West, which is concentrated in Minnesota and Michigan with scattered outposts in Nebraska, Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. There are also a couple of Alaska teams funded largely by the state's desire to have local sports of any variety and two weird outliers: Arizona State just started a program, and Alabama-Huntsville has one for… reasons.

The East is more or less static with some minor movement. From top to bottom:

  1. Hockey East contains almost all of the big state schools in New England plus various private institutions that fit in for historical reasons. BU and BC are the perennial powers with a rotating cast of other teams who are good enough to make the tournament. UNH and Maine used to be powers but have fallen off a bunch recently. ND joined up and is quickly departing because HE is kind of perfect.
  2. The ECAC is about half Ivy League schools and half academically respectable schools in upstate New York and environs. Historically they've been a weak league with one bid more often than not, but in recent years surges from Union, Quinnipiac, Yale, and Harvard have seen them lock down high seeds in the national tournament and even a couple of national titles. Sustainability of this surge is in question.
  3. Atlantic Hockey is a one-bid league that does not offer the full scholarship complement of 18—I think it's 12 for them. They're the Horizon League, basically.

The vast majority of these teams are smack on top of each other. HE and the ECAC are bus leagues in which most weekends see two different teams come to town. AH is a little more spread out with teams in Pittsburgh (Robert Morris, Mercyhurst) and Colorado Springs (Air Force, which wants to be in the same conference as Army and Navy).

The West is now all over the place. There used to be two conferences, the WHCA and CCHA. The CCHA was all the Michigan teams save Tech and everything else in the Midwest. The WCHA was all the Minnesota teams, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and the two Colorado teams. Those conferences split the Alaska teams. The Big Ten blew this all apart a couple years ago, and now:

  1. The NCHC is more or less the top half of the old WCHA (minus Minnesota and Wisconsin) plus WMU and Miami from the old CCHA. This means they have a couple of major powers and a large number of respectable outfits. They are probably the best conference in college hockey at the moment. They just added Arizona State, an upstart program that just finished its first season.
  2. The Big Ten is a six-team league consisting of Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State. It is currently in a down phase since Michigan is in Berenson limbo, Minnesota had an off year, Wisconsin took too long to replace Mike Eaves, and Michigan State spends every day of every year spitting on their rich heritage. Wisconsin is going to get real good real quick here and once Mel Pearson (knock on wood) comes back from Tech, Michigan will also get back to what it was. ND, who will be good as long as Jeff Jackson is around, joins next year.
  3. The WCHA got stuck with the leftovers from both the CCHA and WCHA. There are some good teams in there, but it's more mid-major than major.

The West is far more spread out than the East. The addition of the Big Ten was deeply controversial, especially in Minnesota, but once Penn State added a program it was a fait accompli.

One benefit of shakeup: the addition of a conference now gives new programs a landing spot. Previously the WCHA and CCHA were both full at 12 teams; new programs eked out an existence as an independent or in the ever-shifting, now-defunct College Hockey America. Many of them failed. Without the Big Ten it's tough to see an Arizona State adding a program. Also, Penn State has been a great success. They just missed the tournament this year and play to a sold-out rink.


I believe hockey is unique amongst NCAA sports in that they select and seed their tournament exclusively by a formula. The Pairwise used to be a complicated pile of factors that overweighted some things (recent games, nonconference schedule) and underweighted others (how good you are at hockey). Elements of it were gradually pared away until the current version, in which there are three factors. One of those, head to head, usually doesn't apply. RPI breaks ties when it disagrees with the other factor, common opponents. So these days with very limited exceptions RPI == Pairwise.

College hockey RPI is okay. They do some home/away weighting that is out of whack with stats and they have a quality win bonus for beating top 20 teams. (This is approximately the top third of D-I.) That latter plus the relative lack of true tomato cans means a lot of the issues basketball RPI has do not apply. The end result makes enough sense that people don't complain about it much.

There is a competing ranking system called KRACH that is more mathematically rigorous but tends to overrate schedule strength; the differences between the two are a lot more muted now that the WCHA, which was by far the best conference before the shakeup, is no longer in its Voltron form.


Teams play 34 or 36 regular season games plus a conference tournament and an NCAA tournament. (You get a couple extra games if you go to Alaska.) Games are usually on Friday and Saturday nights with the occasional midweek or Sunday game. Somewhere between 20 and 28 of these are conference games, depending on the number of teams in each. Conference tournaments generally have a round or two of best-two-of-three matchups and then a single-elimination final 4 (or 5).

TV coverage is poor unless you're Minnesota or Notre Dame. Regional sports networks were generally carry a handful of games. FSN covers every Minnesota game that the BTN does not; NBCSN picked up a bunch of ND games because ND. The Big Ten Network covers a reasonable number. Full coverage is rare, and smaller schools often rely on streaming. Even megapower North Dakota struggles to get TV coverage, with only 4 national games a year ago.

The Tournament

Hockey has a 16-team single elimination tournament held at four regional sites and then a Frozen Four modeled after… well, you know. The Frozen Four is a successful and well-attended event that will draw a full house or something near to it even when it's thousands of miles away from the nearest hockey program. The regionals are half meh and half a disaster.

The meh half is in the East, where the teams are so close together that the NCAA can rotate through a more or less defined collection of mid-sized arenas that will all be reasonably full because at least two fanbases will be right on top of them. Atmospheres are still muted for the most part.


Neutral site college hockey is not well attended [Jason Coller]

The West is the disaster. Michigan has seven college hockey teams and hasn't seen more than one NCAA regional in a decade; instead the committee keeps putting regionals in places like Fort Wayne, St. Louis, and even Omaha, in buildings way too big and with ticket prices way too high. A second West regional is generally in the WCHA footprint, Minneapolis as often as not. These regionals are almost universally attended by marching bands and crickets and are loathed by literally everyone in the college hockey world except a plurality of coaches who either think playing in a tomb gives them a better chance to win or are in the East and therefore don't care.

There have been some rumbles that the NCAA will finally move away from the failed regional model in the next few years, but I'll believe it when I see it. It's a shame, because Yost hosted a couple of regionals a decade ago, and they were insane. So insane that the rest of college hockey got mad and more or less banned campus sites. The leadership of college hockey has failed massively in this department.

The Rules

On the other hand, college hockey has pioneered most of the rules that the NHL adopted over the course of the past decade. These include no-touch icing*, two refs, and getting rid of two-line passes. The main differences between the NHL and the NCAA that remain are

  • fighting is five, a game, and a suspension in college
  • there is no goalie trapezoid behind the nets
  • five-on-five OT, with shootouts only applicable to conference standings**
  • no handpasses, anywhere
  • Olympic rinks are allowed

Also you have to wear a full shield.

*[The NCAA had pure no-touch icing until a few years ago, when they went to the same hybrid icing the NHL did.]

**[A game that ends in a shootout is treated as a tie for RPI purposes.]


These days a plurality of players come from the USHL, a "Tier 1" junior league spread throughout the Midwest. The USHL and NAHL, another junior circuit with two main hubs in the upper Midwest and Texas, were about on par until a decade or so ago when USA Hockey created the Tier 1 designation and the USHL went after it. In general this means a higher level of facilities and support for the players. If you believe in point equivalences—ie the idea that a league can be judged by how well its players' scoring translates to higher leagues—USHL to AHL/NHL point transitions are more or less on par with the CHL. The NAHL is some distance back and their players usually populate lower-tier teams and fourth lines.

USA Hockey's National Team Development Program also plays in the USHL but is a thing apart. They have U17 and U18 teams that play a variety of international tournaments and, for the U18s, a ~30-game schedule of exhibitions against college teams. The U17s draw the majority of USHL games and generally get cranked due to the age gap. The NTDP gets about 80% of the first round NHL draft picks who are headed to college.

Minnesota and New England both have high school hockey that is good enough to produce a lot of recruits, and the NCAA recruits from various non-CHL junior leagues across Canada, the most prominent of which are the BCHL and OPJHL, if the latter is still called that. Per the most recent NCAA data 24% of NCAA hockey is played by "nonresident aliens," the vast majority of whom are Canadian.

One key difference between Canada and the US is that US players will often stick with their junior teams after high school. USHL teams can have players up to 20 and for many teams their answer to recruiting deficiencies is to bring in older and older players. There was a recent kerfuffle when the Big Ten, which generally recruits right out of high school, introduced a proposal to reduce eligibility for players who enter college older than 20. Everyone yelled at them and it was withdrawn.

Level of Play

More variable than the CHL but likely to be better overall. In large part this is due to age. College hockey players are on average much older than CHL players, and now college alums make up about 30% of the NHL. While the CHL has more NHL prospects per team—both leagues have about 60 teams total—the NCAA's are more concentrated, so unless you have a lot of Atlantic Hockey teams on the schedule that gap between future NHLers is smaller. The NCAA also has a significant edge in point equivalencies. Three years is apparently more than enough to bridge the gap in relative NHL draft status.


Mailbag: Unbalanced Classes, Hockey vs Basketball, Further Hockey Expansion, Defensive Coach Turnover

Mailbag: Unbalanced Classes, Hockey vs Basketball, Further Hockey Expansion, Defensive Coach Turnover Comment Count

Brian April 15th, 2016 at 1:31 PM


[Eric Upchurch]

Brian -

If you're doing a mailbag any time soon, a potential question:  does all the defensive coaching turnover dampen your expectations for the defense?  Having three new coaches, including a new DC, has to impose some kind of transition cost, right?  It would be frustrating to have what might be an excellent defense undermined by coaching changes.


On the whole, no. For one, while Chris Partridge is a new coach he's replacing John Baxter, who did not work with last year's D. There are only two guys being replaced. Losing Greg Jackson is a blow, as by all reports the players loved him. The secondary's performance last year was a major step forward from everybody—even Peppers, who we had not really seen before, developed over the course of the season. It's likely that Jackson is very good at his job, and you always hate to lose a guy like that after just one year.

I have zero concerns about replacing DJ Durkin with Don Brown. Durkin's defense last year was very good until it collapsed late, and while part of that was on Glasgow's injury it was very frustrating watching Michigan play a spread option team with a safety lined up 18 yards off the LOS. You can't do that when the opposition has an 11-on-11 run game, and Michigan found that out the hard way. Since that was a thing that even a blogger was warning about

So it's up to Michigan: ride with what got you here and try to hold up, or go to more of a zone based look in an attempt to replicate what just happened [against MSU]. The bet here is that Michigan enters with the latter in their pocket but tries to go toe to toe, combating zone with the addition of a safety to the end of the LOS and the corresponding blitz.

…and Michigan emphatically had nothing in their back pocket in the second half, I'm happy to see Durkin at Maryland. He could be a great coach, sure. He could be a guy who hung on to Will Muschamp's coattails and got exposed by Urban Meyer.

Meanwhile Brown has an excellent track record:

Bolded years are Don Brown; others are there for comparison. YPP is raw yards per play. FEI and S&P+ are advanced metrics that attempt to take schedule strength and various other factors into account.


2008 Maryland 56 63 75
2009 Maryland 87 64 44
2010 Maryland 14 20 31
2011 Maryland 83 74 102
2010 UConn 40 40 63
2011 UConn 56 23 34
2012 UConn 8 22 38
2013 UConn 64 56 72
2012 Boston College 63 81 80
2013 Boston College 92 98 80
2014 Boston College 30 68 36
2015 Boston College 1 5 3

It is possible that there's a settling-in period where Brown's D isn't as effective. The data don't show anything conclusive about that, with Maryland and UConn both getting significantly better in advanced metrics in year one despite a drop in yards per play. Meanwhile last year Michigan's defense was very  good despite being in its first year of a new system.

Michigan can't get significantly better in advanced metrics and should expect a backslide just from regression to the mean, so I won't be judging Brown on how he does relative to last year's D… except against Ohio State. The absolute best news of the offseason to me is that Don Brown spent his time at Michigan's coaching clinic ranting about run defense

Coach Brown believes that it all starts with run defense, “Check our record, 4 out of the last 5 years, nobody runs the ball. I don’t give a crap what I have to do, we’re going to stop the run.” Don Brown’s defenses finished #2 in 2011 (UCONN), #3 in 2012 (UCONN), #2 in 2014 (Boston College) and #1 in 2015 (Boston College) in run defense.

…and detailing the varied and intricate responses he's developed to zone read including inverted veer or "power read," as coaches seem to be calling it.

The result of last year's Game (and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that) cried out for a defensive coordinator who is awesome at stopping a power spread attack. Don Brown looks like the ideal candidate. I was getting pretty nervous for a couple weeks there when Rivals kept bringing up NFL guys—exactly the wrong kind of candidate for the biggest game on the schedule—and couldn't be happier with the way things worked out.

I'll be keeping a wary eye on the developments in the secondary but at least Brian Smith is a DB by trade and a DB coach until he was shoehorned in at linebacker a year ago; this isn't going back to Roy Manning, lifetime LB, as a CB coach. As far as the DC trade goes, I give it an A++++++.

[After THE JUMP: Jim Delany and the satellite camps, college hockey realignment stuff, hockey and basketball expectations.]