Punt/Counterpunt: Indiana 2017

Punt/Counterpunt: Indiana 2017

Submitted by Seth on October 14th, 2017 at 8:13 AM

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[Patrick Barron]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

Michigan State's continuing streak of continuing to annoying the bejezzus out of us... continues. But as I pointed out last week, it was not unexpected. You can only touch the cupcake so many times before it's your own fault for being shocked.

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But this week, that's actually good news. Because this week, it is Indiana who is hoping to reverse the tide of history.

Let's review what has happened since 1968:

  • Bump Elliot beat John Pont
  • Bo Schembechler beat John Pont (twice)
  • Bo Schembechler beat Lee Corso (8 times)
  • Bo Schembechler beat Sam Wyche
  • Bo Schembechler beat Bill Mallory (5 times)
  • Gary Moeller beat Bill Mallory (3 times)
  • Lloyd Carr beat Bill Mallory (twice)
  • Lloyd Carr beat Cam Cameron (4 times)
  • Lloyd Carr beat Gerry DiNardo (twice)
  • Lloyd Carr beat Terry Hoepner (twice)
  • Rich Rodriguez beat Bill Lynch (twice)
  • Brady Hoke beat Kevin Wilson (twice)
  • Jim Harbaugh beat Kevin Wilson
  • Jim Harbaugh beat Tom Allen

And on the other side of the ledger:

  • Bill Mallory beat Bo Schembechler. Once. By four points.Thirty years ago.

Seven Michigan head coaches. Ten Indiana coaches. Ten U.S. Presidents. Thirty-seven games. Thirty-six wins. Average scoring margin of just under 21 points per game.

Sure, Indiana has made the last few games interesting. They took RichRod's squads to the hilt twice. They took Jim Harbaugh and company to overtime on Michigan's last trip to Bloomington. And last year, Indiana kept the Snow Globe Game close until the fourth quarter. But Michigan kept last week's game close, too. Tell me how much that is worth to you.

This year, like Bill Murray trying to figure out a way to get out of the endless Groundhog Day loop, Indiana is trying something new: defense. Only a few years removed from fielding one of the worst defenses in college football, Indiana's defense is legitimately good. Their back seven features two playmakers in linebacker Tegray Scales and corner Rashad Fant, and they've been good against both the run and the pass.

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Ironically, Indiana doesn't play Minnesota this year.

The catch is that they also got lost the offense that made them so dangerous. Kevin Wilson is gone, and he's been replaced by Mike DeBord. I don't know how you break this kind of streak, but... buddy, that ain't it.

Michigan 23, Indiana 3

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COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

I will be at the game today, with an old college buddy. I procured us 50-yard line seats for about $80 each. I will wear my colors and go through the motions. But I am empty inside.

What a difference a week makes. The highly charged excitement and emotion, that led to all manner of ugly storms last Saturday evening. Now, I wish that having a Spotless Mind wasn’t just a movie concept.

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You know how it is, when you win, you want to run home and watch the replay? And read everything you can about it the next day? Going on message boards and talking anonymous smack?

Well you know what Buddy Holly said:

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Do you remember baby, last September
How you held me tight, each and every night
Well oops-a-daisy, how you drove me crazy
But I guess it doesn't matter anymore

I try to not think about it. It’s a lot like that nasty breakup that Buddy[i] is singing about, right? Compare:

I furtively check out ESPN once in a while. (I drive by her house and slow down, seeing if I can catch her through the window).

I wrote some clever Facebook comments to the few Spartan fans I allow in my feed, but deleted them. (I started a couple of self-righteous emails and almost hit send, but thought better of it.)

I heard something on sports talk radio. I was trying to not listen, but I couldn’t change the station right away because I was too busy texting and driving. (I didn’t mean to look her up, but I was looking up something else and it led me to something and suddenly I was looking at her Instagram. I didn’t mean it. And no, I don’t text and drive since that unfortunate rear end accident.)

Oh sh*t, then there’s the memes. I try to avoid them, but they’re everywhere. Here is an example of one I try to avoid.

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Too young even for braces!

Well, at least IU’s campus is very pretty in the fall.

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Go Blue. I still love you, no matter what.

MICHIGAN 27, INDIANA 14

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[i] Good news! Buddy’s Pizza Ann Arbor opened yesterday (Ann Arbor Saline Road near Meijer, just east of the stadium)

Punt/Counterpunt: MSU 2017

Punt/Counterpunt: MSU 2017

Submitted by Seth on October 7th, 2017 at 10:35 AM

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

2010 was supposed to be the year. Sure, Sparty beat the worst Michigan team in modern memory in 2008, and squeaked by the second-worst Michigan team in modern memory in overtime at home the following year. But Michigan entered the 2010 tilt 5-0 and ranked #18, with Heisman candidate Denard Robinson leading an offense that was scoring 41 points per game. It was time for Sparty to sit back down. Big Brother had returned from his vision quest.

Michigan State won by 17. They went on to win a share of the Big Ten title.  Michigan fired Rich Rodriguez.

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Then 2013 was the year. Sure, Sparty won the Trash Tornado game of 2011, but Michigan went on to win the Sugar Bowl that year, and in 2012 they defeated Michigan State 12-10 on a last-second field goal. So as the 2013 season started, we thought that surely this was the point in time where the universe would right itself. The Brady Hoke recruiting train was unstoppable. It was inevitable.

Michigan State won by 22. Michigan rushed for -48 yards. They fired Brady Hoke 14 months later.

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Gregory Shamus

Then 2015 was the year. Led by recently-arrived demigod Jim Harbaugh, Michigan was 5-1 and ranked #12 in the country, and though Sparty was #7, they were a paper tiger, and had a number of injuries at key positions. They were coming off of one-score victories over Purdue and Rutgers. Michigan was a significant favorite.

Michigan State won by 4. And while it took an absolute miracle to happen, the game was unexpectedly competitive throughout, with Michigan State having the ball in Michigan territory late with a chance to win. Michigan State went to the College Football Playoff.

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So 2016 was FINALLY the year, right? Mired in a 3-9 season and coming off of losses to Northwestern and Maryland, Sparty was no match for Jim Harbaugh's 7-0, #2-ranked juggernaut. Michigan was a 24-point favorite.

Michigan won, and won handily. But Michigan State marched downfield on their opening possession and scored. They managed to make the score respectable (if unrepresentative of the game), and escaped with their "dignity" intact. It wasn't an emphatic closing of a chapter. Merely a turning of a page.

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This is what Sparty does. They have up years, and they have down years. They have good games, and they have bad games. But the one constant is that they play Michigan tougher than you have any right to reasonably to expect. You can trace this back further if you like. The Inaugural Little Brother Classic. Braylonfest. The Spartan Bob game. Tripping Desmond. Sparty shows up.

If you really want to, we can argue why. We can debate what it says about the two programs, or the two fan bases, or society, or the nature of time and space themselves. But the why is irrelevant.

2017 was supposed to be the year. I didn't expect MSU to have a shot at being competitive in this game. I still don't expect them to win. Michigan's defense is better than Michigan State's defense. Michigan's offense is better than Michigan State's offense.  Michigan is a better football team. But I've said all of that that before.

Michigan State 10, Michigan 9

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COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

Who is Paul Bunyan? Most readers know him, dimly, as a large man with an axe, and an ox. (And an ex. What is less known about Mr. Bunyan is the messy divorce that sent him to the woods in the first place.)

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I kick yo’ ass Paul, you run around on me.

What began as logging folklore became legend, then pop culture. When Paul Bunyan was born, he cried so loud he scared the fish from the streams and made the frogs go deaf. His parents milked two dozen cows a day just to keep him fed. He once sneezed and created 11 miles of timber. His breakfast griddle was so big, that the cook strapped two hams to his feet and skated half a mile just to grease it.

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Then there was the winter of the blue snow. It was so cold, words froze in midair and the Great Lakes iced over from the bottom up. Walking one day, Paul heard a bleat. It was baby Babe, the blue ox.

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Note that Babe is not a Green Ox. Whoever heard of such a thing?

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Paul became so legendary that no fewer than six towns have laid claim to his birth, from Bangor, Maine, to Westwood, California, where Paul’s statue looks like he’s just finished a latte and is about to vape.

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We have to carry our axe around, to not be mistaken for a hipster. But, it’s a locally-produced axe.

Oscoda, Michigan is the "Official Home of Paul Bunyan" because the Oscoda Press published the first Bunyan story in 1906.

Now Paul Bunyan is an animated film starring John Goodman as Paul, and Jeff Foxworthy as the Ox. And of course, some smart ass little boy, well, just because.

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This is not your typical family.

But how did Paul Bunyan come to personify the winner of the Michigan-Michigan State football game?

Then-Governor G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams donated the four-foot wooden statue to mark Michigan State's acceptance into the Big Ten (apocryphally because his wife wouldn’t let it in the cottage), and to commemorate Michigan as a major lumber-producing state. But neither school wanted it. Fritz Crisler announced he would refuse acceptance if Michigan won the ’53 game; but State beat the Wolverines. In ’54, Michigan won but left the trophy on the field. They would not engrave their winning scores on it, so Sparty did it for them. A tie in ’58 flummoxed both teams. MSU, heavily favored, was too embarrassed to keep the trophy, but ended up taking it home because the Wolverines turned their backs on it.

Despite Sparty’s recent success, Michigan still leads the Bunyan-era series 36–26–2.

Ah yes, Sparty’s recent success. Punt, above, succinctly describes it. But one thing must be emphasized: MSU’s winning six of seven was fortuitously accomplished only because Michigan had neither a coach, nor a football program, from 2008-2014. Like Michigan State, our University only produced manure during that period. As I have written before, Mark Dantonio’s success directly correlates with Michigan’s hiatus from major college football, when corporate missteps resulted in the Wolverines hitting the snooze button for seven straight years. Last year, finally, the trend reverted to form—back to the days when Sparty was lucky to win three times a decade, and was scrambling for the Astro-Bluebonnet bowl come November.

Those days are back. Spartan football is somewhere between the MAC and Purdue, with two-star recruits and a scowling coach, resting on past glories. They’ve replayed the movie “300” and the highlights from (that thing that happened) so often, the tape is worn like the pants of a beggar on Main Street. Their fall from the nation’s elite was so hard and fast, that it makes them wake up at 3 AM and seethe with memories, regrets, and the desire to seek comfort on the couch…until they remember they burned it.

Yes, they play us tough; I don’t pretend that Sparty doesn’t come ready to ball. But thetalent will be far short, despite relentless effort that will net upwards of 4 yards a play. Don Brown, Devin Bush, and a host of others will make sure that there is nothing more than that.

And on offense? Every lumbering green and white form is Tony Levine; John O’Korn will scream with motivation and desire; and Ty Isaac will mow down Spartan timber like a Paul Bunyan sneeze.

So, Paul. He may not have been born here, but he will permanently relocate to Ann Arbor tonight, in the rain and swirling winds. He and his blue ox will easily survive the storm, and engrave their legend for another glorious era.

MICHIGAN 28, MSU 6

Punt/Counterpunt: Purdue 2017

Punt/Counterpunt: Purdue 2017

Submitted by Seth on September 23rd, 2017 at 9:02 AM

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[Eric Upchurch]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

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"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." ~ Sherlock Holmes

I know. How can we get all worked up about this game? It's Purdue. Michigan can't lose to Purdue. They're bad. Because they're Purdue.

But what if they weren't Purdue?

Imagine I told you Michigan was playing a road game against a Big Ten team that was 2-1 with a narrow loss to a Top-25 team, a blowout win over a MAC team, and a blowout win over a Power-5 team? And with a conference-average passing offense, rush offense, and rush defense? And whose quarterback is averaging 1.5 yards per attempt more than Michigan's quarterback?

But they're Purdue, right?

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"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact."

Michigan fans know full well the value a new coach can bring to a team. We spent most of 2015 responding to every criticism of Michigan football with "but Harbaugh." And we were right. So is it that surprising that if you substitute Jeff Brohm, a highly skilled and well-regarded coach, for Darrell Hazell, a... uh... not that, Purdue could make a significant leap forward in a short period of time?

At this point, it takes a greater leap of faith to assume that impressive performances against Louisville, Ohio, and Missouri were all some sort of mirage. All of the data we have from this year points to Purdue being a real team. It also points to Michigan being a talented but flawed team. Combine that with the first home game with even an ounce of intrigue since Michigan rolled into town in October of 2012, and everything points to an actual football game this afternoon.

Michigan probably still wins this game. They might win it by a bunch. They have more talent at basically every position, and in some places by a couple of orders of magnitude. But they aslo might—just might—lose. Brohmania is real, and Purdue has left the company of Illinois and Rutgers at the kids table for the mature conversation and real silverware enjoyed by the grown-up Big Ten teams. I know it seems hard to believe, but as Arthur Conan Doyle reminded us, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Michigan 30, Purdue 24

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COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

Something I really hoped would happen, happened. Toys “R” Us declared bankruptcy.

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It’s not just that they declared bankruptcy that gives me glee. It’s not that it’s the second largest U.S. retail bankruptcy ever, according to Bloomberg. It’s not even that CEO David Brandon was completely flummoxed by its mounting debt, near $8 billion dollars.

The best part is that Brandon put on a happy face, asserting that “Today marks the dawn of a new era at Toys R Us.” This reminded me of the Night Gallery episode where the boy who can predict future events tells his TV audience that the “world is entering a new age of peace and tranquility, where poverty, sickness and war no longer exist.” But what actually happened is that the sun exploded.

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When Bain Capital hired David Brandon to take over Toys R Us, they paid him a $4.25 million bonus, a $3.75 million salary, and offered other incentives potentially worth over $40 million. This was on the heels of his spectacular failures at the University of Michigan, leading to a $3 million buyout. Obviously there is this shadow world out there, like the Matrix, where failure is rewarded and suckers like us are left to pick up the pieces.

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Fortunately, Michigan football has overcome the damage done by Brandon’s tenure. This was evident last week, when that little poison pill David left us – a trap game scheduled against Air Force – was handled with aplomb by the Wolverines. In the Brandon era, Michigan would struggle against many lesser opponents, who did not fear that version of the Wolverines. Today, in these same types of games, coaching and defense lead us to comfortable victories even when we don’t play particularly well.

I am confident the same script will be followed against Purdue. Yes, we play a hungry team that fights to earn its pay, like its hardworking namesakes in the boiler construction and repair trades (as opposed to certain CEOs that get cash hand over fist despite failure). Yes, Purdue is resurgent and coming off an impressive win; its crowd will be raucous. But the Wolverines will methodically put them away.

No, we are not a perfect team. But as we’ve learned from video games, true warriors make up for their deficiencies with other attributes – in this case, stamina and durability:

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In the end, our hero is a “wild, wide-open warrior willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.” And he doesn’t do it for the money.

MICHIGAN 29, PURDUE 10

Punt/Counterpunt: Air Force 2017

Punt/Counterpunt: Air Force 2017

Submitted by Seth on September 16th, 2017 at 9:03 AM

36364604183_17c4a0c9f8_z[Eric Upchurch]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

For today's game, we must be specific in how we discuss the opponent. The members of the U.S. Air Force, and the cadets that attend the Air Force Academy, are fine people who have chosen to dedicate a portion of their lives to the service of their country. We applaud them for that, and we welcome them and their supporters to Ann Arbor gladly and with open arms.

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No, I don't care if they sound alike, you can't line up an A-10 as an A-back

Now, from a purely football standpoint? I never want to see these devoted self-sacrificing bastards again.

For the third time in three weeks, Michigan will face a radically different type of offense. But at least the work the defense put in for the first two games will have value beyond those games. Florida's offense (and yes, I know we're stretching the word "offense" beyond all reasonable interpretation, but stick with me) was predicated on taking big shots down the field on the outside, which Michigan will see again in Happy Valley in a few weeks. Cincinnati used a quick-passing offense and inside zone read-option run game, which should be helpful for several opponents, including Ohio State.

And now we get Air Force's triple option. The triple option requires a great deal of preparation, and that preparation is basically time lit on fire with respect to the rest of the season. No one else in the Big Ten runs a triple option (unless you count Rutgers' "fumble/interception/fall over" as a triple option). What's worse, there isn't really any extra credit for winning a tricky game against an average but sui generis opponent. It's basically like taking Advanced Sanskrit as a college elective; it may be difficult, but it affects your GPA the same as any other class, and you'll never use it again.

In other word, thanks Dave.

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We tried to warn you, G.

The good news is that Michigan's defense passed the first two tests (such as they were) with flying colors, and are currently outscoring opposing offenses 21-17. If they can stay gap-disciplined, they have the kind of fast, athletic defense that can hold down an attack like this. And on the other side of the ball, this is the kind of matchup that will force Air Force to throw all of their undersized defenders at the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and pray that Speight can't beat them with his arm. And on a warm, sunny afternoon in Michigan Stadium against ten new defensive starters, I'll take that bet.

Still, defending option football is like hitting a knuckleball. It's theoretically the same exercise, but you can't really know what you're up against until you see it done live by someone who is an expert at the craft. Air Force scores a couple of times in the first half, but Michigan eventually sits on them.

Michigan 31, Air Force 17

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COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

“God has a very big heart, but there is one sin he will not forgive…” Thus begins one of my favorite quotes from “Zorba the Greek.”

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How author Nikos Kazantzakis finishes that quote is politically incorrect in today’s world. How I will finish that quote today is …. SCHEDULING A WEDDING ON A FOOTBALL SATURDAY!

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How could you, my cousin Ernie? Allowing your lovely daughter Madie to have a wedding during Michigan football season? Just because you live in Pittsburgh, and have no connection to the University of Michigan whatsoever, is no excuse. Your actions are very inconsiderate towards your favorite cousin Niko, who will have to miss today’s game to resentfully share your bliss. You’d better have an open bar, with a TV tuned to Big Ten Network.

Worse are the actual Michigan fans, who should know better. My friend Joe, who married a fellow UM law grad, did so during last year’s Indiana game. Worse are their friends, also both UM law grads, who are having their day of bliss during this year’s Michigan State contest. I would attend dressed as Sparty just to spite them.

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Yes, Sparty does events.

My friend Lauren texted last night, “My friend got married during the penn state game last year like WTF”

The worst was when my friends Pam and Kevin decided to have a Hawai’ian-themed indoor party during Michigan basketball’s 1989 NCAA championship run. Pam would not allow us to turn on the television during the semifinal against Illinois, so we huddled furtively around “Punt Classic’s” tiny portable TV until Pam finally relented during the game’s final minutes.

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Today’s game, however, may be one of those that a Michigan fan will be glad to miss. Reading analysis, and watching Air Force highlights, has my head spinning. Perhaps the scariest quote is this one from defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, who actually told MLive that he has “a little familiarity” with the triple option offense because he’d “played with it sometimes in NCAA Football (the video game).”

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The only actual Michigan player who has non-video experience with the triple option is safety Josh Metellus, who played against it in high school. His advice, as the “biggest key” in defending? "Just not falling asleep," Metellus told MLive.

Woe to us. Shades of 2012 - but with an even shadier ending. I won’t be at the Big House for this one, but at least I’ll have an open bar to console me:

AIR FORCE 28, MICHIGAN 24

Punt/Counterpunt: Cincinnati

Punt/Counterpunt: Cincinnati

Submitted by Seth on September 9th, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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[Patrick Barron]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

Say you've built a giant killing robot, or a mechanized cyborg of some kind. Think 'Jaeger from Pacific Rim.' Or a Terminator. Perhaps a Voltron or Megazord of some kind. You build it to compete with other beasts of similar size and overall quality. Maybe you're taking on another robot. Maybe a giant lizard creature, or some sort of evil soulless monster. It doesn't really matter. Just say for the sake of argument that your giant robot emerges victorious in its first real battle, and exceeds even your most optimistic expectations. Congratulations to you and your entire engineering team. Job really well done, guys. Bravo.

Now, imagine that a week later you are asked to use that same giant killer robot to take on a new adversary: WALL-E.

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You are suddenly presented with a new set of challenges, and some things that you might not even have thought about: can your giant lasers aim that low? Can your tracking system lock onto a target that small? How will my attempts at deception work against an opponent that is almost entirely incapable of reacting to stuff? And how do we judge how well we have done? Is 17 seconds a good time in which to crush an opponent like this? 

Look man, we built this thing to take on Sharkosaurus. And swarms of JoeBots. We never really put much design effort into a task like this.

You see both the dilemma and the lack of dilemma facing Michigan this week. How do you keep players motivated and focused, both during the week and during the game itself? How much do they pull out of the bag? How soon do the starters come out? Where is the line between "healthy competition" and "stop stop he's already dead?"

These are real considerations. But take a step back in your giant mechanized killing machine, and look at the bigger picture. Some things may be in doubt, but one thing isn't: WALL-E is gonna get crushed into, ironically, a pile of garbage. Maybe it's a 35-10 pile, maybe it's a 60-0 pile. But at a certain point, scrap metal is scrap metal.

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That screen pass almost worked

From a pure football standpoint, it's hard to look at any aspect of this game and see even a hypothetical, "devil's advocate" argument for a competitive game. Cincinnati finished last year losing 7 of their last 8 games (by an average margin of nearly 18 points). They opened this year by getting outgained by an FCS team that had lost 47 of 48 games. Maybe WALL-E has a plasma cannon hidden in there somewhere... but I doubt it.

Michigan 52, Cincinnati 3

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COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

Cincinnati has a lot going for it. It is the biggest, baddest, Rockem-Sockem Robot of all time. Cincy is the Iron Giant. Megatron. Dolph Lundgren from Rocky IV.

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Cincinnati was originally named Losantiville. It was a major exporter of pork products. The German immigrants developed a product named “Goetta,” made of ground pork and pinhead oatmeal.

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“Cincinnati Chili” is also a local food thing, a thin gruel-like concoction flavored with cinnamon and served over spaghetti with cheddar cheese. Skyline Chili is the iconic franchise that pioneered this phenomenon, in 1949.

The Ann Arbor School District opened Skyline High School in 2008. This was shortly after Bo Schembechler died, and there was strong sentiment to name the high school “Schembechler High.” The school board went with the safe pick, the same way that a large group always ends up settling for plain cheese pizza. I am always tempted to order a three-way when I visit that high school.

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Cincinnati is also known as the Queen City. This is because the glam rock band “Queen” once performed a concert there at Riverfront Stadium, where Vontaze Burfict blindsided Freddie Mercury and was suspended for six games, yet also given a $38 million contract extension.

The city of Cincinnati is also the cradle of mediocre Notre Dame coaches. In 1980 the Irish stunned the football world by plucking Gerry Faust from Cincinnati Moeller High School. The bold experiment ended five years later, with Faust finishing 30-26-1. Former Bearcat coach Brian Kelly is in his eighth year at Notre Dame, with a 60-31 record and three bowl victories: Sun, Pinstripe, and Music City.

Other former University of Cincinnati coaches have performed better elsewhere. Mark Dantonio did well at Michigan State during the period the Michigan Wolverines temporarily suspended their football program; now he is content to lose with dignity. Tommy Tuberville and Butch Jones have also coached at UC; this year their new coach is former Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell. Michigan fans will remember Fickell from 2011, when he assumed head coaching duties for a year after Jim “The Little Penguin” Tressel resigned in the wake of scandal. That was the ONLY F*NG TIME MICHIGAN HAS BEATEN OSU IN THE LAST 13 YEARS.

You can see where I’m going with this. Yep, out to get a beer with my son in law.

IVAN DRAGO 35, C3PO 0

Punt/Counterpunt: Florida

Punt/Counterpunt: Florida

Submitted by Seth on September 2nd, 2017 at 12:00 PM

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

"Football season is here."

The calendar declares this to be a true statement. But we know it to be, at best, a half-truth.

'Seasons' come in gradually. The occasional nip of the morning air tells you autumn is beginning, but temperatures ebb and flow. Sweaters gradually supplant t-shirts in the laundry over the course of weeks, not overnight. Basketball has a season; media start reporting on NBA scores in October, but no one cares until Christmas Day. Baseball has a season. Even the NFL has a season; it begins with four weeks of [exaggerated air quotes] 'football' that is visually indistinguishable from the real thing, but that everyone agrees doesn't matter at all.

College football doesn't have a season. College football ARRIVES, like a Mongol invasion from the Eurasian steppe. Sure, you may know it is coming.  There may be whispers and rumors and a sense of the impending doom. But one day there are no Mongols at your gates, and the next day, whether you are ready or not, the ball is in the air and a three month siege on your soul begins.

It is in that context that openers are particularly tricky. We have so little data. And while the data will come, it will arrive in unmanageable quantities, and it will be mixed with terror and anxiety and joy and fear and love and hate that accompany the arrival of a thing you care about too much. Your brain will have to distribute processing power between "gee, let's see how Chris Evans handles blitz pickup, and what this portends for the rest of the season" and "NGHHAAAAAAAGH SOMEONE HIT SOMEONE THEN GO HIT SOMEBODY ELSE."

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This year, we have as little data as we have had in a long time. Michigan's "five returning starters" statistic is misleading but qualitatively correct. They are relying on approximately a dozen freshman on the two-deep. Their receiving corp and secondary are almost completely new. And they have a new offensive coordinator with fancy new NFL concepts like "what if everyone was also a receiver."

Meanwhile, we know almost as little about Florida. They lost most of their team to graduation, the NFL draft, injury, weed, and some credit card issues that not even Jennifer Garner is willing to discuss publicly. They seem to be making a late run for Michigan State's "worst offseason ever" crown. Like Michigan, they lost their entire secondary. And they are starting a freshman quarterback.

But while the margin of error on any player-based analysis is too broad to draw any definitive conclusions, there is one set of factors that is known. And it is decisive. The real difference in this game is gonna be the guys in the headsets. Don Brown is the most creative coordinator in college football, and Doug Nussmeier is, well, not. Pep Hamilton brings passing spread concepts designed to exploit personnel mismatches, while Randy Shannon very much plays a my-guys-are-my-guys style 4-3. And Jim Harbaugh is Jim Harbaugh, while Jim McElwain is just trying to keep his locker room culture from jumping the shark.

Soon we will know more about the players and the schemes and the strengths and the weaknesses and the plan going forward. Starting on Sunday, we will be able to point to actual things that happened and project similar things happening in the future. But that is for later. That is for when your body has adjusted to the sudden rush of football that has returned to your veins.

In the meantime, stock up. Hunker down. Man the walls. Football is here.

MICHIGAN 27, FLORIDA 10

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COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

The ruination of a sports franchise doesn’t happen on the field, but in the front office. Justin Verlander’s trade to Houston was not that moment for the Tigers. (But back to that.)

The classic example was the Boston Red Sox’ 1919 sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees, for what Jim Harbaugh earns in about four minutes, so that their owner could finance a Broadway play. The “Curse of the Bambino” ensured 85 years of futility for the Sox, a team that had won 5 of the previous 15 World Series, while the Yankees became legendary. (The play, “My Lady Friends,” bombed as well.)

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Often the bonehead management decision is followed by failed attempts to compensate. Joe Dumars’ widely derided choice of Darko Milicic, “The Human Victory Cigar,” ended an era of shrewd moves that had brought the Pistons two championships, and resulted in a series of head-scratching management decisions.

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Drafted ahead of ‘Melo, Bosh and .......

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...... Shoulda been a Piston!

Baseball GM Dave Dombrowski is widely regarded as a front office genius, but he suffered his own “Darko moment” with his inexplicable trade of Doug Fister in 2013 for a stale bag of BBQ potato chips—not even the good kind, but the ones made with corn syrup and MSG. He then continued his breakup of the greatest pitching rotation in the majors, among other baffling decisions. Verlander was the last man standing from the 2006 team that lost to the Cardinals in the World Series, pitching with dignity as the team crumbled around him. While he goes to a winner, the Tigers are poised to endure long-term mediocrity.

Which, after this long, winding scenic route, finally brings me to Blue.

Bill Martin’s gaffes were legendary. He blew the 2007 search for Lloyd Carr’s replacement, managing to get turned down by the coach of Rutgers, before landing a glorified offensive coordinator who fit in Ann Arbor about as well as Kid Rock in the U. S. Senate. (Let it go, I’m making a point.) It was not until the hiring of Dave Brandon as Athletic Director that the entire foundation of Michigan football was threatened.

This unprecedented one-two punch, of Martin and Brandon, could have put Michigan into a death spiral. But 2000 miles away, the blunders of the San Francisco 49ers proved to be our blessing. After Harbaugh led the ‘Niners to three NFC championship games and one Super Bowl appearance in four years, they unceremoniously dumped him. They’ve since gone 7-25 in two seasons and were rated by ESPN the worst sports franchise in North America. Who knows how long until they crawl back to another Super Bowl?

In the meantime, the futility of the Michigan Wolverines need not be recounted to readers of this column. Acute pessimism was the order of the day. Even your loyal Counterpunt boldly predicted to ex-Punt, after Martin’s bungled coaching search, “Michigan will never be a national power again in our lifetime.”

Counterpunt was wrong. Thank you, Jim Harbaugh, and all those who brought and supported you.

As for today’s game, despite the temptation to counter Punt’s prediction, I can’t bring myself to make that decision. No “Darko moment” for me. I don’t want to be wrong again.

Here’s to putting it all together in 2017.

MICHIGAN 45, FLORIDA 6

Punt/Counterpunt: 2016 Orange Bowl

Punt/Counterpunt: 2016 Orange Bowl

Submitted by Seth on December 30th, 2016 at 9:32 AM

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Wanting it more [Patrick Barron]

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

"Who wants it more."

You hear that from broadcasters and talking heads all the time. And it's usually a dumb trope to try to explain an outcome that was either unexpected or random. Who came out of the pile with the fumble? Obviously, it was the team that wanted it more. Who made the clutch free throws at the end of the game? It was the team that was hungry enough for victory to suddenly become more skilled at a particular task. That's dumb and oversimplified, right? Yep. Very dumb.

Except in bowl games.

Bowl games are the one place where you can confidently say that, yeah, motivation is probably a huge factor. Bowl games are the only place in competitive sports where teams play an entire season, take more than a month off, and then play what amounts to a glorified exhibition game. Players finally get to dip their toes into a quasi-normal student life, then they've got final exams*, and then they're asked to jump right back into the maw to play one more game.

For obvious reasons, some teams come out, shall we say, less than fire emoji fire emoji fire emoji 100 emoji. Different people treat exhibitions differently, and you never know until kickoff whether your guys are Sean Taylor, or whether they are the poor damn punter who thought this was a game.

We saw this last year. Michigan probably wasn't 34 points better than Florida, but it was pretty clear midway through the Citrus Bowl that the two teams weren't playing the same game. Maybe it was the "Christmas Camp" that was reportedly unusually intense as bowl practices go. Maybe it was the knowledge that the competition for spots in Michigan's 2016 lineup had already begun. Or maybe Harbaugh just scared the living hell out of guys. Who knows. But Michigan showed up for blood. And with Jim Harbaugh being as Jim Harbaugh as any coach in America, I'd bet good money that Michigan does so again today.

And what do we know of Florida State's bowl show-up-ishness? The Seminoles got walloped by Houston last year in the Peach Bowl 38-24 despite being a touchdown favorite. The year before that, they lost the college football playoff semi-final to Oregon 59-20. Of course, the year before that, they won the national championship. So who knows what kinds of conclusions we can draw.

If both teams arrive in force, this should be a really good game, though I'd still favor Michigan. There is no realistic scenario in which Florida State's offensive line holds up against Michigan's defensive line. Deondre Francois has already had a Hackenberg-esque season of picking defenders out of his ribs (FSU has allowed as many sacks this year as Rutgers), and the odds of him being able to stand in against this pass rush are slim. FSU's back seven has been iffy, and will be without one of the best players in the country in Derwin James. And sure. Dalvin Cook is a scary, scary dude, especially if he's healthy, but the kind of effort he would have to put forth to beat this Michigan defense single-handedly would be superhuman.

That's if both teams show up. If only Michigan shows up, this could look a lot like last year's Citrus Bowl.

* [Note: yes, I know that at some schools, this means "it's final exams for the players' tutors and/or trainers." But the good news is that some of those schools don't have to worry about bowl prep. Because they are not bowl-eligible. Because they finished 4-8.]

Michigan 30, FSU 17

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COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

It was the best of times, until the second play.

Michigan’s 1991 squad was #3 in the nation and featured Desmond Howard and Elvis Grbac, with Greg Skrepenak anchoring a monstrous O-Line that averaged 294 lbs.

Bobby Bowden’s Florida State squad was #1, and might have been defending national champions if not for a little “wide right” issue the year before against Miami. On this perfect September afternoon, Michigan was favored, and the home crowd was raucous.

It was the worst of times. On the second play, Terrell Buckley stepped in front of Desmond to pick off Elvis’ floater to the south end zone, and the Seminoles never looked back in thrashing the Wolverines, 51-31. At that time (nearly two decades before “The Missing Years” of R-R and B-Ho), it had been the most points ever laid on the home team in Michigan Stadium. It would have been even worse, but Florida State missed five points after touchdowns and lost a fumble at Michigan’s one yard line. (Michigan only gave up 118 points in its other 10 regular season games in’91, combined.)

It was the best of times. 1991 was the first year I had my season tickets. Before the FSU game, my Dad and I watched Michigan beat Notre Dame, with Desmond kickstarting his brilliant Heisman season with a diving TD catch on a fourth-and-one-foot play in the fourth quarter, in the corner in front of me and Dad.

It was the worst of times, the beginning of the Curse of Dino. My then brother-in-law suffered through the Florida State debacle with me, the first of a five-game winless streak for games he attended, broken only when Punt Classic and I performed a full-on exorcism before allowing him to enter the hallowed grounds of the Big House for the 1997 Ohio State game.

It was the best of times. It was the midst of Coach Gary Moeller’s successful five-year stint as Michigan coach, featuring three Big Ten titles, three top ten finishes, and four bowl wins. This run was cut short when Mo was unceremoniously fired for having an argument with his wife in a restaurant. (Just ponder that, Penn State fans.)

It was the worst of times. The Florida State “War Chant”, credited to Rob “Sweat” Hill of FSU’s Theta Chi fraternity in 1983, evolved into the Tomahawk Chop of today that was heard in Ann Arbor, for the first and only time, on that sunny fall day in 1991. (Unfortunately, Michigan fans cannot claim the moral high ground, with their own version of the chop ending in the stunningly crass “you suck!” shout, after the band plays “Temptation” - it’s almost enough to yearn for the halcyon days of marshmallow tossing.)

Twenty five years later, it is the best of times. Michigan is once again a top ten team, two cruel plays away from undefeated, and only kept from the College Football Playoff by a KGB-led conspiracy.

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As for prognostications, Punt’s theory is correct. The edge cannot be determined by the players on the field, who are matched evenly enough. Instead it will be won by the team that wants it more, that has something to prove. Will Michigan flip the script from 25 years ago, and prevail in front of what amounts to a boisterous Seminole home crowd? Or will the ironically named JimBo MoLlo Fisher cunningly hand the Wolverines another stunning last-minute defeat?

Florida State is exciting, but flawed, and the metrics favor Michigan. But that hasn’t stopped the 2016 Wolverines from showing its dispirited side, even when it’s mattered most. This game gives me the same heebie-jeebies as when I first heard that war chant in 1991. I fear we cap 2016 with the worst of times.

Whoa, oh, whoa. Whoa, oh, whoa.

FLORIDA STATE 30, MICHIGAN 28

Punt/Counterpunt: Ohio State 2016

Punt/Counterpunt: Ohio State 2016

Submitted by Ace on November 26th, 2016 at 10:25 AM

PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

I have nothing of value to add.
 
Seriously. I've already shared my thoughts on this game, but I don't have much in the way of substantive analysis. As I sit here trying to break down matchups and evaluating where either team has a definitive edge, I find myself sounding like Vizzini, the Sicilian kidnapper in The Princess Bride. Michigan has the best defensive line in the country, so I clearly cannot take Ohio State. But Ohio State has better linebackers, so I clearly cannot take Michigan. But Michigan has Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers, so I clearly cannot take Ohio State. But Wilton Speight is not 100%, so I clearly cannot take Michigan.


Me, thinking I know things

As I mutter these things incoherently, I can almost feel Cary Elwes smirking knowingly at me from across the table. It isn't that any particular piece of analysis is wrong. It's that it doesn't matter. This game is the culmination of two empires marching toward each other for weeks, and two mad geniuses planning, scheming, and preparing for this day for nine months. There's a good chance Jim Harbaugh ran at least one play against Hawaii solely in anticipation of the Ohio State game. I'd bet good money Urban Meyer installed a package in fall camp that he hasn't touched yet. Both coaches spent at least one sleepless summer night mentally scripting the first series.  Don Brown... oh, god, the blitzes that Don Brown has been putting together for this game. There's one where Channing Stribling plays defensive end, Ryan Glasgow drops to play a deep third, and Mike McCray just runs screaming in circles. It is unstoppable. 
 
We normal humans are unable to comprehend the levels involved here. Maybe 5% of the people reading this as good at anything as these guys are at coaching football. A select few can even understand what these titans of football industry are doing after they do it. Predicting such things ahead of time, especially under these circumstances is an exercise in futile hubris.
 
So instead, I sit here with whiskey in hand on Friday night pondering what these crazy bastards are going to do. It is anticipation whiskey. Saturday will bring anxiety whiskey, followed by either sorrow whiskey or exaltation whiskey.  Fortunately, these various types of whiskey are contained in the same bottle. It is a versatile product. Sometimes I feel like I can deploy whiskey nearly as effectively as Jim Harbaugh can deploy a fullback. But I digress.
 
This game will be decided by forces us mere mortals can't grasp. This is the payoff of too many long games, plans, schemes, artifices, and misdirections to comprehend. So, in the absence of any substantive knowledge, I am forced to look to recent history, and – spoiler alert – it is not good. Michigan has lost 13 of 15. So until Michigan reverses that trend, I'm unfortunately going to have to go with the Buckeyes. Fortunately, in this instance, I know nothing. Ohio State 24, Michigan 21.

COUNTERPUNT

By Nick RoUMel

Today’s column is written by our guests from www.twosixtynine.com1. Their motto: “Half right, half the time!” Please welcome Nate Bronze and his shadowy counterpart, “Serrano.” In the meantime, Counterpunt is off looking for his lucky shirt.

BRONZE: We at “269” have barely digested our Thanksgiving feast of roasted crow, and are now back at work crunching numbers, analyzing metrics, and making bold predictions.

SERRANO: Nate, what do the data tell us?

BRONZE: Ohio State – Michigan is a big game. It has an ELO2 rating of nearly 1600. Whoever wins has an 80% chance of making the CFP.3

SERRANO: How do you know it’s not a 90% chance?

BRONZE: Because it’s a MUS4, calculated from CAM.5

SERRANO: What does Michigan need to do to win?

BRONZE: Pray for rain. There’s not much else they can do to slow down Barrett, Samuel, Weber and company. Michigan is also in trouble offensively if O’Korn plays QB.

SERRANO: Not necessarily. Expect Jabrill Peppers to get more snaps behind center, not just in the Wildcat. I believe Coach Harbaugh has been saving a lot of different looks up his sleeve for this contest.

BRONZE: They would have a much better chance if Mike Trout could play quarterback. Gosh, if he had played college football, he would have been the G.O.A.T., president of the student body, and cured cancer in his spare time.

SERRANO: Uh, right. Make the call, Nate. What’s it going to be today?

BRONZE: I have analyzed every game in each player’s college career, adjusting for factors such as strength of schedule; different coaches, teammates, and formations; injuries and even weather. This commonly known SYTYSKBATETLU6 measure tells us that Ohio State has precisely a 50% chance to win.

SERRANO: I see it differently. Using a formula that is MSIN 7 , I put Michigan’s odds for victory at 50%.

COUNTERPUNT: Enough! Don’t one of you have the balls to call this one?

BRONZE: Actually I have 50% testicular capacity...

SERRANO: ... as do I.

COUNTERPUNT: Let me have my column back, please.

BRONZE: That’s fine; I have to go clean my Mike Trout shrine anyway.

COUNTERPUNT: Here’s the call, sports fans. J-Pep takes a punt return to the house to seal the win, and strikes the pose.

DESMOND “MR. HEISMAN” HOWARD: You know Charles Woodson was also planning to strike the pose in 1997, but I paid a few players to mob him before he could do so.

CHARLES “MR. HEISMAN” WOODSON: My punt return against the Buckeyes was still better, Desmond. Plus we won the national championship.

DESMOND: Harrumph. Let our readers decide:

JABRILL PEPPERS: Ha. Wait until you see mine!
 
MICHIGAN 20, OSU 17
 
FOOTNOTES:
 
1 Actual website registered by Counterpunt, as yet undeveloped.
 
2 ELO Rating - The extent to which the game is more compelling than an Electric Light Orchestra concert.
 
3 CFP = College Football Playoff rankings, essentially a glorified poll that chooses three teams to compete with Alabama for the national title.
 
4 MUS = Made Up Statistic
 
5 CAM = Completely Arbitrary Measures
 
6 SYTYSKBATETLU = Statistic You Think You Should Know But Are Too Embarrassed To Look Up. When reading an article containing such an acronym, you skip over it and hope it isn’t mentioned again.
 
7 MSIN = Mostly Subjective In Nature

Punt/Counterpunt: Indiana 2016

Punt/Counterpunt: Indiana 2016

Submitted by Seth on November 19th, 2016 at 9:08 AM

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[Bryan Fuller, 2013]

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PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

Chaos.

Football is a study in chaos. It is, at its heart. an incomprehensible number of variables plugged into an immensely complicated equation. What's the defensive alignment? What's the offensive personnel group? What's the coverage call? What's the snap count? What's the protection call? What routes are the receivers running? What are the weather conditions? What's the quarterback's progression? What are the linebacker's keys? Now, put it all together with the unknown that accompany twenty-two humans trying to execute various complicated assignments simultaneously, each of which is actively opposed by at least one other human being.

Okay, now do it a hundred more times, and add the whole thing up.

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[Bryan Fuller, 2015]

It is in this sense that we welcome CHAOS TEAM to the Big House. Indiana has spent the majority of the Kevin Wilson era being the least predictable team in the country. They haven't been all that good, but their style of trying to stress opponents into mistakes through tempo and creative aggression, combined with their willingness to give up big plays in myriad hilarious ways, has meant that Hoosier games are often unexpectedly close.  And they have been peak CHAOS against Michigan. Four of the last five meetings have been bonkers in one way or another:

  • In 2009, Indiana gained, and lost, the lead four separate times, losing it for good with two and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter. Indiana lost 36-33 despite outgaining Michigan by nearly a hundred yards. 
  • In 2010, Ben Chappell put up 480 yards passing on 64 attempts, and Denard Robinson matched him with 494 yards of total offense on 11.4 yards per carry and 17.3 yards per pass. Indiana scored a touchdown with 1:15 remaining to tie the game, and promptly allowed a touchdown 58 seconds later. Michigan won 42-35
  • In 2013, the teams combined for 1,323 total yards (more than 3/4 of a mile), with Indiana's 572 yards being dwarfed by Michigan's 751. Jeremy Gallon caught 14 passes for 369 yards. Michigan won 63-47.
  • Last year, the teams combined for over 1,100 yards, including 440 passing yards from Jake Rudock. Michigan scored a touchdown on the last play of regulation to tie the game, and they won in double overtime on a goal line stop.

Sure, Michigan hasn't lost to Indiana since 1987, and hasn't lost at home since 1967. But CHAOS TEAM cares not for such things. They know that if you change the initial conditions ever so slightly, it can have a huge impact on what would otherwise seem to be an inevitable outcome.

We saw how big of a difference the absence of Ryan Glasgow made in last year's game. This year, Michigan is starting a new quarterback, and the weather forecast is looking bleak. And MIchigan is coming off its worst performance of the year. Is that enough for Indiana to pull the upset? Probably not. Is it enough to make every Michigan fan yell at least once "WHAT THE HELL IS EVEN HAPPENING AT THIS MOMENT?" Almost certainly. Michigan 116, Indiana 104 (8 OT)

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[Erich Upchurch, 2014]

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nick-roumel13

COUNTERPUNT

by Nick RoUMel

So it’s just one loss, right?

Sunshine, blue skies, please go away
My girl has found another and gone away
With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom
So day after day I stay locked up in my room
I know to you, it might sound strange 
But I wish it would rain

(The Temptations, “I Wish It Would Rain”)

Seriously, what’s the big deal? We’re still ranked #3 in the CFP!

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I mean, “Punt Classic” and “Three” and I had an enjoyable trip to Iowa, riding the “Hawkeye Express” choo-choo to Kinnick, and soaking up the atmosphere …

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… and then this happened:

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We went back to our hotel and were locked out, for 14 hours (fact):

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So now we’re supposed to be excited to play Indiana? Nah, we be like:

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Day in, day out, my tear stained face

Pressed against the window pane.

My eyes search the skies, desperately for rain.

'Cause raindrops will hide my teardrops.

And no one will ever know.

That I'm cryin'... cryin' when I go outside.

To the world outside my tears, I refuse to explain.

Oh, I wish it would rain.

Actually, it’s going to snow. MICHIGAN something, INDIANA something less.

Punt/Counterpunt: Iowa 2016

Punt/Counterpunt: Iowa 2016

Submitted by Seth on November 12th, 2016 at 11:31 AM

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[Paul Sherman]

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PUNT

By Bryan MacKenzie

This has been a long week. The year 2016 has revealed and highlighted myriad cracks in an American society straining under stresses from all sides, and this week feels like the shattering culmination of those problems. Fortunately, today gives us an opportunity to return to a simpler time. A happier time. An Iowa time.

We return to a time when our playbooks, like our lives, were simpler. We didn't need five hundred channels, eleven types of avocados, and six different types of running plays. No, sir. Football was created as a union between an inside zone and an outside zone, and there was a time when we respected and honored that.

It was a time of honesty. People looked each other in the eye, and a man's word was as good as his signature in blood (which was how real men signed things). There weren't any efforts to deceive each other, or to try to cheat our fellow man. If a team lined up to run a zone left, you could rely on them to run a zone left. 

It was a time of greater economic certainty. There was a time when a man could come out of the humble beginnings of a Cleveland Browns position coach, get a job with a company, and keep that job for the next thirty years. They were good jobs, too, and they paid well. I know $4.5 million per year doesn't sound like that much to our jaded modern eyes, but there was a time when that was a solid living wage. And you knew that ten years from now, you would still have a job.

It was a time when people recognized that progress needs to come at a reasonable pace. A man shouldn't get out ahead of the sensibilities of the day. The play clock gives us all time for reflection, and only a fool would ignore such a precious gift.

It was a time when we recognized vices for the weaknesses they were. Gambling is the lazy man's shortcut to the fruits of a heartier man's hard work and determination. If you can't run the ball into a stacked box, don't take the easy way out by trying to throw over the top. That's just avoiding your problems, son. And I don't care where you are on the field; if you don't gain those ten yards in three plays, you haven't earned that first down. Punt and play defense, and work a little harder the next time.

There was a time when people understood that slow and steady wins the race. And while some modern revisionists allege that "slow" is literally the dumbest possible approach to any race ever, those people are probably nerds who put more emphasis on "numbers" on a "spreadsheet" than they do on gut instincts, gumption. and grit. Or they are communists. Probably both.

Analytics geeks say Michigan is going to trounce Iowa. So do the elitist bourgeoisie in Las Vegas. But as we've seen this week, those people don't know shit.  Iowa 7, Michigan 6

nick-roumel13

COUNTERPUNT

by Nick RoUMel

Road trip. Driving west, the landscape opening up and flattening out. If you were judging by its billboards, they’re into adult bookstores and fireworks. If by their menus, pork chops.

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Hello Iowa, with your straight stretches of highway and plowed over cornfields. Hello to the Michigan caravan, beeping and waving on I-80. Hello to road music, blaring Bailey’s “Who’s got it Better Than Us?” and Pop Evil’s “In The Big House”, among a menagerie of shuffle play from Led Zeppelin to Alicia Keys to Vulfpeck. Hello to the Quad Cities, and the Homewood Suites in the middle of a desolate savannah, one hour east of Iowa City, the closest we could manage, even though we made our reservations two months ago. Dammit.

This is America. Crazy and all over the place: from serious, to porn, explosions, and football. Because if it weren’t for such distractions, we would go mad.

And what better distraction this year than Michigan football?

Week after week, nobody’s got it better than us. Michigan has gone from the depths of despair, almost as deep as this year’s Notre Dame or Michigan State misery, to #2/#3 in the country. It’s pretty exciting stuff. When I think about Michigan football, I’m not dwelling on my problems, or the rest of life. I’m just geeked, distracted and happy. Wouldn’t it be great if we won it all?

Can we do it? What does the Punt say, at the top of this page? He wrings his hands about predictions. I agree. It was reinforced this week that predictions are meaningless. Whether you call them predictions, polls, or cosmic ESP messages from another dimension, they have one thing in common: it’s all guesswork. Example: Bo would have these amazing teams, that would steamroll Big Ten opponents 45-3 and 56-7 and be poised to go #1, then go somewhere like Minnesota or Purdue as a 28-point favorite, and lose. Completely unexpectedly.

Nobody knows anything. As they say, “That’s why you play the game.”

What we pundits do, instead of making predictions, is crafting scenarios. “If” Iowa were to win, this is how it would have to happen. We’d go into Kinnick Stadium for a night game. The fans would be loud and drunk. They would have a “Hawk-Out” (people would bring their trained pet hawks). We’d get so intimidated that Wilton Speight, who is generally poised, tall, and happy, would throw four interceptions and fumble twice. J-Pep would get attacked by a random hawk and run the wrong way on a punt return.

On their side, Iowa would run a dull but disciplined game plan, with quarterback C.J. “I’m not as good as Rudock, and never will be” Beathard leading a boring but effective attack, sometimes gaining 5 to 6 yards per play, and even remembering to hand off to Akrum Wadley once in a while. They might score 14 or even—heavens!—21 points behind the drunken, hawk-tending crowd. And they would win, under that scenario.

Of course. What a sweet, simple, middle America scenario. Except for one thing: it is absolutely not going to happen. I can say this as confidently as Cassandra, or Nostradamus, who were more accurate than Nate Silver and @twosixtynine will ever be. Do you know why? Because nobody’s got it better than us. Nobody.

MICHIGAN 38, IOWA 10