Mailbag! Comment Count

Brian December 11th, 2008 at 12:40 PM

Using this article from the Wall Street Journal (hat tip to Adam Rittenberg's Big Ten blog on ESPN for pointing it out), and knowing that Michigan is locked in to at least one "name" non-conference opponent for the foreseeable future, what kind of opponent, were you given your druthers, would you like to see for next season's 12th game?  Similarly, do we know if the season can begin on August 29th or must Michigan, if wanting to play the 12th game, must use its Big Ten conference schedule bye week in October?

For those who don't want to read the WSJ article, it's a well-argued complaint about the lack of data points via which to compare teams in different conferences. I agree with it totally.

On to the questions: Michigan must fill its bye week this year. As far as who that should be, that's obvious: the worst team they can find. Northern Colorado. Coastal Carolina. Some reclassifying provisional I-AA team from Spain. Some team that would take one look at Nick Sheridan and say to themselves "damn, I wish we had that kid." Michigan's already done well to get Eastern in for a (God, let's hope) drubbing.

I say this because of the media environment around Rodriguez and the state of the roster. Everyone adores Beilein now because he's beating UCLA and Duke; the football team is not likely to turn around so nimbly.

If basketball programs, with their 13 scholarships and rapid turnover, are Ferraris, football programs are dump trucks. Sometimes you get remarkable season-to-season turnarounds but in cases like that it's often random stuff—turnovers—obscuring a more gradual improvement. See Minnesota, 1-11 and possessors of one of the nation's worst turnover ratios in 2007, bouncing up to 7-5 on the strength of a +12 TO margin. Minnesota is still more than 50 yards per game worse than their opponents and is going to get its head caved in by Kansas; they're not much better than they were a year ago, but no one knows it.

So the football team is likely to be pretty bleah next year, too, especially with uncertainty at quarterback, and something like Toledo redux is a possibility. See: Minnesota, again. If that happens and Michigan misses a bowl again Rodriguez might actually find himself in serious hot water, which I think would be the worst thing that could happen to the program.

So: do not schedule a team that could possibly beat Michigan. This is shameless and I feel vaguely guilty about it, but that's life. If the media isn't going to go any deeper than surface level, surface level is what we shall give them.

More generally, I'm resigned to at least two cupcakes a year, one in the opener and one in the Big Ten bye week. Notre Dame is the third spot and that's fine. What rankles is that fourth game, which looks to be yet another cupcake unless Michigan accidentally schedules a top ten Utah team. Michigan should be scheduling competitive programs from various BCS conferences and playing the occasional road game in there. Utah is fine. BYU or Boise or TCU would be fine. Clemson or South Carolina or Oregon State or Rutgers or Cincinnati or Stanford or Kansas State or would be fine. Games against actual opponents that, in most years, Michigan will be solid favorites in.

There is zero chance of this actually happening, of course.

I noticed that after last year we had a major void in depth on the D-Line after not landing any DE's last year.  This year, we have commitments from LaLota, Roh, Schofield, Graves, Jones, and we look very good for Pernell McPhee, very good for Big Will, and good?(not sure) for Taylor Lewan.  Quite an impressive list of Lineman commits, including that we look alright for Sam Montgomery and Quinton Washington. 

With all these excellent lineman, do you think any will move to O-Line(big will?  Lalota? as both project to O-line as well..i think..)?  Also, i think it is good to note that football is won in the trenches, and this is building a great foundation for especially the Offense but also the Defense(as long as we can pick up some viable Linebackers..hopefully Jelani, but i dont know).

In a word: no. While the offensive line was so thin last year it necessitated John Ferrara's move from defensive tackle, Michigan loses no one this year and now has a fleet of six redshirt freshmen to add depth and challenge for starting jobs. Offensive line suddenly has a two-deep.

The defensive line, however, is extremely thin. The departure of Kates and Slocum leaves only Mike Martin and Renaldo Sagesse at DT. The DE whiff last year leaves Ryan Van Bergen as the only underclass DE. Everyone Michigan is bringing in on the defensive line is going to have to stay there.

I know lots of sites seem to track what school is in the running for what player, but going back to last year, when RichRod used the snake oil for a lot of last minute commits :  Did yourself, or any other recruiting sites, track that UM was in the running for any of these players (ie Shaw, or Roundtree) and don’t you think that RichRod may use the snake oil again and pull in some last minute recruits that no one seems to be tracking?

Go Blue

Nathan

Last year was a special situation, as Michigan suddenly found itself sporting a different coach, different offense, and different priorities. This naturally changed the opinions of various recruits and, with some prodding, resulted in a number of snake-oil heists.

Example: Michael Shaw was offered by Michigan as an "athlete", not a running back, and decided on a place that recruited him as a running back. When Rodriguez came that changed his status in Michigan's eyes, and, eventually, vice versa. If Rodriguez had been around for the whole year Shaw probably would have committed to Michigan in the first place.

So we're probably not going to have the flood of signing-day decommits; players that want to go to Michigan are more likely to just commit to Michigan.  On the other hand, "commitment" gets to be a shakier word every year, and Michigan is recruiting a number of guys who are technically committed to other schools. The difference is that we have a good idea who these guys are (McPhee, Stokes, etc) already. I think you'll see a surprise or maybe two; four is highly unlikely.

This next is just something to read:

Brian,

As a WVU fan, I am struck by your description of the ten-year drizzle cloud lifting from the Michigan hoops program. The state of Wolverine basketball in the beginning of the second year of the Beilein administration is eerily analogous to that of the WVU program early in Beilein's Morgantown tenure. To wit:

  1. The last four years of Beilein's WVU predecessor, Gale Catlett, were an abject horror. You have little reason to know anything about this, so Google "Jonathan Hargett", "Drew Catlett", "Coliseum asbestos", or "Gale Catlett routinely wore a leather blazer during games". Michigan had post-sanctions stress disorder and was choked by Tommy Amaker's turtlenecks.
  2. Beilein's first season at each stop was interminable, featuring attrition galore. In WVU's case, the departed players would have improved that season's record, but had they remained, the youngsters who spent the season potty training (Jo Herber, JD Collins, Pat Beilein, Tyrone Sally) would not have received the season necessary for to make them the nucleus--after adding Gansey and Pittsnoggle--of the 2005 and 2006 NCAA runs. It sounds like M will come to rely more on guys who weren't meaningfully around last year, but the early returns for '08-09 sure seem to indicate that last year's nuclear aftermath of a season was not in vain. Plus, there may be a pithy comparison to make between Lucas-Perry and Gansey.
  3. In the second years, each team stole wins over highly touted foes: WVU beat Florida (thought to be really good at the time but turned out to be just good) and a meh Maryland, whereas Michigan beat UCLA (thought to be really good but would project to turn out better than just good) and lies in wait for the next conquest.
  4. Second-year NIT berths--should Michigan fall short of 65 next March--following barrel-bottom first seasons.

Whether the result of the Taylor-Traylor-Amaker calamity or of hoops not being football, it seems that you don't like Michigan basketball so much as tolerate it because you crave a major-sport, maize-and-blue squad to root for in the winter. I identify with the hoops toleration and both motives. Because of Beilein and the similarities in the rat nests he inherited at WVU and UM*, I feel a kinship with Michigan fans. (Gasps understood, and no, I don't take your vomiting personally.) And trust me, you will love rooting for Beilein's teams.

The successes will sneak up on you. When Beilein's teams are hot, they are exhilarating. Even his best teams--though I suppose his hypothetical, great M teams may change this--will inspire frequent rending of garments. But I am roughly your age and, before Rich Rodriguez and JK Rowling gave birth to Pat White, watching Beilein's 2005 and 2006 teams on their tournament runs was the greatest sports-fan experience of my life. Sure, the athletic traditions of Michigan and West Virginia are comparable only to facilitate the demonstration that Michigan's is far richer, but still. You will love Michigan hoops under Beilein, and the leaps forward will happen sooner than appears possible and drown out by far the maddening aspects of his regime like rebounding and fickle substituting. The conductor is only rehearsing now, but the symphony will open without notice, and you will be mesmerized.

Kind regards,

Josh Ellison

* What is the preferred, abbreviated nomenclature, dude? Is "U-M" just an unfortunate freep.com sports-page construction?

As to the question: AFAIK the standard abbreviated nomenclature is UM, with the dash some editor's affectation. I actually prefer just "M," which plays off Michigan's iconic block M logo and prevents confusion with Minnesota and Miami.

As to the point about my personal relationship with basketball: no, I don't much like Michigan basketball, but that's more a function of the uniquely soul-crushing miasma that lingers over the program a full decade after any funny business went down than anything inherent in college basketball*. And the turnovers. Jesus holy God, the turnovers. I don't think anyone really liked Michigan basketball in the Ellerbe/Amaker eras because it was unlikeable. They played hideous basketball and they lost. Ellerbe stacked his teams with jerks (Ingerson, Gaines, Searight, Moore, Taylor, Traylor, Bullock). Amaker didn't have that problem, but you try watching this:

Year TO% Rank
2004 22.0 199
2005 23.9 283
2006 22.3 226
2007 23.1 267

Even when they were pretty okay, Michigan was a brutally coached team. That gets to you. Couple that with a funereal atmosphere at Crisler and, well… it's not an attractive product. However, I did go to about half the games last year and plan on getting to that many this year. And I'm not defensive about this at all.

*(Well, okay, I will admit that the shot clock is too long and the three point line is (still) too close.)

In the last mailbag there was some discussion of Georgia Tech and why they didn't suck nearly as hard as Michigan did. Nate Fowler, GT fan and erstwhile blogger, provides the GT perspective:

Saw your mailbag comments on the PJ/RR comparison ... and the Nesbitt v. Sheridan/Threet/DEATH rotation was certainly a huge difference in the two teams. Couple of other comments I had:

#1 - GT came into the season with far better personnel than UM did, not just "for the system" but overall.

The defense has 3 and possibly 4 future 1st/2nd round draft picks (Morgan Burnett - S, Michael Johnson - DE, Derrick Morgan - DE, Vance Walker - DT) and they won games for GT during the first half of the season as the offense found it's legs. I never got the impression that Michigan's defense was capable of carrying the team to wins the way GT's could/did.

The offense as well had plenty of young talent that had all had some experience to boot. Jonathan Dwyer is Beanie Wells on steroids [isn't Beanie Wells "Beanie Wells on steroids"? –ed] and had rushed for 9 TD's as a true freshman backup, he was ready to breakout in a big way. If you are a run based offense, having one of the 5 best RB's in the country on the roster is a huge trump card for you.

Demaryius Thomas was an athletic 6'3" 230lb WR who already had a season as the #1 WR under his belt. Even Nesbitt had taken snaps as a true freshman and was ready to step in full time. Michigan had no RB's even close to Dwyer's class, and had a lot of inexperience across the board on offense, especially at the skill positions. Chan Gailey's 2007 recruiting class was ranked #15 overall. It was clear even by the end of last year that that class was more like a top 5 overall class with the way everyone panned out, and that group of sophs carried this GT team in 2008. I know what the rivals/scout rankings for the past 5 years say about the talent levels, but my eyes tell another story - I wouldn't trade GT's roster in 2008 for UM's under any circumstances - GT was more talented across the board.

I think Michigan did find a pretty good running back but it took them half a season to do so because of unfamiliarity and a host of nagging injuries that held Brandon Minor out (and, of course, Minor got knocked out a couple weeks after establishing a hold on the starting job, allowing Carlos Brown to have a standout game against Northwestern).

#2 - Johnson recruited well as soon as he took the job. Even with Nesbitt on the roster, he went out and got another QB who could play - and play right away - in Jaybo Shaw. Good thing he did, because Nesbitt missed all of 2 games (Mississippi State and Duke) and parts of several others. Shaw played well in his absense and won a couple of games for GT. When he got hurt too and we had to play the 3rd stringer - we saw a frightening glimpse Sheridan/Threet hell with Calvin Booker and nearly lost to Gardner-Webb.

I think that Rodriguez really dropped the ball by not finding a QB anywhere, somewhere he could lean on if he had to. Shaw was only committed to MTSU when Johnson got him, but he was an option QB and a smart kid who could step in and beat Duke if he had to. That was key to the season. Johnson also got a couple of other kids (Cooper Taylor and Marcus Wright, in particular) who stepped in as true freshman and were big time contributors. His recruiting from the very moment he stepped onto campus filled some very important holes.

Rodriguez's failure to acquire a passable freshman quarterback is the biggest failing in his Michigan career to date, but he did try. Feagin didn't work out and BJ Daniels went to South Florida after Michigan hurriedly backed away; GBW hinted at shenanigans, which is pretty common, but when Rivals suggested the same thing in no uncertain terms that's eyebrow-raising. Then, of course, Pryor: Rodriguez's focus on a guy who, in retrospect, was just playing with him was fatal to this season. That was a major error.

#3 - Johnson is just a heck of a coach. The dude has been a monster winner everywhere he's been, and I doubt there's anyone else who could have pulled off a season like this under the circumstances. Comparing him to most every other college coach isn't a "fair" comparison. I can't say enough good things about the way he totally changed the entire GT football program and culture in under 12 months. The man is a magician.

#4 - As a side note - don't bash the ACC schedule - GT played 7 bowl teams, 5 of which were on the road (@BC, @VT, @UNC, @UGa, @Clemson, FSU, Miami) and won 5 of those games. The ACC was a better and much deeper league than the Big 10 this year.

"Bowl teams" is such a goofy metric these days, but Nate's last point does stand: Sagarin has GT's schedule #32 and Michigan's #24. There's not a huge gap there.

Comments

Rush N Attack

December 11th, 2008 at 1:01 PM ^

with Clemson at some point would be nice.

"Name-brand" conference, decent team, probable wins (both home and away), away game would be driving distance for Mich. fans, and maybe even more importantly, the away game would also be driving distance for alot of Southern recruits.

Yinka Double Dare

December 11th, 2008 at 1:02 PM ^

I think there's one other aspect here -- in addition to having the right players to run the system at GT, a comment made by the announcers in the Army/Navy game really struck me. They said that Army had switched to, well, basically an attempt to copy Navy's offense (i.e. Paul Johnson's offense). And one of the reasons they gave (actually, the primary one) is that it is a much easier system to learn, especially for the linemen and the blocking schemes in general, and that with their limited practice time available at the Academy, it made a lot more sense to run a simpler system to learn to the level where they would be able to execute consistently. Army of course got its ass kicked by Navy yet again, but it was pretty clear Navy was just a much better team with faster players (hello, future Marines!)

Watching both GT and Navy play, it's clear that it doesn't require nearly the number of difficult blocks by the offensive linemen that the Rodriguez spread option requires. On the running plays most of the guys are packed in closer to the O-line so there are a few additional blockers besides the linemen. Add those to the fact that GT had a QB and RB on the roster already that worked great for the system, plus some defensive quality at more than just the line and you can see why they were so much better.

This is not to say Paul Johnson isn't a great coach -- he is without a doubt, as if making Navy a good team didn't make that obvious already.

bronxblue

December 12th, 2008 at 11:35 AM ^

I noticed that as well. Navy's offense works because, provided you have decent athletes compared to the opposition, it is all about simple blocks and attacking holes quickly, along with the typical misdirection found with any option offense. It's an easy offense to pick up if you are new to it, and it works even better when kids are accustomed to it (from high school) because the terminology usually doesn't change much across coaches.

Not to knock Johnson, though - lots of coaches could run this offense, but he has consistently won with it no matter the talent level.

MH20

December 11th, 2008 at 2:51 PM ^

You fellas have a lot of growing up to do, I'll tell you that. Ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. Can you believe these characters? Way out of line. Way out of line. Have a good mind to go to the warden about this. You know what hurts the most is the...the lack of respect. You know? That's what hurts the most. Except for the...except for the other thing. That hurts the most. But the lack of respect hurts the second most.

Ridiculous.

J. Lichty

December 11th, 2008 at 1:25 PM ^

I am little mystified by the meme that Rodriguez was putting all of his eggs in Pryor's corvette, as opposed to simply in a situtation where he was very limited in the dual threat targets willing to listen to him last year.

Apart from Pryor, were there really any strong dual threat QB targets in last year's class that were open to giving M a serious look? The only other big name I can recall is Marques Gray from Indiana (a MN commit who was at the time and as it turns out very invested in going to MN given that he did not qualify academically and is still going there next year) Who else should/could RR reasonably got to join his class?

I think RR showed that he was not shy about going after any player he thought could help, so I just have trouble believing that he would have forgone anyone who could help for an unlikely Pryor commit.

Chunks the Hobo

December 11th, 2008 at 1:45 PM ^

Brian, those NDNation links you keep posting in the sidebar are seriously creeping me out.

"...we rise up with explosive force to engage in masculine, titanic struggle for the ultimate victory of the Lady on the Dome."

WTF is wrong with those people? I say this even as a Catholic hobo. Or at least one who sometimes sleeps in churches when it's cold out.

baleedat

December 11th, 2008 at 2:03 PM ^

"BJ Daniels went to South Florida after Michigan hurriedly backed away; GBW hinted at shenanigans, which is pretty common, but when Rivals suggested the same thing in no uncertain terms that's eyebrow-raising."

Can someone please explain to me what the story was with BJ Daniels? This is the first I'd heard of any shenanigans.

J. Lichty

December 11th, 2008 at 2:26 PM ^

my recollection is that he or his father wanted $$$. At the time, it seemed like a silly internet rumor that someone would be that overt, but RR did back off pretty abrubptly.

Perhaps BJ was just practicing to be a governor someday.

Baleedat - what specific dual threat qb's, in what I recall was a pretty thin class, were spooked off by Pryor? Not saying it didn't happen, but just can't recall a real cast of viable targets. Like I said earlier, I remember Gray being a frequently suggested target, but can't recall any other than Daniels and Feagin.

Erik_in_Dayton

December 11th, 2008 at 5:31 PM ^

Unless my memory is really failing me, I'm pretty sure only Pryor, Daniels, Feagin (who most schools were not recruiting at QB) and maybe Gray were available. I'm surprised Brian thinks Rodriguez's focus on Pryor was a mistake. Pryor wasn't just the best guy available, he was pretty much the only guy available b/c Rodriguez got such a late start recruiting at Michigan...I really don't think Rodriguez was ignoring other viable QB options while he was recruiting Pryor.

myrtlebeachmai…

December 11th, 2008 at 3:00 PM ^

...can't help but be an assest for recruiting, especially since we're hanging our hat there for the most part anyway. I say we go TO Florida (yes I agree a beatable team like USF, UCF, FAU, FIU) and beat the BEJESUS outa' someone and show the kids down there 1st person what we look like. You know we'd get a good turnout (crowd-wise) no matter where we are.

jamiemac

December 11th, 2008 at 3:37 PM ^

I could not agree more with the writer of the GT letter.

Dwyer became my favorite running back (outside of the UM, er I mean U-M, roster, of course) to watch this year this side of Shon Green.

I won a lot of dough on GT this year. My gambling cronies laughed, said they had no O.....then I would say, it will be close and Dwyer will break 2 long runs to give GT control....after this happened several weeks in a row, my cronies jumped on board.....the Ga-GT game won us all a ton of money.

Of course, I won a ton of cash on PJ's Navy teams as well, and I echo what the writer said....he's on the best 5 coaches out there, IMO.

I can not wait for him to undress the Lester on New Year's Eve....one is a good coach, the other just a loud mouth.....Jackets will roll LSU.

GNM

December 11th, 2008 at 4:12 PM ^

The ACC is better than the Big Ten... at basketball. C'mon, you want Virginia Tech to square off with Penn State? How about Boston College and Ohio State? Florida State and Iowa?

Also, +1 for making me look up the word "miasma."

SpartanDan

December 11th, 2008 at 9:56 PM ^

Every ACC team, except Duke, would probably have finished somewhere between third and sixth in the Big Ten. The top end was weak, but the middle of the pack (and even the bottom end, again apart from Duke) was solid.