One More on Penn State

The Freeh Report is in and I'm not going to waste a lot of space rehashing it's findings about the sick cabal of self-centered hypocrites that ran Penn State. I'm going to switch gears and address the question of what comes next.

The formal response to this scandal has to serve two purposes: it has to be punitive and corrective.

I think the punitive actions will largely be handled by the court system. People will go to jail. The university (and Second Mile) will face massive lawsuits, as will several of the people involved. What jail time and money can't extract, the media will. Joe Paterno's legacy is now literally one of the worst in college football history, and deservedly so. 

The corrective actions will come from a far broader range of interested parties. The primary one is the university itself. Relying on the findings of the Freeh Commission, the university (and the Board of Trustees) have to implement meaningful reform that force the athletic department into a subordinate positon to the university and which keep the Board of Trustees both informed about and responsible for the actions of the university. The Freeh Commission has a long list of measures, and I'm sure that will form the basis of Penn State's plan.

I would also not be surprised if the state government gets involved. Penn State holds a somewhat unusual position as a 'state related' school and not technically a public school, a designation which gives them greater autonomy than a typical public school. It would not surprise me to see the state government revisit what exactly that desgination means and how much autonomy Penn State can be trusted with.

Between the administration of the Freeh Commission, the university, the Board of Trustees and the state government, you have to hope they can work out the long term measures needed at Penn State. But that still leaves the athletic department.

The structure of the athletic department is an area that I believe does belong under the purview of the NCAA. They should be involved. They should not be involved with the intent of delivering punitive measures, but with the intent of overseeing and/or staying informed about the measures Penn State is taking to reform itself.

What I would like to see the NCAA do is officially find Lack of Institutional Control at Penn State, in order to guarantee themselves a seat at the table as Penn State is discussing the reform of their athletic department. And then, having gotten a seat, listen. Let Penn State determine their own course. If it's appropriate, accept it. If it's not, guide them in the right direction. If they are combative or unwilling, then the NCAA can step in and use their authority to require changes. But absolutely start by issuing that ruling that says Penn State lacked institutional control. It's unavoidable. To not issue that finding would be hard to explain and would set a negative precedent.

And when we talk about the changes that are needed, the obvious reform, one that is hard to define with rules and regulation, is simply that the football program and football coach cannot ever be given more authority than their role requires. Joe Paterno was given more. He used his reputation as "more than just a football coach" to acquire powers beyond that of a football coach: he was practically allowed to exempt his players from discipline from the Office of Student Affairs, he was allowed to hand pick an athletic director (a former player) who would rubber stamp his decisions and he was never questioned, even by those whose job it was to exercise authority over him. That can't be allowed again.

But there are two more areas that I think the NCAA needs to step into:

It needs to make sure that Penn State does not go back to glorifying Joe Paterno as soon as the media's attention is elsewhere. It will be a bitter pill for Penn State to swallow, but Penn State should be asked to (partially) disassociate themselves from the legacy of Joe Paterno, the way other programs have been asked to disassociate from their wrong-doers. You cannot erase him from the record books, but the NCAA should tell Penn State that they cannot exalt him either. They cannot name buildings or auditoria after him. They cannot put up murals or grand displays of his achievements. In the context of a display about the 1986 national title, of course he plays his part. But there should never be, on the campus of Penn State, a tribute to The Grand Experiment or a Hall of Fame exhibit glorifying Paterno's legacy.

Additionally, the NCAA needs to look into the relationship between the football program and The Second Mile, as well as other similar arrangements. What looked once like a charitable organization that Penn State supported as part of The Grand Experiment takes on a lot of other characteristics once you read the Freeh Report and other investigate reports. Financial dealings abounded between high rankings PSU officials (such as Joe Paterno) and board members of The Second Mile. When Jerry Sandusky retired (after allegations of misconduct were known to Paterno, Curley and Spanier) Penn State agreed to collaborate with Sandusy on "community outreach programs, such as Second Mile, and other programs which provide positive visibility to the University's Intercolleagiate Athletics Program".

The culture of football at Penn State was unique, and for a long time that was praised. That was Joe Paterno's legacy. That was The Grand Experiment. As we discover the ways in which that unique culture led to the scandal that brought down the program, everyone involved needs to examine that culture, and make sure that Penn State is not rebuilt as a replica of the program that was torn down.

Posted at 12:38 PM Read More

The Mess at Penn State

It is not a short list of coaches who have fallen from grace, but perhaps none of the names on the list is more fascinating than Joe Paterno. Woody Hayes gave every indication that one day he was going to go too far. Bobby Knight went too far with regularity, but won too many games (and had too many supporters in the caveman element of society) for it to cost him his job until the results started to decline. But Joe Paterno didn't just lack black marks on his record - he was the one whose spotless record was his legacy. The Grand Experiment was held up as Joe Paterno's gift to college football, an example that you could do things "the right way" and still win.  

It was always a bit of a crock. Penn State wanted us to believe that other programs had never followed the rules, had decent academic standards and continued to win. Certainly, other programs have at times bristled at the arrogance of Joe Paterno and his supporters, the same way many fans of "race music" bristled at the notion that Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley created rock 'n roll. But even if the Grand Experiment was nothing new, it was at least something, right? 

Or was it? Was it ever real, or was Joe Paterno just the Wizard of Oz, pulling strings to make sure we never got to see the man behind the curtain? 

In the early 2000s, when Penn State's slide on the field was accompanied by a string of off the field incidents, there were two easy storylines to follow, and obvious conclusions to draw: 
1. Joe Paterno was getting too old to run the program, and the losses and the discipline problems were both the result of a figurehead coach and a leaderless program. 
2. Faced with mounting losses and scared of losing his program (or being forced to step down) Paterno was cutting corners in recruiting and in discipline. Now he was reaping the just rewards of those decisions. 

A little of this, a little of that ... 

Those of us who were paying close attention not just to the string of incidents, but to Paterno's responses, started asking if maybe we were blind to a bigger truth. We started to wonder if the discipline problems and combative attitude towards outside (including police) intervention were always part of Paterno's DNA, and what we were seeing in the 2000s was Paterno's anger that he no longer had the juice to overrule those who rightly had the final call. 

Paterno openly chastised the police for following athletes in the hopes of finding them misbehaving, and pined for the good old days when a drunk driving football player would be brought to Joe Pa's house to sleep it off.  And now, aside from the e-mails which seem to clearly indicate that Paterno was at least in on if not the driving force behind the desire to address Sandusky 'in house', we have also heard testimony and seen e-mails indicating that Paterno had a long history of rallying the PSU administration around his efforts to stonewall criminal investigations and protect the program from outside forces. Most alarming, we have an outside counsel reporting that Paterno threatened to kick players off the team if they agreed to speak to the campus disciplinary team about the Anthony Scirotto incident. 

So in light of these new revelations, it's time to revisit the attitudes expressed by people like former PSU grad assistant Matt Paknis. Paknis forcefully testifies that even 30 years ago The Grand Experiment was a public relations campaign more than anything, that it was less about Paterno running his program "the right way" and more about Joe Paterno having the juice to kill stories which would reflect poorly on Penn State. It was, in essence a marketing campaign. 

In the end, this scandal ends up not being a black mark on Paterno's record; it risks being a total and thorough invalidation of Paterno's record. It makes us stop and question the very thing that made Joe Paterno a legend. 

We should not fall into the trap of suggesting that the Grand Experiment failed after 35 glorious years. We should instead question whether we were all suckered into believing in an image of Joe Paterno that never was accurate. 

I suspect that it's a little of both. Good intentions to begin with, grossly exaggerated by loyalists and them embraced by Paterno and Penn State, corrupted over time by pride and power. That's the read I get, though others may have different ones. 

That's an important conversation to have, but there's also the practical issue of what happens with Penn State football going forward. 

Joe Paterno was rightly fired and has since passed away. It's unlikely the Athletic Director and President involved will ever hold important roles at Penn State again. So what more should Penn State do, and is there a role for the NCAA?

I am sympathetic to the arguments put forward by some that this case goes so far beyond athletics that for the NCAA to sanction PSU is almost trivializing the crimes. And I can understand the argument that this was a criminal act by a *former* coach, and therefore outside the mission of the NCAA. 

I'd disagree. 

For all the talk about football players and March madness, providing a safe and constructive environment for young people is arguably the core mission of the NCAA. Parents entrust their children to a university and a sports program, and the program in turn promises to take care of them, educate them and help them mature. What Penn State has done has utterly undermined everything the NCAA stands for and tries to do. And it happened because Penn State allowed football to become too important, it allowed a football coach to wield too much power and it allowed preservation of their image to take precedence over morality and ethics. 

And how inverted have Penn State's priorities become? You have fans that would rather see the existing university embroiled in an existential crisis than even admit the partial culpability of one departed coach. You have a newly elected member of the Board of Trustees who has taken to public message boards to angrily denounce specific, individual posters who have dared to admit they think Paterno was at least partly responsible. 

The NCAA has a role here. I don't know exactly what they can do, but I know what they have to do: Penn State has to be forced to de-emphasize football. 

What that means is hard to pin down. It isn't scholarship losses or forfeiting wins; those are competitive penalties. I don't think it's the "death penalty". That is throwing the baby out with the bath water. What's needed is cultural change at Penn State, an enforceable long term change in their priorities, not a competitive disadvantage. 

I expect Penn State, with the help of the NCAA (the help coming in the form of a gun to PSU's head) to institute various "Human Resources" changes. New oversight infrastructure, counseling and education, etc. But that's hardly sufficient. Such subjective initiatives will only have the desire impact if the university as a whole (the administration, the football program and the supporters) understands the problem and the correct priorities. It is a Catch-22: that approach will work exactly when that approach is not needed. 

I don't know what else the NCAA can do, but it has to find something, something that flat out forces them to shift their priorities. 

Joe Paterno and Penn State always wanted to be an example to the rest of college football. Here is their chance. 

Posted at 06:14 PM Read More

The Ohio State Situation

Ever since Maurice Clarett's freshman lifestyle hit the news, fans of programs that compete with Ohio State on the field and on the recruiting trail have been accusing Jim Tressel of being a wolf in sheep's clothing, a corrupt leader of a corrupt program, but with enough rhetorical and sartorial flair to make people believe he is fundamentally a good guy. And as multiple star players were found to have run afoul of NCAA rules (first Clarett, but also Chris Gamble and Troy Smith), none but the first generating even a hint of controversy, the conviction of OSU's detractors grew, while Tressel's supporters wrote off such complaints as "sour grapes".

So how did we get here?

In retrospect, one could argue that the first salvo in the media effort to unearth the problems at Ohio State came not with the release of information about the "Tat 5", but with an article written two years ago by the Columbus Dispatch. 

Hiding behind the seemingly political headline Oversight vs Privacy at OSU this article suggested strongly to the detractors to that everything they suspected about Ohio State was indeed true.

The article documents Ohio State's stunningly long list of "secondary violations". To OSU fans, it is a non-story, just evidence of what they've always said. Ohio State's compliance department is very aggressive about finding and reporting every little infraction. To critics, it appears to document three things that they have been alleging for years.

1. Ohio State is committing a lot of violations. By the Dispatch's count, more than any other school in the country and more than the rest of the Big 10 combined.
2. Ohio State has a tremendous ability to see each violation as "isolated and incidental", and never draws any kind of conclusion about a pattern from these violations. 
3. Ohio State pushes some fairly serious violations through a reporting process that was created largely for minor and often unintentional violations.

For those who don't follow infractions very closely, a brief primer. Major violations are actions that were either systematic or intentional, and which create an advantage for the school. Secondary violations are typically items that are isolated (not part of a systemic or administrative problem) and incidental (impart no real competitive edge). For example, if coaches are allowed to call recruits on the phone once a week,  a coach may schedule a weekly Saturday morning call with a particular recruit. If the coach is sick one Saturday and calls on Sunday instead, that week he ends up calling on Sunday and again on Saturday. Twice in one week. That's a secondary violation.

Into that same heading, Ohio State has pushed multiple instances of improper benefits provided to Terrelle Pryor when he was a recruit. It feels like a different thing. The phone calls are obviously incidental. The benefits appear (especially in retrospect) to have been part of a pattern.

Secondary violations are usually "self-reported". This means that the program sends the NCAA a report indicating what they have found and what corrective and/or punitive action they have taken. The NCAA usually accepts the school's findings and files the report. This is to some great extent on the honor system. Think of it like a time sheet for an hourly employee. The employer expects that you will honest in filling it out, and they don't have the resources to check every hour that you have put down. But they file the time sheets, and if there ever comes a time for them to question your honesty, they will pull the time sheets. And if they find any irregularities on them, that dishonesty will come to haunt you.

Then note that as a standard procedure, when a team appears before the NCAA's infraction committee, they have to report their recent history of secondary violations.

The Dispatch article also lays out an interesting fact that has come back to play a significant role in the way this story has evolved. OSU appears to be extremely aggressive (one might even say creative) in their use of privacy laws as a reason for not disclosing information and not complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.

But lets skip forward a year and lay out a quick, rough timeline on Act 2 of this story.

April 2010: A local attorney Chris Cicero e-mails Jim Tressel to notify him that the DOJ is investigating a local businessman who appears to have been dealing memorabilia provided by active OSU football players. Tressel does not inform the AD, compliance or the NCAA.
December 2010: The DOJ contacts Ohio State about the memorabilia, and OSU turns around and reports the issue to the NCAA. Jim Tressel does not admit to prior knowledge. The NCAA suspends the players for the first half of 2011, but allows them to play in the Sugar Bowl. After delivering a lecture on how disappointed he is in his players, Jim Tressel extracts a pledge from each of them that they will return, as a condition of letting them play in the Sugar Bowl.
Jan/Feb 2011: Ohio State finds out and then informs the NCAA of the April 2010 e-mails from Cicero.
April 2011->:
A Columbus Dispatch article claiming that a local auto dealer (Aaron Kniffin) has written up so many car sales for Ohio State players and (even out of state) family that it looks suspicious.
A report that numerous Ohio State football players have been ticketed around campus driving cars with dealer plates or cars not registered with the athletic department (as is required).
A Sports Illustrated article quoting unnamed sources, saying many many more Ohio State players were involved in the tattoo parlor's memorabilia ring than previously believed.
An ESPN report (and other follow ups) that indicating that a local memorabilia dealer and professional photographer (Dennis Talbott) has provided illegal benefits to multiple OSU football players going back at least 2 years and has given Terrell Pryor tens of thousands of dollars in cash, much of this happening after multiple people called to tip Ohio State off to potential shady dealings involving this businessman.

At this point, the gamut of opinions on what this means for Ohio State runs from "This is worse than USC and Alabama" to "No big deal. Tressel's already been fired and Terrelle Pryor is gone. What more does the NCAA want?" And the big question out there is "what about Lack of Institutional Control?" which is the RICO Act of the NCAA, the one they can hammer you with if they don't have a smoking gun on the underlying violations.

So let's try to get to those questions ... what does this mean to OSU?

First of all, the OSU fan belief that the school's compliance department is top notch is non-starter at this point. We have found out that they weren't monitoring athlete's vehicles, that they never really investigated Terrelle Pryor's loaner cars, that they never looked into Aaron Kniffin's relationships with players, that they never acted on information about Dennis Talbott, et al. 

And regarding the tattoo Parlor, Rife and the original violations, the NCAA is going to see that Ohio State had 3 opportunities to get to the bottom of this:
1. When Cicero e-mail Tressel.
2. When the DOJ contacted OSU. 
3. When e-mails from Cicero to Tressel surfaced.

And at no time did OSU's compliance department or athletic department turn up any evidence that had not already been handed to them or discover any new depth or breadth to the case beyond what was handed to them already (by Cicero, the DOJ and their own internal legal team). Meanwhile, SI, ESPN, Yahoo and the Columbus Dispatch can't do a U-turn in downtown Columbus without finding more to the story.

The second line of defense, that this is all about Jim Tressel and 5 players, is also a non-starter, as this now appears to involve the compliance office and at least one assistant coach (one of the people who was notified directly about NCAA violations involving Talbott in 2009).

A third line of defense, or deflection, is the belief of some Ohio State fans that no program could withstand the scrutiny they have been subjected to without such problems surfacing. But a widely believed to be extremely corrupt Southern Cal program was subjected to just such scrutiny, and 3 major violations were found (2 involving Reggie Bush, one involving basketball player OJ Mayo). Michigan faced a hostile local media that first spent months investigating the academics of our football program (and found no academic fraud, no eligibility problems and no NCAA violations), and then our practice habits. Combined with the scrutiny of the NCAA, they turned up evidence of practices that ran 15 minutes over and of Quality Control assistant coaches exceeding their allowed job descriptions. 

No scandals. No players suspended. No coaches forced to resign. No covers of Sports Illustrated.

So when you get past all the defenses that don't seem to defend, what you are left with is:

a) multiple different batches of violations
b) each involving multiple players
c) two cases involving figures (Talbott, Rife) who were known to people within the athletic department, who did not act
d) others of which (unregistered cars) would have been noticed by compliance if they were doing the monitoring that they are obligated, by rule, to do
e) the complete failure of Ohio State to get to the bottom of these situations, despite numerous opportunities and, apparently, a community of tipsters who try to let the coaching staff know what is going on
f) at least 2 seasons during which Ohio State used multiple star players whose eligibility they had reason to question
g) repeated "unethical conduct" (NCAA catchphrase) involving Jim Tressel.

What you don't have is

a) the involvement of coaching staff in arranging benefits
b) improper inducements to recruits
c) the involvement of high profile or heavily connected boosters

What should we expect to see?

OSU fired Tressel (or asked him to resign, politely) but this came months too late. What OSU thought they were heading towards from December to April is a mystery to most. Other than that, OSU has basically taken no corrective action to indicate to the NCAA that they understand why these situations arose or that they mean to prevent them in the future. It will be up to the NCAA to "reform" OSU, while also punishing it for past transgressions. 

So what should we expect?

First, I think the big 3 "cultural" findings will all be there. Lack of Institutional Control (for the failure to notice the pattern of behavior and failure to properly investigate when issues were raised), Failure to Monitor (for not being on top of items that are supposed to be systematically tracked, like auto registration) and failure to create an astmosophere of compliance (for Tressel's infectious see-no-evil attitude).

And on remedies

1. A show cause finding that prevents Jim Tressel from coaching again any time soon is almost a given at this point
2. A significant probationary period. 4, maybe even 5 years.
3. A significant loss of scholarships. Maybe not the 30 that USC got (though that will depend on which all accusations the NCAA believes and how wide and deep they believe the culture of violations is).
4. A multi-year post-season ban. 
5. OSU will be forced to vacate the 2010 season and quite possibly the 2009 season as well.
6. OSU may be forced to dissociate themselves from Terrelle Pryor (as well as Talbott, Rife, et al).

The question of a television ban keeps coming up. The NCAA has not ruled out television bans, and in ruling on USC specifically noted that they very seriously considered it. They also noted the logic behind a TV ban, that it is meant to counteract the gain in stature that a program received from cheating. A period of not being on TV,  of children (future fans) and high school players (future recruits)  not being able to see you play, designed counteract the years of good press that winning generates. 

But it is a very broad brush. Keeping the Ohio State - Michigan game off the air not only punishes Ohio State, but Michigan as well. So though they will discuss it again, and while it will be in their arsenal, it seems unlikely that they would impose such a sanction on Ohio State when they did not impose it on the perfect test case for it (USC).

For now, those 6 items I listed above would be the starting point.

And I'd add a few notes of clarification:
The NCAA will not go on the record and say this, but it is my firm belief that if they can prove enough facts to register the LOIC (and I am certain they can) any further allegations that they honestly believe but cannot prove will be left out of the report, but will be implicit in the harshness of the penalty handed down for LOIC. They do not have to have a paper trail on every allegation in order to say there is a culture at Ohio State that needs to be changed.

The fact that Terrelle Pryor will not testify can be helpful to or extremely harmful to Ohio State. If it means that the NCAA cannot get questions answered and runs into investigatory dead ends, that may help Ohio State. But if the accusation is made and if the accusors will speak to the NCAA, Terrelle Pryor's refusal to sit down and refute the allegations will be seen, effectively, a plea of no lo contendere. As we saw with Reggie Bush's non-compliance, they will say that if Pryor refuses to mount a defense, the preponderance of evidence shows that he is guilty.

At this point, no matter how many people refuse to speak, the NCAA has proof enough of varied enough violations that the hammer is coming down on Ohio State.

Posted at 03:45 PM Read More

I Am Not Blogging

This is a one-off. I am not blogging. Please do not expect regular bloggingl; you will just be disappointed.

And one other disclaimer: this is not a highlight reel. This is not a collection of the best or most interesting plays from from Saturday's game, rather a collection of plays that which serve as examples of something I saw, thought I saw or need an explanation for. You aren't going to see Hemingway on a fly pattern beating a DB because I think we all pretty much know what happened there; Hemingway is fast and Forcier throws an accurate deep ball. No story.
So ...


Lots of good things evident, like this: Tate Forcier to J.R. Hemingway for the TD. It looks really simple ... the CB comes up when he sees Forcier scrambling and Hemingway beats him over the top. But what is really encouraging about this is that Hemingway breaks long because Tate Forcier tells him to. The true freshman in his very first drive as a college QB is directing traffic and generating big plays. Just one example of the fact that he sees the field better than you would expect a true freshman to.
Speaking of which, here's a play I could use some insight on. A nice run on the read option. Forcier appears to make the right read when the DE crashes (the DEs for WMU seemed to crash inside a lot, which is probably why Forcier kept the ball so often). Forcier makes a nice move on the DB and picks up good yardage. The question, I guess, is why was this so much work? Forcier made the right read and yet we were outnumbered. Did Webb make the wrong call by going downfield instead of blocking the DB (#28)? Was it just a really good read by 28? Or was WMU coming with a DB run blitz of sort?
Obviously, the other big positive from the QB play was Denard Robinson's big play ability. Yes, there are a lot of nice moves there and some flat out speed, but what I'd really like to draw attention to is Martavius Odoms. Presumably, he was the intended ball carrier here, on the end around. Or at least he was an option. But when Robinson dropped the ball, Odoms didn't miss a beat and took off like a missile to block the outside DB who could have stopped this play for a relatively short gain. Nice play by Odoms.
For the one bad note: this is going to happen, but Forcier did have a moment or two where he looked like a freshman. On one play early in the game, He missed a sure touchdown. If he throws this to the outside, to Daryl Stonum, there isn't a Bronco within 2 miles. Trust me on this, that is not a case of a DB breaking off coverage because the ball was thrown elsewhere; there was no DB with a play on Stonum. Forcier just didn't see it.

Speaking of WRs

We saw two good things out of the WRs that we did not see last year. (1) They did not drop passes. That was epidemic last year. Instead, we saw 0 drops and a couple of great grabs (Kelvin Grady early, and Koger's one hander late). (2) The blocking on the perimeter and downfield by WRs was vastly improved. There was mention of Odoms above, but another great example was Daryl Stonum, on Kelvin Grady's end around. He knocks one guy off balance, then turns and takes another guy out of bounds, allowing Grady to pick up a 1st down despite Western having numbers in the open field.

Defensive Line

Brandon Graham had a great game, getting after the QB repeatedly and making Western's line (and RT in particular) look very much like a MAC line. But that was expected. What was nice to see is that the true freshman Craig Roh joined him in the backfield on numerous occasions. Here, he blows up a draw play by taking an inside move on the RT. Here, he gets a sack just going through the RT. The nice thing about that ... true freshman, and he's getting it done multiple ways. He's not just going around the corner and trying to use his speed to beat the RT every time. And while it's tempting to say maybe the Western RT is just not very good, While Brandon Graham blows up the RT, here's Roh using a 3rd method of getting into the backfield, a spin move this time. Focus on the DL this time. That's nice versatility from a freshman DE. And that versatilty is a key part of the spinner position, because he'll be called on to do things like this. Dropping into coverage from an LB spot, and getting good depth (and width, I guess) on his drop. While Graham blows up the RT again.

Defensive Backfield

Probably the single most exciting thing to come out of the defensive performance yesterday was the tackling and hitting, particularly by the secondary. Very few missed tackles, and some solid hits. It's hard to give examples of things that don't happen, but some gratuitous "nice hit" video never hurt. Donovan Warren (though he didn't really jar that ball loose - reverse angle shows the guy dropped it even before Warren hit him). Boubacar Cissoko.

Read Options?

I don't think we've seen the whole playbook yet. There's a lot going on that maybe the freshman QBs aren't ready to use yet, but is there because it will pay dividends down the line. Two examples:
We seem to have a simple "QB keeper / quick flare" option, where the QB takes few steps on a sweep before deciding whether to run or throw to the WR. We saw it a couple times, mostly in the form of a pass play. I don't know if it was a real option, as we ran it (or whether the QBs were instructed to throw), but it will certainly be an option down the road.
Far more intriguing, I think, is the triple option that we showed but didn't use. Watch how wide open Kelvin Grady gets at the top of your screen. This is setting up. The QB reads the DE and if the DE crashes (pursuing the RB handoff) the QB keeps. And as he starts to run, if he sees the CB peeling off his outside coverage to shut down the run, he pulls up and throws to the now abandoned slot receiver. It's not the easiest read, to pull up from a run and throw the ball as the traffic is headed your way. A late read makes it a dangerous throw, so it's not surprising that Forcier never attempted the pass, but at some point this season Forcier will feel comfortable enough to make a corner pay for coming up to take away the run.
Posted at 02:19 PM Read More


To go with all those predictions, let me finally publish the rankings and some of the other data.
Rather than dumping the whole thing, I'll just put up a few highlights.

Top 10 teams (Rating)
1. Texas 8-0 (1.52)
2. Alabama 8-0 (1.33)
3. Boise State 7-0 (1.30)
4. Penn State 9-0 (1.25)
5. Utah 8-0 (1.23)
6. Texas Tech 8-0 (1.23)
7. Ball State 8-0 (1.17)
8. Tulsa 8-0 (1.15)
9. Georgia 7-1 (1.09)
10. Oklahoma 7-1 (1.09)

Keep in mind, this is *not* a power rating and it's not suggesting that Boise State would beat Penn State or that Tulsa would beat Oklahoma.

The power rating stuff is more the offense/defense factors, and as such

Top 10 offenses (rating)
1. Oklahoma (1.927)
2. Florida (1.798)
3. Missouri (1.677)
4. Texas (1.624)
5. Southern California (1.582)
6. Oregon (1.562)
7. Oregon State (1.556)
8. Penn State (1.526)
9. Tulsa (1.520)
10. Georgia (1.508)

Top 10 defenses (rating)
1. Southern California (0.259)
2. Boise State (0.425)
3. Florida (0.467)
4. Texas Christian (0.493)
5. Penn State (0.532)
6. Iowa (0.550)
7. Texas (0.552)
8. Ohio State (0.556)
9. Alabama (0.564)
10. Wake Forest (0.619)

If you crudely calculate a power rating as offense/defense, that gives you Southern California with the highest power rating, followed by Florida, Texas and Penn State. Washington State comes in last.

Some other thoughts of note
Michigan has the 75th ranked offense and the 61st defense, and overall is ranked 100th!
The worst team in 1-A is North Texas.
The worst offense is Washington State and the worst defense is Idaho.

Posted at 07:25 PM Read More


Seems all I do these days is predictions, but what is there to analyze about the way Michigan is playing? 

Had a better week last week: 24-18. That's 57%, and good for +10%. That brings me to 94-78, or 54.7%. Return is back to +12% after dropping dangerously near 0 with last week's bad performance.

Lines are "Logans" from USA Today, as usual.
This week, there are 8! games where my prediction is too close to the spread to make a call.

Tulsa54Tulsa to win / Tulsa against the spread
Iowa2.528Iowa to win / Iowa against the spread
San Diego State523San Diego State to win / San Diego State against the spread
Texas Christian40Texas Christian to win / Texas Christian against the spread
Nevada-Las Vegas14.513
Kentucky2.522Kentucky to win / Kentucky against the spread
Mississippi State13
Miami (Florida)228Miami (Florida) to win / Miami (Florida) against the spread
Florida35Florida to win / Florida against the spread
Arkansas State23.515Alabama to win / Arkansas State against the spread
Boise State40Boise State to win / Boise State against the spread
New Mexico State21.510
East Carolina29East Carolina to win / East Carolina against the spread
Central Florida417
Nebraska2128Oklahoma to win / Nebraska against the spread
Troy38Troy to win / Troy against the spread
Tulane26.519Louisiana State to win / Tulane against the spread
Louisiana State38
Missouri49Missouri to win / Missouri against the spread
Brigham Young37Brigham Young to win / Brigham Young against the spread
Colorado State14.514
Duke7.516Wake Forest to win / Duke against the spread
Wake Forest16
Central Michigan230Central Michigan to win / Central Michigan against the spread
Louisville38Louisville to win / Louisville against the spread
Kansas State8.532Kansas to win / Kansas State against the spread
North Texas16.518Western Kentucky to win / North Texas against the spread
Western Kentucky29
Auburn6.519.8Mississippi to win / Auburn against the spread
San Jose State36San Jose State to win / San Jose State against the spread
Rice48Rice to win / Rice against the spread
Texas-El Paso340
West Virginia17Connecticut to win / Connecticut against the spread
Texas34Texas to win / Texas against the spread
Texas Tech3.526
Temple718Navy to win / Temple against the spread
Kent6.525Bowling Green State to win / Kent against the spread
Bowling Green State28
Tennessee613South Carolina to win / Tennessee against the spread
South Carolina15
Air Force23Air Force to win / Air Force against the spread
Utah29Utah to win / Utah against the spread
New Mexico7.518
Arizona State15.517Oregon State to win / Oregon State against the spread
Oregon State35
Northwestern7.518Minnesota to win / Northwestern against the spread
Alabama-Birmingham8.526Southern Mississippi to win / Southern Mississippi against the spread
Southern Mississippi37
Hawaii29Hawaii to win / Hawaii against the spread
Utah State6.520
Clemson3.520Boston College to win / Clemson against the spread
Boston College21
Fresno State28Fresno State to win / Fresno State against the spread
Louisiana Tech521
Pittsburgh524Notre Dame to win / Pittsburgh against the spread
Notre Dame27
Washington465Southern California to win / Southern California against the spread
Southern California52
Washington State3013Stanford to win / Washington State against the spread
Iowa State3019Oklahoma State to win / Iowa State against the spread
Oklahoma State48Prediction too close to spread
Colorado3.523Texas A&M to win / Texas A&M against the spread
Texas A&M27Prediction too close to spread
Florida International7.525Louisiana-Lafayette to win / Florida International against the spread
Louisiana-Lafayette31Prediction too close to spread
Eastern Michigan1821Western Michigan to win / Western Michigan against the spread
Western Michigan39Prediction too close to spread
Oregon2.535California to win / California against the spread
California38Prediction too close to spread
Michigan1.521Purdue to win / Michigan against the spread
Purdue22Prediction too close to spread
Florida State219Georgia Tech to win / Georgia Tech against the spread
Georgia Tech21Prediction too close to spread
Wisconsin5.521Michigan State to win / Michigan State against the spread
Michigan State26Prediction too close to spread

Posted at 07:16 PM Read More

And It All Comes Crashing Down

So this is how my pride ends, not with a whimper but a bang.
I went 29-15 three weeks ago and felt great.
I went 23-19 two weeks ago said "still above water".
The two week return was +35%. 

And last week ... 18-26. Almost bad enough to give back both weeks. On it's own, it would have lost you nearly a quarter of your money. Combined, I stand at 70-60 (53.9%) and +2% for the year. And no, I won't even mention the game I lost (would have had a push)  because of a PAT blocked and returned for 2. 

So we'll give it another try. USA Today was available again, and Logan's it still is.
5 games (at the bottom) where my prediction was too close to the spread to call.

Minnesota132Minnesota to win / Minnesota against the spread
Kentucky25.513Florida to win / Kentucky against the spread
Troy51Troy to win / Troy against the spread
North Texas23.514
Middle Tennessee State1018Middle Tennessee State to win / Middle Tennessee State against the spread
Mississippi State15
Rice2.537Rice to win / Rice against the spread
New Mexico State47New Mexico State to win / New Mexico State against the spread
Georgia132Georgia to win / Georgia against the spread
Louisiana State23
Mississippi39Mississippi to win / Mississippi against the spread
Michigan State29Michigan State to win / Michigan State against the spread
Nevada35Nevada to win / Nevada against the spread
Northwestern33Northwestern to win / Northwestern against the spread
Penn State24Penn State to win / Penn State against the spread
Ohio State2.514
Kent524Kent to win / Kent against the spread
Miami (Ohio)22
Central Michigan33Central Michigan to win / Central Michigan against the spread
Boise State21Boise State to win / Boise State against the spread
San Jose State78
Notre Dame34Notre Dame to win / Notre Dame against the spread
Duke10.519Vanderbilt to win / Duke against the spread
Central Florida2418Tulsa to win / Tulsa against the spread
Colorado2420Missouri to win / Colorado against the spread
Southern California26Southern California to win / Arizona against the spread
Boston College2.523Boston College to win / Boston College against the spread
North Carolina20
Bowling Green State7.517Northern Illinois to win / Northern Illinois against the spread
Northern Illinois30
South Florida32South Florida to win / South Florida against the spread
Oklahoma49Oklahoma to win / Oklahoma against the spread
Kansas State18.525
Alabama22Alabama to win / Alabama against the spread
Southern Methodist1226Navy to win / Navy against the spread
Eastern Michigan25.513Ball State to win / Ball State against the spread
Ball State43
Texas Tech32Texas Tech to win / Texas Tech against the spread
Florida Atlantic21Louisiana-Monroe to win / Louisiana-Monroe against the spread
UCLA1817California to win / California against the spread
Illinois32Illinois to win / Illinois against the spread
Virginia Tech6.523Florida State to win / Virginia Tech against the spread
Florida State25
Fresno State41Fresno State to win / Fresno State against the spread
Utah State1523
Texas A&M328Texas A&M to win / Texas A&M against the spread
Iowa State27
Oregon26Arizona State to win / Arizona State against the spread
Arizona State327
Southern Mississippi30Southern Mississippi to win / Memphis against the spread
Baylor1322Nebraska to win / Nebraska against the spread
Nevada-Las Vegas2415Brigham Young to win / Nevada-Las Vegas against the spread
Brigham Young38
Louisiana Tech2.517Army to win / Louisiana Tech against the spread
Oklahoma State1225Texas to win / Oklahoma State against the spread
North Carolina State1218Maryland to win / North Carolina State against the spread
Virginia1411Georgia Tech to win / Georgia Tech against the spread
Georgia Tech26
Wake Forest2.518Miami (Florida) to win / Miami (Florida) against the spread
Miami (Florida)21Prediction too close to spread
Rutgers1015Pittsburgh to win / Rutgers against the spread
Pittsburgh24Prediction too close to spread
Colorado State28Colorado State to win / San Diego State against the spread
San Diego State9.519Prediction too close to spread
Wyoming314Texas Christian to win / Wyoming against the spread
Texas Christian35Prediction too close to spread
Cincinnati21Cincinnati to win / Connecticut against the spread
Connecticut2.519Prediction too close to spread

Posted at 09:04 PM Read More

Still Above Water

Last Week was 23-19, which is just barely above the break-even (22-20 would have been break even). That would be +5% for the week and along with the 29-15 in Week 1, now +35% for the year. I'm satisfied. Let's see how long my luck holds out.

Not as confident this week. Among other things, I did it in a hurry; who knows how many typos are in here!<p>

Couple of house-keeping things. Didn't do this in time to predict Thursday and Friday games, obviously, but also didn't do it in time to get odds off the USA Today page, so this week I used the first entry on the Rivals/Yahoo odds page, labeled

Florida Atlantic14Troy to win / Troy against the spread
North Carolina35North Carolina to win / North Carolina against the spread
Arkansas7.511Kentucky to win / Kentucky against the spread
Houston51Houston to win / Houston against the spread
Southern Methodist13.523
Arkansas State339Arkansas State to win / Arkansas State against the spread
Idaho20.520Louisiana Tech to win / Idaho against the spread
Louisiana Tech28
Kansas State3.535Kansas State to win / Kansas State against the spread
Air Force36Air Force to win / Air Force against the spread
Nevada-Las Vegas4.520
Oregon State49Oregon State to win / Oregon State against the spread
Connecticut123Connecticut to win / Connecticut against the spread
Vanderbilt14.519Georgia to win / Vanderbilt against the spread
Memphis829Memphis to win / Memphis against the spread
East Carolina28
Western Michigan34Western Michigan to win / Western Michigan against the spread
Central Michigan1.524
Wisconsin3.513Iowa to win / Iowa against the spread
Middle Tennessee State14.519Louisville to win / Middle Tennessee State against the spread
Indiana15.526Illinois to win / Indiana against the spread
Ohio State16Michigan State to win / Michigan State against the spread
Michigan State3.520
Wake Forest23Wake Forest to win / Wake Forest against the spread
Kansas19.524Oklahoma to win / Kansas against the spread
Mississippi1218Alabama to win / Alabama against the spread
Akron32Akron to win / Akron against the spread
Eastern Michigan520
San Diego State14.516New Mexico to win / San Diego State against the spread
New Mexico23
Michigan24.59Penn State to win / Penn State against the spread
Penn State40
Missouri4.525Texas to win / Texas against the spread
Nebraska39Nebraska to win / Nebraska against the spread
Iowa State7.526
Louisiana State21South Carolina to win / South Carolina against the spread
South Carolina2.524
Purdue415Northwestern to win / Northwestern against the spread
Stanford28Stanford to win / Stanford against the spread
Georgia Tech21Georgia Tech to win / Georgia Tech against the spread
San Jose State26San Jose State to win / San Jose State against the spread
New Mexico State1.519
Texas Tech45Texas Tech to win / Texas Tech against the spread
Texas A&M2119
Florida Atlantic17Western Kentucky to win / Western Kentucky against the spread
Western Kentucky2.519
Toledo9.517Northern Illinois to win / Northern Illinois against the spread
Northern Illinois31
Virginia Tech316Boston College to win / Boston College against the spread
Boston College23
Army1119Buffalo to win / Army against the spread
Mississippi State712Tennessee to win / Mississippi State against the spread
Miami (Ohio)9.519Bowling Green State to win / Bowling Green State against the spread
Bowling Green State31
Southern California52Southern California to win / Southern California against the spread
Washington State428
Colorado State21.516Utah to win / Colorado State against the spread
Marshall26Marshall to win / Alabama-Birmingham against the spread
Pittsburgh29Pittsburgh to win / Navy against the spread
Baylor17.527Oklahoma State to win / Oklahoma State against the spread
Oklahoma State46
North Texas1818Louisiana-Monroe to win / Louisiana-Monroe against the spread
Southern Mississippi1.538.1Rice to win / Southern Mississippi against the spread
Miami (Florida)24Miami (Florida) to win / Duke against the spread
Duke321Prediction too close to spread
California28California to win / California against the spread
Arizona2.524Prediction too close to spread
Syracuse2416South Florida to win / South Florida against the spread
South Florida41Prediction too close to spread
Texas-El Paso1831Tulsa to win / Tulsa against the spread
Tulsa50Prediction too close to spread
Utah State2223Nevada to win / Utah State against the spread
Nevada45Prediction too close to spread

Posted at 11:26 PM Read More

And Stupidity Shall Be Rewarded

Warren Buffet can't promise you returns like this.
I made predictions on 47 games last week: 2 of them were too close to the spread for me to make a call and 1 wound up in a push (Central Florida was favored by 14 over SMU and won 31-17). That left 44 games to measure, and my method (VHR) went 29-15, or 65.9%. For those who don't gamble, break even against the spread is 52.3% (or 11/21). 29-15 is a +28% return (if you bet $1000 total on my picks, you'd have $1280 back).

I don't expect to go 29-15 every week.

The best picks of the week:
Predicted: Texas 38 - Colorado 13
Actual: Texas 38 - Colorado 14

Predicted: Oklahoma 50 - Baylor 17
Actual: Oklahoma 49 - Baylor 17

There were some bad ones in there, but I'd rather focus on the good ones.

Before I get to the coming week, one housekeeping note. Last week I linked USA Today's spreads and used a column labeled "Opening". Someone who actually does bet tells me that's not appropriate, because it's hard to actual place a wager against the opening line. So this week, I'll placate that concern, I hope, by using the line marked Logans. I have no idea who the Logans are, but their spread is in effect for Week 7.

So on to Week 7 predictions.
And you'll note one very amusing one: Texas 23 - Oklahoma 23, and it declares Oklahoma the winner. That's because it's actually Texas 22.8 - Oklahoma 23.1.

Remember, these do not factor in HFA, not in the data that is used to calculate the score nor as an adjustment at the end.  Picks with the greatest difference between my score and the spread are at the top, and the closest are at the bottom, including a surprising 6 games where my pick is <1 pt from the spread. 

Tulsa66Tulsa to win / Tulsa against the spread
Southern Methodist2520
Minnesota12.532Minnesota to win / Minnesota against the spread
Arizona40Arizona to win / Arizona against the spread
Ball State43Ball State to win / Ball State against the spread
Western Kentucky15.513
Louisiana-Lafayette52Louisiana-Lafayette to win / Louisiana-Lafayette against the spread
North Texas21.516
Boise State38Boise State to win / Boise State against the spread
Southern Mississippi1114
Kansas State40Kansas State to win / Kansas State against the spread
Texas A&M325
Toledo1625Michigan to win / Toledo against the spread
Temple7.521Temple to win / Temple against the spread
Central Michigan17
Miami (Ohio)1113Northern Illinois to win / Northern Illinois against the spread
Northern Illinois35
Syracuse2416West Virginia to win / Syracuse against the spread
West Virginia29
Nebraska20.526Texas Tech to win / Nebraska against the spread
Texas Tech36
Vanderbilt24Vanderbilt to win / Vanderbilt against the spread
Mississippi State2.511
Texas Christian36Texas Christian to win / Texas Christian against the spread
Colorado State1511
Purdue18.516Ohio State to win / Purdue against the spread
Ohio State25
Penn State30Penn State to win / Penn State against the spread
Iowa State4.535Iowa State to win / Iowa State against the spread
South Carolina9Kentucky to win / Kentucky against the spread
Western Michigan132Western Michigan to win / Western Michigan against the spread
Tulane4.524Texas-El Paso to win / Texas-El Paso against the spread
Texas-El Paso36
Louisiana-Monroe1315Arkansas State to win / Arkansas State against the spread
Arkansas State35
Rutgers7.515Cincinnati to win / Cincinnati against the spread
Middle Tennessee State219Middle Tennessee State to win / Middle Tennessee State against the spread
Florida International14
Texas723Oklahoma to win / Texas against the spread
Alabama-Birmingham1825Houston to win / Houston against the spread
East Carolina28East Carolina to win / East Carolina against the spread
Arizona State2810Southern California to win / Arizona State against the spread
Southern California32
Utah38Utah to win / Utah against the spread
Oklahoma State1436Missouri to win / Oklahoma State against the spread
Utah State1417San Jose State to win / Utah State against the spread
San Jose State25
Louisiana Tech7.5420Hawaii to win / Louisiana Tech against the spread
UCLA1820Oregon to win / Oregon against the spread
Air Force31Air Force to win / Air Force against the spread
San Diego State10.516
New Mexico23.513Brigham Young to win / New Mexico against the spread
Brigham Young31
Louisville27Louisville to win / Memphis against the spread
Louisiana State617Florida to win / Florida against the spread
Iowa23Iowa to win / Iowa against the spread
Washington State3014Oregon State to win / Oregon State against the spread
Oregon State47
New Mexico State1925Nevada to win / New Mexico State against the spread
Idaho3420Fresno State to win / Idaho against the spread
Fresno State51
Central Florida1716Miami (Florida) to win / Miami (Florida) against the spread
Miami (Florida)36
Tennessee1215Georgia to win / Tennessee against the spread
Eastern Michigan020Army to win / Army against the spread
Bowling Green State24Akron to win / Akron against the spread
Ohio26Ohio to win / Ohio against the spread
Kent125Prediction too close to spread
Colorado1419Kansas to win / Colorado against the spread
Kansas32Prediction too close to spread
Clemson1.517Wake Forest to win / Wake Forest against the spread
Wake Forest19Prediction too close to spread
Michigan State18Michigan State to win / Michigan State against the spread
Northwestern1.516Prediction too close to spread
Notre Dame7.519North Carolina to win / Notre Dame against the spread
North Carolina26Prediction too close to spread
Arkansas18.58Auburn to win / Auburn against the spread
Auburn27Prediction too close to spread

Posted at 06:54 PM Read More

Stupid Feats of Gambling Derring-Do

Loyal readers of my blog may have a memory, rattling around in their brain, of my talking about my "ranking algorithm", a mathematically simple way of ranking teams, calculating individual offensive and defensive power ratings and, when I'm feeling really ambitious, predicting the scores of upcoming games.

Without going into too much detail, the algorithm works something like this:
For each game you play, you either get + or - pts depending on the quality of the team you faced. A win over an otherwise undefeated team = 2 points. A win over a winless team = 1 point. A loss to an undefeated team = -1 point. A loss to an otherwise winless team = -2 points. You can see already that beating a terrible team is better than losing to a good team. That's because this algorithm is meant to do one thing only, and that is rank teams at year end. After 13 games, your record is the most critical factor in your ranking, and wins are better than losses. But among 12-1 teams, the ones with the hardest schedules rise.

The offensive ratings are a measure of how many points you score, relative to the quality of the defenses you've faced. If you face a team that gives up 30 on average, and you score 20, you get 0.667 (20/30). 1 = average, higher is better and lower is worse.
Defense is the same. If you face a team that scores 30 and you give up 20, you get 0.667 (20/30). 1 = average, higher is worse and lower is better.

And then, it simply uses your offensive and defensive ratings, your offensive and defense PPG averages and those of your opponents and calculates a predicted score. I'll leave the math elsewhere.

I did this for a couple of years in the late 90s just predicting scores, seeing how often I'd get the winner right (high 70s %age wise). Someone suggested I try spreads.

I do not gamble. I don't like gambling. I don't encourage people to gamble. I tested my algorithm against the spread solely for the fun of seeing if it worked. And what I found was, in a way, it did. If you just tally up on what %age of games, my score prediction was on the correct side of the spread (that is, if my algorithm said Texas would win by 8 and they were favored by 11, bet against Texas), it beat the magic 52% break even for the week with regularity. 80% of the time or so, if I remember correctly.

I ought to make picks by percentages. The algorithm, when applied properly, creates a set of simulated games. I ought to calculate what %age are on each side of the spread, but I have misplaced my template, and I don't have time to rewrite all the macros before kickoff tomorrow. For today, just a shortcut that creates 1 average game result.

But ... and this is a big caveat when you look at the chart below, the scores my algorithm predicted were often crazy taken on their own. A team would be a 13 point underdog. My algorithm would have them winning by 17. I say bet the underdog, and they lose by 6. I'm actually, on average, further from the correct score than the Vegas oddsmakers, but somehow, even after testing this for 5 years, I'm consistently able to beat the spread doing that. And really, I did - I even posted them online every week.

So the upshot is this:
For the first time in a couple years, I'll be doing this again. I'll probably make myself look foolish. I seem to be under the impression that Kentucky can beat Alabama (and I can tell you right now that I know why and I know my algorithm is being fooled by Kentucky's schedule). But I am not encouraging anyone to use my numbers below for anything other than amusement. If I hear even a rumor that *anyone* has used my numbers to place a wager, I will come to their house, steal their pennies, drink straight from their milk carton and walk all over their petunias in a fit of rage.

The spreads are the "Opening" column from USA Today.
Some numbers may not seem to add up, due to rounding.
The ones where my predicted score is furthest from the spread are at the top.
The "spread" column has a positive number next to the team getting points.
I've noted games where my prediction and the spread are within 1 pt. I don't tally those.

Ball State58Ball State to win / Ball State against the spread
Northern Illinois1624Northern Illinois to win / Northern Illinois against the spread
Kentucky16.515Kentucky to win / Kentucky against the spread
Penn State45Penn State to win / Penn State against the spread
Boston College30Boston College to win / Boston College against the spread
North Carolina State86
Florida48Florida to win / Florida against the spread
Southern Methodist1427Southern Methodist to win / Southern Methodist against the spread
Central Florida26
Temple720Temple to win / Temple against the spread
Miami (Ohio)13
Western Kentucky2816Virginia Tech to win / Western Kentucky against the spread
Virginia Tech31
Cincinnati34Cincinnati to win / Cincinnati against the spread
Maryland36Maryland to win / Maryland against the spread
Washington State16.522UCLA to win / Washington State against the spread
Brigham Young51Brigham Young to win / Brigham Young against the spread
Utah State28.511
Texas38Texas to win / Texas against the spread
Louisiana-Lafayette33Louisiana-Lafayette to win / Louisiana-Lafayette against the spread
Florida State324Florida State to win / Florida State against the spread
Miami (Florida)17
Iowa816Iowa to win / Iowa against the spread
Michigan State15
Nevada56Nevada to win / Nevada against the spread
Duke1420Georgia Tech to win / Duke against the spread
Georgia Tech25
Nevada-Las Vegas129Nevada-Las Vegas to win / Nevada-Las Vegas against the spread
Colorado State22
Connecticut723Connecticut to win / Connecticut against the spread
North Carolina22
Washington1916Arizona to win / Arizona against the spread
Eastern Michigan2118Bowling Green State to win / Eastern Michigan against the spread
Bowling Green State31
Missouri36Missouri to win / Nebraska against the spread
Oregon16.523Southern California to win / Oregon against the spread
Southern California32
Arizona State9.518California to win / California against the spread
Ohio420Western Michigan to win / Western Michigan against the spread
Western Michigan30
Rutgers13.512West Virginia to win / Rutgers against the spread
West Virginia19
Akron29Akron to win / Akron against the spread
Illinois229Illinois to win / Illinois against the spread
Oklahoma50Oklahoma to win / Oklahoma against the spread
Ohio State19Wisconsin to win / Wisconsin against the spread
Texas A&M2419Oklahoma State to win / Oklahoma State against the spread
Oklahoma State48
Kansas36Kansas to win / Kansas against the spread
Iowa State1318
San Diego State24.512Texas Christian to win / San Diego State against the spread
Texas Christian32
Army199Tulane to win / Army against the spread
South Carolina220South Carolina to win / South Carolina against the spread
Rice1438Tulsa to win / Tulsa against the spread
Hawaii21.519Fresno State to win / Hawaii against the spread
Fresno State38
Indiana7.526Minnesota to win / Indiana against the spread
Stanford7.519Notre Dame to win / Notre Dame against the spread
Notre Dame28
Florida International22Florida International to win / Florida International against the spread
North Texas6.514
Wyoming1114New Mexico to win / New Mexico against the spread
New Mexico27
Auburn14Auburn to win / Vanderbilt against the spread
Texas-El Paso832Southern Mississippi to win / Texas-El Paso against the spread
Southern Mississippi39
Navy621Air Force to win / Air Force against the spread
Air Force27(under 1 pt difference)
Texas Tech32Texas Tech to win / Kansas State against the spread
Kansas State6.525(under 1 pt difference)

Posted at 06:53 PM Read More

Instant, Disposable Classic

That game against Wisconsin was something else. And whatever it was, I'm not sure I ever want to see it again. I can't really think of a coherent thing to say, so I'll just dump some thoughts. 

1. That was the worst half of offense I've ever seen Michigan play. I honestly found myself thinking that 4-8 was a possibility. 

2. Part of the problem was the playcalling. If Mike Debord had a game plan where we ran on almost every single 1st down, even though it was not working, and where the big changeup when we didn't run was a swing pass to the RB, he would be skewered. I love the Rodriguez offense and it will work, but the one thing that will, guaranteed will frustrate fans at times is the playcalling. There will be times when fans throw their hands up and say "Another swing pass?!?!?!"

3. The defense was exceptional. IIRC, and I don't care to count, Wisconsin had 5 possessions in the first half that started in Michigan territory. At one point, they had 3 consecutive possessions (due to a Michigan fumbled punt followed by a fumble on the ensuing Wisconsin kickoff). The defense did not wilt. 21 minutes of field time is a lot to ask of a defense.

4. The defensive line was outstanding. Brandon Graham got the stats (3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, I believe), but Jamison kept constant pressure on, while the DTs (including freshman Mike Martin) controlled the middle. Martin is a tremendous surprise: no freshman DT is supposed to be that good. We have two talented senior DTs and Martin is forcing his way into the rotation nonetheless.

5. Attempting to throw the ball with 0:04 left in the 1st half was silly, and I have witnesses that I said so before the play unfolded. I believe I even turned to my father and said "Wisconsin is more likely to score on this play than we are" (or maybe I said that to the Wisconsin fan sitting next to me).

6. Wisconsin also helped us. Dropped passes, a missed field goal and some really cautious playcalling. They should have been up 28-0 or 31-0 at the half.

7. It is troubling that we are in Game 4 and are having open auditions for the kick return spot. It just seems to indicate that not much time was spent settling that in the off-season. Mathews, Trent, Horn and several other candidates were in Ann Arbor in spring, even, so there's been plenty of time. But whoever is back there, our kick returns are awful. Guys can't get out to the 20. Harrison stopped at the 10 on one, as if surveying the blocking that wasn't laid out in front of him. Just put your head down and barrel forward for what you can get if there's no seam.

8. On replay, Threet was not as bad as I first thought or as bad as the stats made it look. The first pick was partially on Odoms, who hesitated on his route (though the pass was still too high). Mathews dropped a TD. The bomb to Minor was dropped before the hit by the safety. On another play, Threet rolled out and made a heads up play to throw a bomb down the sideline for Mathews. Mathews was slow to react and head upfield, and the ball came up long as a result. He had some bad throws, too, but he was undone by poor receiver play repeatedly. Threet is a reasonably good freshman QB. We are used to really good QBs.

9. In the second half, the big plays on offense started rolling in. The 25 yard TD to Koger. The 35 yard run by Minor. The 60 yard run by Threet. Some, yes, was improved execution, but some is just stuff we weren't in position for in the 1st half. That Minor run doesn't exist until you start throwing a bit on running downs to force the defense out of the middle.

10. Also in the second half, the defense went from damage control to inflicting damage. They got after Evridge, who consistently held the ball too long. They dropped Hill at the line repeatedly and forced Wisconsin into 2nd and long situations.

11. Mesko's punts look horrible, but none ever get returned, so the net is fantastic.

13. The best 2-back pairing, based on limited data, seems to be McGuffie and Grady. Grady is the only guy who can turn a 2-3 yard run in when there's no hole, the guy who can keep the defense honest and free up other things.

14. Losing because of a misalignment on the 2 pt conversion is a brutal way to lose.

Does this game raise or lower my expectations for the year?
My expectations are to be totally erratic, and that's exactly what we were. A half of very good defense and the worst offense you will ever see. A half of decent offense and exceptional defense. That shows the potential is there, but it would be a mistake to take every development as a trend. We are erratic, and the 2nd half may have been just a good half. 
But it was a game many expected to lose that we won, so that has to up our expectations for the season by a half game or more, right?

Posted at 10:39 PM Read More

Late, Deliberate Thoughts on ND

Go something like this.

It's never okay to lose to ND. It's never a game that you can toss away or trade away, saying "I'll take a split with ND and Wisconsin," or anything like that because there's always a measurement being taken. It's not between this team and their team, it's between the programs. For example, Michigan owns the all-time head-to-head series with Notre Dame with a several game margin, but Notre Dame fans like to point out that since the series resumed in 1978, they have the edge. That was one of the little things Michigan was playing for on Saturday, to even up the "modern day" series. Now Notre Dame has a 2-game edge again (curse Lou Holtz!).

And as I suggested before the game, a measurement was being taken between the 2008 Michigan team and the 2007 Notre Dame team. There was an element of incompetence on display from Michigan this Saturday that was reminiscent of the 2007 Notre Dame. The fumbles, the dropped snaps, the kick returners looking around, asking themselves "what just hit me on the head? Oh ... the ball!"

But this is where the measurement becomes complicated.

Is it possible to lose to Notre Dame, but somehow feel better about the team than you expected to feel with a win? That may be where I am. I went into the game expecting a bad display of football from two teams, anemic offenses, and a humorous Michigan victory that gives no indication that we are any closer to achieving the offense we set out to achieve. I came out of the game embarrassed at the fumbles and dumb penalties, but feeling very heartened by the performance of the offense.

Steven Threet demonstrated that he has decent arm strength and good accuracy. Where this was in spring and against Utah and Miami, I do not know, but there was promise on display against Notre Dame.

Sam McGuffie looked excellent. I caution against reading too much into any performance against the Notre Dame defense, especially one where the linebackers may be the weakest link, but McGuffie demonstrated quickness, vision and tremendous acceleration (although watching a Michigan lineman accident redirect McGuffie into the lane that led to the endzone was a fittingly silly way to score a touchdown).

The offensive line performed better than expected, although Notre Dame's defense is not exactly a wrecking crew against which reputations are made. Very little pressure got to Threet and running lanes existed, although more often outside the tackles than between.

The WRs performed well. Gone are the days when Notre Dame's secondary was looked like professional ushers, showing WRs their way into the endzone, so the ability of Greg Mathews and others to get open down the field against ND may mean something.

These are all things that we really hadn't seen much previously. Given the option between (what I expected) points off short fields and turnovers, with the occasional big play thrown in or (what we got)The offense, in putting up nearly 400 yards, moving the ball consistently and dropping it unprovoked with alarming frequency, I will take the latter. The latter gives some hope that the offense is further along than previously suspected, that we actually have a Big 10 level QB and that by the middle of the season we will be seeing exactly what Rodriguez has been drawing up. The fumbles will not recur. It's that simple; the fumbles will not recur. A few here and there, sure, but teams will not come up against Michigan thinking "All we have to do is land on the ball when they drop it and we'll be fine."

Disappointing along the way was the defense. The defensive line is an easy culprit for not getting the pressure on Clausen that we were expecting, and some may even fear that the ND offensive line has gotten its act together, but I would caution about reading too much into that, too. ND went into max protection much of the game, and hit one long pass when the safeties both got sucked up too close to the line of scrimmage, and hitting another when two players missed tackles after 10 yards and let the fastest ND wide receiver get to full speed on the sprint. These were fundamentally failures in the secondary. The defense *did* get after Jimmy Clausen, forcing throw aways and dump offs, then bailing him out with an unnecessary PI in the back of the endzone on one such scramble.

Secondary was supposed to be a strength of the team. Steve Brown was supposed to be a breakthrough player, and instead he is turning out to be the player that so many people accused Ryan Mundy of being. Morgan Trent was supposed to be Michigan's best CB, and instead he's turning into the eerily ND-like burnt toast generator that his detractors said he was.

So why doesn't this concern me? Why wouldn't I be happier with the defense playing lights out, keeping us in games, and the offense making understandably slow progress with the 9 new starters and freshman everywhere? Why am I not upset that the one thing we should be able to hang our hat on seems to have failed us when we needed it so badly?

For two reasons: 

1. The defense will not be here in 2009. If Tim Jamison and Will Johnson are blowing everything up at the line of scrimmage and Morgan Trent is shutting down half the field, that may help us get to a bowl and have a respectable 2008, but it doesn't give me anything to hang my hat on for 2009. When the 2008 defense departs, and all that's left from this season is an offense that sputtered its way to 7-5 despite the dominant defense, where does that leave my optimism? No, I'll take the offense making great progress, allowing me to quote my favorite statistic, the one that had me telling people all spring that 2009 was going to be a great year ... the *only* player on Michigan's offense who  won't be back in 2009 is Mike Massey (barring  early departures). If this offense looks decent this year, in year 1, with 9 new starters, it will be outstanding in 2009, in year 2, with 11 starters returning.

2. The defense may be where we expected to earn our wins in 2008, but this may be the last time in the Rodriguez era that we say that. Rodriguez is an offensive coach. Just seeing flashes of what he can do on offense lights up the Michigan fan base in a way that has relevance not just to the rest of the year and into 2009, but to the entire Rich Rodriguez era.

Posted at 09:50 PM Read More

Why this game is more important to ND

For the second straight year, the Michigan - Notre Dame game looks to be a matchup between two down and out featherweights. Last year, both teams stumbled in at 0-2, coming off blowout losses (Michigan's to Oregon, Notre Dame's to Penn State). This year, both teams come in off anemic victories over 2nd rate opponents, lined up as cannon fodder by AD's scheduling in better times.

San Diego State, fresh off a loss to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a game in which they surrendered 260 yards rushing and 29 points, held Notre Dame to 100 yards rushing and 21 points (prompting Chuck Long to say that it would "tough" to decide who was better between Cal Poly and Notre Dame).

Miami, having lost by 17 to Vanderbilt, pushed Michigan into the 4th quarter before falling.

There's a temptation to say that both teams are likely to be similarly bad, to have similarly bad years, and that the game is no more meaningful in the grand scheme than last year's laugher. And I say that from Michigan's perspective, that is sort of true. Yes, it would be nice to beat Notre Dame, and there's the added feeling that every win we can get is a critical win, as we try to get 7 wins and assure ourselves a bowl berth and a non-losing season. But nothing that happens on Saturday really reveals much about the future of the Michigan program under Rich Rodriguez. This is not a signpost game or a turning point. This is not the barometer.

For Notre Dame, it is. For Notre Dame, this game might as well be a referendum.

Last year, as Notre Dame stumbled to 3-9, Notre Dame fans clung to the explanation that Tyrone Willingham's last two recruiting classes had left Weis nothing to work with. And to some extent, it would be disingenuous for a Michigan fan to disagree; I was there on the boards when 2005 started well and Michigan fans cautioned "he better win big now; year 3 will be a mess."

Weis was trying to get a bunch of highly rated but very green freshman and sophomores to understand his scheme. Some felt he spent too much time on scheme and not enough on practice, not enough on fundamentals, and the failure showed every Saturday. But now, he's got three full recruiting classes, from the juniors on down, and they were excellent recruiting classes. They've had a full season and the ensuing off-season to drill the fundamentals and the scheme.

Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez is arguably trying a bolder, faster overhaul than Weis ever dreamed of. He has greener talent than even Notre Dame 2007. Sam McGuffie, Michael Shaw, Daryl Stonum and Martavius Odoms, all true freshman, are cornerstones of Rodriguez's offense right now. The offensive line has 1 returning starter, and the 2nd string consists of a walk-on, a guy who has been playing OL for 3 weeks and 3 true freshman. The quarterback, too, is a freshman, having just replaced a walk-on. And Rodriguez's scheme overhaul, from Carr's pro-style to the spread, is a far more ambitious project than Weis turning Willingham's "West Coast offense" into a pro-style attack. Rodriguez didn't even have a single WR on roster ideally suited to man the slot as defined in his spread, forcing him to use a true freshman (Robinson, now injured) backed up by a true freshman (Odoms).

If Michigan can beat Notre Dame, it forces Notre Dame fans to ask "Why is Rodriguez, in week 3, ahead of where Charlie Weis is in year 4." If Rodriguez can get anything approaching competence out of this collection of Not Ready for Prime-Time Players, why is it that Charlie Weis can't? With three years to recruit into his system and a full season of playing experience under their belts, the Notre Dame offense should be night and day better than what Michigan rolls out on Saturday, all other things being equal. 

But are all other things equal?

Posted at 07:51 PM Read More

That Sucked Slightly Less

What Went Right

The running game improved tremendously. Whether the players were more confident in their assignments and more decisive in their action, or whether Miami just isn't nearly as good as Utah we don't yet know, but both the blocking and running looked good. McGuffie got the corner and showed good moves in space. On a few carries, Minor and Shaw showed some burst. And Threet showed at least passable skill as a ball-handler, giving himself gaping holes to run through on the read option (including on the 9 yard TD that opened the scoring). I think it's tempting to understate Threet's contribution there, to look at how open he was on the TD and think Miami was just that bad, but his ball-handling left them chasing McGuffie et al on some of those plays, and he actually showed some decent speed and movement.

The short passing game finally showed some of the juke and run, big play potential that this offense is supposed to have. Martavius Odoms got loose on a 50 yard run to get us out of the gate quickly, and McGuffie had a 25+ yard catch and scamper later. When the offense is struggling, those plays become the key to victory; that is how you score points with a shaky OL, inaccurate QBs and good skill position players. And that is why McGuffie and Shaw are starting, because Minor and Grady may be better between the tackles runners, but I doubt Rodriguez has confidence that we can sustain drives. Minor cannot move around the lineup and give us the 50 yard play potential that Shaw and McGuffie can.

Also, both the long runs and long catch and run passes are an indication of erratically improving blocking from the WR/TE group. They aren't there yet, but they are also (largely) freshman and sophomores. The ability to turn 2 yard passes into 50 yard plays is dependent on the ability to block the secondary pursuit.

The defensive line again controlled the line of scrimmage, continuing the good work from the 2nd half of the Utah game. And behind them, the LB corps was vastly improved all around.

What Went Wrong

The intermediate to long passing game continues to be awful. Steven Threet missed multiple wide open deep plays, missing by so much that WRs did not even have the chance to make plays on them. Seam routes and TE/RB releases downfield are similarly off-target. In fact, not one intermediate or long pass was completed last week.

On defense, the safeties continue to be abused down the field, though Miami failed to complete the passes they were poised to give up. Trent got beaten deep, prompting a quick call from a friend with whom I've debated the merits of Morgan Trent as a player. Morgan: shape up, man ... you're killing my credibility.

Looking Forward in General

QB: I'd like to see Rodriguez pick a QB. I can understand a QB rotation in a situation where the QBs present different looks, but that only works if the different looks are the result of the QBs being able to do different things. The biggest difference between Sheridan and Threet isn't what one can do that the other can't, but what reasons we have for why they both can't do the basics. Sheridan appears to simply lack the arm strength to put balls 20+ yards down field, except on the safest passes, the sideline fly pattern (which turns into a jump ball). Threet has ample arm strength, but absolutely no accuracy. Either way, the passes are incomplete.

I don't want to second guess Rodriguez so early in his tenure, but I do not see the advantage of a rotation. I do see the potential advantage of letting one QB (I would say Threet) take the starters snaps in practice and all the snaps in the game. The game experience could settle down a QB who obviously has it in him to be better than this.

RB: I think we have seen where this is going. McGuffie and Shaw have both shown exactly what they were brought in here to do, and I don't see Grady, Brown and Minor pushing them aside. Sharing some carries, yes, but not replacing them.

WR: It's very hard to asses the WRs when the QBs cannot get them the ball. Stonum, Hemingway, Butler, Mathews and Clemons are not at full production if we have to rely on short passes. The attention turns almost solely to Martavius Odoms and (when he returns) Terrance Robinson. Hopefully, Threet just has the "yips" and can get himself under control. There is talent in this WR corps.

OL: With the loss of one more OL (this time it's Mark Ortmann, starting LT, to a dislocated elbow), Michigan is literally in a position where every single returning, healthy offensive linemen is starting. The 2nd string consists of a fall position switch (Ferrara) and freshman (O'Neill, Barnum, Omameh, Khoury), while two starters (Ortmann and Zirbel) and a prime backup (Huyge) watch from the sidelines. 

DL: is dominant, and all players are contributing. Jamison has been special. Graham and Johnson have been very good and Taylor has shown flashes. Van Bergen, Sagesse and Martin have been good in relief. This unit is the strength of the team.

LB: The rotation has tightened, as the RR staff made some of the same kinds of personnel move mistakes in Game 1 this year that LC's staff mad last year. Chambers and Panter did not play much against Miami, giving way to John Thompson and Jonas Mouton. Mouton is excellent off the blitz and has some natural cover skills (having moved over from safety). Thompson is a hit or miss player who is physical and tough in pursuit. It was a much improved game, and I don't expect the rotation to go back.

DB: Discussed above. It has to improve. 

Special Teams: Warren has been nothing more than a good ballboy on punt returns, and he  may have to cede those duties to someone more fearless back there. The kick return unit looks solid and may bust something soon.  Coverage has been very good.

Posted at 07:13 PM Read More

That sucked 

What Went Right
In the second half, the defense was utterly dominant. Facing three straight possessions starting in Michigan territory, they surrendered a combined three points, keeping Michigan in the game. Then in the fourth quarter, they forced a succession of short possessions, giving the ball to Michigan's offense deep in Utah territory twice (on the blocked punt and the fumble).
More specifically, the defensive line was every bit as good as we were hoping it would be. Johnson is a mobile and evasive QB, but was regularly run down by defensive linemen, who were still chasing hard in the 4th quarter of a game where the defense had been on the field for more than their share of snaps. The corners also were solid, leaving Utah only the middle of the field to work with in the passing game.
Lopata only had one opportunity, but if that is indicative of a greatly improved range, it could be a major assett for Michigan. In fact, the special teams as a whole were very good, covering punts and kickoffs well, making no major blunders and coming up with two big plays leading to 14 of Michigan's 23 points (the blocked punt and the first quarter fumble). 

What Went Wrong
The defense in the first half was lousy, surrendering approximately 300 yards to go with the 22 points. The single biggest problem was the pass coverage down the middle of the field, which is where Utah converted several 3rd down plays, including one killer 3rd and 19. The touchdown before the half was also on bad coverage down the middle. More on this later.

On offense, what didn't go wrong? First, and not surprisingly, the quarterbacks were awful. Threet had one beautiful throw to Hemingway, but also was lucky (with incompletions and pass interference) on some badly thrown sideline passes, threw an impossible pass on the two point conversion and missed a wide open Daryl Stonum on what could have been a game saving 4th down play. Sheridan, sadly, had no bright moments at all (save for a pass interference call that saved him on a badly thrown pass that was intercepted). His interception at the end of the first half was as bad a pass as you will see in college football, and was really evidence of his lack of arm strength. He has to throw his whole body into the throw, as if, like John McEnroe serving in the early 1980s, he can make up in torque what he lacks in conventional arm speed.
With that in mind, it's understandable that Utah sat on the short routes and made it impossible for the supposedly shifty Martavius Odoms, Michael Shaw and Sam McGuffie to get loose in the open field. However, the receivers had trouble getting any separation down the field, save for J. R. Hemingway on a couple of shots. It has been said numerous times that the QBs will have to prove they can hit something down the field to loosen up the coverage, but if the WRs cannot get separation, that will eat a hole in our offensive gameplan.
Also, you could see at times some of the cracks in the pavement that accompany using so many young players. A sweep to McGuffie undone by Michael Shaw as a lead blocker not picking up a block. The soph QB throwing to a covered frosh RB to set up a pitch play, and the frosh RB going down to end the game.

On special teams, there were three concerns. There is no excuse for multiple delay of game penalties when bringing on the punt team. The kickoffs were going nowhere near the endzone, and that's a field position hit this team can't afford. And our punt returns were nothing better than fair catches.

The Five Killers

1. The 3rd and 19 Utah converted to help cut it to 7-6 (see below).
2. The interception thrown by Nick Sheridan near the end of the first half (see below)
3. The ensuing touchdown throw by Utah (see below)
4. The fumble by Michael Shaw when it looked like we actually had some offense going.
5. The missed 2 pt conversion.

Visual Evidence

Three clips to illustrate some things.

One, to show the problem with such an extreme lack of arm strength. It's not that Sheridan can't throw the ball far enough, it's that in order to put the extra zip on the ball he is using a motion that is not reproducible. The less reproducible your mechanics are, the more erratic you are going to be with your accuracy. Tennis fans see the same thing, that (with the exception of the kinetic Andy Roddick) the big servers are usually the guys with the most fluid motions, not the ones with the biggest muscles.

The second and third to show off what went wrong with first half coverage, and hopefully it is being corrected (though I have no idea how one corrects these things). The first clip is of the 55 yard pass on 3rd and 19 that led to Utah's first touchdown. It looks at first blush like Donovan Warren has been beaten on this play, but I don't believe that's what happened. First the clip, then the talk.

It looks like the WR took an inside move on Warren and was gone. But when you look at the route combination at the top of the screen, you can see that the WRs covered by the OLB (Chambers) and by Warren cross. Chambers is chasing and is beaten down the sideline. Warren is forced to pick between the slot receiver going up the sideline or the outside receiver cutting in. It happens off screen, but based on Johnson's read (throwing to the inside) it would appear Warren was leaning to the slot receiver. And that is probably the right thing to do, as the inside throw could have been taken away by Steve Brown. The responsibility there would appear to be Brown's, but he has lost the inside position can  neither discourge that throw nor make the tackle to limit the damage. I suspect that in the film room, Brown will be the guy catching flak for this one.

The touchdown pass at the end of the first half also, to my amateur eyes, appears to be on the safety. It's a really nice throw by Johnson, between the two men dropping and the safety in the endzone, but the gap between the dropping OLB (Chambers) and the deep safety (Stewart) is simply far too large. In a contain and prevent situation, Stewart sitting that far back in the endzone isn't preventing anything except a touchdown celebration. And it's hard to imagine how or why Chambers, really a safety playing LB for passing downs, could be beaten that quickly and by that much.

What does this mean

Some things presumably can be fixed. I expect to see a lot more Steven Threet against Miami. Sheridan was the more consistent and reliable QB, the one who was supposed to play point guard and let the others make something happen. Based on one game's results, Michigan may need to take a higher risk, higher reward approach, and that could mean Threet. I also expect to see more 1st down runs to try to keep down and distance manageable. This offense is not designed to pick up 3rd and 10, but to stay out of 3rd and 10. 1 yard completions on 1st down don't help. I expect the problems on offense will prove very difficult to fix quickly, and the offense will have more games like this. 

On defense, it's hard not to be optimistic based on the 2nd half performance. One sometimes sees a defense look good with a big defecit, due to an opponent that is running out the clock, but this does not appear to have been the case Saturday. The defense was relentless and dominant, and that at least bodes well.

Posted at 01:55 PM Read More



Michigan: 27 - Utah: 10

Posted at 07:03 PM Read More

 Misc Things

Some comments

The wishful thinkinf of rival fans that UM is in a tailspin and Rodriguez is already on the hotseat continues. Too many threads to lnk and not trying to call out any particular fans by linking posts, but even 8-4 will be greatly disappointing to many rivals. Too many are thinking 5-7 and talking about it being their chance to take revenge. It won't happen.

Along those lines, talk has come up time and again of the UM 2008 line being a lot like the ND 2007 line, and warning Michigan fans to anticipate that manner of Keystone Cops futility. It won't happen. As simple as that, it won't happen. I have never, in over 25 years of watching football, never seen a major college offensive line as badly coached as Notre Dame's was last year. That was not just a lack of inexperience, it was a lack of coaching.

And while we're at it, the other way around, I see some growing use of bust-like language to describe Steven Threet. People are worried that he can't hold off a walkon. He is a freshman. Freshman often struggle. Take the 5* rating away from Mallett, and Mallett's performance last year would have had us longing for a walkon to beat him out.

Some links with comments

Audio links from The Huge Show:
Mike Barwis sounds like he smokes 20 packs a day.
After 8 months of hearing what Rodriguez and Shafer and Barwis et al want to do, nothing they say anymore can hold my interest. Short of "We are going to start by running a counter to Brandon Minor on the 1st play," nothing they can say hasn't been said before. It's time to see the finished product. It is officially game week, after all.

Kansas City Star
This has been posted so many places by so many people that I can't offer the credit to anyone for bringing it to my attention. It seems bizarre that the KC star has a long, thought out article on UM football until you find out it was written by a Michigan alum. It's an excellent article. It does dole out some criticism to the prior regime, but backs it up with quotes from players, not just armchair QBs. Like Brandon Graham saying    "Everybody knew exactly what we were going to do," and expressing some frustration with the arrogance of the game plan.0
I had never noticed this (shame on me, perhaps) but keeps track of UM memorabilia auctions for your bidding enjoyment, and he found an ongoing auction for a 1931 football jersey. Interesting - when the page loaded, before I read any of the text, I thought it was a Michigan onesie for toddlers.

I'm behind on this one, too, but Wolverine Liberation Army is some fantastically bizarre stuff.

Greatest Rivals
Another blogger sent me a link to his page, part of a greater site on rivalries. This one may be a check back as OSU nears type of page (you're on notice, Andy: you better have something *big* for the game this year). Looking back at the 2003 highlights, how exactly does a 14 pt win feel like such a blowout? I guess the same way OSU's 2007 11 pt win feels like a blowout: a feeling of inveitability.

Posted at 08:38 PM Read More

What We See 

Just to get this out of the way - players who may not play against Utah
Corey Zirbel (out - knee)
Terrance Robinson (out - knee)
J. R. Hemingway (questionable)
Kevin Grady (questionable - suspension?)

With that out of the way

What You Might See Against Utah

Quarterback: Nick Sheridan starting, but Steven Threet getting significant snaps. With Sheridan, the game plan is to get the ball out of his hands quickly and to players who can make things happen in one on one situations. The risk is that the opponent covers well, tackles well and our offense sputters its way to several punts. The game plan with Threet is to take more chances down the field, to hope that our wide receivers and tight ends can make plays by getting seperation, and then getting them the ball. The risk is negative plays - sacks and interceptions.

Runningback: At least four will play; Minor, Brown, McGuffie and Shaw, and not necessarily in that order. They will move all over the field, especially Brown and Shaw. They will be used in 18 different ways, some of which people who have only watched Michigan will have never seen before. There will be more confusion and misdirection than has been seen in Ann Arbor since the Mad Magicians of 1947. Expect to see any combination of two in the game at a time, not with one masquerading as a fullback but with both being legit RB and or slot receiving threats. Mark Moundros will get the bulk of the snaps at FB.

Wide Receiver: The short game will feature Greg Mathews, Toney Clemons and Martavius Odoms and be complemented by running backs lining up in the slot and catching passes out of the backfield. The downfield game will feature Mathews, Clemons and Daryl Stonum, and be complemented by tight ends Carson Butler and Michael Massey. With the exception of Greg Mathews, it will be hard to tell who is 1st string and who is the backup. Look for the tight ends to be blur the line between tight end and receiver. Both Butler and Massey will line up wide, away from the line, and try to create opportunities by dragging linebackers away from the box.

Offensive Line: Ortmann-McAvoy-Molk-Moosman-Schilling? Maybe the single most important thing to watch. Expect to see lots of movement on the OL and lots of substitution. Herd the opponent the wrong direction instead of trying to bull them out of the way. Zirbel was reportedly the best bull on the line, and he's not there. Expect some bad snaps and QBs diving on the ball, too. We appear to have a good stable of promising guards, but no shotgun centers. Don't be surprised if some backups get meaningful snaps subbing in one or two at a time. Some teams like to play units on the o-line and reserves only get snaps in garbage time. At least early this year, Michigan may not do it that way.

Defensive Line: Graham, Johnson, Taylor and Jamison starting with VanBergen, Martin, Sagesse/Kates and  Banks/Patterson. Here, there's a clear 1st vs. 2nd string delineation. It will be interesting to see how much rotation and rest Shafer and Tall go in for. The 1st to 2nd string dropoff could be enormous.

Linebackers: Starters still up in the air. Panter and Ezeh will start. Maybe Evans at WLB and Panter at MLB. Maybe Thompson at WLB and move everyone around? Mouton and Chambers will get snaps at the WLB spot, almost turning the 4-3-4 into something halfway to a 4-2-5 (Mouton is 100% LB, but still in the "almost a safety" mold). All the players mentioned will play significant minutes, though Mouton's and Chambers's minutes may be scarcer against Utah than other opponents for matchup reasons.

Defensive backs: Trent and Warren with Woolfolk and Cissoko both getting ample chances to play as the #3. They'll play press, and look to see if Trent is more physical this year than he was last year. It's all that is standing between him and an All Big 10 caliber season. Harrison and Brown will start at safety, though you could see quite a bit of Stewart as well. Brown could be the wildcard and key to the prognosis of the secondary. 

Return Game: I don't have a name, but look for big names. Don't discount the possibility of starters at return jobs, potentially Donovan Warren, Morgan Trent, Steve Brown, Brandon Harrison ... basically, the entire starting secondary.

Posted at 10:05 PM Read More

So Far

The season is close enough that we can actually start putting some stock in the various practice reports that are floating around (after we set aside 30 seconds to take in the fact that it seems like, with this new regime, everyone except for me has an open invitation to visit practice whenever they feel like it).

It Sounds Like

Quarterbacks: Not where we expected, and our expectations weren't realistic. Yes, Threet was a 4* QB coming out of high school and we should expect him to be a productive quarterback. Some day. He is a sophomore who has never played a down of college football, and he is in effectively his 3rd offensive system since leaving high school (Georgia Tech for a semester, Lloyd Carr's pro-style attack and now the spread). That he's struggling with his timing, that he's having difficulty with pressure and having trouble keeping up his confidence is not surprising. Sheridan catching him is either bad news (that Threet didn't seperate) or good news (that Sheridan's improving), depending on how you look at it. There's been lots of talk that Sheridan has an edge on Threet because he is a bigger threat running the ball, something that Rodriguez's offense is almost built around, but equally important is how quickly the QB can set his feet and deliver the ball. The Rodriguez offense features a lot of quick timing passes, and a QB who takes his time getting set will struggle. Edge Sheridan, and it may not be ephemeral. But no matter who starts, all we can realistically ask of the QB position this fall is that it not cost us games. If either QB proves capable of actively winning us games, that would be an unexpected bonus.

Runningbacks: Right where we expected, and our expectations were optimistic. For all the recruiting hype and flashes of excellence shown by our top three returning backs, Grady has had a disappointing career to date and Minor has never had a good game against a good team. And fans were expecting a lot out of two true freshman in Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw. And so far, of those 5 backs mentioned, 4 have delivered what the optimistic fans expected. The only exception is Carlos Brown, who hasn't shown much due to injury, but who is also (in a way, at least) the most proven of the backs. Look for all five to play, as they give Rodriguez the ability to present lots of different threats to the opponent. Look for us to feature 2-HB formations (and not just with Grady or Minor lining up at FB). Look for McGuffie, Shaw and maybe Brown to move all around the lineup.

Wide Receivers: Right where we expected, and our expectations were optimistic. Mathews is what he should be, on his path to being Jason Avant, perhaps. Hemingway has been dinged up and Clemons has been cross-training at various positions, but the news has been the freshman. Stonum lit up the spring practices and continues to do so, way ahead of schedule for a true freshman. The very early returns on Robinson and Odoms are exactly what one would expect, that they explosive and elusive, though a bit inconsistent. Roundtree's name has yet to surface much, but we'll see. Verdict? We should easily have 4 credible WRs ready to go (Mathews, Hemingway, Clemons, Stonum), with the only problem being that none of them is truly the speedy midget-slot that Rodriguez seems to like, which is why the progress of Odoms and Robinson merits watching. If they aren't consistent enough, Clemons will have to make use of those hours at the slot position.

Tight Ends: Better than we expected, maybe even. Better in two ways. We expected Butler to be a freak, and he appears to be freaking as expected. But Massey has apparently worked his way into a 2-man TE rotation, and maybe just as importantly, it appears that Rodriguez was very serious about modifying his offense to incorporate a TE if he can find a mismatch to exploit. Butler can certainly provide a mismatch.

Offensive Line: Who knows? There are some very positive reports, but those reports may be a reaction to some pretty modest expectations. When you say your LT (Ortmann) is looking good and your LG (Zirbel) has had a breakthrough off-season, but both still need work in pass protection, that's a bit of a mixed signal. We also seem to have a couple of promising, steady centers who would both rather be playing guard (Molk and Moosman). Schilling is the one all-around given on the line. And those who were down on his play last year, please keep in mind he was in his first year starting, being asked to play two positions, and playing tackle at times next to a rotating guard corps. Not easy. Oh, and none of the guys I mentioned can afford to get hurt. We have 1 or 2 backups ready for meaningful snaps (Molk and maybe Dorrenstein) but after that it's true freshman offensive linemen, and that's scary.

Defensive Line: Better than expected and our expectations were optimistic. Every projected starter on the line has drawn raves for some time now. The only question mark in spring was whether Taylor would buy into the workout routines, and he has done so entirely. Graham and Jamison are noticably fitter and Jamison looks exceptionally quick in the little footage we have seen. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen have impressed in backup roles, and if Jason Kates keeps up with the routine, he could answer the one question that had him rated as a 2* recruit at one site and a 4* at the other. Quality starters, any of which could be All Big 10, and some quality depth. Can't ask for more.

Linebackers: A bit better than our modest expectations. Better in that Austin Panter, who was the star of spring, is still fighting for a spot, and not becaue he's regressed. Better in that Ezeh has the makings of a star and Evans is way ahead of schedule. A bit behind in that many were hoping Mouton would be an early contributor and a star, and he may not factor that much if he can't beat out Evans. In the end, all we are asking of the LBs is that they be steady and good, not great and not the heart of the defense (that will be the D-line), and they look up to it.

Cornerbacks: Better than expected, and we expected a lot. Warren and Trent are right where they shoudl be, and Cissoko is as expected. The nice bonus is that Troy Woolfolk appears to be ahead of schedule, not at all the track star project that some thought he might be. We have two very good corners, a potentially good nickelback (Woolfolk) and depth (Cissoko). Along with d-line, this should be the strength of the defense.

Safery: I don't know. I have not heard, read or seen much about the safeties. Little scraps ... that Steve Brown is on target, that Harrison looks quick and has taken to the defense. But not much, good or bad.

Bottom Line
Position by position, we are ahead of where we (the consensus as I read it) expected us to be, but that has to be taken with a grain of salt. Replacing basically the entire starting offense, both safeties and much of the LB corps, we were expecting many of the players to struggle, and for Rodriguez to be the guy to figure out how to win despite that. And the faith in Rodriguez to get that done was probably unrealistic. If the OL really struggles in the way 4 new starters often do, and if the QB position performs the way first year QBs often do, the offense will be poor with or without any schematic advantage Rodriguez brings. Rodriguez can only do so much; the players need to do the rest, and so far it sounds like they are ahead of schedule there.

Posted at 09:31 PM Read More

On ESPN Part 2

I mentioned some time ago that I'd been looking into ESPN's foray into recruiting ratings, now four years old and presumably gaining some consistency. In part 1, I talked about my frustration at trying to find some consistency in the ESPN ratings that would allow me to create a mapping from ESPN's 100 pt scale to Rivals' 6.1 pt scale, something that would let me say "This kid was rated 79 by ESPN but 6.0 (high 4*) by Rivals, so Rivals clearly has him rated higher. Such a mapping was hard to create because ESPN's use of the 100 pt scale seems to vary widely from year to year.

But I said I'd keep trying. I said I'd report back in a few days. That was on June 19th.

In Part 2 (this), I'm looking at one very specific issue: Michigan.
That is, I've tracked the Rivals and Scout evaluations of Michigan's recruiting classes for a few years now, and while there are multiple cases each year where one is more bullish on a recruit than the other, in the end, it seems to be a crapshoot. That is, they have differences of opinion (which is why it's worth following both), but there seems to be no inherent bias. You can't say "Scout is always more bullish on Michigan recruits than Rivals is" or "Rivals always thinks more highly of Penn State recruits than Scout does."

I wanted to throw ESPN into the mix.

So here's what I did:

I added 2009 recruiting rankings from ESPN to the mapping and tried again. And I came up with this.
In the 2009 Rivals class, there are 25 5*s (6.1), 57 high 4*s (6.0), 75 mid 4*s (5.9) and 162 low 4*s (5.8). The mapping I came up with was

Rivals: ESPN (# of players / year per ESPN)
6.1: 84->100 (33)
6.0: 82->83 (50)
5.9: 80->81 (112)
5.8: 78->79 
5.7: 76->77

Then I pulled in 3.5 years of recruiting classes for Michigan (Feb 2006 -> Feb 2008 and ther current, unfinished class). I also brought in the 3 other midwestern powers: Ohio State, Penn State and Notre Dame, then quickly dismissed Penn State because (no offense Penn State fans) they have not recruited at the same level as Michigan, OSU and ND and that affects the comparison. 

And having established (though not published here, because it's a boring hypothesis to lay out evidence of) that Rivals and Scout seem fairly in line, I figure I am, as best as can be done, comparing ESPN to a consensus of 2.

I also allowed for minor differences in ranking. If one site says a player is 50th, a high 4*, and another says he is 25th, a 5*, that's not a difference worth noting. So translated to the Rivals 6.1 system, I noted the ratings as being significantly different if they were at least 0.2 apart - a 5* compared to a mid 4*, a mid 4* compared to a high 3*.

I also made some assumptions and threw out some data, and these are just my judgment, to be trusted or not trusted as you see fit:

1. I ignored players who were rated mid 3* or below by both services. I am not interested in whether Rivals and ESPN disagreed on just how mediocre the bottom of the class was, and there is too much noise in those ratings.
2. I ignored players where I did not have Rivals ratings or where there appeared to be good reason for not having ESPN ratings (Junior College transfers, foreign players).
3. However, if (to the best of my knowledge) a recruit was a conventional American high school recruit and was rated as a decent prospect by Rivals and simply not scouted by ESPN (usually carrying a grade of 40, which is ESPN-speak for "unrated), I think it is fair to say ESPN thinks less of this player. This player is marked as one that Rivals rated higher. I figure if Rivals thinks a kid is solidly Big 10 level, and ESPN simply chooses not to scout him (despite scouting over a thousand, maybe over two thousand kids), then ESPN doesn't think much of the recruit.

From there, I looked at one basic thing: how many players, by team, were rated higher by Rivals than by ESPN, and how many were rated higher by ESPN than by Rivals. If there's no bias, and with a decent sample of 68-78 comparable recruits for each team (3.5 recruiting classes) you'd expect it to be some high, some low, and a near washout.

School: Rivals is higher / ESPN is higher / Sample ... Effect
Michigan: 13 / 6 / 68 (-10%)
Notre Dame: 5 / 14 / 78 (+12%)
Ohio State: 14 / 8 / 75 (-8%)

Effect = (ESPN high - Rivals high) / Sample size
Positive = ESPN likes the classes more. Negative = Rivals likes the class more.

8%, 10%, 12% ...

Keep in mind, when I did this for Rivals vs. Scout, the numbers came out Michigan 2%, Notre Dame 4%, Ohio State 1%. By comparison, these are wild an enormous numbers, 8%, 10% and 12%. It does *not* mean that ESPN and Rivals agree more often than Rivals and Scout do. In fact, the # of matches is very similar. What it means is that while when Rivals and Scout disagree, it's as likely to be Rivals higher as it is to be Scout higher, when ESPN and Rivals disagree, it's usually to Notre Dame's benefit and Michigan's and Ohio State's detriment.

Bias? Not ready to say that.

First off, there could be a statistical bias here. Rivals and Scout have stable ratings systems. There may be 30 5* recruits one year and 36 the next, but it won't just from 50+ to mid 20s the way ESPN's did (for players rated 84 and higher). There won't be a 30-40% reduction in 4* players for one year, and then a jump back up, as there was between 2006, 2007 and 2008 for ESPN. Those wild swings could make a difference if, say one team had a small class and another had a large and blockbuster class in a year where ESPN was stingy. One team minimized the exposure to ESPN's stingy year, while another was fully exposed.

Another possibility is that it could be regional or positional. Maybe ND recruited a *ton* of offensive linemen and ESPN is just more generous with OL ratings than Rivals and Scout are. Those things (stripped of the school issue: just position and region) are things I will look at in part 3.

But before I get to part 3, one quick way of looking at the results of part 2.

If you just take the RR Rivals ratings and average them by team, what you get for this 3.5 year sample is

#1: Ohio State - 5.81
#2: Notre Dame - 5.78
#3: Michigan - 5.76

Not much of a difference. A difference of 0.03 over a class of 20 = trading 3 high 3* players for mid 4* players, noticable but not a huge difference.

If you average the mapped ESPN ratings, you get

#1: Notre Dame - 5.81
#2: Ohio State - 5.75
#3: Michigan - 5.72

The difference between that 5.81 and 5.72 is basically the same as if you took every single kid in Michigan's recruiting class and bumped them up a notch (from high 3* to low 4*, from low 4* to mid 4* ...). That's an enormous difference. And pwhat's driving it is that ESPN is just not impressed with the Michigan recruits that ESPN considers the elite among our classes. Michigan has 5 Rivals 5* players in the sample (Ryan Mallett, Brandon Graham, Donovan Warren, Steven Schilling and William Campbell) and only 2 of them carry even top 100 grades from ESPN (Mallett and Graham). 3 of Michigan's 9 "high 4*" players by Rivals are rated lower than that by ESPN (Justin Turner and Jonas Mouton as mid 4* and Boubacar Cissoko as a low 4*). And on the flipside, if that's the definition of elite, only 1 player has been named elite by ESPN that was not elite per Rivals (J.R. Hemingway).

On the flipside, there are 5 players that carry 5.9 or lower ratings by Rivals (mid 4* or lower, not top 100) that carry 5* / 6.1 grades from ESPN, and four more that are rated high 4* / 6.0 by ESPN.

Anyway, that's just data.
I want to dump things out by region, by position, by year and see what else turns up.
Basically, I want to look into this and see if there's consistency or bias in ESPN's ratings and whether I should continue paying attention. Of course, the best test will come on the field, when we can see the players that the services disagreed on and evaluate who was right and who was wrong.

Posted at 10:10 PM Read More