Friday, September 30, 2005

Power16 and Next9 for this week

Sorry this is so late, but I just haven't had time to address it until now. I decided not to drop Michigan out of the top-25 for the simple reason that if the ball bounces a little bit differently in the Notre Dame game they would have scraped out a win and if that had happened, they most likely would be favored this week. It's amazing how much a single goal-line fumble can alter the entire perception of a season. I'm also convinced that Michigan would be 4-0 if Michael was healthy and that he will be back this week. For what its worth:

1. USC (good win at Oregon, still won't beat ASU)
2. Texas (could Mizzou be a trap game?)
3. Virginia Tech (showed GT who's boss)
4. Florida (does Urban Meyer still have an out in his contract to come to Michigan?)
5. Florida State (Bowdenball is the new Tresselball)
6. Georgia (better not get caught looking past Tennessee to undefeated Vandy)
7. Arizona State (if I'm not driving the ASU bandwagon, I'm at least navigating...big win this week against USC)
8. Ohio State (YARR)
9. Tennessee (it doesn't get easier with Georgia this week)
10. California (I don't think that they are overrated...)
11. LSU (tough loss, but still beat ASU in Tempe)
12. Michigan State (I'm putting them at 12 as a courtesy, but I'm not sold yet)
13. Miami (I guess I had better have them here somewhere)
14. Notre Dame (won by more at Washington than I thought they would)
15. Alabama (why not?)
16. Minnesota (probably a little high, but I'll get them up here before they fall apart)
17. Texas Tech (after all, the point of the game is to outscore the other team)
18. Boston College (redemption is at hand)
19. Auburn (more people should be talking about this team in the SEC West)
20. Wisconsin (Brian Calhoun is for real)
21. UCLA (another good Pac-10 team)
22. Louisville (I feel like they let me down)
23. Purdue (Big Ten looking weak this year)
24. Vanderbilt (still undefeated)
25. Michigan (blatant homerism at its greatest)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

EA Curse?

Found in Dan "The Man" Levy's AIM profile:

The cause of Michigan's football woes has been discovered. The Madden Curse (if you dont know what that is, read here.) has mutated and infected another EA Sports game: the NCAA 200X series. The evidence is undeniable. The following teams have graced the cover of the game boxes for the last 7 years. Their records speak for themselves:

2000: Texas 7-5
2001: Alabama 3-8
2002: Florida State 8-4
2003: Oregon 7-6
2004: USC 12-1 (they did lose to Cal and get screwed out of the National Title game)
2005: Pittsburg 8-4
2006: Michigan 2-2 so far....

Wisconsin Game Thoughts

Well, I'm back at the computer and I suppose that it is finally time to deal with the debacle that was last Saturday's game. The end was exciting and it gave the ESPN guys something to blabber about, but this game was really decided in the last five minutes of the second quarter and the third quarter when Michigan's offense was essentially dormant. The gameplan for Minnesota should be carbon copy of this one... run up the score enough to take Calhoun/Maroney out of the game and make Stocco/Cupito beat Michigan in the passing game. Unfortunately the offense stalled in the key part of the game and Wisconsin was still able to utilize Calhoun and the running game in the 4th quarter.

If Michigan hopes to have success in the remainder of this season, they need to fix the two recurring themes that emerged again today, their inability to dictate tempo with the running game and their redzone struggles. Both will be especially important this week against State, but more about that in a later post. For now, on to the game thoughts:

-Michigan struggled with contain again, allowing Calhoun to get the corner way too often.
-Both Alan Branch and LaMarr Woodley got good consistent pressure on Stocco.
-Grady looked much improved at picking up the blitz.
-I really liked the call by Carr to go for the TD on 4th and goal at the one. Of course he should have also gone for the TD at the end of the half, but at least he is getting more adventurous.
-Manningham is the best chance we have to fill the hole left by Edwards graduating. He is now showing the speed to stretch the defense and the size/strength to catch the ball in traffic.
-Michigan lost the special teams battle, and that may well have been the difference in the game.
-I thought that the Wisconsin did a much better job calling plays to build Stocco's confidence than Michigan did with Henne.
-Finally, I was just amazed with how shifty Brian Calhoun was in traffic. A lesser back would have rushed for less the half the yards he did with the same blocking and play calling. He is just phenomenal at finding seams and cut back lanes to squeeze extra yards out of every single play.

Bottom line, Michigan needs Michael Hart healthy and for Chad Henne to settle down. Without them this could be a long game up in East Lansing.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Wisconsin Recap and new Top25

Well, I have to admit that as of this afternoon, the Wisconsin game was still too painful to weigh in on, and with the LSU/Tennessee game still outstanding, I couldn't very well do a Power16/Next 9 post either. I am heading to Ann Arbor for a couple of days in the hopes of snagging a job, so I won't be able to produce these posts until Tuesday night or Wednesday at the earliest. Sorry about the delay, but with a couple of extra days to think, it should be a better effort anyway. Thanks for the patience and GO BLUE!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Off Topic on Off Tackle

I know that in the past I have used this blog to comment solely on sports, but for a brief moment I'm going to veer into the realm of student politics in Ann Arbor and at the University of Michigan. I was involved in the fringes of this scene last year, serving on the executive board of the Residence Halls Association. It was in this capacity that I came to sit in on a couple of meetings of the Off-Campus Housing Advisory Board or some such committee last summer. At this meeting an Ann Arbor fire marshall made a very convincing case for a ban prohibiting couches on porches in the city. Convincing statistics prove that couches on front porches are a serious fire hazard and the time seemed to be right to move on a ban. Unfortunately this "right time" was in the late summer, prior to most students returning to campus. Ultimately the Michigan Student Assembly, who couldn't trouble themselves to send a representative to the meetings in the first place, convinced the Ann Arbor City Council to table the issue and it has not been raised since. To quote:
"After members of the Michigan Student Assembly expressed concerns about a lack
of student input concerning a possible ban on porch couches, the Ann Arbor City
Council voted unanimously to table the issue on Monday."
Well, I'm here to say that I, and the RHA, were the student input. If the MSA did not find that sufficient, they should have provided further representation. I picked up the Detroit Free Press on Friday to find this story.
A house fire in Ann Arbor left a University of Michigan student seriously
injured early Thursday and four other students homeless.
The fire in the 700 block of Arbor Street, located in a student neighborhood of older homes near the U-M campus, is believed to have started in a couch on the front porch of the wood frame house, said Assistant Ann Arbor Fire Chief Chris Brenner.
A propane tank attached to a barbeque grill on the porch exploded about 4:30 a.m.,
spreading the fire into the living room and second and third floors of the
house, he said. Four students escaped through a back door. The fifth
student, a 21-year-old senior whose name was not released, apparently tried to
flee his second-floor bedroom by using the stairs, Brenner said.
He was burned on the front and back of his body before he jumped out a window and was cut by glass. He was taken the Trauma Burn Center at the University of Michigan Hospitals. Arson is not suspected, but the cause of the fire has not been
determined, Brenner said.
This story is further confirmed by this one from the Michigan Daily. The really sad thing though, is that as recently as June the Daily published an opinion piece lauding the student activism that led to the couch ban reprieve. While my best wishes go out to the displaced residents and for the recovery of the injured student, I am still left wondering, When will the Daily and the MSA wake up and realize that not everything the city of Ann Arbor does is intended to screw the students? We can only hope that this latest incidence of porch couches rearing their ugly heads will finally lead to a positive change in Ann Arbor.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Michigan/Wisconsin Prediction

Game Prediction
Michigan comes into this game banged up, but Mike Kolodziej and Matt Lentz are both expected to start so both the pass protection and run blocking should be better than it was against Notre Dame. The Wisconsin D-line is apparently also banged up, so that bodes well for both the running and passing attacks. I don't think that Michael Hart will play unless he is absolutely needed, and with Max Martin and Kevin Grady he won't be. Look for both of them to have a big day. This will also be the week that the offense settles down and begins to use Avant as a possession receiver, Manningham to stretch the defense and Breaston on underneath routes that give him an opportunity to do something with the ball.

Wisconsin's offense will be able to move the ball on the ground until Michigan adjusts and sticks Gabe Watson in the middle next to Alan Branch. After that things get a little harder for Brian Calhoun, who still has a good game. After that half, Wisconsin will have to go to the air to try and play catchup and the newly solid Michigan pass defense steps up and forces a couple of mistakes. As per such the game will be closer than the final score indicates after Michigan adds a late TD, but make it Michigan 35, Wisconsin 17.

Stat Projections
Chad Henne 22-31, 280 yards, 2 TDs
Jason Avant 9 catches, 95 yards, TD
Steve Breaston 5 catches, 50 yards
Mario Manningham 3 catches, 60 yards, TD
Max Martin 105 yards, TD
Kevin Grady 55 yards, TD

John Stocco 20-35, 250 yards, TD, 2 Int
Brian Calhoun 150 yards, TD

Other Predictions
Virginia Tech 38, Georgia Tech 21
USC 41, Oregon 28
Iowa 17, Ohio State 10
Notre Dame 24, Washington 21
LSU 35, Tennessee 7

Welcome Back Red Wings

Having watched the Red Wings on FSN the last two nights, I had the following thoughts:

-Niklas Kronwall is good. How good? Good enough to be a top-4 defenseman for most teams in the NHL RIGHT NOW. At this point I would not be surprised to see Kronwall starting next to Lidstrom with a second pairing of Schneider and Fischer and a third set of Chelios and Delmore.
-It will be hard for any team in the NHL to match Detroit's powerplay defenseman (Lidstrom, Schneider, Kronwall and Delmore). This bodes very well for Detroit as there will most likely be numerous opportunities to show off this talent in the new-look NHL.
-Jimmy Howard looked pretty good. I'm confident that he can hold down the backup goalie spot until Osgood returns from his groin tear. Now that Al Montoya has moved on to the Rangers, I think that I can finally acknowledge that Howard was the best junior goalie in the NCAA last season. Howard didn't allow a goal for the entire third period and stood on his head in OT before Columbus just got one too many lucky bounces and Detroit couldn't clear. A great effort overall.
-Kris Draper hasn't lost a step at all. He could easily score 40 goals this season.
-Howard desperately needs a helmet that doesn't say "Maine".
-Jiri Hudler reminded me a lot of TJ Hensick, especially on powerplays where he has a tendency to skate all the way around the penalty kill guys.
-Johan Franzen looked good defensively. I think that Detroit will keep him as a fourth liner who could give them some offense from time to time as he continues to develop.
-Mark Mowers is a gritty forward who plays pretty good defense and doesn't mind getting in front of the net and mix things up. If he doesn't start the season in Detroit, he will provide significant depth down the stretch.
-For the most part the new NHL rules looked great in practice. The Detroit-Colorado game must have been incredible to see live as it was just incredibly fast. All this space has been benefiting Draper, Hudler and Kronwall especially. I can't wait to see Datsyuk.
-The Wings really struggled to finish in both games, but Datsyuk, Zetterburg and Holmstrom didn't play in either game, so I expect them to improve in this regard.
-Overall I was very happy with what I saw and I have no doubts that the Wings will contend both this season and for many years to come with the quality youngsters that they have in their system.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Some Preliminary Thoughts on Saturday's Michigan Game

Right now I'm watching Boise State beat Bowling Green 41-6. You know, the same BGSU team that put up 42 points on Wisconsin has now been held to 6 points through 3 quarters out in Idaho. This is great news for Michigan, at team looking to not lose their road-opener again this season. I had been seriously worried about the Wisconsin defense snapping into form just in time for the Wolverines to struggle, but I'm a little bit more hopeful now. I saw a blog entry several weeks ago showing the success of Wisconsin's defensive coordinator, both at Wisconsin and at Kansas State. The moral of the story was that he always has had an excellent defense. Unfortunately I seem to be unable to find it. I will keep looking though.

Although this appears to be good news, I learned my lesson about putting too much stock in Thursday night games two weeks ago, as I figured that Pittsburgh losing to Ohio was a good omen for the Michigan game against Notre Dame. Of course it wasn't, but I have to find something to keep me watching these terrible ESPN games.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Week 4 Power16 and Next9

Well, with Week 3 in the books, it is time to move on to the rankings for the fourth week of college football. Now that most teams are entering conference play, I have decided to expand my rankings to include a Next9, in addition to the Power16, bringing it to a top-25 type of a deal. Earlier in the season, both Florida State and Miami had been very pointedly left out of my Power16, but both teams won gutsy games on the road this week, earning their way in. So, without further discussion, the Power16 and Next9:

1. USC (Arkansas hung tough for about two minutes)
2. Texas (still have to win in Dallas, but looking easier as Oklahoma is terrible)
3. LSU (great win in Tempe still fresh)
4. Florida (held Tennessee scoreless in the second half)
5. Virginia Tech (beat Ohio and Duke by a combined score of 90-0)
6. Georgia (should have scored more in the first half, and yes I'm running out of things to say about these guys)
7. Florida State (looked great in the second half, but might not win if BC has a healthy QB)
8. Ohio State (I really don't like these guys)
9. Louisville (Oregon State is a solid program, which is more than I can say for anybody left on the schedule, save West Virginia)
10. Michigan (the Notre Dame shock has worn off so I'm back to being a homer, but seriously with Michael Hart this is a top-5 team, will they have Hart back for the Big Ten schedule?)
11. Arizona State (another week, another step closer to 4000 yards for Sam Keller)
12. Tennessee (good: defense, bad: offense, ugly: special teams...LSU game will be huge)
13. California (Bears win again, this time with 4th quarter comeback...USC be afraid)
14. Purdue ("I'm running the oop-de-oop!" but still not an impressive win at 'zona)
15. Miami (FL) (big OT win at Clemson to get back in my good graces)
16. Notre Dame (classic trap game at home against MSU after road win at Michigan and before big visits to Washington and Purdue...big comeback falls just short in OT)
17. Iowa (Tate is back, but not great again this week)
18. Texas Tech (seems mean to hang 80 on poor Sam Houston)
19. Georgia Tech (tests start this week at VT)
20. Auburn (only loss is to GT, why aren't these guys getting more respect?)
21. Michigan State (big win over ND, but smells of an upset and not a statement game)
22. Boston College (if not for a QB injury, might be in my top-10...when will Porter return?)
23. Minnesota (big win at Tulsa looking better and better)
24. Wisconsin (more of an instinct pick, but could give Michigan fits this week)
25. Vanderbilt (this team might just go to a bowl game, and they don't even have an athletic department!)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Michigan/EMU Game Thoughts

As per the usual Saturday routine, some thoughts on this afternoon's game:

-Dave Harris was much better than Scott McClintock against the pass.
-Steve Breaston was used much better in the passing game today, short routes and screens that let him run with it, not deep balls.
-Chad Henne stood in much better against the pass rush today and it showed on the first TD that he threw to Jason Avant.
-LaMarr Woodley was a monster out in space against the spread offense. This bodes well for the rest of the year.
-All the RB's that played today looked great (even Elijah Bradley late) meaning that the offensive line had a much better game today.
-With the big lead early, Michigan was able to use a significant amount of time evaluating talent and depth. The results were encouraging.
-Antonio Bass struggled early, but he looked much better in the second half.
-Jason Avant dropped a pass!!!
-The only bad sack that the line allowed on Henne came through Reuben Riley. This team really misses Jake Long and Mike Kolodziej.
-Both Henne and Gutierrez looked very good this week, both were throwing with confidence.
-The pass rushers still need to tackle better, too many missed sacks.
-The poor tackling in the rush has a lot to do with blitzers taking bad routes to the QB.
-Mario Manningham will be a significant piece of the offense down the stretch. I think that he may be the player that Henne needs to stretch the defense, opening up the underneath routes for Breaston and the gaps in the zone for Avant to sit in.
-Tim Jamison looked very good against the second team today. He could be the answer opposite Woodley.
-Several young offensive lineman played today (Gallimore, Ciulla, Mitchell among others). They all seemed to hold their own, so hopefully they can provide some depth.

That was all I noticed today, perhaps I will be back later this week with more. Then again, it was EMU. Michigan is going to have a very stiff test next week against Wisconsin. I think that we will know a lot more about the consistency of this team after that.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Michigan/EMU Prediction

Well, I'm back from Mississippi. The trip was very uneventful, but it did give me time to stew and decide that Charlie Weis is, in fact, the most overrated coach in the country. I'll post more on that later, but for the time being, I'm on dial-up so I will do my best to keep this brief. Michigan has got to be pretty ornery right now, and look for them to take that out on EMU. The offense has a big day and Bohnet adds a late TD for EMU. Make it Michigan 42, EMU 7.

In some other games this week, I think that BC upsets FSU and MSU almost pulls off the shocker in South Bend, only to be foiled by a late drive and a Notre Dame win by about 3 points.

Go Blue.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Power16 for Week 3

Since I will be gone until at least Wednesday, I thought that I would burn the midnight oil and get my Power16 up before I leave for Mississippi in the morning. This week I watched the games hosted by Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and some of the Arizona State and California games. Needless to say I was impressed with the gutsy play of Louisiana State. There was no bigger win this week and my heart still goes out to them. As an aside, I try to make my Power16 a reflection of who would win if the games were played on a neutral field. USC is still the best team in the country so they remain #1. Despite this, I believe that they will lose to either Cal or Arizona State this season and Texas will go undefeated. You can take that for what its worth. On to the rankings:

1. USC (still the best team in the country, but will get upset somewhere along the way)
2. Texas (huge win in the Horseshoe clears the way for an undefeated season)
3. LSU (gutsy road win against underrated ASU, still my pick in the SEC West)
4. Virginia Tech (Vick looked better, VT rolls)
5. Georgia (should have won by more, SEC looking tougher than I had originally thought)
6. Ohio State (probably could have beaten Texas, still looked like best team in the Big Ten)
7. Florida (and Urban keeps rolling along)
8. Tennessee (still only beat UAB by 7, with Clausen as starter better days ahead)
9. Louisville (if a mid-major wins the Big East, does the Big East still count as a major conference?)
10. Notre Dame (defense vastly underrated, coach vastly overrated)
11. Arizona State (Andrew Walter who?)
12. California (most teams would be 2-0 with this schedule)
13. Michigan (well, at least the defense looked better)
14. Iowa (will stay down here until Tate is healthy)
15. Boston College (I'm sticking by prediction of BC upsetting FSU)
16. Purdue (I know its unfair to move them down, but too many teams behind them looked good this week)

So there you have it. I'll be back around midweek (albeit with dial-up until at least the weekend) to defend myself. Congrats again to LSU.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Off Tackle will be Off Line

I am leaving in the morning to deliver a motor home to Tupelo, MS for evacuees to live in. It's part of a program set up by Jay's RVs of Tawas City. If you have an RV that you don't want anymore, they are still taking donations. I expect to be gone 3-4 days, so no regular updates during that time.




Today's defeat was crushing from a Michigan standpoint. The defense played better than expected, but the offense was just terrible. In my eyes Michigan just went from a contender with some question marks to a team that will have to struggle to stay in the Big Ten hunt. Still, with a healthy Hart this could have been a Michigan win. It was obvious that the coaching staff lost patience with Grady after his third fumble of the season and went to Henne for two straight QB-sneaks. With Hart in the game, I think that both of those goal line sequences unfold differently.

Even with all that went wrong, Michigan still had a great chance to send it to OT late with the ball at midfield and 2 minutes to play. The way this game ended brings back bad memories of games against Iowa, Ohio State, Oregon and yes, even Notre Dame last year. Michigan had a chance to win all of those games but ultimately came up one big play short.

Michigan can still go 10-1 and play in the Rose Bowl, but does anybody really see that happening? Even if Hart comes back healthy, it is looking like a 9-2 kind of a year. If we don't solve the RB situation and the OL stays banged up, this could be a long, long season. Like a 6-5 long season (what happens if Michigan plays against Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State like they played against Notre Dame today?). Last week the buzzword was defensive intensity, this week it will have to be offensive consistency.

Finally, before I get to my game thoughts, I was very disappointed with the way that the replays played out today. It was obvious that Henne fumbled on the goal line and that it was recovered by ND, but to arrive at that, you had to look at two different camera angles and piece that together. Good call by the officials, but why not review the play before where it looked like Henne initially got in? On the Brady Quinn fumble it appeared to me that the ball was moving in his arms before his knee went down. That came down to a judgment call and I thought that they should have stuck with the ruling on the field of a fumble. I'm just crying over spilled grapes at this point, but I think that I like the NFL replay system better than the one in college. Everybody will hail the great coaching effort by Weis, but that is just BS. His offense didn't adjust at all late and it almost cost him. His worst coaching move of the game came late when he called the pass play that led to the Quinn scramble that led to the overruled fumble. Why even risk it there? The official in the booth sees something a little differently and all of a sudden Weis is a goat not a hero for a terrible call late in the game. Even with all this that went wrong out of Michigan's control, they still should have won this game. There is absolutely no excuse for having THREE redzone turnovers and being unable to run the ball consistently all day. Notre Dame is a good team, but Michigan lost this game today. On to the game thoughts:

-Notre Dame ran a no-huddle early and it led to a TD, but Michigan adjusted well to it. Good sign for this defense.
-Early in the game the Michigan defense was still surrendering the corner to the run too easily, but they got better as the game went on.
-Notre Dame did a good job of not giving Hart any room to run in the middle of the field. Great effort by their D-line.
-The Michigan O-line struggled all day to pick up the blitz. I'm going to mark this down to the injuries up front, but it got Henne rattled and that showed late in the game.
-Michigan's defense didn't much pressure on Quinn early and it showed. Later when they went to blitz packages he started rushing throws and throwing behind the receivers. Absolutely night and day.
-Leon Hall looked very good coming up in run support. Grant Mason was bad early but got better as the day went on.
-Overall Michigan's tackling was MUCH, MUCH better this week. Far less arm tackles and far more stopping somebody cold and waiting for help.
-ND did a great job on punt coverage. There was almost always somebody in Breaston's face as he caught the ball.
-Henne made a terrible read on the interception that he threw. He had a receiver wide open in the middle of the field, but his eyes never left Ecker and he tried to force a throw. Shades of Navarre to Joppru?
-Grant Mason let Brady Quinn slip out of an arm tackle on a sack and sure enough Quinn converted the first down. Tackling good, but needs to get better before we see Stanton or Tate.
-Overall I thought that ND's defense came into the game very underrated. They played well early to get the Michigan offense off its game and feeling uncomfortable, particularly Henne.
-I thought that Pierre Woods looked pretty good coming off the bench to provide some energy. If he just give Michigan five good plays a game, this defense will be better.
-I would have gone for the 4 and 3 with about 12 minutes to play. Things worked out for the better though as after a good punt, ND coughed the ball up on a fumble. Too bad Michigan gave it right back on downs....
-Finally, the deep ball to Breaston is there, but he has to learn to catch it. The TV guys blamed the two deep misses on Henne's overthrows, but both of those passes hit Breaston in the hands. I think that not playing WR until college means that he lacks some instincts that he needs to adjust to those balls in the air, but if he catches even one of these, this is an entirely different ball game. I hate to say it, but Michigan really missed Braylon Edwards today and they need to find someone to take his place stretching the defense long to make Avant effective in the underneath game.

Tough loss to stomach today, but this team should get back on its feet against Eastern Michigan next week and solve some problems going into the Big Ten season (like who is going to be a deep threat, who is going to passblock well enough to start and who is going to carry the football without fumbling it).

Michigan/Notre Dame Prediction

Game Outlook
There isn't much to say that hasn't already been said elsewhere and better than I can. Notre Dame might just have the best offense in the Midwest outside of Ann Arbor. Both defenses looked beatable a week ago but held their own. This will be a high scoring game but ultimately I think that a raucous Michigan crowd and a much improved performance by the Michigan front seven will carry the day. Make it Michigan 38, Notre Dame 31.

Stat Projections
Chad Henne 30-38, 320 yards, 2 TDs
Michael Hart 110 yards, 2 TDs
Kevin Grady 40 yards
Jason Avant 10 catches, 115 yards, 1 TD
Steve Breaston 3 catches, 60 yards, 2 TDs (1 rec, 1 PR)
LaMarr Woodley 3 sacks, 2 FF

Brady Quinn 35-45, 350 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs
Darius Walker 95 yards, 1 TD

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Manning Theory Implications

Earlier today I laid out what I like to call the "Manning Theory. In short, good teams that lose great quarterbacks to graduation can move on to become great teams with good quarterbacks the next season. The classic case of this is Tennessee in 1998, they won the national championship in year Peyton +1. Another tendency that I stumbled across was teams winning the title with a backup beating out a starter for the job before the season began (which we will call the Griese Corollary). I intend to identify three teams that could benefit from the Manning Theory and at least one team that could capitalize on the Griese corollary.

First, we must find some teams with quarterbacks that have moved on. According to my sources, the top 14 rookie NFL QBs are:

1. Aaron Rodgers, Cal
2. Alex Smith, Utah
3. Jason Campbell, Auburn
4. Charlie Frye, Akron
5. Andrew Walter, Arizona State
6. Kyle Orton, Purdue
7. Derek Anderson, Oregon State
8. David Greene, Georgia
9. Adrian McPherson, Florida State
10. Dan Orlovsky, UConn
11. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Harvard
12. Stefan LeFors, Louisville
13. James Killian, Tulsa
14. Matt Cassel, USC

We can immediately discard Harvard, Tulsa and Akron because Utah proved that even an undefeated team will not receive an opportunity to play for the national title if they are from a mid-major conference. Utah can also be ruled out as they are replacing a head coach and most of their offense, in addition to being a mid-major. Matt Cassel was the backup at USC and are already the favorite, so they too will be omitted. This leaves us with Cal, Auburn, Arizona State, Purdue, Oregon State, Georgia, Florida State, UConn and Louisville. McPherson was not with FSU last year and UConn doesn't have the surrounding talent, so we will throw these out as well. Auburn's running game left with Campbell, making it rather difficult to believe that they will repeat as SEC champs and Oregon State wasn't particularly good, even with Anderson, so strike both of these teams as well.

We have now pared down our choices to Cal, Arizona State, Purdue, Georgia and Louisville. I believe that following the Manning Theory, all of these teams could make a lot of noise this season. After one game, Georgia is well on the way to validating the theory. Purdue could well take the Big Ten this year and Louisville is the early favorite in the Big East. Cal and Arizona State have to contend with sharing a conference with the juggernaut USC, but both have solid chances to upset (in home games no less) and appear in my first Power16. Even though Cal and ASU look solid, I promised you three schools looking to contend with new QBs, so I must narrow it down to Georgia, Purdue and Louisville. Look for all three schools to make noise, and when one is playing in the Rose Bowl don't say I didn't tell you so.

I also promised you one school that could fulfill the Greise corollary. (You know, the one where a 2nd stringer supplants the starter from the year before and carries the team to glory.) As much as it kills me, I have to pick Ohio State here, but only if they come to their senses and continue to start Justin Zwick. According to mgoblog, Troy Smith is horribly overrated, and I agree. This team would be dangerous if they left the stronger-armed Zwick to deliver the ball to their playmakers (Ginn and Holmes). Off course I hope that they do start Smith and go 7-4 as a result. Its up to them though, just remember that you can't escape the Griese corollary.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Word Verification on Comments

After publishing the last post, I received three spam-comments within about 5 minutes, so I've decided to enable word verification on comments to keep automated spam programs at bay. I know that its a pain, but it was necessary. Also, I originally had it set to only allow blogspot members to comment, but I changed that also so that anybody can comment. So please comment and let me know what you think.

The Manning Theory?

Late last night I was considering Georgia's potential for winning a national championship, despite having a new quarterback after long-time star David Greene graduated last year. This train of thought led me immediately to Bill Simmons' Ewing Theory, but that didn't exactly fit in the world of college football. It did however make me think of the cases of Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer, both widely considered to be the best quarterback in the country their senior seasons, both of whose teams won national championships in the year following their departure (Tennessee in '98 and USC in '03). In order to see if this was just a coincidence or something of substance, I took the time to examine all the champions since 1994 and found the following:

YearTeamStarting QBPrevious Starting QB
1994NebraskaTommie FrazierTommie Frazier
1995NebraskaTommie FrazierTommie Frazier
1996FloridaDanny WuerffelDanny Wuerffel
1997MichiganBrian GreiseScott Dreisbach
1997NebraskaScott FrostScott Frost
1998TennesseeTee MartinPeyton Manning
1999Florida StateChris WeinkeChris Weinke
2000OklahomaJosh HeupelJosh Heupel
2001Miami FLKen DorseyKen Dorsey
2002OSUCraig KrenzelSteve Bellisari
2003LSUMatt MauckMarcus Randall
2003USCMatt LeinartCarson Palmer
2004USCMatt LeinartMatt Leinart

Looking at this data, it quickly becomes apparent that the 2003 Trojans and the 1998 Volunteers are the only two teams to have won titles in years that they have replaced star quarterbacks. In the case of Michigan in 1997 and LSU in 2003, the previous starter was beat out for the job by the new QB. Ohio State also won a championship with a new QB in 2002, but Craig Krenzel was replacing Steve Bellisari who was hardly a star and didn't even play in the 2001 Michigan game.

In conclusion, the data neither proves nor disproves the so-called "Manning Theory." I'm sure that I'm not the first to look into this trend, and I probably shouldn't even claim Manning Theory as the title, as a quick google search reveals the original Manning theory to be from biology and not from sports. In a later post I will evaluate what this trend means to several teams in the 2005 season.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Conference Outlooks

With the first round of games played, here are my predictions for five major conferences (the BigTen is omitted on account of my tendency to make homer picks for Michigan)

Boston College takes the Atlantic Division but loses to Coastal Division champ Virginia Tech in the championship game.

Big East
Louisville, by process of elimination

This is the year that Missouri finally breaks through in the North, too bad that its also the year that Texas breaks through in the South. Texas win the championship game BIG.

I could be bold and pick Cal, but then again I could also be bold and give myself a root canal. USC goes undefeated in conference.

Georgia wins the East and LSU wins the West. The title game is close, but Georgia prevails.

My Power 16

Before I reveal my first Power16 of the 2005 season, I feel the need to tie up a couple of loose ends. I had originally intended to post a top-25, but ultimately decided that 25 was an entirely arbitrary number used by a couple of entirely arbitrary polls. 16 represents the number of teams playing in "major" bowls games at the end of the season. As you may notice, neither Miami nor Florida State appear in my Power16, you may surmise that this is because they did not play until Monday night. Of course that would be wrong though. After watching the game tonight I honestly do not believe that either team is in the top 16 in the country. Florida State doesn't seem to have an offense at the moment and Miami needs to find an offensive line (9 sacks!) before they can be taken seriously. Virginia Tech is looking very good right now in the ACC.

Well, here goes:

1. USC (once again, duh!)
2. Texas (I'm still having Vince Young nightmares)
3. Georgia (safe to say, I was impressed)
4. Iowa (only elite Big Ten team that looked dominant Saturday)
5. Ohio State (won't look as good with Troy Smith at the helm and should have won by more)
6. Michigan (still a homer pick, hopefully Michigan's D just didn't want to tip off ND)
7. Virginia Tech (looking like the class of the ACC right now)
8. LSU (my heart goes out to them)
9. Tennessee (c'mon, only 7 points over UAB?)
10. Florida (erg, rushing game please?)
11. Louisville (will win Big East hands down with Pitt now revealed)
12. Purdue (I'm reserving judgment until they play, but #12 seems about right)
13. Arizona State (hard to get a read against Temple)
14. California (better test against Washington next week, could be 10-1 based on their schedule)
15. Boston College (good win at BYU, will beat FSU at home and win Atlantic Division)
16. Notre Dame (hey, I'm sold...)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Fantasy Football is here!

Well, I just completed my first ever live fantasy football draft and if anybody cares, I selected the following (not in this order):

QB Tom Brady
RB Domanick Davis
RB Curtis Martin
WR Andre Johnson
WR Larry Fitzgerald
WR Plaxico Burress
TE Alge Crumpler
DEF Atlanta
K Jason Hanson
QB Carson Palmer
RB Mewelde Moore
RB Najeh Davenport
WR Matt Jones
TE LJ Smith
DEF Miami

Overall I was very happy with the draft and if nothing else, my team will lead the league in clothes-hampers-pooped-in, which is of course the only reason that I would ever draft Najeh Davenport.

The makings for my first top 25

After much though, I've decided that I don't actually agree with the existence of preseason polls, but now that most teams have played at least once, my first set of rankings is starting to form up. The actual ranking will have to wait until after the FSU-Miami game, but for now, here are some thoughts about what it will look like.

1. USC (duh)
2. Texas (typical early season blowout of a bottom 10 type opponent)
3. Ohio State (this will go down when Troy Smith dresses)
4. Georgia (looked great this week in handling a good Boise State team)
5. Michigan (homer pick, should have been about 5 spots lower)
6. Tennessee (should have beaten UAB by a lot more)

Well, that is my initial top-6. More to follow late Monday or early Tuesday.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Michigan Wins!

Just some thoughts that I chose to jot down while watching the big game today:

-Northern Illinois' first TD today came on their only really big play of the day. It was a Wolfe run for 77 yards. If you watch the replay, Mundy overpursues and that opened it up for the big gain. Englemon was not on the field.

-Henne showed no touch on the deep ball as he overthrew Steve Breaston on two sure touchdowns and threw another out of bounds and another into double coverage. The first two blown passes probably would have been caught by Braylon, but no biggie because Henne later connected with Avant and Hart respectively. Just a little more touch and this would have been a laugher early.

-Avant looked like an All-American and displayed the Hands of Glue. He is very, very good at finding soft spots in opposing zone coverages.

-Englemon forced and recovered a fumble on separate plays. He and Hall were the only solid members of the secondary today.

-Ross Ryan showed great aggressiveness in recovering that fumble. How often do you see the punter downfield, let alone diving in for a loose ball?

-Most of the productivity for NIU came on the run when the Michigan D surrendered the corner. This needs to improve before we play ND and Wisconsin as they will eat us alive.

-Kevin Grady looked to me to be more explosive than Michael Hart today, but he needs to learn to hold on to the football.

-If you look at the Leon Hall INT, the defensive line has a great coordinated rush that forces the QB to get rid of the ball too soon and Massey tips it. In my opinion that and the Woodley FF were the two best plays of the day for the line.

-Englemon was off the field for another big play in the second half where his replacement Jamar Adams misses an easy tackle and a 15 yard pass turned into a 27 yard one.

-Finally, Gutierrez looked very good today throwing on the run. He will be the best backup QB in the Big Ten.

Michigan/NIU Prediction

Game Outlook
This afternoon Michigan opens the season against Northern Illinois, a good MAC team with a solid running game (3:30 PM, ABC). Northern Illinois' talent will keep this game closer than the traditional season-opening Michigan feast, but Michigan will prevail in the end.

Look for Michigan to lead by about 10 points at the half (say 17-7) but to quickly pull away in the third quarter as nerves calm down and Michael Hart asserts himself. Matt Gutierrez will make an appearance late and Jerome Jackson should get plenty of carries. As a final score, make it Michigan 38, NIU 17.

Stat Projections
Chad Henne 15-21, 255 yards, 2 TDs
Michael Hart 20 carries, 152 yards, 1 TD
Steve Breaston 4 catches, 75 yards, 1 TD
Jason Avant 6 catches, 105 yards, 1 TD
Kevin Grady 8 carries, 55 yards
Leon Hall 1 INT, 3 PBUs
LaMarr Woodley 12 tackles, 2 sacks, FF
Bradent Englemon 4 tackles and no mistakes

The Defense and Special Teams

Here is the final installment of my Michigan season preview, covering the defense and special teams.

Defensive Line (LaMarr Woodley DE, Gabe Watson DT, Pat Massey DE/DT)
Best Case: Woodley and Watson live up to their potential and are both consensus All-Americans, Massey provides another 4-6 sacks and Jeremy Van Alstyne bounces back from injury to give Michigan a pressure on the non-Woodley side. At this point it appears that Pierre Woods will be backing up Woodley at the rush linebacker/defensive end position. He could well revert to his '03 form and give Michigan a significant presence while Woodley is catching his breath. If this is the case, this group has a tremendous upside. Alan Branch has always impressed me, he will provide depth and energy in the middle. The rest of the crew consists mostly of talented freshman who could emerge as contributors.

Worst Case: Watson takes the year off, Woodley is over-hyped, Massey lets more quarterbacks get away and Van Alstyne doesn't return to form. This isn't going to happen, but I had to put something here.

Injury Case: If Watson isn't healthy, this is a seriously downgraded group. DE appears to be alright with Woods coming of the bench and Branch is more than adequate at DT. The real worry with injuries here is that any loss of depth will lead to too many snaps for the big fellas like Watson early and games and therefore limit their effectiveness late.

Best Guess: This group will ride the strong rush of Woodley, Van Alstyne, Massey and Woods and the pure mass of Watson to glory. There is an unbelievable amount of untapped talent here, and with Steve Stripling coming down from Sparty-town and actually teaching technique, the newly coordinated rush will be unstoppable.

Linebackers (not really any returning starters except Scott McClintock who isn't projected to start again)
Best Case: New starters Prescott Burgess (who was a freak in the Rose Bowl) and David Graham are both physically gifted linebackers who can put the fear of God into opposing running backs and running quarterbacks. I am not taken with David Harris and I hear that is already banged up so I am going to chose to project McClintock in the middle since I think that will some competent help he will tie down the starting spot. McClintock isn't particularly fast and last year it seemed to show as he was often caught in mismatches, however I believe that he has the best natural linebacker instincts on the whole team and will be able to use these to better effect this season. Harris and Shawn Crable will both be very important for depth reasons. In my dream world, McClintock (or Harris for that matter) work well with Watson and Massey to plug up the middle run and Graham and Burgess both use their skills to terrorize offenses and protect the defense from matchup issues.

Worst Case: Burgess doesn't pan out and this group lacks physicality again. Opposing offenses are able to exploit McClintock in man coverage and Harris's lack of experience shows.

Injury Case: Harris is already shaky and this unit is thin on experience if McClintock or Burgess get into injury trouble. While this isn't the thinnest position on the team, it is close and I would just assume not see Brandon Logan or John Thompson playing serious roles on this defense, no matter how much it would please Troy Smith or Drew Stanton.

Best Guess: This group went through a lot of upheaval a year ago, but look for Burgress and Graham to settle into important roles and for McClintock to be better than expected. The linebackers will hold their own this season and not negatively affect the team, but they won't help to cover up any other unit's weaknesses either.

Secondary (Leon Hall CB, Ryan Mundy S)
Best Case: Hall is good again, Mundy improves on the mental side of the game and remembers the fundamentals that went AWOL the last four games last year. The best to hope for at the other corner is either Grant Mason to step up and provide steady play or for either Morgan Trent or Charles Stewart to play above his experience level. Bradent Englemon will be the other safety and he might just be the first player since I've been a Michigan fan (~5 years) to play that position like it should be. (For the record, according to the now retired coach at Ovid-Elsie Allen Martin, "The safety should never let anybody deeper than him in coverage!", or something like that, I played defensive line and generally regarded the pretty boys back there with contempt.) Ultimately the ceiling for this group will be keeping the other team from making big plays.

Worst Case: Englemon and Mundy are as bad as Shazor/Mundy were late last season and Michigan can't find consistency at the other corner position. This unit certainly has the potential to be pretty bad if they can't stop the deep ball or contain the fast quarterbacks.

Injury Case: Both the corner and safety are pretty thin although Willis Barringer is livable behind Mundy and Jamar Adams almost beat out Englemon for that spot. If Leon Hall gets hurt, the season might well be over.

Best Guess: This will be the worst area of an otherwise very good football team. Leon Hall is a difference maker and Ryan Mundy is good when he wants to be. The rest of these guys are either talented or experienced, no one is both. I think that either Stewart or Trent will play well enough to keep Michigan in ball games and Englemon will be a pleasant surprise in the middle. Still, this area is an overall negative and will keep the team from competing for a national title as this group will not be good enough to stop Drew Tate in the game at Iowa.

Special Teams (Garrett Rivas K, Steve Breaston PR/KR)
Best Case: Breaston is once again the premier return man in the Big Ten (Ted Ginn who?) and Rivas shows improvement in his third season. The freshman punter Zoltan Mesko has a thunderous leg and I think that he will be the starter by the onset of the Big Ten season. This group is easily the best in the Midwest.

Worst Case: Mesko isn't ready, and Rivas is still shaky on extra points.

Injury Case: If Breaston gets banged up, Grant Mason and Leon Hall are both very good return men and there are plenty of speedy receivers to give it a go. I refuse to consider the possibility of an injury to Rivas, because doing so makes me remember the days of Phillip Brabbs and I don't want to think about more uncertainty in the kicking game.

Best Guess: Mark it down, this will be the best special teams unit in the country.

In Total

As for the season as a whole, Michigan will be very good against most of the teams that they play. I'm sure that they spent the offseason learning how to stop mobile QBs and working on the defensive line technique. Michigan will win close games at Michigan State and Wisconsin while blowing out Notre Dame at home. The Ohio State game will be closer, but Michigan will put it away shortly after halftime and weather the late Buckeye rush to secure another Big Ten Championship. The Northwestern game will be closer than expected, but the Wolverines will easily take care of Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State and Indiana. Unfortunately they will not beat Iowa. This totals to an 10-1 regular season and a third straight BCS bowl berth. Michigan will finish the season around 4th in the AP and Coaches Polls, but because the BCS always has to be contrary Michigan will be #2 in that conflagration and head back to the Rose Bowl for the third straight year to face off against USC.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Season Expectations Continued

The season is drawing alarmingly near, meaning that it is time to finish up my expectations for the various position groups. So, with no further ado:

Wide receivers and Tight Ends (Jason Avant WR, Steve Breaston WR, Tim Massaqoui TE)
Best Case: Avant continues to be the premier possession receiver in the Big Ten, Breaston returns to his freshman form and begins to fill Braylon Edwards shoes as Chad Henne's favorite deep ball target and Carl Tabb shows some consistency as a backup possession/blocking type guy. The rest of the receivers are talented but unproven, but I could definitely see Adrian Arrington hauling in 5 or 6 TDs this year and either Doug Dutch or Mario Manningham using speed to consistently stretch defenses and open up short routes for Avant and Breaston. At tight end I fully expect Massaqoui to live up the hype that always seem to accompany him. He could be the best tight end in the Big Ten this year and Tyler Ecker seems to have a nose for making big plays when it really counts (see Ohio State in 2003 and Minnesota in 2004). If this group plays somewhere in the vicinity of their talent they will be the best group of passing targets east of the Mississippi and maybe in the whole country.

Worst Case: Avant seems like a sure thing, but its possible with teams focusing on Breaston he will have a hard time getting the ball. Tabb could be non-existent and the none of the young guns (Arrington, Dutch, Manningham et al) step forward. In that scenario Henne could have trouble finding targets and defenses could stack the box to stop the run.

Injury Case: Both Avant and Breaston were limited by injuries a year ago so this is of some concern. The depth is exceedingly good though (perhaps the best in the country) so Michigan should be fine here.

Best Guess: I think that Avant can be counted on for 70+ catches and at least 900 yards. Breaston will be electric again and should help stretch defenses with his speed. Arrington will have a very, very good year (500+ yards) as a third option and Tabb will be very valuable as a blocker at the WR position. Massaqoui will be solid but not spectacular and Ecker will save at least one game.

Offensive Line (Jake Long, Adam Stenavich, Mike Kolodziej, Matt Lentz)
Best Case: Long is already out for a significant portion of the year due to injury, but it bodes well that it was hard to list returning starters for this grouping because so many players saw significant time last year. Flat out best case, this group is a "Michigan Line" and they just bulldoze people. All the talent is there for this to happen, its just a question of getting people into the right places and the Michigan coaching staff always seem to excel at this.

Worst Case: Players don't adjust to new positions and there are growing pains up and down the line. I also worry about the center position which was shaky enough last year to justify playing an All-American (David Baas) out of position.

Injury Case: Injuries are the most significant threat to this group. Leo Henige has never really been healthy his whole time at Michigan (I blame Ryan Acre, but perhaps more on that later) so having Henige listed as a starter makes me nervous. This group is an injury to Lentz or Stenavich away from disaster or at least serious realignment.

Best Guess: This grows into a Michigan Line just in time for the Notre Dame game and spend the rest of the season pummeling hapless defenders. Jake Long comes back just in time for the Ohio State game and very publicly mauls someone.

Ok, that is all for the offense. I will be back later tonight with the defense.