Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Replacements: Taylor Graham

Our third installment in the offseason fact-finding mission that is "learn about OSU quarterbacks not named Terrelle Pryor" is Taylor Graham. Like the recently previewed Kenny Guiton, Graham is a little bit of an unknown outside of OSU circles. A comprehensive recruiting profile from a Buckeye perspective can be found here.

The Basics

Graham is an imposing 6'4'' 230 Redshirt Freshman from Wheaton, IL. Some relevant information re: his high school career and injuries: his junior and senior seasons were cut short by injuries. To even get an OSU after all that seems a little...odd. But, as mentioned he does have the measurables, and could've just been a project and/or legacy recruit (his father, Kent Graham, was also an OSU signal caller, leading the Buckeyes to an 8-4 season and a 28-point loss in Ann Arbor). Our Honor Defend explains:

Graham, from Wheaton, Illinois and son of former Buckeye quarterback and NFL mainstay Kent Graham, is the lone quarterback of the 2010 class and, worth noting, not the first option on Ohio State’s big board of quarterback recruits.

So, basically the Guiton-Boyd situation. A "stellar" camp performance netted Graham a seemingly desperate offer, not unlike Rich Rodriguez's mad dash at the the beginning of 2008 that ultimately netted a commitment from Justin Feagin (who was only debatably a quarterback, quite honestly). We swung and missed on Pryor* et al and OSU missed on Nick Montana and Andrew Hendrix. You'd expect Graham to be a middling three-star given this brief explanation of his recruitment, yet Rivals had him in his top 250 (at #236, a four-star prospect). Graham's size and pedigree alone seem to have been enough to merit an offer and an above average ranking from the scouts. The Rivals 250 list's blurb for him reads: "Son of former Ohio State quarterback Kent Graham." Graham also acquired offers from Wisconsin, Michigan State, and UCLA, among others.

Comes with standard annoying recruiting video music

The Numbers

The downward trend in sample size continues; Graham literally has none. In fact, due to the aforementioned injuries, he doesn't even have impressive high school stats. Having been redshirted in 2010, he has no OSU game reps to speak of.

Spring Game Hype/Notes

Graham finished the 2011 Spring Game with a ho-hum stat line: 4/9 for 91 yards, with 68 of those coming on a single touchdown pass to the 6'5'' T.Y. Williams. Naturally, the first thing the announcers mention when he takes his first snap is that his dad is Kent Graham. Taylor Graham has got to be thinking "Guys, I'm perfectly capable of running the company playing quarterback at OSU. Stop talking about my 8th-round draft pick father, please."

Spring scrimmage footage:

Graham takes the field at 1:30, 5:00, and 10:40. Touchdown pass comes at 11:35; pretty nice pass that beats the corner and safety. Great touch, a good sign for a guy with a strong arm. Otherwise, Graham completed a few safe out routes, missed a back in the flats, had a pass deflected that should've been picked, and took several sacks in a display of immobility hearkens back to John Navarre. The sack at 2:08 is especially 2004 USC Rose Bowl-esque. The blitzer comes right up the middle unblocked, and you'd think Graham would see him but I guess not. Mobility is an issue to say the least, as he took a whopping five sacks in the scrimmage. On the plus side, he didn't turn the ball over.

Pointless Prognostication

Graham is basically Bauserman with an actual chance at being good. However, that doesn't mean he will actually ever play, and there's little to no chance he plays in any significant capacity in 2011 unless disaster strikes. Graham is a nice player to have waiting in the wings to serve as that 1-year transitional quarterback type a few years down the road. A strong arm and good size paired with little to no aggregate experience at the college and high school levels equals ain't going to play any time soon. If he does, look for relentless blitzing from opposing defensive coordinators that would make Manny Diaz blush. Graham strikes me as a very Todd Boeckman-esque type, if we're playing the YMRMFSPA game. Given Graham's family ties to Ohio State and his apparent love for the university, a transfer is ostensibly unlikely. Sticking around and hoping for a Braxton Miller early entry to the NFL and starting for a year is probably his best case scenario.

I'd look for Graham to get some garbage time snaps against Akron, Toledo, and IU**, racking up some relatively negligible numbers but giving him more college snaps than me, which is good.

*[insert "man we were lucky" talk here]
**IU football...still bad.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Replacements: Kenny Guiton

Our next stop in this exercise of offseason boredom  completely necessary preview of the lucky candidates to replace Terrelle Pryor is Kenny Guiton. You may be asking: Who? Well, right.

The Basics

Here's a pretty solid preview from over at 11 Warriors (of course, this was written when Pryor was still a Buckeye and OSU was looking for a 5-game "just hand the ball off and don't screw up" guy). I'm not going to lie, I didn't know too much about this guy before this spring but he seems like an intriguing player. As a recruit coming out of Texas, the offer sheet tells the story: no offers from any of the big fish in-state. Other than the OSU offer, he boasted offers from Iowa State, Houston, Kansas State, Rice, and Prairie View A&M (yes, Prairie View A&M). I can't claim to have an extensive knowledge of Buckeye recruiting, but either: a) the OSU coaching staff saw something in Guiton that other Big 12 powers didn't or b) they just wanted to take a quarterback--any quarterback--for depth purposes. It's always wise to get a quarterback per class, and this may be what brought Guiton to Columbus. According to Jason at 11 Warriors, missing out on Tajh Boyd and a few others led to this; Guiton's commitment seems to have been an 11th hour situation.

Despite being a relatively under-the-radar, non-descript 3* prospect, Guiton might have a leg up on a guy like Joe Bauserman simply for the fact that, despite being in his 3rd year on campus, he's somewhat of an unknown entity. Unfortunately for Guiton, an above average spring game performance (11/21 for 167 yards and two touchdowns) in 2010 led to nothing more than sitting behind Bauserman on the depth chart for the year. Jason's take on Guiton's game seems to be on the extremely positive side:

With Pryor out for the first five games of 2011, Guiton has a real chance to grab the starting job in his absence. His throwing motion is smooth and he keeps the ball near his chest on the drop while using a pretty standard two-finger, across the laces grip. Perhaps what is most interesting about Guiton is he has above average athleticism but he rarely looks to run first. 

Sounds like some pretty generic praise, but he does seem to have some pretty decent athleticism to make up for his slight frame (6'2'' 190). For what it's worth, Guiton makes a pretty nice throw at 6:30 of this spring scrimmage video:

The Numbers

There's even less statistical substance on Guiton than there is on Bauserman. He played in 5 games in 2010, going 1 for 2, adding 5 rushes and a touchdown against EMU (poor Ron English). So, yeah, you could say he's a bit unproven despite having been in the program for two full seasons and a spring by now.

Spring Game Hype/Notes

As noted above, Jason thinks that Guiton has a "real chance to grab the starting job." He follows that up with:

Then, when Pryor returns, Ohio State will be in the enviable position of having a star as the starter, an experienced backup with skills in Guiton and the youth movement in the form of either Miller or Graham waiting to take over in a few years, if not sooner.
Ignoring the Pryor part, this just seems like the ideal but unrealistic scenario that we as fans all imagine will come to pass in any potentially troubling situation for our team. Guiton has some skill, but his performance in this year's spring scrimmage didn't separate him from the rest of the field, as he went only 5 for 11 with 67 yards (plus the aforementioned 17-yard TD pass to Verlon Reed). At this point, it's anybody's game, and Guiton hasn't done anything to make anybody think he will be the guy. After basically stealing the show in the 2010 spring game, he is just a guy as of right now. But, there seems to be pockets of excitement surrounding the guy which don't exactly exist for Bauserman and, to a lesser extent, Graham. If I'm getting a correct read on the situation, Guiton is the ultimate wild-card.

Pointless Prognostication

No, guy, he's not Robert Griffin. He's not Troy Smith either. I mean, he could be, but he's probably not. Despite the always reliable and/or relevant "Buckeye Bits" section in his bio, which states that he "has gained noticeable benefits from the off-season workout program," he's still looking pretty Eddie McGee wiry. The 11 Warriors preview notes a tendency to hold onto the ball too long (take that with a grain of salt...small sample size and whatnot), which could get him killed in Big Ten play. He weighs about as much as Denard and is at least two inches taller...he's not big. 

On the other hand, he has shown some flashes in the last two spring games (particularly in 2010). Although Tresel did not deign to promote him to be Pryor's understudy in 2010, a new coach means a clean slate and a new chance to snag the starting job. 

Unfortunately for Guiton, being seen at the now infamous Fine Line Ink in December is not a positive at all. While he hasn't been implicated in anything as of yet, we've slowly learned of the vast gravitational pull of the corruption at the heart of the Ohio State program, and it wouldn't surprise anyone to learn that Guiton is another participant in the parade of malfeasance. It certainly wouldn't surprise me. In any case, it's a situation to monitor going forward. 

It's hard to get a read on Guiton's place in the program going forward. He's a guy with some skill, and by many accounts a bright guy (1340 SAT, for what it's worth). Still, he has even less game experience than Bauserman, and does not seem like a guy who is built to withstand the pounding of a Big Ten slate. To make a long story short, I see Guiton being a guy who will get meaningful snaps only if these two things happen: 1) Bauserman proves himself to be completely, mind-numbingly incompetent at the beginning of the season and 2) Miller struggles at any point after #1 inevitably occurs. Getting playing time will be an uphill battle that will get even tougher if he fails to pass Bauserman on the depth chart by September 3rd. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Replacements (Buckeye Quarterbacks Edition): Joe Bauserman

In light of Pryor's exit and the resulting black hole at quarterback position for the Buckeyes, I'd like to run down the roster of remaining quarterbacks (Bauserman, Guiton, Graham, and Miller) to get a feel for what we will be dealing with. I will make some predictions, and many of them will probably be wrong but it's June so I get a pass. This is simply an early look and is by no means comprehensive; however, in the interest of good, healthy "moving on," it would behoove us to know what we'll be up against. I'll start with what sounds like the best case scenario for an ailing Michigan defense: one Joe Bauserman.


Spring QB situation fluff

The Basics

Joe Bauserman, a 6'1'' 230 pounder out of Strasburg, Va. started his Ohio State career as a walk-on in the 2007 season, in which the Buckeyes were eventually thumped by the Tigers of LSU in the national title game, 38-24. Bauserman was a 2-star prospect, ranked the 55th best quarterback in his class (2004) by Scout and a 3-star, 22nd best ranking on Rivals. For a frame of reference, this put him one spot behind Curtis Painter and eight behind Michigan State's Brian Hoyer (this was of course the Henne class, in which he was ranked third behind Anthony Morelli and Rhett Bomar). He's already 25 years old, and has a few years of minor league baseball experience, having been drafted in 2004 by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 4th round. Apparently that didn't work out, because it's been all football for Joe since 2007.

According to Ohio State's official athletics site, he has "an active arm and ability to make a variety of throws," which would make some sense given that he played baseball. In other relevant news, the "Buckeye Bits" section of his bio explains that he was "third in [the] team bowling competition." Yes, this is indeed important and relevant.

The Numbers

Well, there's not much at all on Bauserman statistically, obviously. Here are his stats: they're not even worth mentioning. So yes, he is old but that doesn't mean he is seasoned in any way. For what it's worth, he did throw touchdown passes against Purdue and Eastern Michigan this past season. There's not much to go on, but even if there was I don't think there'd be much to go on.

Spring Game Hype/Notes:

In OSU's Spring Game, held on April 23rd, Bauserman went:

4-of-11, playing with the first-team offensive line for his first series -- when he was sacked twice, took a delay of game penalty and was flushed again by Simon pressure -- and for his last series, when he threw his only touchdown.
Not exactly a great performance. The usual "it's the Spring Game" (actually, scrimmage) caveat applies, but he didn't do himself any favors. He did throw a touchdown, though.

According to The Plain Dealer:

He was the first quarterback to take the field for Saturday's Ohio State scrimmage, the last of 15 spring practices for the Buckeyes, but most fans probably wouldn't be disappointed if the 25-year-old former minor-league pitcher isn't the first quarterback out there against Akron on Sept. 3. 

The Lantern:

Joe Bauserman picked the wrong era to try to be Ohio State's quarterback. 
Bauserman himself put a word in on his role in the QB race:

"People want excitement and the guy that they've never seen before is going to get them thinking about it," Bauserman said Saturday, speaking to reporters for the first time this spring. "It doesn't bother me. I feel like I can play at this level just as well as anybody else." 
There are many other fluff-type stuff coming from Bauserman like the above, indicating that he is well aware that: a) he has come out of the spring without having secured the job and b) he represents the "unexciting" to the average Buckeye fan. Center Mike Brewster comes in with some boilerplate praise:

"Joe's a real solid guy. He knows the offense. He's going to make the smart play. That's what you want from your quarterback," Brewster said. "I think Joe will be the No. 1 probably going into camp and, you know, he's comfortable back there and that always makes you feel good if your quarterback knows everything about the offense."
This is generally football speak for "talent-deficient" and "can't make a play."There is some mention of his mobility, which could help him some if he actually is able to make the smart play. With tailback Dan Herron and wideout DeVier Posey out, whoever the quarterback is will have to produce some on his own if the Buckeyes are going to escape the first 5 games unscathed. OSU has enough talent to do so, but does Bauserman have what it takes to lift Ohio State's offense from mediocre (i.e., without Pryor, Posey, Herron, etc.) to competent?

Here's some more Spring fluff from the horse's mouth:

Pointless Prognostication:

Bauserman is a lose-lose proposition for the Buckeyes. Despite folks extolling him for his experience, he has played very little (and not a single meaningful snap to boot), and his Spring Scrimmage performance was far from impressive. While I don't want to lob any more criticism at Nick Sheridan, who did his best for Michigan, Bauserman does not seem to be much of an upgrade over Nick. Old+little game experience=a bad situation waiting to happen. We'll see how it progresses throughout the summer and into the fall, but as time goes on, the number of games I see Bauserman playing in before handing over the keys (ZING) to Miller/Guiton/Graham will probably drop. I see Bauserman getting in and managing the Bucks to a pair of uninspiring wins against Akron and Toledo before one of the aforementioned triumvirate takes over. He does have some size and ostensible mobility; he won't be Craig Krenzel (they're approximately the same size), but he could be a poor man's version. Bauserman is basically the default starter on September 3rd if Fickell prioritizes "experience" like a lot of coaches do. Unless somebody else makes a significant push in the fall, it's hard not to see Bauserman at least taking the first snaps of the 2011 season. Like '08 with the Pryor for Boeckman switch in the USC game, I see Miller taking over at some point during the Miami game.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Remember When: 2010 Indiana

This game doesn't exactly stack up to the classic games in Michigan football history. In fact, it's probably not even the most exciting game Michigan has ever played against Indiana (the '79 game with the iconic Ufer call and the '09 game are probably ahead of the 2010 version), but it has some value for me in a lot of ways. For one, I was there. Two, we won. There are few things better than watching the Wolverines win on the road. The silence of a road crowd is almost as rewarding as the home game's moments of collective ecstasy. A win on the road isn't just a win, it's conquest.

Now, it's hard to wax poetic about Indiana, and the fact that I might is an indicator of where we are as a program. Still, it was my second to last road game as an undergrad, and I got to see Denard crush the will of yet another hapless opponent.

On a general note, Bloomington is a blast and a fun college town (certainly more exciting than the booming metropolis of West Lafayette, boasting impeccable weather and certainly extant* tailgating in spades). A lot of people overlook the minnows of the Big Ten when it comes to planning road game excursions, but it is definitely worth the trip. I also recommend checking out the Little 5 if you're so inclined/in the area at the time. Tailgating there is a whole different animal (i.e., much crazier, but I guess when you're IU...). The huge tailgating fields sit right next to the stadium. I still wouldn't trade the long walk down State and Hoover for anything in the world, but it was pretty cool by virtue of its proximity.

During said tailgate, we joined forces with the other Michigan fans roaming through the masses of Hoosier students (most of whom had a negotiable at best interest in going to the game), forming a sort of amorphous blob of maize amongst the crimson. Naturally, we began to chant and whatnot, leading to a hail of cups and general whatnots raining down on us from every direction. It really is amusing how schools like Indiana can hate Michigan so much with none of it being reciprocated from our side ever to any extent at any point in history. We were all warned to stop chanting, which was pretty lame but oh well. You can expect a certain amount of that type of stuff, especially from other college kids, so it wasn't anything unusual. Having been to the '08 games in the Horseshoe and Happy Valley, I've learned how to have thick skin. Sometimes you've just got to keep quiet and let the guys on the field do the talking for you. Rooting for your team on the road is a tricky balance of restraint and self-awareness.

*West Lafayette tailgating not actually extant


We got to the stadium and purchased five dollar student section tickets. While awesome, things like that help you appreciate what we have at Michigan. Interest and tradition--rather, sustained interest--are earned over the course of decades. Indiana will never be a football school, and I mean never. Football at Michigan is an institution like basketball is at IU, and that's not something that can be manufactured. I say all this taking into account the fact that Indiana was in the game throughout and the atmosphere was probably as good as it ever gets at Memorial Stadium. Still, the students were not particularly loud, and most of our neighbors were more interested in yelling at us than the game itself.

Naturally, Indiana methodically drove down the field on its first drive, an 11-play, 77-yard drive led by Peyton Manning  Ben Chappell. Seriously, this guy is going to tell his grandchildren about this game. Chappell and Tandon Doss were connecting with frequency all game, and Michigan couldn't do much of anything to stop them. It's really a wonder that we only gave up 28 in the end. I remember telling myself after the game: Hey, maybe Indiana's offense is pretty good and our defense is just mediocre? Maybe? Please? When you're 4-0 (soon to be 5-0), thoughts like that are not quite yet in the realm of the pathetic.

After Michigan had gotten the ball, Denard ran for a 72-yard touchdown on the second play of the drive. Denard instantly erased everything Indiana had took nearly 6 minutes to accomplish with one burst of speed, sifting through the wash like junk mail. Once he got through, it was all speed. They say that a 40-time doesn't really come into play very often throughout the course of a football game...this was one of the times where it mattered. The play ended with a foolish Indiana tackler flopping to the ground in a last ditch dive at Denard's ankles (not unlike the end of Woodson's punt return against OSU), which were already long gone.

At some point in the game, one of my friends had apparently done something to put himself out of favor with a big bald guy standing behind us. I looked over and the guy was getting into it, threatening to headbutt my friend. At first he was joking, but the more that he joked the more real the possibility became. I told my friend to ignore the guy, but given the volatile back and forth of the game it was a nigh impossible request. After we scored to open the second half, I was sure that: 1) we would win the game and 2) my friend was going to get headbutted by a guy who might not have even been a student or a fan (he wasn't wearing any IU gear at all). Luckily for my friend, the latter did not come to fruition, as I'm pretty sure that guy's bald head was built for headbutting. It's aerodynamics. Anyway, who threatens to headbutt someone if they haven't headbutted before? It was hilarious and absurd, but that is the nature of taking in a game in an opposing team's student section. In the Big House, we make fun of people's ability to read. At Memorial Stadium, they headbutt people (or, at least, really really consider it, which might as well be the equivalent of doing it).

Denard went down for his requisite give everybody a heart attack moment of the game. Unsurprisingly, the IU student section was far from sympathetic. One guy mockingly yelled "He's human!" Denard is human, but he's a far different human being than your or I or anybody he plays with. I don't know why, but it was strange and almost painful to hear people disparage Denard in any way. When you feel like a player could just as well be a younger sibling of yours, you know that he's something special.

Michigan got the ball with a little over a minute to go, starting on their own 27. After a few Denard runs, he zinged a 42-yarder to Hemingway (who I have pretty high hopes for this season, especially if Stonum's gone), setting up the final touchdown run by none other than Denard himself, capping a drive that took only 58 seconds. At that point, any enthusiasm in the stadium was expired and everybody realized once again that this was IU football, after all. The miscellaneous group of students/other randoms behind and to the left of us diverted their attentions toward ripping the metal bleachers straight out of the concrete, which they succeeded in doing. Three or four of them carried the piece of the bleacher down the steps on their shoulders like a canoe. I wondered what they intended to do with it, but I didn't stick around to find out. Who knows where that thing is now.

Michigan was 5-0 and ranked 18th in the country going into the showdown against State the next week, when things would start to crumble and the Notre Dame game started to appear to be a product of an undetermined amount of good fortune. Nobody expected Michigan to go undefeated at that point, especially because 2010 through the IU game was basically 2009 through the Indiana game. That didn't make the fall any less palatable, though. But, for that moment as the sun had started to creep down low and the headbutter and his associates carried the bleacher away, Denard remained the sole constant in an environment that bordered on the absurd. He broke records (becoming the first player ever to pass and rush for 200 yards each twice in the regular season) and ran by everybody. He even got dinged up a little bit, reminding us that he is not immortal, doing it so often as if to remind us of the fact because we keep on forgetting it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Southern Culture on the Skids

In an offseason that has been good to great for Michigan (from recruiting to the media's infatuation with Hoke to the state of Ohio State football in general), Darryl Stonum's troubles with the law have perhaps been the sole blemish. Stonum, already dealing with a second DUI and a Friday court appearance, was ticketed for driving with a suspended license on Thursday.

Man. Unless there are some really extenuating circumstances here, this is not good at all for Stonum's football career, let alone his life. Stonum was already suspended indefinitely, however the possibility of mercy is always implicitly there in big time college football. Hoke made it clear that he had not thought much of the situation (re: a "timetable" for a return) other than the whole waking up at 4 a.m. to pull heavy things the length of fiften football fields, making the 6 a.m. wake-ups handed down to Adrian Arrington seem like a pleasant way to "briskly" start the day. There was already a significant call for Hoke to demonstrate his commitment to running a respectable program by letting Stonum go, but this incident makes it essentially a done deal.

Stonum was a guy we all had high hopes for, but throughout it always seemed like we didn't get the most that we could have out of him.

I think we all expected him to be another Manningham (or at least a comparable player), kicking up rubber on double moves and leaving defensive backs in the dust, wondering what happened. That happened some, but not enough to get the dreaded feeling of untapped potential that all human beings wake up one day and think about. Career stats that read like this confirm this feeling with cold, hard numbers: 76 receptions, 1008 yards, 6 touchdowns. Maybe he would've been better in a traditional offense, and maybe he would've finally made that jump in 2011. I guess we'll never know. 

There is really no other option for Hoke but to let him go, and while it's always unfortunate to lose a guy you've rooted for and wished success upon for three years, so it goes. We'll always have the kickoff return against Notre Dame. If he overshot expectations in any facet of the game, it's special teams. The guy was good enough to break Steve Breaston's single season return yardage record. That's no small feat.

We'll always have that return in '09 against the Irish. I'll never forget how that play unfolded. He burst through the first level with ease, juked another, and made a bee-line for the corner of the end zone with no one even close to him. Brilliance in random, concentrated bursts...that's Darryl Stonum.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Exit Pryor, Other Stuff You'll Care About Only Because It's the Offseason

Nowhere to hide come draft time supplemental draft time

So, it's official: Terrelle Pryor is no longer a Buckeye, having played his last game against the Mallett-led Razorbacks in the game of quarterbacks that got away. Has there even been a player that has affected both Michigan and Ohio State in every facet of his career? It starts from his decision to attend OSU over Michigan, leaks over into "what ifs" about the staying power of the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan if RR had had a guy like Pryor running his offense from Day 1, and lastly and most obviously, the sanctions that are on the horizon as a result of Pryor's lack of respect for much of anything. As much as Pryor not choosing Michigan put RR behind from the start, it has thrown a rocket booster on Hoke's back as he zooms around from sea to shining sea, pointing at things and recruiting kids as if Noah filling up the Ark. Much more on who he'll be replaced by at a later date, but for now I'll just say the quarterback situation is not 2008 Michigan hopeless, but it's not exactly bright. Then again, when has OSU ever placed a high premium on elite QB play? Yeah.

I will say that I'm pretty shocked at how shocked some people are about this. Wasn't this basically inevitable?   Can you imagine him sitting out five games and coming back to play (assuming Miller or somebody else hasn't secured the role) out the season with all that has come out and will continue to come out? It seems pretty ridiculous, and so Pryor made the only decision he could in this case.

Michigan's the 12th best job in America...according to Andy Staples of SI. While it's a fruitless exercise to argue with one writer's opinion about a pretty nebulous thing like "best job," I think we can safely say that Michigan will be on the way into the top 10 and OSU will likely fall a few spots unless they make a slam dunk hire next year.

Staples writes:

Everyone in Ann Arbor seems to be behind Brady Hoke, which is the only reason this job — which probably would have ranked near the top five 10 years ago — is this high on the list. … Hoke knows he is at a special place. Michigan doesn't have the recruiting base of an Ohio State, a Penn State or an SEC power, but it has a dedicated fan base and the resources to draw recruits from other parts of the country.
Nice little backhanded compliment there, but it's true, I guess. An RR program flaw has flipped on its head and become a major program plus under Hoke (re: fan support and/or overall atmosphere of the program). It sure will be nice to talk about Hoke as a coach rather than Hoke as recruiter or Michigan football's Abraham Lincoln.

On a general college football note, Richt's situation at Georgia will also be a point of interest this upcoming season. Another shaky year and he could be on the way out, despite how stupid it would be for them to fire him. The man can coach, it has just been his misfortune to have had to go head to head with Urban Meyer on a regular basis. Also, PSU at #8 seems a tad too high to me. ANYWAY.

Scheduling! Kickoff times for the Western and Eastern games have been announced (3:30 ET and noon, respectively). As a big time proponent of the 3:30 start in Michigan Stadium, I approve. It should serve as a nice warm-up for the Notre Dame night game (!), which will be a marathon of a day for all parties involved. Five games are now set, with the other two being @Northwestern (7 ET) and Purdue (noon). Only 87 more days to go...actually, that isn't that far away. Does anybody else feel like the Gator Bowl was a long, long time ago? Nah, probably just a coping mechanism.

Tressel Halftime Speech:

A brief behind-the-scenes peek at Jim Tressel in halftime speech mode during the Arkansas game. Tressel saying "ass" four times in little over a minute is about the equivalent of the average Ozzie Guillen curse-laden diatribe, relatively. The audio quality leaves a little to be desired but a transcript is included. This type of thing is always interesting, particularly in light of the recent revelations about Jim Tressel. That's not to say that cursing a few times makes him a bad person, it's just so at odds with the image he kept up for over a decade in Columbus.

Big Ten Coaches Sans Tressel: Firstly, an interesting fact that I never really considered: Jim Tressel never won Big Ten Coach of the Year despite grabbing 70% of the last decade's conference titles. Pretty amazing but understandable given the absolute dominance that he enjoyed. Rittenberg lays out the various arguments for why Ferentz, Dantonio, Fitzgerald, and Pelini are now the most irreplaceable Big Ten head coach. I'd make a case for Fitzgerald given that he's a pretty darn good coach, not to mention ridiculously loyal. Although Fitzgerald seems to be more than happy with coaching in Evanston for the long haul, you can never say never. If he were to leave I think Northwestern might have a tough time retaining their status as that lower-middle tier team that nobody wants to play when they're playing their best.'s Phil Steele time. In addition to picking Michigan to finish second to last in the Legends division, there's this (HT: EDSBS)...and yes, Bama fans everywhere just took this opportunity to claim their 347th national championship. The collective redneck will of Bama fans is so strong that they inception'd themselves into Steele's normally sturdy mind when he made up that page. ROLL TAHD!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Remember When: 2003 Ohio State

The 2003 version of The Game will always hold a special place in my heart. It's a mile marker imprinted upon my fandom, reminding me of the exact point when things were good and Michigan was Michigan. I was just a kid, Keith Jackson still called college football games, Bo was still alive, and John Navarre finally got the respect he deserved. We've been slowly driving away from that point since then, a hearse for our expectations and understanding of what once was. Other than the final two contests of the 1997 dream season, it's hard to think of another game that means more to me and resonates as strongly as this one.

It was finally next year--November 22, 2003, high noon--and both teams came into the game ranked in the top 5. The Big Ten Title was on the line and the Buckeyes were looking to punch their ticket to the national championship game for the second year in the row (a surprisingly underrated feature of that game). The game was about to start, but not until Keith Jackson could have a word in the way that only he could:

This has to be one of my favorite intros to any Michigan game ever, including the 2006 intro. Keith Jackson laid it all out there, making it plain for all to see (if they didn't already know) what this was all about. In a little over a minute, Mr. Jackson summarized decades of history, of a storied back-and-forth that will go on for years to come. He told us of the principal players, briefly but pointedly, giving us a vast impression with so few words, like Chaucer's Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. After the Prologue, all that was left to do was go on the journey and tell some stories. Here, all they had to do was play the game now that the stage was set.

Michigan came out and played one of their best games that I've personally seen them play. It was a wonder that Michigan was even in the position they were in at all. After losses in Eugene and Iowa City in the first half of the season that quickly derailed any briefly sustained post-Notre Dame game national title aspirations (as well as an epic comeback against Minnesota which featured John Navarre making really slow pocket passers running much farther than they should ever be able to cool five years before Steven Threet did it), Michigan's season becomes even more impressive in retrospect.

The then record-setting crowd of 112,118 saw a Michigan team play like a Michigan team should. The Wolverines ambushed the Buckeyes, starting the game with a 21-0 lead. Listening to Beckemann breathlessly call the Breaston keeper for the first score, you'd think that Terry Malone had brought the spread to Ann Arbor. Remember, this was when the shotgun was exclusively a "oh we're down 2 scores with 5 minutes left" offense.

Jason Avant went down and I felt bad for him; he cried and pumped his fist as they carted him off the field, and I wished that he could've kept going just about as much as I wanted Michigan to win. It was raw and genuine.

UM vs. Ohio State

UM vs. Ohio State

Despite Nate Salley and Co. knocking Braylon's helmet off once or twice, #1 refused to buckle his chin strap up any tighter. That's Braylon for you. Brandstatter quoted Mickey Redmond after one particularly ferocious hit that sent Braylon flying into the sideline: "This ain't no place for a nervous person."

UM vs. Ohio State

Chris Perry's performance was that of a virtuoso, during and in between plays. After every run he would struggle to his feet, slowly and not without some theatricality. The 150+ yard, 2 touchdown performance was one of acts and scenes, intermittent bursts of activity and passive waiting behind the curtains, a white arm band reading MOM moving in sync with the rapid pumping of his arms, chopping up the air before cutting and turning the corner to cut up the Buckeye defense on the way to the endzone. Whether or not Chris Perry was playing a role that day on the big stage that is the Big House turf doesn't matter much to me. If he was playing a role, "exaggerating," if you will, then he played it so well that the art imitated life, and vice versa, so that the two were indistinguishable. If you asked Chris Perry today, "Were you really hurting? Were you injured?", I doubt he'd even know the answer anymore. Does it even matter?

UM vs. Ohio State

Lastly, we come to one John Navarre. It's no small secret that he was unfairly criticized throughout much of his Michigan career. Despite the lack of mobility, the frustrating ability to get passes batted down despite his height, and despite his supposed inability to make the big plays when they were needed most, he made a quarterback out of himself (and a pretty good one at that). The guy who was recruited by Wisconsin as a linebacker/tight end, the guy who was thrown into the fire way too early due to a Drew Henson injury, carried himself with a stoicism that you just can't learn. Carey Venne, John's high school coach in Cudahy, WI said about him:

He's kind of an ice man. He keeps his emotions in check. He doesn't get shook easy, and that's because he's been such a physical player. Even if he's nervous, he internalizes and fakes it pretty good.

Where as Perry's acting was hyperbolic and over-the-top, a celebration and affirmation of his game all at once, John's was subdued, understated, and probably not acting at all. That is perhaps the biggest reason that I find this game so satisfying: a guy so maligned got his redemption. This was a guy that was, above all else, painfully cognizant of the criticism:

"I felt I was established already," Navarre said. "But the reality was I was going to be defined by this game."
John finished the game with 278 yards passing, completing 21 of 32 passes with two touchdowns to one interception. It was a great performance at the biggest stage of Midwestern college football. Never would I have imagined, however, that it would be our last win against the Buckeyes for many years to come. In light of the scandal in Columbus and depending on your opinion on the validity of each Buckeye win against the Wolverines in the Tressel era, this game has risen in stature as the years have passed, and, by proxy, so has John Navarre's place in Michigan football lore.

UM vs. Ohio State

I've watched my DVD of this game dozens and dozens of times. Ever since 2003, I've taken to watching it from start to finish the night before The Game, hoping that it would unearth some untapped reservoirs of good karma for Michigan the next day. It didn't work in 2004, and every year afterward became a remainder of how long it had been since we've beaten them. Reading this ESPN recap refer to the pair of losses against OSU in '01 and '02 as a "skid" makes me cringe a little bit.Here we sit, seven and a half long years later, wishing that we could go back. I love that DVD, but I hope that I can update that special tradition, starting with a win this year.

That's not to say that it gets old. It never does. Braylon's cockiness (before it became malicious and off-putting in his NFL days), Perry's histrionics, one of Lloyd's most classic interview responses ever ("Why would you ask a dumb question like that?"), and Navarre's redemption, so satisfying and deserving that it felt like it was my own...all these things make this game, in my mind, one of the best in the last ten years.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Little Sensor

By now you've probably been thoroughly inundated with coverage of the fall of Jim Tressel and the impending doom headed toward the Ohio State football program like a locomotive. Yesterday's SI article revealed that things are worse than we thought, meaning a whopping 28 players since 2002 are now implicated. Jim Tressel is a dependable wooden rocking chair that has seen some things, many things, only to fall apart from within, bursting with ravenous termites that undermine every iota of moral high ground he once had with every bite.

Perhaps most inexplicable to me (and most disturbing) is the Brobdingnagian gap between previous public opinion of Jim Tressel and what he has now become. How were we all so fooled? While OSU had certainly not been the "model program" even before this bombshell came to the fore, I admit to holding a certain sense of respect for Tressel; a begrudging, hateful respect, but respect nonetheless. He beat us over and over again, and I almost got to the point that I wanted him to say something disrespectful, not be PC, step out of the comfortable cocoon of coach speak. Basically, I wanted him to be Mark Dantonio just for a second, just to prove that he wasn't a robot. But, Jim Tressel was not and is not Mark Dantonio, in both flaws and virtues.

The reason I say this, that I respected him, is that it only makes this all more frightening. Jim Tressel fooled an entire state, an entire conference, and the entire college football world, that he was a good guy. They called him "the Senator," but I have no doubt that he could have won the actual office if he was so inclined. Everybody was so amazingly wrong. I imagine a portrait of Tressel is sitting in some dark and musty room, gathering dust and getting uglier and uglier as a decade's worth of transgressions piled up on top of each other.

"'What does it profit it a man if he gain the whole world and lose'-how does the quotation run?-'his own soul'?"


This becomes not a question of morality, of right and wrong, of good and bad. We all know that Tressel committed violations with varying degrees of directness, from ignoring the obviously ill-gotten cars of his several of his players to the now infamous fixing of a summer camp raffle (!). SI quotes a former colleague of Tressel's:
"In the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That's Jim Tressel."

 What can you say?

At some point, Jim Tressel made the decision to be what he became. Tressel infantilizes the concept of morality by referring to it as a "little sensor," as if it were a fire alarm, all-seeing until you take its batteries out. Jim Tressel is a fire alarm with its batteries taken out, useless like eyes out of eye sockets. This little sensor, according to Tressel, "knows right from wrong." If only it were that easy, that automatic. It's fairly easy to do something you know is wrong if the benefits outweigh the perceived risk of punishment and/or shame. History bears that out quite well. If Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and take-your-pick-horrible-person had little sensors, it's a wonder they ever slept with the little device's constant shrieking in their heads.

It is not insignificant that Tressel has projected this understanding of morality upon this "little sensor," a thing you can imagine if you tried. He just didn't listen to that little sensor, and that's where he erred. If you ask me, this little sensor is yet another act of trickery, of a desire to deflect blame and disrepute. More often than not, the average person knows whether they are doing something wrong; they are often betrayed by their own bodies. A facial tic, a rising heart rate, a bead of sweat. These are all reactions to and precursors of deceit. Tressel is not the average person. He mastered the art of body language over the years, remaining stoic and unmoved at all times despite the assuredly great joy that every 60-yard punt and 3-yard run brought him. The happiest I've ever seen Jim Tressel look was in that picture of him with the ridiculous facial expression after the Miami game.

Perhaps it was early, then. He wasn't yet trapped by his decision to go down that dark road just yet. Like Dorian Gray's portrait, the sins accumulated over time, attaching themselves to a proxy source, until the time that all those wrongs converged upon him all at once. The same goes for Coach Tressel, who, all at once, is forced to deal with  what he's done (at least publicly). I don't doubt that he is a good man in a lot of aspects of life, but his actions, juxtaposed with a heretofore assumed air of stoic Midwestern principle, make it all the worse. Somewhere, that portrait of JT is back to its original state, the burden of his missteps transferred unto him and him alone. Leave the little sensor out of it; the batteries have been sitting in some box in his attic, next to old family picture albums and a box of long unworn Youngstown State gear. 

As I rewatched the 2003 Fiesta Bowl earlier today, I couldn't help but laugh at the way that the world drops hints along the way, randomly and without purpose. With Ohio State up 17-14 with a couple of minutes to go, the Buckeyes were forced to punt, several minutes after Mike Nugent missed a field goal to give OSU and Coach Tressel a six point lead. Roscoe Parrish returned it deep into Buckeye territory to set up a game-tying Miami field goal as time expired. The camera panned to Tressel after that return, the momentum entirely with the Hurricanes, looking on with that same stoic glare tinged with that special sort of discomfort reserved for special teams miscues. With the camera still focused on Tressel's visage, Dan Fouts presciently says:

And Tressel can't believe how quickly things have changed!