Thursday, August 9, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 8/9/2012

FSU trivia to impress your friends with. Question: who was the last Florida State wide receiver/tailback to catch/rush for 1,000 yards in a single season? I'll give you a second. Done pretending to think? Well, if you said Anquan Boldin and Warrick Dunn, you are either: a) a FSU fan b) Phil Steele or something or c) somebody who just pulled the "smart phone under the table on trivia night" cheating maneuver.

If you didn't know the answer, then you are probably a little bit shocked (at least I was, particularly with the answer for tailback. Warrick Dunn? Wow. I'm not sure there is another bit of trivia that truly shows how far FSU had fallen during the last five or six years of the Bowden era. Matt Hinton writes writes this year's "Is FSU for real?" post, which is especially topical after I, for the second year in a row, plugged my nose and picked FSU to do some nice things in 2012:
The skill positions have been no less of a revolving door. Devonta Freeman and Rashad Greene were encouraging in their debuts, but hardly revelatory enough to peg either as an emerging star in an offense that has had astonishingly few of them over the last decade: FSU hasn't produced a 1,000-yard receiver since Anquan Boldin in 2002, or a 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996.
Kind of crazy, right?

Hey, you guys. Did you know that people in the South care so much about football? It's true. They just want it more. That's why they're so good. Rick Bragg, author of All Over But The Shoutin', actually wrote this:
An award-winning author of books on Southern history, Rable is not a native Southerner but grew up in another football incubator, in Lima, Ohio, in the swirl of Ohio State-Michigan, rooting for the Buckeyes. He came down here to see real obsession. He once exited Tiger Stadium as the faithful chanted: "Go to hell, Ole Miss, go to hell."

"And," he says, "we weren't playing Ole Miss."
Ah, yes. "Real obsession." That can definitely only be found in Dixie.

It's difficult to be too hard on Bragg because he is speaking as a sort of chronicler of the South as opposed to an active participant and/or endorser of its most ridiculous manifestations of insanity. He even mentions that he does not tie his worth to the outcome of the game, which is a nice sentiment that I like because many people have that problem.

Still, the entire piece was tiresome, worse, even, than an SEC team's fans chanting "S-E-C!" after a bowl victory instead of singing their school's fight song. Thankfully, we have Spencer Hall to make fun of these sorts of caricaturized, hackneyed drivel:

My uncle once worked at a turtle factory, where they make turtles and sometimes shotguns and pies. South Carolina had just beaten Georgia, and the plant manager was a big ol' South Carolina fan. He was just standing there, a-hootin' and a-hollerin' about, "woooo Go Cocks" when my uncle just up and popped him in the temple with a .38. THAT'S DEDICATION. Second degree manslaughter got the word "laughter" in it, and that's something I learned by watching Gallagher.
Homespun folk wisdom for its own sake, devoid of real depth or any sort of probing complexity, is an unfortunate way to have to describe something written by a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner like Bragg. I almost feel bad striking at something that is obviously heartfelt, but it is lazy writing, not to mention a passive-aggressive, literarily dressed up version of hollering "S-E-C" over and over again in some poor Yankee's face. 

On "luck." In light of this week's Big 12 previews and the discussion of "luck" with respect to Kansas State's win total and Oklahoma State's defense (i.e. TO margin), this post from Bill C on the issue of luck pertaining to Oklahoma State's 2011 defensive performance was fairly topical:
Let's summarize: Oklahoma State's defense was absolutely a bit lucky in 2011. They picked off about five more passes than they probably should have, and they recovered about four more fumbles than they probably should have. A swing of nine turnovers can obviously make an enormous difference over the course of the season. (They did, after all, benefit from about 3.4 turnover luck points per game.) That said, this defense wasn't based entirely on lucky bounces. Yes, OSU allowed a ton of yards. (They ranked 107th in yards per game allowed.) That's what happens when you a) face Arizona, Tulsa, Texas A&M, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Stanford, and b) do so with your own offense running at a nuclear pace (and therefore face a ton of plays). 
Michigan was also lucky last season, in the colloquial sense as well as the statistical "well that probably wouldn't have happened in most trials" one. Per Bill C, thing that are not attributable to luck include defending passes (i.e. interceptions+PBUs) and forced fumbles. Things that are mostly luck-based? Fumble recovery and interceptions. The whole "is fumble recovery rate mostly luck?" debate is one that has raged on many times at MGoBlog, and the best answer that I can come up with is this: it is luck and it isn't, which isn't much of an answer at all. Is a certain outcome attributable to "luck" if that outcome's likelihood (i.e. a recovered fumble) can be increased with a specific and narrow focus from a coaching staff? I would say yes and no. You can practice it, but at the end of the day a football is a prolate spheroid that bounces without rhyme or reason, and when you throw a pile of 250-320 pound dudes into the equation, cause and effect is like in a jungle of white noise. Something something preparation something opportunity.

As we all know, Michigan was tied for first in fumble recoveries last year with, you guessed it...Oklahoma State. I will be completely honest. I have the utmost confidence in these coaches, but there's a bubbling undercurrent of worry when you combine the above, the loss of 75% of the defensive line, and a frightening lack of depth at several positions. On the bright side, there aren't very many Big Ten offenses that appear to be exceedingly scary.

Underneath Michigan's #6 scoring defense was a team that was 36th in 3rd down conversion percentage defense, 39th in run defense, and, as mentioned, 1st in fumble recoveries. Against the better offenses on the schedule, namely Notre Dame and Virginia Tech (and Ohio State, obviously), Michigan was decidedly a bend-but-don't break group. Take Martin, RVB, and Heininger away from that defense and that dam starts to get quite a bit leakier, the margin of error smaller.

Of course, guys have gotten better over the summer. I don't mean this to be completely doom and gloom. Michigan's back 7, while not exactly supremely athletic, returns intact and should be very good.  The defensive line has its own questions: Campbell, Roh's move to SDE, Ryan's potential move to WDE, Jibreel Black on the inside, whether or not guys like Washington give us anything, and the overall readiness of Ondre Pipkins.

Instead of thinking about the dispassionate pendulum of turnover "luck" swinging back the other way counter to Michigan's interests, I'm just going to keep saying "trust the coaches" and playing the Jake Ryan running down David Wilson play over and over until September 1st.

Alabama secondary. Some general fluff about the Alabama secondary, Saban's favorite positional group and object of much spleen and OCD-ing. As mentioned in exhaustive detail during the position previews that I did a while back, the Tide have to replace three starters in the secondary, all NFL draft picks (Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, DeQuan Menzie). FS Robert Lester returns, but somebody needs to fill the shoes of the departed top-10 pick Mark Barron at SS. DC Kirby Smart on Vinnie Sunseri (son of new Tennessee DC Sal Sunseri):
"He's not Mark Barron, he's not trying to be Mark Barron; he's trying to be Vinnie and he's done that well," Smart said. "He makes a lot of big plays."
Well, we'll see about that. As for Sunseri's challengers:
Sophomore HaHa Clinton-Dix should also see significant action, especially when Alabama goes to its nickel and dime packages. Five-star freshman Landon Collins, who boasts a strong 6-foot, 202-pound frame, certainly looks the part of an SEC safety but will have to pick up Saban's and Smart's system quickly if he hopes to make an immediate impact.
Clinton-Dix has been talked about as an option at corner as well, so this is no surprise. Either way, all options here are very talented but young and inexperienced. I would imagine that Al Borges would have to find a way to scheme against this relative weakness (and I mean relative).

IT'S RAWLS-ERRING TIME. First of all, official position re: Toussaint. If he plays against Alabama, I would be fairly disappointed.

With that out of the way, I've already figured Toussaint's absence for that game into my worldview, so it's time to think about the backups. Al Borges made an explicit nod to sophomore mooseback Thomas Rawls, which isn't so much a depth chart surprise, really, but an explicit nod from this coaching staff is something worth clinging to on this day, August 9th, 2 Anno Hokeini. 
"We're just going to the next guy -- we're not really changing anything," Borges said during a news conference at Schembechler Hall. "Thomas Rawls is going to be that next guy. Vince is going to do what he's done, and on we go.
 Ramp up the speculation machine, but I have to think that Toussaint is not playing on September 1st. Anyway, in theory a guy like Rawls being Michigan's main option is nice against a team like Alabama. In theory. For a power back to get anything going, you need a line built to block for that sort of back, something that Michigan decidedly does not have. I don't care how "angry" Rawls runs, but I'm pretty much having visions of Rawls having to run through guys in the backfield just to get back to the line of scrimmage. A power back that hasn't really proven anything other than the fact that he can run over Jarrod Wilson plus a line that is good to very end at tackle but not exactly powerful in the interior, seems to me a recipe for a 10-12 carry, thirty-something type performance.

For some reason, I think that Stephen Hopkins will have his number called many times on 9/1. Michigan needs to do just enough to afford Denard some credibility and a modicum of space when he does in fact tuck it and run. Borges name dropped Rawls, Vincent Smith, and Justice Hayes, but I think Hopkins has to have his best game of his career of Michigan is going to even match their anemic Sugar Bowl output.

More? UMHoops on Zak Irvin's summer. Spoiler alert: he's very good. Dana Holgorsen got himself a 6-year extension at WVU. That noise was the collective resigned exhalation of Big 12 defensive coordinators everywhere.

From Stewart Mandel's mailbag, he says that Michigan "probably should [be ranked #1]" if Michigan beats Alabama. That would be cool.

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