Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 5/30/2012

I'm not talking about realignment, playoff scenarios, or Jim Delany, Mike Slive, Larry Scott, and Dave Brandon this week. It's beyond our control, and although we are sometimes drawn to it like we are to Yahoo/ESPN/etc. comment sections--it's the spectacle, you see--it is not wise (or healthy) to discuss this stuff over and over again. I'm sure I'm going to go against this suggestion several times between now and September 1st, but this week we'll talk about things that aren't completed steeped in the fog of runaway speculation. You know, football...that game that all the hemming and hawing is supposedly about?

"Look at my face: I really really hate bubble screens."

Borges vs. Saban, Part III. We can only hope that the third installment of this series does not go as poorly for Michigan as Godfather III went for the eyeballs of everyone that paid money to see it. In lieu of yesterday's name drop of Borges at the end of the Alabama linebackers preview, this is probably timely re: previous meetings:
Borges also faced Saban twice while at Auburn, and beat him both times -- but it was a struggle to do so.
The first matchup came in 2004, when Saban was still head coach at LSU. Borges' SEC-best offense, which averaged 32.1 points per game, was held to 10 points.
The second meeting came in 2007, Saban's first year at Alabama. Borges won again, but Auburn scored just 17 points, a touchdown off its average of 24.2 points.
So, yeah...Borges "bested" Saban both times, but, really, he didn't. That 2007 Alabama team was Saban's first in Tuscaloosa...the Tide finished 7-6 (4-4) that year. Auburn scored less than every other Alabama conference opponent save Vanderbilt (Mississippi State and Tennessee both also put up 17 on Alabama). Even Louisiana Monroe managed 21 points in what is one of the more forgotten upsets in recent times.

As for the 2004 Auburn-LSU game...I was at the '04 Auburn-UGA game, and I remember these things: 1) Cadillac and Ronnie Brown running all over the place 2) Junior Rosegreen's hit on Reggie Brown and 3) a very, very sad UGA fan sitting in front of me. That Auburn team was simply insane, and Borges would have had to do quite a bit to sabotage that offense. He very nearly did this, as Auburn won that one at Jordan-Hare by the grit-tastic score of 10-9. To be fair, LSU was not bad at all that season: ignoring the Auburn loss, LSU suffered only one other regular season loss (a thumping at the hands of UGA) before going on to lose via Drew Tate Hail Mary in the Citrus Bowl.

I would probably expect a similar result on September 1st (underperformance relative to season-long ppg/yardage trends). That sounds like I'm making some sort of value judgment, but really I'm just confirming that, you know, offenses usually perform worse than they typically do when faced with the best defense on their schedule (news at 11). That's not to say that I think Saban and Smart will be in Borges's head like Professor X, it just seems that Michigan's best chance at winning this one will mirror the 2012 Sugar Bowl "game plan":a little luck, a little non-ironic grit, some bending but not breaking, and did a mention bags of pure luck emblazoned with Jareth Glanda's face instead of the ubiquitous dollar sign? I just don't see Michigan having the ability to put together a lot of long drives, but I would love for Al and the guys to prove me wrong.

Otherwise, Michigan will have to count on some uncharacteristic herpin' and derpin' from the Alabama offense and some young linebackers looking like confused tourists in a foreign land.

Raise your hand if you are surprised by this? I don't why this has fomented such an uproar since this has happened before (see: Gardner, Devin), but oh well. It's just a game, fergodsakes. The scary thing is, no matter how many time people express the aforementioned truism, people that believe otherwise will continue to exist.

For all the perks and benefits that come with being a college football player, it is unfortunate that they must come as part of a package that results in millions of middle-aged maniacs knowing who they are and what they're saying while giving said crazies access to said players via social media and other outlets of creepiness. I suspect that these people have always existed, it's just that social media and the Internet at large have given them an outlet through which to express their unique brand of crazy.

Dear weirdos: get in your car and drive to a little town called Perspective. Nota bene: this town does not exist, anywhere, but I'm hoping that, in tricking you into driving all over the place in search of this fictional town, you may or may not acquire some actual perspective along the way. It's kind of an On The Road for the college football-obsessed crazy person: crazy college football man goes on journey, looking for perspective, man. This version would be infinitely more interesting than the actual book, which does not age like wine and is only good if you are: 1) a teenager or 2) a hipster. ANYWAY.

Lastly: hey there SI headline. What you did there...I see it.

Insert Casablanca quote. Jerry Hinnen takes a look at the over/under win totals for the SEC West, which of course added Texas A&M to the fold (good luck with that, Aggies). I'm not a gambling guy at all, but hey, at least we're talking wins and losses here and not bowl revenues and how Dave Brandon is the worst, you guys. The aforementioned O/Us come via Beyond The Bets, which shows Michigan coming in for an O/U of 9.5, FWIW.

I'd pretty much have to agree with all of those assessments except for Arkansas, who I don't see getting 9 wins in 2012 (O/U 8.5). I would also be surprised if Auburn wins 8+ this season: Brian VanGorder's hair can only do so much, although losing shipping Ted Roof off to Happy Valley is what they call addition by subtraction. As for taking the over on Mississippi State's 7.5...don't know about that one. The momentum built after the Gator Bowl drubbing Mullen and Co. administered to Michigan is largely gone after a disappointing 2011.

Alabama likely does what it couldn't do in 2011, and by that I mean win its own division. I get the feeling that LSU will slip from its 2011 form, but they'll still win at least 10. The question then is who comes in third, which looks to be Arkansas but that whole John L. Smith thing sort of complicates things. Additionally, the Razorbacks have never been strong defensively, and losing Garick McGee--who left to take the HC position at UAB--doesn't help things. It's unlikely that former Buckeye assistant and new Arkansas DC Paul Haynes will be able to do enough to turn things around there in his first year.

For some reason, I'm envisioning a 2007 scenario unfolding in the SECW this year, where the champion (Alabama, this year) has two losses and the rest of the division is a mass of mediocrity after the second place team (LSU, in my opinion). Can Alabama make the national title game this year with two conference losses like LSU did in 2007? I don't know, but even imagining the possibility, especially after what Alabama pulled off last year, makes me shudder a bit.

Spike Albrecht. Via UMHoops, Joe Stapleton continues the "Getting to Know" series with Spike, who might be the lone thing separating Trey Burke from spontaneously combusting at some point halfway through the B1G schedule. This isn't news or anything, but it's still kind of amazing that Albrecht put on 20 pounds last summer and is still only 165. Dear Spike: please head to your nearest Cottage Inn location. Related concerns:
I never really played AAU, and AAU is big nowadays. But when you’re 5-foot-11, 150 pounds, I mean, I’m gonna get killed out there, so I was never able to do AAU. But for me, I think it was a blessing in disguise because I was just going to get hurt if I’d have played AAU.
The B1G, among other stereotypes, is a little bit more physical than AAU ball. With all due respect to Spike, I'm still feeling fairly uneasy about what Trey's work load might look like in 2012-13. Beilein has also publicly expressed these obvious concerns, but when push comes to shove most coaches will choose running their stars down to a nub if it means putting in a guy like Carlton Brundidge or Eso Akunne, (i.e. guys who are clearly not adequate collegiate ball-handlers). I sincerely hope that Spike does well, pitching in anywhere between 4-7 minutes a game, but I'm not that confident that he'll be able to give Trey all that much more rest than he got last season. This is yet another "I will gladly have you prove me wrong" scenario.

More? Didn't get a chance to read this Weinreb piece on Notre Dame until yesterday...nothing too world-shattering, but I have to admit that I actually laughed out loud at the ND alumnus's question because of how much it reminds me of the fact that ND is just a Catholic version of Michigan. Clearly, 2012 is the year of the LSU Tiger Shrimps. Maize n Brew kicks off Northwestern preview week.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Profilin' the Tide: Linebackers

Previously: General Offensive PreviewOffensive LineTailbacksWide receivers, Tight Ends, and H-backsQuarterbacksGeneral Defensive Preview, Defensive Line 

Did you hear that? That terror-filled screamed reverberating in the distance? That's the sound made when Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower punch through the space-time continuum with reckless abandon, reaching into future times to hogtie the quarterbacks of the future, those that are only small children now, because contemporary targets offer challenges unequal to them. Yes, I am basically comparing them to Predator. That noise, just now, was Don'ta Hightower sacking David Sills, the 13 year old that Lane Kiffin somehow got to commit to USC two years ago: sorry, buddy. At least you're not being coached by Lane Kiffin anymore.* Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower scoff at the "laws" of physics--they're really mere suggestions--and your anatomy's structural integrity. They hit you, and it hurts. 

And now, the good news: they're gone, everybody! They're now the AFC North's and East's problem. Additionally, Alabama lost Jerrell Harris, who more than ably manned the SAM position. Alabama does return some experienced talent--namely, Nico Johnson and CJ Mosley--but losing players of the caliber of Upshaw and Hightower, in addition to a sometimes starter/significant contributor like Harris, is no small task. 

As you know, Alabama's base defense is the 3-4, which asks its down linemen to basically sacrifice themselves so that the linebackers can clean up and make plays. When done correctly, the 3-4 can be a monster of a defense to attempt to attack; the 1997 Michigan defense says hello. Guys like Terrence Cody and Josh Chapman at the nose have allowed Alabama's talented linebackers to do their thing en route to significant chunks of guaranteed rookie contract money. Guys like Rolando McClain, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, and others, have stood on the shoulders of giants, if you will. 

*Or...are you? Maybe this future time-space is one in which Lane Kiffin is offered the Dallas Cowboys head coaching job, and accepts it...but not before telling everyone in the state of California that Five Guys is better than In 'n Out and putting enough money in every jukebox in the metro LA area to play "Call Me Maybe" for the rest of time. That is plausible. 

The Starters 
Again, the standard "these are somewhat nominal" refrain goes here, but the starters as of right now would seem to look like so: 

CJ Mosley (WLB)-Nico Johnson (MLB)-Adrian Hubbard (SLB)-Xzavier Dickson (JLB)

For what it's worth, Hubbard and Dickson are listed as contenders for both the Jack and SLB spots, but returns from spring ball indicate that Dickson has the reins for the Jack position which Courtney Upshaw vacated in order to go destroy quarterbacks at the professional level. Also, when Alabama shifts to its nickel sets to combat the more wide open teams it faces (e.g. Arkansas), the SLB is the first to come off the field, which is why Jerrell Harris wasn't the constant presence that you'd expect of a starting linebacker. 

There is another scenario in which Trey DePriest fills in at MLB, with Johnson sliding out to Will and Mosley rotating there fairly liberally. Johnson has played both positions, so it would seem that a lot of this depends on how DePriest looked to the staff throughout the spring/will look during fall practice. It's plausible that, against Michigan, Saban will side with his experienced lineup, slotting Mosley at Will and Johnson at Mike, as Alabama will have the rest of the season to work DePriest into the lineup. DePriest will play, though, as Saban loves nothing more than giving offenses multiple looks. Whereas Michigan couldn't do a single thing right under Greg Robinson, the Tide under Saban's robotic tutelage execute multiple defenses with a cold efficiency. 

In short, I've ready many conflicting spring reports and depth charts from various sources across the Great Wide Variably Reliable Internet, so I'm just going to lay out the basics here without sweating the positions, because the positions and their accompanying skill sets are somewhat interchangeable. 

Please just wait one extra week to be really good okay thanks 

Adrian Hubbard (6-6, 248) is a rising redshirt sophomore, meaning that 2012 will be his third season in the program. After taking a redshirt in 2012, Hubbard played in 8 games last season, contributing 9 tackles as a backup Jack linebacker. Hubbard is not quite as big as Upshaw was, which is to be expected given his relative youth. Spring practice was apparently a good time for Adrian Hubbard, capped by a monster performance during the April 14th A-Day game (yes, spring games don't matter something something). Either way, there's not much to say here, as Hubbard's reputation at this point rides almost completely upon the wings of his recruiting hype and optimistic spring ball reports. That is to say that, you know, he's completely unproven. I would be lying if I said that Hubbard isn't the most important player in this group for the 2012 season. 

Hubbard's supreme athleticism led to questions of whether or not he might lace 'em up for Coach Anthony Grant on the hardwood. This did not come to pass, but could you imagine a 6-7 225 guy playing the 4; if he has any sort of basketball skill, his size and athleticism would make him a prime candidate for an NBA career (this is completely speculative, fyi). Although it seems a bit odd to dub Hubbard the "X factor" of this group when another starting linebacker named "Xzavier" exists, I think it is an apt descriptor. The Jack linebacker is the difference between just another solid defense that stops the run pretty well and one that makes life for opposing offenses a futile series of painful failure for approximately 3 seemingly interminable hours. So, no pressure, Adrian. 

Speaking of Xzavier Dickson--whose first name is a spectacular instance of adherence to pure phonetics in naming--is the other linebacker with above average pass rushing ability on the roster. Again, it appears that he's still in the mix for time at SAM, but for now it looks like Dickson will man the Jack position. Otherwise, if Hubbard ultimately wins the JLB competition, Dickson slots in at SAM, replacing Jerrell Harris. Dickson, listed at 6-3 262, is a full 20 pounds heavier than Harris, which would seem to make the decision of whether or not to take him off the field on passing downs even easier. In fact, Dickson worked with the defensive ends last season, notching time as a backup (in addition to some special teams reps). The link includes video of Dickson running around doing drills and such, if you're the sort of person to go on crazed extrapolative benders induced by brief and meaningless practice clips. Either way, he looks the part of the SAM. However, concerns re: experience are even more relevant here than they are for Hubbard. 

Nico Johnson is one of two bringers of experience and linebacking wisdom for the Crimson Tide. As a senior, this group will be looking to him for guidance. Johnson's flexibility is also a boon for the defensive staff, as he has logged starts at both the WLB and MLB positions throughout his career. Save the first LSU game last season, Johnson didn't necessarily light up the stat sheet, but that can be understandably difficult to do when one occupies that same playing field as Hightower and Upshaw. Sometimes, there's just not much left. 
CJ Mosley, for the purposes of this post, can basically be considered a starter. In fact, Mosley and Johnson were marked as "co-starters" during fall camp last year, and they did go on to essentially share the WLB position throughout the season. Mosley dislocated an elbow against Arkansas that caused him to miss 2 games. He also sustained a pretty brutal hip dislocation in the national championship game following that hilarious Jordan Jefferson derp-ception. Regardless, Mosley has participated in spring ball, and although he might not be 100%, he should be ready to go on September 1st barring further episodes of spontaneous bodily dislocation. Mosley had a superb freshman campaign back in 2010; I expect him to build upon that this season. Mosley, at 6-2 232, is the smallest and speediest of the bunch, and there's no doubt that he will have his sights set on Denard during most of the game on September 1st.  He's a dynamic guy that can take an interception and turn it into a touchdown going the other way. As such, Mosley is a nickel specialist, but I wouldn't be surprised if he played a significant percentage of the snaps in the base 3-4 as well. 

The Replacements 
In the middle, we have our old friend Trey DePriest, whom many thought was going to be a Wolverine at one point during his recruitment. Of course, that didn't happen, and DePriest is now a sophomore at Alabama. The continuing theme here is youth, and although it's not as if DePriest was handed the position (Tana Patrick, a once big time linebacker recruit, was competing for this spot), I might be slightly worried about DePriest starting if I was an Alabama fan. There's not much to say here other than the fact that we know the potential is there, it just hasn't had the opportunity to manifest itself on the field. 

DePriest did see some game action last season as a true freshman, notching at least one tackle in every game save the Georgia State and Auburn matchups (in which he either didn't play or didn't make his mark on the stat sheet). In the season opener against Kent State, DePriest tallied 10 total tackles. Playing Kent State is like training on Dagobah, though; you might do some things, but how impressive or ultimately meaningful is it until you prove it in a competitive environment (i.e. SEC play/Darth Vader)? 

Tana Patrick is another player competing for time in the middle. The name should be vaguely familiar, as Michigan was once in on Patrick's recruitment several years back. Unfortunately, Patrick will be a redshirt junior this season, having yet to make his mark on the field. Patrick (6-3 236) has seen game action the last two seasons, but apparently nothing meaningful enough to write home about. At this point, it looks like he'll be DePriest's backup. 

The rest of the list here contains mostly fresh faces. Jonathan Atchinson (6-3 236), who looks to back up Dickson/Hubbard at the Jack position, will be a redshirt junior this season. He has the reputation of a guy with speed and play-making ability in the backfield, which is pretty much what the JLB spot calls for. He'll be in the mix, but it's anybody's guess how much of a factor he'll be against Michigan. 

Alabama also boasts talented early enrollees Dillon Lee and Ryan Anderson. Lee has practiced both on the inside and outside positions, whereas Anderson seems to be strictly an outside linebacker. If either play against Michigan, then something has probably gone terribly wrong for either Alabama or Michigan. 

General Spring Minutiae/Encomium That Results In A "Bristling" Saban

We already know about Nico Johnson and CJ Mosley. They've been around and will likely be tasked with calming guys down...with Denard across the way and a hyper-electric stadium, a little nervousness on the part of guys like Hubbard, Dickson, DePriest would be understandable (especially early on). The good news for Alabama is that Mosley seems to have recovered from his hip injury quite nicely
"I wouldn't say 100%, but I'm just getting there every day. Rehabbing is going pretty well. I did a little rehab over spring break, but overall I'm feeling good at practice running around."
That was as of late March, so he should be fine by September barring any further aggravation.

Roll Bama Roll on Adrian Hubbard's A-Day performance:
The standout on defense yesterday was unquestionably Sam linebacker Adrian Hubbard, who may have had the best spring of any player on the roster. He was a consistently dominant force yesterday and could possibly be considered one of the defensive stars at this point. By putting him at Sam linebacker with Xzavier Dickson at Jack, Nick Saban and company effectively have two Jacks on the field, which largely makes for a true 5-2 base defense and provides countless alignment possibilities.
So, I'm not sure the distinction between what Dickson and Hubbard will be doing on the field is all that significant. Some more Hubbard praise on ESPN's SEC Blog
Hubbard had a monster spring for the Crimson Tide. He takes over for Courtney Upshaw at the Jack position and the people at Alabama think he might be the Tide's top pass-rusher this fall. The rising sophomore earned the Dwight Stephenson Lineman of the Game Award given to the spring game's most valuable lineman after registering seven tackles, including four tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks.
From a late March practice report re: Hubbard and Dickson: 
In one drill, Alabama had not only six defensive backs in the secondary but outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard was deep in the middle, too. Hubbard is a 6-foot-6, 237-pound redshirt sophomore-to-be who backed up Jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw last season. Hubbard was a football and basketball star in high school. He looks as if he can be a playmaker on the defense, but in the secondary in a dime defense? Perhaps that means sophomore-to-be Xzavier Dickson is targeted more as the pass-rushing Jack linebacker.
While the SLB/JLB positions aren't set in stone, one thing is for sure: Saban will throw a more than a few looks at Michigan, no matter who is on the field for the Tide. Borges has all summer to come up with a way to combat each set; however, at the end of the day, Denard and Co. need to go out and make Borges's schematic etchings come to life. Even the best laid plans can combust when crossing the river separating conception and reality. 

Things to Think About/Watch Out For/ARE WE GONNA DIE? 

  • This is another "maybe, maybe not" answer to the question of whether we are going to die or not. Guys like Hubbard and Dickson are reportedly excellent athletes with superior pass rushing ability...but, they haven't done it in actual games that matter yet. While I do believe that they are as talented as Alabama partisans are saying that they are, doing it in practice is different from doing it in a game (let alone trying to get around tandem bike aficionado Taylor Lewan). 
  • How much of the game on September 1st will Bama utilize the base 3-4? According to Saban, Alabama has only played out of the 3-4 approximately 20% of the time of late, with the other 80% accounted for by traditional 4-3 sets (in addition to the nickel). As RBR notes, with Dickson and Hubbard on the field at the same time, it also leaves the door open for some unique 5-2 looks and potential mass confusion on Michigan's part. Either way, with Denard's speed and Michigan's lack of a true power running game, Saban will probably be looking to get as much speed on the field as possible, which probably leads one to believe that September 1st will be a busy day for CJ Mosley. 
  • What will Trey DePriest's role be on September 1st? I would think that he wouldn't be on the field in nickel situations, and when Bama moves to a traditional 4-3 look, Nico Johnson can/will man the MIKE position. The former 5-star 'backer will have his day in the sun, but I'm not sure that the Michigan game will provide his best chance to shine. 

Meaningless Grade That I Will Give Out Anyway
In spite of the talent that exists here, I would be the most worried about this position group if I was an Alabama fan. This group could be given an A based on talent alone, but I have to give them a B simply because, outside of Mosley and Johnson, there is very little game experience to be found. Dickson, Hubbard, and DePriest are all very talented guys that will prove to be very productive players, but it's very difficult for me to imagine them performing on 9/1 at even 75-80% of level that Upshaw and Hightower did last year. No matter how great a defensive mind Saban is and no matter how talented these replacements are, there will be some slippage. 

Ultimately, how much slippage there is will partly determine whether or not Michigan will have a chance at consistently moving the ball. This Alabama front 7 will be very good...but, it is very green. Assuming Michigan's offensive line holds up adequately, I'm confident that a veteran like Al Borges will be able to come up with something to take advantage of Bama's overall lack of experience. Whether that "something" leads to first downs and touchdowns on the field is another issue entirely. After watching Virginia Tech's defense stifle Michigan for most of the game, it's difficult to be too overconfident. Given the multiplicity of the Alabama defense and its overall athleticism, Borges will certainly earn his paycheck if Michigan can score somewhere in the 20s. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 5/24/2012

Just in case you needed a painful reminder. The pair of MNC game losses aside, Ohio State was obscenely dominant throughout the Tressel era: news at 11. From this week's Big Ten mailblog, these two points stand out:
  • Ohio State hasn't lost to the same opponent twice in a row since 2003/04 (Wisconsin--the first being, yes, that game where Robert Reynolds did that thing). 
  • The Buckeyes lost five conference games between 2005 and 2010. My goodness. 
These aren't things you reflexively think about because the previous decade or so is mostly a monolithic bloc of frustrating rivalry immolation. With that said, when you actually look at things like the above--in addition to other similarly shocking-but-not-really-shocking stats and/or anecdotes that make you go CRABLE WHY  or LLOYD WHY PUNT THERE WHY WE'RE NOT WINNING BY THAT MUCH--what the Buckeyes did to the conference was pretty amazing. Say what you will about the strength of the Big Ten during that span, but that is impressive any way you slice it. The odds of a run like that happening anytime soon are not that great. 

With that said, the 2012 schedule for the Buckeyes does feature more than a few opportunities to see the aforementioned streak end. Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Michigan are all distinct possibilities, and who knows what Penn State will look like this year. Three of those five are on the road, so, I think it's safe to say that the streak will come to an end. It's also safe to say that a couple other streaks and records that only fans care about will come to an end, given how high Tressel set the bar. I doubt that the Buckeyes experience the same sort of catastrophic tabula rasa-ing that Michigan got in its transition from Lloyd to RR, but there will be some bumps in the road. How many bumps there'll end up being will be the difference between say, another 6-win season and an 8 or 9 win year in Year 1 under Meyer.

Just here to negate all that retrospective doom and gloom, you guys

Show me the money. In light of the Great Band Fiasco of 2012, you're probably wondering a bit about Michigan's finances and, by extension, how much cash money we netted from the Sugar Bowl. Well, here you go
After expenses were taken out and the Big Ten absorbed the cost of the university's unsold tickets, Michigan brought in $78,916 in profit from its trip to New Orleans, according to records received by WolverineNation as part of a Freedom of Information request.
The headline doesn't include all pertinent information (not that it can be expected to), but, either way, your visceral reaction of "pfft, that's it" might not be completely wrong. I still don't think it's unreasonable to wonder why the "guys in blazers" that everybody euphemistically refers to get paid so much to do so little. Bowl directors and general hangers on remind me of Turtle from Entourage in that they are completely useless vis-a-vis their role in the entire operation. This is bad because anything that reminds me of Entourage or a character from it is probably a pretty terrible thing. 

Naturally, everybody in the Big Ten who is anybody thinks that semi-final home games would be a bad idea. They would make money, which I thought was what this was all about, but I guess they would also preclude generally anonymous B1G administrators from having ritzy times in warm weather bowl locales for a few days. Emphasis mine: 
Michigan spent $423,574 to transport the 379 people comprising the team and staff to New Orleans for the game, $297,183 for the 319 members of the band and cheerleading squads and $16,470 to transport 31 members of the school's "official party," which Ablauf wrote comprised "non-athletic department personnel: Regents, president and university officials."
Jim Delany is Vincent Chase if the latter had an entourage that enjoyed exquisite cheese spreads and maintained an average age of no less than 60. Okay, obviously I'm joking a little bit here (it's not like $16,000 and change is all that much in the grand scheme of things anyway), but there's probably a little truth to the point that these guys have a personal stake in this.

On a somewhat unrelated note, the other main takeaway from all of this for you, the fan: things are a lot more expensive than you think. Those transportation, food, and lodging costs are kind of staggering. It's not right for Brandon to Machiavelli his way into getting people to pay for the band, but, can you blame him?

DB: slowly making me back away from the "let's laugh at the hate-everything-DB-does-people" table. I have moved on from the fact that we will likely never get the chance to see a team from below the Mason-Dixon line come up to the frigid North to play the game of football. Football, you see, is a delicate game that can always be played under the most pleasant of conditions. The willingness to "roll over," ostensibly for the sake of compromise, is irritating; however, much of the ire against Delany et al is admittedly better directed at the other participants in this playoff debate, simply because they have strength in numbers with respect to this particular issue.

Still, Dave...come on, man. I mean, sometimes I wonder if the Big Ten brass are representing, you know, the Big Ten's interests, what with the comments regarding the "unfairness" of getting teams from warm parts of the country (see: everywhere that isn't the B1G, apparently) to play up north in December/January, and now this.

Not only did DB not support a playoff at all (it's not like he has a choice now), he didn't even feign support for campus site semi-finals and now he's saying that he's against even having neutral site games in the Midwest: 
"The one thing that kind of gets left out of this discussion that maybe ought to get some weight are the kids," he said Friday during WTKA's Mott Takeover. "Now, I know a lot of people don't really care about that part, but I do, and if you polled our players and said, 'If you played a really tough, successful, long regular season, the award you're going to get is to travel to Ford Field or Lucas Oil Stadium,' they would look at you and say, 'Huh?'
I just don't know what to say anymore. I've been far less critical of DB than most people, but this is starting to get absurd. If Brandon has done some even somewhat scientific polling of Michigan players on this issue of "travel convenience/de facto home field advantage vs. going somewhere warm and awesome like Orlando WOO" then I'd love to see it. I doubt that happens, because bringing up "the kids" is a good way of making any critics tantamount to "oh, so you hate the kids huh?"I am not at all saying that DB (and others) don't care about the players, it's just that saying these decisions are being made because of what the players want is maybe a little disingenuous. Maybe I'm being overly cynical.

General superconference thoughts. Stuart Mandel talks about, among other things, why a conference champions only playoff model would negatively impact the importance of the regular season. I don't necessarily disagree with his arguments, but I'm of a mind that superconferences are going to happen. As nonsensical and unnatural as the concept may seem when you look at a map, it's actually a much tidier plan, especially when juxtaposed with what is being discussed within the context of the current conference by conference landscape. As long as the Big East and ACC exist, they will have to be considered in a non-superconference playoff.

A few stray thoughts related to my post from the other day on the issue. It's easy to become enamored with the symmetry of the superconference model: 4 conferences, 16 teams each, 4 playoff spots that require teams to do one simple thing, i.e. win their conference. Very clean and very simple. What's that Alabama, you didn't win your division or your conference? NO SOUP FOR YOU.

In a sense, this setup would mimic the NCAAB tournament model in a roundabout way. I know this sounds like a bad thing, because, after all, everyone complains about how vastly unimportant the college basketball is compared to the Big Dance. The Final Four is not comprised of the "best" teams each and every year, but rather the teams that made it through their respective regions. In this sense, the college football regular season would essentially become the first four rounds of the Big Dance, with the 4 team playoff of course mirroring the Final Four.

Yes, lawsuits will rain down from the sky if this happens. Also, someone mentioned this on MGoBlog the other day (I can't remember who or where it was, but if I find it I'll update), but there really isn't a centralized entity or any pervasive force that's pushing realignment to happen, let alone pushing each of the four conferences to exactly 16 teams. The more that I think about this point, the more that I wonder whether or not even teams even exist to fill out the rest of the Big Ten (Notre Dame, Rutgers...and? Maybe Virginia Tech if they don't land elsewhere?), and even the Pac 12.

The SEC, however, is already at 14. The Big 12, if the completely reliable rumblings are to be believed, might be getting ready to go on an expansion spree that is positively Supermarket Sweep-esque. What would force the B1G and Pac 12 to expand if both the SEC and Big 12 got to 16? Does the Big 12 event want 16, or is it just looking to add teams so that its figurative EKG machine stops flat-lining every so often, something that was a daily torment for the conference not too long ago? You know, kind of like stocking up on water jugs and batteries, just in case*. I don't really have answers to these questions, but when you throw out the inevitability that is "lawyers from have-not schools running around all nimbly bimbly," the whole non-conference games becoming obsolete thing, and the ongoing cognitive dissonance of "this is about the kids" while forcing said kids to travel outrageous distances for conference games...well.

Maybe superconferences aren't such a great idea after all. Symmetry is nice, though.

*Yes, the Big 12 is Dale Gribble. Yes, I am a fan of 1990s television.

More? I don't have much to say about this, but I will say this: whenever the apocalypse comes to pass, I'm pretty certain that Gene Smith will still somehow be the AD at OSU when all is said and done. It's like Smith has spent the entire time since Tressel's departure saying questionable things and then going "hey everybody look over there!"...and then everybody does, and here we are over a year later and he's still the AD and nobody has seemed to notice.

Jim Delany doesn't want to talk about it, because discussing one's finances is tacky and unbecoming of a Big Ten Man. Some good recruiting buzz from UMHoops on Michigan's point guard of the future (and others). Via Michigan Today, a look at Jim Abbott's recently released memoir, Imperfect: An Improbable Life

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Profilin' the Tide: Defensive Line

Previously: General Offensive PreviewOffensive LineTailbacksWide receivers, Tight Ends, and H-backsQuarterbacks, General Defensive Preview 
As we shift our focus to the defense, it's best to start up front. The defensive line in the 3-4 is fairly underappreciated as a collective entity; without a strong one, guys like Hightower and Upshaw don't look nearly as good. Alabama linebackers get all the love from the media (and NFL general managers), but the line is what makes all of that possible in the first place. For quick and easy reference, here is the post-spring unofficial depth chart from Roll Bama Roll. 

Alabama loses a couple key players from last year's championship team (NTs Josh Chapman and Nick Gentry); Chapman's starting role is being filled by Jesse Williams, whom had made the move over from defensive end.  Gentry was a solid rotational type guy on the inside, contributing 20 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 5 TFL in his 11 game appearances last season. 

Luckily for Alabama, they do return quite a few faces from last year's team. This won't be a completely inexperienced group by any means, and you can imagine that they will still be supremely talented, even if it doesn't always manifest itself on the stat sheet. 

The Starters 
As mentioned a number of times before, Jesse Williams (6-4, 320) is taking his talents to the middle of the defensive line after playing out the last two seasons at SDE. Normal position switch caveats indicate that no matter how good a player is, switching positions will lead to at least a little slippage in productivity. In this situation, however, I don't think it's all that wise to get your hopes up. 

Yeah, that's Jesse Williams...of course. 
Williams looks the part, and I can't imagine that we will necessarily feel physically overwhelmed at any point in the season, let alone against the interior of Michigan's offensive line (the trio of Mealer-Barnum-Omameh aren't exactly Baas-Pearson-Lentz). Still, a lack of game experience in the position is a lack of game experience, and Michigan might be able to use Williams's own strength and momentum against him with a steady diet of zone runs and quick, West Coasty passes that Al Borges probably dreams about (no bubble screens, obviously...they're undignified). 

"It's a bit more close quarters as far as people, a lot more crunching with a lot of different people instead of just going with the tackle or the gap," Williams said. "It's not too serious."

If you feel like killing just under 6 minutes, here's a video of Williams taking on blocks and doing the general yeoman work--"crunching"--that a 3-4 lineman has to do. 

At the strong side end position, Quinton Dial (6-6, 304) looks to fill Williams' old spot. Dial, a 2009 recruit who had to go the JUCO route before qualifying at Alabama, played his first season with the Tide last year. Although his official profile indicates that he played nose guard at Mississippi Community College, he is a SDE with pass rushing being his forte. However, he only notched 1 sack last season (against Kent State) in his role as a reserve player. He did also tally 24 tackles, 10 of them of the solo variety. 

Damion Square (6-3, 286) will man the other end position. Unlike Dial, the redshirt senior Square is a veteran player for the Crimson Tide. After tearing his ACL in 2009, Square came back to play in all 13 games in 2010 (starting 6 of them) and starting every game last season. If this was MGoBlog, Damion Square would be a "trusted user." 

Square notched 30 tackles, 7 TFL, and 1 sack in 2011. 

The Replacements 

On first glance, there is quite a bit of youth and inexperience backing up the aforementioned starters. On second glance, well...there's still a lot of youth and inexperience sitting on the depth chart behind Square, Williams, and Dial. 

Backing up Williams in the middle is redshirt-sophomore-to-be Brandon Ivory. Ivory is the rare former generic 3-star on the Alabama defense. According to his profile, he was a late commitment, choosing Alabama over Memphis and Southern Miss, which is not unlike choosing to eat at Ruth's Chris over Rally's and Hardee's. Ivory did play some last year, but not a whole lot is known about him at this point, other than the fact that he's appropriately sized for the NT position (6-4, 315). 

Dial's main understudy appears to be Ed Stinson, who started out his Alabama career at the Jack linebacker position. Unlike Ivory, Stinson has some useful game experience. After redshirting in 2009, Stinson notched two starts in 2010. Perhaps the most impressive performance of his career came at home against Penn State, during which he tallied a team high 9 total tackles (5 solos, all on running plays), and a pair of QB hurries. The Nittany Lions couldn't do much at all that day; Stinson's play was a big factor in that (another reason: Rob Bolden). He's dubbed a "consistent run-stopper and a good pass rusher." Personally, I would not be surprised to see him take over the starting role from Dial (which might as well be a nominal designation at this point anyway), although I have to point out that that is just my own opinion; I'm not sure if that sentiment is reflected by Alabama fans. In any case, as the 2010 PSU game demonstrates, Stinson is a guy that can have a significant impact on a game, even in a non-starting role. 
Ed Stinson
Spelling Damion Square at the other end spot is Jeoffrey Pagan, who wears a single digit number, thus reflexively calling to mind other world destroying defensive ends, such as former Gator Carlos Dunlap and Jadeveon Clowney. For whatever reason, I see a single digit number on an SEC team and think "yup, that's a first round draft pick," and I'd probably say this even if the guy had knees constructed solely of Golden Flake potato chips. 

While it's obviously too early to anoint Pagan the next great Alabama lineman, early returns are encouraging. As a recruit, his offer list was a veritable who's who of college football, a list that includes "Norte Dame." Norte Dame exists in an alternate universe in which Tommy Reese doesn't turn the ball over, Freekbass doesn't exist, and bowl victories are so plentiful as to be exorbitant. 

Additionally, Pagan, a true freshman in 2011, did get on the field some. He made six appearances last season, tallying 4 total tackles in the process. I'm not sure how much of a role he'll have on September 1st, but I'd look for him to at least appear in every game this season. 

As far as experienced backups go, Undra Billingsley will be a redshirt senior in 2012 and has seen game action in just about every single game the past two seasons at defensive end. Re: 2011 recruits, DJ Pettway and LaMichael Fanning look to figure into the rotation this season after taking redshirts last year. 

As far as the incoming class goes, Nick Saban apparently recruited defensive tackles like RR recruited Lilliputian slot receivers. Given the nature of the 3-4, I'd imagine that there is some significant flexibility there with respect to a high school DT being either a college NT or a SDE. The Tide signed a whopping five DTs in the 2012 class (3 3-stars, 2 4-stars), and understandably so. Alabama had to move Jesse Williams to the interior despite ideally wanting to keep him at end, and it doesn't appear that there is much in the way of established quality backing Williams up. With that said, I'm not sure that any of the incoming recruits here deserve specific mention, mostly because I doubt any of them notch meaningful time on September 1st. 

General Spring Minutiae/Encomium That Results In A Bristling Saban 

Spring practice has long since ended, so this section may or may not be obsolete at this point. Regardless, Damion Square has some nice things to say (i.e. boilerplate spring talk) about the new iteration of the Alabama defensive line: 
“We are very big but very athletic,” Square said of the defensive linemen. “Not saying that the guys before weren’t athletic but these guys -- pretty much all across the board they can play any position up front and get the job done.” 
 He may be right re: athleticism, but the whole "last year's guys were good and all but look at us now" isn't a new thing. Let's not forget that Alabama won a national championship last season.

On the heels of the A-Day game, RBR had this to say about the DL:

On the defensive side of the ball, the rotation at defensive end was as strong as expected, holding up well at the point of attack and disrupting numerous plays against quality competition. Jesse Williams was very impressive at nose guard, but here too depth remains a legitimate question. Brandon Ivory looks to be taking a step in the right direction, as does Jeoffrey Pagan, but whether either of them could be called upon to anchor the line against top-flight SEC competition is unknown. Both need more time in the strength and conditioning program and better hand work. 
Jeoffrey Pagan notched a pair of sacks in the A-Day game. Otherwise, the rest is boilerplate spring talk.  The line performed admirably for the most part, working to hold Jalston Fowler to 22 yards on eight carries. TJ Yeldon did rack up 189 yards of total offense, but he was playing with the second-team offense.

Things To Think About/Watch Out For/ARE WE GONNA DIE?
  • As usual, starting with the question first: maybe, but probably (hopefully) not. That's not to say that Alabama's defensive is not very good, it's just that it's not as world destroying as you might imagine. Also, it's important to remember that any issues either team might have will be underscored by the simple fact that this is the first game of the season. 
  • As mentioned before, but can Jesse Williams get acclimated to the nose in time for the Michigan game? Again, no matter how good Williams was at end, playing nose is a completely different animal. Williams's size and/or general modus operandi as a player lead one to believe that he'll be just fine, but until you see a guy do it on the field he remains somewhat of a question mark. With that said, if he's absorbing or splitting double teams from Barnum and whomever with regularity, Michigan might not get into the double digits in this game. That is, of course, the worst case scenario. 
  • Damion Square seems to be locked in at one of the end positions, but other side seems slightly open-ended. Quinton Dial appears to be the starter as of right now, but Ed Stinson showed some serious ability in his first year on the line (after moving from the JLB position). Both have seen playing time, and while not exactly the most experienced players ever, they are certainly not green. This will be a position to monitor once fall practice starts. 
  • Alabama is as athletic as you'd imagine them to be on the defensive line. The odd man front presents a different sort of challenge for Denard Robinson and Al Borges. With Williams in the middle and speed up the edges, Michigan will need to bring arguably its most creative gameplan since the Capital One Bowl against Florida if it wants to put up enough points to have a chance to win this game. 
Meaningless Grade That I Will Give Out Anyway 
Alabama's situation up front is not nearly as dire as Michigan's; however, questions still remain, questions that likely won't be answered until Michigan and Alabama hit the field on September 1st. Although Jesse Williams looks to be another standout in a long line of ground game destroying interior defensive linemen, he is still relatively new to the game of football. As such, it's not unreasonable to expect some growing pains with this position switch. Additionally, the rest of the depth chart at the position is not exactly that much rosier than what Michigan is currently staring in the face. 

On the bright side, Alabama does have a lot more depth at end. Damion Square and Dial/Stinson should provide a nice run-stopping presence paired with good pass rushing ability. There's a bevy of talented options, young and old, backing up the starters here, and Michigan should expect to see at least a couple of them on gameday. 

Again, meaningless grade and all, but I'm going with a B+ here. This line will be pretty good when all is said and done, but I don't get the feeling that this is a unit that will completely outclass Michigan's offensive line. With that said, if the opposite turns out to be true, then this game will turn out to be an ugly, losing version of the Sugar Bowl. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Not Unexpected Occurrence

College football is an ecosystem unto itself; it expands and expands until it cannot anymore, often doing so at irregular and asymmetrical intervals--on the surface, at least--and seemingly without rhyme or reason or any sort of guiding hand. Teams try their hand and fail. Others, over time, improve their fitness and survive, live on, and prosper until someone else surpasses them or a catastrophe occurs (tough hand, dinosaurs). Then, conditions change once again, and the evolutionary adaptations that were once existential kevlar vests become useless. If Darwin were alive today and enjoyed watching sports, I have no doubt that he would find the most thematic overlap between his subject matter and sport within the realm of college football. 

Charles Darwin, the first college football fan

This is all to say that the next big thing is coming, and by that I mean the somewhat dread notion of the "superconference." As the realignment craze began with Nebraska's defection and carried onward throughout the last two years, the concept of superconferences was always there, lingering in the background like an unpleasant memory or the realization that it's Sunday and you should probably do some laundry, man. The whole thing seemed tacky, the college football equivalent of replacing every 5-star restaurant in America with a bloated monstrosity Golden Corral. It seemed inevitable, but inevitability does not have to precede acceptance. 

While this has always been something that you don't need to be Nostradamus to have presaged, it seems that the media is slowly starting to hint at college football's eventual transition into the superconference age. Tom Fornelli of CBS asks the question outright: "Is college football moving toward four superconferences?" Therein, he links to a piece from the Dallas Morning News, in which a source from the Big 12 said the following (on the heels of the recently inked Big 12-SEC agreement): 
I really can't believe I'm saying this," one Big 12 school source said. "We might be moving to four superconferences -- and the Big 12 would be one of those.
Its sort of amusing to see everyone involved in this little game of chess feigning disbelief at this potential outcome, but the fact that people--like this Big 12 source--are being explicit about this says that this is almost definitely going to happen. I would imagine that this is only the beginning of the media talking about superconferences authoritatively rather than in pointlessly secretive, hushed tones. Come on, College Football, we all hear you whispering bad things about Eastern Michigan in the corner. You clearly don't embrace the process. 

The aforementioned source of course goes out of his way to mention that yes, the Big 12 will be one of these superconferences. Naturally, someone's going to be left out. In the interest of brevity, the ACC and the Big East are likely going to be tossed to the dustbin of history, having failed to, by way of evolution, develop the correctly shaded plumage or the most fearsome set of teeth. 

The ACC and the Big East; going the way of the dodo

Florida State has handled its potential move poorly, to be sure, but I can't imagine that they don't end up in the Big 12: 1) because they're FSU, and the Big 12 will want them and b) the 'Noles are fighting for survival here. This isn't about whether or not they can afford to leave the ACC, or if it is advantageous in the here and now; if they don't bounce, they're done. By the way, this makes the Big 12's survival even more evolutionarily impressive. Catalyzed by unadulterated survivalist instinct, the Big 12 conference has lifted itself from its nearly made bed of extinction; Darwin nods in approval. 

Similarly, schools like Clemson and Georgia Tech could very easily find homes in the SEC (thus bringing that league to 16). Paul Myerberg of Pre-Snap Read does a little thought experiment regarding this hypothetical domino effect. This all seems less and less hypothetical by the day: 
Here’s another fear: This new partnership is just the first domino to fall. The chasm between the four new leaders – Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC – and the rest of the F.B.S. provides another impetus for Florida State and Boise State to bolt to the Big 12. The SEC moves to 16 teams, taking Clemson and Louisville; suspend your disbelief in this scenario.
The Pac-12 moves to 16 teams. The Big Ten adds Notre Dame Rutgers and others to get to 16 teams. The SEC is at 16. The Big 12 gets to 16 teams. These 64 teams become college football. The remaining 60 teams are filler, fluff. They become the new F.C.S. – the new have-nots, minus the playoff.
To continue the Shakespearean bent of that post: therein lies the rub. Although haves and have-nots obviously clearly exist right now, it has become increasingly difficult to realize and reconcile with the fact that schools like UT-San Antonio, UMass, Georgia State, and many others, are joining the FBS ranks. In lay economic terms, this is like falling in love with plastic money. In ecological terms, this is blatant overpopulation. In middle school science class terms: within the diverse ecological community that is college football, there is currently a glut of snowshoe hares compared with not too many lynxes. Can you guess what happens next? 

The problem with all of this is that while I find the superconferences strange and probably even distasteful and/or deleterious to the game of college football, I have also complained about the multitude of FBS teams and FBS teams-to-be that simply have no business competing at that level as things currently stand. I know that it's a convenient statement to make for me, a Michigan fan, but that's just the way it is. I fear that the age of the superconference could both not make the conundrum that is crowning a champion any easier or more equitable while simultaneously continuing to NFL-ize and dilute the sport that we love. In short, superconferences sound like an economically and/or evolutionarily sound idea on paper, but I worry that it might end up representing the worst of both worlds. 

Maybe teams would play more conference games in the Superconference Era, and maybe the cupcake games against the have-nots would consequently get phased out as these teams will have essentially become meaningless non-participants occupying lower rungs of the food chain. Still, think of all the things that will be lost. College football is far from perfect, but it will be losing a lot of heart and sensibility if this is the evolutionary path the game is pursuing on a macroscopic level. Casualties are expected--this is evolution, after all--but these new conferences, more ponderous associations or federations then "conferences," will be based upon administrative, not regional or cultural lines. There are, of course, many instances of this specific brand of folly littered through the course of history like so many glaring lights in the distance gone unheeded.