Friday, August 31, 2012

Alabama Preview: Banking On The One

Brief note: I will attempt ("attempt" being the key word) to have these preview posts up on Friday each week around lunchtime. The grad school thing may prevent that from happening, but we'll see how it goes. I should be good to go for about the first month...after that, things might get a little dicier. 

The Exposition

Time: 8 ET, ABC
Place: Cowboys Stadium--Arlington, TX
Line: Alabama -13.5
Mood: !!!!!!!+unceasing anxiety

I spent my high school years in Alabama, coinciding exactly with the Mike Shula era. This was a few months after the Mike Price fiasco, not to mention Dennis Franchione's controversial departure for Texas A&M a few months before that. Add NCAA sanctions to the mix and a new head coach in Shula* (who had been a career NFL guy to that point, and never a head coach), and you could say that things were not turning up Milhouse.

At the same time, my high school years as a Michigan fan were about as good as you could ask of your program within a 4-year window. John Navarre went out and won a Big Ten championship in 2003 to spite his squawking detractors, and Chad Henne rode piggybacked on Braylon Edwards's back in 2004 en route to another one. The 2005 season, "The Year of Infinite Pain", according to Brian, was a paper cut compared to the total system breakdown that was the Rich Rodriguez era. My final season as a high schooler was the 2006 season, of which I don't need to tell you about.

Michigan going 0-4 in its bowl games during that time put a bit of a damper on things, but it was an all around great time to be a Michigan fan, especially one living in Alabama. In retrospect, it seems almost unthinkable for Alabama to have a 4-win season and two 6-win seasons in a 4-year span, but it happened between 2003 and 2006.

Enter Nick Saban, and that's enough of that whole losing and not being mistake-free cybernetic organisms thing. Say what you will about oversigning, but there is no denying that Saban is one of the best defensive minds in the game. In five seasons, Saban has compiled a 55-12 record; half of those losses came in his first season. Simply put, Alabama has been the best team in the country since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.

Needless to say, in nine years, a whole lot has changed; this isn't 2003, anymore.

*Amusingly, he is now the QB coach for the Carolina Panthers, coaching one Cam Newton. Life has a funny way of working out sometimes.

Michigan Offense vs. Alabama Defense 
A note: I started writing this on Tuesday. I am assuming that Toussaint is not going to play, for what it's worth. The same goes for Frank Clark. 

It's hard to decide which Michigan unit has a better chance of getting anything done in this game. As I detailed throughout the summer, this Alabama team is about as talented and athletic as you would expect. So, what's the catch? There is a catch, right?

Maybe, maybe not. Ask any Alabama fan about their defense and they will talk to you about RELOADING and 5-star recruits everywhere and how this ain't 2010 (when Alabama had to replace a similar amount of premium defensive talent and then went on to have a "disappointing" 3-loss season). Well, most of it is in fact true. Alabama is talented, and at certain positions, they will rotate guys in and out with relative ease.

However, some Alabama fans are just being unreasonable. I'm sorry. That's not to say that Alabama's defense won't be good (keep in mind that that 2010 defense was still very good) because they absolutely will, or that a defense that is a cut or two below last year's wouldn't still hold Michigan to a relatively low point total.

The simple fact is, no, Alabama fans, your defense will not be as good as last year's was. Then again, last year's defense was historically good, not just good in the context of the 2011 season. Some slippage can be reasonably expected, especially when replacing 7 defensive starters. Yes, I do understand that some of the players replacing these guys have seen some game action (for example, starting corner Dee Milliner), but not all of these guys have gotten meaningful playing time. Adrian Hubbard at SLB, Quinton Dial (was a rotational type guy last year that will be a half-starter along with Ed Stinson at one end position), Deion Belue is a JUCO guy in his first season in Tuscaloosa and a starting corner, Vinnie Sunseri is a true sophomore who did play some last season but has enormous shoes to fill at strong safety, etc.

As you probably know by know, Nick Saban is an evil genius whose defenses run with Gradgrindian efficiency; it's going to be "hard times"** for Michigan indeed if the OL consistently lets rushers through en route to clean shots on Denard. That cannot happen, especially early on in the contest. Nick Saban's Alabama defenses are known for their base 3-4, but Alabama is a fairly "multiple" team. The will also likely throw the 4-3 at us, the 5-2 (with two "Jack"*** linebackers on the field at once), and passing downs have their own special wrinkles for nickle packages. Alabama will throw a lot of different things, and Borges has ostensibly does his homework on all of them. That said, being ready to combat and execute these defensive looks is another battle entirely. FWIW, here's a useful video of Saban explaining the basis for the "Star" and "Money" positions in Alabama's nickel and dime looks.

Some Crimson Tide defenders to focus on at each level of the defense: 6'4'' 320 lb. senior NG Jesse Williams (he's a position switcher moving over from end, although he did play nose in his JUCO days), 6'2'' 232 lb. junior CJ Mosley at ILB (he's not nominally a starter but he basically is based on how much he will actually play, especially against a spread spread-ish team like Michigan), and 6'0'' 215 sophomore strong saftey Vinnie Sunseri (son of a coach!). Mosley in particular is a player to pay attention to when he's on the field. He's not technically a starter, but he's probably Alabama's best linebacker, and he will be on the field in passing situations. He's also Alabama's fastest backer, so expect him to do a lot of this when Denard does dump it off:

Don't get me wrong, I love Vincent Smith, but I'm not sure he will be able to shake Mosley on the edge. However, I think a guy like Justice Hayes could do some damage in this capacity, although that is admittedly based purely on recruiting hype at this point.

If Michigan (i.e. Barnum+Omameh/Mealer) cannot contain the Balrog that is Jesse Williams from getting into the backfield or render him irrelevant by attacking the edges and taking our chances there, it's going to be a long, long day. Remember this picture?

With the pressure that Alabama is sure to bring with the Jack linebacker, bringing Sunseri down into the box, and all other sorts of defensive sorcery, things could very well look like the picture above. I think Denard would agree with me: that is not something we want to happen. Alabama has spent the last few weeks talking about how they're coming for Denard, and why wouldn't they? Unless propelled by magic (4th quarter of the ND game, the entire VT game), if you key on Denard and force him to pass, things probably get ugly. Obviously, that is easier said than done, since not every team has the pure talent to force Michigan's hand in that way. Alabama, like Michigan State, certainly does.

Analogy time! Hoke:defensive line coaching::Nick Saban:defensive backs. Saban and DC Kirby Smart have supreme confidence in their DBs, which is not unreasonable given the talent they have at their disposal and the fact that Saban might be the best and most meticulous teacher of DB technique in the country. It's his special pet project amongst all other coaching duties, much like the DL is to Hoke.

A perfect example of this confidence is the Cover 1 Robber defense, which Chris Brown of Smart Football discussed in his book released earlier this summer (and summarized excellently by this MGoBlog diary). Alabama will put its corners in man coverage with regularity, and this decision is only strengthened by the fact that Michigan's top two receivers are Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon. No offense to either player, but I imagine that neither exactly strikes fear in Saban's robot ersatz heart.

Want to see the Cover 1 Robber in action? You have seen it before, and I apologize in advance for this. If you'll remember, I recently linked to this excellent post from The Only Colors on the now infamous Double A-Gap blitz. Therein, a discussion of one variant, the Cover 1 Robber, was explained in detail. Guess which play that was:

As surprisingly complicated and variegated as that particular blitz is, you can be sure that Alabama has many like this one lined up and ready to go. Denard et al need to have their hot route cues down pat, or the above will very likely occur at some point.

I don't think that Michigan will have much success attacking the middle with the ground least early on. Alabama stuffed everyone, even LSU's paleolithic but effective power running game, and I think that we should expect different results. I don't think that Borges is foolish enough to do this, but if Michigan lines up in the I and attempts to run any sort of traditional power run, you can bet that thousands of Michigan fans will all be throwing up their hands in unison. Unless we're in a short yardage or goal line situation, Michigan cannot afford to waste precious plays by plugging away up the middle. This isn't the 1990s: lightning bolts will not rain down on your head if you don't run to set up the pass.

The problem with that is Michigan has Denard Robinson, who, aside from being a transcendent runner with a fantastic smile, has had some basic mechanical issues in the passing game, not mention trouble reading defenses and reacting to pressure. All of these things do sound like a recipe for disaster against a defense like Alabama's, but we have to assume that Denard has improved throughout the offseason. Playing like he did against Nebraska and Ohio State would be a start, but that's all it would be. The same gaping holes that were there against the Huskers and Buckeyes likely won't be there against Alabama, and if they are they will be closing up a little more quickly.

So, what are the options? Really, there aren't many that don't involve pinpoint execution and, quite frankly, not getting blown back at the point of attack. If either happen, it's over. An UTL-esque miracle is just not going to happen against this team.

***FYI, the JLB is basically the pass-rushing linebacker; last year, it was Courtney Upshaw.

Michigan Defense vs. Alabama Offense 
We've had a couple relatively surprising moves on the defensive side of the ball come to light in the last week. First, Quinton Washington will be playing at the nose position and starting. Next to him is William Campbell, who was going to be play nose until the coaches eventually came to the realization that Black at the 3-tech just wasn't going to work. As such, BWC to the 3-tech and Black back to WDE it is. We won't truly know what the two-deep is actually like until the games begin, but, for now, Black's move is one more obstacle between Mario Ojemudia having to take the field against an Alabama team with a Brobdingnagian offensive line.

Speaking of the offensive line: they are huge. I previewed this position group way back in early April, and not much has changed (actually, nothing has). If you didn't already know, 2011 All-American LT Barrett Jones made the move to center to make room for Cyrus Kouandjio, which speaks to how highly the coaches think of the latter. This is the second move that Jones has mode (he was once a guard), so while position switches are often uncomfortable propositions, Jones has always been lauded as a smart guy and should be more than alright.

Alabama has a bevy of talented tailbacks and wide receivers. Like the secondary and linebackers, experience is the primary issue with most of these guys, although they are by no means completely green. None of these guys are Trent Richardson or Julio Jones, but they might not need to be if the ground game has worn Michigan down as I'm sure Alabama is intending to do.

You probably know about Eddie Lacy by now. He was Alabama's #3 in 2010, Richardson's backup last season, and should be the feature back this season. A pesky injury kept him out of most of spring ball, IIRC (including the A-Day scrimmage), and has still seemed to be banged up as recently as the last week or two. I linked to a video of him doing a short drill with a fairly significant amount of tape on his ankle, which may or may not mean anything.

Saban has used the words "day-to-day", and the fact that he'd be "ready to go in 5 or 6 days"...he said this on August 18th. The more time that passes, the more I get the feeling that he won't be 100% on 9/1. If that is the case, our old friend RS freshman Dee Hart and true freshman TJ Yeldon become the next guys in line. Jalston Fowler, Alabama's #3 last year and the Tide's top mooseback, appears to have made the move to H-back, where walk-on Kelly Johnson has won the starting role in what can be considered the shocker of fall camp (it hasn't been that exciting of a fall camp). Johnson has big shoes to fill, as the H-back is a very important player in Alabama's offense, which should basically stay the same despite the hiring of former Washington OC Doug Nussmeier (last year's OC, Jim McElwain, departed for the Colorado State head coaching job). Brad Smelley was a big time target for McCarron last season on key third downs (he was Alabama's second-most productive receiver in 2011). It's unreasonable to expect Johnson to be as good as Smelley, but he did win the starting nod, so he must be doing something right.

At receiver, Alabama appears to be rolling with 6'0'' 185 sophomore DeAndrew White and 6'2'' 195 junior Kevin Norwood at the "X" and "Z" positions, with 5'11'' 185 sophomore Christion Jones taking the "H" receiver position (i.e. the slot). I was somewhat surprised to see White win the starting over Kenny Bell, Alabama's leading returning receiver, but I'm not sure that it matters much. Bell is a physical, athletic receiver, and McCarron looked to him downfield on occasion last year. AJ and Bell hooked up for a 39-yard and 41-yard TD against Tennessee and Auburn (a flea flicker, FWIW) respectively. Fast forward to 0:35 in the video below to see this in action.

Anywho, Alabama has more, but to continue to name them would be overkill. Here's the thing. Alabama's offense is a little more complicated than it may seem, but in the end this game will be all about those things that make us roll our eyes when guys like Merill Hoge talk about them: toughness, resilience, the ability to bend but not break, completely unironic GRIT. If Michigan is going to get this done, it probably won't be pretty. Alabama will pick up yards on the ground and, inevitably, through the air when Mattison is forced to bring increasingly crazier and riskier blitzes. However, if Michigan can hunker down once Alabama cross the M's 30, not unlike the Sugar Bowl, then I'm saying there's a chance.

I mentioned this back when I took a look at Alabama's quarterbacks and I'll say it again: McCarron is a better player than many Michigan fans are probably giving him credit for. He's a solid player, and yeah, sure, having that team around him certainly helps. However, all you need to do to realize that being a QB for such a team is not so easy is to recall LSU's 2011 season. The quarterbacking during the national title game was so rough that folks with no stake in the result of the game (me, for example) began to plead all over the Internet for Les Miles to PUT IN THE OTHER GUY, a guy who is often known as Jarrett "Pick 6" Lee.

I mentioned that moving QW to nose and Black back to WDE was kind of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but the more thought I give this configuration, the more I like it. That is 600+ pounds (607 according to MGoBlog's Fall Roster Overanalysis) of human being there in the middle. Will it be enough against an interior trio of Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones, and Anthony Steen? Maybe not, but I like Michigan's chances much better with QW than Black.

As for the ends, there was once a point when I was fairly optimistic about this group. Now, not so much. I'm having visions in my head of Beyer and Roh getting handled by Fluker and Kouandjio in the ground game and getting stonewalled in the pass rush, and who knows what kind of player Black will be after adding weight and spending so much practice time on the inside. At this point, any sort of pass rush that Michigan can get from the these guys is gravy, which is a pretty ominous thing to have to say.

With that said, things are rosier in the back 7 for Michigan. As far as tight ends go, Michael Williams is Alabama's starter. He doesn't seem to be anything extraordinary, but he is by no means a liability or anything. He was a red zone target against Penn State last season (and also the recipient of a fake field goal TD pass that Ace linked to here).

Otherwise, I feel pretty confident that Michigan's 'backers will match up in coverage. The only catch is the Williams is 6'6'' and a biscuit under 270. OF COURSE HE IS. When Alabama has Williams and an H-back in the game, odds are you are about to get smashed in the face. He's a blocker and possible red zone guy...basically, what we all hope AJ Williams will one day become.

I feel confident enough in Michigan's safeties not giving up the dreaded big play for the first half or so. But...after that, especially if Alabama has racked up enough yardage that plays like the above dart to Bell can happen? That is the moment that the game is over.

What Needs to Happen, Fergodsakes
On defense:
  • Say it with me now: bend but don't break. I'm sure Mattison has some tricks up his sleeve, but tricks can only do so much when the other team is simply bigger and faster. Michigan is not going to win the stat sheet battle. If Mattison's defense gives up 500 yards and manages to hold Alabama under 31, there is hope. Make them kick field goals (see: 2011 LSU game, Part 1). 
  • Countess and Floyd. Please be in pre-OSU/VT form. Alabama has quite a few talented players at receiver, but I'm not really convinced that there is a star among them (certainly not a Julio type). This goes without saying, but given the probably lack of a front four pass rush, JT and Blake will be on an island more fairly often. The good news is that, after a year of Mattison's diabolical blitzes and aggressiveness verging on over-aggressiveness, they're probably up to the challenge. 
  • Quinton and William. To put it simply, if these two look like they're on skates, there is simply no hope. Again, you can only scheme and mitigate your weaknesses so much. As Saturday approaches, I've become increasingly confident that they'll be able to hold up at least adequately; whether the linebackers can shed Warmack and Steen and tackle the ball carrier--whether an all-around talent like Lacy or a darty sort like Hart--is another story entirely. For the record, I'm fairly confident that Demens, Morgan, and Ryan will do a decent job. Jake Ryan, after QW and BWC, might be the most important player on Michigan's entire team in this game. 
On offense: 
  • No turnovers please. If Michigan turns the ball over, chances are a win is not happening. The margin for error is razor thin. 
  • Get the passing game going early. My nightmare is that Michigan comes out, plugs away on the ground, fails miserably and then sees everything spiral out of control as Michigan tries to pass its way back in the game with a guy like Denard. The slant will be there, and Borges will call upon that old standby, the throwback screen to Gallon to start pushing the Alabama linebackers and safeties away from the LOS. Naturally, if that happens, that's where Denard goes to work. If there's 9 in the box, forget about it
  • Devin Gardner. The wild card-iest wild card who ever wild card'd. If he is a legitimate force at receiver, that could change everything. To be quite honest, after Milliner, the rest of Alabama's corners don't impress me as much as Alabama's new linebackers do. Also, I need to see Sunseri and Clinton-Dix in action before I deem them the second coming of Ronnie Lott. I think that Michigan might get some mileage out of the so called "QB Oh Noes" play, as Brian calls it, what with Sunseri looking to be an involved and aggressive player in the run game. Borges needs to scheme against that position. 
  • Attack the edge, quickly. Yes, SEC speed and all that, but I think that it's just about a waste of time to try (past a token effort) to develop a between-the-tackles running game, at least in the first quarter or so. Michigan needs to be creative in its ground game, kind of like it was against Ohio State last November. Get numbers going to the edges and let's see how those pseudo-newbies at linebacker handle Denard. WR end arounds. Denard jet sweeps. 
  • Trick plays. Let's see 'em. Seriously, Al. 2008 Capital One Bowl Redux, this needs to be. 
Predictions of Negligible Worth 
Making these sorts of predictions, especially for a game like this, is a torturous thing. A prediction is not really one data point that you pluck out of thin air. It's a deliberate whittling down of all results from a giant marble slab of possibility. My point: could I see everything going perfectly, Alabama having a bad day, and Michigan eeking out an incredibly ugly yet satisfying Sugar Bowl-esque win? Yes, I honestly can. Alabama is talented, and it speaks to the state of things that Michigan is such an underdog in spite of all the big name players that Alabama lost. In two or three years, this game will be an even contest going in, but we're not quite there yet. Still, this is a good Michigan team, and not one that should be underestimated.

With that said, too many things have to go well for Michigan to win this game. Michigan will probably need to have a turnover margin of at least +2. How likely is this? If this game is played ten times, Michigan probably has everything fall into place maybe once. That's what it is. We're banking on that one, that unlikely scenario, the "Jareth Glanda catching a pass" of games.

As much as it pains me to say it, I just can't make that prediction. To be able to stick it to the reigning national champs, the team that I had to spend four years hearing about as a high schooler, would be something beyond tremendous, if such a superlative even existed.

In the end, Michigan keeps it close for the first half, but without Toussaint, Michigan just won't have enough juice to keep enough drives going to make it a game. Even with Fitz, I'm not sure that Michigan has enough. It won't be pretty, but it won't be an outright blowout. At the same time, I don't think it will necessarily be "close." Michigan is a 13.5 point underdog, which, sadly, is just about right.

Score: Alabama 31, Michigan 17

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Who Are You and Why Do We Care?: Alabama Crimson Tide

With football season upon us, its time for me to dust off the old computer and remember how to put multiple words together to make coherent sentences. I will update later with pictures. 

Have we ever seen them before?
The Wolverines have played the Crimson Tide three times. All three games were bowl games, so this is the first time playing during the regular season. 

In the 1999 season, Michigan went 9-2 and reached their first BCS Bowl game: the Orange Bowl. Alabama managed to lose to Louisiana Tech, yet they still ran through the SEC on their way to a SEC Championship, and the automatic bid to the BCS. On January 1, 2000, the Mike DuBose coached Crimson Tide took a 14 - 0 lead after two Shaun Alexander touchdowns. Tom Brady responded with two straight touchdown passes to David Terrell. Shaun Alexander responded with a 50 yard run. Freddie Milons returned a punt for a touchdown to put Alabama up 28 - 14. Another pass from Brady to Terrell would make the game 28 - 21, and a three yard rush by Anthony Thomas would tie the game at 28. The score would stay that way until overtime, where Brady through a 25 yard touchdown to Shawn Thompson. Alabama would answer with a pass from Andrew Zow to Antonio Carter. Surprisingly, this would be the last possession of the game, as Ryan Pflugner, Alabama's kicker, missed the extra point, clinching the victory for Michigan. 

Jump to 6:10 to see the missed kick followed by a familiar face or two.

What do they look like?

Like Michigan, the Alabama Crimson Tide have looked the same throughout the modern era of football. Their continuous use of the exact same uniform since the 1940s is something the rest of the nation should be envious about. I cannot find a single use of an alternate uniform worn by Alabama, and they have one of the most boring uniform history timelines in all of college football (if not all sports).

Alabama's colors are Crimson and White. Their home uniforms are Crimson with White numbers, and their road uniforms are White with Crimson numbers. No stripes, no shoulder numbers, no frills at all. Alabama (and Penn State) are the epitome of boring football jerseys, but I love it. I really enjoyed watching the Penn State vs. Alabama game the last two seasons.

Where does the name Crimson Tide come from?
Before 1906, Alabama's football team was either referred to as varsity or Crimson White. They were also nicknamed the Thin Red Line. In 1907, an editor at The Birmingham Age-Herald coined the phrase Crimson Tide when reporting on the Alabama vs. Auburn football game. 

So they have two pretty iconic logos. What's up with that? 
The Crimson Tide logos have always been interesting to me. They have one of if not the best alternate logos in the country with their script A. It has a unique font, and is an icon for the school as much as the block M is for Michigan.

Alabama also has an Elephant logo. There are a few accounts for the reason behind the Elephant mascot.  In 1930, Rosenberger's Birmingham Trunk Company gave each member of the football team a red elephant luggage tag. When the team arrived in Pasedena for the Rose Bowl, reporters saw the elephant luggage tags and the enormous size of the players. They made a connection that would live on forever. That 1930 offensive line was also nicknamed the Red Elephants, as they went on to a 10 - 0 season.

Do they have good coaches?
Nick Saban may be one of the best coaches of all time, yet he is not the best coach in Alabama history. That recognition belongs to Paul "Bear" Bryant. Bryant was the Head Coach and Athletic Director at Alabama from 1957-1983. During his tenure, the Crimson Tide won 6 National Championships (including two repeats) and 15 Conference Championships. He was the AFCA Coach of the Year three times and the SEC Coach of the year twelve times, and in 1986, he was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame. 

Current head coach, Nick Saban, started his head coaching career at the University of Toledo. In one season he took the 6-5 Rockets and turned them into a 9 - 2 MAC Conference Co-Champion. After the season, Saban was hired by Bill Belichick to be the Cleveland Brown's Defensive Coordinator. After a few years in the NFL, Saban was hired to be the head coach at Michigan State. In his first four years at Michigan State, the Spartans had average records, but they were improving from the George Perles era in the early 90s. In 1999, the Spartans had a breakout season, going 9-2 and reaching the Citrus Bowl. Before the game, Saban resigned in order to take the head coaching job at LSU. During his time at Michigan State, Saban had a 2 - 3 record against the Michigan Wolverines. 

In 1999, Big Ten Network's own Gerry DiNardo was the head coach at LSU, and lead the Tigers to a 3 - 8 record. Saban was brought in and the culture changed immediately. As the Tiger's head coach, Saban would go 48-16 with two SEC Championships and a National Championship. At the end of the 2004 season, Saban went to the NFL to coach the Miami Dolphins. 

Once his two year dabble in the NFL was deemed a failure, Saban signed on to be the head coach at the University of Alabama. He had an embarrassing first season at Alabama, with a 7-6 record, including a loss to Louisiana-Monroe.  After that season, Alabama would go on to be the national power that it is today. Two National Championships later and here we are. 

Where do they play football?
The Crimson Tide play their home games at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Originally just named Denny Stadium, the name was changed to honor Bear Bryant in 1975. The stadium has a capacity of 101,821. The stadium is right in the middle of their campus, surrounded by their fraternity houses. Leading up to the stadium is the Walk of Champions. There are statues of each of the five head coaches who have won National Championships at Alabama. The players and coaches walk through this before every game. 

Do they have a goofy mascot?
An elephant mascot was first used at Alabama in the 1960s, when a student wore an elephant head costume to a game. The mascot, Big Al, appeared officially at the 1979 Sugar Bowl, and has been at every game since. 

This year, Fou will be publishing a preview post on Friday, so I will leave the wrap-up to him. I will still give my prediction based on everything but football. Even though my simulated game of NCAA '13 has Michigan winning 35-3, my prediction is Alabama 24 - Michigan 14.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion Time

We're almost there, guys. A few things:

A couple other unrelated but useful links: 

--Bill C. finally makes it to Alabama in his offseason preview series. Read it. 

--Hinton on Michigan
Consider the bar raised. That's not the case with Michigan, the team I like least compared to its lofty rankings elsewhere, in large part because of the schedule: The Wolverines open up Saturday as double-digit underdogs to Alabama, which is only the first and most notable example of how this year's schedule figures to be much harsher on Michigan than last year's. The other obvious example is at the end of the schedule, against a dramatically improved Ohio State outfit in Columbus, which figures to look nothing like the beleaguered Buckeyes that came to Ann Arbor last November; in between, two of the Wolverines' toughest home wins in 2011, over Notre Dame and Nebraska, are both road games in 2012. For a team that may have played a little bit above its head last year to begin with, another 10-win regular season would be a feat.
Nothing too controversial here. I disagree with he notion that Michigan played "above its head", unless he means that Michigan was simply lucky, which they were against ND and VT. I agree with that, but I don't see any other instances of Michigan playing "above" their heads, especially since deciding where some's "head" is in this context is a subjective thing. Michigan smashed its way to 8 wins then made a trip to the luck store against ND and VT. Add in a close win against OSU and two rough losses and that just sounds like a team that significantly raised its baseline level of play and got lucky a couple of times.

Can they do it again? That is the question.

--Alabama released its depth chart yesterday. Nothing is too surprising there, although there are three things that ended up differing from what I wrote about Alabama's personnel in my preview posts:
  • Kelly Johnson, a walk-on, got the starting nod at the H-back position. I honestly didn't know who he was before this week. That could either be a good or a bad thing re: the quality of Alabama's H-back, but we'll see. 
  • DeAndrew White won a starting role at wideout. I figured that Kenny Bell would surely be a starter considering that he is Alabama's leading returning receiver, but I guess not. It's White, a a redshirt sophomore who made 2 starts last season, Kevin Norwood (who, if you'll remember, came up big in the national title game), and slot Christion Jones. In the end, though, the starter designation is not that important. Alabama will rotate these four players, and probably one or two others as well. 
  • Ed Stinson won the end spot opposite from Damion Square. Stinson was a former "Jack" LB, for what it's worth. He was in a battle with Quinton Dial, a JUCO guy, for the spot. Again, this is another "doesn't really matter" designation, as the indication is that both of these guys might as well be called starters. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 8/28/2012

Just so y'all know where I'm at right now: yesterday, I went through my Insanity workout and only had to stop for a breather 2 or 3 times. Adrenaline level=HIGH. 

Funny, I too think Denard is pretty great

The Roundtree is fully operational. Good news: Roy Roundtree is 100%, according to Roy Roundtree. Either the arthroscopic surgery he had on his left knee August 10th was as "minor" as is being said, or Roy Roundtree has in fact become a robot.
He knew when he took his first hit, and didn't feel a thing in the knee, that he would be good to go.
Also, displays a stoic, dare I say it robotic lack of emotion:
It was scary. My parents were really worried. I was like, ''Y'all don't have to come up here. I'm a big boy.''
 This is an interesting strategy, becoming a robot. However, if there was a time to do it, it's now, as I'm convinced that Nick Saban has a secret T-1000 lab somewhere in Tuscaloosa where he produces space eating linemen and pass-rushing linebacker bots. Fair is fair.

Of course, given that the theme of the week is brinkmanship: if Robotree was in fact not 100%, I highly doubt he would be advertising that fact. Anyway, since he has apparently made the transformation, somebody should tell Brandon to get Roundtree that special "beating press coverage" system upgrade.*


Advanced stats and 2011 Alabama. I am admittedly somewhat behind the curve when it comes to advanced stats in college football (I'm a little more comfortable dealing with them in college basketball), so I'm not yet at a point where a lot of different stats mean much to me. With that said, even as someone without much of a statistical background, I know many people, especially in the Michigan fanbase, are all about that sort of thing. I'm not sure if this made the rounds a few weeks ago, but Brian Fremeau did an extensive FEI Profile of Alabama's 2011 team, producing lots of fancy charts and graphs for you to parse and marvel at how dominant last year's Alabama team was.** Seriously, take a look.

Near the end, there's a Michigan is advanced stats'd in the PFEI section ("program rating"...technical explanation included therein). Check it out. I'm pretty sure if you just stare at the screen long enough, you'll absorb the information contained therein via osmosis (pretty sure that's how that works). 

**Also, be happy that Michigan is not facing that team, and no Alabama fan, your defense is not going to be "as good if not better" than last year's defense (people are actually saying this). Stop it. 

HE AIN'T RESPECTIN' US PAWWLLLLL. This is why Brady Hoke is awesome. On whether or not he perceives Michigan to be the underdog, said "no" and then expanded a bit on that answer (and I truly mean "a bit"):

“I like Michigan,” Hoke said. There was a brief silence at the roundtable, and reporters quickly realized there was no further explanation coming, so they changed the subject.
One of these days I would really love for Hoke to say this sort of thing, detach the microphone from the podium--behind which he awkwardly yet authoritatively stands like a grizzly bear in a polo shirt--and just drop that thing. Could you imagine? No, no you can't, because it would just be too much for one brain to handle.

Actual underdogs. Matt Hinton comes in with his first non-introductory (reintroductory, I guess) post, talking about the state of the "underdog" in the current landscape of college football. It is as detailed and well-written as you'd expect, and is food for the college football fan's soul. I'm not talking like "bro I watched 3 straight hours of SportsCenter last night wanna debate and trade sports takes?" kind of "hardcore" fan, the kind that takes the team to learn Generic Small School With An Insane Economic and Traditional Disadvantage's QB's name, and the offensive coordinator's, and said team's 2011 record, and so on. In the middle of this post, however, is a pretty cool little detail:
The best candidate to break through: SMU defensive end Margus Hunt, a former Estonian discus champion who was offered a scholarship by June Jones before Hunt had ever played a down of organized football, based on a workout after plans to revive the Mustangs' men's track-and-field team fell through.
Estonian discus champion. Need I say more?

Alabama depth chart speculatin'. It doesn't seem that Alabama has released an official depth chart yet, and won't until who knows when (it was supposed to have been yesterday, but that didn't happen). As such, everybody is left to their speculative devices. Andrew Gribble of takes a stab at naming the Tide's 22 starters. No real surprises there, although I have to question Deandrew White starting opposite Kevin Norwood. I think either Kenny Bell or Christion Jones get the starting nod, but in the end it really doesn't matter. All of these guys will play, especially since it seems like Alabama doesn't have a prototypical H-back to replace Brad Smelley's production (an underrated presence in Alabama's 2011 offense).

The same goes for the defense, obviously. Quinton Dial might start, but expect to see a lot of Ed Stinson at that end position (a guy who formerly played the "Jack" LB position). At linebacker, CJ Mosley might not be a starter but he'll be in there as Alabama's speedster, passing down 'backer; I get the feeling that Denard and Mosley might become close friends by the end of the night.

In case you were wondering, here's another update on the Alabama scout team guys wearing Michigan players' numbers thing: three guys have taken up the numbers 44, 25, and 90. The more you know.

AJ McCarron on Michigan. The Alabama signal caller has been doing his homework on Michigan:
"Summer, I broke everybody down. I kind of work with one of our GAs, Jeff Norrid. He helps me a bunch. He knows everything there is about defense," McCarron said. "Through the summer, we broke each opponent down week by week but probably in the past two, two-and-a-half weeks, we've watched ton of film on (Michigan). Me and him are up here at least 3 1/2, four hours a day. We'll come an hour or so before practice and then the rest after. So we've done a tremendous amount of breaking them down."
Also, a moderately interesting point (i.e. not completely sanitized coachspeak) from the head coach himself:
UA coach Nick Saban said the Wolverines' third down defense is what he called "pro style."
Of course, as Spielman's pleading near the end of the Ohio State game goes to show you, going with a "pro style" (i.e. more complex) scheme is not always the best idea. Still, things worked out pretty well last year, and Michigan is looking at a serious upgrade in overall talent and athleticism across the board, making those pro style schemes even more effective than they were last season.

In any case, it will be interesting to see what Mattison's gameplan for this Alabama offense will be. How much Okie will we see, for instance? Aggressiveness is an inherent part of his defensive mindset, and with the strength of Alabama's offensive line, it might be "sell out [on the run] or get out." But, I'll leave my probably uninformed opinions on the game itself for the preview post on Friday.

More? Hinton on the Toussaint "will he or won't he" thing. Not going to read the comments, not going to read the comments, not going to read the comments. Roll Bama Roll Hate Week thread with the hurr and the durr. I wonder if Michigan fans know that they all worship Kid Rock.

Basketball coverage will sadly go back to being very minimal here for a few months, but here are some notes on Michigan's finally updated roster from UMHoops. A couple height/weight points of interest there.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fitzgerald Toussaint and One Other Thing

Two things, one that will inspire debate and one that inspires exactly zero debate (in a good way):

1) The Fitz Toussaint thing. You've already seen it, talked about it, etc. The MGoBlog thread on the matter raised a lot of decent points on the whole thing, especially vis-a-vis the way other schools do things. A few scattered thoughts:

  • I'm not sure that Michigan (i.e. Hoke) should be making decisions based on: a) fan pressure or b) the disciplinary history of other Big Ten coaches. 
  • On a visceral level, yes, I would be a little disappointed if he played against Alabama. 
  • I think that Hoke has accrued enough capital in the form of good will thus far that we, as fans, should be willing to trust his decision, whatever it may be. This will be difficult, especially given the irritating hailstorm of HURR and DURR from fans of other teams if Fitz does end up playing. I know this might seem like a shocking revelation to some people, but if anybody is going to be intimately familiar with the details of Fitz's case, it's Hoke...not you or I. 
  • Continuing from the last point: holding your program's disciplinary record over the heads of fans of other programs is generally not a good idea. The fact that things like Fitz's case can happen isn't even the strongest reasoning behind not doing this sort of thing (and really, what Michigan fan, myself included, hasn't taken some shots at other coaches/programs for not being strong disciplinarians?) Bragging that your coach 
  • We have no idea what Fitz has had to do in the last month or so. 
  • I do think that it is the head coach's job, especially one still very early on in his tenure, to establish the basic notion that "if you mess up, there will be consequences." The problem that I run across, however, is this: can any football-based punishment ever truly be commensurate to the most serious sorts of crimes? I'm not sure that a football punishment is inherently unequal to a crime such as, say, a DUI. But, that's what the legal system is for, I guess. Of course, it doesn't end there, and that's why this is all such a dizzyingly layered quagmire of a thing with which to have to deal. The process must eventually find itself at the intersection of The Law, sports, and culture (the fans, a program's reputation, etc.), a place where there is no yellow light, the lights turn green or red almost instantaneously and without warning, and nobody is directing traffic. Also, it's raining, hard, and nobody can see, but the people continue to drive anyhow. 

Anyway, any more than that and this becomes redundant. We will find it whether he will be playing or not, sans breathless conjecture, very soon.

2) This is a very good thing:
So we're off, then. For future reference, yes, I am a hater out to tear down your favorite team, coach and player, despite their always exemplary performance and behavior. You got me! No, this is not quite "journalism." Apologies in advance for the typos.
Sunday Morning Quarterback is back. As someone who hasn't read Dr. Saturday once since Hinton left Yahoo!, I could not be more excited for this development. SMQ is the closest thing to a one-stop shop for comprehensive college football coverage as there is, and I am for one cannot wait to read Hinton's work, unchained from the restrictions of the MSM.

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 8/27/2012

Just wrapping up some loose ends here before the college football season starts...ON THURSDAY. I can hardly believe it either. 

Goodbye, offseason.

Captains. They are, as expected, Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs. As Michigan's most prominent senior warrior football poets, you can expect a lot about them in this space throughout the coming months.

Also, this goes without saying but I'll say it anyway: Jordan Kovacs is Rudy...if Rudy was actually good and had an NFL future. Seriously. The guy didn't make the team in 2008 due to a knee injury and then turned around and started in '09. The rest, as they say, is history. Competence is good. /Henne'd

Deciding time. This is just about the time when schools are announcing who their starter at QB will be going into the coming season. Some guys won by default, some after a long and arduous battle throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

The notable winners: Kiehl Frazier (Auburn), Josh Nunes (Stanford), Everret Golson (Notre Dame), David Ash (Texas), and Joe Southwick (Boise State), Marcus Mariota (Oregon). So, there you go. Arm yourselves with this arsenal of useless information (which I guess basically defines sports fandom as a whole, but whatever). Nunes and Southwick have the unenviable task of replacing Andrew Luck and Kellen Moore*, whereas the other three guys are trying to be better (Ash, Frazier) or better than the guy that started last year (Golson).

*Mariota has to replace a productive, successful college QB in Darron Thomas, but, as I mentioned in the Pac 12 preview, he's just the next cog in the Oregon offensive machine. At this point, I'm convinced that Chip Kelly could coach an orange with pencils for appendages to run for 100+ and pass for 250+ against your team.

Speaking of Golson. You've probably heard this already, but ND has suspended tailback Cierre Wood for a minimum of two games...that's not a good thing if your name is Everett Golson. The Irish start the season in Dublin (not the one in Ohio) against Navy. I'm not quite ready to sound the upset alert siren here, but a young QB without his top tailback, no Michael Floyd (plus, Theo Riddick is now a running back), doesn't sound like a promising thing for the ND offense. Whereas Rees managed to move the ball last season only to eventually turn it over, ND might find it difficult to move the ball at all with Golson.

Basically, you can expect approximately 842 passes thrown in Tyler Eifert's direction against Navy.

Meanwhile, in Knoxville. Also on the suspension front, Tennessee had suspended star wideout Da'Rick Rogers (he has since transferred to Tennessee Tech), which significantly puts a dent in my increasingly positive (for some reason) feelings about the Vols' 2012 team. This is a tough blow for Tennessee, especially after getting their other star receiver Justin Hunter back from injury (he missed most of the 2011 season).

From where I stand, Tennessee looks like a team with a solid but not spectacular defense that is moving to the 3-4 and an offense with a gunslinger of a QB and a not very established running game. Unless Bray is ultra-efficient--which is unlikely given that's he's going to be throwing it as if UT  had somehow relocated to the Pacific coast--then seven wins might be as far as UT can go in Dooley's third season. Is that enough? I'm honestly not sure.

Ah, there's the beef. So things had been progressing fairly normally this fall; that is, until some things about the defensive line started to leak out of fall camp. By this I am mostly referring to #76 Quinton Washington, former O-lineman, starting on the DL next to BWC.

If the Black-QW-BWC-Roh lineup is the one that gets rolled out to start, that pretty much confirms the sneaking suspicion that the coaches aren't that comfortable with Black's ability to hold up on the inside, even with the weight he's added (up to 276 from 260, as of this post). Either that, or they're attempting to compensate for Clark's suspension by slotting Black back at his original position (WDE), hopefully precluding the need to play Ojemudia at all against Alabama, which I think would mostly end in disaster. Washington is pretty big, and if there was a game to roll with QW and Campbell in the middle, it's against Alabama. Now, being big doesn't mean that you can hold up (see: "Will Campbell's first three seasons at Michigan"), but the coaching staff is in a bit of a bind. Sadly, these sorts of moves when you're about to face an offensive line like Alabama's is kind of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Also. Devin Gardner: is the transformation to wideout complete? It certainly seems that way based on recent rumblings. Two things:

  • Whatever arcane magical rituals you've been performing in order to keep Denard healthy, DOUBLE DOWN on them right now and all the way through early January. No offense to Russell Bellomy, but if he is the QB2 in earnest, then 
  • At this point, however, I've come to terms with the fact that wide receiver might end up being Devin Gardner's calling. For whatever reason, his mechanics and overall QB "it having-ness" hasn't progressed as expected, and that's unfortunate but far from presages the end of the world or DG's career. We all know he can be an exceptional talent [insert that camp highlight tape where he does his best Marquise Walker impression here], but it's one thing to be a guy running out there for the occasional snap and being a starting guy. Either way, the coaches have done a great job generally keeping DG's role under wraps..I can guarantee that Saban is thinking about this. 
See, look: interesting football things to talk about. Football must be near. *Checks calendar* WOOOO!

More? Florida's 2012 QB situation is going to mirror 1998/99 Michigan's...if Brady and Henson were both not very good. Check the "ETC" section...Spencer with a zinger regarding UofM research and Greg Robinson. 

Lake The Post agrees with me, putting Michigan at #11 to start. 


(HT: Mike DeSimone

They expect again. It had not been a while since that had been so. Blood rushes back to the extremities, the warming elixir of life; they thought that you weren't going to make it there for a while. For a short while, perhaps you were gone. Although, as we know, no one or no thing is ever truly gone. An essence, a thought,  an underlying code: these persist.

Life goes in swings, some will argue. "You take the good with the bad," they tidily note. Maybe. But that's too easy, and it's not very interesting. It's the TBS (or CBS, NBC, ABC...homogenous) of life philosophies: it's like walking through a cemetery and saying "well, sometimes people die." Oh, okay.

That's not to say that the aforementioned is untrue. Yes, a football program's lifespan is a combination of good and bad, but that is obvious. Results are absolutes, things which we can seize upon for comfort, each a starry signpost in the sky: here and here and then you went there and that was not good at all. Either you're recovered or saved, waiting to return or or departed. Or maybe you're somewhere in between, a stateless nomad wandering in between these defined territories.

These are great, insofar as you immediately stop thinking about the thing in question--the after, when the result has come in and solidified itself into your consciousness. Beating Ohio State this past season produced a bifurcated path of emotion, two feelings derived from the same well of subconscious fandom. There was the now, the emotion in the present. At that moment in time, happiness--and to a much lesser extent, relief--was the singular end point of years of a subdued but seething boil. A stew of reagents, of sadness, disillusion, disbelief, and frustration.

Then there was the future, the what if, what next. Can this last, will it continue? This is the time for you to take inventory, to prepare for the season to come, for expectations met or unmet. This is the time to decide what those expectations are. Once this thing gets going, there'll be no time for that.

You can talk about wins and losses, but that sort of misses the point. The 2011 season was something to behold, that much is obvious. What is less obvious but easily more important is the wholesale mindset shift that has taken place in the past 20 months. It was apparent early on, and the season only further emphasized the fact that something fundamental had been altered.

The wins only confirmed that. Each one was a step taken away from the specter of the previous three seasons, looming, waiting, anticipating the moment that things would fall apart in order to say "good job, idiot." When the Sugar Bowl ended and the confetti flitted to the ground like the last drops of rain after a violent storm, it was clear that the Michigan that we had all once known had returned, so to speak, even though it was never really gone.

However, homecoming is by no means an assurance of easier times ahead. Even Odysseus, after years of hardship and travels, came home only to find himself thinking "how am I going to get these dudes out of my house?" Now, a post comparing various Big Ten opponents to Odysseus's foes detailing win-loss predictions and other conjecture-based material is one for another day, but the point remains true: 2011 was a return to prominence, but it was not and cannot be an assurance that Michigan will stay there, indefinitely or in 2012 alone, even.

Of course, that is to say that Michigan could in fact take a "step back" this season. The reason I put that in scare quotes is because I'm going to continue being sarcastic about the "Team 133 will be better than 132 but have a worse record" pseudo-meme. It is true, though, and the last time expectations were this high, it was 2007, and I was a freshman at Michigan, walking to the the Big House in the early September heat to see Michigan play some team from North Carolina.

I made the basic, faulty assumption--one that many people make--coming into that season, that a senior Henne, Long, and Hart, along with almost universal acclaim, presaged monumental things for that team. As Eddie Izzard would say, that all collapsed like a flan in a cupboard. It was a lesson in the genesis of expectations: don't have them, and if you do, always imagine that somebody is waiting to say "I told you so" when your expectations, ones you hope to realize vicariously through 18-22 year-old athletes, go unmet.

Lost amid the gnashing of teeth and the wondering--why did this have to happen now, once I got here?--was the fact that several players who had meant much to me in seasons prior would be done after the end of that season. They would move on, never to take the field again except to be honored in some capacity, to receive a Big House cheer, to wave, and then to quietly walk back outside the white lines that had once been their domain.

Michigan may win 8, 9, or 10 games this season. They may win more...they may win less. I don't know. While the preseason hype now is not as substantial as it was back in 2007, it's still fairly lofty.

Expectations are good, in general, but for a fan they simply serve as a source of mental energy that shines light on the wrong things. That's not to say that going 6-6 and having likable players is enough for me, but I do feel that undue emphasis often placed on these sorts of predictions. These predictions, the domain of the fan, are a fuzzy confluence of conjecture, rampant extrapolation, the correlation of past and future results, and any other number of processes that lack meaning. They're fun and possibly even necessary, but let's remember to enjoy ourselves along the way. Let us also remember that it is just a game. (Yeah, it is. Trust me, it really, really is.)

Again, this is a good time to take stock of what you think to be the ultimate distilled essence of college football. Think about this game that we have, in a somewhat discomfiting sense, earmarked a not insignificant portion of our brief time on this earth toward following and collectively losing our minds over. Give that a second thought. Take the time that you spend each day on Michigan football alone right now and run through the arithmetic. What results is an almost grotesque sort of math. The number that emerges when you assume that you spend, say, an hour a day (an incredibly conservative figure), and extrapolate that over your remaining X number of years is fairly startling. We're talking years of accumulated F5ing, mindless message board thread clicking, and all the other things that go into being a Michigan fan in the Internet era. If you are literally spending multiple years of your life on one thing, you might as well enjoy it properly.

Don't be that person who spends an entire vacation pausing to take pictures, seeing through a lens and experiencing nothing. A record, for instance, is like a gravestone. It is nothing but an indicator that something was, and that such and such time was when it was. Here lies Team [insert number]. They won this many games and lost this many games.  That is the story because we only have so much time and so much space on which to tell it. There is so much more to this game than that.

You will go to bed on Friday with visions of Saturday night running through your head. It will be August 31st, and the coming stretch of four months will seem an interminable parade. Like it always does, you think that it will never end.

It isn't forever. Savor it. To do this, you will need to prepare. Set your expectations, rid yourself of petty, fleeting concerns. Before you know it, you'll wake up, look outside, and see the snows of an early January morning. Or, if you're lucky: palm trees.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

HTR's Official Meaningless Preseason Top 25

While it's somewhat hypocritical of me to spend time compiling a preseason top 25 given that I'm of the "no polls till mid-October" opinion, there's just a little more open space to fill here before actual football starts to happen in all its glory. So, here's my top 25. It means nothing, but it is always neat to check back at the end of the season to see how many stupid things I said in late August. After a full offseason of reading Pre-Snap Read and Bill C's work, here's what I've got:

West Virginia
South Carolina
Michigan State
Florida State 
Virginia Tech 
Oklahoma State
Ohio State
Kansas State
Boise State

Some things to ponder: 
  • The triumvirate. Last year it was LSU, Alabama, and Oklahoma starting out at the top; this year, just sub in a possibly legitimately "back" USC team. Each of these teams has issues (LSU-the secondary, USC-basically the defense as a whole, Alabama-lots of talent to replace on both sides of the ball) but this is college football. Every teams has issues. With that said, I'm buying approximately infinity shares in Lane Kiffin Enterprises. That offense is just unfair. Barkley throwing to Marqise Lee and Robert Woods and handing off to Silas Redd or Curtis McNeal. Good luck stopping that, college football. As for Alabama and LSU, you probably know more than enough about them after what happened last season. They won't let you score and they'll run the ball run through your face over and over again. 
  • Speaking of hype trains on which I have jumped...West Virginia! It's definitely possible that I'm giving WVU too much credit for a big bowl win, but I think this team is perfect for the Big 12. The Syracuse loss last year was a bit of a head scratcher, but I honestly think WVU in 2012 leans more toward its Orange Bowl form than its form against the Orangemen. 
  • Notre Dame. Okay, so last season I was suckered into not only predicted a legitimate Florida State resurgence but a ND one as well. I had the Irish down for 10 wins, which, to be fair, probably should have happened if not for a complete and utter derpacolypse descending upon ND against USF and Michigan. Unfortunately for ND, I think having a better season in 2012 is going to be pretty impossible given the schedule. Plus, the situation at QB is a question mark--who knows what Everett Golson will look like--and the secondary is just waiting to give up 400+ yards passing to Matt Barkley down the road. Otherwise, ND should have a decent front 7 and a strong ground game, but I'm not sure that that will be enough to improve upon last season's 8-5 mark. 
  • Getting off the blocks. I've got Georgia winning the SEC East, but a few suspensions on defense have given me pause, especially since UGA travels to Mizzou in Week 2. It doesn't sound like Richt hasn't finalized the length of the suspensions to Alec Ogletree, Sanders Commings, and Bacarri Rambo, but they're all going to be missing the game against Mizzou. UGA needs to avoid an early loss (a la last season's 0-2 start) if the annoying HURR DURR MARK RICHT HOT SEAT discussions are going to be avoided. 
  • Everybody is gone. About Boise...I just don't know. I'm slotting them in there out of respect for Chris Petersen, but they've got to replace six NFL draft picks plus Kellen Moore (who somehow went undrafted). That's a tall order...they just have to fall off, right?
  • Meh. Kansas State, Arkansas...meh. I don't think there's any way KSU replicates what it was able to pull off last season, but I'm pretty sure people have said that very thing about Bill Snyder-coached teams many times before. As for Arkansas, I'm just not buying that. Nice offensive skill players in Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, and Cobi Hamilton, but the defense just isn't there and in spite of all the Internet snark and wisecracking, you really do get the feeling that JLS is going to take this team that should probably win at least 9 and run it into the ground. 
  • Michigan. I'll put up some sort of season predictions post later this week, but for now I'll just say that Michigan is probably not a top 10 team right now (not that it really matters). Beat Alabama and you can say hello to Michigan's highest ranking since the 2007 preseason. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Alabama Link Roundup

(HT: Mike DeSimone

Here are some Alabama centric-links for you to mindlessly consume before trudging through the final Michigan football-less weekend for quite some time:

  • Winter is coming. Alabama prepares for Michigan. There is a picture of Nick Saban smiling therein. I'm not sure whether to be happy or terrified. 
  • Youngsters makin' plays and such. Chris Low gives you three instant impact guys for each SEC West team. A receiver, a corner, and a tailback for Alabama. 
  • Watch Eddie Lacy run through the pad forest one time. Here's a short video of Eddie Lacy running around a bit. That left ankle is fairly heavily taped, but, there's no reason to assume that he'll be hindered or won't play on 9/1. Either way, like I said arthritic turtle could run for 100+ yards behind that offensive line. 
  • BOILERPLATEEEEE. Standard issue stuff re: Alabama defensive players on Denard. He is a playmaker and must be stopped, says the Alabama defense while twirling its handlebar mustache nefariously. 
  • WHY DO I READ COMMENT SECTIONS ON THE INTERNET. Bama fan in the comments thinks that Hoke is "writing off" the Alabama game based on his "we've got to move forward after that and play those next 11" comment from his Mike & Mike appearance this morning. Facepalm. Why do I do this this to myself. 
  • Yes, Alabama indeed has wide receivers. Although passing the ball is not something that the average Alabamian has much taste for, Roll Bama Roll takes a look at the Crimson Tide's wide receivers. I've previewed them before myself, FWIW (HINT HINT READ IT MAYBE). Anyway, the Tide do have to replace Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks (in addition to H-back Brad Smelley), but there is plenty of talent coming back. Some of it isn't that experienced or game-tested, but there's talent nonetheless. 
  • Ersatz Denard. Some practice notes from today. Not much at all in there, but here's a moderately interesting note: it looks like Alabama hasn't selected somebody to be the Denard simulating scout team guy. I wonder who that'll be? It does look like someone has taken Roundtree's role, though. I hope that guy has his Donald Duck impression ready to go.
  • One more time. Here are all of my preview posts on each Alabama position group from earlier this summer, all in one place for your convenience. Again, a few things are dated due to transfers/injuries, but they are otherwise still accurate.