Long-time readers know that I have been eerily prescient in my pre-season predictions for both Michigan State and the University of Michigan football programs. This is because unlike the conventional wisdom (which is almost always wrong), I look at the deeper factors that impact each program.
I call this an “operational level” analysis. In military terms, this looks past the individual players and position matchups and focuses more on the overall leadership and direction of the program.
A great example of this was MSU’s epic rally at the Cotton Bowl. As the announcers observed, the Spartan sideline remained disciplined and focused even as the game seemed to be disintegrating around them. For the third time this season, it looked like MSU was letting a powerful offense beat them down and pull away with a lop-sided victory.
And yet, and yet…it didn’t happen.
I have long been critical of recruiting reports and the hype now being heaped on athletes that haven’t even reached their senior year yet. (Ever eager to take the lead in the race to the bottom, the Skunk Bears are now recruiting middle school kids.)
That having been said, I have been amazed at the way in which MSU’s football recruits have responded this year. Instead of the usual drip-drip-drip series of announcements (often with live coverage on signing day), the future Spartans are making their intentions known early and loudly.
Even more interesting, they consistently cite the “family environment” of Michigan State as the ultimate reason for their decision. The star ratings do not interest me; their attitude does.
Michigan State is now being seen by the youth of the Midwest (and particularly in Ohio) as a destination school, a place where one can play and perhaps advance to the NFL but more importantly become part of something greater. This has not happened in my lifetime and I find it remarkable.
MEANWHILE AT THE DUMPSTER FIRE IN ANN ARBOR: While the Spartans are rolling, the story in the world’s largest open-air insane asylum continues to be one of chaos and dissention.
The Skunk Bear basketball team seems to have picked up a valued recruit, which is great as far as it goes, but other than that, there are number of grim tidings to warm this Spartan’s icy heart.
The schools leading punt returner is…well we aren’t sure if he is suspended or kicked off the team. What we do know is that his high school coach is pretty upset and seems to be soured on the program in Ann Arbor.
Meanwhile, yet another fifth-year senior (and an all-Big Ten selection at that) is choosing to leave the school for his final year. In fairness, this is not altogether rare (MSU has one) but what stands out is the number of players choosing to do so. Seniors are the traditional rallying points for the rest of the team, and it says something that so many of the most seasoned Skunk Bear veterans want to leave.
Finally, there is the news that the right-hand man of St. Harbaugh of San Francisco has been cited for drunk driving. Two things stand out about this particular incident.
The first is drunk driving itself. St. Harbaugh himself has a history of this vice and recently decided to retain center Graham Glasgow despite his second arrest for driving under the influence. (Some speculate this is because with the departure of the current starting center, Glasgow was the only one left on the team who knew how to snap the ball.)
Leadership matters and the unmistakable signal is that drunk driving is accepted at U-M so long as you are critical for the team.
The second item is that the man (a retired Marine Colonel) refused to take a breathalyzer test at the scene of his accident, which is itself a crime. Talk about a failure to accept responsibility! It is one thing to made a bad decision, but this guy compounded it with another.
The mainstream press continues to sing the praises of St. Harbaugh and his “Death from Above” camps are garnering lots of good press, but I am left with the impression that he is promoting himself at least as much as the team. His strange “coaches camp” – whose list of attendees is now being kept secret – is another example of this craving for the limelight.
SINCE YOU DIDN'T ASK: St. Harbaugh reminds me of no one so much as MSU's John L. Smith Buffoon. Both had a track record of success (in fact, Buffoon's pre-MSU resume was far more impressive than that of his replacement.
Buffon ended up self-immolating and a kind of manic, disorganized energy that fired people up and then drove them nuts. I sense the same kind of frenetic need to be the center of attention in Ann Arbor.