I've been busy with other writing projects for the past few weeks, but a respect for our readers compels me to place this marker: U-M will win it all in hoops.
Because it has been that kind of year.
I've been busy with other writing projects for the past few weeks, but a respect for our readers compels me to place this marker: U-M will win it all in hoops.
Because it has been that kind of year.
Yesterday I was able to snatch a few hours of free time from the Busiest Fall Fall Ever and take in some college football.
(I must admit that after the high hopes of this August, the subsequent failure of the Spartan offense made the lack of football time easier to bear.)
After last week's wrenching loss the Skunk Bears, it seemed to me that Michigan State was reverting to type - not necessarily the Same Old Spartans of the John L. Buffoon era, but rather the scrappy underdogs who delight in pulling upsets.
There is a movement to fire the offensive coordinator, and while I'm generally opposed to spur of the moment decisions, the case can be made that something has to be done to ignite the Spartan offense. This team would be 8-1 with any kind of offense - and it arguably could have beaten Notre Dame if the defense ever got to rest.
Still, a bowl game would be nice, and maybe next year the Spartans will be what we thought they would be this year.
SKUNK BEARS GET SHUCKED BY HUSKERS: While the total collapse of Wolverine football under RichRod was amusing to watch, serious observers of the sport knew that the Skunk Bear faithful would never allow the Winningest Program Evah to achieve the epic fail of their basketball team.
Still, last year's mark was a fluke of scheduling, as everyone outside of Ann Arbor knew.
Despite the studly machismo of Brady Hoke's ripped abs, the Skunk Bears are a one-dimensional team. Nebraska took out that dimension and if the results were not pretty, they were predictable.
THE OIRISH ARE WHAT??? The white-knuckled decision not to can Brian Kelly in the wake of several lapses of judgement seemd vindicated as Notre Dame is now 8-0 for the first time since Lou Holtz was lucid and intelligible. Normally, this wouldn't mean much since they have yet to place USC, but the Trojans suddenly aren't looking so hot. (I think a bigger victory for Arizona was Toledo.)
At any rate, the season is now deeply interesting.
I've been busy before, but this fall has raised the bar to unheard-of levels. It says something when not only can I not blog football, I can't even watch it.
My disappointment in this team should go without saying - MSU is not a contender for much of anything. Next year it will be much better, but as of now, I despair of them beating the Skunk Bears.
Still, the Spartans have pulled of more profound upsets before, and perhaps with their backs to the wall lin Ann Arbor they will find the strength and determination within themselves to win that fifth straight game.
I've been busy for the past couple of weeks on various assignments and this has cut into my time available to blog.
Of course, given the intense pain of both the Notre Dame loss and the far-from-inspiring victory over the Fighting EMUs, much of what I would have posted was unfit for public consumption anyway.
Today seems to be a hinge point of the season. Obviously the conference opener is critical, but given the frustrations of the past month, a slow start here could doom MSU to second-tier status for the rest of the season.
Given the stakes, the Posse offers this advice to MSU:
Catch. The. Ball.
It really is that simple. While we often speak of cascade failures, there are also cascade successes, where the completion of one task opens up new avenues for advancement, culiminating in overall victory.
The Spartans need some cascade successes - a completion that enables a first down, which enables a run, which inables another completion and finally a touchdown. This is the key to success, both in football and elsewhere.
IS NOTRE DAME FOR REAL?: It's difficult for me to say anything good about the Fighting Irish, and I won't start now. MSU's loss was basically self-inflicted: We almost duplicated the result against Eastern Michigan.
The weakness of the Skunk Bears has been an ongoing thing and I'm tempted to ascribe it more to everyone in the NCAA now being aware of the fact that the sum total of the Wolverine offense is Denard Robinson, a quarterback with no arm. Box him in, and you win. I fully expect more teams to do this over the course of the season.
POLITICAL NOTE: While I am loathe to mix politics and football in one post, I will simply note that nothing I wrote two weeks ago is out of date.
The mushroom cloud created by MSU’s impact on the Chippewas was not quite visible in East Lansing, but I’m told it could be seen from as far away as Alma, and a stiff breeze carried it into Midland.
I was a student during the tail-end of the Perles era, when George managed to lose to CMU twice (and post a near-record 3-8 season in the process), but I bear no ill will to the Chips. They seem like decent folks and there is a common affinity between Spartan fans and the other “directional” universities – they all despite U-M’s arrogance.
The big news was that quarterback Andrew Maxwell continues to develop and refine his skills, demonstrating some of the potential Kirk Cousins and other observers have been claiming he posses.
This weekend we will see how he stacks up against the Fighting Irish. I watched a little of the Notre Dame-Purdue game and neither team looked particularly sharp. Notre Dame has had our number for the last few years, but MSU has a good chance of taking home the megaphone.
IT DIDN’T SNOW IN ANN ARBOR, BUT THERE WERE CONTRAILS: Congratulations to the Air Force Academy for one of the most exciting and dedicated examples of college football in a long time. I was sure the cadets would pull it out, but the Skunk Bears were just too much for them.
This was not at all surprising – the Zoomies were outweighed along the line about by about 50 pounds per player: Their lead running back is only 5’7” and 170 pounds!
And yet these scrappy airmen drove up and down the field, racking up 400 yards of total offense. Spare me your hackneyed clichés about how hard it is to stop the option – if the option was that great, everyone would be doing it. RichRod would have run it instead of that oddball spread thing.
No, the key takeaway is that the Wolverines’ defense is as bad as we thought, perhaps worse. Other than running the quarterback, they have no rushing attack. It is all Denard, all the time. Take him out of the equation, and there’s no offense left.
BADGER DOWN! BADGER DOWN! What the heck happened to Wisconsin? I didn’t even know there was an Oregon State until it snuffed out their vaunted running game and forced Bret Bielema to rely on his latest mercenary quarterback. At least some of our other teams held up…WHAT THE HECK?!
Nebraska lost to UCLA, Iowa lost to Iowa State, this thing is looking ugly. It appears the strength of our conference this season will be Northwestern, Minnesota and…Indiana.
Wait, Ohio State won. Okay, there is some hope.Penn State lost, though…and I’m good with that. I never bought into the creepy hero worship surrounding Joe Paterno and I wouldn’t mind if they racked up four more 0-12 seasons.
Week Two of collge football is upon us, and the week-long orgy of garment-rending and teeth-gnashing in Ann Arbor may finally be coming to an end.
After last week's debacle, it's hard to say if Air Force has a chance against the mighty Skunk Bears. On the one hand, the Air Force is a service academy - arguably the best of the three - but still at a huge disadvantage against the Winningest Program Ever*.
On the other hand, the Wolverines are also the only ranked team ever to lose to a Division I-AA program.
I cannot help but note that the loss to Appalachian State was when Lloyd Carr was still coach, so the program was allegedly at its peak (he hadn't left the "cupboard bare" yet).
Air Force is a fast and agile team. The scrappy cadets trounced Army and Navy last year and put up a credible fight against conference powerhouse...Boise State. Hmmm.
It goes without saying that we wish the zoomies luck and hope the Falcons down the Skunk Bears at home.
IS MSU IDLE? Whoa, who said that?! Central Michigan has tormented the Spartans three times in the last 20 years. I was unfortunate enough to be attending school during the bitter end of the George Perles era, when a loss to a MAC school was the ultimate shame - and MSU did it twice.
The 2009 upset was a closer affair, and the product of increased parity. Since then, however, the Chips have fallen on hard times. Former MSU quarterback and coach Dan Enos has striven mightily to restore CMU's fortunes, but the school's patience may be wearing thin.
Still, the dominant performance and hunger of MSU's defense should secure the win. Hopefully the passing game will pick up because Notre Dame will bein East Lansing a week from tomorrow - and they must be crushed.
*Only if you count 30 years of rugby and several years of teams whose players didn't attend the school.
Well, the U-M/Alabama game went about the way I expected it to go. The Crimson Tide not only demolished the Wolverines, it toyed with them, taunting them by using odd-sets and inventive play calling - effectively turning the second half into a live practice scrimmage.
Don't believe me? Compare the urgency of Alabama's late scores - from half-hearted pass-focused field goal drives to the full-bore rushing attack on the final touchdown. I've seen mice put up better fights against tomcats (though the result was the same).
The few Skunk Bear fans who read this blog, may counter that MSU would likely fare no better two which I have two responses:
1. We aren't ranked as a top 10 team,
2. So what?
The U-M hype machine was something to see last week - breathless day-to-day accounts of who would play, how the program would look, why Denard Robinson is some sort of god, and of course a ton of blather about the storied history of the program.
Actually, Michigan is a top-ten team - in terms of being overrated. No, that's not trash talk, it's math.
That chart was from last year, but no fear - Michigan's brilliant eye-catching performance will probably move them up in that poll, at least.
Speaking of hype, how do you like these amazing predictions?
U-M by 3? On what planet?
One thing worth mentioning for those who did not see the game, both of Denard Robinson's injuries were self-inflicted. The first was when he decided to tackle an Alabama player (who just picked him off) by throwing his passing-side shoulder into him. Yep, that hurt.
His second injury came when he attempted to stretch it out for a first down and landed funny on the ground.
Some commentators are wondering why Coach Brady Hoke didn't "unleash" Robinson, letting him use his incredible speed (about which Robinson shows the modesty we have come to expect from Wolverine Players).
The answer is simple: he wanted to use him against Air Force next week. As it was, Robinson got dinged up. Giving him more touches would have resulted in him leaving on a stretcher.
It was fascinating to watch the tone of the coverage shift from "Wow, what a matchup between giants" to "Boy U-M has a long way to go."
Er, yes. And anyone following the sport could have told you that last year's season was not an accurate indicator of where Michigan stands. Just to review: The Skunk Bears played eight home games and their signature road victory came against Northwestern. In fact, they didn't leave the Big House until mid-October.
Going forward, the question will be: How badly hurt is this squad? Robinson is already a bad passer, so will his injury make him worse? Air Force is traditionally the best of the service academies, so a victory against them is not a foregone conclusion. It should be interesting to see what the cadets can do.
RICHROD SIGHTING: As a bonus to the prime-time beat-down, I tuned in to watch RichRod handily barely defeat Toledo in his first game as Arizona's coach. It was a sloppy, ugly affair. Each time Arizona made a critical error, RichRod's face contorted, and you knew he was thinking "not again!" Well, not this time.
I was part of the crowd last night in Spartan Stadium and watched in rising panic and disbelief as our offense systematically tried to lose the game.
They threw the ball away, they bobbled it away, and when that failed, they just dropped it and let the Blue Fielders pick it up. When they finally stopped turning it over, they went on penalty binges, turning 3rd and 2 into 3rd and 22. It was like a replay of the John L. Buffon years.
We wondered if it was something in the Gatorade.
If it was, La'veon Bell and the defensive squad weren't having any.
It is proverbial that defense wins championships and that maxim was on full display last night. It was one of the most dominating defensive performances I've ever seen. Boise State was shut down from the get-go - all of their points came off of turnovers. The touchdown was a pick-six, while one of their field goals was from a turnover so deep in Spartan territory that short of another turnover, there was little the defense could do to stop it.
Not that they didn't try - the defense also came up with an red zone turnover that killed the Broncos' best scoring drive.
It was Maxwell's first game, and as it progressed he got better and settled down. I think he will do fine, especially with Bell in the backfield and Dion Sims as a safety valve. Sims has incredibly soft hands and should be a regular target for short-to-medium yardage passing. The guy is a huge target and played a critical role in the final minutes of the game.
BOISE STATE PROVES THAT SPEED KILLS: They are small, but they are fast, and they are well-coached. After the first quarter, when MSU's dominance seemed total, Boise State hung in there and never gave up. Given the size mismatch and their inability to stop Bell, they had plenty reasons to despair and come apart. I think the speed factor was critical - the Broncos could outpace just about everyone on MSU's squad. None of the sportswriters have commented on it, but MSU did try other running backs in an attempt to find someone fast enough to turn the corner and break a long run. They couldn't do it.
Even Bell, who found the open field a couple of times and is no slow poke himself, could not outpace these guys.
As we wanted play after play degenerate into "three yards and a cloud of dust", we wondered why MSU didn't try to go to the outside. Then MSU tried it - and got stuffed. The Broncos were just too quick.
I think this is their secret - they swarm to the ball and use numbers to pull down bigger players.
What they could not do was stop the forward momenetum of Bell or compensate for Dion Sims' phenomenal reach. It took three quarters to figure this out, but once MSU did, the game was a foregone conclusion.
By the 4th quarter, MSU had tenderized the Broncos' defensive line to such an extent that five-yard gains up the middle were the rule, not the exception.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE SCOREBOARDS? Well, they are certainly big and bright. The Goodyear Blimp was rendered invisible by the glare. The highlight was when they showed crowd reactions to a pass interference call and one of the fans flipped the ref the bird - causing the camera to hastily pan away. Priceless.
They are still working out the kinks in the system and they need to seriously rethink the sideline booms - which block sightlines and add nothing to the video perspective. Maybe they belonged to ESPN. Either way, they were a pain.
EXTRA POINT: After the game, we wandered over to Crunchy's for one of their classic burgers and a beer. Nothing is finer than a Spartan victory topped off by a Crunchyburger.
FOOTBALL SATURDAY: I'm in recovery mode from last night, so I'm still getting up to speed on today's drama. Interesting that Brady Hoke waited until the last minute - when they were loading the bus - to announce his player suspensions. It does him credit, but he'd have been better served to announce it two weeks ago. This business of using potential punishment to generate roster uncertainty defeats the purpose.
MARK DANTONIO IS A CLASSY GUY: No one else has noted this, but with a minute left to play and two time outs, MSU was sitting inside the Boise State 5-yard line. There was really nothing Boise State could to do stop the Spartans from putting another TD on the scoreboard - with a four-point lead, we could afford to take all four downs to do it.
And yet Coach Mark Dantonio chose to take a knee - a gesture of true sportsmanship that is rare in today's game.
This brought a smile to my stone-cold Spartan countenance:
It’s like a joke: What is better than the fact that U-M humiliated itself by hyping a bunch of cheating athletes who discredited and shamed their program?
A: The fact that they keep bringing it up.
MSU has had its shameful episodes (see riots, 1990s), but we didn’t lionize them – instead, the local constabulary prosecuted them vigorously.
As funny as the article is on its own, the comments are even better. Yes, they make the obvious point that whereas the Fraud Five never won a title and the Women’s Gymnastics Team has captured pure gold is out there. But there’s more besides. Fun stuff.
HEY, WHAT ABOUT FOOTBALL? Oh yeah, the greatest three months of the year are almost upon us. Like many seasoned fans, I marveled at the oddball pre-season rankings, foremost among them the notion that the Skunk Bears were a top 10 team and (once again) the favorites to take the Big Ten title (and of course beat MSU).
I think MSU’s team is playing this about right – there is no outrage, no demand for respect, simply a quiet confidence that they will earn their distinction rather than have it handed to them by a fawning press.
The fact of the matter is, the Wolverines have a formidable fan club and a great many reporters are under their spell. Twice MSU has beaten U-M only to be ranked below them in post-season polls. This is because polls are popularity contests.
Time was, this angered me, but I now know better: let U-M win all the polls it wants while we thrash them on the field.
With the exception of 2008 (RichRod’s disastrous first year – wait, I mean his really disastrous first year, all three of his years were pretty disastrous), U-M came into the MSU game the favorite every time. Sometimes the margin was small, but the “experts” picked the Skunk Bears over the Spartans three times in a row – and were wrong three times in a row.
I’m sure they’ll pick them again – indeed they already have. Denard Robinson is such a phenom, you see, such an awesome athlete that none can stand against him. Sure, MSU put him in a box every time – and MSU’s defense is arguably even more formidable now – but no matter, this time will different, etc.
And so it may. But the fact is MSU’s program has achieved a stability and consistency not seen in my lifetime. Nick Saban left before his gains could be consolidated and George Perles left a horrific mess. One must go back to the glory years of the 50s and 60s to find a team of this caliber.
The Spartan football team may eventually gain respect and be viewed as superior to their rivals, but they will have to do it the way the basketball did: By beating them mercilessly and relentlessly.
However this may be, it is certain that they worshipped a sea-green stone idol chiseled in the likeness of Bokrug Paterno, the great water-lizard, before which they danced horribly when the moon was gibbous.
- From "The Doom That Came to Sarath," by H.P. Lovecraft
I’m somewhat torn in my reaction to Penn State’s NCAA punishment. I think the “death penalty” of cancelling the football season was warranted, but the sanctions handed down Monday morning are definitely not a slap on the wrist. Arguably they are worse.
The problem with the “death penalty” is that it would reach beyond Penn State and into the larger college football-industrial complex.
When SMU was shut down in the 80s, very few games were televised. Now almost all of the major conferences televise all of their games. Between ESPN/ABC, NBC and CBS – not to mention conference networks like the Big Ten Network – it is simply not practicable to suspend a team like Penn State – too many contracts would be affected.
Not only that, but non-Penn State revenue would take a hit. Schools rely on the gate from home games for a huge chunk of their revenue. If Penn State pulled, out, the Big Ten schedule would be in chaos and teams struggled to realign. The death penalty involved more than just idling Beaver Stadium – all those other venues also would be impacted.
The NCAA's ruling keeps the punishment focused on the culprit – Penn State loses scholarships, bowl games and revenue. The $60 million fine (about a year’s worth of revenue) will be spread out over five years, so the program will basically take a 20 percent hit over five years.
The Big Ten also added its own penalty: Penn State will forfeit its share of bowl game revenue during the term of its post-season ban – which will cost the program another $13 million over four years.
Then there are the revenue implications of the sanctions themselves – will Penn State’s fanatical fan base turn out to watch a diminished team get pounded week after week?
Loyal alumni might be persuaded to open their wallets out of sympathy, but I doubt they will ramp up contributions enough to cover these staggering costs. Maybe for the first year, but by 2015 it will be getting a little old.
Any organization that is forced to take a 20 percent cut is going to have problems, and Penn State will inevitably have to cut support staff. Will they be able to pay – or keep - $1 million a year for a head coach who can’t even go to a bowl game with his diminished recruits? What about his assistants?
The dirty secret of college football is that it pays for everything else - all other sports depend on it to survive. Only a few schools with super-strong basketball programs make money elsewhere - and it pales in significance next to what the gridiron brings. These sanctions represent a true and lasting DOOM to Penn State's entire athletic department.
The end result is a Penn State football team crippled for 5-10 years. Given how the program ruled the school, I’m cool with that outcome.