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Archive for the ‘Opinion/Editorial’ Category

SEC, ACC hypocrisy on display in race to stop Harbaugh

Friday, February 12th, 2016


Harbaugh(USATSI)

Alabama may have put the Southeastern Conference back atop the college football world last month, but Jim Harbaugh isn’t backing down. The Michigan head coach has captured headlines since returning to his alma mater less than 14 months ago and his most recent ploy has shone a light on the hypocrisy of southern schools.

Harbaugh announced following Michigan’s Signing of the Stars event on Feb. 3 that he would be taking the team south for Spring Break to practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. But just like his Summer Swarm football camp tour of the south and west coast last summer, the move is drawing the ire of SEC and ACC brass.

“Our primary reaction [is] that, in the face of the time-demand conversations, we’ve got one program taking what has been ‘free time’ away,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey on Tuesday. “Let’s draw a line and say, ‘That’s not appropriate.'”

In other words, Jim Harbaugh is doing something within the rules but we don’t like it so let’s change the rules so he can’t do it anymore.

He continued:

“This seems completely counter to the dialogue,” Sankey said. “We have work to do on [giving athletes a] day off. We have work to do on, how do you provide a postseason break? It seems where this is one where reasonable people could say we just shouldn’t be in this space.”

One of Harbaugh’s stated reasons for the Spring Break trip is to give the student athletes two weeks off — discretionary weeks as he called them — to focus on finals, which start April 20. By starting spring practice in late February and utilizing Spring Break for outdoor practice, team bonding, and yes, visibility to recruits, Michigan can close spring practice with two weeks off to focus on academics.

“We’re going to have swim meets, we’re going to have putt-putt golf, we’re going to have football meetings, we’re going to have practice,” Harbaugh said. “I think it gives us a chance to win on a lot of different levels. We’ll be outside, we’ll be in Florida, we’ll go to the beach. It will be a good time for our team to connect and be together. That’s a lot of levels right there to win on, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”

Sankey, of course, didn’t address that fact because it didn’t fit his narrative. Think of the kids, he said. Meanwhile, Ole Miss has been charged with 28 NCAA violations, 13 of which have come from the football team, and Tennessee is facing a lawsuit from six women who claim that the university — and its football program in particular — create a culture that enables sexual assault by student athletes. Guess who has been silent about thinking of the kids in these situations thus far? You guessed it, Sankey.

Greg Sankey

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey petitioned the NCAA to ban spring break trips (Mark Humphrey, Times Free Press)

The conference that Sankey inherited from Mike Slive a year ago, and has been a part of for over 13 years, has faced numerous major infractions in the past six years, but hasn’t received more than a slap on the wrist since Mississippi State was stripped of scholarships and banned from postseason play in 2004. Sankey, coincidentally, serves on the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which he has chaired since 2014.

But the disagreements with Harbaugh’s Spring Break trip aren’t limited to the SEC. Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford joined the fray on a Thursday interview on Sirius XM College Sports.

“It is creative,” Swofford said. “It’s kind of like we’re going to take you on vacation but you’ve got to practice while we’re on vacation … it’s a huge intrusion on a college student’s life and taking his ability to have a break out of his hands. I guess it depends on how you look at it.”

All of a sudden the commissioners of the two conferences that make up the southeastern United States — where a large portion of the nation’s top recruits year in and year out reside — are worried about student athletes. Yet Swoffod’s conference has been littered with NCAA sanctions in recent years from Miami to North Carolina to Georgia Tech to Florida State to Syracuse basketball, and most recently, Louisville basketball.

“I’m not concerned about the league’s image,” he said.

Well as long as the league’s image is intact, who cares that Jameis Winston’s actions were swept under the rug while he lead the Seminoles to a national championship? Who cares that over 1,000 student athletes from the North Carolina football and basketball programs received extra benefits and were involved in academic fraud? It’s all about the kids, remember?

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford speaks at the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college basketball media day in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford speaks at the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college basketball media day in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

College basketball teams regularly travel to holiday tournaments in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Bahamas during winter break. College baseball, softball, golf, swimming, and gymnastics teams regularly travel south in the spring to open their seasons in the sun. And college football itself eschews winter break in favor of traveling south or west for a week of practice culminating with a bowl game. The student athletes’ winter breaks were further consumed by football when college football expanded to the College Football Playoff in 2014. Where were Sankey’s and Swofford’s protests when Florida State and Alabama student athletes missed out on a week of a break before spring semester began?

Just last month, Clemson, a school from Swofford’s conference, was granted an NCAA waiver to practice more than the 20-hour a week limit. Why? Because their opponent, Alabama, hadn’t yet begun spring semester and thus, wasn’t bound by the practice limits. Where were Sankey’s and Swofford’s concern for the students’ time then?

The argument for the welfare of the kids is the easy one, the political one, to make. Because it gives the appearance — even if dishonest — that his main concern is based on academics. But it’s not the real one. While Sankey denies that he’s trying to protect his conference’s built-in competitive advantage of most of the nation’s top recruits residing in their schools’ back yards, that’s exactly what his argument is about. The reality is that Harbaugh is out-thinking and out-working his coaches and he doesn’t want to be caught flat footed.

Harbaugh often turns to Twitter to issue quotes and thoughts of the day that give a glimpse into his line of thought. An old Irish proverb comes to mind for this situation.

You will never plough a field if you only turn it over in your mind.

It’s possible that Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have had ideas similar to the Summer Swarm tour or Signing of the Stars or destination spring practices. Whether they have or not, they haven’t put them into practice. In just over a year on the job, Harbaugh has, and it’s allowing him to quickly make up ground on his counterparts.

He took a sinking, 5-7 team and doubled its win total, culminating with a 41-7 thrashing of SEC East champion, Florida. He followed that up by signing a top-five recruiting class that includes the top overall player in the nation, Rashan Gary, who included Clemson and Alabama among his final choices. The roster Harbaugh inherited in 2015 was the least talented he will have during his tenure in Ann Arbor, and his continued success on the field will breed success on the recruiting trail. Snakey, Swofford, and the coaches of the schools they preside over want to do everything they can to preserve their own success.

Harbaugh hasn’t broken the rules. He’s just a step ahead of the rest and forcing them to try to change the rules in order to keep up. And soon enough it will pay off, which is why, not only is he the target of commissioners pleading the NCAA to slow him down, but also other coaches spreading rumors about him to recruits and their families. Gary’s mother, Jennifer Coney, said as much after her son picked Michigan.

“That was a turn off,” Coney said of the negative recruiting. “Bring your program up. Tell me about all the good things that your program, your school, and the people on your staff do. Don’t kick this person in the back.  Nobody likes Michigan. Nooobody likes Michigan.  When Rashan picked Michigan, my phone stopped ringing. It was a blessing.”

Fellow defensive tackle commit Michael Dwumfor, who flipped from Penn State to Michigan in late January, agreed.

“When I was at Penn State, I heard jokes about Harbaugh and stuff like that,” Dwumfour said. “In the back of my head, I’m thinking ‘What he’s doing is working, obviously. Instead of criticizing him, you might want to take some of his techniques to try and help yourself out and get some recruits.’”

The SEC, ACC, and coaches within his own conference — who, not-so-coincidentally, came from the SEC — can say all they want, but Harbaugh will continue pushing the limits within the rule book to succeed in the cutthroat world of college football. And if they don’t match his enthusiasm, work ethic, and imagination, it won’t be long before they are dethroned.

That brings another Irish proverb to mind.

It is not the same to go to the king’s house as to come from it.

After a horrid week for Michigan hoops, is it time to panic?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016


Beilein vs MSU(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

I didn’t write about Michigan’s two basketball games this past week; I simply couldn’t bring myself to. We all know what happened – Michigan got romped twice in their own gym and looked lifeless outside of about five minutes against Indiana and a few moments when the Wolverines’ bench warmers made some brutal losses look just a little better on the final stat sheet.

I’ve never tried to hide that I’m a very passionate Michigan basketball fan first and a Michigan basketball blogger second. After all, I used to be the president of the Maize Rage and have been going to games at Crisler since some time around the turn of the century.

So when the Wolverines suffer a gut-wrenching loss (think Josh Gasser’s banked three at the buzzer in 2011 or Evan Turner’s last second heave in the 2010 Big Ten Tournament) or get their asses flattened like pancakes pounded by a spatula after being removed from the griddle (think, well, both those “games” last week), I usually struggle to bring myself to settle my emotions enough to bring fingers to keyboard.

But I thought I should ramble a little about how I feel now after digesting those losses, throwing them up, and taking some antacid.

By the way, the final deficits against Indiana and Michigan State were 13 and 16, respectively, but probably would have more accurately reflected the nature of the games if those numbers were doubled.

Hopefully the Selection Committee takes a look at the final score of each game and says “well those are bad losses but not that bad!” and then proceeds to put Michigan somewhere other than Dayton, Spokane, or Oklahoma City (if they make it, I’m hoping to go to their first round game, but I would rather it not actually be a First Round game, if you know what I mean).

In reality, we all know that those losses were that bad. Like really that bad.

As Rafiki says, however, “it doesn’t matter, it’s in the past!” Michigan can’t change the disaster that happened last week, but they can hopefully learn a bit from them and pave the way for a brighter future.

So what’s to learn about those two games that people are certainly, definitely, NOT AT ALL panicking about?

Well, let’s rationalize a bit to begin. Indiana and Michigan State are two very good teams that played excellent games (I’m not going to reference many stats in this column because of how skewed the numbers are over the stretch, but any time two teams combine to make 56 percent of their shots in a given week, that’s some good play). They have combined to win 81.3 percent of their matchups so far this season and have beaten some good teams. They are both shoo-ins for the Big Dance, and they’ll probably embarrass a couple other teams not named Michigan going forward (do not pay any attention to Indiana’s game at Penn State).

For those rough games, Michigan still does not have a bad loss to show on their record – and I honestly don’t expect margin of defeat to come into play on Selection Sunday. They also have a couple very good wins on their resume and could add to their two top-100 RPI wins with victories they have already acquired earlier this season, should Penn State or North Carolina State climb up a few spots. For now, the Wolverines still look like relatively safe bets to make the Tournament.

If you are one of the many Michigan fans teetering on the edge right now, please take a step back, then another. It’s not time to panic just yet. If Michigan comes home from Minneapolis with a loss on Ash Wednesday, though, I give you full permission to run forward and jump.

Bench vs MSU(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

Anyway, about those games.

The Wolverines actually came out looking very good against Indiana last Tuesday, jumping out to an early 11-point lead and threatening to run away from the Hoosiers. Things quickly erupted though, and before the halftime horn mercifully blew in a dead silent Crisler Center, Michigan found itself on the wrong end of a 25-0 run and a 21-point deficit.

Before they could throw a counter punch, the Wolverines were knocked out by a savage Indiana offense. So what happened? Ultimately, the Hoosiers took advantage of Michigan’s poor transition defense, the Wolverines panicked and began turning the ball over and missing ill-advised shots so bad that they may as well also have been turnovers, and by halftime, the Wolverines were in a complete state of shock. Effectively, it was game over. To rub salt in the already gaping wound that caused the knockout, Tom Crean quickly mentioned former Michigan player Max Bielfeldt as a reason for Indiana’s terrific play. That, of course, was mostly garbage – Bielfeldt finished with just five points on 2-of-8 shooting (the worst percentage for any Hoosier that attempted a shot) in 18 minutes – but stung nonetheless. The stated reason Crean praised Bielfeldt was for his excellent first half plus/minus rating, which was absolutely comical given that just about every Indiana player had a through-the-roof first half plus/minus.

As soon as that panic set in, Michigan’s offense – which, again, came out firing on all cylinders – devolved into what looked like a typical eighth grade offense, with guys trying to play hero ball and failing miserably. Indiana capitalized, with six of their buckets (good for 15 points) down the stretch in the first half coming within 10 seconds of a Michigan miss or turnover, and a couple others coming off of terrible looks or turnovers as well.

Michigan is simply not good enough to overcome a shocking run like that, and Indiana simply could not miss for quite a long stretch. Further, the Wolverines are lacking their best individual playmaker, their primary facilitator, and their presumed leader. That recipe, combined with a seeming lack of confidence once things get bad for the Maize and Blue, is a recipe for disaster, and disaster is what descended upon Ann Arbor. In my opinion, it was one of those games where you almost have to say “it happens” and move on. Obviously it was a poor, poor result and an even worse performance, but I don’t place too much blame on the coaching staff.

I can’t say the same for the Michigan State loss. Coming off the tough-pill-to-swallow beatdown against Indiana, Michigan was certainly going to be a bit wary and perhaps high-strung or nervous with their in-state rivals coming to town playing much better than them (as an aside, players will never admit to paying close attention to other teams, or to keeping track of their ranking, or to listening to talking heads’ opinion of their team, but they absolutely do).

Unfortunately, I do not believe the coaching staff put the Wolverines in position to win.

Now don’t get me wrong. Michigan State is a very good team, and has been for many seasons. They are a tough, physical team, and perhaps not the best matchup for a Michigan team that usually plays with more finesse than physicality.

But the Spartans are also fairly easy to gameplan for in my opinion. This year, Michigan State has one guy who can do it all on offense and is dangerous any time he’s on the floor. That player, of course is Denzel Valentine. He’s an All-Everything senior that is a phenomenal passer, a very good shooter, and an excellent rebounder for his size as well. There is one other player, Eron Harris, who is fairly multi-dimensional, with the ability to drive, pass, shoot, get fouled, etc. But Harris is also prone to fits of erraticism and is not quite the shooter, finisher, or passer that Valentine is, and turns the ball over more than Valentine while handling the ball less.

Meanwhile, the Spartans also boast some excellent offensive complementary pieces that, while key to their success, are a little more one-dimensional. Bryn Forbes is an outstanding spot-up shooter that doesn’t do much more than shoot the three-ball. Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis are a load to handle down low, but neither is a threat to score from more than 12 feet away. Matt McQuaid is a plus shooter but does not shoot much while big men Kenny Goins and Gavin Schilling are basically the same players as Costello and Davis but both significant downgrades.

How do you beat, or at least challenge, the Spartans then? If Valentine proves too difficult to handle, so be it – you have to grin and bear it. He’s one of the best players in the country and can break down any defense. If Harris drives his way into some fouls and knocks down a couple deep shots, shrug your shoulders. But you absolutely CANNOT let Bryn Forbes get wide open and kill you from deep.

And that’s exactly what happened. Forbes had 23 points – seven triples and another long two – by halftime to Michigan’s 28 total. Of his eight makes, Forbes may have had a Wolverine within three feet of him once or twice.

Bryn Forbes(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

That is a lack of effort, a lack of effective defense, and also a lack of a competent defensive gameplan. Michigan came out in a soft man defense that showed little urgency in sticking with Forbes – again, one of the more lethal shooters in the country – and paid dearly for it. Duncan Robinson was a primary culprit, running under screens and getting completely stone-walled by picks, but the coaching staff deserves equal blame for allowing Michigan State to come out and drain 10 very mildly contested threes in a single half.

About midway through the first half, when it was clear that the Wolverines had completely missed the mark on the scouting report, Beilein switched to a 1-3-1 zone in an attempt to keep another game spiraling quickly out of control within striking distance.

It was fine for a change of pace, and it even managed to flummox the Spartans into making a couple dumb mistakes. But Michigan went back to it after those couple mistakes, which Michigan State was ecstatic to see. The Spartans promptly drained a triple, and when the Wolverines inexplicably went back to the zone yet again, they made another. And another. And another.

I have never seen Beilein look so helpless, but the answer in slowing Michigan State’s offense was never going to come by playing zone for an extended period of time. Michigan State is simply too good of a shooting team to fall prey.

Perhaps most frustrating about the decision to play zone for so long is that the 1-3-1 zone is not designed to limit shooting whatsoever. Rather, it’s designed to confuse the offense, create turnovers, and prevent easy driving buckets. Michigan State was not killing Michigan with easy buckets at the hoop; they were killing the Wolverines from beyond the arc. So instead of switching up the gameplan and sticking the best perimeter defender Michigan has – probably Derrick Walton at this point – onto Forbes and instructing him to not let the senior transfer touch the ball, Beilein inexplicably switched to a zone that is prone to giving up wide open shots from deep. And give up shots the zone did.

By the time halftime arrived – again again by the grace of God – Michigan was pretty much out of the picture and sapped of any confidence that once existed. Of course, the Wolverines moved to a more aggressive man defense in the second half, with Walton face-guarding Forbes, to open the second half. But it was too late. The lack of a first half adjustment failed the team.

In the aftermath of the second straight embarrassment at home, Michigan fans across the blogosphere at Twittersphere began (yet again) calling for Beilein’s head.

To that, I merely say this: stop it. Yes, Michigan got beat bad twice in a row. And yes, perhaps it could have been mitigated by some better coaching decisions.

But if you want people to take you seriously, you must first think and act rationally. John Beilein is one of the best things to happen to the Michigan basketball program in quite a long time. I don’t need to run through his list of accolades and accomplishments since taking over the program in the 2007-’08 season.

So I pray that many of those calling for his firing are uninformed tweens that have known nothing but success over the majority of Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor, and expect Michigan to be dominant each year. Unfortunately, those are unrealistic expectations for all but a few fan bases in the country.

It’s even more unrealistic to expect that when a team is missing their unquestioned best player and a key secondary piece. Both of those guys, of course, are seniors – Michigan’s only seniors heading into this season. And if you don’t understand the value of seniors in this day of overhyped freshmen in college basketball, I suggest you listen to what Tom Izzo had to say after his team’s triumphant victory on Saturday.

Take a look at any top team in the country and you’ll likely find that a senior (or two or three) is the driving force behind the success. Guys like Buddy Hield, Isaiah Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Jared Uthoff, Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello, Bryn Forbes, Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Perry Ellis, Sheldon McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, and so many more are guys that make teams tick.

Michigan’s two seniors are currently watching from the bench. Hopefully they get one of them back soon, but in the meantime, patience and understanding are highly advised.

Crappy performances happen in college basketball. Shots fall and don’t fall, players make mistakes and lose confidence. Teams lose, sometimes badly, and coaches make mistakes too.

Still, Michigan is probably going to be okay. They had a couple big hiccups and they have some recovering and rebounding to do, but it’s not the end of the world, and it’s certainly not time to overreact after losing two games in which the projected outcomes were pretty much coin flips.

There are more opportunities on the way, and I believe that John Beilein will have an answer.

I, at least, have a good feeling about the two games this week.

The past is over. Let’s play on.

The top ten moments from Signing of the Stars

Friday, February 5th, 2016


It’s been more than 24 hours since Jim Harbaugh and Michigan took over National Signing Day. The Wolverines got started at 8:13 a.m., when Nate Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to the Maize and Blue, and went nonstop until Devin Asiasi pulled out the block M cap at 3:32 p.m.

That’s seven hours and 19 minutes of Michigan football on full blast, and it’s nowhere near the start of the season.

Now that we’ve had a chance to catch our breath, let’s take a look back at the event that highlighted it all: The Signing of the Stars. Whether you love it or hate it, you know Harbaugh hit the ball out of the park on Wednesday. All eyes were on Ann Arbor as the Wolverines pulled in virtually every single signing day target on their board.

I’ll count down what I thought were the top 10 moments of the first (of many) Signing of the Stars.

10. Celebrities call in to hype up Michigan football

Big Sean

When it seems like the stage can’t get any bigger, Jim Harbaugh finds a way to blow it out of the water. Sure, there were more than 20 well-known celebrities in Hill Auditorium, but why stop there?

The Signing of the Stars featured video call-ins from the likes of Owen Wilson, Big Sean, and even Verne Troyer. Seriously, Verne Troyer? Somehow, Harbaugh convinced the 2-foot-8 comedian to congratulate the incoming class while his entire head was drowned in a Winged Helmet.

Then Owen Wilson, who’s connection to the university was that he “played a character that had a Michigan degree once,” popped onto the screen and played the fight song on his cellphone. Future generations won’t remember Wilson as the actor from Wedding Crashers or The Internship. They’ll hear his name and say “Hey, isn’t that the guy from Signing of the Stars?”

But even Troyer and Wilson couldn’t top Big Sean. The world-famous rapper jumped onto the screen completely draped in Maize and Blue gear. While the rest of us were staring at the block M on his hat and jacket, Big Sean introduced a recruit from his own hometown: Michael Onwenu. How cool is it that a kid who chose Michigan over MSU got to be introduced by one of the city’s most famous living hometown heroes? Coincidence? Obviously not. It’s just another recruiting tool that Harbaugh can use during future in-state recruiting wars.

9. Quinn Nordin calls in with his family

Quinn Nordin

For months Michigan fans have heard the name Quinn Nordin thrown around on message boards and social media. Even when the four-star kicker (that’s right, a four-star kicker!) was committed to Penn State, it was almost a given that he would end up donning the Maize and Blue.

On Wednesday, just hours after making his decision official, Nordin joined the Signing of the Stars on screen with his entire family to introduce himself to the Michigan faithful. This marked the end of the recruiting journey that gave us round one of Harbaugh vs. James Franklin and the unforgettable post-dead-period sleepover.

Jim Harbaugh wanted this kicker, so Jim Harbaugh got this kicker. Boot ’em straight, Quinn.

8. Denard Robinson and Jake Rudock team up on stage

Denard Robinson and Jake Rudock

Harbaugh brought a whole host of former Michigan players to participate on Wednesday, but no duo better captured the moment that former quarterbacks Robinson and Rudock.

Denard Robinson, who played in one of the most all-around disappointing eras in Michigan football history, made the Wolverines watchable during his four years on the field. The hyper-athletic, just-go-out-and-play makeup of Robinson made him an easy player to root for and endeared him to a fanbase that hasn’t seen many dual threat quarterbacks.

On Wednesday, Robinson took the podium with a player who, not unlike himself, helped carry an offense that would’ve otherwise been mediocre (or completely lost, in Robinson’s case) without him. Rudock only spent one season with Michigan, but his improvement from Week 1 to the end of the season was so great it can’t be described in a paragraph of socially-acceptable length as the No. 8 ranking in a list.

Robinson kept a reeling football program afloat and Rudock helped steer it back on track. Watching them introduce a whole new group of Michigan men brought the last decade full circle.

7. “Who’s got it better than us?”

Harbaugh %22Go Blue%22

In his short 13 months in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has offered no end of quirky quotes. He told us that artificial sweeteners are not, in fact, safe. And that he would run for president of the United States with Wale as his partner. He even revealed that worms with machine guns (assuming they are loaded) would no longer be afraid of birds.

All of those comments are just Harbaugh-isms. You can’t hope to understand them, you can only bask in their pure glory and absurdity. But when Harbaugh asks, “Who’s got it better than us?” he’s in a really, really good mood.

That was the case on Wednesday as he stood in front of some 3,000 Michigan die-hards and asked his favorite question. The responding “Nooooooobody!” echoed around Hill Auditorium as one of the country’s top recruiting class fell into place.

It’s only been 13 months, but Harbaugh’s already got his trademark punchline. Luckily, Michigan Nation loves it.

6. Ric Flair reveals his deep Michigan loyalty

Ric Flair

The whole bizarre, out-of-nowhere professional wrestling fascination evolving from Harbaugh’s declaration that he would love to have Wrestle Mania in the Big House hit a peak Wednesday when Ric Flair professed his love for the University of Michigan.

Flair got the crowd fired up as only he could, yelling about Michigan football and releasing one of his trademark “WOOO”s after saying he’d never wanted to leave Ann Arbor. But his best quote of the speech, and one of the funniest moments of the event, came near the end of his time on stage.

“I’m BLUE baby,” Flair shouted into the microphone. “I can’t STAND Ohio State. Ain’t got no TIME for Michigan State.”

We wanted Ric Flair, and we got Ric Flair. It wouldn’t be a speech from a professional wrestler without an unprompted shot at the common enemy in the room. It only makes it funnier that his jibe came while Columbus and East Lansing were grinding their teeth at how much attention Michigan was garnering.

Oh the disrespekt.

5. Derek Jeter and Tom Brady share the same couch

Jeter and Brady

Am I the only one who noticed how much athletic greatness was shoved onto that one couch? I mean, Derek Jeter is one of the greatest infielders of all time and he was only the second-best athlete sitting on that piece of black leather.

With more than half a cushion available, there were still 3,465 hits, 1,923 runs scored, 1,311 RBI, 260 home runs, 58,028 passing yards and 445 total touchdowns on that couch. Between the two, Jeter and Brady own 10 major sports championships (five World Series titles, four Super Bowl rings and a college football national title).

Watching the early enrollees as Jeter and Brady talked about sports right in front of them was a cool sight, and Harbaugh will place that into his already-loaded recruiting arsenal.

4. Devin Gardner leads The Victors

Gardner(MGoBlue.com)

Devin Gardner was probably one of the most unfairly treated players in recent Michigan history during his time on the field. When he had some semblance of a team around him in the second half of 2012, he looked like a pretty strong quarterback. But when the 2012 class graduated and left Gardner with a sieve of an offensive line and a head coach on his way out, the odds were stacked heavily against him.

Despite all of the boos and criticism he received as a player, Gardner is always around the Michigan program. He attends all the events and voices his support of a school that waited until after he left to become the most exciting sports landing spot on the planet.

So it makes sense that when Gardner took the stage on Wednesday, he did so with a huge smile on his face and forced the full audience, including notorious Notre Dame slappy Lou Holtz, to sing The Victors. Some of the guests were clearly uncomfortable on stage, but Gardner was a proud representative of the school and his simple gesture turned into one of the best moments of the night.

3. Jim Harbaugh discreetly learns Rashan Gary’s decision

The Signing of the Stars was great, securing commitments from Nordin, Washington, Devin Asiasi and Lavert Hill was great, but the biggest story of the day was always No. 1 recruit Rashan Gary’s decision.

Harbaugh couldn’t say anything about Gary during the party because of NCAA rules, but that almost made the whole process even more entertaining. Video of Harbaugh watching the decision go down on Mike Tirico’s smart phone and then calmly fist pumping and waltzing back onto the stage is priceless. The guy had just secured perhaps the highest-ranked recruit in Michigan history and he had to just go sit quietly on a couch.

Sure, everybody knew what happened, and Harbaugh even disclosed that he “got some good news backstage,” but watching one of the most enthusiastic men on the planet sit quietly after hearing the most exciting news of his college coaching career was pretty awesome.

A moment that didn’t get captured on camera while Todd McShay was breaking down film of running back commit Kareem Walker, Harbaugh walked back onto the stage and whispered to his assembled early-enrollees and gave them all fist bumps. The crowd of course picked up on this and their cheer that seemed random on the live stream now makes sense.

2. Dabbing

Jim Leyland dab

As it tends to do at all headline sporting events nowadays, dabbing played a major role in the Signing of the Stars.

First, wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell hit a perfect dab on stage after being called up to discuss his first few weeks in Ann Arbor. Mitchell is one of the most outspoken recruits in the class, so making a move in the spotlight was right up his alley.

Then, in an internet-shattering meeting between crusty MLB manager and trendy hip hop group, Jim Leyland turned the world on its head by hitting a well-rehearsed dab with his new buddies Quavo and Takeoff cheering him on. Was it the most beautiful dab in the world? No. Did it almost look like a well-timed sneeze? Yes. But Jim Leyland dabbed with two rap artists and nobody can take that away from him.

Lou Holtz’s dab was just as beautiful, even if it wasn’t as earth-shattering. After stumbling out to the middle of the stage to ensure everyone he’d sang the Michigan fight song, Holtz dabbed with Harbaugh to the glee of six nearby 18-year-old future Michigan football players.

What a time to be alive.

1. Chad Tough tribute

Harbaugh-Chad Carr

One of the underlying benefits of Signing of the Stars is that it raised money for the ChadTough Foundation. The event was not held to be a fundraiser, but to honor Michigan’s nearly 30 new football players. That being said, the tribute to Chad and the persevering cause dedicated in his name turned into perhaps the best moment of the night.

There are many who’ve criticized Michigan for involving the charity in Wednesday’s proceedings. They say Michigan used the charity to deflect criticism of the event. To be blunt, those people are being very stupid.

The ChadTough tribute at the end of the Signing of the Stars capped off a festive day in which Michigan celebrated its stars old and new. I thought it came off as genuine and gave a platform to an issue that’s trying desperately to raise awareness.

Michigan never advertised the Signing of the Stars as a charity event. No, Harbaugh was clear that Wednesday was a day to celebrate Michigan’s new recruiting class. The fact that over $100,000 was also raised toward the cause was just icing on the cake.

Chad’s story puts things in perspective, especially on a day when thousands of people came together to celebrate teenagers committing to a football team. Sure it sounds strange, but it was a slam dunk for Harbaugh, who not only brought great exposure to the program but also gave recruits another reason to consider the Maize and Blue.

Dozens of young men were honored during the Signing of the Stars, none more important than young Chad Carr.

Signing of the Stars shines spotlight on Michigan football

Thursday, February 4th, 2016


Signing of the Stars(MGoBlue.com)

Dense fog blanketing Interstate-94 from Chicago to Ann Arbor in the wee hours of Wednesday morning provided an apt metaphor for the current state of Michigan football. I knew the destination was ahead, but could only see a few feet at a time. As long as I stayed the course I would get to where I was going, despite the vast unseen in between.

By Wednesday afternoon, a good portion of the fog separating the Michigan program from where it stands now to where it wants to be had been lifted as Jim Harbaugh polished off a top-five recruiting class in style with a star-studded event in Hill Auditorium. The one-of-a-kind Signing of the Stars event was streamed live via The Players’ Tribune, drawing a large audience and making Michigan the talk of the college football world on National Signing Day.

During the two hour event seven early-enrollees were introduced by duos of celebrities, resembling an awards show like the ESPYs or the Oscars. Each player walked up onto the stage to applause from the audience, similar to NFL Draft day. Their highlight reels were then broken down by a panel of experts made up of ESPN analyst Todd McShay, former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, and former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.

“That was originally Harbaugh’s idea,” said Matthew Mills, the founder and executive producer of Spacestation, the New York-based production agency that produced the event. “We were told that they wanted something that felt like a combination of NFL Draft day, College GameDay, and an awards show. And I think we delivered that.”

The members of the 2016 recruiting class that were on hand to be celebrated for the night agreed.

Carlo Kemp(MGoBlue.com)

“It felt like NFL Draft day, sitting in your seat and waiting to hear your name called to go say your two lines and stand up there with Coach Harbaugh,” said defensive end Carlo Kemp, who enrolled a month ago. “It was like waiting to get drafted.”

Former Michigan quarterback and current Jacksonville Jaguars running back Denard Robinson, who along with fellow former Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock, was among the day’s presenters, echoed that sentiment.

“It was crazy because during the pre-runs for the whole thing it was kind of funny looking and you’re like ‘how’s this going to set up, how’s it going to be?’ and now you see it and it’s like ‘wow!’ It’s a great idea,” Robinson said. “It’s almost like draft day. You’ve got guys announcing you, you’ve got guys breaking down your highlights, it’s like getting drafted. You come to Michigan for things like this and to get drafted because a lot of people get drafted from this school.”

Per Mills, as Michigan worked to confirm celebrity attendees, who ranged from Tom Brady and Derek Jeter to Josh Gracin and Migos, other celebrities were “coming out of the woodwork” to ask to participate. So much so that Mills and Michigan couldn’t fit them all into the program. Instead, they filmed video montages of Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Robert Patrick, Dick Enberg, Verne Troyer and many more congratulating the recruiting class.

“Usually (coaches) sit by the fax machine and the coach stands up and talks and usually says the same kind of things, so I wanted to do something different, wanted to do something awesome,” Harbaugh said after the event.

SotS(MGoBlue.com)

Although he was traveling across the country, climbing trees, sleeping at recruits’ homes, and attending classes with them, Harbaugh was involved with the planning throughout the process, said Mills.

“He contributed a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We took our cue from him in that regard. He said ‘make this bold and give people something unique’, and I think we gave them that. He was very involved in the process and the creative process. We were giving him briefs about ‘we’d like to do this, we’d like to do that’ and he would say yea or nay or he would amplify something. He was very collaborative and we just had a blast working with him.”

It was a grand spectacle that provided water cooler talk in offices nationwide, some good and some who thought it was over the top. But those who will take notice the most are still in high school and Harbaugh will be battling for their commitments in the years to come.

“Sixteen and 17 year old kids are going to love this,” Kemp said. “I mean, if I knew this was going to happen I probably would have committed even earlier. It’s awesome, it was great. I’m glad to be a part of it and I’ll remember February 3, 2016 for the rest of my life.”

Robinson, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, concurred.

“I think it’s a big deal. It’s going to put us back on the map a little bit. This was a great idea to have guys come out like this. We’ve had so many celebrities come out, actually announcing these guys, so it’s big. I mean as an 18-year old you’ve got Derek Jeter announcing you, Tom Brady announcing you, Ric Flair, Desmond Howard. They get to announce you when you’re 18 years old. It means everything and coming to Michigan is going to be a great opportunity.”

But in addition to celebrating a top five recruiting class, the purpose of the event was to raise awareness and money for pediatric cancer, an issue that has gripped the Michigan family since last year. Chad Carr, the grandson of former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr passed away on Nov. 23 after a battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Giloma (DIPG).

Harbaugh-Chad Carr

While Harbaugh’s recruiting tactics have drawn criticism from rival coaches, players, and fans, there was no more telling moment than shortly after 1pm. As the nation’s consensus top recruit, Rashan Gary, whom Harbaugh and his staff had been courting for over a year, was announcing his commitment to Michigan over Clemson live on ESPNU, Harbaugh wasn’t glued to a television set or a smartphone. He wasn’t backstage working the phones. He wasn’t eagerly awaiting a text message or a call or a tweet.

No, he was standing on stage, flanked by his wife Sarah to his right and Tammi Carr to his left. He was telling the 3,500 fans in attendance and the rest of the country watching the live stream the importance of a five year old kid, urging them to visit ChadToug.org and donate to help fund research that may someday save other kids like Chad who suffer from DIPG.

Word of Gary’s commitment spread through the Hill Auditorium crowd as they wiped their damp eyes — a poignant reminder of what matters most.

Jim Harbaugh’s party guests, ranked

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016


Harbaugh(Getty Images)

Jim Harbaugh sure knows how to throw a party.

Whether it’s a sleepover on the floor of a high school senior’s bedroom, an appearance on Judge Judy, or a National Signing Day celebration, Harbaugh only knows how to do it one way.

He does it BIG.

On Wednesday, Harbaugh will return from a fortnight of country-wide tree climbing and birthday cake baking to officially welcome his first full recruiting class to the halls of the Maize and Blue. But he won’t be sitting beside the fax machine, chewing his fingernails in anticipation of LOIs from high school players.

Instead, Jim Harbaugh will be hosting a few special guests.

What kind of guests? I’m glad you asked.

From current NFL stars to pop culture idols to chain-smoking former MLB managers, this party is sure to have it all. Naturally, I’m going to put these guests into a special edition of the M&GB power rankings (we’ll be sure to update this list as soon as Donald Trump and Bruce Jenner RSVP).

20. Todd McShay
Todd McShay

It’s only fitting that our list kicks off with a savvy little under-the-radar invite from Harbaugh. Although McShay isn’t exactly an American household name, he fits two of the major criteria that 21st Century recruits crave: national television and the NFL.

What better way for Harbaugh to compliment his NFL pedigree than bringing in half of ESPN’s draft debating duo? McShay is an immediate reminder that playing for Harbaugh means a chance to move on to the next level — just ask Jake Rudock.

19. Lou Holtz
Lou Holtz

Thpeaking of sporth broadcathterth, Lou Holth ith altho heading to Ann Arbor. Holtz adds something even Harbaugh doesn’t have to the party: A college football national championship.

If you can look past his “Notre Dame is still 1940s dominant” mentality and the fact that he once compared Rich Rodriguez to Adolph Hitler on national television, Holtz is actually a pretty nice addition.

Just don’t ask him to blow out the candles on the cake.

18. Derek Holland

Derek Holland(AP)

For the non-baseball fanatics, Holland is one of the hidden gems on this guest list. Sure, a simple ESPN search will tell you he’s a soft-throwing, oft-injured southpaw with mediocre career stats. But off the field, Holland has the social arsenal to be the life of the party.

As the five-star recruits pour in from all over the country, Holland can christen their unity with Ann Arbor in the soothing drawl of Harry Caray or the dulcet tones of Tim Kurkjian. Holland’s impression game is so strong, he even does impressions of celebrities doing impressions of other celebrities.

How did this unlikely union between Holland and Harbaugh come to be? It all started on a fateful August evening in downtown Detroit. Harbaugh was set to throw out the first pitch at a Tigers game, and Holland was in right field wearing a Winged Helmet. The rest is a story for another time.

17. Jack Kennedy
Jack Kennedy

No, not THAT Jack Kennedy.

Among the Michigan football alums returning for this remarkable gathering is one of the most efficient passers in the school’s history. Kennedy finished his Michigan career with a perfect completion percentage and an average of six yards per rush.

Even more impressively, the quarterback-turned-rapper opened for Lil’ Wayne back in June when Weezy came to Joe Louis Arena. If he can rock the “Big Show at the Joe,” he can probably handle Hill Auditorium.

16. Randy Sklar
Randy Sklar

Randy Sklar enters the party as a rare five-tool social talent. He went to Michigan, joined a frat, worked for ESPN, became a professional comedian, and appeared on several huge T.V. shows. Harbaugh just couldn’t pass on such a well-rounded talent.

Sklar appeared on shows like CSI, Law & Order, Entourage, Grey’s Anatomy, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He’ll be asked to play the charismatic Michigan-salesman on this episode of Signing of the Stars.

15. Jim Leyland

Jim Leyland(Ronald Martinez)

Ah yes, the Skipper. Can you imagine a conversation between these two Jims? Harbaugh would put so much effort into understanding Leyland’s mumbling and bumbling that he’d probably blow a gasket. Harbaugh’s post-talk slap on the back would send the former Tigers manager to his knees.

Luckily, Hill Auditorium has exits to the left, right, and center of the main entrance, so Leyland can avoid most of the young’uns and take plenty of smoke breaks.

14. Jon Jansen
Jon Jansen(Taylor Baucom, The Players’ Tribune)

Jansen is valuable in that he brings an almost Harbaugh-level enthusiasm for Michigan football. As emcee of the Michigan Football Bust last year, he brought an enthusiasm unknown to mankind in his sendoff for Coach Brady Hoke.

Jansen adds to the NFL experience in the room. He was drafted in the second round in 1999 and played 137 games on the offensive line.

13. Jessica Szohr
Jessica Szohr

If you were starting to think, ‘Wow, there are a lot of dudes going to this party,’ fear not, because Jessica Szohr will also make an appearance.

I won’t even pretend that I know how Harbaugh managed to bring Szohr to Ann Arbor for this event. Maybe she’s an undercover hardcore football fan? Or simply couldn’t say no to Harbaugh’s boyish charm?

Either way, Szohr has some impressive credentials. Her biggest role was Vanessa Abrams — which I think will especially appeal to Gossip Girl diehards like Rashan Gary — and even guest starred in an episode of Drake and Josh, which takes the cake for me.

12. Mayer Hawthorne
mayer-hawthorne

Now that I’ve done a little research and confirmed that Mayer Hawthorne isn’t actually a mayor, I think he’s a strong addition to Harbaugh’s party list.

Lame jokes aside, this guy is all over the music industry. He’s a singer, songwriter, producer, rapper, and DJ and he plays a ton of instruments. I’m not sure how Harbaugh got in touch with the Mayer, but it’s another notch on his popularity belt.

11. Josh Gracin
Josh Gracin

Let’s face it, country music has made a huge comeback over the last several years and it’s not going away.

Not only is Josh Gracin a product of Westland, Michigan, but he also went to school at Western before joining the Marine Corps. He’s a big-name musician in his prime and that’s a major plus on National Signing Day.

Oh yeah, and he picked up bonus points for being on American Idol way back when it was cool. There’s no shame in losing to the likes of Clay Aiken.

10. Phil Hellmuth
Phil Hellmuth

It’s almost like Harbaugh is trying to collect the best of the best in every sport (or activity). Hellmuth has a record 14 World Series of Poker bracelets and won the Main Event in 1989 and the World Series of Poker Europe in 2012.

The Poker Brat might just sit at a table in the corner with his sunglasses on, staring menacingly at the rest of the room with his fingers interlocked, but anyone who musters up the courage to start a conversation with him will surely learn a lot about overreaction and intimidation.

9. David Portnoy
Milton, MA 022511 Dave Portnoy (cq) is the publisher of Barstool Sports empire which he puts out his Milton office. He and his blogger / vlogger Jenna Mourey (cq) were photographed at his office on February 25, 2011. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)/ MET

This is one of the unbelievably amazing names that might be unappreciated on the list. El Presidente did the entire world a huge favor when he started Barstool Sports and he’s one of the best follows on Twitter.

Portney will be an easier guy to approach at the party, but I think a conversation with him will be the most entertaining on campus. This’ll also be a bit of a reunion for Portney, who went to high school with McShay in Massachusetts.

8. Denard Robinson

(Daniel Brenner, AnnArbor.com)

He may not be the biggest name on this list, but there’s no way Shoelace wasn’t making my top 10.

Denard Robinson was the single player who made watching Michigan football bearable from 2009-2012. In an offensive era defined by terrible coaching and broken plays, Denard turned bad snaps and missed blocks into 60-yard touchdown runs. He was the best athlete every time he took the field, and didn’t make a peep when he lost his starting job due to injury.

And in a world of domestic violence, drunk driving, and banned substance abuse, it’s refreshing to remember a character like Denard Robinson.

7. Migos
Migos

All you need to know about this hip hop trio is they call themselves Migos and their names are Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff. They work under the former manager for Gucci Mane, which I think makes them pretty cool, and I’m sure Harbaugh heard their name on the recruiting trail a few times.

Hey, they’re no 2 Chainz, but they’ll have to do.

6. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski(Geoff Burke, Getty Images)

I’m certainly not much of a NASCAR expert, but a quick Google search told me Keselowski finished seventh in the Sprint Cup standings last season.

If top 10 is good enough for Harbaugh, it’ll be good enough for the recruits. Keselowski has won at some of the biggest racetracks in the country and even has a Sprint Cup championship under his belt. As NASCAR’s biggest Michigan football fan, he’ll fit right in.

5. Mike Shanahan
Mike Shanahan(Getty Images)

We’re getting down into elite territory now, and my top 5 will start with the most accomplished coach attending the event.

Shanahan has been out of the NFL for a few years now, but his nearly two decades of head coaching experience is highlighted by three Super Bowl championships and 178 career wins.

In a building full of football fanatics, Shanahan’s three rings will shine even brighter than Quavo’s chains.

4. Desmond Howard
Desmond Howard

This was probably the easiest sell of the year for Harbaugh, but that doesn’t take away from how valuable Howard’s presence will be.

Howard is one of the greatest players in Michigan history as a Heisman Trophy winner and author of one of the program’s most memorable moments. He’s an unabashed homer for the Wolverines on the most popular football pregame show in the world and won’t hesitate to do whatever he can to help Harbaugh in his pursuit of the best players in the country.

Des will give new Michigan players an early taste of what Ann Arbor love really looks like.

3. Ric Flair
Ric Flair

Ever since Harbaugh said he would love to host WrestleMania at the Big House, he’s been a popular guy in professional wrestling circles. He specifically said he wanted to referee a bout between Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan, which likely kicked off the relationship that brought the former wrestler onto this list.

Wrestling isn’t as popular as it used to be, but Harbaugh’s sudden in with pro wrestlers is one of the things that is so Harbaugh you can’t help but admire it. Flair, like Keselowski and Holland, demonstrates another corner of the sporting world Harbaugh has taken over.

2. Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter

Every fanbase has its crowned jewels, and Derek Jeter is one Michigan fans hold close to their hearts. When Jeter shows his support for the Wolverines, Michigan football gains even more credibility.

It couldn’t have been difficult to get Jeter to Ann Arbor for this party after he spent a full night partying at Rick’s in the fall. The Captain also came to the Big House for a game this season and stood on the Michigan sideline. It’s obvious that Harbaugh is working to keep Michigan’s most famous fans in the loop.

1. Tom Brady
Tom Brady(AP)

Nobody on this list even comes close to matching Tom Brady. Even though he only started for two seasons at Michigan and fell to the 6th round of the NFL draft, Brady is one of the greatest players to ever step on the field.

When Brady walks into the hall with his four Super Bowl rings, two MVP awards, 11 Pro Bowls, and nearly 60,000 career passing yards, he’ll be the absolute center of attention. Brady alone has turned half the state of Michigan into devoted Patriots fans and when his face pops up on the Big House scoreboard, the responding cheer is unmatched.

Brady is probably the most loved Michigan player of all time, and might retire as the greatest football player in history, so he grabs the top spot on this star-studded list.

While the event is drawing big names from all corners of the sports and entertainment world, I would be remiss not to mention the ChadTough Foundation, which will be the biggest beneficiary of the event. Proceeds from tickets sold to the event will go to the foundation, and Michigan donor Ira Harris announced that he will match any donation at the event up to $50,000. Whether you’re going to the event, following The Players’ Tribune’s live stream, or stuck at work, head on over to the foundation’s website and make a donation to help fight DIPG.

Wednesday is sure to be a big day for Michigan football, wrapping up one of the top recruiting classes in the country with a party full of stars on hand and all benefiting a great cause.

Who’s got it better than us?

No-body!

Michigan’s potential bowl matchups

Sunday, December 6th, 2015


Citrus Bowl

The last 12 months have been a roller coaster ride for the University of Michigan in terms of bowl aspirations. After dropping its final two games in 2014, the Wolverines failed to qualify for postseason play for the third time in seven years. Fast forward to just over a week ago, and Jim Harbaugh’s team had an outside chance to land in the College Football Playoff.

But after being blown out at home by Ohio State and finishing the season at 9-3, the 2015 Wolverines sit somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Michigan’s resume is impressive, but the Big Ten is loaded with elite teams at the top.

Michigan State will move on to the final four while Iowa and Ohio State will land in New Year’s Six bowls – likely the Rose Bowl and an at-large bid.

Once those three top 10 teams are placed, Michigan and Northwestern are the remaining ranked teams in the conference. So how does it work from there? Since the Orange Bowl is hosting one of the national semifinal (playoff) games, the Big Ten will send a team to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

I think the Citrus Bowl is Michigan’s most likely destination, though the Big Ten has to approve the bowl’s request before anything is finalized. Formerly the Capital One Bowl, the Citrus Bowl is an upper-tier bowl that pits a Big Ten school against an SEC school.

Potential Citrus Bowl matchups

Florida vs. Michigan: Since the Gators couldn’t upset the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game, Alabama will move on to the College Football Playoff and leave Florida as the top non-final four team in the conference. Florida’s Cinderella season lost most of its steam when starting quarterback Will Grier was suspended for using a banned substance. In the final four weeks of the regular season, Florida nearly lost to Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida Atlantic before getting crushed and failing to score on offense against Florida State. Though the Gators did win the East, they aren’t trending in a direction that will make them a sexy bowl pick. But if these teams do meet, it would be a rematch of Lloyd Carr’s last game as Michigan’s coach, when the Wolverines won an entertaining shootout over Tim Tebow and the Gators.

Ole Miss vs. Michigan: Mississippi got dumped by Florida, 38-10, back in October, but the final few weeks of the season could give the Rebels a leg up on the Gators in the bowl selection process. Ole Miss has a road win over Alabama on its resume, the crowned jewel on an otherwise average resume. The Rebels lost to Memphis and Arkansas but picked up a pair of solid wins over LSU and Mississippi State to close out the season. Michigan has struggled to stop the run since losing Ryan Glasgow from the defensive line, but Ole Miss is led by quarterback Chad Kelly, who would meet one of the best secondary units in the country in this matchup.

If Michigan isn’t picked for the Citrus Bowl, it would likely head about 100 miles southwest to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida. The Outback Bowl will host five different Big Ten teams from 2014-2019, so Michigan could land here for the second time in four seasons. The Wolverines lost a shootout with South Carolina in the Outback Bowl under Brady Hoke on Jan. 1, 2013. Like the Citrus Bowl, the Outback Bowl would match Michigan up with an SEC team.

Potential Outback Bowl matchups

LSU vs. Michigan: The Les Miles vs. Michigan storyline would give this matchup a little extra steam, but LSU was dreadful during the second half of the season. Three straight blowouts at the hands of Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss proved that if you can stop running back Leonard Fournette, you can roll past the Tigers.

Mississippi State vs. Michigan: If this matchup brings back bad memories for Michigan fans, that’s because Mississippi State was responsible for putting the nail in the coffin to send Rich Rodriguez out of Ann Arbor. It took Michigan three seasons to make a bowl game under Rich Rod, and when it did, the Bulldogs smashed the Wolverines 52-14 in the Gator Bowl.

Georgia vs. Michigan: I really don’t see this happening, because Georgia would have to be selected above some of the much more impressive teams in the SEC West, but the Bulldogs did finish second in the East. Though Georgia won nine games and reportedly hired Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to replace Mark Richt, this team might be a bit of a mess in the bowl game.

The only other potential landing spot for Michigan would likely be the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The Holiday Bowl is the final top-tier bowl game with a Big Ten tie, and it would give Michigan a chance to play a Pac-12 team.

Potential Holiday Bowl matchups

USC vs. Michigan: USC put up a bit of a fight against Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but the Trojans finished the disappointing season with five losses. At times, like in a runaway win over Utah, USC’s elite talent shone through and it looked nearly unbeatable. But Pat Hayden’s crew is very hit-or-miss, especially after a month of preparation.

Oregon vs. Michigan: This is definitely not a matchup Michigan wants to see. With Vernon Adams back healthy at quarterback, Oregon’s offense is rolling and the Ducks are extremely dangerous. Michigan would have to win a shootout to win this matchup, a tall task against a team like Oregon.

The College Football Selection Show will air on ESPN at 12:30pm Eastern time today, beginning with the playoff teams and pairings. The rest of the New Year’s Six bowl pairings will be announced along with the rest of the Top 25. Michigan will know its destination and opponent by this evening, so stay tuned for a preview.

CFP Rankings: What they missed – Nov. 24, 2015

Friday, November 27th, 2015


CFP banner

The College Football Playoff selection committee cleaned up some of its own mess this week when it released the third-to-last top 25 of the season.

Ohio State and Memphis were both embarrassed on Saturday, forcing the committee to drop both schools from pedestals they didn’t deserve. Even Florida, which hasn’t looked like a top 50 team for weeks, finally paid the price after a slim overtime victory over Florida Atlantic University.

But there are still a rash of alarming mistakes, highlighted by a few I pointed out last week. Stanford is still ranked above Michigan, despite the clear Wolverine edge in both quality wins and outcomes against common opponents. North Carolina is also ranked ahead of a few teams with much better resumes and far fewer cupcake wins over FCS opponents.

For now, let’s dive into some of the new mistakes that emerged from Tuesday’s rankings.

(3) Oklahoma…anywhere near the top 3

While the rest of the country jumps aboard the Sooner bandwagon, I’ve been left wondering what it is about their resume I’m not seeing.

Oklahoma has only played two respectable opponents this season – Baylor and TCU – and neither team had its starting quarterback against the Sooners. Committee chairman Jeff Long touted Oklahoma for dominating Saturday’s contest while its starting quarterback was in the game. But did he realize TCU played with a backup for 60 minutes? The Horned Frogs were also without their top playmaking receiver in the contest.

But a win over a two-loss TCU team playing without its two best players was enough to vault Oklahoma to number three?

Maybe the committee is forgetting Oct. 10, when the Sooners were thoroughly dominated by a terrible 4-7 Texas team that has since lost to the likes of West Virginia and Iowa State? Texas outgained Oklahoma by 90 yards and never trailed in the contest.
How in the world can this happen?

Who should be above Oklahoma? Let’s start with Iowa, a team that, in case you haven’t noticed, is undefeated. The Hawkeyes have two wins – Wisconsin and Northwestern – that are just as impressive as beating Baylor and TCU with backup quarterbacks. And Iowa hasn’t lost to anybody, let alone a 4-7 train wreck like Texas.

Michigan State should also be ahead of Oklahoma. The Spartans have wins over Oregon and Michigan and Ohio State on the road. They went into Columbus and bullied the Buckeyes with two backup quarterbacks. Oklahoma jumping two Big Ten teams with such obviously stronger resumes makes me worry about the integrity of the sport.

If Oklahoma wins out and stays above an undefeated Iowa or one-loss MSU, it’ll be obvious the committee is trying to make up for snubbing the Big 12 last season.

(13) Florida State ranked above (16) Northwestern

Does the committee even know that Jameis Winston declared for the NFL Draft?

Florida State and Northwestern, which share identical 9-2 records, should be the easiest side-by-side ranking of the top 25.

Florida State plays in the worst power five conference and has zero wins over ranked opponents. In fact, FSU’s best win came over an N.C. State team that lost to Virginia Tech by 15 points. In the only ranked game the Seminoles have played this season, they lost by 10 points at Clemson.

Oh yeah, and Florida State lost to a Georgia Tech team that is 3-8. Three wins, eight losses. Georgia Tech’s only win in over two and a half months came against Florida State.

Northwestern, on the other hand, lost to two top ten teams in the country. It has wins over No. 9 Stanford and on the road against previously-ranked Wisconsin. Northwestern also beat Penn State, Nebraska and Duke, all teams better than N.C. State.

But the Wildcats really aren’t even close in the rankings. They’re three spots behind a team with worse wins, a much worse loss and a one-hit wonder schedule. If there was any question the committee doesn’t know what it’s doing, it’s been answered.

(14) North Carolina ranked above (15) Navy

You might look at this example and think, ‘These teams are only one spot apart, why does it matter?’ It matters because the CFP committee has one job, to rank football teams, and it can’t even do that right.

North Carolina is on a 10-game winning streak, which is an impressive feat. But I think more than a handful of college football teams would be on a 10-game winning streak if they played two FCS schools, Illinois, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech along the way. UNC did beat Miami and Duke, but both games were at home. The team’s best win came over a Pittsburgh team that isn’t ranked in any of the polls.

By the way, the Tarheels lost to South Carolina. Yes, the same South Carolina that is 3-8 and just lost at home to The Citadel.

Unlike UNC, Navy’s lone loss came to a top 10 team. The Midshipmen lost at (6) Notre Dame on Oct. 10 and have since put together a five-game winning streak of their own. Navy has beaten three eight-win teams this season by an average of 19.67 points. North Carolina beat one eight-win team by seven points.

There’s no doubt Navy has put together a much stronger resume than North Carolina this season, but apparently, the committee is too blind to notice.

With every passing week, these mistakes become more and more alarming. The committee is not only whiffing on teams ranked outside the top 10, it can’t even nail down a deserving top four.

If most of the top-ranked teams continue to win and force these “experts” to make a tough decision, I have no confidence they can sit down and pick the four most deserving teams to play for a championship.

Alarming CFP ranking mistakes cast shadow over wonderful weekend

Friday, November 20th, 2015


CFP banner

Week 12 of the 2015 college football season embodied everything that’s great about college sports. Four of the top 10 teams fell in upset fashion and seven additional games featuring ranked teams were decided by a single score. Two teams, Michigan and Utah, played into double overtime on the road. Kansas, 0-10 on the season, had three chances to knock off one of the Big 12’s best teams on the road.

The weekend was perfect, but Tuesday night was not.

At this time of year, Tuesdays become almost as important as what happens on the field on Saturdays. Tuesday nights are when the College Football Playoff committee releases its weekly rankings and reveal which teams have the chance to play for the National Championship.

The committee is given the most important job in college sports. I won’t bore you with details, but thousands of students and coaches dedicate their lives to each season. Hundreds of millions are spent (and more importantly, earned) through games, travel, television deals and merchandise. This entire process is held together by the common aspiration of every major program in the country: To win championships.

Despite all the chaos that happens on the field, the committee’s job is relatively simple. They put two resumes next to each other, and the better one is ranked higher. Is it the committee’s job to guess which teams are the best? No. The ranking process should be all about resumes. If it’s not, then what’s the point of playing the games?

In spite of the beautiful simplicity of this process, the committee still manages to make baffling mistakes each and every week. It harks on criteria like head-to-head outcomes, scores against common opponents and strength of schedule, yet when the rankings are released, those factors seem to take a back seat to a more ambiguous placement process.

It’s not the committee’s job to get most of the rankings right, it’s the committee’s job to get all of the rankings right. If you disagree, just talk to the players who poured their hearts and souls into 12 fall Saturdays only to finish below a team that didn’t have as strong of a season. When the committee can’t correctly rank Nos. 10-25, why should we have any faith it’ll pick the right teams for the final four?

Before you read any further, remember: This is my opinion on the rankings, and yes, I know only the final top 25 matters. But the weeks leading up to that reveal are important because they set the stage and give us a look at how the committee operates.

Take a look at some of the problems I found in this week’s rankings.

(3) Ohio State ranked above (5) Iowa
Comparison
Ohio State logo new  Iowa logo
10-0 (6-0) Record 10-0 (6-0)
0-0 vs Top 25 2-0
59 SOS 53
22.6 Scoring Margin 15.2
1 Record vs P5 teams over .500 3
Penn State
N. Illinois
W. Michigan
Best Wins at #20 Northwestern
at #25 Wisconsin
Pittsburgh

One of the simplest mistakes the committee has made in the first three weeks concerns the Big Ten, which features four top-12 teams.

The conference’s remaining undefeated teams, Ohio State and Iowa, would eventually have to meet in the conference championship game, should they both continue to win. But even so, their placement is an example of the committee refusing to use solid evidence in the rankings.

Do I think Iowa is a better team than Ohio State? Absolutely not. But Iowa has three wins over power five teams with at least seven victories, two of which came against ranked teams on the road. Ohio State, on the other hand, has only one win against a winning power five team: A home win over 7-3 Penn State. The best three wins on Iowa’s resume came at (20) Northwestern and (25) Wisconsin and against Pittsburgh. Ohio State’s best three wins came at home against Penn State, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.

So how does Ohio State land in the top four while Iowa sits on the outside looking in? There really isn’t a good answer. The Hawkeyes went on the road and dismantled the 20th-ranked Wildcats by 30 points last month. The only teams Ohio State beat by 30 were Hawaii and Rutgers.

Sure, this will work itself out on Dec. 5 if the teams meet in Indianapolis. But what if these teams weren’t in the same conference? It’s alarming that the committee feels it can take matters into its own hands instead of letting the play on the field determine who makes the top four.

(11) Stanford ranked above (12) Michigan
Comparison
Stanford Logo Maize M
8-2 (7-1) Record 8-2 (5-1)
2-2 vs Top 25 1-2
40 SOS 37
15.0 Scoring Margin 17.8
at #22 USC (41-31) Best Win #20 Northwestern (38-0)
at #20 Northwestern
#23 Oregon
Losses Current #13 Utah
#9 Michigan State

Here’s the most indefensible example of the committee completely whiffing on teams with identical records and completely different resumes.

Let’s break down both bodies of work. Michigan’s two losses came to the 9th and current 13th-ranked teams in the country and Stanford’s two losses came to the 20th and 23rd-ranked teams in the country.

Was Stanford more competitive in those loses? Well, the Cardinal lost its season opener by 10 points. The Wolverines lost their first game of an entirely new system by a touchdown. Stanford lost to Oregon after being outplayed from start to finish. Michigan lost to Michigan State after outplaying the Spartans start to finish.

Okay, so it’s not because of the losses.

Maybe Stanford has a better win? Strike two. Stanford’s best victory came over the 24th-ranked team in the country. Michigan blew out the 20th-ranked team in the country.

How about their performances against common opponents, which is specifically outlined as one of the main criterion of the rankings? Michigan finished 2-0 against the common opponents (Northwestern and Oregon State) with a combined score of 73-7. Stanford finished 1-1 with a combined score of 48-40. The Wolverines beat Northwestern by 38 points and Stanford lost to Northwestern by 10 points. That’s a 48-point difference.

But it’s not enough for the committee. Jeff Long and company can’t even build a top 25 by the standards they created. Michigan has a far better resume than Stanford, but the committee threw the Cardinal one spot ahead of the Wolverines. Strike three.

(17) North Carolina ranked above (20) Northwestern
Comparison
 UNC NorthwesternLogo
9-1 (6-0) Record 8-2 (4-2)
0-0 vs Top 25 1-2
101 SOS 21
22.6 Scoring Margin 15.2
at Pittsburgh (29-16) Best Win #15 Stanford (16-6)
South Carolina Losses at #14 Michigan
#6 Iowa

Now I’ll give you an example of the committee completely overreacting to one week. On Tuesday, it announced that North Carolina, previously ranked 23rd, jumped up six spots to 17th.

You’re probably thinking, ‘Wow, which top 10 team did the Tarheels knock off to earn such a jump?’ Actually, all UNC did was knock off one of the biggest dumpster fires of the season, Miami, at home. How does a win over a team that’s lucky – and I mean LUCKY (see Miami’s win over Duke) – to have an above .500 record vault North Carolina over a team like Northwestern?

North Carolina hasn’t played a single ranked team this season. In fact, UNC’s best win came over a Pittsburgh team that has one win over an above .500 team. The Tarheels spent their preconference season playing two FCS schools and two bottom-feeder power five teams. Oh yeah, and they lost to a 3-7 team.

Meanwhile, Northwestern already played three teams ranked in the top 12 of the playoff rankings, including a comfortable 10-point win over Stanford. The Wildcats also won at Duke before the Blue Devils had the wind taken out of their sails by the officials in the Miami game. For good measure, Pat Fitzgerald’s team won at Nebraska and knocked off seven-win Penn State.

Sure, Northwestern has two losses and North Carolina only has one. But as we’ve seen in Alabama’s rise to No. 2, that isn’t the most important factor in the rankings. It’s flooring that a win over a team as bad as Miami can boost North Carolina over a team that’s played a much better schedule and has much better wins.

(21) Memphis loses… but doesn’t fall

When I saw Memphis ranked at No. 21 in this week’s polls, I couldn’t help but laugh.

After getting dumped by Navy – by a score of 45-20 – Memphis fell eight spots to No. 21 in week 11. This weekend, the Tigers blew a huge 4th-quarter lead to Houston and lost their second straight game. But despite the two-game losing streak and the clear exposing of this team’s defense (80 points allowed in the last two weeks), Memphis didn’t fall a single spot in the rankings.

Here’s the kicker: Memphis didn’t even lose to a team ranked higher in the rankings. The committee ranked undefeated Houston 24th in week 11 and Memphis lost to Houston. Clearly, that means Memphis isn’t as good as the committee thought. But there isn’t any accountability for the loss.

How can you lose a game and not be penalized? That’s a world of college football I don’t want to live in. Most of these teams will have a chance to move up over the next few weeks, but that doesn’t change the clear miscues the committee has made through three weeks.

College football deserves a committee that can get this right. Every season is a clean slate and teams that earn the right to compete for a title this year should be given the chance to do so by the committee. If not, the playoff is no better than the BCS.

Michigan’s College Football Playoff rooting guide: Nov. 14

Saturday, November 14th, 2015


Cardinals Stadium

Only four weekends separate us from when the College Football Playoff and bowl game selection committees will make their final decisions and determine the fate of teams that have earned the right to play in the postseason.

Through Week 10, more than 100 FBS teams have been realistically eliminated from playoff contention. Michigan, an enormous long shot to make the Final Four, is one of the teams still in the hunt. But since the Wolverines already lost two games, they need a ton of help over the next four weeks.

Yes, it would take a Hollywood movie-type finish to the season for Michigan to slip into the top four. But until that last glimmer of hope dies, Michigan fans should enjoy the team’s first meaningful home stretch in almost a decade.

We’ll stick with the movie theme as we break down the first of the final four Saturdays. If you’re a Michigan fan holding out hope, here’s what you should root for.

“I really, really need you”

In honor of Sanka Coffie from Cool Runnings, these teams completely hold Michigan’s fate in their hands. These are the teams that Michigan absolutely needs victories from on Saturday in order to keep the Wolverines’ CFP hopes alive. If even one of these teams falls, Michigan’s CFP dreams die.

No. 14 Michigan (away) against Indiana (3:30pm, ABC): The only absolutely essential game for Michigan this weekend is its own contest in Bloomington. Thanks to a pair of early losses, the Wolverines don’t have any room for error. As soon as they drop a third game, it’s all over.

Result: Michigan 48 – Indiana 41 (2OT)

“It could happen!”

In honor of JP from Angels in the Outfield, this is the “It could happen” group. These are the teams Michigan is rooting for that have a legitimate chance to win on Saturday. Wins by these teams either help the Wolverines move up in the rankings or improve their resume (in order of kickoff time).

South Carolina (home) against No. 11 Florida (12pm, ESPN): Florida will win the SEC East and play in the conference championship game, so there’s another loss in the future. But after a 9-7 win over Vanderbilt last week, a loss to 3-6 South Carolina would drop Florida well below Michigan.

Result: Florida 24 – South Carolina 14

No. 3 Ohio State (away) against Illinois (12pm, ABC): This one might be tough to understand, but Michigan actually needs the Buckeyes to be undefeated when they come to Ann Arbor. A win against a top two team in the country would prompt a big jump for the Wolverines.

Result: Ohio State 28 – Illinois 3

No. 13 Michigan State (home) against Maryland (12pm, ESPN2): Even more surprising than rooting for Ohio State? Michigan needs MSU to bounce back against Maryland. The Wolverines already need the Spartans to lose next weekend in Columbus to have a shot to win the Big Ten, so this week’s game is very important. If Michigan State loses to Maryland and makes it three straight against in Columbus, it’ll drop out of the top 25. That would make Michigan’s loss in October much less forgivable.

Result: Michigan State 24 – Maryland 7

No. 18 Northwestern (home) against Purdue (12pm, BTN): Northwestern is Michigan’s best win of the season. As long as Pat Fitzgerald’s team keeps winning, Michigan’s resume gets better and better. If the Wildcats lose to Purdue, everything they’ve worked for comes crashing down.

Result: Northwestern 21 – Purdue 14

No. 2 Alabama (away) against No. 17 Mississippi State (3:30pm, CBS): Here’s another strange one, but Michigan needs Alabama to lose for two reasons. First, the CFP committee has proven it WILL NOT penalize Alabama for losing, no matter the conditions. Nick Saban’s team lost at home to an unranked team and still sits ahead of five of the six unbeaten teams in the country. So since Alabama will stay ahead of Michigan no matter what happens, the Wolverines might as well avoid being jumped by Mississippi State in the process.

Result: Alabama 31 – Mississippi State 6

Iowa State (home) against No. 8 Oklahoma State (3:30pm, ESPN): Oklahoma State burst onto the scene when it stomped TCU by 20 last weekend. Now, with both Oklahoma and Baylor coming to town over the next two weeks, Michigan needs a team like Iowa State to do the dirty work and knock off the undefeated Cowboys. With no conference championship game, Big 12 teams will have a hard time bouncing back from losses like that.

Result: Oklahoma State 35 – Iowa State 31

No. 12 Oklahoma (away) against No. 6 Baylor (8pm, ABC): Since the Bears lost their starting quarterback to a neck injury, the entire country has been waiting for them to slip up. Once they do, their fall in the polls will be a long one. Without a quality victory to its name, Baylor would fall out of contention with a home loss to Oklahoma. As far as the Sooners, they’ve still got games against TCU and Oklahoma State on the horizon. Michigan can hope for a slip up in one of those contests.

Result: Oklahoma 44 – Baylor 34

No. 5 Iowa (home) against Minnesota (8pm, BTN): If you actually think Michigan has a chance to slip into the top four, you need Iowa to keep winning and head into the Big Ten Championship Game with a 12-0 record. That would mean another opportunity for a top five win.

Iowa 40 – Minnesota 35

“It’s just not believable, Cotton”

In honor of Pepper Brooks, from Dodgeball, these are the true underdog stories. These teams have almost no chance to win, but if they do, it would really help Michigan.

N.C. State (away) against No. 16 Florida State (12:30pm, ESPN3): Another incredible oversight by the CFP committee: Florida State lost a game last weekend and didn’t drop a single spot. Yes, it was to the No. 1 team in the country on the road, but a loss is a loss. If N.C. State pulls an unlikely upset, FSU becomes an afterthought.

Result: Florida State 34 – N.C. State 17

Wake Forest (away) against No. 4 Notre Dame (3:30pm, NBC): Wake Forest is really, really bad. As Notre Dame’s second loss, this would likely drop the Irish out of the top 15.

Result: Notre Dame 28 – Wake Forest 7

Arkansas (away) against No. 9 LSU (7:15pm, ESPN): LSU got pounded against Alabama last week and now faces a streaking Arkansas team. Another loss would devastate Leonard Fournette and Company.

Result: Arkansas 31 – LSU 14

Arizona (home) against No. 10 Utah (10pm, FS1): “How can you ask me to root for Rich Rod’s team!?” Because Arizona is irrelevant on the national scale and Utah is ranked ahead of Michigan. Yes, a Utes loss would diminish Michigan’s opening-week game, but Utah could still win the Pac-12 South and finish in the top 15 with two losses. As long as the Utes stay in the top 25, it’s more important for Michigan to jump them in the poll.

Result: Arizona 37 – Utah 30

Oregon (away) against No. 7 Stanford (7:30pm, FOX): Oregon is starting to play a bit better, but this game is still a long shot. If Stanford losses its second game of the season, Michigan will definitely jump ahead of the Cardinal because of a win against their only common opponent: Northwestern.

Result: Oregon 38 – Stanford 36

How good is this Michigan defense?

Thursday, October 29th, 2015


eMichigan's cornerback Charles Woodson (2) leaps to make an interception in the end zone in the first half on a pass from Washington State's Ryan Leaf during the 84th Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 1, 1998. Watching the play are Michigan's William Peterson (23) and Washington States Kevin McKenzie (9). Player at right unidentified.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)(Mark J. Terrill, AP)

The 1997 Michigan football team is considered the best Michigan team in the modern era. With Heisman trophy winner Charles Woodson leading a defense full of future NFL players, the Wolverines captured a national championship.

Seven games into the 2015 season, Michigan once again features one of the nation’s best defenses. But how does it compare to that legendary 1997 squad? You might be surprised.

The 1997 squad yielded 57 points through seven games compared to 65 allowed by the current team. But 13 of those 65 points allowed weren’t allowed by the defense. Utah’s Justin Thomas returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown in the season opener and Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Remove those two scores that weren’t allowed by the defense and the Michigan defense has actually allowed just 52 points — five fewer than the 1997 defense through seven games.

1997 vs 2015 Michigan defense comparison (through 7 games)
1997 2015
Points Allowed 57 (8.1) 65 (9.3)
Total Yards Allowed 1,518 (216.9) 1,474 (210.6)
Rush Yards Allowed 537 (76.7) 453 (64.7)
Pass Yards Allowed 981 (140.1) 1,021 (145.9)
First Downs Allowed 80 (11.4) 89 (12.7)
3rd Down % 29/105 (27.6%) 19/97 (19.6%)
Sacks 16 (2.3) 18 (2.6)
Turnovers Forced 21 (3.0) 8 (1.1)

The 1997 Michigan defense allowed 216.9 total yards per game, 76.7 on the ground and 140.1 through the air. This year’s defense has given up 210.6 total yards per game, 64.7 on the ground and 145.9 through the air. Similar to the 386 total yards Michigan allowed to Michigan State two weeks ago, the 1997 squad allowed 354 yards to Notre Dame in Week 3. However, that still yielded a win.

The 1997 Michigan defense allowed its first seven opponents to convert 27.6 percent (29 of 105) of their third downs, while the current squad has allowed just 19.6 percent (19 of 97). The 1997 defense recorded 16 sacks (2.3 per game) through its first seven games, while this year’s team has notched 18 (2.6 per game).

Now, the big difference is the 1997 squad won all seven games, while the current team stands at 5-2. Why is that? Could it be because the 1997 offense was better? Actually, no. While the 1997 Michigan offense averaged 30.7 more total yards in its first seven games than this year’s squad, it averaged 28.1 points per game compared to 28.6 this year. So this year’s team has scored a field goal more than Lloyd Carr’s championship team at this point. Maybe this year’s offense turns the ball over more? Nope. This year’s offense has committed 10 turnovers through seven games, while the 1997 offense turned it over 13 times in that same span.

So what’s the biggest difference between the two teams? I think it comes down to turnovers forced. The biggest — and only — real disparity between the 1997 Michigan defense and the current one is the amount of turnovers forced. Led by Woodson, that defense forced 21 turnovers through seven games, an average of three per game. This year’s defense has forced just eight, 1.1 per game. Give this year’s offense 13 more possessions — and take away 13 potential opponent scoring opportunities — and we very well could be rooting for a top-10 or top-5 team in Minneapolis this Saturday.

In the first year of the Jim Harbaugh era, we are looking at one of the best Michigan defenses in recent memory, one that rivals what most Michigan fans consider THE best Michigan defense in recent memory. It likely won’t yield as many NFL draft picks, but with the exception of turnovers forced, it’s performing at an equal, if not higher, level.