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Posts Tagged ‘Big Ten Championship’

Maize and Go Blue staff roundtable

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Just a few days from the start of the season, the time has come to put our predictions to paper. Or the internet, where they will forever live, serving as a reminder of the surge of optimism that perpetually springs just before the don of a new season. All the usual suspects – Justin, Chris, Sam, Josh, and Katie – will give their predictions, as will the newest member of our staff, Derick, who you have read in our preseason Predicting Michigan series. You can view all of our staff bios on the Meet the Staff page.

With introductions out of the way, let’s get down to business.

What are you most excited about this season?

JUSTIN: I’m excited about the return to the Michigan football of old. Denard Robinson will forever be remembered as a great Michigan football player, but as was apparent he had his limitations and Al Borges was never able to fully implement his offense.

Back when Rich Rodriguez was announced as the new head coach to replace Lloyd Carr, there was a lot of excitement over the kind of offense he could bring to Ann Arbor, the likes of which none of us had ever seen. The Michigan brand of football had gotten a little stale during the latter part of Carr’s tenure, so we were excited for something new. Well, we all know how that turned out and now a return to smash-mouth Michigan football with mammoth offensive linemen and tall, rangy wide receivers sounds more appealing than ever. It’s funny how perspective changes.

Most of us are looking forward to getting back to the Michigan football we all remember

There will still be some pieces of spread mixed in, but with Devin Gardner behind center Borges’ offense will be able to thrive. It will take a little time to be sure, with a young interior line and group of receivers, but I’m excited to see the return to Bo and Mo and Lloyd’s brand of football.

CHRIS: Seeing how the offense will look with Devin Gardner as the starting QB and a stable of quality running backs, including the return of Fitz Toussaint from a major injury, and a group of young, top recruits.

JOSH: Having a legitimate passing threat under center and getting back to real Michigan football. It’s been far too long since we’ve seen that style and been good at it (2006). To me Michigan football is a smash mouth running game and a tough defense, I think we get one step closer to resembling the teams of yesteryear.

SAM: Besides football being back? Well, to start off, I’m excited about the potential of the offense to put up some points with Devin Gardner leading the way, a crowded yet talented corps of running backs, a tight end that can make any defender look foolish, two bite-sized receivers with hands made of glue, and an actual, tangible depth chart on the offensive line that doesn’t read “PANIC” after the starter goes down. I think Al Borges is finally starting to see an offense on the field close to the one he envisioned when joining Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor two seasons ago, and the results should start to show. Denard Robinson was an other-worldly talent, but his skill set simply did not match up with what the New Michigan is looking to do – pound the ball behind a physical offensive line and take deep shots down the field when the safeties are forced to cheat up. Gardner certainly has the physical abilities to run the system to near perfection, and if he starts up where he left off last season, the Wolverines should light up the scoreboard.

As a special aside, I also want to give Dennis Norfleet a quick shout-out as the lead punt and kick returner. Norfleet is probably the single most exciting player on the roster, and I think it’s about time Michigan scored on special teams. Look for that to happen within the first two weeks of the season.

DERICK: The return of a potent passing attack to the offense. As Denard Robinson moves on to the NFL, Brady Hoke and Al Borges will try to move back in the direction of a physical offensive style. Quarterback Devin Gardner will lead the 2013 Michigan offense with a revamped passing attack. During his starts at the end of 2012, Gardner proved that he has an accurate arm and can extend plays with his legs. Receivers like Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and Amara Darboh figure to have big seasons with Gardner under center.

KATIE: Seeing what Devin Gardner can do, and if he finds a go-to in Gallon or Funchess.

What worries you the most entering the season?

JUSTIN: My main concern is the inexperience on the offensive line and at receiver. Returning to a power running game is great, but you have to have interior linemen that can open holes for your backs. Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield are solid bookends, but how quickly will Graham Glasgow, Jack Miller, and Kyle Kalis gel? The opener against Central Michigan will be a good dry run, but we’ll get our first real indication in Week 2 against Notre Dame’s ferocious defensive front.

At receiver, the loss of Amara Darboh to injury is a big blow. Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo are well established, but the offense needs a guy like Darboh who can play the Junior Hemingway/Adrian Arrington role. A lot of pressure will fall on Jehu Chesson to step up, which I think he’s more than capable of doing. I’m not sold on Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds, who have had three years to step up and still haven’t done so.

The young offensive line worries us the most (John T. Greilick, Detroit News)

CHRIS: How an inexperienced group of players on the offensive and defensive lines will mature and get better throughout the season.  With three new starters on the offensive line, and essentially three new starters on the D-line, I believe this to be the key to how good of a season that the Wolverines end up having.

JOSH: Lack of known commodities on the line, receiver, and running back. A LOT of talented, but inexperienced, kids on this roster at key spots could mean for some serious growing pains early on. With Notre Dame coming to town in Week 2 this more than worries me, even though I am not sold on ND being nearly as ‘good’ as they were last year.

SAM: This might be wacky, but I am going with the offense again, and specifically Gardner. While he possesses all the tools to excel in Borges’s offense, I’m still a little wary of crowning the redshirt junior as the savior of the program, the one who will bring Michigan full circle. I know it’s been a long time since the spring of 2011 and 2012, but Gardner’s struggles in the spring games of those two years will always be in the back of my head.

With his big arm, pinpoint precision, and capable legs, Gardner can be great, but I’m a little skeptical of his decision-making. I’ve seen him scramble and throw an ill-advised bunny one too many times to rest easily this week of the season opener, and I am worried that his success over the last five games of last season were partially a product of opposing defenses having very little information on him. With a full offseason to break down tape, opposing coaches have certainly found new ways to try to attack Gardner, and any hesitancy on his end early on could signal trouble in Ann Arbor.

Again, there is no doubting Gardner’s potential, and I do think he will have a very good year; I am just not quite ready to bring both feet onto the bandwagon.

DERICK: The youth on the interior offensive line. While Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will be solid at the tackle positions, the rest of the offensive line is a question mark. Two talented recruiting classes will battle to fill the remaining three spots. Too much youth can be an issue on either line, but fortunately Michigan has Lewan to lead the young players and help make up for any mistakes. If the line can protect Gardner, the offense should be potent.

KATIE: Some of our offensive line is young. That, coupled with an unsure running game.

Who will be the breakout player on offense this season?

JUSTIN: Darboh was going to be my pick, so the obvious choice now would be Chesson. But I’m going to go a little out of the box and say Jake Butt. Last year, I correctly picked Devin Funchess, so I’ll stick with that position which Borges absolutely loves. With Darboh out, I could see Borges utilizing the tight end position even more, and Funchess is the known commodity as far as opposing defenses are concerned. That could free up Butt for some open looks much like Funchess got last year, although he likely won’t get as many targets because of, well, Funchess.

CHRIS: Derrick Green– I know that this is the easy pick considering his highly regarded status as one of Michigan’s top signees ever, but this guy is good.  His size and speed are unparalleled for a freshman running back and he’ll have the opportunity get a large amount of playing time given the uncertainty in the Michigan backfield.  With a couple weeks left in fall camp, it appears that Fitz Toussaint is taking control of the top spot, however the offense will feature more than one guy running the ball.  I like Green’s chances to have an excellent season.

We're excited about the potential of Jehu Chesson (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

JOSH: So many options and it seems like a cop out to go with Gardner or Funchess, so I’m going to stick with a first year starting wide receiver, Jehu Chesson. He’s a tall, fast guy that can take the top off the defense and open things up underneath for Gallon, Dileo, and Norfleet. He’s had a year in the system and from what I’ve read he seems to be an incredibly humble and hardworking kid. Not sure he’s Mario Manningham 2.0 yet but he’s got the size and speed to fill that type of role.

SAM: I already alluded to some of his mismatch-making in regards to why I’m excited about the offense this year – I think Devin Funchess is a guy you will see turn heads this year. The sophomore out of Farmington Hills set the world on fire early on in his debut season, catching touchdowns in weeks two and three against Air Force and Massachusetts and recording multiple catches in three of the first four games, but he kind of fell off the map as the season wore on. Over the last nine games of the season, Funchess never recorded a multiple-catch outing, and his highest yardage output over that same span was just 29.

His potential is both clear and vast, however. A whopping 33 percent of Funchess’s 15 receptions last season went for scores, and his 6’5″, 235-pound frame (now with added muscle!) is enough in itself to make defensive coordinators toss and turn at night. In Borges’ offense, tight ends are called upon to block quite often, and blocking is unfortunately the biggest area Funchess needs to improve upon, but his added weight should help him see more snaps and, in turn, more targets this year. His monstrous hands make him an obvious red zone target, and his overall length and athleticism should get plenty of run over the middle and on broken plays where Gardner will be seeking a safety valve. Look for Funchess to at least double his catches in 2013 while recording 600-plus yards and eight scores.

DERICK: I’m going to go with Jehu Chesson now that Darboh is out. I really think that the second receiver behind Gallon is poised to have a big year behind him and Funchess in the passing attack. Gardner should be able to spread the ball out and use his entire receiving core, so if Chesson can step in and take over a big role that I believe Darboh was destined for he can pick up important offensive production that Michigan lost with Roundtree graduating.

KATIE: I would like to see Derrick Green rack up yards as a freshman, like Hart did, and make the next few years look even more enticing.

Who will be the breakout player on defense this season?

JUSTIN: The obvious pick here is James Ross, but in my opinion, he already had a semi-breakout at the tail end of last season. He’s due for big numbers this year. But I’m going to say a guy not many people are talking about: Raymon Taylor. He was thrust into the starting role last season when Blake Countess went down with a season ending knee injury and performed admirably, probably even better than J.T. Floyd. Now, with Countess back and grabbing all the attention, Taylor has locked down the other starting corner spot. He made a big interception against Notre Dame and followed that up with another the next week, and I think it’s safe to say we can expect more from him this season now that he has 11 starts under his belt.

CHRIS: Frank Clark– Even though he played in all 13 games last season, he only started the final four.  In those four games, he had excellent performances, including a huge one against Ohio State.  This season he will be counted on to man one of the defensive end positions and to be one of the defensive leaders.  He is an excitable player who will be counted on to anchor a defensive line which has only one true returning starter, and that player, Quinton Washington, only started 10 games.  Clark must quickly become a force to reckon with if the Wolverines want to win versus better competition.

With Jake Ryan out, James Ross III and Frank Clark need to step up

JOSH: I’d love to say Dymonte Thomas, I think he’s going to be really good, but everyone else probably will say that too, so I’m going to go with Blake Countess. He had a great freshman year then missed all but a few plays of last season. With almost a full year to recover and hone his craft. I don’t think we’re looking at Ty Law or Charles Woodson type play but he seems poised to make a name for himself as another great Michigan defensive back.

SAM: Funchess is a tremendous breakout candidate on offense because of all the physical attributes he possesses, but on the defensive side of the ball, my pick for breakout player will thrive for the exact opposite reasons. James Ross III, another true sophomore, from nearby Orchard Lake, is not the biggest guy on the field, but his instincts and grit will one day make him a great linebacker at Michigan. At 6’1″ and 220 pounds, Ross is certainly not a prototypical Big Ten backer, and at barely 19 years of age, “Biggs” is younger than ideal as well, but he has heart and quickness in bunches.

With only 21 solo tackles and 15 assisted tackles last season, Ross has hardly scratched the surface. I love his ability to quickly diagnose the play and react accordingly without hesitation. Yes, sometimes such an aggressive style has and will lead to getting burned on play action, but with more experience will come better decision-making. A James Ross that correctly reads every offensive play is a James Ross that no running back or quarterback wants to face. The second year man is a sure tackler, a solid cover man, and the embodiment of a football player. Look for him to rack up 10 tackles for loss this year on his way to being the second-leading tackler on the team.

DERICK: Frank Clark. The new start at defensive end could be a jump start for Frank Clark’s career. The 6’2″ junior contributed on the line at times during his sophomore season, and figures to play a much bigger role in 2013. It is crucial that Michigan gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks without blitzing linebackers this season, because the secondary has remaining questions. If Clark can be an effective pass rusher it could make a huge different for Michigan.

KATIE: James Ross III. Not that he didn’t have a breakout freshman year, but I’m expecting him to have matured more and be someone who will make a big impact at the linebacker position.

What is your prediction for the season? What will Michigan’s record be? Who will Michigan lose to? What bowl game will Michigan make?

JUSTIN: Great recruiting classes by Hoke the past couple of years have turned up the excitement level big time. But let’s not forget Hoke’s first full class is still sophomores. I think we’re a year away from competing for a national championship, but that doesn’t mean a Big Ten title is out of the question. However, it’s not going to be easy. If Michigan had Ohio State’s schedule, a spot in the Big Ten title game would be a no-brainer, but the November stretch of at Michigan State, home against Nebraska, at Northwestern, at Iowa, and home against Ohio State is going to be brutal. There’s no margin for error prior to November, which means Michigan has to win at Penn State, which I think they will.

Two of the three top contenders in the Legends division, Michigan State and Nebraska, don’t even have to face Ohio State, so they have the easier path the to Legends division title. That means those two games are critical for Michigan. Lose one and the Ohio State game is a must-win. Lose both and Michigan probably won’t make it to Indianapolis.

I think the Ohio State game will be a must-win regardless. I think the only way a rematch happens (without being undefeated) is if Michigan beats Michigan State and Nebraska, but falls to Northwestern…which is exactly what I think will happen. I see Michigan undefeated heading into East Lansing. State just doesn’t have the offense this year, so a win there and a win the following week against Nebraska will leave Michigan 9-0 as they travel to Northwestern. That’s the game that will trip Michigan up coming off of two big wins. Michigan will then beat Iowa and fall to Ohio State, finishing 10-2. Northwestern will also lose to Ohio State and two of the three against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Nebraska, finishing 9-3. A win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game will fittingly send Michigan to Pasadena for the 100th Rose Bowl where Michigan will lose to Stanford, finishing 11-3 overall.

A trip to the 100th Rose Bowl would only be fitting for the team that won the first one ever

CHRIS: In all reality, the Wolverines have the chance to go 12-0, and I’m not only saying that because every team has a chance to do that each year.  However, Team 134 will need to avoid the pitfalls of some tough games, especially once the November schedule hits.

Prior to Michigan’s first November game against MSU, they need to be 7-0, and I think they will be.  The only tough game during that stretch is Notre Dame, but the game is at home, under the lights, and I believe that the Irish will take a step back this year compared to the 2012 team.  MSU will be a decent squad this year if they can break in new starters for half of the positions on both offense and defense.  Michigan’s offensive and defensive line play will have to be stout by this game, otherwise there could be trouble.  Plus, MSU will be looking for payback after last year’s heartbreaking, last-second loss.

After that, Michigan gets Nebraska at home.  I don’t expect the Huskers to be a very good team this year, especially on defense, where they only return four starters from a defense which wasn’t particularly good last season.  They do return Taylor Martinez at the QB position, who is a streaky passer and a good runner when he gets the opportunity.  Michigan will need to take advantage of a weak offensive line and contain Martinez to win this game, as well as watch out for a potential let-down following the MSU game.

After that comes the game that worries me the most- At Northwestern on Nov 16.  They return 15 starters on both sides of the ball, plus both starters in the kicking game.  They have two good QBs in Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, each of which will attack the Michigan defense with different styles.  They also have stud running back Venric Mark returning, who is the top returning player at that position.  The defense will be good as well, with three returning starters in a secondary which struggled at times last season.  I see a couple of keys for Michigan which will allow them to win this game: good defensive line play and a quality game plan by Greg Mattison which will confuse three new starters on the offensive line; and a quick re-focusing by the players after two tough games.  Ryan Field can be a tough place to play, especially if the game is played with a noon EST kickoff.  That’s 11am Central time, and if the Wolverines don’t come focused and ready to play, an upset could happen.

The comes Iowa at their place.  Should be a win.

Then, The Game.  Ohio State will likely come to the Big House 11-0 and looking for a spot in the Big Ten Championship game and a potential BCS National Championship appearance.  The Buckeye offense will be good and will put up a lot of points this season.  Michigan’s defense will be tested by the large number of weapons which Ohio State can attack with.  Defense is another story, however.  They only have four returning starters on this side of the ball, although the spots will be filled by quality, yet unproven, recruits.  With the weapons on Michigan’s offense, this has the potential to be a shoot-out, with the team that wants it the most coming out on top.

I expect this Michigan team to finish the season 10-2 or 11-1.  There’s that potential loss to Northwestern hanging out there, but I think that Brady Hoke will ensure that the team is ready to play against a quality Big Ten opponent.  I don’t think that Michigan has the overall experience and talent yet to beat Ohio State.  While I do think the game will be close, Ohio State will have too much for the Wolverines.  With this being said, there is potential for a Michigan-OSU rematch in the Big Ten Championship.  For this to happen, Michigan cannot lose any other conference games, especially to opponents on their side of the Division.  If the two teams rematch, Michigan will win and take the Big Ten crown for 2013 and play in the Rose Bowl.

The Big Ten Championship game could very well be a Michigan-Ohio State rematch

JOSH: I can honestly see this team going undefeated or losing four games again. There is just too much uncertainty at key positions to make a good prediction, but I’ll venture one anyway. There are too many toss-up games on the schedule for me to feel confident about a largely young and inexperienced team. Notre Dame, MSU, Nebraska, OSU, and you can’t count out Northwestern. 9-3 (6-2), no B1G title game appearance and Outback Bowl again.

SAM: I have Michigan going 9-3 in the regular season and finishing in first place in the Legends Division before heading to the Big Ten championship game, where they will face off with Ohio State before heading to a bowl game somewhere where it’s warm. The schedule is not extremely difficult, but Michigan is still probably a year away from competing on the national level. I see the Wolverines dropping two of the four of Notre Dame, at Penn State, at Michigan State, and at Northwestern, and one to the Buckeyes. After finishing out the regular season, I think Michigan will lose again to Ohio State in Indianapolis before winning their bowl game to finish at 10-4 overall.

If you are thinking, “isn’t this the guy that wants back-to-back matchups with Ohio State?” The answer is yes, I am. Unfortunately this is the wrong year to potentially have that come up. The Game should be a classic, but I think Michigan’s defense will be just a step behind Ohio State’s offense and the Scarlet and Grey will take the cake. Regardless, there is plenty to look forward to this season, and there’s a reason they play the games. Maybe, just maybe, the Maize and Blue will prove me wrong.

DERICK: 11-3, B1G runner-up, BCS at-large. Michigan could definitely go into The Game at the Big House with a 10-1 record. The loss of Everett Golson makes the Notre Dame game very winnable for the Wolverines, but the gauntlet of Michigan State, Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa will be difficult to endure without a loss. If Michigan can go 3-1 through that game I think they can split with OSU (since the Buckeyes will likely be playing in the Big Ten Championship game) and likely win the game at home and get a Sugar Bowl bid if the SEC sends their champion to the National Championship Game. The bowl game will be difficult, obviously, and could be the third straight game against a top-5 team for Michigan. After a strong start to the season, I think the final few weeks could be tough.

KATIE: A 9-3 regular season finish and 6-2 in the Big Ten.

A Michigan-Ohio State rematch: Good or bad?

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

When Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten in 2014, the conference will switch its divisions from Legends and Leaders to East and West. Not only are the names changing, but the teams that compose each division will be realigned as well. The realignment puts both Michigan and Ohio State in the East, meaning only one of the two will be able to compete for the Big Ten title each season. That means this season is the last opportunity for the rivals to play back-to-back games – the regularly scheduled final game of the season and then the Big Ten Championship game a week later. Would that be a good thing or not? Sam and Justin debate.

Why do we love sports?

It’s a question that seems incredibly easy to answer, yet is extremely thought-provoking if pondered on a deeper scale.

Sure, we love football Saturdays for the big hits, baseball during the dog days of summer for the relaxation, and basketball for the purity of the game, but ultimately sports are nothing more than men and women kicking, throwing, shooting, and doing other seemingly silly tasks with balls or other objects.

There has to be more to it than a simple “love of the game” that pre-dates meaning.

On the surface many people do love playing just for fun, but watch one game on TV and it becomes instantly clear that there is more at stake than fun. Sports rule people’s lives, create lifelong friendships, tear couples apart, and have a lot more sway than they probably should.

And there’s a reason for this – winning and losing.

It is not instinctual for humans to love sports, but it most certainly is instinctual for humans to love power, to love prestige, and to love superiority. From the beginnings of time, animals, and thus men, have fought to survive by being bigger, faster, and stronger than their counterparts. Today, with abundant quantities of human necessities, man typically no longer has to fight tooth and nail to survive. But we still have that urge to be better than everyone else. And so we have, and love, sports.

Two games means two opportunities for iconic moments like this

The vast majority of sports fans will never have first-hand experience of playing at the college level, but we still rabidly support our teams and schools with a passion that is rare away from the field. For Michigan fans, that means cheering on the Wolverines as if the world depended on it.

I’ll be the first to admit that the difference between wins and losses has dictated many of my past decisions. Throughout my college years, a Michigan victory would often lead to a night of laughter and partying while an untimely loss (and aren’t they all) typically meant a night full of studying and an 8:00pm bed time. Yes, I have watched every single Michigan basketball and football game for probably the past seven years running, and the outcome of each of those 200-and-some games had some effect on my mood, as they certainly did for Michigan fans around the world.

Wins over the Delaware States and Towsons of the world probably didn’t bring more than a smile, and expected losses during the tough times were hard to swallow but relatively easy to get over, but the big games were always exhilarating.

The tussles with the Buckeyes, the Fighting Irish, and the Spartans are always certain to amplify my reaction by unforeseen amounts, because there is nothing better than the feeling of besting a rival.

Recently, conference expansion caused some realignment in the Big Ten, and the historic football rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State, known simply as The Game, fell into threatened status, not because it would be discontinued, but rather because there were rumblings that the matchup would be moved from its slot on the final weekend.

Luckily, The Game was kept in place, but the ballooning of the Big Ten to 12 schools, and eventually 14 starting in 2014, made divisions a necessity. Michigan and Ohio State, who have dominated the Big Ten for about as long as the conference has existed, would now either be placed in the same division and play for the right to advance to the Big Ten championship game, or would be put in opposite divisions and play for a spot in the championship game but also a possibility of a rematch.

As it stands this season, Michigan and Ohio State find themselves in opposite divisions, and many pundits are projecting both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes to fare extremely well within those separate groupings. If these predictions hold true and both teams perform up to their potentials, Michigan and Ohio State could be playing on November 30 in Ann Arbor and again on December 7, just one week later, in Indianapolis.

But it also means more opportunities for moments like this

Fans of both teams have come out in either strong support of or opposition to this idea. Those against it cry out that the rivalry will be watered down, and that The Game could prove meaningless if both teams are already guaranteed a spot in the title game the following weekend, or that a split in the series would eliminate all bragging rights.

I, on the other hand, foresee a thrilling rematch – and only if both teams are deserving of a second game.

First of all, the chances that a rematch happens are not great, but even if it does, I will rest assured knowing that Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer want their teams to rip the other team’s collective heart out no matter what the stakes. These two teams could be playing in a gladiatorial death cage or they could be playing for a new Barbie playhouse and no one would know the difference. Emotions will flare, tempers will rise, and a battle will ensue – no matter the circumstances.

Secondly, a simple listing of some of the best rivalries in sports does wonders in support of seeing the Maize and Blue square off with the Scarlet and Grey twice. Take the Yankees and Red Sox, Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Cowboys and the Giants, Duke and North Carolina, and tell me when the last time was when these greatest rivals in the world played but one time in a season. Take any number of huge rivalries outside of college football, and one of the constants anyone will see is that rivals love playing each other more than once a year. Multiple matchups certainly haven’t eased the tensions between any of these fan bases.

Perhaps the best thing to come from twice as many rivalry games with Ohio State, however, would be twice as many moments to remember, twice as many games to reminisce over years into the future, and twice as many heroes to worship. Ohio State fans aren’t soon to forget Chic Harley, Dick Schafrath, Maurice Clarett, or Troy Smith, and in no small part for their roles in taking down Michigan; likewise, Wolverine faithful adore Tom Harmon, Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson, Chris Perry, and Denard Robinson much for their contributions in felling the Buckeyes. A potential second game every season would allow for so many more of these players to enter the halls of history of the greatest rivalry in sports.

To those who really only want to see Michigan play Ohio State once every year, I will choose to enjoy my alternate universe in which the Wolverines and Buckeyes play a second time while you sleep through another pounding of Northeastern College of the Arts.

To those who think a rematch would water down a game between two teams full of hatred for each other, I ask, do you honestly think one of these teams could swallow a loss one week and lay down in the Big Ten Championship the next? I certainly don’t.

All I envision is more hatred, more celebrations, and, yes, sometimes even more early bed times.

Despite the alternate jerseys and Big House renovations the past few years, Michigan football is all about tradition. You know the drill: winningest program, most recognizable helmets, best fight song…the list goes on. A major part of that tradition is the annual end of season battle with the Buckeyes.

The mere suggestion that it could be moved away from the last weekend in November  – whether it was a real possibility or not – was enough to draw ire from both sides of the rivalry. That’s how steeped in tradition it is and part of what makes it a greater rivalry than the other big rivalries that exist in sports.

Fans from both sides know the importance of the game. Many of us have family or friends on the other side. And for as long as any of us can remember, it has been the game that ended the regular season, leaving us to face those family and friends over the holidays with either a pompous joy or a sheepish distain. It means so much because there is only one shot. Win and you have 364 days of bragging rights. Lose and you have to hear about it for 364 days until you can get another shot.

This year, the possibility exists of the teams meeting in back to back weeks. In that scenario, there are four possible outcomes: Michigan wins both, Michigan wins the first but loses the Big Ten title game, Michigan loses the first but wins the Big Ten title game, or Ohio State wins both.

The Game should never give the losing team a chance for revenge because it will diminish moments like this

Obviously, Michigan winning both would be the ultimate icing on the cake, but in my opinion the other three outcomes are not good. Of course, losing to Ohio State in back to back weeks would make for a horrible offseason, but here’s why the other two outcomes are bad as well.

Based on schedules this season, Ohio State is far more likely to enter the end of season matchup unbeaten, or at least with a better record. Michigan has to play Notre Dame, Nebraska and at Michigan State – none of which are on the Buckeyes’ schedule – and at Penn State, while OSU gets the Nittany Lions at home. Ohio State’s only road games prior to coming to Ann Arbor are California, Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois. None are likely losses and only Northwestern carries the possibility.

Let’s say a 9-2 Michigan team beats a 11-0 Ohio State squad on Nov. 30, but then Ohio State returns the favor in the Big Ten Championship game. The Buckeyes would go to either the BCS National Championship or the Rose Bowl, while Michigan would go to either the Rose Bowl or another bowl game and the Nov. 30 win would be all but forgotten. Just a minor hiccup on the Buckeyes’ schedule. They won the one that matters and that’s all they will remember.

In the other scenario, let’s say 11-0 Ohio State beats 9-2 Michigan on Nov. 30, but Michigan still wins the Legends and then upsets the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship game a week later. At 10-3, Michigan would get the automatic BCS berth, but it would be hard to argue that the Wolverines were better than the 12-1 Buckeyes who would also get a BCS at-large bid. Depending on the score of the two matchups (were they both close, down to the wire games, or did Ohio State win the first won handily and Michigan need a last second field goal to win the second?) the Big Ten title game victory would mean less than it would if they had only played once and Michigan won. Yes, it would mean a Big Ten title, but it would be dampened by the fact that the teams beat each other in back to back weeks. Both teams could rightfully claim they were better and there would be no tie-breaker.

So if three of the four outcomes of the scenario are negative why would I want it to happen? Unfortunately, for Michigan to win the Big Ten this season, I believe the rematch will have to happen, but thankfully this is the last year it could. Beginning in 2014, Michigan and Ohio State will both be in the East battling for a spot in the Big Ten title game. That also isn’t ideal since only one of them will get a shot to win the Big Ten each year, but it’s the reality of a bigger conference that requires divisions – which I hate, but that’s a topic for another day – and it’s better than the possibility of them meeting back-to-back.

Let’s just hope Michigan wins both and we can put this issue to rest once and for all.

The Michigan Medley analyzes Michigan’s bowl outlook

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

With an 8-4 record and a second place finish in the Big Ten Legends Division, Michigan is obviously headed to a bowl game. Since Ohio State and Penn State are both ineligible for postseason play, Michigan’s bowl destination will be better than it would have been had the 12-0 (8-0) Buckeyes and 8-4 (6-2) Nittany Lions been able to go bowling.

Games to watch on Saturday
Atlanta, Ga. Indianapolis, Ind.
#2 Alabama #3 Georgia #12 Nebraska Wisconsin
11-1 11-1 10-2 7-5
4pm on CBS 8:17pm on FOX

Michigan will fill the Big Ten’s second or third bowl slot behind the winner of Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game between Nebraska and Wisconsin. The winner will get the conference’s guaranteed BCS bid, while the loser is unlikely to receive a BCS at-large due to the conference’s weak showing all season. There is a chance Nebraska could still get one if it loses, but the bowl committees won’t look to kindly on an end-of-season loss to a 7-5 team.

If Nebraska wins and heads to the Rose Bowl, the Capital One Bowl will choose between Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. A 7-6 Wisconsin squad is likely the odd man out despite playing in the Big Ten title game because the Badgers wouldn’t have been there if Ohio State was eligible. Michigan will travel far better than Northwestern will, and a matchup between the Wolverines and a top-tier SEC school is far more appealing than one involving the Wildcats.

If Wisconsin beats Nebraska and goes to Pasadena, Nebraska will likely get slotted into the Capital One Bowl, pushing Michigan down to the Outback Bowl in Tampa. In the previous two decades, Tampa was a familiar sight for Michigan, but the Wolverines haven’t been there since beating Florida in 2003. The bowl committee would love to get a Michigan vs. SEC matchup in Raymond James Stadium. So who will Michigan face? Depending on the outcome of the Big Ten title game as well as the other conference championships, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, and LSU are most likely. Let’s take a look at each team.

Likely Bowl Opponent Comparison
Points/Game 38.0 26.8 44.8 30.2
Scoring Defense 17.7 12.9 22.5 16.9
Rush Avg 190.1 194.5 235.1 179.9
Rush Def. Avg 163.4 97.0 140.9 101.8
Pass Avg 273.6 143.9 317.2 207.2
Pass Def. Avg 174.4 186.4 248.4 194.3
Total Yds Avg 463.7 338.4 552.3 387.2
Total Def. Avg 337.8 283.4 389.3 296.2
Turnovers 16 12 20 16
Takeaways 25 29 15 31
Time of Poss 28:39 33:07 28:33 31:09
3rd Down Conv. 69/150 (46%) 62/168 (37%) 102/184 (55%) 75/181 (41%)
3rd Down Def. 64/180 (36%) 49/173 (28%) 58/189 (31%) 51/167 (31%)
Sacks by/allowed 24/22 25/36 30/23 30/26
Field Goals 8-for-12 23-for-28 13-for-22 20-for-28
PATs 54-for-58 34-for-35 64-for-71 41-for-41
Red Zone pct. 35/41 (85%) 35/42 (83%) 56/64 (88%) 42/50 (84%)
Red Zone Def. 25/35 (71%) 23/32 (72%) 31/40 (77%) 24/31 (77%)
Red Zone TD pct. 30/41 (73%) 22/42 (52%) 47/64 (73%) 25/50 (50%)
Red Zone TD Def. 18/35 (51%) 15/32 (47%) 24/40 (60%) 19/31 (61%)

Georgia faces Alabama in the SEC Championship game on Saturday in what is essentially the BCS National Championship play-in game. Notre Dame awaits the winner. The loser will still probably get a BCS at-large bid because of the strength of the conference, especially if Alabama is on the losing end. But there’s a slight chance that if Georgia is blown out by the Crimson Tide, the Dawgs would fall to the Capital One Bowl and Florida will gain a BCS at-large bid.

Georgia has quietly put together an impressive season, beating then-No. 2 Florida in Athens, and outscoring opponents by an average of 38-17. But if there is a knock on the Dawgs it is the fact that the SEC scheduling allowed them to skirt playing LSU and Texas A&M and they didn’t play anybody of note in the non-conference. The only loss was a 35-7 thrashing by South Carolina on Oct. 6. The Gamecocks were the only other ranked team Georgia played all season. We will find out on Saturday whether they are for real or merely benefited from a favorable schedule.

Florida and Georgia would both present stern tests for Michigan (Sam Greenwood, Getty Images)

Florida won’t get to play in the SEC Championship game because of a 17-9 loss to Georgia. It was the Gators’ only loss of the season, although they had several close wins. Thanks to the SEC’s wacky scheduling, Florida got to face Texas A&M in Week 2, before super freshman Johnny Manziel took off, and beat the Aggies 20-17. They beat LSU 14-6, hung on against Missouri 14-7, and needed some late magic to hold off Louisiana-Lafayette 27-20. Like Georgia, the Gators didn’t play much of a non-conference schedule save the annual matchup with rival Florida State. Bowling Green, Jacksonville State, and Louisiana-Lafayette were the other opponents. If both Alabama and Georgia earn BCS bowl bids, Florida will likely be slotted into the Capital One Bowl.

Texas A&M finished the season 10-2 and 6-2 in the SEC with losses to Florida (20-17) and LSU (24-19). The Aggies feature one of the best players in college football, likely Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. They rank fourth nationally in points per game (44.8) and shook up the BCS standings by beating Alabama on Nov. 10 (29-24). Since they were in the SEC West, they didn’t have to face Georgia or South Carolina, and their non-conference schedule featured SMU, South Carolina State, Louisiana Tech, and Sam Houston State. The Aggies will likely go to the Cotton Bowl, but bowl committees would love to get a matchup of two of college football’s most exciting players, Manziel and Denard Robinson.

LSU put together a good season, going 10-2 with losses to Florida (14-6) and Alabama (21-17). In the game against Alabama, LSU moved the ball with relative ease and led the Tide 17-14 late in the fourth before A.J. McCarron hooked up with T.J. Yeldon on a screen pass that went 28 yards for a touchdown with 51 seconds left. The Tigers beat Texas A&M 24-19 on the road and South Carolina 23-21. Like the Florida and Georgia, LSU didn’t play much of an out-of-conference schedule of North Texas, Washington, Idaho State, and Towson. LSU is probably the most unlikely opponent among the group, but if Wisconsin beats Nebraska and Michigan slides to the Outback, it’s possible.

Florida and Georgia are probably the most likely, depending on the outcome of the SEC title game, which will be played Saturday at 4pm on CBS and the Big Ten title game, which will be played Saturday at 8:17pm on FOX. I would much rather face Florida than Georgia or Texas A&M. While A&M doesn’t quite have the defense the other two feature, Florida’s offense is not very good. The Gators are pretty comparable to Notre Dame with a really good defense and a lackluster offense, and Michigan hung with Notre Dame for most of the game, falling due to a cacophony of turnovers. Regardless of the opponent, it will be a tough bowl game to win for Michigan this season since they will essentially be playing up a slot or two. If Ohio State and Penn State were eligible, Michigan would probably be playing in the Gator Bowl against someone like Mississippi State.

BCS Bubble Watch: A Michigan Fan’s Viewing Guide to Saturday

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Michigan basketball fans have grown accustomed to sweating out Selection Sunday the past few years, anxiously awaiting whether the Wolverines would get a spot in the Big Dance or be left out. This weekend, Michigan football fans get their turn. While it’s not exactly the same – Michigan will still go to a good bowl regardless of what happens on Saturday – the outcome of Saturday’s conference championship games will determine whether Michigan plays in a prestigious BCS bowl or a typical New Year’s Day* bowl.

In all likelihood, only two of the following scenarios need to happen to get Michigan into the BCS (and most likely the Sugar Bowl), but why leave it up to chance? The more of these scenarios that happen, the better.

The winners of the six BCS conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, Big East, and ACC) earn automatic berths into the four BCS bowls (the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Orange Bowl). If any of those happen to finish #1 or 2 in the final BCS standings, it will play in the BCS National Championship game, leaving a vacancy for an at-large.

An at-large selection must be ranked in the top 14 of the final BCS standings (teams from non-BCS conferences must be ranked in the top 12 or the top 16 if ranked higher than a BCS conference champion). Michigan currently stands at 16th with no games left to play, meaning the Wolverines have to leap frog two teams currently ranked ahead of them. Below is a list of Saturday’s games ranked in order of importance of what must happen for Michigan to make that jump.

For more on what needs to happen this Saturday, check out The Michigan Review’s breakdown.

1. SEC Championship: #1 LSU v. #14 Georgia (Line: LSU by 13.5)

This one is numero uno, since LSU and Alabama likely already have their spots in the BCS National Championship game secured. A Georgia win would give the Bulldogs the SEC’s automatic BCS bid and and knock Michigan out of contention for an at-large selection. At 10-2, Georgia is just two spots ahead of Michigan in the current rankings. A loss, even to the #1 team in the nation, would give the Bulldogs a third loss and drop them lower than Michigan. There’s an outside chance that a down-to-the-wire loss could keep Georgia ahead of Michigan, so root for Les Miles to help out his alma mater with a convincing victory.

Root for: A convincing victory by LSU


2. Big Ten Championship: #13 Michigan State v. #15 Wisconsin (Line: Wisconsin by 9.5)

This one is number two priority since regardless of who wins, one is bound to drop below Michigan. Wisconsin is #15 in the BCS and Michigan State is #13. The loser of this game would have a third loss and, therefore, likely drop below Michigan. MSU fans will argue that since they beat Michigan during the season, they deserve the BCS bid, but the reality is, they lost to Notre Dame and Nebraska and wouldn’t finish in the top 14 with a third loss. Wisconsin is just two hail marry’s away from a perfect season, but one was to 6-6 Ohio State. That, combined with a third loss, would pull the Badgers below 14th.

Like the LSU-Georgia game, an outside chance remains that an overtime game or a down-to-the-wire finish could keep the loser ahead of Michigan, so a lopsided win either way should be the goal.

Root for: A convincing win by one or the other. It really doesn’t matter who wins, but since we’re Michigan fans, keeping the Spartans from a Big Ten championship and a BCS bid would be ideal. Wisconsin convincingly.


3. Conference USA Championship: #6 Houston v. #24 Southern Miss (Line: Houston by 14)

Saturday TV Schedule
Time Game TV Root For:
12pm #24 Southern Miss at #6 Houston ABC
12:30pm Iowa State at #11 Kansas State
3:30pm #22 Texas at #17 Baylor ABC
4pm #14 Georgia v. #1 LSU CBS
8pm #10 Oklahoma at #3 Oklahoma State ABC
8pm #5 Virginia Tech v. #20 Clemson ESPN
8pm Fresno State at San Diego State
8:17pm #15 Wisconsin v. #13 Michigan State FOX
All times Eastern

The team everyone is forecasting Michigan to face in the Sugar Bowl, Houston, has turned in an impressive season. The Cougars have one of the most prolific offenses in the country led by senior quarterback Case Keenum. Had the Cougars compiled the type of season they did against BCS competition, they would be a shoe-in for the BCS National Championship game. However, the only team from a BCS conference that they played was the season-opener against UCLA (who finished 6-6) and Houston barely pulled out a 38-34 win.

A loss to Southern Miss would send the Cougars plummeting down the rankings, undoubtedly below Michigan, and freeing up a spot for the Wolverines in the BCS.

Root for: Southern Miss to pull off the upset, but it may also be a good game to watch to scout who could be Michigan’s Sugar Bowl opponent.


4a. #17 Baylor v. #22 Texas (Line: Baylor by 3)

The Big 12 no longer has a conference championship game since it is down to 10 teams and no divisions, but it will factor heavily into who plays in the BCS. This game and the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game could be interchangeable in terms of importance, but I see this one as slightly higher in importance. It won’t get Michigan into the BCS, but it could keep another team from jumping them.

Both teams are currently lower than Michigan, but Baylor is right on Michigan’s heels. Rightly or wrongly, the rankings view the Big 12 as a tougher conference than the Big 10 which explains why a three-loss Baylor squad is so close to a two-loss Michigan team. The fear here is another win over a Top 25 team would propel the Bears ahead of the stagnant Wolverines when the final rankings are released. The voters like the Bears with the Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Robert Griffin III and if he turns in a captivating performance in a big win, it could be enough to leapfrog the Bears over Michigan.

Texas, at 7-4 and 22nd in the BCS standings, has no chance of surpassing Michigan, so a Longhorn win would keep Baylor from moving up. With Mack Brown’s rumored retirement on Saturday (to which Burnt Orange Nation says not so fast), Texas could play inspired ball.

Root for: A Texas win.


4b. #3 Oklahoma State v. #10 Oklahoma (Line: Oklahoma State by 3.5)

I ranked this with a slightly lower priority as the Baylor-Texas game because I think the probability of Baylor jumping Michigan with a big win is greater than Oklahoma falling below Michigan with a loss. The Sooners started the season ranked #1 in the nation and despite losses to Texas Tech and Baylor, have fallen only to 10th. The loss of top receiver Ryan Broyles a month ago really hurt the Sooners in their loss to Baylor.

An Oklahoma win would obviously keep the Sooners above Michigan in the rankings and Oklahoma State probably wouldn’t even drop out of the top 10, so that wouldn’t help. Really the only way this game could help Michigan is an Oklahoma State blowout.

Root for: An Oklahoma State blowout [Edit: this is assuming Oklahoma State does not jump Alabama for the #2 spot. I don’t see it happening, but there may be enough voters out there who don’t want a rematch that in this scenario, they will intentionally drop Alabama to try to secure Oklahoma State a spot in the BCS National Championship. Since this is an 8pm game, hopefully by this point in the night, Kansas State (and/or Baylor/Houston) and Georgia will have lost and then we can root for Oklahoma to avoid any chance of Oklahoma State passing Alabama]


5. Iowa State v. #11 Kansas State (Line: Kansas State by 11)

This game is unlikely, but still has a rooting interest. At 9-2, Kansas State is 11th in the current BCS rankings. The only losses for the Wildcats were in back-to-back weeks a 58-17 route to then-#9 Oklahoma and #3 Oklahoma State. In addition, the last two weeks have weeks have been near upsets. K State beat Texas A&M 53-50 in four overtimes and then beat Texas 17-13 two weeks ago. A loss to Iowa State would certainly drop the Wildcats below Michigan, and it’s not out of the question. Kansas State has played a number of close games this season: the two mentioned above, a 10-7 win over Eastern Kentucky, 28-24 over Miami, 36-35 over Baylor, and beat Missouri and Texas Tech by a touchdown each. This isn’t a team that has blown opponents away.

Iowa State isn’t good at 6-5, but the Cyclones did pull off a shocking double-overtime upset of then-#2 Oklahoma State two weeks ago, and also beat Iowa at the beginning of the season.

Root for: Iowa State to pull off the upset


6. ACC Championship: #5 Virginia Tech v. #20 Clemson (Line: Virginia Tech by 7)

This game is probably the least likely to factor into Michigan’s BCS hopes. Win or lose, Virginia Tech is solidly ahead of Michigan and Clemson is unlikely to jump the Wolverines. After climbing as high as #5 in the BCS standings a little over a month ago, the Tigers are reeling with three losses in their last four games. Even with a win tomorrow, against a Hokie team Clemson already beat, it will be a longshot for the Tigers to move all the way to 14th.

Root for: Virginia Tech or anything but a Clemson blowout.


Fresno State v. San Diego State (Line: San Diego State by 8)

This game has no official bearing on the BCS rankings, but since Michigan beat San Diego State, a win by the Aztecs may help give Michigan a few more percentage points. At this point, every point helps.

Root for: A San Diego State win.


Obviously, not all of these things are going to happen, but at least a couple of them need to. LSU beating Georgia is a must. From there, at least one of the others (two to be safe) would be great and we can look forward to watching Brady Hoke take Team 132 into Michigan’s first BCS bowl since the 2006 season.

*Since New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, the NFL takes center stage, pushing the usual New Year’s Day bowl games to Monday, January 2.