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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Football’

Big Ten Media Days: Word clouding the Big Ten coaches

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014


All 14 Big Ten coaches got 15 minutes apiece at the podium in front of the assembled media in the Hilton Chicago on Monday. Each delivered an opening statement and then fielded a few questions. Typically, there isn’t much news to come out of these sessions. It’s more of a time to drum up excitement about the upcoming season and tout all the things they’re excited about. Every coach has fantasies about Big Ten titles this time of year and doesn’t want to reveal too much, so to spice things up a bit we took an idea that we really liked from the SEC SB Nation blog Team Speed Kills and applied it to each of the Big Ten coaches’ speeches.

We used Wordle to spit out a word cloud for each coach based on the transcript from his 15 minutes at the podium. The bigger the word, the more often it was used, so you can get an idea of what each coach places the most emphasis on. As a Maize and Go Blue exclusive, we also scrubbed away the coach speak and translated what each coach was really saying.

Brady Hoke – Michigan

Hoke

There must be something wrong with this thing. “Tremendous” doesn’t fill the entire page. Neither does “Well…” or “Fergodsakes”. And contrary to popular belief in Columbus and East Lansing, although “think” was his most-used word today, Hoke does “think” about more than just donuts. He didn’t even mention them once in his 15 minutes. But I wouldn’t blame him if he did. There’s a great donut shop a short walk from the Hilton.

Urban Meyer – Ohio State

Urban

I THINK we’re GOING to be GOOD you GUYS. Good enough to have a grand total of zero Big Ten titles and zero bowl wins in my first two seasons. You know what else is good? This Chicago pizza. Have you guys ever had this stuff? It’s JUST so cheesy and…deep. So much better than that other stuff.

Mark Dantonio – Michigan State

Dantonio

You know, we had a GREAT season last YEAR and it was all because of that one GAME when we beat Michigan. The way THINGS are GOING, we’re number ONE in the state as far as FOOTBALL is concerned. Oh, we won the Rose Bowl? Well, we beat Michigan. Where’s the threat?

Bo Pelini – Nebraska

Pelini

I THINK my cat is enjoying himself up in the room. As soon as I’m done talking about FOOTBALL, I’m GOING to take him to see a LOT of Chicago THINGS. It will MAKE his day. You know, it’s LOOKING like he’s the secret ingredient to the TEAM’s success this season. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.

James Franklin – Penn State

Franklin

I’m REALLY EXCITED about this PROGRAM. I THINK it’s GOING to be much easier than it was in the SEC. THINGS aren’t really comparable as far as facilities are concerned, but hey, it’s an OPPORTUNITY and I can’t wait to meet Sandy Barbour woman.

Gary Andersen – Wisconsin

Andersen

I’m glad to begin my second YEAR at Wisconsin. We don’t hear much about Brigham YOUNG around here and that’s always a GOOD thing. These cheese-loving folks are about as GOOD as it GETs. You know, the Packers have that tradition where they let the KIDS give the PLAYERS bike rides, and with the YOUTH we have I THINK that’s a good POSITION to take with this TEAM.

Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern

Fitzgerald

I THINK it’s so GREAT that you GUYS haven’t asked about unions yet. We just want to play FOOTBALL. I’m not GOING to talk about the WAY our former QUARTERBACK tried to hurt our PROGRAM last YEAR by trying to unionize. These guys are a TEAM, not employees. LOOK, I won’t talk about it at all.

Kirk Ferentz – Iowa

Ferentz

It’s CERTAINLY a GREAT YEAR for Big Ten Media Days with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland. I’ve been coming to this THING for 16 YEARS and it has gotten stale. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve GOT some GOOD coaches in this conference but I THINK Kyle and Randy have what it takes to spice things up a little bit, kind of like Greg Davis and Phil Parker did for me in Iowa City last season.

Kevin Wilson – Indiana

Wilson

Wait, we can’t JUST PLAY offense in the Big Ten? Why didn’t you GUYS tell me that three YEARs ago? My boy Rich Rod told me that’s how you succeed in this conference. I’m starting to THINK he was just pulling my chain. I had to bring in a new defensive coordinator this offseason and he’s GOING to have to get the job done. Go big or go HOME, right?

Jerry Kill – Minnesota

Kill

I’ve GOT this program trending in the right direction, getting BETTER each YEAR, and I THINK that will continue. Have you guys seen that brown jug thing? My KIDS were asking about it, but I’ve GOTTA say, I don’t think that thing actually exists. If it does, our PLAYERS are going to GET it DONE this season. Oh, who am I kidding?

Randy Edsall – Maryland

Edsall

Crabcakes and football. That’s what MARYLAND does! We’re GOING to win the BIG East…I mean ACC…I mean American Athletic Conf…wait, what conference am I in now? Big TEN! That’s right. I THINK I’m gonna need Kirk to show me around.

Tim Beckman – Illinois

Beckman

FOOTBALL! We’ve got lots of PLAYERS, man. But with Scheelhaase gone we need a new QUARTERBACK, so this offseason I set up shop in Tallahassee when I heard Famous Jameis might be in trouble. I really WANT that guy. But it didn’t work out. Anyone else have sanctions going on this YEAR?

Kyle Flood – Rutgers

Flood

This is a cute city you midwestern folks have out here. I mean, REALLY, it’s cute, but it doesn’t compare to the BIG city we have in my part of the country. Chicago has one FOOTBALL team, New York have two, and you know what: they play in Jersey, home of RUTGERS, the school that started football.

Darrell Hazell – Purdue

Hazell

Alright you GUYS. THINGS are GOING just RIGHT for us this YEAR. Have you heard about our 6-foot-8, 400-pound PLAYER? We’ve got the biggest drum and now the biggest FOOTBALL player in the conference. That should guarantee us at least two wins this year.

Big Ten Media Day Quotes: Gardner, Clark, Ryan, Hoke

Monday, July 28th, 2014


Earlier this afternoon, we posted the full transcript from Brady Hoke’s 15-minute podium session. Shortly after that, Hoke and Michigan’s three player representatives — Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan, and FrankClark — met with the media at individual podiums, allowing an opportunity for further questions in a smaller group setting. Here are some select quotes from each of them.

Devin Gardner

Gardner(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Have you reflected on last season?
“Definitely. I feel like I know what I accomplished last year. As my first time starting I feel like I accomplished a lot. I had a lot of success, a lot of adversity, but I feel like I battled through it. I continued to fight. I was there when my team needed me. Coach Nuss always says, ‘the quarterback’s always there, no matter what’ and I feel like I was always there for my team when I could and I did what I could. “

 Even though you lost to Ohio State, everybody appreciates the performance. Did anyone reach out to you after that game?
“Charles Davis was a big one and Eddie George reached out to me. A lot of different people – Archie Manning. It was great. Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, being able to fight through something like that is big when it’s for your team and the fan base, but it doesn’t really matter if the fans appreciate it. My teammates appreciate it and they know what I went through and I’m excited to be able to fight with my teammates.”

What did Eddie George tell you?
“He just told me that I had a great game. He was excited. We built those relationships at the Manning Academy two years ago and he’s really excited to see the way I fought, the way that I played in that game. That’s pretty much it. He also said his sons are big fans, so that’s pretty cool.”

Are you excited to be in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan State?
“Our mentality this year is just to take every game one at a time and don’t treat other games as bigger games than some other games, and don’t discount anyone either. Obviously, as our rivals, and now they’re in our division, it will be a little heightened intensity during those games, but until we get to those we can’t see. I’m sure they’ll be really excited and pumped up to play us too, but we’re going to bring everything we have and we’re going to play as hard as we can.

Can you talk about Coach Nussmeier and what he brings to the table that Michigan fans haven’t seen in the past?
“I don’t know if it’s something we haven’t seen, but he’s his own coach. He’s very intense and he’s a fun guy to be around. He’s a player’s coach for sure. We can talk off the field and he helps me with football and sometimes it always comes back to some type of football lesson, so that’s really cool. He brings a different perspective as a guy that’s played NFL, played in college and excelled, coached NFL and excelled. He just brings a winning attitude and a successful attitude to the entire Michigan brand.”

What’s the hardest road venue in the Big Ten?
“I think Iowa, just because the fans are so close. You always try to block out the fans, but when they’re close enough to touch you, it’s hard to ignore everything they say, so Iowa’s kind of tough. But I feel like our stadium is a tough place to play as well.”

Who are some new guys that have really stood out?
“Freddy Canteen has done a really nice job for us on offense. He came in (and) I didn’t know anything about him until the first day of spring practice. He came out and made a lot of good catches and throughout the spring he’s been really consistent in making big plays, and being accountable and being there when we need him.

“On defense, I like the way Jabrill Peppers is competing. I don’t know yet what he can do on the field, and as far as knowing the plays and knowing where you need to be, and we haven’t put on the pads. But from an athletic standpoint and a competitive standpoint, he’s one of the best competitors I’ve seen in the freshman class.”

Who has stepped up defensively?
“Joe Bolden. He’s always been a pretty vocal leader. He’s a very high energy, high intensity guy. I really enjoy seeing him play. Sometimes he treats us like we’re the other team, on offense, but it’s great to see. Coach Hoke always says – any coach will say this – you would rather have to say ‘whoa’ than ‘attack’. I feel like that’s great for him that he’s always in attack mode. I’m really looking forward to seeing him this year.”

Is Bolden too intense?
“No, no, no. We can’t say too intense. We don’t want to say that. He is very intense in practice. He hits us – I mean, he doesn’t hit me, quarterback’s off limits – but he hits really hard in practice and he gives it everything he has like it’s his last play, and that’s how it should be.”

Are you excited about Ty Isaac joining the team?
“I haven’t seen him yet. I met him when he was a recruit. I hosted him when he came for a visit, but I haven’t seen him this summer or anything like that. But if he’s going to be a part of our team we’ll welcome him just like any other teammate. He’s not going to be more special or less special than anyone on the team. Whether he’s a walk-on guy or a scholarship guy, we treat everybody as a teammate and as a brother, so he’s welcome into this brotherhood. When I get a chance to meet him he’s going to be treated as such.”

Does the uncertainty of the offensive line make it harder for you?
“My job is to encourage those guys, encourage every guy that’s out there, whether they’re going to start, or who’s going to play. My job is to encourage them and for me to work on myself as a consistent quarterback. It’s not my job to be like ‘who’s going to play’ or ‘what’s going to happen with those guys’. I’m just encouraging everybody, having dinner at my house, inviting them over, and continuing to work on being a great quarterback.”

Frank Clark

Frank Clark(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Who is the toughest player you’ve ever gone against?
“The toughest guy I ever went against, who was here last year, is Taylor Lewan. I mean, I don’t really see another offensive lineman that was really close.

Who is the toughest you’ve gone up against on this year’s team?
“It’s weird because I’m the old one. I’m used to being the younger one. I’m used to going against Taylor every day. This year it’s like I’m the old one. I guess if you flip that around you’ll have to ask the younger players who’s the toughest to go against on the defensive line.”

Who has stepped up on the defensive line?
“Man, we’ve got guys like Taco Charlton, guys like Henry Poggi, guys like Maurice Hurst, Ryan Glasgow, Willie Henry. These are guys that are younger but have experience. When you have a young, experienced defensive line, the possibilities are limitless. We have a defensive line unit that has very good players, it’s almost like having a first team two times. So when your first team goes out, when Frank Clark needs a break, or Brennen Beyer needs a break, you can send the next man in. You can send a Mario Ojemudia in. You can send a Lawrence Marshall in, who’s a freshman. You can send a Taco Charlton in and it’s going to be like having your first team stay on the field.”

How tough was it to get over the Ohio State loss last year?
“It was tough. Every loss is tough. But at the same time it was a close loss. I believe it was 42-40. It was a tough loss and it was a loss that we didn’t really expect. Every game you go into playing against Ohio, that’s one game, without being confident or without being cocky, that’s one game that you expect to win, being at Michigan. You know it’s going to be a hard game, but it was hard. It just gave us that extra fire and that extra energy in every workout through the winter, through the spring, and through the summer.”

Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan(Justin Potts, M&GB)

Will playing Maryland and Rutgers feel like conference games?
“Now they’re a part of the Big Ten and I think it’s going to be great for us and great for the conference. It’ll be interesting.”

How important is it to be the better program in the state of Michigan?
“We’re both great programs, we both have great coaches. It’s just where we are on the map. It’s not who’s better, who’s worse.”

Why would you not be concerned about being the better program?
“I mean, it’s a rivalry game, it’s one of the biggest games, but we’re focused on Appalachian State. I’m not going to focus on Michigan State right now.”

Is one of the new Big Ten divisions better than the other?
“I think they’re both great divisions and I think they’re both going to do very well.”

Do you guys have a loop running of the 2007 Appalachian State game?
“No. They’re a whole different team and we’re a whole different team. We’re going to go into that game like we prepare for every other game, so it’s going to be a fun game to play in.”

How is the offense shaping up?
“I think Devin’s running really well. He’s running the offense really well. Coach Nussmeier has been doing a great job with the guys. Devin has gotten guys in the film room, coaching them up on things they’re doing wrong, so I think it’s going to good and it’s going to be fun to watch.”

Will it look like a different offense?
“I think it’s the same offense, but it’s just a matter of the guys coming in and doing their thing. Like I said before, Devin’s been doing a great job running it.”

On Joe Bolden
“Joe Bolden is a great player. He knows what he’s doing, very smart player. Joe’s always there and if I need help, or anyone else needs help, Joe’s doing his job.”

Is there a freshman that has stood out?
“All of the freshmen have really stood out. Everyone has different character, everyone has been doing their job, going through the runs and workouts great.”

Brady Hoke said let’s not anoint Jabrill Peppers yet, but Devin said he’s pretty special…
“He’s a good player. I mean, he’s very athletic, brings energy. But I think there are a lot of freshmen that do that as well and it can’t just be one guy. It’s got to be all of them.”

How has Jabrill tempered the expectations?
“He’s keeping to himself and he’s going through the workouts, going through everything else like every other guy.”

Is there a part of you that, despite all the hype, says Jabrill needs to earn it?
“Every single guy has got to earn it on the field. Every single guy has got to do their job in order to play.”

What do you think of the pictures he posts of his abs?
“Hey, that’s not my…I try to stick to golfing pictures, stuff like that. He can do whatever he wants.”

What does it feel like to watch Ohio State go 24-2 and Michigan State win the league the past couple years?
“I’m not focused on those teams. I’m focused on what we need to do as a team our first game against Appalachian State. It will be a really fun game to play.”

What do you need to do to get ready for Appalachian State?
“Every single day, take that step forward that you need to take. Technique, fundamentals, the game of football. And do it every single day.”

Did you talk to former players about the Appalachian State game?
“I have not. Nope. Whole different team.”

How do you keep that mentality that it’s a big game?
“Every single game’s a big game. Every single game. We prepare for every single game.”

Did you seek out any advice from middle linebackers in the NFL about the position switch?
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot of tips, talked to a lot of guys. Jarrett Irons is a great guy to talk to, but everyone’s pushing me. Coach Mattison is the greatest coach you could have. He knows everything about the position, so just going to him and talking is great.”

Will the switch to middle linebacker allow you to play more instinctually?
“It’s a little different. But a lot of positions are instincts, but there are always those fundamentals or techniques that you need to play with every single play. I mean, some of it is instincts, but you also need those things.”

What was the offseason like?
“Very good offseason. I thought we did really well, prepared really well. Runs and lifts were great.”

Was it any different from previous years?
“A little different because I was older, leading the guys. There’s different leaders out there, but I think it’s great and I think it’s great for our team.”

When installing the new offense, how long did it take for them to figure it out?
“They were figuring it out the first day they got it. They were running on us, they were doing well.”

How have you seen Coach Hoke evolve over the past few years?
“Coach Hoke has been the same guy ever since I met him. Hard-nosed, tough, you can always talk to him, go into his office. If you have a problem, bring it to him. He’s going to be the same guy every single time and I love that about him.”

Brady Hoke

Brady Hoke(Justin Potts, M&GB)

How close is the Big Ten to winning a national title?
“I don’t know why they couldn’t this year. A team comes out of here as champion, why couldn’t they? Now, I don’t know these other teams. I mean, when we vote on this stuff, I don’t know them. I don’t know who they’re playing…Wofford – nothing against Wofford – but I mean there are nine conference games that we’re going to end up playing.”

Why do you think it has been so long since a Big Ten team won it all?
“I can’t believe it.”

Do you feel comfortable turning over the postseason selection process, versus before when the coaches at least had a vote?
“How many of those coaches really did it themselves? I’ve got a guy who I talk to about it, but I mean, this group, the integrity these people have as far as the committee itself, it’s what the fans want. I don’t know if you all wanted it. I worry about the bowl system. I think that was always a good system. I worry about the semifinals in the Rose Bowl, how are you going to approach the Rose Bowl? It’s the greatest experience there is in America for kids. How are you going to do it? They’re certainly not going to go out and stay for 10 days and go to Lawry’s two nights before, whatever it is. It’s not going to happen. It’s a game. And I’m sure the Sugar, when they’re a semifinal, all those things go away now.”

Do you address what’s appropriate with your freshmen?
“Yes, we educate them every day. We educate them to not embarrass themselves, what their grandma wouldn’t want to see out there. Why would you do it?”

Have you had any instances?
“Oh yeah. You’ve probably made some dumb decisions.”

You talk a lot about ‘this is Michigan’. Can you talk about the importance of this season for the program and for yourself?
“It’s not personal. Believe me. Nothing’s personal. It’s about Michigan and it’s about the program as you said, and it’s about the kids in the program.”

Big Ten Media Day Transcript: Brady Hoke (podium)

Monday, July 28th, 2014


Hoke at podium

Day one of Big Ten Media Days is in full swing and Brady Hoke was the fifth coach to take to the podium on Monday morning. He delivered an opening statement and then answered questions about Jabrill Peppers, the offensive line, the competition for positions, Ty Isaac, and more. Below is the full transcript, as provided by the Big Ten and ASAP Sports.

Opening statement

COACH HOKE: We’re all excited for another season to get started and looking forward to the start of fall camp on Sunday. Our football team has come together this summer and worked very hard. I think they’ve worked hard and I think a lot of that is the foundation that’s been laid over the last three years and the depth that we have on our football team, it’s as competitive as a team that I’ve been around at all positions.

And I think that is exactly what, as Michigan, the leaders and the best, we should have. And so the way they’ve come together, the things they’ve done, we’re excited about. You never know what kind of team you’re going to have until the season’s over.

But the one thing I can tell you, that we’re encouraged by the qualities we have seen from our football team and throughout the spring and throughout the summer. Again, I believe the foundation has been laid. And you’re going to talk with three of our great representatives in Jake Ryan, Frank Clark, and Devin Gardner who have represented Michigan in a positive way.

We’re excited for August. We need to have a good August camp. And I think every coach in here will tell you that. You need to stay healthy, but you better be competitive and you better be good. And you better have a great camp. And so excited about that coming up.

We’ve got a great schedule. Okay. It’s a good schedule. But the schedule starts on August 30th with Appalachian State, and that’s where our focus will be, because you can’t win all your games unless you win the first game.

And expectations at Michigan are what they are and what they should be. They’re high. And so we’re excited about getting that started.

Staff-wise, Doug Nussmeier, who has come in and done a tremendous job offensively, came in with a championship pedigree, came in with a pedigree of molding quarterbacks. And what I’ve seen, and his track record speaks for itself, but it’s not just something that speaks for it, he’s doing it on a daily basis.

The moves that we made in the secondary and on defense, allowing Coach Mattison to be more involved from the middle of the defense instead of up front only has been very positive.

The movement of Jake Ryan to the inside of our defense has been very positive. I think Roy Manning coaching our corners and Curt Mallory coaching the safeties, because of the variables with the offense you face, I think has been something very positive for our football team and positive for our players.

Last, and I’ll take questions, we’re very proud of who we are, and we will continue to be proud of what kind of young men, student-athletes we have at Michigan.

Q&A

I just want to know, back in June, you had done the interview I believe with Bonnie Bernstein talking about Jabrill and the fact that he would come in at nickel. You’ve had the summer; you’ve probably talked to some of your players about what they’ve seen out of him. Is the plan still to play him at nickel or safety or corner when you open fall camp?
“That hasn’t changed. The plan hasn’t changed. I think we’ve got to be careful about anointing any true freshmen starting their college career, but that’s where he will start.”

Your program has a very great storied tradition. Your stadium has a great storied tradition. On Saturday, I believe the big house is supposed to break the record for the highest attended soccer game in American history. That’s two of the biggest storied traditions of clubs. Are you going to take your team? Have you been involved with that at all or any –
“I’d like to be, but I won’t be, simply because our freshmen, that’s their first day coming in as far as some of the administrative details we need to take care of.

“But I think we’re going to break a record.”

You’re in the East Division. How daunting is that division? How do you think it kind of shakes out?
“I think it’s a great competitive division. How it shakes out, we’ll find out. But as far as the competitiveness of the division, and at the end of the day, you know, it’s whatweallwanttodo,andweallwanttodoiswe want to compete. We want to compete on every Saturday.

“So as far as we’re concerned, we’re looking forward to it.”

Coach, how far into fall camp do you anticipate going before determining an offensive line for the sake of consistency and seeing those guys play together as a unit?
“I think we’ll start camp with a lineup that we’ve come out of spring with, and that will be based some things on what has been done during the course of the summer and when you see the work ethic and all those things, but a lot of it will be based on coming out spring football obviously.

“So we’ll go through that lineup, but at the same time what will change it up every day a little bit to see where the pieces fit. But I wouldn’t say — take two weeks maybe at the most.”

Considering how last season ended, has the pressure become bigger heading into this year for you to perform?
“You know, why do you coach? I mean, why do you really coach? If we’re doing everything we can for 115 guys, sons on our roster, from the graduation, since we’ve been there, 69 of 69 seniors have graduated. That’s important.

“Because football’s only going to last so long. So the only pressure is every day preparing those guys for life after football. Competition, hard work and all that, that’s part of it. But socially and academically, that’s a big part of it.

“So when you talk about that, that’s the only pressure as a coach that I’ve ever felt – making sure we’re doing it for the student-athletes.”

We’re going into a new era with college football with the playoff in the ’14 playoff, last year the Big Ten kind of struggled in the marquee non-conference games. This year the list of them is top to bottom you play Notre Dame and Michigan State’s playing Oregon. How important for the Big Ten and its champion, whoever gets out of this conference, will it be for the conference as a whole to do better in those non-conference games?
“First and foremost, we’re very proud of the Big Ten Conference. Very proud of the schools and the competition and the way our teams play and how our schools from an academic standpoint graduate student-athletes.

“Do we want to win every game? There’s no question every guy who is going to be at this podium, they want to win every game. And when you talk about the non-conference schedule, we welcome those challenges. I know our conference does and I think our conference is going to play very well in those games.”

You mentioned about having as much competition at every position that you’ve ever been a part of or that you’ve seen in the foundation that you’ve laid there. So usually the first step toward narrowing the gap between where you are and where you want to be?
“You know what, ask that one more time because I missed some part of it.”

The competition, the amount of competition that you have at every — is that really the first step toward narrowing the gap from where you are and where you want to be in any place you’ve been in the past?
“Yeah, I think so. I think that’s always been part of it. We had a very good year in 2011, ’11-12. We played in the Sugar Bowl. But because of depth, Mike Martin played 82 plays as a nose tackle. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, because that’s playing a lot of snaps and that’s taking a lot of hits.

“But if it was today, Mike Martin would play 50 plays. So that’s what we have now.”

Michigan has a history of playing the MAC early on. What sort of relationship does that program have with the Mid-American where you can have those non-conference games scheduled so easily?
“Well, I think it’s always been a nice — I was head coach of Ball State and we played Indiana twice. We played Purdue twice. Played Michigan once. I think it’s great for the Mid-American Conference, which I have a ton of respect for, and I think it’s great for regionally for families. I think it’s both for both schools, and obviously you’ve seen the Mid-American Conference teams come in and play awfully well and beat some of the Big Ten teams.

“So I think it’s a great partnership because of the competitive base.”

You mentioned Doug and what he’s done so far. But where have you seen the difference that he’s made, tangible changes he’s made? And also as far as Peppers, when can we anoint him?
“Let’s anoint him when he does something, right? I mean, let’s see what he can do.

“What Doug has done, is I think when you watch the practice in the spring, you watch the tempo of the offense, you watch the physicalness every day that guys are playing with, I think that’s where it starts.”

Is there any update right now on Drake Harris’s health, and are there any players you expect –
“Drake Harris, he’s fine.”

Any players you expect will be limited going into camp?
“No, not yet, not that I can think of or that I want to share at this time.”

Curious if you know anything about Ty Isaac and his potential eligibility.
“As far as the hardship and everything, we don’t know of anything. We expect Ty to report on August 3rd, and we’re still going through the hardship with compliance and all those things.”

Could you talk about the last — in the foreseeable future, your match-up with Notre Dame this year, and is that a little more emphasized with your players this year?
“It definitely will be an emphasis, simply because it’s a national rivalry. It’s a shame that that series is over with, because of the national rivalry that it carried with it.”

They changed the divisions obviously in the Big Ten this year, Ohio State and Michigan now in the same division. Obviously that game means so much, but now as a division game with what you thought, were you happy to see that change made?
“Yeah, I mean as long as those two great programs, you know, with their storied history, are still playing.”page3image27128page3image27288page3image28056

Big Ten Media Days primer

Sunday, July 27th, 2014


B1G Media Days(@B1GFootball)

Big Ten Media Days are upon us, which means two days of speeches, interviews, roundtables, predictions, and more, and Maize and Go Blue will be there to cover it first hand. For those watching at home — or tuning in from work — we’ve got you covered with a full rundown of what to expect.

Overview

This year marks the 43rd year of Big Ten Media Days. The event will be held at the Hilton Chicago on Monday and Tuesday. In attendance will be 42 players — three from each team — and all 14 coaches, in addition to Big Ten personnel and other special guests. The two-day event will conclude with the annual Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, which will feature an autograph session for all fans in attendance as well as more interviews and speeches. ESPN’s Rece Davis will emcee the Luncheon and Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah will deliver the keynote speech.

Big Ten Network and ESPNU will air coverage of the event. Beginning at 9:30 a.m. CT, BTN will air the opening media sessions with coaches (schedule below), as well as BTN president Mark Silverman, College Football Playoff COO Michael Kelly, and Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. Gerry DiNardo and Rick Pizzo will anchor the network’s coverage, which will also re-air at 6 p.m. CT. BTN will also air a Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon special at 6 p.m. CT on Wednesday.

ESPNU will air the 14 head coaches’ press conferences between noon and 3 p.m. on both Monday and Tuesday, as well as those by Kelly and Delany. Some Big Ten coaches will also appear on other ESPN shows, such as SportsCenter and College Football Live, throughout the day.

The schedule - Monday, July 28

Opening media session with coaches
Time Name School
9:30 a.m. – 9:45 a.m. Pat Fitzgerald Northwestern
9:45 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Darrell Hazell Purdue
10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Gary Andersen Wisconsin
10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Tim Beckman Illinois
10:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Brady Hoke Michigan
11:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Kyle Flood Rutgers
11:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Jerry Kill Minnesota
11:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Mark Dantonio Michigan State
12:00 p.m. – 12:15 p.m. Bo Pelini Nebraska
12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Randy Edsall Maryland
12:30 p.m. – 12:45 p.m. Urban Meyer Ohio State
1:00 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. James Franklin Penn State
1:15 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Kevin Wilson Indiana
1:30 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Kirk Ferentz Iowa
Media session for BTN, College Football Playoff, and Big Ten
Time Name Affiliation
1:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Mark Silverman BTN President
2:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Michael Kelly College Football Playoff
2:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Jim Delany Big Ten Commissioner
One-on-one podium interviews
Time Name School
10:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Pat Fitzgerald, Ibraheim Campbell, Collin Ellis, Trevor Siemian Northwestern
10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. Darrell Hazell, Raheem Mostert, Sean Robinson, Ryan Russell Purdue
10:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Gary Andersen, Melvin Gordon, Rob Havenstein, Warren Herring Wisconsin
10:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Tim Beckman, Simon Cvijanovic, Jon Davis, Austin Teitsma Illinois
11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Brady Hoke, Devin Gardner, Jake Ryan, Frank Clark Michigan
11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Kyle Flood, Michael Burton, Darius Hamilton, Lorenzo Waters Rutgers
11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Jerry Kill, David Cobb, Mitch Leidner, Cedric Thompson Minnesota
12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Mark Dantonio, Shilique Calhoun, Connor Cook, Kurtis Drummond Michigan State
12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Bo Pelini, Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Corey Cooper Nebraska
12:45 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. Randy Edsall, C.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs, Jeremiah Johnson Maryland
1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller, Michael Bennett, Jeff Heuermann Ohio State
1:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. James Franklin, Bill Belton, Sam Ficken, Mike Hull Penn State
1:45 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. Kevin Wilson, David Cooper, Nate Sudfeld, Shane Wynn Indiana
2:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Kirk Ferentz, Carl Davis, Brandon Scherff, Mark Weisman Iowa

As you can see, the Michigan coach and player interviews will happen between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and we will have news and reactions from this sessions afterward. You can watch Hoke’s session live at 10:30 on BTN.

The schedule - Tuesday, July 29

One-on-One Round Table Interviews
8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. All coaches and players available
Autograph session
10:00 a.m. – 10:50 a.m. Coaches and former players sign autographs with fans attending the Luncheon
43rd Annual Kickoff Luncheon
11:30 a.m. Interviews and keynote speech, emceed by ESPN’s Rece Davis

Follow @maizeandgoblue on Twitter for live Michigan-related updates throughout the day and check back here for more coverage. You can also follow @B1GFootball for updates about every team in the conference and other happenings.

2014 opponent preview: Indiana

Sunday, July 27th, 2014


2014-Opponent-Preview-Indiana

The fifth opponent in our season preview series is the Indiana Hoosiers, who we feel will be the fifth-easiest — or seventh-toughest — opponent on the schedule. We have already previewed, from easiest to not-so-easiest, Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota, and Utah.

Overview

Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 30 Indiana State
Sept. 13 at Bowling Green
Sept. 20 at Missouri
Sept. 27 Maryland
Oct. 4 North Texas
Oct. 11 at Iowa
Oct. 18 Michigan State
Nov. 1 at Michigan
Nov. 8 Penn State
Nov. 15 at Rutgers
Nov. 22 at Ohio State
Nov. 29 Purdue

In a similar fashion to Jerry Kill at Minnesota, Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson has his program headed in the right direction. In his first season after taking over from Bill Lynch in 2011, the Hoosiers managed just a single win, topping South Carolina State of the Football Championship Subdivision, 38-21. His first four losses were all within a touchdown, but the rest of the season wasn’t even close. Indiana lost its final seven games of that season by an average of 25 points.

Year two was better as the Hoosiers improved the win total by three, going 4-8, and winning two conference games, a 31-17 win at Illinois and a 24-21 win over Iowa the following week. There were still lopsided losses — 62-14 to Wisconsin, 45-22 at Penn State, and 56-35 to Purdue — but there were also near-upsets — a 52-49 loss to Ohio State, 31-27 loss to Michigan State, and a one-point heartbreaker at Navy. Progress.

Last season, Wilson’s squad managed five wins, none over FCS opponents, and three against Big Ten foes, the most notable being a 44-24 win at Penn State early in the season. The Hoosiers faltered down the stretch, losing 51-3 at Wisconsin and 41-14 at Ohio State, but the progress was evident. The offense was second only to Ohio State in the Big Ten and scored more points (28) than anyone all season against Michigan State’s vaunted defense (Nebraska also scored 28), including Ohio State.

The progress may not be as noticeable in the win column as Kill’s, but it’s there nonetheless, and Wilson has the Hoosiers knocking on the postseason once again. The program hasn’t been to a bowl game since the 1997 Insight Bowl, and the last one before that was the 1993 Independence Bowl. With 17 starters returning, including eight on that explosive offense, Wilson hopes this is the year to end that drought.

But in order to do so, he better fix the defense that surrendered a Big Ten-worst 38.8 points per game in 2013. In fact, the Hoosier defense under Wilson has finished last in the conference all three seasons. Enter Brian Knorr. The former Wake Forest defensive coordinator was brought on in place of Doug Mallory, the brother of Michigan’s safeties coach, Curt Mallory. Knorr took the Wake Forest defense from 91st in 2012 to 31st a year ago and has also had defensive success at Air Force. If he can do the same in Bloomington, Indiana should set its goals higher than simply becoming bowl eligible. But is that realistic for this fall? Let’s take a look.

Offense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
QB Nate Sudfeld 6’5″, 232 194-322 for 2,523 yds, 21 TD, 9 INT
RB Tevin Coleman 6’1″, 210 998 yds (7.3 avg), 12 TD
WR Shane Wynn 5’7″, 167 46 rec. for 633 yds, 11 TD
WR Nick Stoner 6’1″, 191 12 rec. for 226 yds, 1 TD
WR Isaiah Roundtree 5’11″, 200 14 rec. for 136 yds, 1 TD
TE Danny Friend 6’5″, 255
LT Jason Spriggs 6’7″, 307 12 starts (24 career starts)
LG Bernard Taylor 6’2″, 307 9 starts (25 career starts)
C Collin Rahrig 6’2″, 290 10 starts (24 career starts)
RG Dan Feeney 6’4″, 305 Injured (12 career starts)
RT Peyton Eckert 6’6″, 305 Injured (18 career starts)

As mentioned above, offense has not been the problem for Wilson. Last year’s offense ranked 16th nationally in scoring offense (38.4 points per game), ninth in total offense (508.5 yards per game), 30th in rushing (201.8 yards per game), and 17th in passing (306.7 yards per game). Those are pretty darn good numbers for any offense, let alone one that won just five games. Consider that the eight teams that had better total offenses — Baylor, Oregon, Fresno State, Texas A&M, Northern Illinois, Florida State, Ohio State, and Texas Tech — had a combined average record of 11-2 and you see that this Indiana offense is in good company.

The offense took a small blow last month when one part of the two-headed quarterback monster announced his decision to transfer to Illinois State. Tre Roberson started four games for the Hoosiers in 2013, passing for 1,128 yards and 15 touchdowns, and rushing for 423 yards and five more touchdowns. He performed well against Michigan (16-of-23 for 288 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception) and tied a 70-year-old school record with six touchdowns in the season finale against Purdue. But he wasn’t content to share time with Nate Sudfeld, and now this is Sudfeld’s team.

Coleman is one of the Big Ten's best returning running backs (Doug McSchooler, AP)

Coleman is one of the Big Ten’s best returning running backs (Doug McSchooler, AP)

The junior from Modesto, Calif. ranked highly in the Big Ten in most passing categories despite splitting time with Roberson. He finished fifth in passing yards (2,523), total offense per game (207.4), and completion percentage (60.2), and third in yards per completion (13.0) and yards per attempt (7.8). He threw 21 touchdowns and just nine interceptions and looks to take another step forward as the main man this fall.

Unfortunately, four of his top five pass-catchers from 2013 are no longer in Bloomington, most notably the Big Ten’s third-leading receiver, Cody Latimer, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the NFL Draft. The leading returning receiver is senior Shane Wynn, who caught 46 passes for 633 yards and a  team-high 11 touchdowns. The 5’7″, 167-pound slot receiver ranks fifth in career receiving touchdowns in Indiana history (17), eighth in receptions (133), and 17th in receiving yards (1,490). Joining him will be fellow seniors Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The two combined for 26 receptions, 362 yards, and two touchdowns last season, but will need to take a much bigger role this fall. Pushing them, however, will be four-star recruit Dominique Booth, who enrolled early and already has the size (6’1″, 208) to contribute immediately.

While there’s a lot of production to replace out wide, the backfield returns the best part of its one-two punch. One of the Big Ten’s best running backs, Tevin Coleman, is back for his junior season. Drew ranked him third behind Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. Coleman just missed 1,000 yards last season, rushing for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns on 7.1 yards per carry. Oh, and he did it all in nine games before he missed the final three with an ankle injury. He had 78 yards on 11 carries against Michigan and an astounding 215 yards on just 15 carries against Illinois.

The second part of IU’s one-two punch from 2013, Stephen Houston, is gone. He had just 19 fewer carries than Coleman and rushed for 753 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. Replacing him will be senior D’Angelo Roberts, who had 232 yards on 4.5 yards per carry last season. Nearly half of his yardage came in the season finale against Purdue, in which he rushed for 113 yards on just 14 carries. Prior to Coleman’s injury, however, Roberts had just 17 carries in nine games, so he’ll need to adjust to a bigger workload. Redshirt junior Anthony Davis, who transferred from the University of Dayton in 2012, could earn reps (he carried 10 times for 65 yards in the season opener last year), and incoming freshman Tommy Mister, the 2013 Chicago Catholic League Player of the Year, will also get a chance to earn playing time.

The offensive line returns plenty of starting experience that will certainly be beneficial for Coleman and Sudfeld. The unit has ranked as one of the Big Ten’s best the past two years, and this year should be no different. Left tackle Jason Spriggs is our third-best lineman individual lineman the conference. The 6’7″, 307-pound junior has started all 24 games of his career thus far and was named honorable mention All-Big Ten in both 2012 and 2013. Left guard Bernard Taylor has the most career starts on the team (25). He started nine games a year ago. Center Collin Rahrig started 10 games in 2013, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors by the media. The former walk-on has started 24 career games.

The right side of the line is where it gets interesting. Right guard Dan Feeney and right tackle Peyton Eckert both suffered season-ending injuries in fall camp, making room for others to step in. Redshirt junior Ralston Evans started all 12 games at right tackle, while Jake Reed, David Kaminski, and Jacob Bailey all started games at right guard and all return. Feeney was an honorable mention All-Big Ten member as a true freshman in 2012 and Eckert started a combined 18 games in 2011 and 2012. With that much returning experience, the Hoosiers should once again have one of the best lines in the Big Ten.

Defense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
DE Darius Latham 6’5″, 325 22 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FR
DT Ralph Green 6’5″, 325 25 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF
DE Bobby Richardson 6’3″, 288 39 tackles, 3.5 TFL
OLB Nick Mangieri 6’5″, 265 26 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT
MLB T.J. Simmons 6’0″, 228 68 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack
MLB Flo Hardin 6’1″, 230 59 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 FF, 1 FR
OLB David Cooper 6’1″, 237 85 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR
CB Tim Bennett 5’9″, 186 73 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 20 PBU, 1 FR
CB Michael Hunter 6’1″, 194 42 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 INT, 7 PD, 1 FF
FS Antonio Allen 5’10″, 205 35 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR
SS Mark Murphy 6’2″, 210 84 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF

There can’t be many teams that have had such a dichotomy between offense and defense. Remember in Rich Rodriguez’s last season when Michigan’s scoring offense ranked 25th nationally but its scoring defense ranked 107th? Well, Indiana’s scoring offense last season ranked 16th and its scoring defense ranked 115th. Only nine teams in the country allowed more points per game than the Hoosiers did. They ranked 123rd in total defense (527.9 yards per game), 117th in rush defense (237.8 yards per game), 120th in pass defense (290.2 yards per game), and 114th in third-down conversion defense (46.2 percent).

New defensive coordinator Brian Knorr may be the most important factor in how high Indiana's ceiling is this season (Mark Dolejs, USA Today Sports)

New defensive coordinator Brian Knorr may be the most important factor in how high Indiana’s ceiling is this season (Mark Dolejs, USA Today Sports)

The new defensive coordinator will be charged with simply improving the defense to average, which would surely improve the Hoosiers’ win total. The biggest change will be transforming from a 4-3 to a 3-4, which Knorr ran at Wake Forest.

“I think the system makes you more multiple,” Knorr said. “The opportunity to have three linemen and to get more linebackers on the field. And it helps not having to recruit four true down linemen. It’s hoped the alignment will make it more difficult for foes to tell where pressure and blitzes are coming from.”

The good news is he has some bodies to work with up front. Redshirt sophomore Ralph Green started nine games last season and was named to BTN.com’s honorable mention All-Big Ten team and CollegeFootballNews.com’s honorable mention Freshman All-American team. At 6’5″, 325-pounds, he’s a nice big body to clog the middle. Redshirt junior Adarius Rayner has only two starts under his belt, but will provide depth, as will redshirt freshman Nate Hoff, who was a scout team star a year ago.

Sophomore Darius Latham, a four-star recruit who had several big-time offers, and senior Bobby Richardson, who has 16 career starts, will be in the mix to start. Richardson led all IU linemen with 39 tackles last season, while Latham impressed as a true freshman, being named honorable mention All-Big Ten Freshman by BTN.com. The other end who will factor in is another former four-star, sophomore David Kenney, who recorded nine tackles in seven games last season.

The top six tackles among Indiana’s linebackers from 2013 all return, and converted defensive end Nick Mangieri will join them. The 6’5″, 265-pound junior started 10 games last season, leading the team with 85 tackles, and ranking second with three sacks and six tackles-for-loss. Fifth-year senior David Cooper has started all 24 games since transferring from Coffeyville Community College in 2012. Fellow senior Flo Hardin has three years of experience under his belt, while a host of sophomores, T.J. Simmons, Marcus Oliver, and Clyde Newton, will be among the rotation.

Both of last year’s starting corners are back in senior Tim Bennett and redshirt junior Michael Hunter. Bennett was named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media after leading the nation with 20 pass breakups and 21 passes defended. Hunter recorded seven pass breakups and picked off one pass. They will be backed by redshirt freshman Rashard Fant, a former four-star recruit. Strong safety Mark Murphy, who has 28 career starts at strong safety is back, but the loss of free safety Greg Heban, who started 38 career games, will hurt. Stepping in will be another former four-star recruit, sophomore Antonio Allen. He played in seven games last season and got his first career start against Michigan, but tore his ACL in that game and missed the rest of the season.

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
PK Aaron Del Grosso 5’10″, 195 (Redshirted)
P Erich Toth 6’3″, 206 40.6 avg, 18 in-20, 7 50+
KR Shane Wynn 5’7″, 167 18 ret, 23.1 avg.
PR Shane Wynn 5’7″, 167 7 ret, 14.0 avg., 1 TD

Kicker Mitch Ewald, who was named second team All-Big Ten by the coaches last season, has graduated. He made 9-of-11 field goals and finished an impressive career having made 53-of-66 (80.3 percent). No other kicker has attempted a field goal at Indiana since 2010, and Wilson will be hard-pressed to find one as consistent as Ewald. The most likely candidate this fall is redshirt freshman walk-on Aaron Del Grosso. Punter Erich Toth is back after booting 52 punts for an average of 40.6 yards last season. That tied with Michigan punter Matt Wile for seventh-best in the conference.

The return game is led by Wynn, who averaged 23.1 yards per kick return a year ago, and while he didn’t take one all the way in 2013, he does have one in his career. He also returned a punt for a touchdown last season and averaged 14 yards per punt return. However, Indiana’s defense didn’t force many punts, so Wynn’s seven returns weren’t enough to rank among the conference leaders. If it was, he would have ranked third.

Outlook

As I’ve already mentioned, if the defense can simply improve slightly, it should be enough to at least get the Hoosiers back into the postseason. Even with the relative inexperience at receiver, the offense shouldn’t miss a beat. Sudfeld should thrive as the full-time starter, especially with a home-run threat like Coleman in the backfield and a talented and experienced front line.

The main issue lies in the schedule, which sees the Hoosiers travel to Missouri in Week 4 (their third game), then face a rough stretch of at Iowa, home against Michigan State, at Michigan, home against Penn State. They also have to travel to Columbus the second-to-last week of the season. Wilson’s squad should be able to get through the non-conference at 3-1, but will have trouble getting any momentum. Count the conference-opener with Maryland and the season-ender with Purdue as wins, and the Hoosiers will need to pull off a road win at Rutgers or knock off one of the aforementioned teams to become bowl-eligible. It’s certainly doable, but will take some work. Six wins are likely, seven would be great, and anything above that might get Wilson nominated for mayor in Bloomington.

What it means for Michigan

Indiana gets a bye week between hosting Michigan State and traveling to Ann Arbor, while Michigan will be coming off a trip to East Lansing. It will be a tough one emotionally for the Wolverines because they’ll either be coming down from the high of their second win over their in-state rival in seven years — their second in three years — or trying to rebound from the stinging disappointment of a sixth loss in seven years. But Michigan has Indiana’s number, having won the last 18 meetings and 33 of the last 34. Indiana’s strength — its offense — will match up against what should be a very good Michigan defense. The Wolverines surely won’t allow 47 points as they did last year, and while the offense probably won’t score 63, it won’t have to. Look for a comfortable Michigan win in this one.

New in Blue: Wide Receiver Brian Cole

Saturday, July 26th, 2014


Brian Cole(Jeff Schrier, MLive)

Brian Cole – WR | 6-2, 190 | Saginaw, Mich. – Heritage
ESPN: 4-star, #8 ATH Rivals: 4-star, #7 ATH 247: 4-star, #2 ATH Scout: 4-star, #5 WR
Other top offers: Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Tennessee

Michigan’s annual BBQ at the Big House kicked off with a bang on Saturday afternoon with the commitment of the state of Michigan’s top-rated prospect, wide receiver Brian Cole. Cole announced his commitment shortly after 1 p.m. EST via Twitter.

Cole is a consensus four-star recruit in the 2015 class and rated in the top 150 nationally by each of the four major recruiting services. 247 Sports ranks Cole the highest, listing him as the No.2 athlete in the class and 42nd overall. Rivals has him as the seventh-best athlete and 106th-best overall prospect, while Scout lists him as the fifth-best receiver, and ESPN has him as the eighth-best athlete and 137th-best overall prospect.

Heading into his senior year of high school, Cole already has ideal size. All four sites list him at 6’2″, while there is some disagreement about his weight. 247 and Rivals list him at 190-pounds, ESPN at 199, and Scout at 210. Regardless, by the time he shows up in Ann Arbor around this time next year, he’ll have the size to contribute immediately. And while he could play defensive back, Michigan has been recruiting him at receiver all the way.

Scout’s Allen Trieu had this to say about Cole: “Good sized kid who carries his 200-plus pounds very well. Shows very good ability in space and change of direction for a bigger kid. He is a good open field runner with legitimate speed. He has played a lot of tailback and safety, but shows good natural hands and ball skills. Having not played as much receiver, refining his route running is key but he has the tools to project to multiple positions in college.”

As the top-rated prospect in the state, this was thought to be a head-to-head battle between Michigan and Michigan State all along, even though he also held an offer from Ohio State. He had been considered a Michigan State lean up until this weekend. But when word broke earlier in the week that he would be on campus over the weekend and fellow in-state commit, quarterback Alex Malzone, would be with him, it was a good sign for the Maize and Blue.

Cole is the first wide receiver in the 2015 class, but joins the last commitment Michigan received, tight end Chris Clark, as highly-rated pass-catchers in the class. He’s the ninth commitment so far, the fifth on the offensive side of the ball, and is now the highest-rated commit in the class.

With dozens of other recruits on campus this weekend for the BBQ at the Big House, Cole may not be the only commitment of the weekend. Stay tuned for more updates.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Cornerbacks (part two)

Friday, July 25th, 2014


Big-Ten-position-rankings-header-CB

This week, as part of our summer-long preview of Michigan football in 2014, we at Maize and Go Blue are ranking who will be the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten this upcoming season. The players listed are whom we believe will be the most successful in 2014, not necessarily those who have had the most success in previous years. Part One of our cornerback rankings was posted yesterday. It revealed the bottom half of the Big Ten’s top-10 cornerbacks. If you have not had the chance to read it yet, I recommend that you do so before proceeding. Read it? Fantastic! Then let’s unveil who will be the five best cornerbacks in the Big Ten this fall.

Previously

Quarterbacks: Part OnePart Two | Running Backs: Part OnePart Two | Wide Receivers: Part OnePart Two
Tight Ends: Part OnePart Two | Offensive Line: Part OnePart Two | Defensive Line: Part OnePart Two
Linebackers: Part OnePart Two | Cornerbacks: Part One

5. Desmond King, Iowa | Sophomore – 5’11”, 190 lbs.
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 44 25 69 3.0 0 8 0
Career Totals 44 25 69 3.0 0 8 0
(AP)

(AP)

Iowa’s Desmond King is one of two rising sophomores to make the top five on this list. Last summer, King arrived in Iowa City with little fanfare. He had been only a middling three-star recruit, not even in the top 1,000 of 247’s composite national rankings. King, who had offers from only MAC schools throughout most of the recruiting process, was set to attend Ball State before a late offer from the Hawkeyes convinced him to play in the Big Ten. It turned out to be the correct decision for both parties.

As a true freshman last season, King flashed potential that could turn him into a star cornerback in this conference. He started 12 of 13 games for one of the best defenses—against both the run and the pass—in the nation. The Hawkeyes were ninth nationally in scoring defense, sixth in total defense, and ninth in passing yards allowed per game. Thusly, it should be no surprise that Iowa’s pass defense was considered to be just as stout by advanced metrics. Iowa was 10th in the nation in sack-adjusted passing yards allowed per attempt, 17th in passing efficiency defense, and 13th in Passing Defense S&P+, an advanced statistical model which analyzes what defenses allow on a given play versus what they are expected to allow. Simply, Iowa’s pass defense was exceptional, and King was a big reason for it.

Although King was the No. 2 cornerback on the roster behind B.J. Lowery, what made his campaign so impressive was the versatility he displayed as only a true freshman. In coverage, King tallied eight pass defended. Although he failed to grab one interception, there have been freshman cornerbacks in the past who have were unable to earn one their first season before recording a heap of them later in their career. For instance, see a certain Michigan cornerback below. But what was most important was that King showed he could succeed both in Iowa’s Cover-2 scheme and on an island in man-to-man. Further, King also proved he can be an asset in run support. He posted 69 tackles, 44 solo stops, which were the most by any Iowa defensive back, and three tackles-for-loss. There are few things King cannot do.

It is clear that Iowa landed a gem in King. He appears to be a blossoming stud in the Big Ten. However, there is one concern that must be noted about King’s upcoming sophomore season. Although it was already implied that Lowery graduated, the Hawkeyes also lost safety Tanner Miller and the entire corps of starting linebacker. Among the five of them, they accounted for 12 of Iowa’s 13 interceptions last season. How much will Iowa’s pass defense suffer with the departure of five starters in the back-seven? Can King do enough to replace that production? Or will Iowa’s pass defense experience a significant dip? It will be interesting to see how King performs without the help he had from these talented teammates last year, which is why he is No. 5 on this list.

4. Sojourn Shelton, Wisconsin | Sophomore – 5’9″, 172 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 25 5 30 0 0 4 4
Career Totals 25 5 30 0 0 4 4
(Jonathan Quilter, Columbus Dispatch)

(Jonathan Quilter, Columbus Dispatch)

The other rising sophomore that should become one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten this season is Wisconsin’s Sojourn Shelton. Like Iowa’s Desmond King, Shelton was a true freshman that started 12 of 13 games at cornerback for the Badgers. Unlike King, though, Shelton proved that he can be an elite cover corner. At 5’9” and 160 pounds, Shelton was not the biggest corner by any means, but he had the speed and agility to keep pace with any receiver in the conference. Accordingly, he had nine passes defended last season. But, more importantly, four of those nine were interceptions. His four interceptions were tied for the third-most in the conference and led Wisconsin. Because of his speed and reflexes, Shelton will always be a threat to pick off passes thrown in his direction.

However, although Shelton has beefed up to 172 pounds this year, he still is very small. This negatively impacts him in two ways. First, Shelton will struggle to be effective in press coverage. He does not have the size to jam the receiver at the line of scrimmage and may be too vulnerable to being torched over the top. Second, Shelton will not provide much assistance in stopping the run. While it is clear that Shelton does not shy away from delivering physical hits, his lack of size makes it easy for blockers to escort him out of the area. This is a big reason why he had only 36 tackles last year, even if 31 of them were solo stops. Shelton still will be an excellent corner in the Big Ten, but his lack of size will always be something that holds him back a bit.

Yet, with a year of experience under his belt, Shelton should be ready to improve upon a fantastic freshman season. He returns to a secondary that performed very well last year. Wisconsin finished 17th nationally in passing yards allowed per game, 19th in sack-adjusted passing yards allowed per attempt, 18th in passing efficiency defense, and 28th in Passing Defense S&P+. This was essentially a top-20 pass defense that returns three of its four starters. Shelton will be comfortable with his fellow teammates in the secondary and may be able to contend for All-Big Ten honors, assuming Wisconsin can adequately replace its entire defensive front-seven.

3. Jordan Lucas, Penn State | Junior – 6’0”, 198 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 45 20 65 4.5 1.0 16 3
2012 1 0 1 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 46 20 66 4.5 1.0 16 3
(Jason Plotkin, The York Daily Record)

(Jason Plotkin, The York Daily Record)

With the two sophomores—Wisconsin’s Sojourn Shelton and Iowa’s Desmond King—sliding in at No. 4 and No. 5 on this list, we are left with three juniors that will vie for the label as the Big Ten’s best cornerback. One of these juniors is Penn State’s Jordan Lucas. Lucas became a full-time starter last season and demonstrated very quickly that he was the best cornerback on Penn State’s roster. He defended a remarkable 16 passes—three interceptions, 13 pass breakups—in 2013. Not only was this five more than the number of passes defended by any other Nittany Lion, it also was tied for the third-most in the conference with Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste—both of whom were selected in the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. And, unlike Indiana’s Tim Bennett, who led the nation with 21 passes defended, Lucas earned that number as the leader of a passing defense that allowed the fourth-fewest passing yards per attempt in the conference.

Further, Lucas exhibited a level of physicality on the perimeter that few Big Ten cornerbacks exuded last season. In addition to his 16 passes defended, Lucas added 65 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, and one sack. He was the third-leading tackler on Penn State, and no Nittany Lion had as many solo tackles as he did (45). Plus, as discussed yesterday when breaking down Northwestern’s Nick VanHoose and Maryland’s William Likely, 4.5 tackles-for-loss is an exceptional number for any cornerback. It indicates that he can knife his way into the backfield to make key stops against the run. And, if you want even more proof that Lucas can lay the wood, he also forced two fumbles. There are many cornerbacks that can provide tight coverage against the pass, but there are few that like to hit as hard as Lucas does.

In 2014, Lucas should be able to do much of the same as he did last season. He once again will be the top cornerback in a secondary that returns two other starters. Lucas will benefit from having Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last year, alongside him. The two of them will form one of the best corner-safety tandems in the Big Ten. If there is one area where they need to improve, though, it is their pass defense in third-and-long situations. Last season, Penn State allowed its opponent to convert 13 first downs when the opponent needed 10 or more yards on third down. No other Big Ten team conceded as many first downs in such a distance-and-down situation. If Lucas can rectify this problem, not only will Penn State’s pass defense improve according to basic and advanced metrics, he also will contend for All-Big Ten first-team honors this fall.

2. Blake Countess, Michigan | RS Junior – 5’10″, 183 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 26 20 46 2.0 0 4 6
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2011 30 14 44 1.5 0 6 0
Career Totals 56 34 90 3.5 0 10 6
(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

The two cornerbacks who will be the best in the Big Ten in 2014 both reside in the state of Michigan. Once again, fans of the Wolverines and Spartans will have something about which to bicker and debate. And, to be fair, both sides have several solid arguments they can offer to support the idea that their player will be the best cornerback in the conference. But the best guess is that Michigan’s Blake Countess will have to settle for No. 2.

Entering last season, there was a giant question mark hanging over Countess. After an impressive debut season in 2011 that unfairly drew comparisons to Michigan legend Charles Woodson, Countess tore his ACL while covering a punt in the opening quarter of the 2012 season. He was forced to miss the rest of the year and redshirt. Although players, especially the more athletic ones, generally can recover quickly from an ACL injury given today’s advances in medical science, there was anxiety among the Michigan fan base about whether Countess would regain his freshman form. Not only did he regain it, he significantly improved upon it.

Last season, Countess had one of the best campaigns by a Michigan cornerback in quite some time. After not intercepting one pass as a freshman, he completely flipped the switch last fall. He led the conference with six picks, which also was tied for seventh nationally. Further, his six interceptions were the most by a Wolverine since Todd Howard also had six in 2000. Countess was an interception magnet because he became adept at suckering the quarterback into poor throws. He would feign that he was playing a certain coverage, tricking the quarterback to believe that another receiver in the nearby area was open. But, as the quarterback began to step into his throw, Countess would quickly shift into that area and undercut the pass for an interception. It was beautiful to watch. Although, Big Ten quarterbacks would disagree as they began to avoid Countess’ side of the field later in the season.

However, Countess could not top this list because there is a red flag about his press coverage, which he will be playing much more of this season. Michigan’s passing defense regressed in 2013 and was only an average unit. The Wolverines were 66th nationally in passing yards allowed per game, 57th in sack-adjusted passing yards allowed per attempt, 51st in passing efficiency defense, and 54th in Passing Defense S&P+. The mediocrity of these ranks can be attributed to the soft coverage Michigan played, which involved its corners lining up 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. And, given referees’ inclination not to call defensive pass interference on every play, Michigan believes its passing defense will be more effective with more press coverage.

But Countess is not the most physical cornerback at 5’10”, 180 pounds and has struggled in press coverage in the past. The best example is when Michigan left Countess on an island against Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who then proceeded to haul in 10 catches for 176 yards and three touchdowns. The good news for Michigan is that Lockett was one of the best and most explosive wideouts in the country. Countess likely will not have that a challenge like that in the Big Ten this fall. Nonetheless, there is still a concern about being beat over the top, which is why Countess should be the second-best, but not the best, Big Ten cornerback in 2014.

1. Trae Waynes, Michigan State | RS Junior - 6’1”, 183 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 35 15 50 1.5 0 5 3
2012 2 3 5 0.5 0.5 0 0
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 37 18 55 2.0 0.5 5 3
(Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today Sports)

(Gary A. Vasquez, USA Today Sports)

Michigan’s Blake Countess may have had the better individual numbers last season, but Michigan State’s Trae Waynes arguably was a starter for the nation’s best passing defense. Under the tutelage of head coach Mark Dantonio and, especially, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, the Spartans have set the standard for passing defense the past three seasons. Michigan State has finished in the top 10 in Passing Defense S&P+ each of the past three year and in the top spot in 2012 and 2013. Further, looking at last year’s stats alone, Michigan State was third nationally in passing yards allowed per game, second in sack-adjusted passing yards allowed per attempt, and first in passing efficiency defense. So, if you were starter for a secondary that put up those numbers, you probably are alright at this cornerback thing.

Last season, Waynes started all 14 games in his first season as a full-time starter. He registered 50 tackles, 35 of which were solo, 1.5 tackles-for-loss, one fumble recovery, and eight passes defended—three interceptions and five pass breakups. None of these numbers are super exciting, especially when offenses were more inclined to target Waynes rather than future first-round selection Darqueze Denard. But it is always important to note the context in which Waynes produced these numbers. Michigan State prefers that its safeties are uber-aggressive. They play closer to and attack the line of scrimmage more frequently than other teams’ safeties, which leaves Michigan State’s corners on an island more often. Yet the Spartans still had the best passing defense in the nation. This is because Waynes, at 6’1” and 183 pounds, not only has the size to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage but also can run step for step with the receiver if he does release. Sure, there were times when Waynes would be beat over the top, like on Stanford’s opening drive in the Rose Bowl, but it usually took a perfect throw from the quarterback to do it.

Next season, Waynes will be Michigan State’s top cornerback now that Dennard is in the NFL. Given the trend the Spartans have set as consistently being one of the best pass defenses in the nation, accordingly, Waynes should be considered one of the best cornerbacks in the nation as well. In fact, he is ranked as the second-best cornerback prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft class and already projected by some to be a first-round selection as an early entrant in next year’s draft. No cornerback in the Big Ten has the size, press skills, and cover skills that Waynes has, which is why he will be the best cornerback in the conference this fall.

So what do you think? Do you agree with our list? Should Michigan State’s Trae Waynes or Michigan’s Blake Countess be ranked No. 1 on this list? Or should it be someone else? And was there another Big Ten cornerback that should have made the top five on this list? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Next week, we will tackle the remainder of the secondary by ranking who will be the best safeties in the Big Ten.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Cornerbacks (part one)

Thursday, July 24th, 2014


Big-Ten-position-rankings-header-CB

This is the eighth installment of Maize and Go Blue’s series that ranks the best Big Ten players at each position for the upcoming season. Each week until Michigan’s opener, one position will be previewed, looking at the players who will excel in 2014, not necessarily the ones who did so in previous seasons. The analysis provided is thorough and in-depth, so each position preview will be split into two parts. The best Big Ten players on offense and in the defensive front seven have been covered. This week, it is time to preview who will be the best cornerbacks in the conference this season. Here is Part One:

Previously

Quarterbacks: Part One, Part Two | Running Backs: Part One, Part Two | Wide Receivers: Part One, Part Two
Tight Ends: Part One, Part Two | Offensive Line: Part One, Part Two | Defensive Line: Part One, Part Two
Linebackers: Part One, Part Two

10. Nick VanHoose, Northwestern | RS Junior – 6’0”, 190 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 40 21 61 5.0 0 8 0
2012 26 7 33 0.5 0 7 3
2011 0 0 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 66 28 94 5.5 0 15 3
(Meghan White, The Daily Northwestern)

(Meghan White, The Daily Northwestern)

Despite having fewer tackles, interceptions, and pass breakups than Indiana’s Tim Bennett, Northwestern’s Nick VanHoose cracks this top-10 list while Bennett is left out in the cold. In fact, Bennett—even with 73 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, one interception, and a nation-best 21 passes defended last season—was never really in consideration. There were two or three other Big Ten cornerbacks, including Michigan State sophomore Darian Hicks, who participated primarily on special teams last year, that had better odds to knock VanHoose out of the top 10 than Bennett. How so? There is more to an evaluation of a cornerback than just individual statistics.

Although Bennett led the country in both pass breakups (20) and passes defended (21) last season, he was a member of one of the worst secondaries in the nation. You may want to look away. The following numbers are quite horrifying. Indiana finished 118th nationally in passing yards allowed per game (290.2), 112th in sack-adjusted passing yards allowed per attempt (7.7), 103rd in passing efficiency defense (147.15), and allowed more 25-plus-yard completions than any other team in the Big Ten. While all of this cannot be blamed on Bennett, it was his responsibility to cover and contain the opponent’s No. 1 receiver. And Bennett was quite irresponsible. He allowed top wideouts like Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (14 catches, Big Ten-record 369 yards, two touchdowns), Penn State’s Allen Robinson (12 catches, 173 yards, two touchdowns), and Illinois’ Steve Hull (9 catches, 224 yards, two touchdowns) to have their best performance of the season against the Hoosiers. Therefore, do not let individual statistics like passes defended fool you. There is always a bigger picture. And, here, the picture is clear: Bennett is not near one of the best 10 cornerbacks in the Big Ten.

One who will be this upcoming season is VanHoose. He has experience—he started 22 games at cornerback as a redshirt freshman and sophomore the past two seasons—and has produced in various ways. As a redshirt freshman, VanHoose notched 33 tackles and seven pass breakups but made his biggest impact generating turnovers. He intercepted three passes—his average of 0.30 picks per game was fourth-best in the Big Ten—and recovered three fumbles. The following year, the turnovers vanished, as VanHoose forced only one fumble and intercepted no passes. Nonetheless, he found other ways to contribute. Mainly, he improved his run support, accumulating 61 tackles and five tackles-for-loss, which are the most among returning Big Ten defensive backs. And, despite failing to record an interception last season, VanHoose still was in the vicinity of the receiver, breaking up eight passes. Entering his third year as a starter, VanHoose should be able to demonstrate all of these abilities as a pass and run defender in one season and put together the most all-around campaign of his career.

Similar to Bennett and Indiana, questions will be asked about VanHoose and Northwestern’s pass defense overall. The Wildcats’ national rank in passing yards allowed per game was dreadful (99th), but the advanced metrics indicate their pass defense was better than that suggests. The Wildcats were 52nd in sack-adjusted passing yards allowed per attempt (6.1) and 73rd in Passing Defense S&P+, an advanced statistical model which analyzes what defenses allow on a given play versus what they are expected to allow. Northwestern’s pass defense was not nearly as poor as Indiana’s last year, but it still was below average.

9. William Likely, Maryland | Sophomore – 5’7″, 175 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 51 19 70 4.5 0 7 1
Career Totals 51 19 70 4.5 0 7 1
(Bruce Chapman, Winston-Salem Journal)

(Bruce Chapman, Winston-Salem Journal)

At 5’7”, Maryland’s William Likely will be the shortest cornerback on this list. However, Likely has never allowed his limited stature to prevent him from excelling as a cornerback on the football field. In high school, Likely was considered a high three-star recruit in 247’s composite national rankings, but two recruiting services—Rivals and ESPN—rated him as a four-star. And Likely certainly had the offers of a four-star prospect, too. Reportedly, he received scholarship offers from LSU, Stanford, and Miami (FL) but chose to enroll at Maryland.

As a true freshman last season, Likely did not expect much playing time in the secondary with experienced starters Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson on the roster. However, McDougle broke his shoulder blade and Johnson fractured his toe early in the year, thrusting Likely into the lineup just a few weeks into his collegiate career. For a true freshman cornerback, Likely performed well in his 11 starts. He led the Terrapins with seven passes defended, one of which was an interception against Syracuse. Likely has a significant height disadvantage when marking outside wide receivers but compensates with his superb speed and agility to maintain tight coverage on his man. In case you are wondering just how superb, he was also Maryland’s kick and punt returner last season. What was even more impressive for a player of his size, though, was his willingness to provide solid run support. Likely had had the fifth-most tackles on the team with 70 and 4.5 tackles-for-loss, which is a high number for any cornerback, let alone one listed at 5’7”. Likely still had his freshman flaws throughout the year, but it was an impressive debut considering the circumstances.

Accordingly, big things are expected from Likely as a sophomore this fall. The question is whether Likely will sufficiently improve to shape up an experienced secondary that was only average against the pass last season. The Terrapins finished 57th nationally in passing yards allowed per game, 64th in passing efficiency defense, and 64th in Passing Defense S&P+. However, these probably would have been worse if not for Maryland’s pass rush. The Terps averaged 2.85 sacks per game, which was 18th-best in the country. Consequently, with sacks included, Maryland allowed only 5.7 passing yards per attempt, good enough for 26th-best in the nation. Some of these sacks were the result of excellent coverage where the quarterback had nowhere to throw, but the prevailing thought is that Maryland’s front-seven saved an average secondary’s behind. The bad news for Maryland is that it lost one of its top pass-rushers in linebacker Marcus Whitfield (15.5 tackles-for-loss, nine sacks). The good news is that it returns all of its other key defensive contributors, including the rest of the pass-rushing front-seven. If Likely makes the sophomore leap that many expect, Maryland’s pass defense should see a boost in its performance.

8. Raymon Taylor, Michigan | Senior – 5’10”, 182 lbs.
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 61 25 86 1.5 0.5 9 4
2012 33 12 45 0 0 1 2
2011 1 1 2 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 95 38 133 1.5 0.5 10 6
(Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

(Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

For much of last season, Raymon Taylor was the subject of frequent discussion among Michigan fans about whether he had developed into an above-average cornerback in the Big Ten. When Taylor became a permanent fixture in the starting lineup early in the 2012 season as a true sophomore, his impact was limited. Although he intercepted two passes, including a key one he returned 63 yards for a touchdown to ignite a rout of Purdue, he broke up only one other pass all season long. Three passes defended in 11 starts and 13 games? This is the sign of a cornerback who either had such tight coverage that quarterbacks did not throw in his general direction or struggled to stay close with his man. Given that Michigan was ranked No. 54 nationally in Passing Defense S&P+ and eighth in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per attempt, the latter option is the answer here. Plus, Taylor provided little in run support, registering only 45 tackles and zero tackles-for-loss. Accordingly, fans began to look at the depth chart and incoming recruits to see if there was a suitable replacement for Taylor for 2013 season.

Yet Taylor demonstrated that there was no suitable replacement for him, even after Michigan brought in a blossoming crop of freshmen defensive backs in Jourdan Lewis, Channing Stribling, and Dymonte Thomas. He showed improvement in all facets of the game. Against the pass, Taylor transformed from a cornerback that rarely made plays on the ball into one that got his hands on multiple throws. His 13 passes defended were tied for the seventh-most in the Big Ten, and his four interceptions were tied for the third-most. What was most impressive about his interceptions was that they were created by his coverage, not by lucky bounces or ricochets. He played much tighter coverage on his man and, accordingly, saw favorable results. Against the run, Taylor still had issues, but he was much better in 2013 than in 2012. He actually led Michigan with 86 tackles, 61 of which were solo, almost doubling the number of tackles he had the prior season. Although many of Taylor’s stops can be attributed to tackles he made after he allowed his receiver catch the ball underneath against soft coverage, the large increase in tackles indicated he was more willing to assist his teammates in run support.

So, to answer many Michigan fans’ question, yes, Taylor is an above-average cornerback in the Big Ten. He still has room to improve in defending and containing the run on the perimeter, but his coverage is much tighter and more technically sound. Plus, this season, Michigan plans to play more press coverage, which suits Taylor’s abilities more than dropping him into a soft zone where he has a tendency to let free the receiver he is supposed to mark. Of course, even in press coverage, there still are concerns that he will be beat over the top like Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett and everyone from Indiana did time and time again. However, Lockett was one of the best wideouts in the nation last season, and Indiana’s no-huddle tempo was the reason for the slipups in coverage. Entering his senior season and third year as a starter, Taylor will put together his best campaign yet. He should have fewer tackles because he will not allow as many catches underneath in press coverage, but his passes defended should increase. Teams will try to test Taylor to avoid Michigan’s other cornerback, who is a bit higher on this list, only to discover that Taylor, too, is one of the better corners in the Big Ten.

7. Doran Grant, Ohio State | Senior – 5’11″, 193 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 43 15 58 2.0 0 13 3
2012 15 4 19 1.0 1.0 2 1
2011 3 3 6 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 61 22 83 3.0 1.0 15 4
(Jim Davidson, The Ozone)

(Jim Davidson, The Ozone)

Ohio State’s Doran Grant is considered by NFL scouts and personnel to be one of the best senior cornerback prospects in the nation. In fact, some scouts foresee Grant being the fourth cornerback selected in the next NFL Draft, meaning he would be taken in the one of the first two rounds. NFL personnel drool over Grant because he oozes with physical talent that can translate to the next level. As a former high four-star prospect in high school, he drips with the type of athleticism that gives him the ability to frequently make game-changing plays. Just look at the impact he had as Ohio State’s second corner in his first full season as a starter last year. Grant posted 58 tackles, 43 of which were solo, two tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble, three interceptions, and 10 pass breakups. His 13 passes defended were tied for the seventh-most in the conference, and he proved he could be an asset in run support. Ultimately, with his athleticism, Grant is a player that has unbelievable potential as a cornerback.

However, there is a “but,” and, in this case, it is significant. For all of the positive momentum-shifting plays Grant makes with his dynamic athleticism, he makes just as many negative ones. Grant has too many mental mishaps that allow opponents to break what should be no or small gains into huge plays. Whether it was misplaying his coverage or taking a poor angle on a tackle attempt, Grant simply made too many mistakes. And he was not the only Buckeye defensive back with this problem either. For example, no Big Ten team allowed more completions of 15 yards or more than Ohio State with 77 of them last season. Further, Grant was a member of an Ohio State secondary enriched with NFL talent that was only eighth in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per attempt (7.0). The Buckeyes had one of the best pass rushes nationally, so their sack-adjusted numbers are much better. Nonetheless, this indicates that Ohio State, including Grant, pass defense struggled if the pass rush from the front-seven did not get home. This was a very poor reflection on Ohio State’s secondary.

And it is difficult to see Ohio State’s secondary improving this upcoming season. The Buckeyes lost both of their starting safeties and first-round cornerback Bradley Roby to the NFL this past spring. Grant is the only returning starter of the defensive back-four, and Ohio State’s returning safeties have very little experience. It will be upon Grant to replace the impact lost with Roby’s departure as the top cornerback on the depth chart and shore up the holes in this secondary. Grant continues to receive praise from NFL personnel and Ohio State coaches that claim Grant just needs to continue to “make strides in man coverage” to rise up the draft boards. But how much improvement mentally can be expected from a cornerback that fell asleep too often last season? If Grant realizes his full potential, he easily would be one of the top five cornerbacks in the conference. But the best guess is that Grant will continue to make too many dumb errors next season, which is why he is No. 7 on this list.

6. Eric Murray, Minnesota | Junior - 6’0”, 195 lbs
Solo Assisted Total Tackles Tackles-for-Loss Sacks P Def INT
2013 44 8 52 1.0 0 10 0
2012 4 1 5 0 0 0 0
Career Totals 48 9 57 1.0 0 10 0
(Amanda Snyder, Minnesota Daily)

(Amanda Snyder, Minnesota Daily)

Minnesota’s Eric Murray probably was the best Big Ten cornerback that no one talked about last season. After contributing primarily on special teams as a true freshman in 2012, Murray stepped into the starting cornerback role as a sophomore last year. Although Minnesota’s defense was somewhat below average, finishing 81st nationally in yards allowed per play and 65th in Defensive S&P+, much of those woes fell on Minnesota’s front-seven, not Murray and the rest of the secondary. Minnesota’s passing defense was slight above average, ranking fifth in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per play and 47th nationally in Passing Defense S&P+. And Murray played a big role in this, leading the Gophers with 10 pass breakups, which already ties for the 11th-most all-time in school history. Additionally, Murray registered 52 tackles, 44 of which were solo, one tackle-for-loss, and a fumble recovery. By the end of the season, the Big Ten coaches and media began to recognize his performance, giving him an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. But, during the season, he received no attention.

The key reason why Murray received little press was because, unlike many of the other corners on this list, he did not accumulate any interceptions. Interceptions are flashy and easy indicators that a cornerback is performing well. But there is always a bigger picture. A look at Murray’s game film reveals why he has yet to nab his first interception. Murray thrives in press coverage when Minnesota lines up in man-to-man. At 6’0” and 195 pounds, he is able to jam the opposing receivers on the line, preventing them from releasing into their route. Accordingly, Murray did not have many passes to defend because the quarterback only occasionally had the opportunity to target Murray’s man. On the other hand, many of the Big Ten’s best wide receivers had their worst days against Minnesota. Penn State’s Allen Robinson, who averaged 119.3 receiving yards per game, gained only 18 yards in the nine times he was defended by Murray. Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon, who averaged 105.6 receiving yards per game, had only 30 yards in the 11 plays he was guarded by Murray. Indiana’s Cody Latimer, who averaged 91.3 yards per game? Only 25 yards in the 13 plays Murray locked him up. The trend is pretty clear: despite the lack of interceptions, Murray’s press coverage is a difficult challenge for even the Big Ten’s best wideouts.

Expect much of the same from Murray in 2014. With a one year of starting experience under his belt, he will be able to fine-tune his press technique and improve upon it even further. Wideouts will continue to have a hard time releasing off the line of scrimmage against him. There will be times when those wideouts are successful and beat Murray over the top, but this is the consequence of banking on your ability to press and press some more. Also, it certainly would not hurt if Murray decided to record a few interceptions either this year. Because, if he does, he may be better than one—or some—of the next five cornerbacks on this list. And then he would receive all of the attention he would ever need.

What do you think so far? Do you agree with the first five names on this list? Did we leave someone out of the top 10 that deserves to be here? What about Michigan’s Raymon Taylor? Should he be higher or lower than No. 8 on this list? Who do you think will round out the top five tomorrow? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

The five greatest eras of Michigan football

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014


The following story was written for our annual Michigan football season preview magazine, In the Huddle: Michigan by Lindy’s Sports. However, due to the abrupt closing of their primary Midwest distributor in June, they were unable to publish the Michigan, Ohio State, or Notre Dame magazines this year. 

One hundred and thirty-five years ago, Michigan football was born. On May 30, 1879, the first official University of Michigan football team participated in its first game against Racine College. The game was played in Chicago, Illinois, and was attended by 500 spectators. Michigan’s Irving Kane Pond scored the contest’s only touchdown, leading Michigan to a 1-0 victory. Yes, touchdowns were worth just a single point in 1879.

Things have changed a bit for Michigan football since that historic day in May 1879. On August 30, 2014, the Wolverines will kick off their 135th season against Appalachian State. The game will be played in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and attended by more than 110,000 spectators. It is highly probable more than one touchdown will be scored, and, when they are, they will be worth six points, not a measly one.

Despite these variations, there has been one relative constant the past 135 years: Michigan’s stature in college football. Since competing against Racine College in 1879, Michigan has established itself as one of the most storied college football programs. No school has more all-time wins than Michigan. Only one school has a higher all-time winning percentage than Michigan, and it is only by six one-hundredths of a percentage point, too. The Wolverines also have 11 national championships, 23 undefeated seasons, 42 conference titles, 43 bowl appearances, three Heisman Trophy winners, and 129 first-team All-Americans. These are the numbers of a program that has been the cream of the crop for multiple stretches of time. Therefore, let’s reflect on the five eras of Michigan football that made it one of the most prestigious programs in the nation.

1901-05: The “Point-a-Minute” Era

1901 Michigan team

After the 1900 season, Michigan head coach Langdon Lea resigned. Needing a new coach for the following season, Michigan’s athletic director, Charles A. Baird, extended an offer to Fielding H. Yost, which Yost accepted. When Yost first arrived in Ann Arbor, he famously ran up State Street and proclaimed to a reporter, “Michigan isn’t going to lose a game.” Yost delivered on his guarantee.

In Yost’s first season, Michigan achieved a perfect 11-0 record, won the inaugural Rose Bowl, and claimed the program’s first national championship. Yet this is not even Michigan’s most impressive feat. En route to a perfect record, Michigan outscored all of its opponents by a 550-to-0 margin. In fact, one week, the Wolverines scored 22 touchdowns in 38 minutes of play against Buffalo. The game was so out of hand that Buffalo quit with 15 minutes still left to play. And Buffalo was not the only Michigan opponent to surrender early. Michigan’s 1901 campaign remains of the most dominant seasons, if not the most, in college football history. It also ushered in the “Point-a-Minute” era.

From 1901 to 1905, Yost’s squads were known as the “Point-a-Minute” teams. Why? Michigan’s offense was so proficient that it scored 2,821 points those five seasons, averaging nearly one point scored for every minute of play. Accordingly, the Wolverines did not suffer a single loss in their first 56 games under Yost, compiling a 55-0-1 record. They won national championships in 1901, 1902, 1903, and 1904. They also were in line to capture their fifth consecutive national title in 1905, defeating their first 12 opponents by a 495-to-0 margin. But the University of Chicago upset Michigan, 2-0, in the season finale and handed Yost his first loss at Michigan. The loss marked the end of Yost’s “Point-a-Minute” teams and arguably the most dominant dynasty in college football.

1922-26: The End of Yost’s Reign

1925 Michigan team

Two decades later, Yost still was the coach at Michigan. After the “Point-a-Minute” era, Michigan continued to be successful under Yost, but conference championships were few and far between. However, the Wolverines returned to their championship-winning ways as the sun began to set on Yost’s tenure as Michigan’s coach.

In 1922 and 1923, Michigan did not lose a single game. In 1922, Michigan went 6-0-1, winning a share of its second Big Ten championship since 1906. The following season, the Wolverines were a perfect 8-0-0 and locked up their sixth national championship under Yost. Yost then retired as coach to focus on his duties as Michigan’s athletic director. However, his replacement, George Little, left Michigan after one season. Yost decided to return to his old post on the sideline for one last stint. Why? He saw an opportunity to revolutionize the game.

In 1925 and 1926, Michigan had quarterback Benny Friedman and receiver Bennie Oosterbaan. During those times, teams did not throw the football unless they were desperate for a big play. Instead, teams committed their entire offense to running the football. But this changed with Friedman and Oosterbaan. Friedman displayed passing skills that no previous quarterback ever had, while Oosterbaan became the prototype for an athletic, finesse receiver who could be a downfield threat. Together, they excited audiences weekly as Friedman connected with Oosterbaan for passing touchdown after passing touchdown. Accordingly, the duo became known as “The Benny-to-Bennie Show.”

Not only was their “show” exciting, it was quite productive, too. Friedman and Oosterbaan led Michigan to back-to-back conference championships in 1925 and 1926. In fact, Yost called his 1925 squad “the greatest football team I ever coached” and “the greatest football team I ever saw in action.” He even thought that the 1925 team was better than his “Point-a-Minute” teams. However, the 1925 squad failed to win a national title because it lost to Northwestern, 3-2, in the middle of a heavy rainstorm. They were the only three points Michigan allowed all year. After the 1926 season, Yost retired as Michigan’s coach for the second time. This time, it would stick. Yost’s reign over college football ended. 

1930-33: Kipke’s Kingdom

Michigan 1933

But Michigan’s reign over college football did not end with Yost’s second retirement. In 1929, acting as Michigan’s athletic director, Yost hired Harry Kipke as Michigan’s new coach. Kipke used his first season to mold Michigan into the program he wanted to take into battle. By his second season in 1930, Michigan once again was ready to fight as a college football powerhouse.

In 1930 and 1931, Michigan was a serious championship contender, but a few slipups here and there cost Kipke and the Wolverines their chances. In 1930, the Wolverines posted an 8-0-1 record and their first undefeated season since 1923. Michigan shared a piece of the Big Ten championship with Northwestern, but a scoreless draw against Michigan State prevented Michigan from earning the national crown. Next season, Michigan’s defense was a force with which to be reckoned. The Wolverines shut out eight of their 10 foes and allowed only 27 points all year. But 20 of those points were allowed in one game. The result was a 20-7 loss to Ohio State. Although Michigan’s 8-1-1 record was sufficient to capture its second straight Big Ten title, the Wolverines were one mistake away from a national championship yet again.

But Michigan rectified its errors in 1932 and 1933. In 1932, there were no losses or ties to foil Michigan’s national championship dreams. The Wolverines finished with a perfect 8-0-0 record. Michigan rode its defense to the program’s seventh national title and Kipke’s first. The Wolverines shut out six of their eight opponents and allowed only 13 points all year. In 1933, Michigan went 7-0-1. The Wolverines’ only blemish was a scoreless stalemate against Minnesota. Nonetheless, unlike the 1930 campaign, Michigan had done enough to be crowned the national champion for the second straight season. Overall, from 1930 to 1933, Kipke was king, leading Michigan to a 31-1-3 record, four straight Big Ten championships and back-to-back national titles.

1947-50: The Mad Magicians

Michigan 1947

Fritz Crisler became Kipke’s successor in 1938. Crisler made his mark on the Michigan program early in his tenure. When he first arrived in Ann Arbor, Crisler presented Michigan with the famous winged football helmet. Supposedly, he wanted his players to wear the winged helmet, so his quarterback could locate his receivers downfield. Nonetheless, the winged helmet has become one of the iconic symbols of Michigan football. But it was not until the end of his tenure when Crisler made his biggest contribution not only to Michigan, but to all of college football.

Prior to 1947, teams played their best players on both offense and defense. However, in 1941, the NCAA implemented a new rule that allowed players to enter or leave at any point during the game. Crisler took advantage of this rule in 1947 when he divided his team into “offensive” and “defensive” specialists. This became known as “two-platoon football” and would forever change how the game of football would be played.

With specialized units on both offense and defense, Michigan mastered both sides of the line of scrimmage. This was especially the case on offense. Michigan deployed seven different formations and an array of trick plays. There were double reverses, buck-reverse laterals, crisscrosses, quick-hits, and spins. These plays, along with the Wolverines’ endless substitutions, created a level of deception and chaos that no one had ever seen on the gridiron. Accordingly, the media nicknamed the 1947 team the “Mad Magicians.”  The Mad Magicians won both the Big Ten and national championship. Crisler retired after the season, but two-platoon football propelled the Wolverines to three more Big Ten titles and another national title the following three years.

1969-78: The Ten-Year War

OSU-Michigan banner

Michigan versus Ohio State. Maize and Blue versus Scarlet and Gray. It is arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports. And this was never more the case than when it was Bo Schembechler versus Woody Hayes. When Michigan hired Schembechler prior to the 1969 season, the Wolverines were a shell of their former selves. They had endured multiple losing seasons the previous two decades and had wandered into mediocrity. On the other hand, Hayes had transformed the Buckeyes into a juggernaut and one of the best college football programs in the nation.

In Schembechler’s first meeting against Hayes in 1969, no one outside the Michigan locker room expected the Wolverines to win. Ohio State rode a 22-game winning streak into the matchup, which included a 50-14 rout over Michigan the previous season. Some even considered the Buckeyes to be the best team of all-time. The Wolverines did not care. Michigan jumped out to a 24-12 halftime lead and held on to upset Ohio State by the same score with the help of seven OSU turnovers. Not only was Michigan’s victory considered one of the most historic upsets in college football, it ignited the heated “Ten-Year War.”

Under Schembechler and Hayes, respectively, Michigan and Ohio State were by far the two best Big Ten teams from 1969 to 1978. Michigan’s record against non-Ohio State teams those seasons was 91-11-2. Ohio State’s record against non-Michigan teams those seasons was 84-15-2. Consequently, both schools always were looking ahead to their rivalry showdown in the regular-season finale because they knew that outcome would determine the Big Ten champion, the Big Ten’s representative in the Rose Bowl, and, in some cases, the national champion. Despite winning only two of the first seven matchups, Michigan beat Ohio State three straight times from 1976 to 1978 to win the Ten-Year War with a 5-4-1 record. During this run, the Wolverines clinched at least a share of eight Big Ten championships and appeared in five Rose Bowls. The Ten-Year War brought Michigan football back from the dead and raised its rivalry with Ohio State to an unprecedented level.

Since the Ten-Year War, Michigan has had some very successful stretches of success. From 1988 to 1992, the Wolverines won five straight Big Ten titles. Then, from 1997 to 2000, Michigan claimed its 11th national championship in 1997, three Big Ten titles, and four straight bowl victories. But those teams did not exude the superiority and dominance that Michigan did in those earlier eras. Those earlier eras made Michigan football what it is today. And, on August 30, 2014, Michigan hopes to begin a new one that tops all of them.

Predicting Michigan: The secondary

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014


Predicting-Michigan-Secondary

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

Greg Mattison owns all of the tools to turn what was a shaky secondary in 2013 into a strength of the defense during his fourth season under Brady Hoke at Michigan.

Last season Michigan’s tendency to surrender the big play allowed teams to hang around before eventually costing the Wolverines in a late comeback by Penn State in Happy Valley. This unit has all the tools to shut down Big Ten receivers, but a few key players need to make major spring adjustments.

The Starters

Blake Countess was the clear-cut top defensive back for Michigan during the 2013 season, snatching a team-high six interceptions and taking on opponents’ best receivers every week. But this is an important offseason for the redshirt junior, as his ability to turn when the ball is in flight stands between him being a good defender and perhaps becoming one of the best in the conference. Countess often got beat despite tight coverage because he was looking at the receiver rather than finding the ball. If he can make an adjustment to look for the pass while staying in front of his man, offensive coordinators might stop throwing his way.

Countess was joined in 2013 by Raymon Taylor, who made 12 starts and grabbed four interceptions of his own as a junior. Big Ten quarterbacks were much more willing to throw at Taylor last season, and he was largely outmatched by most of the tougher receivers. Taylor is likely to start at cornerback, so his improvement through the offseason is one of the most important factors in improving the defense as a whole.

If Countess ends up playing the majority of his minutes at nickelback it will make room for talented sophomore Jourdan Lewis, who caught two interceptions during the spring game and sparked a buzz among the defensive coaches during the early spring. Much like Taylor and Countess, Lewis is around 5’10″ and 175 pounds. He played a limited role as a freshman, but did appear in eight games and batted down two passes.

Jarrod Wilson is ready to become the full-time starter at safety after picking up two interceptions and 50 tackles as a sophomore. Wilson gives the Michigan secondary an aggressive ball hawk that loves to support the running game. Mattison takes advantage of the junior’s versatility to send him into the backfield when he’s not dropping back in coverage.

The other safety position appears to be wide open for a cast of younger players trying to earn a starting job. Dymonte Thomas spent some time in the secondary as a freshman, but Delano Hill took most of the first-team snaps during the spring game. One of these sophomores will separate themselves during the offseason, but they are both in the running heading into fall camp.

Career Stats – Countess
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2011 30 14 44 0 1.5 1 6 0
2012 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2013 26 20 46 0 2.0 0 4 6
Totals 56 34 90 0 3.5 1 10 6
Career Stats – Taylor
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2011 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0
2012 33 12 45 0 0 0 1 2
2013 61 25 86 0.5 1.5 0 9 4
Totals 95 38 133 0.5 1.5 0 10 6
Career Stats – Lewis
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2013 14 3 17 0 0 0 2 0
Totals 14 3 17 0 0 0 2 0
Career Stats – Wilson
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2012 4 4 8 0 0 0 0 0
2013 28 22 50 0 2.0 0 2 2
Totals 32 26 58 0 2.0 0 2 2
Career Stats – Thomas
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2013 5 2 7 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 5 2 7 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Hill
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2013 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0

Veteran Depth

Michigan developed an abundance of depth at the cornerback position during 2013 as Mattison used a packed rotation while trying to find players that could hang with Big Ten receivers. Though many of his combinations faltered, Michigan now boasts plenty of corners to make the spring competition more productive.

Senior Delonte Hollowell hopes to play the most important role of his career in 2014 as he tries to crack the lineup behind a host of younger players. Hollowell has played sparingly at cornerback throughout his Michigan career, including four times as a backup last season. The Detroit native contributes predominantly on special teams and will need a strong offseason to stay in the mix for a secondary position.

The perfect scenario for Michigan’s defense would include sophomore Channing Stribling stepping up during camp and earning a major role in the secondary. Stribling offers the Wolverines a weapon that many of the other cornerbacks lack: Size. At 6’2″, the sophomore is equipped with the tools to defend some of the biggest and most dominant receivers in the Big Ten if he can earn a spot in the rotation before August 30.

Career Stats – Hollowell
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2011 5 1 6 0 0 0 0 0
2012 1 3 4 0 0 0 0 0
2013 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 7 5 12 0 0 0 0 0
Career Stats – Stribling
Year Solo Assisted Total Tackles Sacks TFL FF P Def INT
2013 14 2 16 0 0 1 0 0
Totals 14 2 16 0 0 1 0 0

Newcomers

Michigan fans are eagerly awaiting Hoke’s most prized recruit as a head coach: Jabrill Peppers. The five-star defensive back owns the talent to step on campus and start at cornerback right away, and Mattison will likely give him every opportunity to do so. Though the early comparisons to Charles Woodson are premature, Peppers arrives at Michigan with as much talent as any recruit in recent memory and could greatly improve the defense single-handedly. In Drew’s latest mailbag last week, he projected Peppers to start the season as a reserve nickelback, but eventually snag the starting strong safety spot. The ideal situation would be if Hill or Thomas can win the spot and Peppers gets his feet wet at nickelback, but if Peppers does beat out the other two, he’ll be well on his way to living up to the hype.