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Stadium and Main: December 2006

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Rose Bowl pre-game thoughts

I’ll leave the point-by-point breakdowns to the big boys, but here are some thoughts running through my head this New Year’s weekend:

Leon Hall’s shot at redemption

One of the images burned into my mind from the 2004 Rose Bowl (along with Braylon dropping a long bomb on our first drive) is Leon Hall getting knocked over by USC WR Mike Williams. Granted, Leon was only a True Freshman then, but I hope he remembers what USC’s Offense did that day: four passing TDs, with each scoring drive taking less than five minutes. If Hall can keep WR Dwayne Jarrett in check, USC’s big play chances will hinge primarily on WR Steve Smith, who called out Morgan Trent this week. Time for the secondary to prove they’re not just one star and three scrubs.

Have we actually prepared for, you know, blitzes?

USC sacked Michigan QB John Navarre 9 times in the 2004 Rose Bowl. Possibly the most frustrating thing about this was after the game, when Michigan OT Tony Pape said the team didn’t prepare for blitz protection (I don’t have a link, but I assure you, we’re open he said it). I have no idea what the coaches were thinking, and I don’t even want to guess because thinking about it still makes me mad. Regardless, Michigan had better be ready to pick up the blitz, because USC will bring the heat.

Our Defensive Line has to play up to its potential

USC QB John David Booty is good (25 TDs, 9 INTs, 61.8% completions), but doesn’t have great mobility, and looked flustered when pressured by UCLA (and rightfully so). One would think that although UCLA has quality DEs, their front seven isn’t as good as Michigan’s. We need to get to the QB early and often.

Neutralizing USC’s defensive speed

More screens, more draws. That has been the MO of Michigan’s offensive gameplans against faster defensive units (think recent OSU games, 2003 Outback Bowl vs. Florida, etc.). I think it might work this year, since we haven’t run many screens for Hart. In the 2004 Rose Bowl, USC was expecting them and had no trouble defending them. As far as draws go, I also think they could work. The change of pace from zone blocking sweeps to pure power-blocking draws might throw off USC, as it did many other Michigan opponents this season.


I don’t usually do predictions, especially right before a big game like this. Too superstitious. But I am concerned, to say the least. As my friend Jake put it in an e-mail exchange this week, I’d be much more confident in Michigan’s chances against USC on, say, November 25th. But give Pete Carroll a month to prepare, and he usually gets the job done. I think the players and coaches “deserve a win” – I’m just hoping they’re smart enough to realize that it’s theirs for the taking if they play their game. I’m expecting big things next season, so we might as well start 2007 the right way, no? Enjoy the game... Go Blue!

P.S. The game-time weather looks fine (is it ever not?).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Happy Holidays!

I'll be back on Saturday the 30th with a little Rose Bowl preview. Until then, I'll be hanging out with family and friends, attempting to do as little work as possible. I hope you're able to do the same. Enjoy the Bowl games... Go Blue!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ron Johnson - Where is he now?

Not from MuskegonWith many Michigan recruitniks hoping to land a commitment from Muskegon Defensive Back Ronald Johnson, it seems appropriate to take a minute to discuss the career of "the original Ron Johnson," who happened to be one of the best Michigan Running Backs ever. Coincidentally, "the original RoJo" was a speaker at the Detroit Free Press Dream Team ceremony this week, which honored "the new RoJo," among others.

Ronald Adolphus Johnson was born October 17, 1947 in Detroit. After earning High School All-America honors at Detroit’s Northwestern High School, he attended the University of Michigan. Johnson graduated from Michigan’s Ross School of Business with a concentration in Finance, and received a scholar-athlete award in 1969 from the National Football Foundation (NFF). In 1980, he earned his MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. So, he’s smart.

Here’s a short post-Michigan story, from the NFF site:
"After becoming Michigan’s top student-athlete (1966-68) and earning All-America honors his senior year as a halfback, Johnson played for seven years (1969-75) in the NFL as a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns and an MVP running back for the NY Giants. While still a player, he embarked on a career as a real estate executive and entrepreneur. In 1983, Johnson founded the Rackson Corporation, which currently operates 24 KFC franchises in New Jersey, Tennessee, and Michigan."
Johnson is currently the Chairman of the NFF.

"Mr. Johnson takes an active role in the community, and his past board service includes the Hackensack Medical Center, Big Brothers, the Boy Scouts, University of Michigan Athletics and Business Schools, and Harlem Junior Tennis. He is a founding member of Minority Athletes Networking (MAN), an urban mentoring group, and he currently serves as a board member of the Calvary Episcopal Church. He also participates as a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and of the NAACP. A Detroit native, Johnson lives in Summit, N.J. with his wife Karen. They have two grown children."
Johnson is often forgotten (or unkown) amongst younger Wolverine fans, but his contributions prior to Bo Schembechler’s arrival in Ann Arbor earned him a respectable #36 ranking on Jake’s "100 Greatest Michigan Football Players" list, and a place in the College Football Hall of Fame. As Captain of the 1968 team, Johnson helped turn a 4-6, 5th-place Big Ten team into an 8-2, 2nd-place Big Ten team.

In terms of records at Michigan, Johnson rushed for 347 yards against Wisconsin in 1968, and scored 5 TDs (30 points) in that game – all Michigan single game records. It should be noted that Johnson also had the third-most rushing yards gained in a game: 289 against Navy in 1967. He still holds the single season record for rushing TDs, with 19 in 1968 (which is also good enough for 3rd all-time in total TDs in a season). His 42 rushing attempts vs. Northwestern in 1967 put him tied for 2nd place in rushing attempts in a game, a record that was just broken by Chris Perry in 2003 (51 at MSU).

More impressive stuff: Ron Johnson averaged 139.1 yards per game in the 1968 season. He is 8th all-time with 90.3 yards rushing per game for his career, which included 10 games over 100 yards and 3 games over 200. Only Mike Hart has more games with 200 or more yards rushing (4). Johnson had 26 or 27 career rushing TDs (depending on the source), but never had a receiving TD. He finished with 2,440 career rushing yards – pretty good, considering he only saw significant action in 2 seasons (1967 and 1968). While his total numbers and per carry average (5.0) are not gaudy, they set the bar for all future Michigan Running Backs. As his Michigan profile states, "[Johnson] [b]roke virtually all school rushing records - setting eight in [the] Big Ten."

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's that time of year again

When there are 5 BCS Bowls and only 2 of them are any good, you know it’s a down year for Bowl games. Could it be the worst Bowl lineup ever? Some will say that it is, but that could just be a reflection of the parity that exists in college football (now more than ever?). Regardless, there are still a few games worth watching. I’ll rank ‘em according to my interest level (not whether I think they’ll be good games or whatever).

[Side note before I get started: Check out the horrible array of announcers for the BCS games on Fox.]

5 games I won’t miss:

1 – Rose Bowl
Pasadena, CA
January 1, 2007, ABC, 5:00 p.m.
Michigan vs. USC

Tops the list for obvious reasons. As each day passes, this game becomes more and more important, in my opinion. Lose, and we finish a third consecutive season with losses to OSU and in the Bowl. People will be saying “the BCS got it right,” no matter what happens in the Championship Game. Win, and we conclude a great season (Lloyd’s second-best) on a high note, gaining some “media momentum” for next year. And I say bring it on. I want us to finally live up to the hype. I want us to start out at #1 and stay there the entire year. I’m sick of the “we’re better when we’re the underdogs” mentality. Let’s just line up and beat fools. We were able to do it this year, to some extent, and I hope it continues in 2007 (starting on January 1st).

2 – BCS Championship Game
Glendale, AZ
January 8, 2007, Fox, 8:00 p.m.
Ohio State vs. Florida

Not much to say here. The BCS left a bad taste in my mouth, so I won’t be doing much analysis of this game in the coming weeks. I don’t want to read the articles. I don’t care about Tebow, or Laurinaitis, or the other media golden boys. And that’s really a shame, because this could end up being a decent game. Florida has the Defense to keep the score manageable, considering Ohio State had to show some different looks against Michigan. And considering that Percy Harvin is one juke away from a TD every time he gets the ball, the game could be fun to watch. There won’t be a shortage of NFL talent, that’s for sure.

3 – Capital One Bowl
Orlando, FL
January 1, 2007, ABC, 1:00 p.m.
Arkansas vs. Wisconsin

Is Wisconsin really any good? Can Arkansas complete a forward pass thrown by an actual, real-life Quarterback? A second-straight year matching up strong rushing attacks from the Big Ten and SEC. Last year, Wisconsin pounded Auburn in an upset. I think they can do the same here.

4 – Sugar Bowl
New Orleans, LA
January 3, 2007, Fox, 8:00 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. LSU

Schadenfreude – “Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” Notre Dame hasn’t won a Bowl game since the conclusion of the 1993 season (24-21 over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl). They’ve played in eight Bowls since then, including a 27-9 loss to LSU in the 1997 Independence Bowl. Here’s to making it nine in a row.

5 – Outback Bowl
Tampa, FL
January 1, 2007, ESPN, 11:00 a.m.
Penn State vs. Tennessee

Higher on my list than it probably should be, primarily because I am hoping to see a Big Ten victory over the SEC. I don’t think it’s going to happen here. When Tennessee is healthy (which they finally will be), they are a Top 10 team.

So I lied. Here are more games I won’t miss, but that’s just because I’m a freak:

6 - Las Vegas Bowl
Las Vegas, NV
December 21, 2006, ESPN, 8:00 p.m.
Oregon vs. BYU

Let the scouting for 2007 begin! Oregon is on next year’s schedule (at Michigan, September 8, 2007), so the die-hards might as well check them out. Plus, they have Ryan Leaf’s brother, so we could get a shot of Leaf on the sideline or something (I expect him to have a full beard and 40 extra pounds). Meanwhile, BYU is 10-2, took Boston College to Overtime, and almost won at Arizona. Dudes are 5 points away from an undefeated season, so I’ll watch. [Game only ranked this high because Oregon plays Michigan next season – Otherwise I’d have it in the low 20s.]

7 – Alamo Bowl
San Antonio, TX
December 30, 2006, ESPN, 4:30 p.m.
Texas vs. Iowa

Many fans are expecting a Texas blowout, so it’s probably good (for ESPN) that this isn’t the prime-time game on Saturday the 30th. This might be a decent barometer for Ferentz’s coaching skillzzz – Can he keep it close, or has he lost the team?

8 – Chick-fil-A Bowl
Atlanta, GA
December 30, 2006, ESPN, 8:00 p.m.
Virginia Tech vs. Georgia

In any of the past 5 seasons or so, this would have been a much more intriguing match-up. Virginia Tech is probably better than it gets credit for, especially in terms of talent on Defense. But this is the worst Georgia team in recent memory. Wins over Auburn and Georgia Tech can’t erase a home loss to Vanderbilt, a road loss to Kentucky, and a near-loss to Colorado. I put this up at #8, then, simply because I want to see some SEC blood.

9 – Gator Bowl
Jacksonville, FL
January 1, 2007, CBS, 1:00 p.m.
Georgia Tech vs. West Virginia

Let’s call this the “You Will Hear Our Names When Lloyd Carr Retires” Bowl: Georgia Tech Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta tries to slow down Rich Rodriguez’s prolific rushing game. A more interesting match-up might be WVU’s 3-3-5 Defense against a Georgia Tech Offense that has struggled to get All-America WR Calvin Johnson the ball. I’m hoping GT QB Reggie Ball comes to play, because I can’t deal with the WVU hype train for another off-season.

10 – Cotton Bowl
Dallas, TX
January 1, 2007, Fox, 11:30 a.m.
Nebraska vs. Auburn

Can both teams lose? That would be the pareto optimum for the college football world, I feel. The Outback Bowl (Penn State vs. Tennessee), is on at the same time, so just avoid this one (until Tennessee goes up 24-3, that is). Insert Sun Belt Referees joke here.

11 – Holiday Bowl
San Diego, CA
December 28, 2006, ESPN, 8:00 p.m.
California vs. Texas A&M

I always love how announcers claim, every year, that the Holiday Bowl will be a great game because “it’s always been high-scoring and wild in past.” They’re independent events, people! That being said, this is gonna be a great game!!! Or not.

12 – Fiesta Bowl
Glendale, AZ
January 1, 2007, Fox, 8:00 p.m.
Oklahoma vs. Boise State

Don’t feel too bad for Oklahoma – They’re going to finish in the Top 10 (maybe even the Top 5, if things fall right). Just don’t try to console Sooner fans, because they were robbed at Oregon, and they gave away the Texas game. A frustrating year ends with a frustrating Bowl opponent. It’s a no-win situation for the Sooners (who should win by a comfortable margin), but they can take solace in the fact that they have a great Head Coach. They’re going to finish with only 2 losses with the equivalent of me at QB.

13 – Orange Bowl
Miami, FL
January 2, 2007, Fox, 8:00 p.m.
Wake Forest vs. Louisville

Should be fun to watch, with lots of big plays and some unconventional Offenses (watch Wake’s RB draws and their weird mis-direction “counter” type of plays). I’m ashamed of myself for having this ranked so low, because these teams are actually good, but come on – it’s Wake Forest and Louisville!

14 – Emerald Bowl
San Francisco, CA
December 27, 2006, ESPN, 8:00 p.m.
UCLA vs. Florida State

Two programs heading in opposite directions? Retire Coach Bowden thinks so, at least regarding the FSU stinks part.

15 – Texas Bowl
Houston, TX
December 28, 2006, NFL Network, 8:00 p.m.
Kansas State vs. Rutgers

You have your greatest season of all time, and you get relegated to a TV station that many people don’t have (NFL Network). Isn’t it a little ironic that James Gandolfini stars in what some have called the greatest TV show of all time (The Sopranos), on a TV station that many people don’t have (HBO), and he graduated from… Rutgers! I smell a conspiracy.

College Football fans might enjoy these games. Most other people won’t:

16 – Champs Sports Bowl
Orlando, FL
December 29, 2006, ESPN, 8:00 p.m.
Purdue vs. Maryland

Is Maryland the Purdue of the ACC? I see some similarities. Discuss amongst yourselves.

17 – Hawaii Bowl
Honolulu, HI
December 24, 2006, ESPN, 8:00 p.m.
Arizona State vs. Hawaii

18 – Sun Bowl
El Paso, TX
December 29, 2006, CBS, 2:00 p.m.
Missouri vs. Oregon State

19 – Independence Bowl
Shreveport, LA
December 27, 2006, ESPN, 4:30 p.m.
Oklahoma State vs. Alabama

20 – Insight Bowl
Phoenix, AZ
December 29, 2006, NFL Network, 8:00 p.m.
Minnesota vs. Texas Tech

21 – Meineke Car Care Bowl
Charlotte, NC
December 30, 2006, ESPN2, 1:00 p.m.
Boston College vs. Navy

22 – Music City Bowl
Nashville, TN
December 29, 2006, ESPN, 1:00 p.m.
Kentucky vs. Clemson

23 – Liberty Bowl
Memphis, TN
December 29, 2006, ESPN, 4:30 p.m.
Houston vs. South Carolina

I’m only gonna watch if there’s nothing else on:

24 – San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
San Diego, CA
December 19, 2006, ESPN2, 8:00 p.m.
TCU vs. Northern Illinois

TCU’s coach, Gary Patterson, could end up in Ann Arbor one day (unlikely, but possible). Might as well tune in to see the deal.

25 – MPC Computers Bowl
Boise, ID
December 30, 2006, ESPN, 7:30 p.m.
Nevada vs. Miami

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And we thought the Alamo Bowl was bad. The “experts” are thinking that Nevada could pull the upset (would it even be an upset this year?) due to its high-powered, quirky Offense.

8 completely unwatchable Bowls. Not sure why I’m even listing the broadcast info. Please avoid:

26 – Motor City Bowl
Detroit, MI
December 26, 2006, ESPN, 7:30 p.m.
Central Michigan vs. Middle Tennessee

Sorry, CMU. You had a good year, but nobody wants to watch a game involving Middle Tennessee, ever.

27 – Bowl
Birmingham, AL
December 23, 2006, ESPN2, 1:00 p.m.
East Carolina vs. South Florida

28 – New Orleans Bowl
New Orleans, LA
December 22, 2006, ESPN, 8:00 p.m.
Troy vs. Rice

Rice made a Bowl (sounds funny, on a few levels)! Avoided the lowest possible ranking because both teams are one-syllable schools. How nuts is that?!

29 – International Bowl
Toronto, Canada
January 6, 2007, ESPN, 12:00 p.m.
Western Michigan vs. Cincinnati

30 – Armed Forces Bowl
Fort Worth, TX
December 23, 2006, ESPN, 8:00 p.m.
Utah vs. Tulsa

31 – GMAC Bowl
Mobile, AL
January 7, 2007, ESPN, 8:00 p.m.
Southern Miss vs. Ohio

32 – New Mexico Bowl
Albuquerque, NM
December 23, 2006, ESPN, 4:30 p.m.
New Mexico vs. San Jose State

* All times are Eastern

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Looking ahead to next season

I realize that this season isn’t over, and that we will be playing USC in what many fans are thinking could be a preview of next year’s BCS Championship Game (I hate typing those words). If you’ve read this blog semi-frequently, or if you’re one of my friends (or both!), you know that I’ve been looking forward to 2007 for a long time. I’ll save the unimportant details for a later date, but as of now, here is how I see Michigan Football 2007: Better Offense, worse Defense, worse Special Teams, and a much easier schedule. This could be one of those weird things where the 2006 team is actually better, but the 2007 team runs the table. Primarily because of this:

Sept. 1 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 8 Oregon
Sept. 15 Notre Dame
Sept. 22 Penn State
Sept. 29 @ Northwestern
Oct. 6 Bye (Will be filled with a cupcake at home)
Oct. 13 Purdue (Homecoming)
Oct. 20 @ Illinois
Oct. 27 Minnesota
Nov. 3 @ Michigan State
Nov. 10 @ Wisconsin
Nov. 17 Ohio State

We will probably only have 2 “guaranteed” wins (keeping in mind that I’m more pessimistic than most) – Eastern Michigan and whoever fills the Bye week. Teams like Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota could be terrible, but they could also make Bowl runs. However, I would be surprised if any of them can hang with us. So, that’s 6 of the 12 games.

So here’s where it gets interesting, or maybe not. The other 6 games, “on paper,” just don’t look too tough:

Oregon – Time to (finally) get revenge for 2003. Note that Oregon is the only team on this list that will have a returning QB with both (a) significant playing experience, and (b) an IQ above 17. Let’s hope Oregon wins its Bowl game this year (vs. BYU) and is ranked in the Top 25 next season, because we all know that it’s about the “body of work” when we talk BCS. “Body of work” in the sense that you compare wins and losses, and not the actual scores of the games. Idiots.

Notre Dame – Let the “Beat-down Part III” talk begin. I’m sure plenty of Michigan fans will be talking about 38-0 and 47-21, and hoping for another blowout. Notre Dame loses pretty much every good experienced player on their team, and will be comprised of many good inexperienced players. No more Quinn hype. No more Samardzija hair. No more Zbikowski boxing gloves. Can we destroy these guys again, please?

Penn State – Maybe the IQ jokes about Anthony Morelli are uncalled for, but the guy just isn’t that good. Couple that with the likelihood that he will be peeing his pants when he sees the Michigan DL walk onto the field (Alan Branch, please come back for your Senior year!). I think Penn State might be a good team next year, but if they couldn’t get it done this year, at night, in Happy Valley, why would one think they can win in Ann Arbor (especially once my wire transfer to the refs goes through on September 22nd)?

@ Michigan State – Reasons State could beat us: (1) They don’t have John L. Smith anymore. (2) They don’t have Drew Stanton anymore (0-5 vs. Michigan). Reasons we should beat them: (1) It’s State. (2) They don’t have Drew Stanton anymore.

@ Wisconsin – This will be labeled the “trap game” by many Michigan fans. While Wisconsin loses QB John Stocco, his probable replacement, Tyler Donovan, got some playing time (including the entire Iowa game), and looked more-than-adequate. My fear here is that Wisconsin will lose a few games early in the season, but won’t really be any “worse” than they were this year. Good Defense, good running game, annoying coach. Plus, this one has night game written all over it, and you know how I feel about road night games.

Ohio State – Troy Smith will be gone, and so will Ted Ginn, Jr. (according to Buckeye fans, at least). Now, will Ted Ginn, Sr. provide Tressel with another Terminator from Glenville, Ohio, sent to break Michigan hearts yet again? Let’s hope not. The apparent replacement is Rob Schoenhoft, who threw a TD pass to Mario Manningham in the Big 33 Football Classic. Oh, there will be irony when Manningham catches 3 TDs in this game, and Alan Branch knocks Schoenhoft out (again, Branch, please?!). Yes, it’s still Ohio State. Yes, Tressel pwns Lloyd. But, I mean, come one. Let’s win. Seriously.

So there you have it. 4 of the 6 potential “trouble” games are against teams with new QBs. As you can probably infer, I think replacing a QB is one of the hardest things for a college football team. It might be OK to lose your starting QB when you’ve got Braylon Edwards on your team (see Michigan 2004), but I don’t see any Braylons on the teams listed above. Thus, I really think our schedule looks like a National Title type of schedule. It actually reminds me a lot of the 1997 schedule, in terms of the teams we play at home and on the road, and the order in which we play them.

Certain things will happen in the coming months (injuries, transfers, etc.) that could change my outlook on 2007. But one of the most important elements is already in place – a manageable schedule. If Jake Long comes back (sounds like he might), and Alan Branch follows suit (third time’s the charm!), we could have a very special season ahead of us.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Quick Final Poll Reactions

Everybody had Michigan and Florida in their Top 3 in the coaches’ poll ballots. I think people realized that voting Michigan #7 would cost them their ballot, credibility, etc. So, yay for that.

- Texas’, Texas Tech’s, and TCU’s coaches all voted Michigan #2, which I found odd. Not sure if that is significant. Some might argue “they know their football in Texas!,” but it might just be an anomaly. FWIW, Texas A&M’s coach voted Florida #2.

- Speaking of TCU, Head Coach Gary Patterson and (soon-to-be former) CMU coach Brian Kelly, who have been mentioned as possible future Michigan Head Coaches, voted Michigan #2. Another “name” that has been tossed around, Jeff Tedford, had Florida at #2.

- Charlie Weis had Michigan at #2. Biggest idiot = Ron Zook, who was run out of Gainesville, and who coaches in the Big Ten now (Illinois), voting Florida #2. So much for sticking up for your conference.

FYI, here are the final Harris Poll ballots (the other human poll in the BCS). I haven’t looked at every ballot, but the final numbers were very similar to the coaches’ poll. Also, Earle Bruce (former OSU coach) voted Florida #2. Another piece of evidence that OSU folks would rather play Florida (because, you know, they’re not as good as Michigan).

In related news: Lloyd Carr is the man (did I really just say that?!).

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Corporation says it's USC Florida, and it will be USC Florida

Wow. So much to say, but I can't deal right now. If you're still holding out hope - don't. It's Florida. I'm not saying that's right, I'm just saying that's what it is.

I apologize to my (few) loyal readers for my absence. I went back to Michigan for a surprise birthday thingy, and I couldn't give you any notice beforehand. I will be back with more soon, provided The Man doesn't keep me down at work this week.

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