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Stadium and Main: August 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Random Stuff. You Know the Drill...

Is Utah the most important game of the season?

With mere hours to go before the season starts, all of the season previews and predictions are popping up. I'll leave that stuff to the big boys - I just haven't had time for it this year (I apologize to my few (loyal!) readers). But I wanted to bring up a topic that has been popular on the message boards in the past few days. What is the most "important" game of the year?

Many fans feel that Utah is the most important game this season. I disagree. But I guess that depends on how you define “important” – something I’m not going to get into, because there are so many different takes. So the following few paragraphs don’t really have a point – I just wanted to discuss this (with myself).

A loss to Utah will be bad any way you slice it. The words "Appalachian State" will be uttered a few thousand more times. The complaints about Rodriguez's coaching ability will start, after enduring 8 months of ridiculous attacks on his character. The fear of losing the nation's longest bowl appearance streak will be the subject on talk radio. It won't be fun. And maybe that’s what Michigan fans are fearing: that the fun and excitement surrounding our new regime will be squashed (or at least tempered) immediately. They envision a loss to Utah that could precede a 1-4 start (with additional losses to Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Illinois), making us look like the 2008 version of ND’s 2007 team. And that is definitely possible. We might end up turning the season around during the more manageable second half of the schedule, but a bad start isn’t unfathomable.

My take is that loss to Utah will stink, but it won't be the end of the world. How quickly people forget that we lost to Appalachian State last year, got destroyed by Oregon, but finished 2nd in the Big Ten and ended the season with a victory over media darling and defending national champion Florida. The program didn't dissolve, the season was played out, and we acquitted ourselves fairly well (all things considered). Considering this is our first game under a new staff implementing a new offensive system, I think it’s fair to think that we’ll improve a bit after Game 1.

Also, if we didn't open the season with Utah, would people be discussing this game as much? If we played Toledo on August 30th, and Utah on October 11th, would it be getting as much play? I highly doubt it. Yes, the game is more “important” because it is the season opener, and the way you start can set the tone for the entire season. But if we can finish the season with 8 wins, I don’t people will care too much if Utah was or wasn’t one of them. I don’t think you can say the same about a handful of other games on the schedule, and that’s why Utah isn’t as important to me.

Another way of looking at it: If we beat Utah, but lose to Ohio State, people won't be giving us much credit for that August 30th win. But if we lose to Utah and beat Ohio State, that victory will be the talk of the off-season. You can see the headlines now, can’t you?: "Rich Rod Reignites Michigan-Ohio State Rivalry". So I say Ohio State is the most important game, like most every season, even though we don’t have a good chance of winning. Michigan State and Notre Dame are also very important, for rivalry and recruiting purposes.

Don’t get me wrong – Utah is a very important game. But it seems clear to me that as the season progresses, whether we won or lost the Utah game will become less and less important.

3 tips to live by

Maize and Blue Nation and Varsity Blue have some fan “guidelines” that are worth checking out. I figured I’d add my take on what I feel are the 3 most important things:

1 - Make noise. Serious noise. The “key play” stuff with the jangling keys is so weak. Think about it this way: If you’re walking in a parking lot and you want to get the attention of someone 50 yards in front of you, what do you do? Jangle your keys at them? Clap at them? No, you YELL at them, because that’s the loudest sound you can make. Your voice is your loudest “noisemaker,” for lack of a better term. When Michigan is on defense, scream your lungs out. If your voice isn’t hoarse on Sunday, you haven’t done your part. It’s that simple.

2 - Wear maize. As Varsity Blue put it, “A maize shirt costs you a maximum of 16 dollars (and even that's only if you get the official T-shirt). Wear it.” Yep. It creates a better atmosphere and looks very impressive on TV and to recruits in the stadium. I can never understand all of those 275 pound dudes who rock their #18 Amani Toomer jerseys from Coolio’s “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” video. Those things are just guaranteed heat, sweat, and stank. Wear a maize t-shirt. It’s made of cotton, it reflects the sun (blue attracts it), and it’s 100 times cooler (in both senses of the word).

3 - Enough with the “down in front” stuff. If people stand up in front of you, you can choose to stand up or stay seated. Either way, don’t whine about it. If you want to enjoy the game in comfort with a great view, guess what?... it’s available in beautiful high definition in the comfort of your living room! You’re not at a movie, you’re at a football game. People are going to get involved in the action, and standing up is a perfectly acceptable way of doing so. Yes, once in a while some idiot will stand up for no apparent reason. He’s probably drunk, and he’s the exception to the rule. But in general, Michigan fans are very knowledgeable, and if they stand up it’s for a reason.

And so it begins

I’ve seen some posts this week asking “when was the last time you were this excited for a season to start?” Sadly, most fans (if they’re responding truthfully) would have to say “last season – 2007.” Ouch. But I don’t think the fans asking this question are only inquiring about this season and its results, but rather the new era of Michigan football. Jake was right when he said: “Some have compared it to an upgrade. I compare it to a transplant. The body is the same but the substance is entirely new.” In my opinion, any fan who isn’t looking forward to this season (because we probably won’t be that good, or for any other reason) is insane. Would you rather go back to the days of dreading that first loss? Fearing those road trips out West? Knowing that we were “saving things” for Notre Dame? Sitting through an uninspired, lackluster effort against a team we were favored to beat by 28 points? Those are things that we dealt with far too often over the past decade. Lloyd Carr is a great man and he was a good coach. But we needed a change. We needed a transplant. And, yes, I understand that there will likely be a variety of things that I will dislike about Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff sooner or later. But for now, I am downright giddy that I have no idea what to expect. That I’ll see a bunch of weird formations and random plays I never thought I’d see in Michigan Stadium. That no matter what happens this weekend, or this season, the future is bright.

The long-term prognosis for the Michigan football program is better than it has been in recent memory – arguably in my entire life. We have one of the best coaches in college football, unbelievable facilities upgrades in the works, and we’re getting amazing exposure thanks to the openness of the new coaching staff. If you can’t get excited about that, it’s time to find a new team. Or, rather, another sport. Because in college football, it doesn’t get any better than Michigan. Go Blue!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Comcast/BTN (the last word?) and Jersey Numbers

My last Comcast/BTN post... ever?!

I saw these two articles regarding all overflow BTN games being available in Philly and various parts of Pennsylvania. These were the first “official” overflow channel assignments that I had seen, and they were being distributed by an East Coast Comcast Rep named Jeff Alexander. I figured that gave me an excuse to email my Comcast contact and see if the overflow channels had been assigned in DC yet. Here’s what she said (important stuff in bold):
“Jeff Alexander is actually on my team and, yes, I can now confirm that the DC-area will use the same channels for "overflow" games - channels 801 through 804. [These channels will] only be “active” when they are in use for these “overflow” games, which is why you wouldn’t see them [on your Comcast TV Guide] yet. Unlike [the primary BTN channel], which will be 24/7, these channels will only be in use when there are actual overflow games, which is why you wouldn’t see anything yet. We are feeding information to the Guides as we have it, but given BTN schedules, potential changes, etc., I’d suggest you scan the channels on game day based on BTN air times and schedules.

Regarding BTN HD, we have no immediate plans to launch [in DC], but I can assure you we are always looking at new networks to add - especially in HD.

By the way, beginning on or about 8/28, you should also have access to some nice Video On Demand content BTN will be supplying, so be on the lookout on your VOD menu.”
Thanks to anybody in and around DC who called Comcast regarding the Big Ten Network. I'm glad they actually listened to us. Whether the same setup will occur in other locations probably depends on demand and (more importantly) free system space. The DC crew lucked out because Comcast has a decent amount of space available here. We'll see what happens in NYC, South Florida, California and other areas with plenty of alumni but (likely) more system space constraints.

This is odd

In a year in which most people are predicting a single-digit win total for Michigan, maybe it’s appropriate that we’ll have more “important” players with single-digit jersey numbers than… ever?
2 – RB Sam McGuffie (Fr.)
3 – QB Justin Feagin (Fr.)
3 – S Stevie Brown (Jr.)
4 – RB Brandon Minor (Jr.)
4 – LB Marcus Witherspoon (Fr.)
5 – TE Carson Butler (R. Jr.)
5 – S Charles Stewart (5th Sr.)
6 – CB Donovan Warren (So.)
7 – WR Terrance Robinson (Fr.)
8 – LB Jonas Mouton (R. So.)
8 – QB Nick Sheridan (R. So.)
9 – LB Marell Evans (So.)
9 – WR Martavious Odoms (Fr.)
All that without a #1, either. Of the players listed above, only Witherspoon is almost certain to redshirt this season (due to an academic snafu). The rest should play, and it is possible that Brown, Minor, Butler, Stewart, Warren, Sheridan, Evans, and one of Robinson/Odoms are all opening-game starters. McGuffie, Feagin, and Mouton will definitely see the field, and even if Odoms edges out Robinson for more snaps at the Slot-WR position (which seems to be the word on the street this week), both players will likely get a shot at punt and/or kick returns. That’s a lot of action from the single-digit guys. And since some people are complaining that the numbers on the new adidas jerseys are too small, it might be wise to familiarize yourself with the numerical roster so you can know who’s who. Note: Two players with the same jersey number can’t be on the field at the same time.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Update: Comcast and BTN Outside the Midwest

If true, this would be awesome (for people in DC, mind you). Yesterday I received an email from a higher-up PR person from Comcast’s East Coast regional office. This is a different person than the one who contacted me before, for what it’s worth:

“[Nick] - I wanted to share some good news, which is that I can now confirm that we will make the “overflow” BTN feeds available to our customers throughout DC. I do not yet have the specific channel locations, but I know you were anxious for updates so wanted to let you know that they will be available.”

I remain skeptical for three reasons: (1) She’s a PR person, and seeing that Comcast was having its Customer Service Reps tell callers that they were going to add the BTN prior to last season, maybe this is just an attempt to keep me from switching to another provider (for the time being, at least). (2) Two separate impeccable “sources,” one of which works for Comcast, told me as late as 2 days ago that the temporary plan was to have just one overflow feed. (3) I’m a pessimist.

I’ll try to be optimistic about this, though, because I’ve dealt with this lady before and she seems honest, and both of my “sources” did indicate that no final decision regarding overflow feeds had been made. Plus, the email pasted above is the most recent and most “official” communication I’ve received, and it's from a high-level employee. Fingers crossed…

And to clarify – BTN is definitely being added to the Sports Tier in DC, as evidenced by the recent message that popped up on my cable box: “August 15, 2008 Comcast of the District, LLC is adding the following channels to the Sports & Entertainment Package: Big Ten Network on 257, HRTV on 259, and TV Games on 260.”

So we might find out the overflow details in 2 weeks, or we might have to wait until August 30th (the first day of games) to see what the real deal is. I urge all fans, even those in DC, to continue to call Comcast (1-800-COMCAST) to find out the setup in your area. If Comcast doesn’t know that there is demand for the overflow feeds, they certainly won’t add them.

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