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Friday, October 20, 2006

So... yeah. The mailbag: an cop-out piece that combines astounding arrogance ("listen to me answer your questions, peon!") with laziness (since mailers write half of it for you). But these people sent me emails and I was going to respond to them and then I wrote like a lot of words so I may as well do it here.

On with the show:

I know this is probably out there, and even more so it's probably not something you want to talk about, and I have no idea if it's postworthy, but any thoughts on what juniors are back and which are gone?

What sparked me to ask this is your comment about ALAN BRANCH (all caps MFers ;)).

The early theory seems to be that Henne, Hart, and Long are all back next year (which would be amazing). The only other junior I really see leaving would be Branch. Do you buy all those guys are back? And if they are...

By my math that means we return 9 starters on offense (Gone: Bihl, Riley, Ecker) and 7 on defense (Woodley, Hall, Biggs, Harris, *Burgess). Granted those 5 on defense are biggies, their replacements (Jamison, Trent/Harrison, Germany/B. Graham, Thompson?, C. Graham) aren't too shabby and you assume everyone gets better.

I know this season isn't over yet, but let's assume worst case scenario is we lose to OSU and then lose a BCS bowl, we have to be a top 5 team going into next season?

Nick, I'm not exactly sure I agree with your policework there. (Ya? Ya.) It appears that you think this is Canadian football and 12 players go at a time. Despite the best efforts of Alain Kashama, it isn't.

Anyway: Do I buy all those guys are back? Probably.
  • Long recently stated he plans to return. There was a "I might have to re-evaluate it" qualifier attached, but he sounds pretty sure.
  • Henne is a true junior and quarterbacks rarely make a jump after just three years of college. Rex Grossman and Michael Vick are the only two who jump to mind. With Brady Quinn mysteriously nailed to the top of draft boards -- my prediction is he's Rick Mirer, except less successful -- this year and no dominant junior out there, it makes sense to stay. He has a shot at going really, really high next year if he continues to improve, but if he came out after this year I don't know if his track record would warrant a high slot, especially because he only throws about 25 times a game.
  • While everyone loves Hart to death, he does not seem like the sort of back the NFL gets excited about. He does lack speed. Message board insiders have dropped vague rumors that he might be thinking about an early departure, but it's still doubtful.
  • Branch apparently has a grandmother who would tan his hide if he didn't get a degree. Grandma may be swayed by millions and millions of dollars, though. He certainly could go, but is reportedly leaning towards returning.
Life being what it is and millions of dollars being millions of dollars, I wouldn't be surprised to see either Long or Branch depart, but at this point I think they're both significantly better than 50% to return.

One name left out: Shawn Crable. At first blush he seems like an unlikely candidate, but he does have NFL athleticism in spades and two kids. He may end up like Shantee Orr, forced into the draft a year early by his financial situation. That's the purest of speculation, but he's an early-entry possibility. Also vaguely possible but highly improbable: Jamar Adams.

Are we a top five team next season? If you're asking "will we be ranked in the top five next season," your answer is yes. I'd say we're the odds-on favorite for #1 unless USC goes on a late-season rampage. Everyone else towards the top of the rankings features a senior quarterback who will graduate; we'll have a four-year starter, a senior Mike Hart, and two stars at WR in Manningham and Arrington. People love shiny skill position players and will end their analysis there.

If you're asking "will we be as good next year..." well, maybe. Linebacker gets real thin next year. Graham will be on the weakside and Johnny Thompson is the heir apparent at MLB, but other than Brandon Logan no one else has seen time. If Graham is still meh or Thompson doesn't pan out we won't have many other options. We'll have to find a Jamison bookend and corner is looking sketchy. A Branch return, though, would mean the same defensive tackles who are killing fools this year, and would be the foundation of a defense that's probably at least good. The offense should school fools, but Carr seems to coach like he's got a great D and mediocre O every year. His coaching decisions will be farther from optimal next year.
But I've been wondering about this since the Penn State game, and everybody (well, everyone I read/listen to at least) seems to be talking about the great Michigan defense this year.

This seems ok when you look down at the various stats with which they defend themselves: Michigan "owns" the running game (on offense, too); they have held opponents to very low run-yardage numbers; and have an impressive frequency of sacks, many of which have decommissioned opposing quarterbacks; etc. These observations seem to be fueling the talk that Michigan may have the best defense in the country right now....

However.... When I look at the one stat that matters, that little thing called the "final score," I see that they have given up about two touchdowns a game. Not too bad, but when I also examine that same stat on the Ohio State side, I see that only Iowa and Northern Illinois have scored more than 7 points against them.

I'm beginning to feel that Nov. 18 is going to be more about man vs. machine than anything else. I mean, it was a major news story when someone first ran a 4.00 mile, but I've been putting those records to shame in my car since I turned 16, yet without fanfare.

Is it just that Ohio State is so boring that nobody in the media really cares? Does everyone just expect them to win by 24.6 points every week? Or have I just been listening to the pro-UM reporters/bloggers too much?

Or! Are we Michigan fans just a convict on death row being injected with serum, awaiting our deaths, but are too drugged up to care?, wait, that's the Miami fans!

Anyway, just some thoughts.

The difference between the Michigan and Ohio State scoring defenses can be explained away if you're so inclined. Michigan's played better offenses and against more experienced quarterbacks. Instead of Colt McCoy in his first start against real competition, we got Brady Quinn in his millionth. Wisconsin, after some initial shakiness, has been housing fools. They don't play Wisconsin. Also, most of the difference is in garbage time. Michigan gave up 14 real points to ND (seven of those on a four-yard drive), 10 to UW, 7 to Minnesota, and 7 to MSU. When they've called the dogs off and put in the second-team soft zone, teams have racked up a bunch of yards and meaningless points. When Michigan says "no," though... you get little and like it.

Still, there's something in there. Michigan's more dominant on a play-by-play basis than Ohio State. Facing a better collection of offenses, Michigan is 7th in total yardage ceded; Ohio State is 26th. What OSU has avoided that Michigan has not is the big play. While it's more difficult to drive the field versus Michigan, we've given up a longish touchdown in most games. You could probably spin that advantage OSU or advantage Michigan as you wish. One thing of interest: Drew Stanton says Michigan's D is better.

As for the rest: your email is confusing and asks many questions that are only barely intelligible. You appear to be asking if OSU is this dominant machine we'll be euthanized by on November 18th. Answer: no. But there will be plenty of time to talk about that game after Iowa.