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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

(@ Hey Jenny Slater)

1. We're just a few weeks away from the end of the regular season, so everybody should have a pretty good handle on how good their teams are and what sort of records they can expect to finish with. Looking back over the season, which was the game where your team really defined itself in 2006, for good or ill? Or to look at it another way, which game, win or loss, was most representative of your team's attitude and style of play this season?

Every year since I have been a Michigan fan, the offseason promise has been to ditch the two-gap plugging in favor of a vicious, attacking front that you daren't leave a football within 100 yards of. It has never happened. Even last year when we got a new defensive line coach who looked exactly like Sargeant Slaughter, the line underwhelmed. Gabe Watson was out of shape and unmotivated. Pat Massey was completely useless. One end was a revolving door filled somewhat adequately by an out-of-position Alan Branch. Lamarr Woodley was good but far from dominant. We were never, ever going to get the line promised to us.

Hints that things were changing came against Vanderbilt -- six sacks and a generally terror-inspiring performance -- but the line was a nonfactor against Central Michigan and doubts arose. Crushing Vandy's offensive line meant nothing. Notre Dame's lethal west-coast attack and veteran offensive line awaited. Three hours later, Brady Quinn had been battered into pretty goo and Michigan 2006 had been defined. The offense has oscillated wildly, but the Michigan defense established itself as a badass unit far removed from the Herrmann years.

Also, we won a road opener!

2. Are there any teams you think are still hugely overrated? What about underrated?

Can someone explain to me the differences between the resumes of Notre Dame and Texas?

  • Thorough beating at the hands of Big Ten power. (Ohio State/Michigan)
  • Two narrow escapes from mediocre or worse teams. (Nebraska & TTech/MSU & UCLA)
  • Solid win over top-20-ish team (Oklahoma/Georgia Tech)
  • Pounding of mediocre team. (Oklahoma State/Penn State)
  • Meaningless wins over dregs of college football.
The answer to my rhetorical question is "no, because there is none." If you want to pick nits I guess MSU turned out to be worse than either Nebraska or Texas Tech and the margin of victory against Oklahoma was greater, though heavily turnover-aided. I'll drag out this ol' chestnut: Oklahoma outgained Texas something like 300-200. If Texas' resume is more impressive it's incremental.

But Texas is #3 in the coaches poll and Notre Dame hovers towards the bottom of the top ten. It's confusing. I guess it is possible that Texas is much better than ND is, but shouldn't there be some evidence of that by now? (Please don't let this be construed as an argument in favor of ND. They're placed about right, IMO. I'm just missing what the BFD is about Texas.)

Since I'm having difficulty ranking anyone past about #12, I am not too incensed about potentially underrated teams.

3. Did your team play any Division I-AA opponents this year? If so, do you think it benefited your team at all? If you were a coach or an NCAA official, what policy would you have toward scheduling D-IAAs?

Michigan's never scheduled a I-AA team and likely never will, preferring to load up on MAC teams when it's time for snackycake. The ability to schedule I-AA teams is an abomination and should be abolished. The NCAA should do everything in its power to limit the ability of teams to schedule non-competitive teams, and eliminating I-AA sacrifices is a logical and necessary first step.

4. Which not-a-typical-national-powerhouse team (i.e. no Ohio States or USCs) has played well enough this year to set themselves up for a breakout season in '07?

Doug cites Rutgers and Missouri in this category, which is... uh... odd. Is 8-0 not a breakout year for Rutgers? Rutgers done broke out already. Missouri less so but they're going to end up around 8-4 or something this year, and how much better do they get after that?

Meanwhile in the land of actually answering the question: I am sorely tempted to take Illinois, given that an Illini "breakout" at this point would be a Motor City Bowl bid. But... no. Juice Williams is still light-years away from being a respectable passer and Zook's inexplicable ability to recruit stars from wherever to the moribund Illinois program won't pay dividends until his first recruiting class has been around for at least a couple years. Put me down for an Illinois revival, but in 2008.

Further exploring the dregs of the Big Ten: Northwestern has found a quarterback in CJ Bacher and will probably return to scratching out bowl bids as soon as next year. They'll rebound from this tragedy-induced low. Whoever ends up Michigan State's next coach will walk into a situation far from unsalvageable. Javon Ringer, Brian Hoyer, and freshman wideout TJ Williams make a good offensive nucleus and there should be more depth and strength on the offensive line. Defensively? Well... nevermind.

5. Take a look at your team's bowl prospects this season. Which bowl(s) do you think you have a reasonable shot of ending up in? Of the teams you might likely face in a bowl, which team would you most want to play and why (maybe you've always wanted to see how your team would match up with them, maybe there's an old score you want to settle, or maybe you just want to finish the season with an easy win)? Conversely, which potential opponent would you really like to avoid in a bowl game?

Assuming we get past Indiana, win @ OSU == MNC game. Lose == Rose Bowl. Michigan's best matchup in the MNC game went by the wayside when WVU went down. Of the remaining reasonable possibilities, anyone who has trouble passing would be best: Arkansas, Rutgers, and Florida. If we're in the Rose there's a 95% chance we'll face the winner of the Cal/USC game so speculating there is pointless.

As for avoiding: rematches. If Michigan beats OSU @ OSU there's no way the Bucks should get a MNC game berth unless there are absolutely no other possibilities. Ditto for Notre Dame. Cal, USC, Texas, Florida, Arkansas, and Louisville would all have to lose to open up a door for either team, IMO, and the chances of that are remote at best.

(Note that desire to avoid rematch goes out the window in the vent of a Michigan loss versus OSU.)

6. In a roundtable question during the off-season, we were asked whom you'd pick if your current coach fell deathly ill and you had to select another coach to lead your team to victory. Let's turn this around and imagine that you've somehow schemed your way onto the search committee to select your biggest rival's next head coach. Which rival would that be, and which coaching sooper genius would you try to stick them with?

This is an odd question for a Michigan fan, because all three of Michigan's rivals have perfect answers who happen to be old coaches. Sooper genius away:
  • Michigan State: Bobby Williams, natch. Managed to turn Jeff Smoker and Charles Rogers into 3-8. Possibly the only coach in history to look like he was about to cry every moment of every loss.
  • Notre Dame: a tough choice between Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie, but probably Davie. Willingham made Stanford competitive and is currently improving a Washington program that had bottomed out. His brief tenure at Notre Dame featured the transition from Carlyle Holiday, Jarious Jackson, and the option to a West Coast attack that was severely hampered by a freshman quarterback. He could actually be a decent coach. Davie, on the other hand, got his full five years and failed.
  • Ohio State: John Cooper. He still pops up on ESPN+ pregame and halftime shows where the obsequeous talking head always calls him "Coach." Coach of what?
Ohio State could do much worse than John Cooper -- his Buckeye teams were powers year-in and year-out -- but the sheer panic would well worth it.