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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Every year I take a look back at the things I said about various Big Ten teams in their team previews. Last year's efforts:

Only six months later than last year! Next year's preview review is scheduled for January of 2010.


I was one of many calling for the complete implosion of Glen Mason's program after a charmed year saw the Gophers finish first nationally in turnover margin despite having no defense:
Minnesota, a team virtually without a defense, managed a whopping 32 takeaways last year and lost an incredibly low three fumbles. Luck was a lady to the Gophers last year and they were still fortunate to finish 6-7. Now the Gophers are installing a spread offense, deploying a quarterback with no experience whatsoever, and continuing to deploy a defense that will not be good at football. This stat will collapse, and with it Minnesota's fortunes.
The season forecast was grim indeed:
They were not. They were outgained by their opponents by 50 yards a game, and the true Lovecraftian depths their defense descended to were masked by an outpouring of opponent generosity that will not repeat. The three best player's on last year's offense are gone. There are no suitable replacements at quarterback, and the run game that has long been the rock Minnesota planted its flag upon has been discarded. ...

There is one conclusion here: disaster.
...and this was what projected as "disaster":
Minnesota blows one of its non-conference games, scrapes a win in conference, and ends up 4-7.
Oops. I meant "Minnesota blows all of everything, loses to a transitional I-AA team, scrapes a win, and Brewster still manages to call it a bowl-worthy season."

This was pretty much dead-on, if not quite apocalyptic enough, but other parts of the preview were wrong. The entire opening section was devoted to mocking Minnesota's decision to dump their most successful coach since that bizarre string of national titles in the Pleistoscene era. A complete evisceration of the program featured:
The gift of gab is the key to Brewster's ascension. He's scandalously light on actual coaching accomplishments but has a reputation as a "monster recruiter." Assuming that he will raise the level of talent Minnesota brings in is a dubious proposition based on fine work he did under Mack Brown's tutelage. Recruiting Vince Young to Texas is an entirely different matter than recruiting him to Minnesota. The Gophers have made a serious misstep by bringing in a neophyte with a rep as a recruiter instead of someone who can spin straw into gold. Because Minnesota, recruiter or no, is going to see lots of straw.

As the Dude said, how are you gonna keep them on the farm once they've seen Karl Hungus? Minnesota may have more natural disadvantages than any other BCS program. The Gophers must compete with the Wild, Twins, Vikings, and Timberwolves in Minneapolis. Hockey-mad Minnesota provides scanty harvests of recruits and a forbidding, polar bear laden climate that hampers out of state efforts. (Minnesota is the only school with a I-A football program that plays second fiddle to hockey.) Since the Earth's poles reversed in the 60s and robbed Minnesota of whatever crazy leyline mojo (@ right) they were working when they were a national power, Gopher football has been one long string of unrelenting failure. Their last Big Ten title was 40 years ago, the longest drought in the conference.* And though they're finally getting their own stadium, for now they are stuck in the antiseptic Metrodome. Even the new place will feel minuscule compared to most other Big Ten stadia at only 50k, and "TCF Bank Stadium" does not exactly scream tradition. There will be a brief burst of interest when the place opens; if (when?) Minnesota's fortunes fail to improve attention will scatter to the multitudinous other options. In the 29 years between that last Big Ten title and the Mason era, the Gophers high water mark is seven wins, accomplished all of thrice and not since 1985. They should take the crappy bowl bids and occasional flicker of excitement provided by Mason and be happy. History indicates that this is as good as it gets for the Gophers.
A bonus prediction was thrown in after the forecast of onfield doom:
Bonus prediction: their recruiting class is no better than a typical Mason effort and Brewster is bounced after four years of Wacker ball. But, hey, at least they'll get two shots at eviscerating a youthful Michigan hockey team this year.
This was doubly wrong: Brewster recruited extraordinarily well by Minnesota standards and the Gopher hockey team sucked. The jury remains very much out on whether the maniacally optimistic tight end expert can do anything other than recruit, but Minnesota's class actually had four-star players in it, some of them from places like Texas and Indiana. At the very least, Minnesota will be interesting in four years instead of dire.

Michigan State

MGoBlog's favorite schtick is taking the previous year's Michigan State preview introduction, slightly changing the details based on Michigan State's season, and predicting a mediocre season that finishes within one game of .500. Check. Michigan State did manage to squeak into a bowl game by beating Penn State in the Big Ten's fiercest rivalry, but a loss to Boston College saw them end up 7-6.

The preview was basically accurate when it came to the offense: Hoyer a "competent game manager in the mold of John Stocco" and "a good bet to be average", Ringer "one of the most talent backs in the conference." The offense in summary: "adequacy is probable." Michigan State was 42nd in total offense, which is pretty adequate. Only a couple things were off. I dismissed Jehuu Caulcrick as a third-and-short specialist with no other useful applications, which sold him short, and there was only a brief mention of JUCO transfer "Devon" Thomas, who would be a first round pick. All in all, though, it was a good effort.

Some things were way off, though:

Delightfully wrong. The firing of immensely entertaining John L Smith came as a blow to pundits and fans across the midwest, especially when a burned Michigan State athletic department tapped a man who seemed to be the eccentric Smith's polar opposite:
Unsurprisingly but much to the chagrin of everyone except Michigan State fans, John L is gone. Into his cowboy boots steps Mark Dantonio, formerly of Cincinnati and Ohio State. He is the antithesis of JLS: a defensive coordinator from a traditional power who is as exciting as toast. JLS spent his offseasons climbing Kilimanjaro or jumping out of planes; Dantonio's summer was highlighted by an appearance in Faith Magazine, which is unfortunately not a Georgie Michael fanzine but rather a bonafide religious magazine my mother gets. According to Faith, Dantonio has is priorities straight:
Faith is more important than winning to Michigan State University's head coach
If he turns out to be something less than Nick Saban, that's probably a good philosophy to take into the job.
Dantonio didn't slap himself in public, but he did prove to be more weirdly entertaining than Faith made him out to be. Over the course of the year, Dantonio
  • installed a clock that counts down to the Michigan game,
  • asked how long Michigan State would 'bow down' to Michigan, giving M fans a new catchphrase to stand the test of time, and
  • made fun of Mike Hart's height three days after his team had spectacularly imploded and lost.
As theorized in the final link above:
But seriously folks, the one thing the Michigan State program needed was a monomaniacal focus on Michigan. It needed a coach who would install a countdown clock to their eighth straight loss in the series. It needed a man who would stand up and say "you know what, guys? All those other games we play are stupid and we shouldn't try very hard in them." It needed a guy who would teach his resilient troops to follow his example by bitching to the assembled media a full two days after his team blew it again. It needed a man who could forge them into a cohesive unit capable of picking up critical personal fouls at the very worst time possible. See, the problem with Michigan State is that occasionally they enter the fourth quarter of games leading. And Michigan State needs a man who can blow that lead, preferably in really, really painful fashion.

Friends, Mark Dantonio is that man.
Not delightfully wrong. Michigan State's defensive line wasn't great but I gave them a "1", citing their awful defensive tackles and shallow defensive ends. This on the man who would become known as the (hur) "sackmaster" is particularly off:
On the other side, juniors Brandon Long and Jonal Saint-Dic will attempt to hold off JUCO transfer Michael Jordan. Long and Saint-Dic's sell-by dates have expired. Both were mediocre recruits -- Long picked MSU over a selection of MAC schools, Saint-Dic was a lightly-regarded JUCO -- who couldn't bust into a crappy defensive line in two years of trying. Long retains a bit more upside as a true junior, but he'll be a vastly undersized defensive end if he starts. Either projects to be bad.
St. Dic had ten sacks, though I should point out he was overrated by the Musbergers of the world: six of his sacks came against the wretched passing offenses of Bowling Green, Pitt, and Notre Dame and he only had four sacks in conference play. He had only three TFLs outside those sacks. He didn't warrant a nickname.

But Michigan State did finish 14th in sacks and 30th in rushing defense thanks in large part to its front seven. I gave both the DL and the linebackers ratings of "1". Oops. How could I not, though?
Everything you need to know about the Spartan linebackers in three handy sentences:
Every college football team has one - a 200-pound starting linebacker with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, clinically diagnosed hyperactivity, classical piano skills and absolutely no interest in sports. On second thought, Jon Misch has to be the first. ... Misch was the surprise of spring ball, and he enters fall camp solidly entrenched as the starter at strong-side linebacker.
Every indicator indicates that Jon "Samurai" Misch is going to suck and suck hard. He was a two star recruit out of metro Detroit power Orchard Lake St Mary -- no reason he'd be overlooked like a guy from Houghton or Guatemala or something -- who was credited with a 4.7 40 at 195 pounds. That 40 has not improved:
The 6-foot-2 Misch - who gleefully weighed in Tuesday at an all-time high of 207 - runs the 40-yard dash in 4.89 seconds.
He had one other offer: Eastern Michigan. Now he's a starting linebacker at 200 pounds as a redshirt freshman. Not only that, a starting strongside linebacker! If he's not awful I'll eat my hat. Hidden upside: slight but real chance he flips out and gets a bunch of personal fouls for ninja kicking various people in the head.
Misch got booted out of his starting spot by promising freshman Greg Jones; on the weakside redshirt freshman Eric Gordon supplanted the disappointing SirDarean Adams. There were no indications from the coaches or the reporters covering the team that either could or would happen.

One of the persistent annoyances with doing these previews is the emergence of stars that no one even mentioned in the preseason. Most previews take the relentlessly positive fluff put out by coaches (remember this from Lloyd Carr...
Johnny Sears has had an outstanding fall. ... He made some great plays on the kickoff. He's a guy that plays without any fear. He's a very tough, hard-nosed player, and I think he's really matured at the corner.
?) and regurgitate it without providing any critical evaluation, so it's impossible to tell when a player is actually likely to break out and when he's just getting a preseason confidence boost before he gets burnt. And how are you supposed to predict when a Saint-Dic or a Greg Jones or a Devin Thomas comes along without any actual information? I don't know. That's why I use big sweeping heuristics, I guess.

So, yeah, I broke my own iron-clad rule and said MSU would go 4-8, though I was "tempted to consider Michigan State's inherent Michigan State-ness and predict one massive upset that gets them within a game of .500." That is my bad, as they say.

Indiana and Iowa

...were not previewed due to time constraints, as they had rotated off Michigan's schedule.


...was also not previewed, which was no doubt a major reason the Wildcats were this close to an
upset before a late avalanche of turnovers did them in.