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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Michigan Hockey Summers. All due caveats apply, but it looks like defenseman Chris Summers is sticking around for his junior year. There's a Wolverine article titled "Summers committed to future at Michigan"($) that teases he's "shown no signs of wanting to be anywhere but Ann Arbor next year" and has some direct quotes from Summers to that effect.

With Mark Mitera publicly stating an intent to return, the lone guy on the watchlist who hasn't made his intentions explicit is freshman forward Max Pacioretty. Most observers expect him to return.

Also, I am terribly sorry for the bad pun.

Metagame. This is either going to crush my standing in the eyes of readers or be perfectly obvious given my status as a computer engineer/blogger, but for a brief time I was kinda into the online version of Magic: The Gathering. I stress online here... no conventions wherein I wear a "VULCANS DO IT LOGICALLY... BUT ONLY ONCE EVERY SEVEN YEARS" tshirt. At least not since high school.

Anyway, during this brief period I read a number of articles about Magic tournaments, which are pretty interesting strategically. There are draft and sealed formats in which you attempt to make the best deck out of a random assortment of cards, but more interesting for our purposes are "constructed" tournaments wherein you can bring whatever you want from home.

Magic, like many games, has a distinct rock-paper-scissors aspect to it. If you have a Goblins deck it could tear through anything that's particularly slow but be weak against a "Control" deck designed to keep everything dead or immobile. And Magic, like many games, often inspires copycats when one strategy tends to win a number of tournaments in a row. Once Goblins start rampaging everywhere, everyone thinks that's the way to win and runs them, and it's at this point your lame-o Control deck can show up, lock everything down, and coast to victory. If this happens a bunch, the metagame starts getting split between Goblins and Control and a third thing that might do okay against both gets added in and so on and so forth. At any one time, there are usually two or three dominant archetypes and then scattered weirdos trying to invent a new one and almost always failing. When a weirdo breaks through, though...

The parallel to football is obvious. Rich Rodriguez and Urban Meyer and a few others were the breakthrough weirdos running a spread-option look; now the metagame has started to shift towards lots of little guys on the field at once. The Big Ten by offensive style:

  • Spread Option: Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Penn State(? - probably), Northwestern, Indiana
  • Passing Spread: Purdue.
  • Three yards and a cloud of dust: Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa
This fall more than half the league will be running some form of Rodriguez's offense. With this in mind, some quotes from those coaches in Iraq. (Via.) Mark Richt:
If you've gonna play in a league where everybody's going to pound the ball down after down, you better have some big strong interior defensive linemen and your middle linebacker better be a big, thick joker that can take on a fullback and knock him back.

But if all of a sudden those guys get spread out and there are some really quick cats running around there, you want to have some defenders running around, too. I think people will even get to run more light defensive personnel, their quicker, faster guys that can keep up with that.

Once you put these great athletes out in space -- most coaches will say space is the enemy of a defender because it's tough to wrap up a guy where there so much space to deal with -- you better have a bunch of quick guys who can pursue and close in on those offensive players.
Jack Siedlicki (Yale's coach):
I'm the contrarian in the group. The last two years, we have the best tailback in the league. We gave him the ball 400 times last year. It's kind of worked to our advantage. What Mark's saying, defenses are standing more guys up, getting more guys with speed that can spread out and line up with all these teams. It's kind of worked to our advantage that we're at the other end of the spectrum right now. We're a conservative, by modern standards right now, running football team with the best back in the league. He was the player of the year in the league and we got him back next year. I think it's worked to our advantage that people have gotten smaller, quicker, lighter. We're going after them.
You can see an echo of this in the success of Michigan State and Ohio State last year despite having barely adequate quarterbacks.

My main concern with Rodriguez going forward is that Michigan missed the optimal window for the spread. Even if it remains effective, everyone's going to run it and Michigan's comparative advantage will again be based on talent and motivation. That's not exactly a downer given that Michigan now has the highest-paid S&C coach in the country and Rodriguez made a living off unearthing Pat White and Steve Slaton, but I do think the likelihood Michigan ever reaches the lofty YPC numbers West Virginia did is low.

Is it the "coming demise" of the spread, as predicted in the "via" link above? Not likely. The I-formation was just a fad for 40 years, and then West Coast passing games, etc. If you can effectively use all eleven players on a run, that's a lasting advantage all the 220-pound defensive ends in the world can't eliminate. Just ask Rutgers and their notoriously undersized, quick, and effective defensive line.

Etc.: UMHoops reviews Deshawn Sims' season.