Friday, August 31, 2012

Thoughts from MSU's 17-13 win over Boise State


Say what you will, a win is a win.
Michigan State obviously didn’t look like a well-polished national title contender in Friday’s 17-13 win over Boise State, but I don’t think many expected that.
Bottom line for the Spartans was they got a win over a program that has been in the national spotlight for the better part of a decade and is known for pulling off upsets to open the season.
There are plenty of questions ahead for MSU, especially on offense, but this game was like an NCAA Tournament game, just survive and advance.
Still, there are talking points from the game. Here is what stood out to me.

Andrew Maxwell struggled and has plenty of room to grow
Maxwell was just 22-of-38 for 241 yards in his first start. He had three interceptions and no touchdowns. The first INT was not his fault, but he could take plenty of blame for the other two. Maxwell never got settled in and wasn’t consistent with his ability to lead the offense. Had that first INT been a completion (as it should have been) and not an interception, perhaps he would have had a different performance. The Spartan receivers didn’t do much to help him and he didn’t do much to help them. I suspect he will look much better next week at Central Michigan, but Spartan fans certainly didn’t gain much confidence in his ability to win a game.

Le’Veon Bell is a stud
Bell was everything MSU could have asked for on Friday. 44 carries for 209 yards and two scores. It was impressive for its physicality as much as it was for its results. Bell took a number of hits (perhaps too many) but kept on going. Certainly MSU can’t rely on him that heavily going forward, but it is clear he is willing to take the offense on his back if need be.

The MSU Defense is as good as advertised
Boise State had just 208 total yards of offense but had a chance to win. It was no fault of the defense, which set the tone right away. The MSU line put plenty of pressure on Joe Southwick and never allowed D.J. Harper to get going (15 carries, 8 yards). We don’t know how good the Boise State offense will be, but I suspect the Broncos will never be held to fewer yards than they were tonight. Regardless of what the offense does, MSU should be in every game due to its defense.

Toussaint, Clark won't play vs. Alabama, Hoke releases statement


Prior to Michigan leaving Ann Arbor for Saturday’s came against Alabama, Michigan coach Brady Hoke announced that RB Fitzgerald Toussaint and DE Frank Clark won’t play in the contest.
Here is Hoke’s statement on the matter through a press release:

Fitzgerald Toussaint and Frank Clark have been suspended for one game and will not make the trip to Dallas for Saturday's game.
The decision was not easy, but I feel it is in the best interest of this program and for these kids, and those always will be my priorities.  We have choices every day, and you have to be accountable to this program, your teammates, your family and the University of Michigan.
These are our sons.  These are real lives, and I think too often many people forget that.  It's not always just about football, or a football decision.  It's about teaching life lessons, and if this helps these kids or someone else make a right decision later, then we've won.  That is ultimately what we are here for, to help them grow and mature to become better sons, fathers, husbands and members of society.
They are good young men who made poor choices, and we will continue to support them as members of our team and family.

I commend Hoke on the decision. I think it sets a good message for the players and the program. Other coaches wouldn’t do the same thing against an opponent the caliber of Alabama.
What do you think Michigan fans? Are you happy with the decision?

Week 1 MSU & Michigan Picks


It’s finally here.
College football is upon us and there may not be a state with more interest in the next two days than Michigan.
Michigan and Michigan State are in the lone games featuring two ranked teams and both games should be intriguing.
Here are my picks for the weekend.

Michigan State vs. Boise State
This game has so many question marks coming into it. How good is Andrew Maxwell? Is the MSU defense as good as advertised? How will Boise State recover from losing so many starters?
I know the Broncos look depleted, but their program has been strong for many years now because of their ability to recruit and develop talent. I have no doubt that Boise State should be very talented when it steps on the field tonight. The big concern of the Broncos is that they lack experience. There could be some miscues that will play right into the Spartans’ hands.
I expect the game to be close most of the way, but look for MSU to make some plays on both sides of the ball toward the end of the game to get the big victory.
Prediction: MSU 21, Boise State 17

Michigan vs. Alabama
I’ve expected Alabama to dominate this game for months, and while I still do expect the Crimson Tide to win handily, I think Michigan has a better shot than I originally felt.
Alabama should have the talent, but since it is a first start for many on the defense, I expect some mistakes to happen on that end for the Tide.
I look for Michigan to get a big play in the first half to keep the game close, but ultimately I see the Wolverines struggling to move the ball consistently without Fitzgerald Toussaint (who I expect not to play).
The Michigan defense should be able to have some success, but over the course of the game, the size and strength of the Alabama offensive line will win out.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Michigan 14

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Keys to Week 1


The college football season is set to begin tonight.
It’s an exciting time around the country and high hopes reside on all campuses, especially at Michigan State and Michigan.
With MSU getting underway tomorrow and Michigan starting on Saturday, here are my keys to victory for both teams.

MSU vs Boise State:
- Start Fast: Normally this would be implied to the offense, but I am actually making reference to the defense. Boise State is breaking in a lot of new pieces, including at quarterback. If the MSU defensive front can get to Joe Southwick early, it is likely to lead to some quick turnovers and good field position for Andrew Maxwell and the offense.
- Establish The Running Game: The best way to truly stop the Boise State offense is to keep it off the field. Also, with Maxwell getting his first start, it is best to have a healthy running game. If Le’Veon Bell, Larry Caper and Nick Hill can consistently move the team down the field and make Maxwell only have to make safe throws, it should lead to a strong night for the Spartans.
- Don’t Get Too Tricky: Mark Dantonio hasn’t shied away from trick plays in big games. However, in this game, Michigan State should be the team setting the tempo and winning the line of scrimmage. The Spartans don’t need to try anything radical to win this game and a failed risk could give Boise State the opening it needs to pull off the upset. Keep the strategy simple and sound.

Michigan vs. Alabama:
- Don’t Lose Before Kickoff: Brady Hoke has done a good job of hyping his team up for this game. There is no doubt that Alabama is the favorite to win this game, but Michigan can’t come in with that attitude. Any bit of intimidation from the Wolverines will cost them the game before it even starts. Michigan has to come out with passion, confidence and energy. I know it sounds like a silly thing to say, but not all players take the field believing they can win.
- Play The Run: The Crimson Tide will be big up front and probably look to pound the rock. Michigan is small on the defensive line, but they have a solid group of linebackers. The Wolverines need to commit those linebackers to the run in the early going to try and get the Crimson Tide off the field. Though A.J. McCarron is a returning starter at quarterback for Alabama, he is the weaker option for the Tide’s offense. Michigan would much rather give McCarron the option of beating it rather than letting Alabama run the ball all game long.
- Establish The Run: This one isn’t real difficult either. With or without Fitzgerald Toussaint, the Wolverines need to be able to run the ball effectively and it can’t be up to Denard Robinson to do all the running. Michigan may have to get creative in the way it moves the ball because Alabama will probably plug up a lot of the running lanes. Michigan won’t be able to win this game if Robinson has to convert a lot of third-and-longs with his arm. If Michigan is able to run the ball consistently, it opens the door for a lot of options for the Wolverines and will keep Alabama guessing on defense.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday's Teleconference Thoughts from Hoke/Dantonio


The first Big Ten Coaches Teleconference took place on Tuesday.
Here is a collection of thoughts from Michigan coach Brady Hoke and MSU coach Mark Dantonio.

Brady Hoke:
- On representing Big Ten against Alabama: “Anytime you are playing games against other conferences, obviously, your school, your team and the people you represent, that’s an important part. At the same time, the Big Ten Conference, we’ve got great academic institutions, great athletic programs and great schools in this conference. There is no question that is part of when you play a team from another league.”
- On how fall camp was impacted by opening with Alabama: “I think (it was) and I think we would say so as a staff. You go into every opener a little bit unsure of what you have as a football team and I think that is something you find out, good and bad. Playing the defending national champions, a very well coached and good football team that has been put together over five or six years of recruiting, we will have our hands full. At the same time, I think you look forward to playing in these kind of games at a different site and playing great football teams.”
- On the challenges Alabama poses at the line of scrimmage: “I think on both sides of the ball. We feel that their offensive line is, if not the best, one of the best offensive lines as a unit. They have four or five starters back and they are physical at the point of attack. They are coached well. They are big. They are a big group and I don’t think we are quite that big of a defensive line. On the other side of it, we have had some holes to fill when you lose Mark Huyge and you lose David Molk. Ricky Barnum has done a nice job at center in the spring and at fall camp. Left guard, Elliott Mealer has done a tremendous job and (Michael) Schofield at right tackle. We are different. Every team is different every year, but we will be excited about what is going on on Saturday.
- On scheduling marquee opponents in non-conference play: “We like it. We like it as a program and I like it personally. I think when you want to be the best and you want to be champions and all those things, you need to play the best and play those programs that are at a high level. We think as a team that that is just going to make us better as a team when we get into the Big Ten. I am very comfortable opening up with Alabama.”
- On what the team needs to improve on this year: “Well, first and foremost, we need to do a better job of taking care of the football. There were times last year where decision making or fundamentals wasn’t as good as it needed to be. Near the end of the year, we needed to do a better job of getting the ball back for our offense and maybe stealing a possession. We are a different team than a year ago, so our defensive front is going to be a part that we are really interested to see how we are all going to react and play. The kicking game and our return games are something we feel we can do a better job with.”
- On Fitzgerald Toussaint’s status for Saturday’s game: “We have not made any decision on what we are going to do. That decision will come before game time, obviously, but right now he’s been practicing and he’s been getting reps and doing all the things that guys do, so we’ll just see.”
- Is Toussaint a game-time decision: “We’ll see.”
- Who would start if Toussaint doesn’t: “Vince Smith has played a lot of football for us. Thomas Rawls played some ball for us a year ago and Justice Hayes….I mean, all three of those guys are capable and available.”

Mark Dantonio:
- On carrying the Big Ten banner in the opener vs. Boise State: “I think collectively we as a group will stand together at the end of the day. But I think more importantly, it’s how we play and how Michigan State plays right now. Everybody is chasing the dream. It starts this weekend for so many different football teams and there is a lot of optimism out there. You really can’t worry about the end result, which conference is stronger at this point and time. You are just trying to be one of those people that gets it going within your own conference. That’s how we take it. We aren’t going out there and representing the Big Ten Conference as much as we are putting on the green and white and representing Michigan State today. But, collectively as a group, we certainly are extremely proud of the heritages and traditions and the strength of the Big Ten Conference.”
- On if Michigan State has become a national power given the last two seasons: “Well I think we are in the conversation, but every year is a new year. We will have to see how we play and play through this. I think that Boise, themselves, have beaten Oregon, (Virginia) Tech and Georgia in the last three years on opening games, so it’s a great challenge for us. It’s a night game here at Spartan Stadium. It will be an exciting atmosphere, but we are going to have to play. We have to play well.”
- On having a premiere opening game to start the season: “I think it was 2008 when our athletic director came to me and asked me if we wanted to play Boise….whenever it was, I can’t remember. It would be a nationally televised game and on a Friday night and all those things. I knew the reputation of Boise State and I knew coach (Chris) Petersen as a person, somewhat, and I knew they had a great program. I thought it would be good for our program, to test us early, and obviously to jump in with both feet. We decided to do that and what it says to the whole ramification of this game is that Boise is going to play anyone, anywhere, and they are going to come to play. Michigan State is not going to back away from a challenge as well. If they want to play, we’ll play. If it was productive for both teams to play and for both universities, we would do this. I have a tremendous amount of respect for how they play and how hard they play.”
- On sophomore defensive end Marcus Rush: “Marcus is a very exciting player to watch. He has a quick body and does a great job with his hands. He runs extremely well. I see him picking up where he left off. He gets himself going before a game. He has a great motor. He is just one of the guys. He was a Freshman All-American. He is one of the guys that was very productive last year, along with some of these other guys you don’t hear as much about. He’s a very good football player and he’s only going to be a redshirt sophomore. He’s a guy that we’re planning on having a great, outstanding year, but again, we are starting over. There is a lot of optimism, but we are all starting over, so we have to earn our spurs.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Michigan vs. MSU Checklist


The anxiousness for college football games is growing by the minute.
But the debate never has to end.
Today I will break down each position group for Michigan and Michigan State, sort of like a checklist, to see who comes into the season with the better team on paper.
QUARTERBACKS – This is an easy one. Denard Robinson is in his third season as starter and even the backup, Devin Gardner, has more snaps in live action than MSU’s first-year starter, Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell could be good but it would be very hard to see him being better than Robinson. Advantage Michigan
RUNNING BACKS – This is a tough call, but I think the Wolverines have the edge here. Fitzgerald Toussaint appears to be the best back of the group, but at this time it is unknown how many games he could miss from a suspension. MSU has a good group of backs that could produce more yards this year, but if you factor Robinson’s rushing ability, Michigan should have the stronger rushing attack. Advantage Michigan
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT END – Michigan has the clear edge here. The Spartans don’t have a returning starter at the position and will be playing a lot of underclassmen. Michigan isn’t overly loaded with experience either, but have guys like Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon, who have some chemistry with Robinson. Advantage Michigan
OFFENSIVE LINE – Michigan might have the best single player on the line in Taylor Lewan, but Michigan State has four starters back from a group that allowed just 16 sacks in 2011. Advantage MSU
DEFENSIVE LINE – MSU has the clear edge in this one. William Gholston is one of the top defensive ends in the country and he is joined on the other end by Marcus Rush. Defensive tackle is a question, but the ends should be strong enough to help overcome the issues up the middle. Michigan is lacking in experience up front and now has some depth issues due to injuries and suspensions. Advantage MSU
LINEBACKERS – Both teams should be strong at linebacker, but MSU has a slight edge in my eyes. The Spartans have a pair of 2011 All-Big Ten selections in Denicos Allen and Max Bullough. Michigan returns all three starters, but the trio doesn’t quite have the numbers that the MSU trio does. Advantage MSU
SECONDARY – Again, both should be solid, but I like MSU’s unit over Michigan’s. Johnny Adams has emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in the country and he is one of three starters back for MSU. For Michigan, three starters are also back, but the Wolverines don’t quite have the same production out of their secondary. Advantage MSU
SPECIAL TEAMS – Got to go with Michigan State here. Dan Conroy struggled with some short kicks, but was 8-for-9 in FG’s between 30-50 yards. Punter Mike Sadler has a better average and more punts inside the 20 than Will Hagerup of Michigan. The Spartans also have better numbers in the return game, led by Nick Hill. Advantage MSU
COACHING – It’s easy for Michigan fans to want to immediately say Brady Hoke is the better coach, but he still has to prove that. One season doesn’t make him better than Mark Dantonio right now. I am not saying he can’t be the better coach over the long haul, but right now, I have to give the nod to Dantonio. Certainly the recruiting is going in Hoke’s favor. If that recruiting translates on the field, Hoke will have the edge soon. Advantage MSU

That puts the tally at 6-3 for Michigan State. However, some of the positions that MSU gets the nod are closer than the ones where Michigan tops MSU. Quarterback and receiver stand out. It appears on paper both teams should be equipped for a strong year, which is what should make this season a great one.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A look at Boise State/Alabama entering Week 1


It’s not always fair to just focus on Michigan and Michigan State and how much they control their success this season.
Their opponents will have a big role in what happens this upcoming weekend.
Here is a look at what to expect from each Week 1 opponent.

Boise State
The Idaho Statesman has a number of articles on what to expect from the Broncos this season. Give them a read for your Boise State info.
Coming out of Boise, it sounds like the concerns are what we all expected. The Broncos have to replace a number of key starters, including Kellen Moore at quarterback.
It appears that junior Joe Southwick will be the man under center for Boise. He has seen some limited action the past few seasons, but nothing like he will face on Friday.
Boise State does have a veteran running back in D.J. Harper, but he has had two ACL tears in his career.
One area the Broncos should be strong is at cornerback, as they have two returning senior starters in Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins. Unfortunately for those two, the defensive line is very young, so they could find themselves getting left out to dry often.
Ultimately, this Boise State is a pretty big question mark. They could continue to be very strong, or it could be a tough year. Unfortunately for the Broncos, they have a tough first opponent to try and figure it all out.

Alabama
AL.com has a lot of information on the Tide, including why a team like Michigan has no chance of upsetting the them on Saturday.
In the eyes of writer Andrew Gribble, to beat Alabama, you have to take the Tide out of character in multiple facets of the game to have a chance. On top of that, you would need a few breaks to go Michigan’s way as well.
Gribble believes that beating Alabama through the air is the best chance of winning, and is what has done the trick in losses for the Tide over the years. He doesn’t consider Denard Robinson the type of quarterback that can get past Alabama though.
I tend to agree as I think the speed of the Alabama defense will neutralize Robinson’s legs and he has yet to prove he can pick apart a top defense with his arm, and Alabama is at the top of the top defenses.
Look for Alabama to stick with that pro-style offense to pound the rock against the questionable Michigan defensive line while A.J. McCarron completes some key third-down passes to lead Alabama to success.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Michigan Season Breakdown


Just like I did yesterday, by breaking down the Michigan State season and giving my prediction for the season, today I do the same for the Michigan Wolverines.
As I make these predictions, keep in mind I can’t assume injuries, and I am expecting Fitzgerald Toussaint and Frank Clark to sit out the season opener with Alabama.
2012 Michigan Schedule & Predictions
Sept. 1 vs. Alabama: Sorry Wolverine fans, I don’t see this going well. It doesn’t mean that Michigan won’t have a good season, it just means the Wolverines aren’t at the Alabama level quite yet. (L, 0-1)
Sept 8 vs. Air Force: There is some potential for trouble here due to the quirky Air Force offense, but I suspect Michigan will be ready to put on a show in the home opener. (W, 1-1)
Sept. 15 vs. UMass: This shouldn’t be much of a game at all. If it is, that is a bad sign. (W, 2-1)
Sept. 22 at Notre Dame: Notre Dame has payback on the mind, but I think that Michigan edges the Irish on the road. The Irish have had problems dealing with Denard Robinson, and I suspect that will continue. (W, 3-1)
Oct. 6 at Purdue: Purdue should be improving, but not enough to beat Michigan this year. The Wolverines should be able to take the Big Ten opener comfortably. (W, 4-1)
Oct. 13 vs. Illinois: With MSU lurking next week, I see the potential for a letdown in this game, but I still think Michigan will pull out the win. Tim Beckman will have a wide-open offense, but I don’t look for the Illinois defense to be able to contain the Wolverines. (W, 5-1)
Oct. 20 vs. Michigan State: If you read my MSU breakdown already, there is no surprise here. I think Michigan ends the losing streak to the Spartans in a hard-fought game that will come down to a few big plays. (W, 6-1)
Oct. 27 at Nebraska: Michigan handled Nebraska last year at home, but the Cornhuskers are much tougher in Lincoln. After beating MSU, I see Michigan having an off day and getting their first Big Ten loss. (L, 6-2)
Nov. 3 at Minnesota: The loss to Nebraska will be a wake-up call for the Wolverines and they will come into Minnesota and make a statement on the Gophers. (W, 7-2)
Nov. 10 vs. Northwestern: Northwestern can be a problem for teams, but the Wildcats are too inconsistent to pull the upset in this one. (W, 8-2)
Nov. 17 vs. Iowa: Iowa is a team that has given Michigan problems in recent history and I expect the same thing in this game. Look for this game to come down to the wire once again, only Michigan finds the way to win in the home finale. (W, 9-2)
Nov. 24 at Ohio State: I don’t see Michigan getting this one. The Buckeyes still have some issues, but with the postseason ban, this is their national title game. Urban Meyer has been very open with his passion for this game and he will have his team, and the home crowd, ready to go to war with Michigan. The Wolverines will be in the game until the end, but come up short. (L, 9-3)
Dec. 1 vs. Wisconsin (Big Ten Championship): Despite 2 Big Ten losses, I see Michigan, MSU, Nebraska, and Iowa all huddled up in the Legends Division race. Michigan will get the nod on a tiebreaker. In this game, I see the Badgers having the edge. They will have an easier road to get to the title game and the experience of being in the game last year. I think Wisconsin has the steadier offense that can keep Denard off the field for long periods of time. (L, 9-4)

So, 9-4. I know Michigan fans will feel bittersweet about this. They will like beating MSU and making the championship game, but probably disagree about losses to Nebraska and Ohio State, and maybe even to Wisconsin. I think this schedule is too tough for Michigan, much tougher than last year. To me, if Michigan makes it to the title game, it is a much bigger accomplishment than the 11-2 record of last year.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Michigan State season breakdown & predictions


A week from now, the Michigan State Spartans officially begin their 2012 college football campaign.
This will be a very telling season for where the MSU program is heading.
Here is a look at the schedule and my prediction for each game.
Before I begin, keep in mind my expectations are for the Spartan defense to be very strong and for Andrew Maxwell to be an average to slightly above average quarterback. Also, I can’t plan for any injuries that could dramatically impact the season.
But, enough excuses.
2012 MSU Schedule & Predictions
Aug. 31 vs. Boise State: The Spartans have the edge here, being at home and with fewer new pieces to mix in than the Broncos. (W, 1-0)
Sept. 8 at Central Michigan: I expect a tough start for the Spartans before their defense takes over and allows them to win somewhat comfortably. (W, 2-0)
Sept. 15 vs. Notre Dame: The Spartans have payback on their mind for Brian Kelly. With the Irish using a redshirt freshmen at QB, I see MSU forcing a lot of turnovers and staying unbeaten. (W, 3-0)
Sept. 22 vs. Eastern Michigan: Ron English has slowly built the Eagles into a rising program in the MAC, but their smash-mouth style will play right into the hands of the Spartan linebackers. (W, 4-0)
Sept. 29 vs. Ohio State: I expect the Buckeyes to be a lot better at the end of the year than at the beginning. I think MSU’s defense will stymie Braxton Miller and allow Maxwell the ability to make a few plays and win the game. (W, 5-0)
Oct. 6 at Indiana: Sorry Hoosiers, you don’t have much to offer against anyone, let alone Michigan State. (W, 6-0)
Oct. 13 vs. Iowa: Iowa has always been a tough out for the Spartans. Also consider that MSU could be looking ahead to Michigan the next week. I expect this to go right down to the finish, but I will give the nod to MSU since it has the home-field edge. (W, 7-0)
Oct. 20 at Michigan: I see the four-game winning streak ending this year. Michigan should have its best team in recent memory and the Big House in its favor. The Spartans will put up a fight, but I think it’s Michigan’s turn to get back the Paul Bunyan Trophy. (L, 7-1)
Oct. 27 at Wisconsin: What a tough two-game stretch for MSU. Wisconsin has become somewhat of a rival over the last few years. The Badgers would like to put the Spartans out of the Big Ten race in this game as opposed to possibly having to beat them in Indy once again. Mark Danotnio has always played Wisconsin tough, but I see the Badgers winning at home. (L, 7-2)
Nov. 3 vs. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers are not nearly the team they are at home when on the road. Don’t look for anything like what happened in Lincoln in 2011. I see MSU taking out two weeks of frustrations out on Bo Pelini and Taylor Martinez. (W, 8-2)
Nov. 17 vs. Northwestern: The Wildcats are another team that likes to make things difficult, but this is a game that the Spartan offense could actually put up big numbers. I don’t see MSU losing at home in this one. (W, 9-2)
Nov. 24 at Minnesota: MSU has lost four of its last five at Minnesota, but this isn’t the same Spartan team. The Gophers were a mess last year, but still gave MSU a scare. I don’t think State will take them lightly on the road to end the season. (W, 10-2)

I don’t see MSU in the Big Ten Championship Game, but a 10-2 regular season is still a very good year for a team with a first-year starting quarterback. It would put the Spartans in the BCS bowl hunt and surely get them a high-profile postseason game regardless. More importantly, it keeps MSU as one of the top teams in the Big Ten for a third year in a row.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Are the Wolverines "back"


Is Michigan “back”?
What is the definition of “back”?
In the golf world, everyone wants to be the one to declare Tiger Woods “back” even though it is clear he is far from it.
With the departure of Rich Rodriguez from the Michigan football program, the Wolverine fans have been clamoring for Michigan to get “back” to its tradition.
In stepped Brady Hoke, Michigan went 11-2, and now some feel the Wolverines are indeed “back”.
If by “back” you mean a team that can win around 10 games a year, perhaps Michigan is “back”, but we need to see a bigger sample size before we can expect the Wolverines to win 10 games every year.
If by “back” you mean a Big Ten champion, then clearly Michigan is still on its way.
If by “back” you mean a national title contender, the Wolverines aren’t there either and may never get there.
Michigan last won the national title in 1997, and before that it was 1948. National championships are a rarity for Michigan in this day and age. It is one thing to expect the Wolverines to be in the national title discussion, it is another thing to expect them to actually win the championship. A national title right now would be icing on the cake to a tremendous season.
However, that was the knock on Lloyd Carr when he was ending his tenure at Michigan. A large part of the fan base was unhappy with his ability to get Michigan into the national title picture and for losing games that many felt he shouldn’t. In some cases, the complaints were warranted. But Carr still brought a national title to Ann Arbor and was always in the mix for Big Ten titles.
Now it seems that fans would be happy to go “back”  to the Carr days thanks to what happened under Rodriguez.
The Wolverines haven’t won the Big Ten since 2004, its longest drought between titles since 1950-1964.
So history dictates that “back” means Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances. Michigan appears to be ready to be “back” as soon as this season. If not this season, then soon.
But until the Wolverines can consistently beat the likes of Michigan State and Ohio State again, which will lead to Big Ten titles, then Michigan is still “away” with fans anxiously awaiting its return.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Three Big Questions facing Michigan in 2012 season


Yesterday I looked at three questions I think Michigan State has facing it entering the 2012 college football season.
Today, I do the same for the Michigan Wolverines.
Expectations are high in Ann Arbor following an 11-2 record in Brady Hoke’s first season. With good reason, Michigan is hoping to end the losing streak to Michigan State and claim a Big Ten title in 2012. Here is what I think the Wolverines should have on their minds.
BIG QUESTION NO. 1 – How much as Denard Robinson improved as a passer?
It’s the same old question with Denard. He is clearly one of the biggest weapons in college football, but when he is relegated to being just a passer, he has struggled. His completion percentage, passing yards, and passing efficiency all declined from 2010 to 2011, and his interception total increased. In order for Michigan to really be a contender in the Big Ten and on the national scale, Robinson has to show he can lead the offense down the field with his arm. And I am not talking about a 60-yard bomb. He needs to be able to make the tough third-down passes that sustain drives and keep the Michigan defense off the field. In the two losses a year ago, that was an issue. He was just 9-of-24 passing in the loss at Michigan State and 17-of-37 passing in the loss at Iowa.
BIG QUESTION NO. 2 – Can the Michigan defense play like the 2011 unit?
A lot of talk is made about the Michigan State defense, with good reason, but the Michigan defense was arguably the most improved in the country in 2011. Under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, the Wolverines improved from 35.2 points allowed per game in 2010 to just 17.4 in 2011. The Michigan pass defense also cut off over 70 yards per game from their average. This season, the Michigan defense looks very strong in the back seven, but the concern comes on the defensive line, where the Wolverines lack depth, especially at defensive end. Poor defensive line play can expose the linebackers and the secondary as well. In a physical league like the Big Ten, being weak up front can lead to a lot of problems. If the Michigan defense takes a step back, it will put more pressure on Robinson and the offense to get into shootouts like they had to in 2010.
BIG QUESTION NO. 3 – Is Brady Hoke as good as advertised?
You would have a hard time finding any Michigan fan that would have something bad to say about Brady Hoke. He says all the right things, he does all the right things and he wins. What’s not to like? But, though it may be a stretch, there is a school called Notre Dame that had the same feeling about their previous two coaches after their first years (Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis). That’s not to say it will all fall apart for Hoke, but it is still too early to say he is the savior of Michigan football. Recruiting has been very strong and the results of 2011 speak for themselves, but Hoke has to show that he can sustain that level of success in 2012. The Wolverines have a very tough schedule this year, right from the season opener with Alabama. Certainly Hoke needs to beat Michigan State in Ann Arbor this year as well. If Michigan gets to 9 wins or more, and contends in the Big Ten race, I would say the future is very bright for the Wolverines under Hoke.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Three Big Questions facing MSU in 2012 season


The offseason of college football is like one long debate.
There are plenty of “ifs” and “buts”, however none of them really matter until kickoff of the opening game.
Still, debate and conversation is what makes football so popular.
Over the next two posts I will look at what are the big question marks entering the season for both Michigan State and Michigan. Today, I look at the Spartans.
BIG QUESTION NO. 1 – Can Andrew Maxwell lead MSU to success?
Maxwell comes into a nice situation as a first-year starting quarterback. He has a top-level defense that should keep the scores low and he has a veteran offensive line in front of him. His big concern has to be inexperienced receivers to throw to. But, he has probably developed some chemistry with these guys as backups last year during practice. Maxwell doesn’t need to be great, he just needs to be smart. Maxwell will be more likely to bring MSU down than to push them up. If he avoids turnovers and can make the short, accurate throws, he gives the Spartans a chance for a great season. If tries to do too much, he could make it a long year for Mark Dantonio.
BIG QUESTION NO. 2 – Can the MSU defense be as good as advertised?
I just said that the MSU defense should give Maxwell some ease, but what if they don’t? I think most everyone expects the Spartans to be one of the best defenses in the country, and with good reason. But things don’t always work out that way. Injuries could play a role or players could simply regress. The Spartans do lose a few key pieces on the defensive line, including defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, who helped the performance of someone like end William Gholston. The 2011 MSU defense did give up some big numbers to the likes of Minnesota and Northwestern last year, so it’s not out of the question they could struggle at times. If the MSU defense isn’t as dominant as many expect, it puts a lot of pressure on Maxwell. Conversely, if Maxwell struggles, it puts the MSU defense in a tough spot to have to be as dominant as expected.
BIG QUESTION NO. 3 – Can MSU stay at the top of the Big Ten?
The last two years have been an impressive run for Michigan State. But, it is clear that many (looking at you Michigan fans) expect the Spartans to drop back to the middle of the Big Ten pack with Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer in the picture. I am not so sure. I think the Spartans are still fighting for respectability and this season will go a long way in terms of getting it or losing it. Wisconsin should be strong, Ohio State should be improved and Michigan claims to have their man in Hoke. There are no excuses left on the table. If the Spartans find a way to win the Legends Division, or even the Big Ten Championship, I would expect them to be a factor for many years to come. If they stumble and go just 7-5, it may be back to the “Same Old Spartans” routine.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I'm officially on the move Michigan-OSU bandwagon


It’s been a hot topic this offseason.
Should the Michigan-Ohio State game be moved back to earlier in the season and be replaced by Michigan-Michigan State?
Pat Caputo wrote about it a few weeks ago and it was the cause of a lot of debate on Friday on 97.1 The Ticket for host Mike Valenti.
At first, I didn’t see the need to change things. I was on the side of “tradition.”
However, the more I think of it, the more it really does make sense to move the game and replace it with Michigan State.
Now, settle down Wolverine fans. That doesn’t mean that MSU is a bigger rival. My opinion is about the logistics of the new Big Ten Conference setup.
First, the MSU game means more to Michigan in regards to winning the Big Ten. To win the conference title, you have to win your division. A win over Ohio State only has half of the impact as a win over MSU does. Beating MSU also puts a loss in the column of a tough divisional opponent and increases Michigan’s chances to win the Legends Division.
Second, what good would it do if Michigan and Ohio State played two weeks in a row? I know many Wolverines say beating the Buckeyes is the most important thing each year. That is fine. But, let’s say in a couple years you beat Ohio State. Then, the following week, the Buckeyes beat you in the championship game. Did that first win really mean anything?
Third, moving the game to earlier in the season wouldn’t be killing the rivalry. It may adjust tradition, but there are plenty of great rivalry games that take place mid-season. Florida-Georgia and Oklahoma-Texas are just a few that come to mind. Does it really seem that their rivalries are lessened by playing before the final week of the regular season?
Had the Big Ten not changed to a two-division format, or even if Ohio State was part of the Legends Division, I would say there is no issue with keeping Michigan-Ohio State at the end of the season. But, it just doesn’t make sense now.
If swapping Ohio State with MSU is the big issue, it doesn’t have to be Michigan-MSU to end the season either. Michigan vs. any division opponent works. But, for interest sake, Michigan State seems to be the best option. It could be Michigan-Nebraska if that makes you feel better.
The world won’t end, the rivalry won’t die. Everything would be okay if Michigan-Ohio State is not played at the end of the season.
So, just think about it Michigan fans. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

The latest Week 1 odds for MSU/UofM


Like it or not, gambling plays a big role in the popularity of college football.
The opening games are just two weeks away, so I thought I would look at the current odds for both Michigan and Michigan State (for entertainment purposes only!).
Here are the odds:
Michigan State -7 vs. Boise State
Michigan +12.5 vs. Alabama
I don’t think the odds for either game are too surprising.
The national perception seems to be that Alabama is going to push around Michigan with relative ease. A “win” for the Wolverines would be just having a chance to actually win the game in the fourth quarter. The latest injuries for the Wolverines don’t help much with their chances.
The one thing Michigan has going for it into the game is its big-play potential. The Wolverines have the capability of scoring from anywhere thanks to Denard Robinson, but the speed of the Alabama defense should keep him in check.
What Michigan needs is to not be embarrassed by the Crimson Tide. The Wolverine fans like to think that Michigan is “back” as a national contender. This game should really tell just how “back” the Wolverines are.
For MSU, the Spartans have a tough test in Boise State, but we probably won’t know just how good this Boise State team is until the season is done. With so many new starting pieces on offense, it is hard to expect Boise State to be as proficient on offense as they have been in previous years. Plus, they are playing one of the top defenses in the country on paper to open the season.
What should be an interesting part of this game is the MSU offense against the Boise State defense. The Broncos have consistently been very strong on defense under Chris Petersen, and that aspect of their game gets overlooked. But, like the offense, the Boise State defense has many new starters.
MSU needs to start fast on Boise State. Leaving the Broncos to hang around in the second half could spell trouble. I don’t think the Spartans want to put Andrew Maxwell in a high-pressure situation in his first start.
As of right now, I would take the favorites minus the points in both games.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

MSU's Treadwell the latest to get the injury bug


Looks like the injury bug is going around.
First it was Michigan that had some injuries that will impact the depth of the team, now it is Michigan State’s turn. (It is unclear if MSU caused the injuries themselves to get attention away from Michigan. Just kidding guys)
Joe Rexrode, formerly of the Lansing State Journal and now of the Detroit Free Press, reported on Wednesday that junior left guard Blake Treadwell suffered a fracture in his tibia and will be out for 4-5 weeks.
True freshman wide receiver Aaron Burbridge had arthroscopic knee surgery as well and will be out at least six weeks, which increases the likelihood he will redshirt this season. Burbridge had a chance to make the roster entering training camp, especially considering the inexperience MSU has at the position, but the injury won’t allow him to compete for a spot.
While the injury to Burbridge may not have a great impact, the tibia fracture for Treadwell is certainly an issue.
Treadwell was expected to start at left guard this season and he will now at least miss the season opener with Boise State on Aug. 31. The good thing for the Spartans is they have plenty of starting experience on the offensive line.
The injury opens the door for redshirt freshman Jack Allen, who has yet to see any live snaps in a college football game. Certainly opponents will look to exploit him as the weak link on the line.
The loss of Treadwell early in the season probably won’t be felt unless another lineman suffers an injury, then the depth up front will be tested.
As I have said before, the strong offensive line for the Spartans will be a key to the development of quarterback Andrew Maxwell. If the line starts to crumble, there may not be much hope for him to succeed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wormley tears ACL, depth an issue at DE for Michigan


Just yesterday I said it has been a bad month for the Wolverines. Well, it managed to get even worse less than 24 hours later.
This news came from Michigan Insider, Sam Webb, on his Twitter account (@SamWebb77):
Rumors of Chris Wormley's ACL tear are unfortunately true. The #Michigan freshman DE will obviously miss the season as a result
Wormley is just a true freshman and his role with the team this season was uncertain, but he had the potential to make the regular season roster and provide depth at the position.
With fellow end, Frank Clark, already serving a suspension that could run into the regular season, Michigan has some serious depth issues at defensive end.
The Wolverines have eight ends listed on the current roster. With two currently not available, it could impact the potential redshirts for other true freshmen. Wormley will clearly get a redshirt season with the injury, which still gives him four full seasons with Michigan, but the Wolverines have three other true freshmen at end to make decisions on.
With just one senior in the group and the rest sophomores or freshmen, the defensive end position has to be a concern for the coaching staff with Alabama looming.
One thing you need against a team like the Crimson Tide is strong play on the defensive front. To get that, you need experience and depth. Right now, Michigan has neither at the end positions.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Roundtree's knee surgery adds to a bad month for Michigan


It hasn’t been a great month for the Michigan football team.
Already with two players suspended, head coach Brady Hoke revealed on Sunday, at the team’s Media Day, that receiver Roy Roundtree had arthroscopic knee surgery this past Friday.
While Roundtree is only expected to be out a few weeks, the surgery still raises a red flag and could be something that lingers into the season. Considering he is just 6-foot-0, 177 pounds, Roundtree relies on his quickness and his cutting ability to get open.
If you take Roundtree out of the equation, the Wolverines are in a very similar position to Michigan State when it comes to experience at receiver.
Aside from Andrew Maxwell at quarterback, the biggest question mark for MSU this season is the inexperienced receivers.
That is starting to become an issue with the Wolverines.
Jeremy Gallon is the leading returning receiver for Michigan from last year, but he had just 453 yards.
Roundtree took a step back in 2011 compared to his 2010 season (953 yards to 355 yards), but he is expected to be relied on as the playmaker for this group now that Junior Hemingway is gone.
Maxwell needs his receivers more than Robinson, because Robinson is considered the play maker for Michigan, while Maxwell needs to rely on his guys to make plays.
However, Robinson will need some receivers to step up at times, mainly Roundtree, since he is the experienced senior in the group.
Time will tell just how severe this knee injury is, but the Wolverines have to have some anxiety about Roundtree’s status.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A closer look at non-conference play for MSU & Michigan


The college football season is getting closer and closer with each day.
We are a little under three weeks away from the opening night of games, so I thought I would take a look at both Michigan's & MSU’s non-conference schedules.

Michigan
Toughest Game – Sept. 1 vs. Alabama - Clearly there is no tougher non-conference game in the country than Michigan’s season opener with Alabama at Cowboys Stadium. Though the Crimson Tide lost a great deal from last season’s BCS National Championship squad, there is no doubt that they should be fully reloaded. A win for Michigan seems very improbable, as they are still in the process of getting back into the elite national picture. On the national scale, a win over Alabama would send a huge message that the Wolverines are “back”.
Easiest Game – Sept. 15 vs. UMass – While UMass has had some success in football, they are making the jump from the FCS to the FBS this season. The Wolverines should have little trouble blowing the Minutemen out of the water at home.
Trap Game – Sept. 8 vs. Air Force – Following what should be a physical battle with Alabama, Michigan returns home the next week to face the Falcons. Air Force has had a winning record the last five seasons and they run the triple option, an offense that can be tough to prepare for when you don’t see it often.
Realistic Record – 3-1 – Michigan also makes the dreaded trip to Notre Dame on Sept. 22. I think the Wolverines should go 3-1 in non-conference play if they hope to have a successful season. A 2-2 start would feel like a step back from last year, but winning against Alabama or at Notre Dame will be a tough task.

Michigan State
Toughest Game – Sept. 15 vs. Notre Dame – While Boise State has been stronger on the national scale, I suspect the Broncos won’t quite be the same given all they have lost. Notre Dame has high expectations this year, as do the Spartans. With the game being in East Lansing, this should be one MSU wins. But, you can never count out Brian Kelly and the Irish.
Easiest Game – Sept. 22 vs. Eastern MichiganThe Spartans host the Eagles at home to close out non-conference play. While Ron English has made some strides with EMU, the Michigan State defense should be able to easily shutdown that run-heavy offense.
Trap Game – Sept. 8 at Central MichiganI know, I know, what a surprise. But, when you look at this game objectively, it really is a trap game. First, this game takes place between the meetings with Boise State and Notre Dame. Second, this game is in Mt. Pleasant. CMU considers it the biggest game in the history of their stadium. That is a tough environment for any team to step into. While the Chippewas have struggled in two years under former MSU assistant Dan Enos, they return a lot of starters this season. I don’t expect CMU to pull off the upset, but I think the setting could make this game a tough one for the Spartans to get past.
Realistic Record – 4-0 – The Spartans have the luxury that the Wolverines don’t in that their two tough games come at home and not on the road. Because of that, Michigan State can go 4-0. Does that mean they will? No. Notre Dame could certainly trip them up, as could Boise State, if the Broncos’ first-year starters can have an immediate impact. Anything less than 3-1 in this stretch would be a disappointment for MSU.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Is Denard the most valuable player in college football?


The big news in college football yesterday was LSU dismissing Tyrann Mathieu, a Heisman finalist last season and electric player for the Tigers.
Despite losing a skilled player, I suspect LSU has plenty of depth to make up for his loss. SEC teams tend to reload, not rebuild.
But still, that got me thinking. Just how valuable was Mathieu to LSU? Sure he made big plays, but do any of us doubt that the Tigers won’t miss much of a beat in replacing him?
When you look at a number of the top players in the country and many of the Heisman favorites, I don’t think there is any single player that is more valuable to his team than Michigan’s Denard Robinson.
Taking Robinson off the Michigan roster would have a greater impact than removing any single player from another team.
You have the likes of USC’s Matt Barkley or Landry Jones at Oklahoma, but those programs have proven to develop great quarterbacks year-after-year.
Clemson’s’ Sammy Watkins is lightning in a bottle, but he doesn’t touch the ball on every play like Robinson does.
In 2010, Robinson pretty much was the Michigan offense, rushing for 1,702 yards and 14 TD’s while throwing for 2,570 yards and 18 scores.
Last year, Brady Hoke adjusted how Robinson was used, but he still posted 2,173 passing yards with 20 TD’s and 1,176 rushing yards with 16 scores.
While nobody will call Robinson the definition of what you expect a quarterback to be, he has all the quickness and speed of an elite running back with an above-average arm.
If Watkins had the ability to throw the ball like Robinson, don’t you think Clemson would put him behind center?
Robinson has been so vital to Michigan’s offense over the last few years, it is interesting to think about just what the Wolverines will look like without him next season.
The debate on Robinson is always going on as some feel he shouldn’t be a quarterback and others feel the numbers speak for themselves. Pat Caputo points that out in his latest column.
Brady Hoke recognizes the importance of having your best player get the ball as much as possible, but he also wants to limit the hits he takes.
Regardless, I think it is best to let Robinson do his thing. He makes some mistakes with his passing, no question.
He also has the ability to score on every play, which he has shown time after time.
His “home run” ability is what makes him stand out as more valuable than any other player in college football.

Friday, August 10, 2012

History says Maxwell won't be a problem


The big question coming into the 2012 College Football season for Michigan State is Andrew Maxwell.
The junior quarterback from Midland is coming into his first season as starting quarterback, and doing so with a team that is largely primed to contend for a Big Ten Championship.
If Maxwell is able to handle the pressure, the Spartans should continue their trend of being one of the top teams in the Big Ten. If he can’t handle it, they will likely take a step back.
Maxwell will be the third first-year starting quarterback Dantonio has had during his time as head coach of the Spartans. In both previous cases, things have went pretty well in regards to performance.
In 2007, Dantonio’s first year as coach, Brian Hoyer was the first-year starter for the Spartans. He posted solid numbers of 2,725 passing yards with 20 TD’s and 11 INT’s. He received Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors, but MSU went just 7-6 overall with a 3-5 conference record.
In 2009, Kirk Cousins overcame an in-season quarterback battle and was the starter throughout the year. He threw for 2,680 yards with 19 TD’s and 9 INT’s. Again, MSU didn’t have a great record, as they went just 6-7 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten.
With Maxwell being a junior, you have to expect that he won’t be as rattled to be the starter as a freshman would be. Learning from Cousins over the past few years should help with his composure and confidence.
One of the big challenges Maxwell has is the young receivers he will work with. MSU lost their top four receivers from a year ago, so this year’s receivers will be unproven as well. They do have Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett in the mix, but he also has a lot to prove.
One thing going for Maxwell is that he has a much better overall team than Hoyer or Cousins had in their first year as a starter.
MSU returns four starters on the offensive line and has a reliable starting back in Le’Veon Bell. Add in some solid backup backs, and the running game should help take pressure off of Maxwell.
Also, the MSU defense shouldn’t be a group that allows a great deal of points. Maxwell will likely not be asked to take part in a number of shootouts, so as long as he plays a smart, conservative game, he can give the Spartans a chance to win each week.
While anyone’s initial reaction to a new starting quarterback is to expect a big drop off, I personally think that Maxwell is walking into a pretty good situation and could be an above average starting quarterback.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hoke with a tough call on Toussaint

In the world of college football there is a loose interpretation of the term “doing what is right.”
There isn’t a program in the country that doesn’t have “off the field issues” involving players.
Some more serious than others.
Some involving more talented players than others.
The conundrum always comes with handing out punishment. It is a tight spot for the coaches of the program because their decisions are reflected in two key ways.
1. If you punish a big star, it could result in losses, which ultimately impacts the coach’s job.
2. If you fail to hold a big star accountable, it sends the message to the other players that they can get away with making mistakes as long as they produce on the field.
Brady Hoke finds himself is this very spot right now as running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is suspended from the team currently due to a DUI arrest in the offseason. Defensive end Frank Clark is also suspended from the team after being charged with second-degree home invasion. Clark has some promise and can help the team, but Toussaint is really the focus here.
If Michigan is to be successful, it is believed that Toussaint will be a big part of that. He rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns last season and took a lot of the pressure of Denard Robinson in both the run and pass game.
Toussaint will also be very valuable and necessary if Michigan hopes to contend with Alabama in the season opener. Even if he is on the field, it will be a big uphill climb for the Wolverines to win.
So, the question is, what does Hoke do? Do you keep Toussaint from playing the season opener, or perhaps even longer? Or, does missing some of training camp equate to a worthy punishment?
Hoke sent a big message last year by redshirting Darryl Stonum for the 2011 season following his second DUI arrest. Many applauded the move and I also feel it sent a good message to his players about being accountable (Stonum ultimately would be dismissed from the team for good in January for another incident off the field).
But now, Hoke’s punishment of Stonum must equate properly to the likes of Toussaint and Clark. I am not saying Toussaint should sit the year. It was a first offense. But, I am not sure missing just one game sends a clear message.
What Hoke does with Toussaint will go a long way in defining his character. Given his track record, I expect Hoke will do the right thing, and not just in a figurative sense.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Expectations Define A Program

One of the big misconceptions about the MSU-Michigan rivalry right now is MSU’s current winning streak over the Wolverines and what it means in the grand scheme of things.
While I clearly state that the Spartans have the edge on the Wolverines coming into the season due to the four-game winning streak, it doesn’t change the fact that MSU has a long way to go to catch up to Michigan on the overall spectrum of success.
Proof of that is this quote from Mark Dantonio at MSU’s Media Day on Monday. (From MSUSpartans.com)
I think we're in a position of contention. We always are. I think we are moving along. When you talk about where we wanted to go when we first came here, what we wanted to try to accomplish, we said want to build a foundation. We keep trying to build a foundation to try to get to that Rose Bowl. We're not there yet. We haven't made it there yet, but that's our goal.
Michigan State is still attempting to clear that Rose Bowl hurdle. It really is their ultimate prize at this point in the program.
They haven’t appeared in a Rose Bowl since 1988 and have only been to four in the history of the program. Michigan, by comparison, has been to 20 Rose Bowls and won eight of them.
Michigan State is still looking to “turn the corner” before it can really talk about competing for a national title on the football field.
While Michigan’s expectations today aren’t necessarily for a national title either, as they attempt to get back to where they were in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, they have been there before.
In fact, prior to the arrival of Rich Rodriguez, fans grew tired of Lloyd Carr for his inability to get Michigan into the national title picture. Rose Bowl appearances had become more than just an expectation, they were a standard. That is what put Michigan into the elite of college football.
Michigan State is far from that point. Can they get there? Maybe.
But it starts with an outright Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl appearance. The Spartans probably need a Rose Bowl victory to really step up to that next level, but right now the hopes of the program are on a trip to Pasadena.
When the day comes that Michigan State is contending for national titles and making Rose Bowl appearances more often than not, that is the day that Michigan fans can truly worry.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Rich Rod Argument Is Denied


I knew when this blog got started that I would hear a lot of complaints from people. It’s part of the job.
But, my last post on The Little Brother Scale got a lot of reaction, mostly negative from the Wolverine fan base.
The biggest argument that was used was “You can’t count those games because Rich Rodriguez was a terrible coach.”
Well, I am sorry, but that argument doesn’t hold any water.
First off, he was your coach, point blank. He was hired by Michigan and most all of you, myself included, expected him to be very successful and to take the Wolverines to a new level of success on the national scale.
While it didn’t work out and he clearly didn’t fit into the Michigan persona, he was still the coach and lost all three meetings with Michigan State. You can’t change history.
Secondly, if you are going to play that card, you open the door for Spartan fans to fire right back with the John L. Smith and Bobby Williams claims.
Those two seemed as lost as any coaches on the sidelines and they resulted in a number of losses (some close, some not so close) to the Wolverines.
The point is, you can’t just decided which games count and which games don’t because of who the coach is. You hired the guy, you live with the results. The 2008-10 seasons happened whether you want to acknowledge them or not. And, your program is still affected by those seasons when it comes to player personnel.
Just like Mark Dantonio, Brady Hoke has to recruit a roster to his liking to fully turn the Michigan program into what his vision for it is.
I like what Hoke did with the Wolverines last year, but it is just one year. He still has to prove that the winning will continue.
Dantonio has led MSU to 9 wins or more in three of his last four seasons.
I am hesitant to say both teams have great coaches just because Hoke is only in his second year, but he seems to have the Wolverines back on track for success.
That makes this year’s MSU-Michigan game even more interesting.
What if the Spartans win? Will Michigan fans admit that MSU is the better team, or will there be another asterisk they want to attach to the game?
For State fans, does Brady Hoke scare you? Are you concerned that the four-game win streak was just an anomaly in time and now Michigan is back to take control?
My guess, and my hope, is that both teams will continue to be a national force that will produce impactful and exciting games year after year. I think that is when the rivalry is truly at its best.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Little Brother Scale


"Sometimes, you get your little brother excited when you're playing basketball – let them get the lead…..And then you come back."
Who knew that quote from Mike Hart on Nov. 3, 2007 could be so impactful.
Was it necessary to say? No.
Was it the truth at the time? Yes.
At that time, the perception in the state to those not entrenched in the rivalry was that MSU was inferior to Michigan, or the “little brother” to the Wolverines.
But since that quote, the tables have started to turn.
Michigan State has won four straight over the Wolverines, three of which have been by 14 points or more.
Head Coach Mark Dantonio has almost adopted an inferiority complex in his absolute dislike for Michigan and Hart’s quote. That passion has carried the Spartans to a new level and control in the state’s biggest rivalry.
Has Hart’s quote ultimately become some sort of curse for the Wolverines? Probably not. But, it sure did wake a sleeping giant in East Lansing.
As the 2012 season is set to begin, I thought it would be fun to take the “little brother” quote and use it as a measuring stick each week following the games of both teams.
While MSU has a long way to go to catch Michigan in the overall history of both programs (i.e. winning national championships and regular BCS bowl appearances), there is little doubt that State has the superior product on the field right now compared to Michigan.
The Wolverines may be winning the recruiting battle, but I don’t factor that in. Wins and losses are what matter the most. If the recruiting pans out and develops as it should, it will show on the field.
Right now, the Spartans are in the head of the Wolverines. Michigan fans, players, and coaches can deny it all they want, but they are.
That MSU defense looms large over the abilities of Denard Robinson. A potential fifth straight loss to MSU, in the Big House no less, has the Wolverine world anxious about the Oct. 20 meeting.
Right now, MSU is the talented junior in high school that is seeking a championship to validate his talents. Michigan is the freshman with a lot of potential, but not been good enough to beat his older brother.
THE LITTLE BROTHER SCALE: MSU 17, Michigan 15

Friday, August 3, 2012

Preseason Polls mean next to nothing


Brady Hoke said it best earlier this summer.
“I don't get to watch a lot of football.”
Like many college football coaches, they are too wrapped up in their own team to truly focus on the other programs around the country, especially on Saturdays.
Yet Hoke, like the majority of coaches in the FBS, have a vote in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Hoke openly admitted that he fills out his weekly poll with the help of his staff and sports information department, as most do.
But, as the 2012 USA Today Preseason Poll was released yesterday, of course, fans have to be up in arms.
The Wolverines came in 8th in the poll, ahead of the likes of Wisconsin (12th), Nebraska (16th), and Notre Dame (24th).
Oh, and by the way, and Michigan State was 13th.
Now, Spartan fans are already raising the red flag, claiming disrespect.
How can you beat a team four times in a row and be behind them in the preseason poll?
While the argument is valid, ultimately who cares?
Not to go all “Jim Schwartz”, but when the day comes that being ranked higher in a preseason poll means you win the head-to-head meeting that year, that’s when you should care.
The fact is Michigan still has the name power that Michigan State doesn’t.
Sure, State has won the last four meetings, and asserted itself as a legit Big Ten contender year-in and year-out, but it still is looking to break into the big time and really establish itself as a dominant program in the Midwest.
Not to say that Michigan currently is, but it once was. Just as Notre Dame was. Sometimes that naming power gives you certain advantages, like higher rankings and priority when it comes to BCS bowl selection.
Michigan State is on a path to change this and all they can do is continue to win and eventually things will change.
But, the preseason poll means little to nothing. The only poll that matters isn’t a poll at all, it is the final Big Ten standings.