Category Archives: Michigan football

Big Ten Realignment; Media Overreactions

This year has not been a good one for sportswriters. With stories breaking on Twitter, the journalism landscape has changed quite a bit just in the last few years. But I think there are several guidelines that were applicable in 1950 and 1990 that are still applicable in 2010. For example, getting the story right is pretty important.

In 2010, I feel it’s not always about being accurate. It’s about being first. In 1950, this would have made more sense to me. Being the first really meant something back then. If your newspaper broke a story, nobody else could take ownership of it. It wouldn’t be until the next day—a full 24 hours!—that another paper could relay that news.

But now that we live in a 24-hour news cycle, does it even matter that much to be first? Any “breaking news” tweet gets retweeted in some form or another by a thousand different people. How you came about piece of information is likely different from how I came to that same bit of info. By the time the news becomes official, who even remembers where they first heard it?

The most prominent examples of sportswriters jumping the gun this year involved NCAA Tournament expansion, NBA free agency, and most recently, Big Ten realignment.

If you think back to the Final Four weekend, it was reported by many news outlets that a 96-team Tournament was a “done deal.” Enjoy the Duke-Butler game, they told us, because starting next year the Tournament won’t be the same. The NCAA was going for a quick cash grab, blind to the fact that fans would rebel and the greatest event in American sports would lose most of its luster.

Except, of course, it didn’t happen. The NCAA—whether it was their plan all along or their response to the public outrage—announced it would expand, but only to 68 teams. The door was left open for further expansion down the road, but March Madness is safe at least for 2011.

This offseason’s NBA free agency—also known as The Summer of LeBron—was even worse. At least with the NCAA Tournament, most media outlets were reporting the same inaccurate report. Free agency brought about dozens of false reports: LeBron is going to Chicago. Chris Paul and Carmelo are headed to New York. Wade is going to Chicago. LeBron is definitely staying in Cleveland.

Every report started with these four magic words: “Trusted sources tell me.” It became a joke. Everyone was lying to everyone, something that the public realized before journalists did.

The sports media jumped to conclusions regarding the Big Ten conference realignment, too. To be fair, many outlets got the two divisions correct. But Michigan and Ohio State fans were enraged over the report that “The Game” between the Wolverines and Buckeyes would not longer be played at the end of the season, as it had been every year but one since 1935.

Last year’s Game was played at the end of the regular season. It will stay there for at least the next two years, despite initial media reports.

The Michigan-OSU situation was very similar to NCAA Tournament expansion. Going by statements from the two schools’ athletic directors, it seemed like The Game would be moved. Much like after hearing NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen speak at the Final Four, many thought a 96-team field was inevitable. Likewise, the NCAA left the door open for further expansion in upcoming years. The Big Ten assured fans that The Game would remain at the end of the regular season through 2012, but the issue may be revisited at that time.

Did the Big Ten gauge the feedback and decide it was a bad move? Did they plan to split UM and OSU into different divisions all along, but never planned to move the date of their matchup? Or had they yet to make up their minds?

We’ll never know. But we do know not to believe the media reports until they are made official. Maybe the media will take a page out of the NCAA and Big Ten playbook: take note of our disapproval and change accordingly.

Podcast: Michigan Basketball and Football Conversation

Last Wednesday I spoke with Chris Gaerig, a college friend of mine and author of Burgeoning Wolverine Star, about Michigan athletics. Michigan had lost a heartbreaker the previous night to Michigan State, making it very unlikely that the Wolverines will make the NCAA Tournament. We discuss the game, as well as the future of Michigan basketball under John Beilein. Chris argues that DeShawn Sims is a better college player (and a better pro prospect) than Manny Harris.

Later in the discussion, we talk about the struggles of Michigan football. This podcast isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, but then again, Michigan sports hasn’t exactly given its fans reasons to smile lately. If you love Manny, or think the Wolverines are really going to miss cornerback Donovan Warren, let us know in the comments. And be sure to check out Chris’ blog, too.

http://www.divshare.com/flash/playlist?myId=10429069-9d8

Iowa Beats Michigan 30-28 at Kinnick Stadium

The Comeback Kid could only watch from the bench this time as his team made another late-game rally.

Tate Forcier didn’t appear injured; rather, his coach decided his team was better off without him on the field. The results were mixed and in the end, Michigan came up short, losing to Iowa 30-28.

The freshman quarterback had only five college games under his belt, but had established himself as a comeback artist (see: Notre Dame, Indiana, and Michigan State). Rich Rodriguez obviously didn’t feel he’d be getting the same magic from Forcier last night in Kinnick Stadium.

With 7:42 left in the fourth quarter, Rodriguez inserted Denard Robinson, another freshman, into the game. It took 4:46 but Robinson led Michigan to a touchdown, rushing for over 40 yards on the drive, including a three-yard scoring run. The Wolverines had turned the ball over four times and had two egregious blown defensive assignments that directly resulted in Iowa touchdowns, yet they were only down two after the score.

Following a three-and-out by the Hawkeyes, Michigan got the ball back with 1:30 remaining, needing a field goal to win. Forcier acted as if he was taking the field, but Rodriguez held him back. This time, Robinson was getting the chance to be the hero.

Unfortunately for Michigan fans, Robinson is not yet the dual-threat QB they hope he can become. After a 14-yard completion and a seven-yard run, Robinson was intercepted. He has now thrown 15 passes and been picked off three times.

Should Forcier have been on the field for the final drive?

If I were the coach, he probably would have been. At the same time, I don’t think it’s fair to question Rodriguez for his decision.

Look at it this way: If Robinson didn’t come in on Michigan’s previous drive, would their final possession have even been meaningful? You can point out that Robinson’s value comes in the form of running, something that Michigan didn’t have enough time to do. Therefore, Forcier — the much better passer — was the logical choice to lead the team down the field. Oh, and you might also reference Forcier’s three previous instances of late-game heroics.

But Forcier had also played pretty well in the early parts of those three games, particularly the Notre Dame and Indiana games. Last night, he was 8-of-19 with no touchdowns, an interception, and a fumble before being replaced. In his two fourth-quarter drives, Michigan  unnecessarily burned a timeout and was penalized for a delay of game (though the former may not have been Forcier’s fault).

These mistakes made Forcier a liability in Rodriguez’s eyes. Can you blame a coach for benching a guy he doesn’t trust?

Some are saying Rodriguez sat Forcier because he was “mad” at him. I must agree with that, but only because of the reason why he was so mad: Forcier was making too many costly mistakes. The odds of Robinson leading Michigan into field goal range weren’t great (which reminds me, if you want to argue a coaching decision, question Michigan’s onside kick) given that the clock was likely going to force him to do it through the air. But he’s shown high-level explosiveness this year, so who’s to say he couldn’t rip off a 40 yard run?

Like many of the people who are likely criticizing Rodriguez, I’ve watched all of Michigan’s games this year — including the first three and a half quarters of Saturday night’s game. Nothing from that chunk of time (and that should be the most important chunk when making in-game personnel decisions) suggested that Forcier would get the job done in that situation.

Michigan State Beats Michigan 26-20 in OT

Expectations.

They can be used to help you set goals. They can also lead to disappointment.

Over the summer, no Michigan fan could have expected much better than an 8-4 season. But after a 4-0 start, many were secretly having BCS dreams.

After losing 26-20 in overtime to Michigan State on Saturday, the undefeated season is out the window, and suddenly Michigan is a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, at least in the standings.

But where will the Wolverines end up?

Well, the pessimistic preseason prediction of 6-6 had to be altered after the Notre Dame win. Of Michigan’s remaining seven games, they’ll probably be underdogs in four of them, heavily favored in two of them, and a small favorite in the other.

Purdue and certainly 1-AA Delaware State should be easy wins at home. Michigan gets Penn State and Ohio State at the Big House but both teams are better than the Wolverines this year. I’m still not completely sold on Iowa, although a night game at Kinnick certainly favors the Hawkeyes. That leaves road games at Illinois and Wisconsin, both winnable.

Illinois looks terrible right now and Ron Zook seems to be panicking. Wisconsin is undefeated but faces arguably its two toughest opponents of the season in the upcoming weeks (at Ohio State, vs Iowa). The Illini and Badgers are two teams that we’ll all know a lot more about when it comes time for Michigan to face them.

The point is, although we’re still not at the halfway point of the season, it’s looking like Michigan, record-wise, will finish about where many fans thought they would. And that’s a good thing. The key for the fan base is not to be disappointed with an 8-4 or even 7-5 record.

Remember, it’s a long climb from 3-9. The 4-0 start was great, but it didn’t call for a complete adjustment of preseason expectations.

Michigan-Michigan State Preview: Respect This Blog Post

With a different Big Ten school losing a player to suspension seemingly every week so far in this young season, it’s clear that the conference is trying to promote seven letters: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

And with an intense in-state rivalry game occurring tomorrow between Michigan and Michigan State, it’s a topic worth discussing. Although, I must admit, I had to laugh when I read this:

“It’s just the total lack of respect they have for our school in general. We’re always taught, as Spartans, to respect our opponent, and the lack of respect they have (for MSU) is just sickening. They think we’re beneath them.”

The person behind the quote is Michigan State defensive end Trevor Anderson. The “they” he refers to are, of course, the Michigan Wolverines.

Anderson is from Detroit, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he understands the rivalry even though he started his college career at Cincinnati and this is only his second season as a Spartan. In fact, given the inferiority complex exemplified by his quotes, it’s not even an assumption — it’s pretty clear he understands what Michigan-Michigan State is all about.

Anyway, what caught me eye about this particular quote was this: “We’re always taught, as Spartans, to respect our opponent.”

I know this happened in 2005, before Anderson, head coach Mark Dantonio, or perhaps any of the current MSU players were part of the team. But still.

Michigan Beats Indiana 36-33 in Wild Game in Ann Arbor

If you’ve watched the first few Michigan games this year, you had to expect this was coming at some point. You hoped it would come against Eastern Michigan or Delaware State, giving Michigan a far better chance to overcome it than if it happened against Ohio State or Penn State.

I’m talking about, of course, Michigan’s freshmen quarterbacks playing like freshmen quarterbacks.

It hadn’t happened in the first three weeks, but it happened today against Indiana. Yet Michigan overcame it and still won, in dramatic fashion, 36-33.

Now let’s be clear, Indiana isn’t Penn State. But they’re not Delaware State either. The Hoosiers, 3-0 themselves entering today’s contest, were certainly capable of taking advantage of Tate Forcier’s and Denard Robinson’s mistakes. In a way, they did. But as the score indicates, they didn’t really make Michigan pay.

So when all was said and done, after Forcier led Michigan on the second game-winning touchdown drive of his young career, the Wolverines’ long winning streaks against Indiana were extended. The Hoosiers haven’t won this match-up since 1987 and haven’t won in Ann Arbor since 1967, pre-Bo Schembechler days.

And when Donovan Warren wrestled the ball away from an IU receiver before they hit the ground — at least according to the referees, who reviewed the play and confirmed the suspicious call — to seal the victory, you almost thought Bo might be lending a helping hand from above (or, more likely, screaming at the officials to rule in Michigan’s favor).

Speaking of the legendary coach, today’s win wasn’t exactly 1979, when Bo watched from the sidelines as Michigan’s star wide receiver Anthony Carter hauled in a 45-yard touchdown on the final play of the game to beat the Hoosiers; not nearly as dramatic and certainly not as important.

But it was dramatic and it was important.

A loss would’ve been a bad, bad way to start the Big Ten season. Despite being undefeated, nobody really thought IU was much of a threat (Michigan was a 20-point favorite). Getting upset at home would’ve halted a lot of the momentum Michigan had built up so far this season.

Instead, the Wolverines maintained their positive vibes, coming back from four separate deficits and scoring with 2:29 remaining to go ahead for good. All of this despite a Forcier interception and a Robinson lost fumble.

Robinson made some poor decisions throwing the ball last week against Eastern Michigan, but has been an electrifying runner thus far. Forcier has been better than anyone could’ve anticipated, making smart decisions and never folding in pressure situations.

Today, however, they were both exposed as the freshmen they are, particular Forcier, who tried to flip it to someone wearing blue (not sure who exactly) as he was being tackled. To say the pass was ill-advised would be the understatement of the year. He only completed 11 of 21 passes.

Robinson ran the ball well once again and completed a long pass in the second quarter. However, on Michigan’s next possession he coughed one up into the hands of an IU lineman. At the time it seemed like a real momentum-shifter, as instead of Michigan guaranteeing itself a halftime lead, IU used the great field position to kick a go-ahead field goal.

Here’s the thing, though: Robinson’s fumble, while costly, was the only mistake I noticed from him all game. Forcier, despite the mistakes I’ve already mentioned, still completed more than 50% of his passes, threw for two touchdowns, and ran for another (as well as running in a two-point conversion). Oh, and there’s the game-winning drive I mentioned earlier.

In other words, even though they played more like true freshmen than experienced upperclassmen today, their play was still good enough to get Michigan a win. Credit the Michigan defense for holding Indiana to field goals when touchdowns would’ve likely put the game out of reach. Punts are ideal, but the “bend but don’t break” attitude is always good to see.

Next week, when Michigan travels to East Lansing to take on Michigan State, is going to be a huge test for this young group of Wolverines. Not only is it the first road game of the season, it’s against a rival in what should be a loud stadium.

Freshmen mistakes against the Spartans and I’m not sure Michigan will still be undefeated come next Saturday night.

Excessive Celebration or Excessive Penalization in College Football?

As you may have read, I was at the Michigan-Notre Dame game. Midway through the fourth quarter, immediately after ND had taken a one-point lead, the Irish scored a two-point conversion on a well-executed trick play. Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen faked a pass before handing off behind his back to running back Armando Allen. Clausen was taken to the turf by several Michigan defenders, but of course he didn’t have the ball. Allen ran untouched into the endzone.

Once it was clear that ND was going to score, I shifted my eyes back to Clausen. He was sitting on the grass, shaking his legs and arms as if he were riding a horse, or something. I don’t know. It was weird. But it was certainly celebratory and when I heard a referee announce an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Irish, I certainly thought it was for that.

It wasn’t until later that night that I learned Allen was the one who was penalized. I was surprised. Then I read about, and eventually saw a picture of, the act that drew the flag.

Allen had taken a step or two past the back of the endzone, looked up at the crowd, and put his pointer finger in front of his lips, the universal symbol for “be quiet.”

I highly doubt this was premeditated, and it only lasted for a second or two. Yet it drew a flag anyway. This is not the first questionable unsportsmanlike penalty call I have seen in this young season and certainly not the most egregious. It’s just one example from a game I attended.

Before every season, in addition to an updated rulebook, officials release a statement outlining certain calls they will be on the lookout for in the upcoming season.

One of the items the officials noted for the 2009 season was unsportsmanlike penalties. The NCAA Football Rules Committee included this in the statement it released in February:

“After reviewing a number of plays involving unsportsmanlike conduct, the committee is firm in its support of the unsportsmanlike conduct rules as they currently are written and officiated. Many of these fouls deal with players who inappropriately draw attention to themselves in a pre-meditated, excessive or prolonged manner.

I wholeheartedly disagree with that statement, which in my opinion is a gross exaggeration. To say that many of the unsportsmanlike penalties are assessed to players who act in the manner described is simply untrue.

Was Allen’s “crowd shush” premeditated? Excessive? Prolonged? Excessive is the only aspect of the rule he may have broken, but I don’t think he did.

Surely you recall Jake Locker, who just led the Washington Huskies to a win over USC last Saturday, scoring a last-second touchdown against BYU last year. He tossed the ball over his shoulder in excitement, drawing a flag and forcing his team to attempt a longer-than-usual extra point, which was blocked. Washington lost by one.

Then there’s this from the rulebook, which will also get you a flag: “An unopposed ball carrier obviously altering stride as he approaches the opponent’s goal line or diving into the end zone.” If I were writing the rules, I wouldn’t include that, but at least I understand it. It’s obvious taunting.

The thing is, in that Michigan-ND game I attended, Irish receiver Golden Tate, known for his showboating more so than his teammate, Allen, caught a pass near the sideline, shook his defender to the ground around the 10-yard line, and trotted sideways into the endzone, holding the ball away from his body with one hand. No flags were thrown.

Now I’m not complaining that Tate’s actions didn’t draw a penalty. But the rulebook states it should have been called.

Much like pass interference and holding, unsportsmanlike fouls are open to some interpretation by the refs. I have no problem with them exercising their judgment — they’re just not doing a good job of that.

I’ve heard the NFL referred to as the No Fun League. While the NFL rulebook might restrict players off the field, often fining them for seemingly harmless behavior, they are free to celebrate on the field far more than college players.

I’m not saying college players need to be pulling cellphones out of the goalposts. That’s premeditated and stupid. But they should be allowed to celebrate after they’ve made a good play. A chest pounding, a call for fans to get loud (or quiet down), a flexing of the bicep — these are natural displays of emotion, not penalty-worthy offenses.

So officials, please let the kids have some fun. If they aren’t delaying the game or taunting the opponent, what’s the harm in a little celebration?