Tag Archives: 2011 college football season

Michigan Wolverines Football Season Preview 2011

How stubborn is Brady Hoke? For the Michigan Wolverines that may be the most important question of the 2011 season.

At this point it’s not about whether a guy with a 47-50 record as a head coach deserved to be the next head coach at Michigan. History is filled with people who may have appeared to be undeserving of their opportunity but thrived once given it. Although his record today is still 47-50, there are no signs he is in over his head: His recruiting was solid. The coordinator hires were terrific. The star quarterback he inherited is still here.

But everyone wants to know how Hoke will utilize that star quarterback. Watching Denard Robinson and the Michigan offense last year was about as much fun as you can have watching football. I’m not exaggerating when I say it felt like Michigan could score on any given play. Many of Robinson’s runs were so good they were laughable. This allowed him, on several occasions, to give the defense the slightest perception he might run before tossing it to a receiver so wide open that anyone in the bar who said “I could have scored there” wasn’t wrong.

The architect behind all of that, Rich Rodriguez, is no longer in Ann Arbor. That’s not unfair nor is it necessarily sad; it’s just unfortunate. This offense probably fails to take a really big leap because of that fact, but I think it can still take a step forward.

I am basing that largely on a hope that Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges (who came with Hoke from San Diego State) will be more flexible than Rodriguez was when he first arrived. They have said all the right things but we really won’t know until Saturday afternoon and maybe not even until the next Saturday night.

People may doubt Robinson’s ability to be a consistently accurate thrower in an offense more pass-oriented than he’s accustomed to, but people doubted his ability to go from “running back who stands where the quarterback stands” to Heisman candidate and he did that in one offseason. The Spring Game may not have been encouraging but I’m willing to wait and see.

How much of this will we see from Denard this season? (Credit: John Peckham)

As for the defense, it will be better than last year. There won’t be true freshmen everywhere. Greg Robinson is no longer the defensive coordinator. (Let that sentence sink in for a moment.) The new coordinator is Greg Mattison, who last year at this time was preparing the Baltimore Ravens defense for another stellar season. Michigan went from a handle-less bicycle to a Porsche in that department. This still won’t be a great defense but unlike the offense there’s no concern about messing with a good thing. Michigan fans won’t want to cry this season when the other team has the ball.

Another thing this team has going for it is the schedule. The first five games are at home and include Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and San Diego State. Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State all come to Ann Arbor. That is why I will be optimistic and predict a 9-3 record for Michigan. Nebraska feels like a loss while Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa, and Ohio State are toss-ups. Ask me tomorrow and I might say 8-4, but you only get one prediction so 9-3 it is.

Not to get all defensive, but a new coaching staff makes predictions difficult. Nobody really knew what to expect three years ago and the same is true as we head into the 2011 season. All eyes will be on Robinson and the offense: How many designed runs will there be? How often will he be under center? Has his accuracy and decision-making improved?

And it all leads back to the coaching staff’s willingness to blend their personal schematic preferences with their personnel. Everyone knows Robinson’s biggest asset is his speed so it will be imperative that the coaches maximize that—even if they don’t maximize it to the same extent Rodriguez would have. Finding the right balance as Michigan tries to win this year and begin the transition to a new era is easier said than done, but Wolverine fans are ready to embrace it.

College Football 2011 Preview: Mailbag

With the 2011 college football season kicking off on Thursday (!!!), it is time to address some of the important issues surrounding the sport. And what better way to do that than through a mailbag? Unlike other internet mailbags you may have read, this one does not guarantee these are actual emails from actual readers. (Note: I plan on doing mailbags throughout the season so please email me at andrewjkahn@gmail.com with any questions/comments. Thank you!

I know there was some conference realignment this past offseason but I also know a lot of what I heard was going to happen never panned out. Now that the season is about to start, can you remind me which teams actually moved? I’m too lazy to look it up myself. Thanks.
–Darren, Waterbury, CT

I didn’t trust my memory enough to answer this question without double-checking. Here is the list of schools that will be playing in a different conference this season from the one they played in last season:
Nebraska (from the Big 12 to the Big Ten)
Boise State (from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West)
Colorado (from the Big 12 to the Pac 12)
Utah (from the Mountain West to the Pac 12)
BYU (from the Mountain West to an independent)

And that is how you get a Big Ten with 12 teams and a Big 12 with ten teams. Meanwhile, Boise joined a conference that included Utah, BYU, and TCU, only to see Utah and BYU bolt and learn it would have only one year with TCU (which will leave for the Big East starting next season). Nevada, Hawaii, and Fresno State will make the move from the WAC to the MWC next year but for Boise it looks like a lateral move, at least as far as gridiron competition.

Speaking of Boise…

Will an undefeated season put Boise St. in the BCS National Championship Game?
–Stephen, South Bend, IN

I hope so, Stephen. For the third straight season the Broncos open the season with a high-profile match-up: they travel to Atlanta to face No. 19 Georgia after facing Virginia Tech last year and Oregon in 2009.

Boise gets to host TCU after a hilarious schedule swap—the Broncos were supposed to inherit Utah’s schedule, which included a trip to Fort Worth, but after TCU announced they’d be leaving the Mountain West next season, the conference basically punished the Frogs by moving the game to the Smurf Turf. Classic.

Aside from Georgia and TCU, Boise’s schedule won’t impress voters. Nevada lost Colin Kaepernick and isn’t expected to be much of a threat. That being said, we have seen the non-BCS schools build up credibility and momentum and work their way into BCS bowls. Now that Boise has done that, the next step could be reaching the title game. Unfortunately for fans of “the little guys,” if two schools from BCS conferences are also undefeated, especially if they are ranked high in the preseason polls, I can’t assure you Boise won’t be on the outside looking in.

I heard something about a new unsportsmanlike conduct rule this year, where touchdowns may be discredited. Is this true?
–Paul, San Diego

Yes, it is. And it’s really dumb. This season, celebration penalties that happen during the play are considered live-ball infractions. For example, if a ball carrier dances from the five-yard line and crosses the goal, the touchdown is negated and a 15-yard penalty is assessed from the spot of the foul, meaning the offense’s next snap would be from the 20.

You know those crazy flips running backs sometimes do to cross the goal on a breakaway touchdown? If they leave their feet before the goal line the TD is coming off the board. Penalized celebrations that occur after TDs will continue to affect the PATs or kickoffs.

Listen, I watched “The U,” the 30 for 30 documentary on the Miami football program in the 1980’s, so I’m aware of the Canes’ on-field celebratory antics (perhaps a future doc can tackle the off-field celebratory antics of the Miami teams of the 2000’s) and why new rules had to be implemented. But the NCAA’s response over the years has been excessive.

So who wants to bet on when the first touchdown will be negated by this ridiculous rule? I’ll set the over-under as Saturday, Sep. 3rd at 10:00 pm EDT.

Will this year’s BCS National Champion once again come from the SEC?
–Brian, Chicago

Alabama and LSU check in at 2 and 4, respectively, in the preseason polls, with six other SEC teams joining them in the Top 25. In the first eight years of the BCS, the champions came from all six major conferences (with the SEC and Big 12 each having two champs). In the five years since, however, it has been all SEC: going backwards we had Auburn last year, Alabama before that, then Florida, LSU, and Florida.

But those are simply facts, not an answer to the question, so…I will say this year’s national champ will not come from the SEC. I realize the last two champions have managed to navigate the regular season without a loss, but that is a tremendous feat in the SEC and one I don’t think will be repeated this season.

An underrated perk of being the President of the United States. (Credit: Lawrence Jackson/The White House)

Which offense (pro style, spread, etc.) gives a college football team the best chance to win in 2011?
–Rob, Iowa City

Whatever you do, Rob, don’t listen to CBS analyst Gary Danielson, who has been proclaiming “the spread is dead” for years, despite the fact that many of the top offenses in the country employ some version of the spread attack. There is not one offense that will magically work better than others. The key is for a coach to recruit players that best fit within the system he wants to run. Under Rich Rodriguez, Michigan’s offense was terrible in his first year, middle of the pack in his second, and dynamite in his third. Now Michigan has a new coach with a different style—his willingness to adapt to his personnel will determine how good the offense is in 2011. And that leads us to our next question…

How will Brady Hoke mesh with Denard Robinson and the rest of the Michigan offense?
–Ryan, Astoria, New York

We really won’t know until the Wolverines take the field on Saturday against Western Michigan. Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have said all the right things in regards to utilizing Robinson’s strengths, but right now that is just talk. If Borges is stubborn, it could be a rough transition. I will address this issue in greater detail in my Michigan Wolverines season preview, which will be published tomorrow.

Yeah, college football is great with all its cheating and what have you.
–Griffin, New York

OK, this is not a question, just a sarcastic comment my friend made after I reminded him about my preference for college football over the NFL. There’s no denying it has been a depressing past few months for the NCAA. Cam Newton and Auburn hung a cloud over National Championship Game and the scandals continued into the offseason: Ohio State. Oregon. North Carolina. Miami. LSU.

LSU and Oregon play each other on Saturday night, a match-up of top-5 teams, yet it’s hard to keep up with all of the suspensions. Miami and Ohio State play on Sep. 17 in what should be dubbed The Lack of Institutional Control Bowl.

I equate it to baseball, in that in the past decade or so, anytime a previously non-power hitter slugged a lot of home runs we questioned whether he was on steroids. Anytime a college football team has a great season—particularly if they are a non-traditional power—it is not unfair to wonder whether they are cheating. And that’s sad. I don’t know the answer. People say the NCAA rulebook needs to be tossed out and rewritten from scratch. I agree, though I don’t even know what that means.

That being said, when you flip on the television to watch your first game of the 2011 season, whether it be Thursday night or Saturday afternoon, hopefully those feelings will go away.

Hey, Andrew, can you believe I still have a job? My pal Gene and I sure can’t!
–E. Gordon, Columbus, OH

(Shaking head.)

And again, please email me with any questions/comments for future mailbags!

National Signing Day: College Football Recruits Choose Schools

I have never followed recruiting too closely. I understand how important it is in college athletics, but I’d rather let others worry about the performance of high school athletes. I start paying attention once they suit up for their college teams.

The press conferences and tables with hats trouble me, and I’d like to think that if I were a star high school football player I wouldn’t make such a spectacle of my announcement. But maybe I would. It’s hard to blame the kids; after all, it’s the media that has made recruiting such a big deal.

Wednesday was National Signing Day, the first day high school football players can sign a letter of intent to attend a particular college. Across the country, top recruits were in high school gymnasiums announcing their decisions, doing interviews with national television networks, basking in the spotlight. Kevin Jones, the No. 1 recruit in 2001, recently told ESPN the Magazine: “On the day of my press conference, I still hadn’t decided between Virginia Tech and PSU. As I sat down in front of everybody, I had both jerseys with me. I pulled the Penn State jersey out of a bag and said, ‘I will…not be attending Penn State.’ Then I ripped off my sweater and had a Mike Vick jersey on underneath. The entire room was flabbergasted.” Undoubtedly there were players who pulled similar stunts on Wednesday.

The consensus No. 1 player this year, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney from South Carolina, did not send in his letter of intent on Signing Day. Clowney does not know where he wants to attend college, which is perfectly understandable. It’s a critically important decision, and while lesser recruits might have to worry about a school running out of open scholarships if they don’t sign on the first day, that is certainly not the case with Clowney. He will be welcomed by the school of his choice whenever he decides.

Clowney announced he would be delaying his announcement until February 14th, his birthday. In a Signing Day interview on ESPNU, he was asked what else he needed to find out before he makes his decision. “Nothing really, just sitting back until the 14th, waiting,” Clowney said, which could imply that he has already made his decision. But here were the next two questions and his responses:

Do you know in your head what you’re going to do?

“Not really.”

When are you going to know?

“Probably like two days before. I’ve got to talk to my parents about it.”

The last day to sign a letter of intent is April 1st. So why the self-imposed deadline? Clowney has had months to think about his decision and he’s still unsure, so what makes him think he’ll know in a couple of weeks? I hope this isn’t true, but perhaps he is delaying his announcement to keep the spotlight on himself for a little longer. Instead of sharing headlines with the rest of the recruits, he can have his own day in the sun.

In 2008, there was the deeply troubling story of the player from Nevada who held a press conference at his high school to announce he was attending Cal. The only problem was that Cal had not recruited him. Neither had any of the other schools he was supposedly considering. The kid had faked the entire thing. That same year, the nation’s top recruit, Terrelle Pryor, held a press conference on Signing Day simply to say he had not made a decision.

The “look at me” attitude and inflated egos are disturbing. I have no problem bashing LeBron James for such behavior, but I’m hesitant to do the same with high school kids. Instead I wonder where the adults are. I question the media that airs the press conferences. Accepting a scholarship offer is a huge deal and a day that should be celebrated by the athletes, but the way in which it is done needs to change.