Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Maize n Brew 2006 Season Preview, Part III of XIII: Notre Dame

Finally. It's done. Part III of the Maize n Brew Season Preview 2006. If you've been following it, I've already gone over Michigan's first two opponents, Vanderbilt and Central Michigan. Both are home games. Both are home wins barring the unforseen. Now comes Michigan's first true test of the season, its first road game.

Ever since the 1997 National Championship Michig
an has been horrendous opening on the road. I was at their 2001 melt down in Seattle and their 2002 collapse in South Bend. I've watched in horror as seemingly great Michigan teams come unglued on the road. Under Carr, since 1997 Michigan is 1-7 in road openers. That's not good. It needs to change. And it may well this year.

Alright Domers. It's your turn. Maize n Brew takes aim at the 2006 edition of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. If you offend easily, go elsewhere. Cheap jokes. Baseless assumptions. I'll be as fair as I can, but, well, you're not gonna like this....


An Error Prone & Excessively Verbose Overview of:

The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Game
University of Michigan v. University of Notre Dame
Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
Date: September 16, 2006
Game Time: 3:30pm, EST
Game #: 3
TV: NBC
Radio: WOMC-FM and CKLW-AM

The Opposition
University: University of Notre Dame
Location: South Bend, Indiana
Team Name: Fighting Irish
Facility: Notre Dame Stadium (Cap. 80,795)
Conference: Independent
Number of National Championships: 12 (1924, 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1953, 1966, 1973, 1977, 1988)
First Season of Football: 1887 (0-3)
Last Season: 2005 (9-3)
Head Coach: Charlie Weis (2nd year)
Versus Michigan All-Time: 14-18-1
Last Meeting Versus Michigan: 2005 in Ann Arbor. Michigan lost 10-17.

A Brief History of The University of Notre Dame:

The school was founded in 1842 by the Rev. Edward Sorin and six fellow members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. The State of Indiana granted Notre Dame its charter and land grant in 1844. Today Notre Dame has grown into the premier Roman Catholic university in the United States. It consistently ranks among the best academic institutions in the country and maintains an endowment of over $3.5 BILLION. Every incoming freshman is apparently greeted with a fruit basket and a toilet made out of gold.

The true meaning of "Golden Domer"

Notre Dame's campus is truly all there is in South Bend, Indiana, but it's worth the trip to see. The administration at ND has made sure that the endowment gets put to good use. The campus is nestled in between two lakes. Manicured grass and parks are everywhere. It's a spa-like haven in a state who's only purpose seems to be ferrying people between Illinois and Ohio.

What does it say about the Irish, my people, that they'd put a gorgeous country club in the middle of BFE Indiana. sheesh...

Football History

Echoes. Horsemen. Leprechauns. Etc... Notre Dame is one of, if not the, most storied college football team in the nation. Hordes of All-Americans, scores of national championships, and Lou Holtz. Even the populace of sub-Saharan Africa knows who/what Notre Dame is. Maybe not the people in Mongolia.

Not Notre Dame Fans

So for you Mongolians, Notre Dame started playing football in 1887. Despite their first season (0-3), Notre Dame decided to stick it out. Then in 1918, legendary coach Knute Rockne took over the coaching duties at Notre Dame and led the Irish to 6 National Championships and a record of 105 wins, 12 losses, and 5 ties. Rockne's life and career ended far too soon, when he was killed in a plane crash in Kansas in 1930. His .881 winning percentage is the highest in college football history.

After Rockne, Frank Leahy led the Irish to a record of 87-11-9 and four National Championships. Leahy had a streak of 39 games without a loss (37-0-2) and six undefeated seasons. Ara Parseghian tacked on two more national championships and Lou Holtz added another in 1988. No one likes Lou Holtz.

Last Season: 2005 (9-3)

OMG! ND BITMFH! Echoes awoken. Horsemen riding. Charlie Weis = Messiah. Brady Quinn best QB ever!

Sarcasm aside, things went well for Notre Dame in 2005. Despite entering the season unranked and with a new coach, Notre Dame opened the season with a convincing trouncing of #23 ranked Pitt in Pittsburgh. The next week they topped Michigan 17-10 in a mistake filled contest that initiated the Irish’s climb back into the top of the rankings and began Michigan’s catastrophic slide out of them. Karma being what it is, the Irish promptly dropped an overtime heartbreaker to Michigan State the next weekend. Pull out a game you shouldn’t, then lose one you never should’ve. The college football Gods do funny (mean) things.

Next, the Irish visited Seattle and their former (thouroughly underrated recruiter yet accurately described horrendous) football coach Ty Willingham. Using the talent Ty recruited far better than Ty could, Weis tied the Dawgs to a tree and the Irish gave Washington the Old Yeller treatment. They followed up the next week with a pounding of a miserable Purdue team.

No Ma. Yeller's My Dog.

Then came USC. The throw. The Push. The loss. I was there. My wife was screaming things that would've made a Marine go to confessional. Hell, I was even pulling for the Irish. ND could’ve won. ND should've won. But the Irish pass defense gave up a critical fourth down conversion and eventually USC spun over the goal-line. Despite the loss, Notre dame reeled off five straight wins to finish the season and garner a Fiesta Bowl Bid against Ohio State.

Notre Dame got pounded. The Irish managed just 62 rushing yards, gave up five sacks, and allowed 34 points. While the score was 34-20, it wasn’t that close.

What gets lost in the shuffle from last year's 9-3 and echo awakening is the fact the Irish only played 3 teams with winning records. Pittsburgh (5-6), Michigan State (5-6), Washington (2-9), Stanford (5-6), Purdue (5-6), Tennessee (5-6), BYU (6-6), and Syracuse (1-10). The only teams Notre Dame beat with a winning record were a Michigan team that posted its worst record in 20 years and Navy.

Yes, Notre Dame played USC to the final gun. Kudos. But Notre Dame's defense was no where near as good as its offense. While Samarjzcwqrpmrtghsda had a great year, I'm not buying him as a priemer receiver. 1 TD and barely 100 yards against Michigan and Ohio State combined doesn't convince me he's gonna star on Sundays.

But enough of my negativity. On with the preview.

What Went Right:

Almost everything. Notre Dame emerged from a 6-5 season to be a dark horse BCS team. They beat Michigan at Michigan Stadium. They returned to the national rankings. They found offense where there was none. Several players had break out years, specifically Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija. Coach Weis came in ESPN’s favorite coach to talk about, and turned out to be a pretty good head football coach.

Good Luck. Michigan coughs up the ball twice in the end zone. Not that I’m bitter.

Brady Quinn. Quinn quickly became the Golden Boy of the Golden Dome. He became the Irish’s all time leader in passing yards, threw for 32 TDs with only 7 INTs, collected almost 4,000 yards passing, and posted a 65% completion percentage. He’s now on everyone’s Heisman short list, and is expected to be this years #1 pick in the NFL draft.

Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija a literally appeared out of nowhere to set the school’s all-time receiving TD record with 15. He collected 70 passes and racked up over 1,200 receiving yards too. Not bad for a guy who only had 24 total receptions and no TDs in his first two years. He finished a first team All-American.

Weis. He took over ND during year four of the school’s transition from an option team to a pro-style passing team, and turned a low round draft choice into next year’s draft poster boy. Great schemer and play caller he guided ND to their best record since Willingham led ND to a 10-2 record in 2002. Completely over exposed by the national media, he used every second of it to his advantage. The majority of America now believes touching Weis’ frontal buttocks cures cancer and gives the toucher the ability to fly.

A Soft Schedule. Going into the year the Irish looked to have a somewhat difficult schedule. It didn't turn out that way. The winning percentage of the teams on their fixed schedule was .484%.

What Went Wrong:

Pass Defense? Not so much. Sure the Irish held Michigan to 10 points and almost beat USC, but Notre Dame’s schedule did their defense a lot of favors. During their five game win streak the Irish only faced one team that finished with a winning record (though BYU was 6-6). The Irish gave up 44 points to MSU, 28 to Purdue, 34 to USC, 31 to Stanford, and 34 to OSU. The Irish seemed to win games in spite of their pass defense. They held Stanford to –11 rushing yards but gave up 347 in the air and almost cost themselves the game. Even during their pasting of Washington the Irish secondary gave up 408 yards. The final insult came against OSU when long bombs, Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes torched the Irish secondary.

Bad Luck. Tom Zbikowski, the Irish staunchest defender in 2005, actually punched the football out of Leinart’s hands with less than twenty seconds left during the USC loss. Instead of getting the ball back, the ball fired out of bounds and USC retained possession, the rest you know. The Irish massively outgained MSU, yet still dropped their home opener to the Spartans.

Drawing Ohio State in a Bowl game. Do I need to expand on this?

What to Look For In 2006:

This is a National Championship caliber team on the offensive side of the ball (according to the pundits). Weis is an excellent offensive coach. Anything less than a National Championship will be seen as a failure in South Bend. Scoreboard operators will be busy when Notre Dame comes calling. However, they're gonna be busy when the Irish defense is on the field too.

Quinn will likely come in second to Adrian Peterson in the Heisman voting. The Domers at first glance seem to have enough offensive talent to run the table, but there are kinks in their armour. The absense of a legit TE threat and the question of whether Rhema McKnight is fully recovered from the injury that robbed him of the najority of last season. There is also some instability at right tackle which could undermind Quinn's health.

The big question mark will be their defense. Can a team that gave up 31 and 34 points in its last two games (one of which was against Stanford) hold up its end of the bargain? Will ND's slow and undersized corners grow two inches and become lightning fast? There is a lot of talent and speed in this year's recruiting class, and a lot of DBs. If the Irish can find a Tight End and a Corner or two, they may live up to the hype.

Without them, the ony echoes awoken in South Bend will be the ones that reverberated off of Sorin and Pangborn when Ty's seasons didn't live up to expectations.

Returning Starters Offense: 7
Returning Starters Defense: 9

Coaching:

Charlie Weis came to Notre Dame before last season when Ty Willingham got the axe. He stepped into a decent situation, and turned it into a great situation. He turned Brady Quinn into a Heisman candidate. He increased ND's points per game by 13 points (36.7 in 2005 after only putting up 24.1 points a game in 2004). Its hard to critize a man with three Super Bowl rings and was Tom Brady's mentor in new England, but I'll do it anyway.

As I've already pointed out, Weis benefitted from an easy schedule and a third year QB. While he can recruit and orchestrate an offense, it is apparent from last year that defense isn't his specialty.

Further, one year does not a career make as his predecessor quickly found out. Willingham guided the Irish to a better record and a similar bowl crushing in year one, then collapsed. Thankfully he didn't have a long term contract. In the highly unlikely event Weis goes in the tank, you're stuck with him. (If so, I can't wait for the t-shirts with Weis' face and the caption "I love butter")

God I need Photoshop.

The key's will be Weis years three and four, when we begin to see his personel take over the starting positions. They will also be indicative of his ability to adapt to the abilities of college level players (re: non-patsy d1 schools). While Weis posted impressive numbers against last year's schedule, he was the first coach to lose his first two home games since Frank Hering in 1896 (HT: Phil Steele).

The first half of this year's schedule is brutal for ND. Even ND's road opener will be much tougher than it should be. Notre Dame isn't going to surprise people this year. This year they get to wear the target that a Fiesta Bowl bid and a boat load of hype entails. I think Charlie will do fine, but it ain't going to go as smoothly this year.

OFFENSE

Record setting last year. This year they lose key cogs in Stovall and Fasano. However, a good stable of running backs mathced with a Heisman candidate points to good things for the Irish offense. Or do they....

QB:


Brady Quinn is a fourth year starter. Last year he posted one of the best seasons for a Notre Dame quarterback ever. 32 TDs, 3919 passing yards, and a 64.9 completion percentage. Quinn became the ND all-time leader in TD passes in a single season, the all-time leader in career passing yards, and the all-time single season passing leader. Not bad.

Actually, I'm sold on the guy. I think he probably is one of the best, if not the best quarterback in college football this year. However, he's going to find things a lot tougher this year. His safety valve TE Fasano is gone. Mo Stovall is playing on Sundays too. Those losses are going to be tougher for Quinn than people give credit for.

Quinn is not the most mobile guy in the world either. A tougher schedule will likely result in him seeing a lot more pressure. In case you forgot, Quinn spent a lot of time on his back against Ohio State. The offensive line will have to step up against a tougher set of pass rushers (PSU linebackers for instance), or Quinn will see his sack total rise considerably from last year's 21 plantings.

Which brings us to the major concern at quarterback. After Quinn there is no depth. Sophomore David Wolke only threw 3 passes last year and had one of them picked. After Wolke is highly rated redshirt freshman Evan Sharpley who will get to back up Jimmy Clausen next year (or transfer). Granted Wolke's going into his third year in a pro-style system, but his lack of game experience is scary.

Like Michigan, if Notre Dame's starter goes down, they're in trouble.

RBs:

While they're not going going to overwhelm you, this is an area where I'm sold on the Irish's depth. Junior Darius Walker is a true plowhorse. A little under 1,200 yards rushing, 351 receiving, 9 TD on the ground and 2 in the air. He's got some speed and is capable of running you over. His back-up Travis Thomas (if he can hold onto the ball) is another solid running back. Adding to the mix is plasma-hot recruit James Aldridge who enrolled early (like Carlos Brown at Michigan) and has done nothing but impress. Alridge is the one who scares me the most out of this backfield. Great cutter and sickeningly fast. Looking at him, possible Eddie George clone. But he's gonna need a year.

What is surprising is that in the Irish high-octane offense none of the Irish RB's had better years. Cracking the 1,000 yard mark is nice, but when the offense is scoring 36 points a game you expect to see a little more production from your running game. Notre Dame's 147 rushing yards a game would've ranked them 9th in the Big Ten, right behind Illinois (148/game [in conference]). That type of production is more indicative of a 7-5 season than a 9-3 one. If it's not setting off warning bells in Chuckles McEatsalot's head, something's wrong in South Bend.

Outgained your ass in 2005.

In the running game's defense, Walker did score all three ND touchdowns against Ohio State and put up 90 yards at 5.6 ypc. If he duplicates that type of performance for the year, my critisisms are unfounded. He'll have to do that for the offense to be successful. Without a legit play action and running threat, this offense becomes one dimensional. For the record I think the running game will be fine, but there isn't a game breaker immediately in the backfield. They exist to keep pressure off of Quinn.

WR/TEs:

As mentioned previously Jeff Samardzija is pretty good. But so were Anthony Fasano and Maruice Stovall. Stovall finished second on the team in receptions (69) and receiving TDs (11). Together with Samardzija, they formed the first Irish duo to crack 1,000 yards receving in a single season. Critical outlet Anthony Fasano was third with 47 and 2, racking up 576 yards. Both he and Stovall are now in the NFL. The fourth leading Irish receiver was Darius Walker. Fifth was now departed senior Matt Shelton who only caught 28 passes and no TDs. Of the top five pass catchers only Samardzija returns as a WR. Call me nuts, but there ain't a lot of depth based on that list.

Taking Stovall's place opposite Samaradzija will be Senior Rhema McKinght. McKnight blew out his knee against Michigan and missed the rest of the season. However, prior to his injury, he was a decent receiver posting back to back 40+ reception campaigns as a sophomore and junior. However, McKnight has only 7 career TD catches and only one catch over 50 yards. Knee injuries don't make people faster, so we'll have to see how he comes back. After him, questions abound. Sophomore David Grimes got a mention in the spring prospectus but that's it. The 2006 class didn't include any 4star talent at WR, and only DJ Hord rates as a 4* from the 2005 class but didn't catch a ball last year. If McKnight returns to full strength, the Irish have two good pass catchers. But that's it. Someone's going to have to step up, and looking at the roster its unclear who it will be.

The Tight End position is where the Irish will feel the graduation hit the worst. Fifth year senior Marcus Freeman and senior John Carlson are ND's returning options. Only Carlson caught a pass last year (7rec/1TD). Both will likely lose their starting job mid season to Bond movie super villian Konrad Reuland. He looks the bad guy in Tomorrow Never Dies. Reuland was the #1 rated TE recruit in the country, and at 6'6" - 240, looks to be a star in the making. Still, he'll need a year's seasoning and a lot of work learning to block before he's ready to inherit Fasano's throne.

First I jam zis oonder your eyelids Mr. Bond.
Zen I run a post pattern on your ass.

Past the big two, Notre Dame is short on experience and game ready talent at these crucial positions.

OL:

The line allowed 21 sacks last year against a no-so-tough schedule. This year they're a little older and stronger. Senior John Sullivan returns at center. While not a star, he a serviceable center who palyed well in 2005. The Irish really don't have anyone behind him. The guards will be seniors Dan Santucci and right guard Bob Morton. Santucci is the better of the two. Morton has also been used at Center extensively and served as Sullivan's backup center during Spring practice. That could be a role he fills all year long. If so, sophomore Paul Duncan will have the chance to step into one of the guard spots. Duncan got in five game last year and has the look of a solid prospect. As at center, there is not a lot of depth at guard.

At tackle mamoth Ryan Harris will try to make an All-American push. He'll be protecting Quinn's blind side and is going into his fourth year as a starter. The right tackle position is a question mark. Fifth-year senior Brian Mattes will likely be the initial starter despite injury concerns. Mattes has been the fill in for injuries during his career at ND, so I'm not betting the farm he'll be anything more than passable at RT. Sophomore Michael Turkovich will back him up, as will Super Recruit Sam Young who should be starting by mid season. One good tackle and a set of question marks. There is young, undeveloped talent at Tackle, but nothing seasoned enough to quiet any concerns.

The Irish running game was okay in 2005. Looking at the Irish's front five, it'll be okay again in 2006. The left side of the line will be fine, but the right side could cause some trouble. In addition, if Harris goes down the whole line could be thrown into chaos. This is a good line, but its not deep. Match that with a tougher set of opponents and Quinn is going to have a lot more company in his backfield.

DEFENSE

Bend but don't break. That has to be the motto for this group. Last year the Irish gave up its highest ypc in five years, with opponents cashing in at 3.9 per carry. They also allowed 265 yards in the air per game. Take the Syracuse and Navy games out of the equation and it looks even worse. For Notre Dame to contend for a National Title, they're going to have to get considerably more out of their defense this year.

DL:

Not the most overwhelming group last year. The Irish return most of their Defensive Line. Senior DE Victor Abiamiri is the horse of the group. He hit 48 tackles, 8 sacks and 7 tackles for loss last year. Opposite him junior Ronald Talley logged the most minutes last year, posting 23 tackles and a sack. There is some depth at DE with seniors Justin Brown and Chris Frome both having seen significant time last year. Abiamiri will be the pass rush key. If he can take on the double teams that will be coming his way the Irish are in business. If not, unless Talley develops into a dominant pass rusher, teams will have a lot of time to throw the ball.

At the DT/NG positions the Domers are in real good shape. Senior Derek Landri is entering his fourth year as a starter and Junior Trevor Laws is going into his third season as a starter. Of the two, Landri should get the most attention. Landri had 8 tackles for loss and three sacks last year. He's a decent run stuffer and at close to 300 lbs looks to be a prototypical DT. Laws on the other hand is a little undersized at 260. He did start every game last year and posted 33 tackles. After the starters, ND has a pair of sophmores and highly touted Paddy Mullen to back them up.

The DL is the sturdiest point in the Irish defense. There's a veteran presence on the line this year and some skill from the left side. However, mobile QBs gave the Irish some trouble. So did decent lines. They only got to OSU once, Michigan State once and Michigan twice. The majority of the Irish sacks book-ended their season (5 versus Pitt and 7 against Stanford). The line will be good. They'll be responsible for stopping the run and the pass this year. Because if the ball or the abll carrier get to the next level, it could get dicey.

LBs:

This is where the Irish are the most vulernable. The Irish changed their linebacking system when Weis came to town and are now in year two of the switch. Making things tougher, graduation cost them their two top defensive tacklers WSLB Brandon Hoyte (92tkl/6sk/10.5tfl) and MLB Corey Mays (80tkl/5sk/12.5tfl). The top LB remaining is Junior Maurice Crum who posted 57 tackles last year. Crum will likely slide into the MLB, but injuries during spring practice limited his reps.

The replacements at WSLB and SSLB are big question marks, whose answers come in the form of junior and senior "special teams standouts". These things tell me, 1) he wasn't good enough to take the starting job from the guy that was there, 2) he's got a motor but not the skill, and 3) they don't have anyone else to fill the hole with. Junior Joe Brockington is expected to take the WSLB slot after two years tracking down kick-offs. Brockington is fast (4.56 speed), but only played 11 minutes last year. Two other Senior "special teams standouts" Nick Borseti and Mitchell Thomas have a shot to play. Touted incoming freshman Toryan Smith and Morrice Richardson will also get looks in the fall.

Not That Kind of Special Teams Standout

This is not a deep group. Aside from Crum, no one has seen significant playing time. Those who have got banged up in spring practice. Anthony Vernaglia, a converted safety and Vanilla Ice look-a-like, saw some time at LB and could/should take over one of the open slots. The first few games will likely mean a lot of shuffling of at LB as the D coaches try to figure out who's going to take over. Inexperience will cost the Irish some first downs. So will having a bunch of old, slow seniors clogging up your depth chart. Other than Crum, no one logged over 15 minutes of playing time last year. Other than Crum no one's ever started a college game at LB. Brockington is your second leading returning tackler at LB. He had nine last year.

Tight Ends will love this group. So will linemen who get past the line. The middle of the field is going to cause the Irish more than indigestion.

S/DBs:

Hopefully they're a year older and a year wiser. I'm betting not. The stats say the Irish only gave up 265 yards a game passing last year. The stats lie. Against Syracuse and Navy, the Irish only had to defend 13 passes. In both games combined. Take out those two games and there's a different picture. In games where the pass was actually used, the Irish gave up 302 passing yards a contest. That's not so good.

One argument to defend this group is that the teams they played were behind, and had to throw to keep up. Plausible. My problem is that the teams doing the throwing shouldn't have been able to do it that well against a good defense. Big passing days were common, win or lose. When matched up against the Irish secondary bad teams did well, good teams did better.

What's also no so good for the Irish is the group that gave up all those yards is returning, as a whole. When we last saw these guys they were watching Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn blow past them. And it wasn't just OSU that got to ND. USC, MSU, Washington, Stanford, BYU, and Purdue all put up over 300 yards on the Irish secondary. Yeah, yeah. They won most of those games. They should've won the USC game. Bull. When the Irish needed a crucial pass stop, they blew it. Just like Michigan's run defense last year, ND's pass defense couldn't be counted on.

Seniors Ambrose Wooden, Tom Zbikowski, Mike Richardson, and Chinedum Ndukwe all return. The best players back there are Zbikowski and Wooden. Zbikowski hits hard and has a nose for the ball, Wooden got thrown at a lot and responded well. Still, these guys gave up a lot of yards. And without much help at linebacker they're going to see a lot of trouble coming their way.

There is hope on the horizon. 4* DBs Darrin Walls and Raeshon McNeil come in as freshman and will likely be seeing significant playing time if their play lives up to their pedigree. Walls has the quick feet and that extra catchup gear that all corners must have. McNeil doesn't, but knows his position and hits like a freight train. He'll likely move to safety. Even with some help, only Junior Leo Ferrine saw any time last year. If a corner plays poorly or goes down there's little behind him. Ferrine will be the primary backup.

Nothing's changed in the Irish secondary. Last year's results don't lead me to believe that's a good thing for Notre Dame.

P/K/ST:

Finally graduated is DJ Fitzpatrick. Ole' Fitz was quite the ND legend. He kicked and punted (aren't those the same thing?). Now Geoff Price will likely take over the punting duties while Carl Gioia (I'd like to buy a vowel) will probably handle the kick-off and FG job. Carl will likely be pushed by touted incoming freshman kicker Ryan Burkhart. Zbikowski will claim the punt return duties again this year (2TDs in 2005) and David Grimes will handle the kick off returns (0 TDs in 2005).

If Notre Dame Was a Country it Would Be: Germany. A power generations ago. A power now. Got the crap bombed out of it at one point, now has rebuilt itself into a power. Fully capable of waking up pissed and taking over half the planet before you've had your english muffin. It's citizens can be fiecely nationalistic and ignore global realities from time to time, but overall a nice group. While never quite as important as it thinks it is, its not a country to trifle with.

The Outlook:

Notre Dame had a great run last year. This year their a little short on defense, and long on schedule strength. The first half of their schedule is BRUTAL. ACC opener at Georgia Tech. Four straight Big 11 Ten teams: Penn State and Michigan at home, MSU away, then Purdue at home. The middle part of the season provides some relief, but Navy's got the talent to pull an upset and traveling to So-Cal is going to be difficult. Especially when Booty's had a full season to get his "ass" in gear. (har har)

Best Case Scenario:

The Irish go undefeated, beating undefeated OSU by flipping their score from last year. Echoes awoken! Horsemen riding! Charlie Weis = Messiah! Brady Quinn best QB ever!

If that's the case, Quinn walks away with the Heisman right after braining AJ Hawk for boning his sister and cracking his ribs during the Fiesta Bowl. Wies will immediately be cannonized and his picture will be inserted in the palm of the Touchdown Jesus. This will also mean that Notre Dame's defense vastly exceeded expectations and a third receiver rose from the shadows to lift the Irish.

Worst Case Scenario:

The right side of the OL collapses, no third receiver is found, and the LBs and secondary are worse than I think. The Irish open 0-3. Don't laugh. While highly unlikely, it is possible. Georgia Tech could surprise the Irish. Its gonna be hot down there and the Tech faithful will be out for blood. Then home visits by PSU and Michigan result in losses. Both of those games could go against the Irish even in Notre Dame Stadium. If that happens it means the worst has been confirmed. Then the ominus trip to East Lansing could put the Irish in a 0-4 hole. ND goes on to lose to Navy and USC, finishing 6-6 before going to a bowl. Again highly unlikely, but this is the worst case scenario.

Most Likely:

9-3 reg, 10-3 with a bowl. I'm guessing ND will split its Big 11 Ten schedule. MSU has pig blapped ND the last few years, and with Santon a senior, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Then its between PSU and Michigan for the other loss. PSU is the more likely choice because they're much more an unknown commodity with a new (strong armed) QB. But I'm going with Michigan to put an end to this road loss nonsense. Finally, the trip to LA will be too much for the Irish as sun and pale skin don't mesh. USC's getting a tad overlooked with Bush/White/Leinart all leaving. Pete Carroll hasn't retired and there's still "ass"-loads of talent out there.

The Irish will still go to a good bowl. I predict they'll win it and finish off the season 10-3.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday's Hearsay and Conjecture

Up to my eyeballs in work and attempting to get my Notre Dame preview done I neglected my blogging duties yesterday. So be it. I should have Notre Dame and Wisconsin done this weekend. Then (hopefully) the Minnesota and Michigan State previews should follow suit.

A quick look around the sphere:

Do You Have What It Takes?

The Detroit News put together a 3 pros/3 cons on why Michigan and Michigan State will/will not win the Big Ten. Nothing earth shattering, but worth a read on a slow friday.

I Hate You

Brian is passing the off season time by counting down the 50 Loathsome People In Sports. The first installment is 50-41. High quality.

A Quick Look At The Offensive Line, Today and Tomorrow

GBW has a brief look at the depth chart for this year's O-line and a look at who we're pursuing.

And He's Doing This With One Hip

Floyd Landis is only 30 seconds behind the leaders at the Tour de France. Why is this a big deal? Re-read the caption above. Its also a big deal because two stages ago he basically collapsed, going from a 2 minute lead at the start and finishing the stage down over 8 minutes. 8 minutes in ANY race is a lot of time and is generally seen as an insurmountable time period.

Landis, who will have one of his hips replaced after the Tour, said screw it and went for broke. He absolutely dominated the Tour's 17th stage, a horrific mountanous climb through the Alps where the inclines are steep enough that if you rolled a penny down the slope, by the time it hit the bottom it would've broken the sound barrier. He made back nearly every second he lost and managed not only to earn the respect of the cycling French, but have his performance dubbed "The greatest stage I have ever followed" by the director of the Tour.

Landis now stands ready to retake the lead during Saturday's time trials, a stage where he is widely considered to be significantly faster than his main rivals. If he takes the time trials, barring some unforseen accident, Landis could pedal away with the 8th straight American victory in Le Tour.

That's pretty impressive. But no where near as impressive as doing all that with one functional hip.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Alex Legion Re-Commits to Michigan.

All of a Sudden Michigan Has a Top Rate 2007 Class

Alex Legion is back. Not back for the time being, back for good. The 6'5", 200 lbs shooting guard that decommitted from Michigan in April, looked around and decided that the grass was not greener on the other side. He's told everyone he'll sign his national letter of intent to play at Michigan in November when the early signing period begins.

Legion seems to mean it. He told the Free Press that he would not talk to any other colleges and would not take any other official visits. My gut tells me he's here to stay. Amaker stayed hot on Legion's trail after he decommitted and helped to make the Detroit native see he would be happier in Ann Arbor. His persistence paid off.

"I had the best relationship with coach Amaker of all coaches I dealt with," Legion told the news services. Legion also has the benefit of knowing he can walk onto campus and have a starting job waiting for him. Of the players on the (potential) 2007 roster, only Manny Harris can equal Legion's skill level.

Brian summed it up best: What The Hell?

Months ago
Alex Legion was the crown jewel of Tommy Amaker's 2007 recruiting class. Then out of nowhere, Legion bolted. Many things were written of Amaker following his decommit. Some (most) of them were negative. Most of these things seemed justified in the following weeks. Random people were offered scholarships. The wheels had come off the wagon and lots of people, including me, were calling for Tommy's job. Then Manny Harris chose Michigan. And now, so has Alex Legion. Again.

Before decommitting Legion was a standout ball player at Detroit Country Day. He averaged 25 points, six rebounds, 3.5 steals and 3.5 assists a game and caught the eye of every scout in the country. He was named First Team All State Class B as a sophomore and junior. Even so, Legion decided to transfer from DCD to Oak Hill in Virginia. Legion said he wanted to get away from all the advice and make some decisions on his own. Following his decommit I wrote the following:

The fact that Legion is transferring to Oak Hill to get away from it all is a good sign for him personally. I wish him luck in his personal voyage to assert himself.

It seems he has.

Looking at the 2007 roster, here's how it fills out:

Starters
PG Jerret Smith Jr.
G Manny Harris Fr.
F DeShawn Sims Sr.
W Alex Legion Sr.
F/C Ekpe Udoh So.

Bench
PG Kelvin Grady Fr.
W Jevohn Shepherd Jr.
F Kendric Price Jr.
W Ron Coleman Sr.
G Alex Brzozowicz Sr.
F Phil DeVries Jr.
PG Reed Baker So.
C Zach Gibson So.
G K'Len Morris So.
SF Anthony Wright So.

With only one pure center on the team in Zach Gibson, a big man becomes a critical need. However, Legion's commitment used up our final 2007 scholarship. Unless Tommy plans to yank the rug out from under Baker or Gibson, were stuck. The Diag reports Michigan can borrow a scholarship against its 2008 class, but I'm not exactly sure how that works.

Further complicating matters is the outstanding offer to three star Flint, Michigan PG Laval Lucas-Perry, who is expected to name his college choice at a 11 am press conference today. After the Legion commitment, I'd be shocked if he chose Michigan. But the way things are going, who knows.

Michigan was on life support at the end of June. All of a sudden new strength and life has been breathed back into the program. Maybe the Free Press was right. They are now. Still, we've had good recruits before. It's time for Tommy to coach this team into the tournament.

Random Basketball Knowledge

Jevohn Shepherd has been named to the Canadian Men's Basketball National Team. University of Michigan athletes do have a penchant for that, look at the hockey team.

Maize n Brew 2006 Season Preview, Part II of XIII

It's time for the second installment of Maize n Brew's 2006 Season Preview. As usual I spent far too much time on this. My pain, your gain. I've already broken down Michigan's first opponent, Vanderbilt, so now its on to the Central Michigan Chippewas

An Error Prone & Excessively Verbose Overview of:
The Central Michigan Chippewas

The Game
University of Michigan v. Central Michigan University
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Date: September 9, 2006
Game Time: Noon, EST
Game #: 2
TV: ESPN Plus
Radio: WOMC-FM and CKLW-AM

The Opposition
University: Central Michigan University
Location: Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Team Name: Chippewas
Facility: Kelly/Shorts Stadium (Cap. 30,199)
Conference: MAC (Joined the MAC in 1972)
Number of National Championships: 1 (Division II National Champions 1974)
Number of MAC Championships: 4 (1979, 1980, 1990, 1994)
Last League Championship: 1994
First Season of Football: 1896 (3-1)
Last Season: 2005 (6-5)
Head Coach: Brian Kelly
Versus Michigan All-Time: 0-2
Last Meeting Versus Michigan: 1969 in Ann Arbor. Michigan won 42-14.

A Brief History of Central Michigan University:

Founded in 1892 as the Central Michigan Normal School, Central Michigan was originally intended to be a teachers college. Its name was changed to the Central State Teacher's College, to Central Michigan Collge of Education, to Central Michigan College, and finally settled on Central Michigan University in 1959. Today CMU has almost 28,000 students and over $320 Million in revenues.

Football History:

Central Michigan began playing football before the turn of the 20th century. Since then CMU has played 105 seasons, not fielding teams in 1901, 1906, 1913, 1914, and 1915. An overall 532-338-36 record over those seasons. In the two decades before their move to Division I, CMU owned the D-II Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, winning 9 conference championships in the 50's thru the 60's. The Chippewas crowned their D-II record by winning the Division II National Championship in 1974. The following year, CMU moved to Division I.

The last ten years have been tough on the Chippewas, posting only two winning seasons since 1995. Prior to last year CMU's last winning season was in 1998. CMU's Divison 1-A Hey-day was from the late 1970's and the early 1990's. CMU won back to back MAC Championships in '79 and '80 with 10-0-1 and 9-2 records. In 90 CMU shared the conference crown and took it outright in 1994.

Central Michigan is on the schedule because of the former head coach's Michigan ties. CMU was the proving ground for current Michigan Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord. Well, more of an un-proving ground. Debord managed to run CMU into the ground during his four year tenure, racking up an unimpressive 12-36 record. From 2000 through 2003, CMU had 2, 3, 4, and 3 wins respectively. Lloyd rescued his old buddy (and architech of our 1997 championship offense) and put him in charge of special teams. DeBord is now back at the helm of the Michigan offense. I'll leave it to Brian and Joey to comment on this.

Last Season: 2005 (6-5)

2005 was the first winning season for CMU since 1998. It also marked the first winning season in Division I for head coach Brian Kelly. While the Chippewas didn't make it to a bowl game there were plenty of positives to come away with. Despite dropping non-conference games to Indiana and Penn State the Chippewas played tough. Starting the MAC season off with a victory over Miami, CMU's overtime loss to Eastern Michigan had them at 1-3.

The Chippewas proceeded to go on a tear through the first half of their MAC schedule. Reeling off convincing victories over Akron, Army (non-conf), Ohio, and Toledo, CMU stood at 5-3 with an excellent shot at a bowl. Two losses to NIU and Western Michigan dropped the Chippewas to 5-5, but CMU came back on the road and beat Ball State 31-24 in overtime.

What Went Right:

A winning season for starters. In addition the Chippewas seemed to find their footing offensively. For the first time ever CMU finished in the MAC's top four in both rushing offense and passing offense. Led under center by now graduated Kent Smith the Chippewa offense averaged 158 on the ground and 260 in the air. DE Daniel Bazuin finished second in the nation in sacks with 16, and true freshman Ontario Sneed stepped into the starting RB slot (after the prior starters were dismissed from the school) and gained 1,500 all purpose yards.

CMU posted a mid season four game winning streak in which their defense held opposing offenses to 10 points and 17 points twice. CMU also topped eventual MAC Champion Akron and bested Toledo (9-3). With the exception of a blowout loss to Penn State, CMU was in every game they played last year. Three of CMU's losses were by a touchdown or less.

Finally, Myles Brand completely missed these guys. Despite the fact that the NCAA was waging war on Chief Illiniwek, the Fighting Souix, and any and all other Indian/Native American/Indigenous Peoples mascots, somehow the Chippewas managed to sneak under his radar. Brand probably thought they were Disney characters.


What Went Wrong:

The secondary for the Chippewas was young and big play prone in 2005. In dropping two straight to Northern Illinois and Western Michigan the defensive backfield gave up huge play after huge play. In fact, against Western Michigan they gave up touchdowns on three consecutive passes. Against NIU they gave up a 79 yard TD pass on NIU's first possession of the second half.

While the Chippewas begin and finish well, the middle chunk of the game is not their strong suit. CMU was prone to let downs in the second quarter giving up 17, 21, 19 and 14 points during the second stanza of games they lost.

The Chippewas lost several close games against division foes. They lost to an Indiana team they probably should've beaten. As a young team, too many critical mistakes at critical times.

What to Look for in 2006:

A bowl and possibly a MAC Championship. This team is loaded with talent in the trenches. The QB spot will be a huge question for CMU this year, however the spot that can hurt the Chippewas the most is their secondary. The secondary was young and dumb last year. Dramatic improvements won't be necessary, but preventing the big play will. If CMU can do that, they should be a major player in the MAC Championship race.

The biggest of Big Games in CMU history will occur on August 31st when Boston College comes calling at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. This will be CMU's first time hosting an ACC team. Finally, keep an eye on Daniel Bazuin. He's been named to the watch list for every "Great-Player-In-College- So-They-Named-An-Award-After-Me" throphy on the defensive side. Athlon and Lindy's have him as a pre-season All-American. (Incidently, why is there no Brian Bosworth Award? Seriously, 'roids or not, he was unreal at OU. Did I just answer my own question?)

Seriously. We Need an Award Named After This Guy.
How Much Fun Would It Be To Hand Out "The Bos" Award!?

Returning Starters on Offense: 7
Returning Starters on Defense: 7


Coaching:

Brian Kelly is entering his third year at CMU. Prior to taking over the job at CMU he was busy dominating the Division II ranks. Kelly coached for 13 years at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. During that time he never had a losing record at GVSU. Finishing as the National Title runner up in 2001, Kelly guided the Lakers to two straght National Titles in 2002 and 2003. Following the 2003 victory, Kelly took the head coaching job at CMU. Kelly is a proven winner at the DII level and seems to be transitioning well into DI. Put simply, he'll be around Mt. Pleasant for as long as he wants.

Random University of Michigan Connection: Mike Elston, LB coach, was a Michigan grad who started 12 games for Michigan in 1996. He was a member of the 1997 Michigan National Championship team.

Offense:

Strong O-line. Good, young running back. A wideout or two with speed, and a big fat question mark at QB.

QB:

The biggest cog in the Chippewas offense departed at the end of last season. Today CMU has one QB on its roster who has actually seen game time. The QB in question is redshirt sophmore Brian Brunner. Brunner threw only three passes last year, but completed all three. Brunner will compete against redshirt freshman Sean Price. Both were two star QB's according to Scout, and their high school careers are unremarkable. While there are other players in the mix, the battle will be between those two.

The CMU offense incorporated a lot of QB runs into its offense last year, and is unlikely to heavily change that this year. However, looking at the two potential starters, neither QB looks to be a "make-you-miss" kind of kid. They'll run, but I'd be surprised if they matched even half of Kent Smith's 2005 rushing total. Most likely either one will be serviceable as a first year starter, but expect loads of mistakes from either one early. With a solid offensive line, a good running back, and a decent set of receivers Brunner or Price should have enough time and comfort to grow into their position by the mid-point of the season. If that's the case, the Chippewas should compete for the MAC championship. Without a quick maturation process at the QB position, CMU could easily reverse its 6-5 record from last year.

RB:

Helping to keep these young QB's out of trouble will be 1,000 yard rusher Ontario Sneed. Sneed hit 1,065 on the ground last year and added 433 yards receiving on 51 catches. Sneed's freshman campaign was enough to earn him a spot on the Sporting News Freshman All-American list. Just because he's in the MAC, don't sleep on this guy. Sneed's got speed. He proved it on a 80 yard TD run against Indiana. Sneed had four 100 yard rushing games in 2005 and looks ready to do more damage this season behind a veteran offensive line. With the offense breaking in a new signal caller, look for Sneed to get the ball early and often as his new QB settles in.

Sneed's backup Anthony Boykins didn't see a lot of action last year, rushing for only 65 yards. Sneed and former QB Kent Smith carried the load all year with Smith adding 684 rushing yards to his all-purpose total. This year Boykins will have to be used more with Smith gone and Sneed likely using up the majority of his early career luck last year (it happened to Hart [UM] and Peterson [OU]). Regardless, Sneed will be spelled by Boykins. However, if Sneed goes down, the CMU offense is in trouble. There is a big drop off between Sneed and Boykins. There's an even bigger one between Boykins and the rest of the backups.

WR/TE:

CMU's top returning receiving threat is Damien Linson. Second on the team in receptions last year, he led the team in receiving yards (832) and tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns (4). Linson cracked 200 yards against Miami. Starting opposite Linson will be French Canadian redshirt junior Obed Cétoute. Along with having the coolest name on the team (and being Canadian), Obed is probably the most gifted athlete on the team. Unfortunately his production hasn't showed it. In 2005 Cétoute managed only 2 TDs and 27 receptions. A lot more will be expected out of him this year, and the consensus is his production with rise to meet his talent. The giant "IF" is whether or not the CMU QBs can actually get the ball near him.

CMU lost its field stretcher, the diminuitive Jemmy Jasmin, to injury early last year. At 5' 8", Jasmin crazy fast with 4.43. He's not going to be a high traffic pass catcher, but he is capable of keeping the safties back with his speed. Expect to see a couple of bombs thrown his way in an attempt to legitimize the the deep threat and keep opposing D's from stacking the lines. At the TE position, CMU is not particularly deep. Sophomore Andre Moore is penciled in as the starter. He's a QB turned TE, but has good speed and good hands. He could see quite a few short passes over the middle and prove to be a prime outlet target for Brunner.

OL:

Regardless of the motor, a ship ain't going anywhere without a sturdy hull. If I'm making a nautical comparison between football and oceangoing, the best way to describe it is ice breaking. The CMU offensive line would be considered a top-of-the-line hull in any ocean.

Anchored (harhar) by LT Joe Staley, the Chippewa's offensive line will be the determining factor in CMU's offensive sucess this year. Staley is a three year starter who didn't allow a sack last year. As a result he's garnering all kinds of interest from NFL scouts. Opposite Staley will be redshirt sophomore Andrew Hartline. Hartline is a tad undersized at 285, but that didn't stop him from starting all 11 games and earning Freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News. As he fills out he could become CMU's next OL anchor.

Centering the line will be Drew Mormino. Mormino started all 11 games in 2003 and 2005. He would've started all eleven in 2004, but injuries kept him out. While he doesn't appear to be a pro prospect, he's a solid contributor and an All-MAC candidate. The guard spots will manned by Redshirt Sophmore Adam Benke and redshirt Junior Eric Tunney. Benke appeared in two games last year as a reserve, and Tunney started all 11 games last year. Benke appears to be the weakest link in a strong line chain. This unit should pave the way for Sneed's second 1,000 yard season and keep their new QB upright long. However, this group is not particularly deep. After the starters there are a pile of sophomores and freshmen at the tackle and guard positions. Backup center Mike Decker is the oldest reserve as a Junior.

Defense:

Great D-Line. Probably the best linebackers in the MAC. The secondary is the Bowl eligiblity question.

DL:

Daniel Bazuin. Say his name often. Last year he absolutely terrorized MAC quarterbacks and tackles. Bazuin led the nation in tackles for loss (26.5) and was tied second in sacks (16) nationally. His line against Indiana is enough to keep quarterbacks up at night:
10 tackles (9 solo), 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles. So was his season finale versus Ball State:
11 tackles (5.5 tfl), 3.5 sacks. Rumor is he swallows offensive linemen whole. Then he goes into the stands and steals lollipops from children, before eating them.

His appetite earned him MAC Defensive Player of The Year honors, Honorable Mention All-American, and named to five different pre-season defensive awards watch lists. He will play on Sundays in 2007, for lots and lots of money. As an added bonus, his high school is named Ranier Wolfecastle's starring role.

Alright Mendoza, You've got the Maxwell Circuit.
Now give me my daughter.


The rest of the line is just trying to keep up. Human mountain Ronnie Ekdahl will clog up the middle at NG, but not provide much more. However, he is a sophomore, so if he develops, watch out. Junior DT Steven Friend is a pass rusher who developed recently into a solid run stopper as well. Opposite Bazuin will be junior De'Onte Burnam. Burnam only posted 29 tackles last year, but he did register 2.5 sacks as a sophomore and spent a lot of time in the opposing backfields. He'll benefit greatly from the double teams on Bazuin.

Making things easier on the starters will be several excellent (for the MAC) backups that have either seen playing time or are large and highly touted (redshirt Freshman DE Larry Knight, for example). One thing that is certain, this line will put pressure on opposing QBs. Whether they'll put enough pressure on their out-of-conference foes is another question, but they should wreck havoc on MAC OLs.

LBs:

Another defensive strength for the Chippewas. All three of last year's starters return. The group is led by junior Thomas Keith who, as a sophomore, led the team in tackles (104), interceptions (4), and was fourth on the team in tackles for loss (5.5). Not a bad way to follow up a 95 tackle year as a freshman. Keith displayed the ability not only to get into the backfield, but also the ability to effectively drop into coverage. At 5'10" he's a little undersized, but Keith hits hard and manages the defense.

On either side of him you'll find seniors Doug Kress and Isaac Brown, former safeties who made the transition to LB. Kress and Brown can both fly. Brown is light at 204 lbs and is somewhat limited to run defense. And that's not a bad thing. Brown posted 11.5 tfl and 3 sacks. Kress however is capable all over the field and at 6'1" 240, delivers a pounding when he reaches his target. Despite playing only 9 games at LB, he still tied for third on the team in tackles. There is depth at LB too. All three prime backups had playing time last year, with Leython Williams starting two games before Kress took over.

With speed and athleticism, this group will rack up the tackles and put plenty of pressure on opposing offenses. If they're vulnerable anywhere its against tall, agile TEs. Like the ones Michigan uses.

S/CBs:

Basically the reason CMU didn't go to a Bowl last year. As stated above, this unit was torched in their 3 of their five losses. Against Western Michigan the secondary allow three straight TD passes on three consecutive snaps and 460 yards in the air. That's bad. Against NIU they gave up 382 in the air, 3 airborne TD's and a 79 yard TD to open the third quarter.

The news this year is good and bad. The good, most of the culprits for that horrible unit are gone. The bad, they've gotta be replaced. Senior Pacino Horne is the lone returning starter to the secondary. Last year he led all CBs and Safety's with 66 tackles, a sack and an INT. However, he's making the transition from safety (where he played last year) to CB. However, Horne's got the wheels to make the transition. Opposite him will be former walk-on senior Terrance Robinson. Robinson has one tackle on his record and at 5'6" may start the season at CB but will not finish it. expect to see redshirt freshman Josh Goody quite a bit early, and eventually in the starting spot. Most of CMU's recruiting class was DBs, and it is almost a guarantee that most of them will see some playing time.

The safety slots look to be in better hands. Junior Curtis Cutts was second on the team in pass break-ups without starting a single game. He'll start the year at Free Safety. Finally, speedy redshirt frosh Aaron Carr will take over the strong safety position.

Went for 187 and 3 TDs against CMU in 2005

While the secondary loses guys that couldn't stop couldn't stop a three-year-old on a Big-Wheel, the replacements are the guys that couldn't unseat them. There is better over-all speed this year, but the lack of depth, the lack of talent, and the lack of experience will most likely doom this unit. If the DL and LBs can get into the backfield, it will take some of the pressure off of the secondary. Even so, against a decent OL, these guys will be on islands all by themselves. And their past performance indicates they're in trouble.

ST/K:

Another of CMU's Achilles Heels will be the kicking game. Sophomore Rick Albreski handled the field goal and PAT duties last year with middling success. He has no leg past 40 yards and ended the year missing 4 of his last 6 kicks. However, an extra year usually helps kickers get their heads in gear so look for better consistency out of Albreski (10-19 last year), but don't expect him to turn into Kevin Butler. The punting game will be controlled by Tony Mikulec. No leg either. Average under 40 ypk. The return duties will be handled by WR Damien Linson. Linson averaged 9.2 yards per return and broke off a 78 yard punt return against Ohio.

Best Case:

The only game they lose is to Michigan and CMU goes 11-1. The corners turn out to be far better than advertised and Brunner turns out to be a legit college QB. If the answers to CMU's critical questions at QB and DB come up "yes", this team has enough talent to run the MAC table. This will of course require BC to take a gigantic, ACC-expulsion-worthy dump on August 31st. But stranger things have happened when middle-rung, major conference teams visit amped-up minor conference teams (cough* MICHIGAN STATE * cough). They won't win games by blowout, but the lines are solid and that's enough to compete in any league.

Worst Case:

The defensive backfield is as bad as I think it is and neither Brunner or Price manage to take the reigns resulting in a QB carosel. The Chippewas drop their entire out of conference schedule, and fall to NIU, Toledo, Akron and rival Western Michigan. NIU, Western and Akron all have veteran quarterbacks and Toledo is stocked at the skilled offensive positions. The Chippewas could end up 5-7.

Most Likely:

CMU drops its games to Boston College and Michigan, but takes care of Temple and Kentucky. They also drop games to NIU and Akron. They've got a great chance of going 0-3 at the start of the season, and my guess is they will. The hangover from the BC and UM games will be substanital. After that the schedule opens up for them with their only remaining tough MAC contests with Bowling Green and NIU. I'm betting they put together a 7 game win streak before dropping a game to Northern Illinois. They'll miss the MAC championship and close out the season with a win over Buffalo, finishing 8-4.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Rough Mornings Usually Follow Good Nights

Or at least good weekends.

CMU Preview Up Later Today

Blogger ate about an hour of work on my CMU preview yesterday, including several fine jokes and lots of hopeless speculation. Undeterred, I plugged back in and should have the second of my 13 part series up this afternoon. Here's a preview of the preview: They're good this year.

Burn, Auburn, Burn

The directed reading scandal at Auburn continues to garner heaps of commentary on all sides of the argument.

For those who don't particularly care for Auburn, here's your fix. Kyle wants to give Auburn the death penalty. The Georgia Sports Blog threw a little gasoline on the fire. Roll Bama Roll also lit a Molotov and lobbed it over the fence for good measure.

Former Auburn players told Sports Illustrated they never received any preferential treatment. In fact, former Tiger Travis Williams is madder than hell about the accusations. He told the Opelika-Auburn News that he earned his degree in criminology through hard work and studying, not through favors from the department. Williams also rightfully pointed out that three of the quoted players in the New York Times article, Carnell Williams, Carlos Rogers and Doug Langenfeld never finished their degrees. Williams also took exception to Vanderbilt chancellor Gordon Gee who told the NY Times that Auburn's academic performance rate (which was higher than Vanderbilt's) "surprising." Williams' response was to the point, "If Vanderbilt worked as hard as us, maybe they’d be doing as well as us.” Strong words. But if anyone tried to diminish either of my degrees I'd be pretty angry too.

In the middle, Brian broke it down brick by brick. Braves n Birds looks at it from a historical perspective. Bruins Nation used it as a chance to take look at the SEC's history with these kinds of violations, as well as tak a shot at USC. MZone was, well, MZone about it.

Whether the story ends as a tale of professional jealousy or as a grades-to-play scandal on par with the City of Chicago's hiring scandal, everyone interested in college football is talking about it. Links a plenty for your reading enjoyment.

BTW, a gigantic thank you to the good folks at The New York Times who actually linked my write up on the Auburn story to their on-line original. Humbled, I wish I'd written somthing a little less sarcastic.

Jason Avant Officially an Eagle

Jason Avant's professional career has officially begun. Avant came to terms with the Eagles on a 4-year deal. Avant will wear the Eagles' No. 81, formerly the property of one Terrell Owens. I look forward to Jason bringing back some class not only to his number, but to Philly Wideouts in general.

Another Michigan De-Commit, In Hockey This time

Yost Built and MGoBlog are reporting Uber-recruit Trevor Lewis signed with the LA Kings last week. The anger is palpable. So much for a top center joining this year's class. Lewis is the first big name Michigan player to jump this year (however, he really wasn't a Michigan player yet, so maybe I'm getting ahead of myself). The Ann Arbor News has all the info.

Birthday Boy

Kyle on Football/DawgSports celebrated its one year aniversary. Congrats to Kyle on a marvelous first year, and success in the many years to come.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday's Hearsay and Conjecture: SEC Bashing Edition

Athletes Getting Preferential Treatment? I'm Shocked, I Tell You! Shocked!

This is bound to bring a smile to Kyle's face. The New York Times is reporting that several members of Auburn's undefeated 2004 football team skirted or ignored NCAA academic rules and were given passing grades in classes they rarely if ever attended. One of those members featured prominently in the article is everyone's favorite Escalade, Cadillac Williams. The Time's article reports that the Auburn sociology department's highest ranking member and interim chairman, Prof. Thomas Petee, had been directing self-study and directed-reading courses for individual athletes that required little if any attendance or work. These classes not only helped some of them graduate, but kept many of the athletes taking his classes academically eligible within NCAA requirements.

Of the 2004 undefeated Auburn team one athlete took seven of Petee's courses, three athletes took six, five took five and eight took four. One of them was even given an academic award for his work in the department, even though Petee was the only member of the department who had even seen him inside the department walls.

To give you an idea of what was going on, a normal direct reading class requires 6-7 upper level books at semester and 10-12 page papers on each for three credit hours. That's a good 60-80 pages of reading for each professor, per student.

While its not uncommon for a professor to offer 5-6 or up to 10 of these individual directed reading classes, Petee at his height was offering 152! As for the reading/writing requirements of Petee's classes, well, no so much. At least one of the classes consisted of reading a single book and writing a ten-page paper. The class was worth three credit hours. No word if it had to be typewritten, but I'm sure it would have been accepted in either ink, pencil or crayon.

Multiplying that out, the one athlete above could have received 21 credit hours towards graduation for reading seven books, (maybe) writing 70 pages, and never attending class. An undergraduate degree at Auburn requires a minimum of 120 credit hours. The 21 credit hours that athlete received amounted to roughly 17.5% of his graduation requirements.

Man, did I miss the boat on that one. If I could've done that there's no way in hell I would've taken "Greek and Roman Wars" at 8:30 in morning. On the plus side, I do know what a phalanx is should I ever be on Jeopardy. In all fairness, it wasn't just athletes taking Peete's "classes". However, the Times reports that athletes made up at least 25% of Peete's directed reading class enrollment.

Academic fraud is nothing new to college football. Especially not at Auburn. Auburn sits alone at the top of the SEC's Most Sanctioned List. But its not as though the practice of grade inflation is unique to them.

It was however blatant enough to have a member of Sociology department turn Petee in to the Provost. While the Times doesn't say it, it appears that when the University failed to do anything about his complaints, the whistle blower turned his evidence over to the New York Times. You think he was upset about it?

On the other side of the argument, several auburn bloggers and supporters have pointed to professional jealousy as a the reason for this blow-up. Citing a Huntsville Times article, they point out that Gundlach was passed over for the position Petee currently holds and that Gundlach has admitted some resentment over the snub.

Whether or not that is the reason for his coming forward is a definite question for his motives. However, the evidence he has collected is not flattering. There are two likely answers. First, Gundlach was passed over and blew this story out of proportion as a means at getting back at those who overlooked him. Second, he legitimately saw something wrong, reported it, and then took matters into his own hands when nothing was done. Neither are particularly rosey pictures of academic life at Auburn. Gundlach's motives may not be a pure as he leads on. Even so he has presented a serious and apparently substantiated claim of academic malfecence that must be investigated not only by Aurburn but the NCAA.

Auburn has announced an investigation, and I'm sure the NCAA will begin flapping its gums soon enough on the subject as well. What is most entertaining about the whole thing is that Prof. Petee, though the center of this shit storm, has not been removed from his position of CHAIRMAN of the Sociology Department! Ain't college football grand? The whistle blower, Professor James Gundlach, has announced his retirement next year in part, I'm sure, in protest.

We now await Myles Brand to come down from Valhalla, wielding Thor's hammer, and smash the evil-doers.

Only kidding. Auburn's safe from NCAA sanctions. They don't have an indian/native american/indigenous person as their mascot.

EDSBS has more on this than I could ever hope to provide.

"Cutting" Through Vanderbilt And The Rest of The Schedule

I posted my first of 13 season preview reports yesterday, with Vanderbilt being both first on our schedule and first on my list. Central Michigan will be up on Monday followed by Notre Dame later in the week. The final installment will be a Michigan preview, a couple of days before the season opens.

In looking at the reactions to my preview, I have to say Vanderbilt fans take the jokes and the assessments far better than some of their SEC brethren (*cough* Mississippi State *cough*). A tip of the cap to all the Vanderbilt visitors to Maize n Brew. Look forward to playing you guys on September 2nd.

Little inside tip for you, Mr. Spot's hoagies. A must while in Ann Arbor. Wash 'em down with a Pizza Bob's milk shake (chocolate mint was always my favorite) and you'll be a happy camper.

That's what I do here folks. I give.

Bring Me a Cup of Hot Fat and the Head of Alfredo Garcia

"I have nothing but contempt for Materazzi and, if what he said is true, then I want his balls on a platter." - Malika Zidane, mother of Zinedine Zidane (HT: Deadspin)

Brian's got more hilarity on this. I am now convinced all disputes should be settled via headbutt. Contract Negotiations? Headbutt. Civil Disputes? Headbutt. Dinner? Headbutt. War? Line up 100,000 troops, no helmets, Headbutt. The side with the most people left standing wins. The loser forfeits territory and its populous must be forced to wear protective headgear for a period of ten years so that the world knows their poor wittle heads are softer than a baby's bottom. Time to get another Geneva Convention going on this.

The downside to this is Scotland would rule the world.

Michigan Gets Another 2007 Football Recruit

Stolen out from under the PAC-10, Mgoblog presents 3/4 star recruit Steve Watson. He's good.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Maize 'n' Brew 2006 Season Preview, Part I of XIII

With the season around the corner its time to take a look at Michigan's upcoming schedule. We already know how the 2006 season stacks up statistically. How the teams on the schedule stack up this year is a different question, and one I will endeavor to answer. So over the next few weeks look to Maize 'n' Brew to give you a little insight into whom Michigan will be playing this year, and finally, a little insight (very little) into this year's Michigan team.

Looking this thing over, well, I spent a little too much time on it. The remainder of the previews will be substantially shorter, but for now, enjoy.

An Error Prone & Excessively Verbose Overview of:
The Vanderbilt Commodores

The Game
University of Michigan v. Vanderbilt University
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Date: September 2, 2006
Game #: 1
TV: ESPN
Radio: WOMC-FM and CKLW-AM

The Opposition
University: Vanderbilt University
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Team Name: The Commodores
Conference: SEC
Number of National Championships: 0
Number of SEC Championships: 0
Last League Championship: Last Championship of any kind came in 1923
First Season of Football: 1890 (1-0)
Last Season: 2005 (5-6)
Head Coach: Bobby Johnson
Vanderbilt v. Michigan All-Time: Michigan is 9-0-1 versus Vanderbilt. Last meeting was 1969 in Ann Arbor. Michigan won 42-14.

A Brief History of Vanderbilt:

Located in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University was founded in 1873 by Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Apparently ole' Cornelius was quite the shipping, ship building and railroad magnet and was able to fund the establish of Vanderbilt by himself. A businessman worthy of being a James Bond villian, Vanderbilt took care of things the old fashioned way. When he felt a former associate had screwed him he wrote the following: "You have undertaken to cheat me. I won't sue you, for the law is too slow. I will ruin you." While I admire his business tactics, his taste in women's a little more troubling. Vanderbilt fled to Canada in 1869 to marry his "distant" cousin. Insert southern-bias/Tennessee joke here.

Still it was another distant relative who convinced him to open his notoriously tight pockets and donate the $1 million (in 1873 money) to found the university which bears his name.

Football History

Vanderbilt University began playing organized football in 1890. The Commodores (Cornelius' nickname from his schooner days) were major players in southern football until the 1950's. After that, well, you've modern Vanderbilt football.

Commodores. Not Comode-odores.
Though the latter may be more appropriate.


Since 1950 Vanderbilt has managed only 10 winning seasons with their last victorious campaign coming in 1982. High academic standards routinely take the blame for Vanderbilt's lackluster football prowess. (However, even Stanford and Northwestern find ways to be competitive every now and then.) Vanderbilt has never won or shared an SEC crown in football. In fact, its coming up on 85 years since they even shared a conference crown of any kind.

Last Season: 2005 (5-6)

2005 was the best season Vanderbilt has experienced in the last decade. Vanderbilt posted wins over Arkansas, Wake Forest and Tennessee. Not only did the Commodores put the capper on one of Tennessee's worst seasons since the Vietnam War, their victory was their first over the Vols since 1975. It was a losing season, but a good losing season. Here's what happened:

Vanderbilt started the season with four straight wins. Wins over Wake Forest, Arkansas, Mississippi and Richmond had Vanderbilt at 4-0. Spirits were as high as the expectations for this senior heavy team. Those expectations weighed the Commodores down. Like a man struggling to carry the cast of The View, they collapsed, dropping their next six games. Vanderbilt managed to find a way to implode against "Who-Dat?" Middle Tennessee State and never seemed to fully recover.

It doesn't just look like high school football.

Vanderbilt lost several games by a touchdown or less, before taking Florida into double overtime. The ghost of Danny Wuerffel haunted the Commodores that day and Vandy came up short, 42-49. With the pressure on, Vanderbilt wilted again against Kentucky. I'll repeat that, Kentucky. Needing two wins to secure their first bowl bid in two decades, Cutler guided the Commodores' offense to a season high 43 points. The problem was the defense gave up 48. The Kentucky loss sealed Vanderbilt's 23rd consecutive losing season.

With the pressure off, Vanderbilt took it to Tennesse on the Vols home turf, beating them 28-24 in front of 107,000 pissed off people. Well, 106,500 pissed off people. I'm sure a couple of Vanderbilt fans were there. Orson and Stranko were not in attendance, but you could hear them laughing in Chicago.

No bowl. A losing season for the 23rd consecutive year. Losing your best player to graduation. But they did beat their arch rival, in their house no less. As a Michigan fan I can tell you those things make a season successful, regardless of your record.

What Went Right:

Jay Cutler. Unless you winter in a cave in Angola, you've heard of him. ESPN spent a great deal of time attempting to turn the "Who goes first? Vince or Matt?" debate into a three part conversation. Cutler had a record setting year for Vanderbilt. Over 3,000 yards passing, 59% competition percentage and a 21-9 TD/INT ratio. He was named All-SEC first team and SEC player of the year. Hell, his last collegiate pass was a game winning touchdown. Not a bad way to cap a career. Cutler went to Denver with the 11th pick of this year's draft.

The emergence of Freshman/Stud WR Earl Bennett. Bennett had 9 TD's as a freshman including a SEC record tying 5TD game against Kentucky. The discovery of a two headed RB monster that totaled over 1,000 yards. A surprisingly decent Offensive Line. Beating Tennessee at Tennessee. Plus wins over Mississippi, Arkansas and Wake Forest.

What Went Wrong:

The Defense. An inability to stop ANYONE cost the Commodores a winning season. After the Middle Tennessee melt down Vanderbilt gave up 34, 34, 35, 49, and 48 points in their next five contests. Losses to teams no one should lose to. Middle Tennessee State and Kentucky destroyed hope and bowl eligibility, respectively. Coming close, but still falling to Florida in two overtimes. Continuing to be the second half of the 20th Century Vanderbilt in the 21st Century.

What to Look for in 2006: Inexperience, mistakes, pain and suffering, and Nashville being burned to the ground after the Tennessee game, hide the Cheetoes.

Returning Starters on Offense: 6
Returning Starters on Defense: 6


Coaching:

Bobby Johnson jumped to Vanderbilt right after leading Furman to the D-1 AA national championship. Since then, well, things haven’t quite gone his way. Where Randy Walker found ways to make Northwestern competitive despite its academic requirements, Johnson has not. Though the offense has come around at Vanderbilt Johnson has failed to field a single, decent defense during his four year tenure. Johnson’s biggest criticism should be he can’t win the games he’s supposed to. Two straight loses to Middle Tennessee state emphasize this.

However, he has made the Commodores respectable in the SEC and that is an accomplishment in and of itself. If producing a first round draft pick out of Jay Cutler is an indication of future success, then Vanderbilt’s years ahead should go well. Recruiting seems to be getting better, though the majority of his recruits are still of the 2 to 2 1/2 star variety. The talent is definitely getting better at Vanderbilt, but the proof lies in the coaching. As talent rises, so to do the expectations. The expectations after the last two years of missing winning seasons, are that a winning season should be produced within this year or next. Based on the talent available and the coaching so far, I don't see it.

The Offense

QBs:

Vanderbilt goes from the SEC Player of the Year at the helm to unproven sophomore Chris Nickson. He's thrown only three passes in his career. He completed one of them. His backup is redshirt freshman MacKenzi Adams (yes, that is how he spells his name). Because there is nothing on their college careers I develed a little deeper into their past to see who these guys were.

Nickson, in being awarded the 2003 Mr. Football in Alabama, scored an unreal 67 TD's during his senior year in high school (402 points for those of you counting at home). In leading his high school to the Alabama 3A State Championship he threw for 2,946 yards and 42 touchdowns and ran for 1,526 yards and 22 touchdowns. Athlete anyone? Nickson will be backstopped by redshirt frosh MacKenzi Adams. Adams led his high school, Tulsa Union, to 6A state title in Oklahoma in 2004. Like Nickson Adams is a pure athlete. In addition to his football career, he was also a track standout.

Both QB's are option QBs. As a result, this year's Vanderbilt offense will focus much more on the running game than a drop back passing game. However, it’s not like Vanderbilt foresook the run when Culter was around. Looking at Culter's 3,000 yards passing its easy to overlook the fact that he racked up over 400 yards on the ground. Focusing on an option attack should reduce the number of errors Nickson or Adams will commit. Even so, expect turnovers and mistakes from both QBs. SEC teams are no stranger to the option and most have the speed to stuff the run and punish young QBs who hold the ball a little too long. In addition, when Vanderbilt gets behind early, which will happen a lot, there will be a lot of hospital passes and interceptions thrown by both QBs out of inexperience.

Working for these young quarterbacks will be a solid offensive line and a good receiving corps. Over the course of the season Nickson should post pretty good numbers (for a freshman) based on his athleticism and the fact that he will be passing a lot. But don't expect Nickson or Adams to win games on their own. However, do expect Nickson to give Michigan some early troubles as no Michigan Defense in the past five years has shown an ability to control a mobile quarterback.

RBs:

Should be decent this year. Vanderbilt's ground game was lead by the two headed TB monster of now junior Cassen Jackson-Garrison and now junior Jeff Jennings. Jennings blew his knee out against Kentucky. In 10 games he totaled 476 yards on 123 carries and 7 TDs. As a result Garrison inherited the full time starting job for one game, and made good use of the extra playing time posting 60 yards rushing and a TD plus 49 yards receiving against Tennessee. He finished the season leading the team in rushing with 539 yards on 97 carries and scoring 8 TDs in 11 games worth of work.

The faster and more explosive back of the tandem is certainly Garrison. Garrison was 100 and 200 meter sprinter in high school and showed it against Arkansas when he broke off a 71 yarder. Both are serviceable running backs that aren't going to run you over or make you miss. They'll gain ground if the line can open a hole, but aren't capable turning nothing into something against good defenses. Both are a year older and more experienced, but Jennings is still nursing an injury that usually takes a full year to recover from. If Jennings returns healthy at 100%, they should crack the 1,200 yard mark again as a tandem, but don't expect either one to take over a game.

WR/TEs:

The real strength of the offense lies in sophomore WR Earl Bennett. Starting as a true freshman last year Bennett led the team in receiving yards (876), catches (79), and TDs (9). What's even more amazing about this kid is that he didn't start until the Richmond game. Second team freshman All-American, second team all-SEC, and first team freshman all-SEC. My favorite part from the Commodores website: "Responsible for every yard of game-deciding touchdown drive against Volunteers." Bennett appears to have it all. Speed, hands, polished route running, jumping ability, and all those little intangibles that make for a star.

On paper there's a pretty steep drop off after Bennett. Second leading receive Erik Davis (WR) and third leading receiver Dustin Dunning (TE) graduated. Backing Bennett will be Senior Marlon White (WR) and redshirt Sophomore George Smith (WR), the two were 4th and 5th on the receptions and yardage list, respectively. White is the more polished receiver of the two with 6 TD's last year, but lacks any real speed. Smith had 23 receptions and 2 TD's. His massive injury history does not inspire a whole lot of confidence either. There are a handful of freshman and redshirt freshman who could also see time, but no one that produced big on a high school or college level yet. Bennett and White will keep defenses honest. If Smith comes around, then Vanderbilt could have a good core receiving set plus one star on the wings.

As for TEs, there are none. The only returning TE is sophomore Brad Allen who didn't have a catch last year. He'll see competition from two incoming freshmen, but don't expect anything out of this group this year. Leon Hall & Co. will lock down on Bennett. I'm not expecting a lot of passes being thrown in the opener, but if the secondary can contain Bennett don't expect much from anyone else.

OL:

A surprising strength for Vanderbilt and the reason Nickson and/or Adams may not end up in the hospital on a weekly basis. The O-line is led by senior tackle Brian Stamper (really, is there a better name for an offensive lineman?). Stamper was recently placed on the watch list for the Outland Trophy which goes to the nation's best interior offensive lineman. Stamper went all last season without allowing a sack. Doing that in the SEC is pretty impressive. His partner in crime, junior tackle Chris Williams, ain't bad either. Also returning at starting guard is junior Josh Eams. Eams protected Cutler's blind side last year at left guard, and will return to his starting role with another year under his belt.

The question marks will be at center and the other guard spot. Vanderbilt will look to plug the gap with junior Hamilton Holliday. While this will be his first year at center his blocking shouldn't be the problem having played guard most of last year. Look for early screw ups during C/QB exchanges at critical times as a freshman and new center try to do a little too much. The biggest offensive line question will be at right guard. Merritt Kirchoffer who is coming off shoulder surgery should end up the eventual starter, but he'll be spotted early by a pair of red shirt freshmen. Look for the line to run left as often as possible behind Stamper and Eams.

Vanderbilt gave up 24 sacks last year. Taking away the outliers of no sacks versus Wake and 6 sacks versus LSU, the team only gave up an average of 2 sacks a game. Defenses will find it tough going up the middle against Stamper and Chris Williams. However, if either gets hurt Vanderbilt's in trouble. The depth drops off considerably after backup tackle junior Elliot Hood and there is little to no depth at center or guard.

This should be one of Vanderbilt's strengths this year, but they're not going to carry the team. They can't score points. Look for Michigan's defense to be inexplicably frustrated by Vanderbilt's guards and to get surprising penetration up the middle and then fall all over themselves trying to tackle Nickson. Did I just contradict myself? No. Michigan defenses make no sense. Thus, what should work won't, and what shouldn't will, to an extent. Such is the Dao of Michigan.

The Defense

While Vanderbilt should be able to put a point or two on the board, their opponents won't have any trouble doing that either. Worker's Compensation attorneys are already licking their chops at the scorekeeper's law suits they can file because of Vanderbilt's carpal tunnel inducing defense. The defense managed just 14 sacks last year, gave up 29 points a game, was 10th in the SEC in run defense, 11th in total defense and 11th in pass defense. Looking at the lineup, this defense will be even worse than last year’s.

DL :

In a cosmic sense they exist. Sort of. Other than defensive end Chris Booker, there is no one on the line that can do much of anything. This group is either young and undersized or old and undersized. There wasn’t a single lineman among the top eight tacklers on the team. Expect Vanderbilt’s 169 ypg average to balloon this year. I wish there was more to write about on these guys or that someone was on the fringes of respectability. But there isn’t. Vanderbilt’s starting DL stacks up with David Carter and Chris Booker at the ends, and Ray Brown and Theo Horrocks at the tackles. This group combined for 68 tackles last year. Total. They only managed 5 sacks combined. Bad, bad news.

LBs:

The Good: Vanderbilt gets two starters back! The Bad: They lost three of their top six, and the defense’s leading tackler to graduation. Returning Starters Jonathan Goff and Kevin Joyce (both juniors), had good sophomore seasons for the Commodores last year. Goff registered 53 tackles and a sack, while Joyce added 47 tackles and a sack. Unfortunately, adding them together they’re still 18 tackles behind departed Moses Osemwegie who led the team with 118 tackles, 3 sacks and a pair of INTs. Last year’s backup junior Marcus Buggs will step into the final starting spot. He provided 29 tackles last year.

Having two experienced starting linebackers should help to aid the DL a tad, but the LB corps can’t expect the DL to return the favor. Goff & Co. will see wave after wave of large men thundering toward them as the DL can not match up size wise with opposing OLs. Woe to the Commodores if any of the starters go down. Every back-up listed is a redshirt freshman. This will be good for Vanderbilt down the line, but is a kiss of death in 2006. Decent starters, not great starters. Nothing after them. Again, bad, bad news.

S/CB:

Big troubles. Lost their leading tackler. Vanderbilt plugs their new starting safety Reshard Langford as “one of the team’s top talents and a viable All-SEC competitor.” With 54 tackles and a team high 3 INTs, maybe he warrants it. The SEC though so and named him to the All-SEC freshman team. After him, there’s limited talent. Sophomore CBs Josh Allen and Jared Fagan actually had playing time last year. Fagan grabbed the game sealing INT against Tennessee, but only made 10 tackles all year.

Again a pile of redshirt freshman and a gimpy senior fill out the depth chart. Last year’s defensive secondary wasn’t that good allowing 13 yards per catch. With three guys we know anything about in the secondary, and a bunch of question marks, Michigan is going to have a field day against them.

K/ST:

The hits just keep on coming for Vanderbilt. Bryant Hahnfeldt handled both the punting and kicking duties for the Commodores. True to form he tore his ACL against Tennessee. Whether he’ll be back a full strength for the season is up in the air. When he kicked he was impressive and he was named to the All-SEC Freshman team. The blocking and coverage teams were not so good. Hahnfeldt made 12 of 17 field goals, but had four of his misses blocked. Patrick Johnson and Kyle Keown fill the backup place kicker and punting duties. Returns will be handled by Earl Bennett, who as we have discussed, is electric.

If Vanderbilt was a country: Costa Rica.

The highest literacy rate in the western hemisphere. Instead of spending their money on guns and armies, Costa Rica does something unique, it spends that money on education. Like Vanderbilt, smart people everywhere and lacks both defensive and offensive capabilities. Unlike Vanderbilt, it is not playing in the SEC or against Michigan. If it was, based on these comparisons, all the smart people would be beaten senseless and imprisoned by these ravaging Cromagnons and their country sacked.

The Outlook:

This is going to be a tough year for Vanderbilt. In looking at their schedule, I can only see two to three games where they’ll be favored Tennessee State (D1-AA), Temple and Duke. The rest of the schedule is merciless, with the possible exception of Kentucky and Mississippi (but even they look better than last year). You can count on losses at Michigan, Alabama, Arkansas (revenge!), Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.

Best Case: 6-6

The only way this happens is if the Commodores manage to win all three winnable games, beat Kentucky and Mississippi in the toss ups, and sneak out a win against South Carolina. This would require everything going their way, and I don’t see it happening. If they somehow manage to do this, I can’t wait to the ESPN coverage as literally hundreds of Vanderbilt students and Alums pack up their pocket protectors and head to the November 29th Mocolate Bowl played in Guatemala. Me Gusta Mucho!

Worst Case: 1-11

Again, a long shot. This would require cataclysmic flops against hapless Duke and Temple, and the team crumbling around Johnson as the season goes on. While I can see them dropping a game they should win, they’ll also win one of the toss-ups.

Most Likely: 3-9

Wins over Tennessee State, Temple and Kentucky. Lots of humility and crying the rest of the season. After the Tennessee game expect the Vols to raze Nashville in retaliation for last year. That game is going to be ugly. It's going to be anothr tough season in Nashville.