Michigan Wolverines: 3-point stance

1. Anyone else find it interesting that the NCAA agreed to pay $20 million in the EA Sports case to current and former Division I student-athletes on the day before USC comes off probation? The cases are indicative of how the world of intercollegiate athletics has shifted since the Trojans went on probation four years ago. The enforcement process has lost what respect it had. The NCAA model is being forced to remodel because members and the Indianapolis bureaucracy weren’t smart enough to do it on their own.

2. A few days after I wrote about the Curse of Bo (Michigan is 50-41 since Schembechler died in Nov. 2006), author John U. Bacon wrote about a more serious picture of the Wolverines' athletic department. Bacon wrote that pro-style marketing bent on maximizing revenue has cost Michigan at the ticket window with students and long-time ticket holders. Bacon made a compelling point:Treat college fans like customers, they’ll start acting like customers instead of people with emotional ties to the product.

3. The Pac-12 might be the next "it" conference on the field, but the conference doesn’t carry the emotional resonance with its fans that the Big Ten and the SEC do with theirs. The latest example: the Big Ten’s announcement that the league championship will remain in Indianapolis through 2021. That’s an NFL town in a state where football is second, yet the game is a success. The Pac-12 is trying the neutral-site championship this season at the 49ers' new stadium. I am skeptical that league fans will fill it up.
1. Tennessee last won an SEC championship in 1998, the same year that the Vols won the national title as well. In the next nine seasons, the Vols averaged a 9-4 record. Beginning in that 10th year, 2008, the Vols have hovered between 5-7 and 7-6. I thought of the Vols as Chantel Jennings, Adam Rittenberg and I discussed Michigan on the ESPN College Football Podcast yesterday. This is the 10th anniversary of the Wolverines’ last Big Ten title. Coach Brady Hoke’s teams have gone from 11-2 to 8-5 to 7-6. Spring football began Tuesday in Ann Arbor, and the Wolverines have a lot of work to do.

2. Jameis Winston’s two at-bats against the Yankees on Tuesday equaled the number of plate appearances he had in Florida State’s first six games. Winston started 22 games in the outfield and 10 as a DH as a freshman a year ago. Now he is the Seminoles’ closer, and hasn’t allowed a run in three games. In our haste to anoint Winston as the next Bo Jackson, all of us overlooked the fact that he played so much last year as a fill-in because of injuries. Winston said Tuesday, “I probably have more success in football.” Maybe he loves baseball more than it loves him. That would make him the next Michael Jordan.

3. Ask my readers, and I shall receive. When I wrote earlier this week that my research of coaches who left the SEC for the Big Ten was incomplete, two of you wrote to remind me that Murray Warmath left Mississippi State after the 1953 season for Minnesota, where he led the Gophers to the most recent national championship (1960). Mississippi State had a nose for coaches back then. The Bulldogs replaced Warmath with 29-year-old Darrell Royal. He stayed two seasons.

3-point stance: Bama's bowl outlook

December, 2, 2013
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1. No. 4 Alabama becomes the prettiest debutante at the BCS at-large ball, which could include No. 9 Baylor, No. 14 Northern Illinois and either No. 12 Oregon or No. 13 Clemson. But who takes the Crimson Tide? Would the Orange Bowl risk asking Alabama fans who had their hopes set on the BCS title game to come to Miami for a second straight year? Would the Rose Bowl, picking second, take the Crimson Tide over an 11-2 Michigan State team that’s eligible (top 14) for Pasadena? Probably not. But if the Spartans aren’t eligible, Alabama may play in its first Rose Bowl since 1946.

2. Michigan coach Brady Hoke and Alabama coach Nick Saban both made end-game decisions Saturday that blew up on them. Hoke risked the game on a two-point play, and it’s good to keep in mind the saying that the longer the game, the greater the advantage to the better team. Saban had much greater percentages in his favor. Being struck by lightning, no matter how great the odds, hurts just as much.

3. Syracuse’s last-second victory over Boston College made the Orange (6-6) the 11th ACC team to qualify for a bowl game, which makes the week to come very interesting. One of those 11 teams is Maryland (7-5), which is leaving for the Big Ten next summer. If a team is going to be left out, human nature points to the Terrapins. But ACC associate commissioner Mike Finn says it won’t happen that way. “They are ours until July 1. We are trying to take care of them,” Finn said. “It wouldn’t be fair to their student-athletes.”

3-point stance: Fresno State lurking

November, 4, 2013
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1. It’s not smart to delve deeply into BCS what-ifs. The season has five remaining weeks -- a full third of the schedule. Besides, the top of the BCS standings will sort itself out. It has every year since the FBS went to a 12-game schedule. But the race at the other end of the BCS is worth keeping an eye on. Fresno State has reached No. 16, the minimum threshold a BCS buster needs to secure a bid as long as it’s ahead of an AQ champion. Louisville and UCF of the American are No. 20 and No. 21, respectively.

2. No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Oregon turn their heads toward their biggest conference nemeses. Nick Saban is only 4-3 against No. 13 LSU while since taking over as coach of Alabama. He’s 72-10 against everyone else. No. 5 Stanford is the only team to beat Chip Kelly’s Ducks twice in his four seasons. Last season’s 17-14 overtime loss cost Oregon a berth in the BCS Championship Game. Suffice to say it left a mark. Expect coach Mark Helfrich to have something in his game plan this week. The Ducks kept it pretty vanilla last year, and it cost them.

3. When Michigan State defeated Michigan four consecutive times from 2008-11, it didn’t quite feel as if the Spartans owned the rivalry. This wasn’t the real Michigan -- coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t fit the Wolverine mold. Michigan State took advantage of Michigan, but so did a lot of teams. That’s not the case any longer. Michigan has its own (Brady Hoke) running the program. He is in Year Three. Yet Michigan State just beat Michigan 29-6, the Spartans’ biggest margin in their 5-1 run against the Wolverines. The rivalry belongs to Sparty as securely as it did in the mid-1960s run of Duffy Daugherty.
1. Michigan’s feuds with Ohio State and Notre Dame always drew more attention than its games with Michigan State. But that has changed, and not, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday on the ESPNU College Football Podcast, because the Spartans won four in a row from 2008-11. “I think some of the changes with the divisional races puts a little more emphasis on this football game,” Hoke said. “But from a passion standpoint … it’s always been a very physical game. It’s always a game that been played through the whistle. The intensity of the rivalry is there. It’s real.”

2. Florida Atlantic head coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis resigned, a source told my colleague Brett McMurphy, because they attended a party where people used marijuana. I guess the coaches picked the wrong state in which to attend the party. According to Governing magazine, 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of marijuana usage. No, Florida is not one of them. But still this story, in 2013, is a stunner. Maybe FAU wanted Pelini (5-15 in two seasons) out?

3. Stanford senior defensive end and team captain Ben Gardner's season-ending pectoral injury means that the Cardinal will have started only two games with their preseason starting defensive line. Senior Henry Anderson hurt his knee in the second game against Army. That the line has remained a strength for the Cardinal is a credit to fifth-year senior Josh Mauro, who pretty much turned Anderson into Wally Pipp. But it’s a shame that the three seniors will have played together so little in their final season.

3-point stance: SMU heading to Michigan

October, 24, 2013
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1. SMU announced Wednesday that it would play at Michigan in 2018, its first visit to Ann Arbor since opening the 1963 season with a 27-16 loss in the Big House. The SMU release recounted the legend that Ford exec Lee Iacocca was so taken with the spirit of the visitors that he decided to name the new Ford sports car the Mustang. Legend? Fact? Look at it this way: Michigan only beat two other teams that year, Northwestern and Illinois. Buick already had a Wildcat. And I just don’t think Wilson Pickett would have sung “Illini Sally.”

2. Playing a team with a unique offense such as Georgia Tech’s option for the first time is difficult enough. Syracuse tried to do so with a new 3-4 defense. But the thing a defense needs most against the option is discipline. That’s hard when playing a scheme for the first time. The Yellow Jackets won, 56-0. Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer said it wasn’t the scheme, it was the fact that the Orange couldn’t get off blocks. He also said this: “You know, as a coach you fight the 20/20 hindsight, but you also learn from it. You know, difficult lesson because we didn't do a good job.”

3. Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, on the ESPNU College Football Podcast, on what it’s like depending on true freshman quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb: “I’m not very patient by nature, but I force myself to be, and I just keep going back to when I was their age and what I was doing. I was redshirting and I was going home to see my girlfriend every weekend. I just try to think back at how I wasn’t mentally prepared to do the things they are doing. It’s really impressive to watch them on a daily basis at that age prepare and attack and just try to get better. That’s where I find my patience coaching these young guys.”
1. Michigan fans couldn’t get Rich Rodriguez out of town fast enough. But it’s worth noting that Brady Hoke’s best offensive players are fifth-year seniors recruited by Rodriguez. That includes Saturday’s record-setters, quarterback Devin Gardner (503 passing yards, 584 yards of total offense) and receiver Jeremy Gallon (369 receiving yards), as well as Fitzgerald Toussaint (four rushing scores Saturday) and starting tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Then again, offense wasn’t RichRod’s problem at Michigan.

2. There’s the speculation at the top of the BCS standings, where No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Oregon may leapfrog one another the next three weeks as their schedules ebb and flow. Then there’s the battle at the other end, where No. 17 Fresno State and No. 18 Northern Illinois are jockeying with one another and both trying to stay in front of No. 20 Louisville and No. 23 UCF from the AAC. If one of the former finishes ahead of one of the latter, that will guarantee a BCS bid. The BCS ratings always provide fodder.

3. Senior quarterback Clint Trickett left Florida State after spring ball when he realized that he wouldn’t beat out redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. On Saturday, Winston threw for 444 yards at Clemson and became a Heisman frontrunner. Trickett started at West Virginia and threw for 254 yards and a touchdown against Texas Tech. But the Red Raiders outscored the Mountaineers 21-0 in the last 20 minutes to win, 37-27. Over the last five possessions, Trickett completed 6 of 11 passes for 19 yards. The offense made one first down.
1. Keith Price, the fifth-year senior quarterback for No. 15 Washington, has matured enough to no longer try to force the big play. Price has learned to love the third receiver. Against Illinois, “he checked it down twice on third-and-long and we got the first down,” Huskies quarterback coach Marques Tuiasosopo said. “So we talk about, ‘Hey, it’s not sexy, but guess what? We’re still on the field. Coach Sark [head coach Steve Sarkisian] gets to call more plays, and we have a chance to score another touchdown.’”

2. Among the 170 semifinalists for the National Football Foundation’s Campbell Trophy -- the Academic Heisman -- are prominent FBS players such as quarterbacks Aaron Murray of Georgia and Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois; offensive linemen Spencer Long of Nebraska, Gabe Ikard of Oklahoma and linebacker Max Bullough of Michigan State. But if any of them beats out Penn State center John Urschel, who’s teaching undergraduate math, then he’s one smart cookie. The NFF will whittle the candidates down to 16 finalists, each of whom will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship, on Oct. 31.

3. The Little Brown Jug may not be important at Michigan, which has lost it only three times in 44 years. But that’s exactly why Minnesota cherishes the Jug. The last time the Gophers won it, in 2005, then-head coach Glen Mason got off the plane from Ann Arbor and drove the Jug straight to dinner at Manny’s, the best steakhouse in Minneapolis. Patrons gave Mason and the Jug a standing O, then oohed and aahed and took photos with it all night. That’s what a trophy game should be all about.

3-point stance: Scoreboard watching

September, 5, 2013
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1. You probably knew this already, but inflation has struck the scoreboard. Of the 10 longest scoring streaks in the history of the game, four are current: Michigan, which has scored in 353 consecutive games, is eight short of the record set by BYU (1975-2003). There’s also No. 3 Florida (309 games), No. 9 TCU (255) and No. 10 Air Force (247). The Wolverines were last shut out, 26-0, by Iowa in 1984, one of only two shutouts that Hall of Fame coach Bo Schembechler suffered in 21 seasons in Ann Arbor.

2. Frank Fina, one of the prosecutors in the Jerry Sandusky case, told 60 Minutes Sports that he found no evidence that the late Joe Paterno took part in any effort to conceal Sandusky’s child sexual abuse. “I’m viewing this strictly on the evidence,” Fina said, “not any kind of fealty to anybody. I did not find that evidence.” Fina agreed, using Paterno’s own words, that the coach should have done more. That’s a long way from the Freeh Report. So someone with subpoenas exonerated Paterno. Maybe now NCAA president Mark Emmert will realize that he overreached. Probably not.

3. With the commitment of West Monroe, La., offensive tackle Cameron Robinson to Alabama, the Crimson Tide has 14 players in the 2014 ESPN 300, including 10 in the top 120. However, only two of those prospects are from the state of Alabama. Head coach Nick Saban has commitments from players as far away as California, Oklahoma, and Iowa. That’s a long way from 2008, when Saban found three future first-round draft picks in Alabama alone: Julio Jones, Mark Barron, and Marcell Dareus.


1. Boston College head coach Steve Addazio described in his press conference this week his instructions to offensive coordinator Ryan Day not to gamble this season when his offense is in the red zone. The reason: kicker Nate Freese, who made 18-of-20 field goals last season (all 16 inside of 40 yards). “The last thing you want to do is get inside field goal range and then somehow take a sack or something and lose field goal range,” Addazio said. “When you know you have that kicker you have that mindset where you don’t want to give away points. That’s how I view it now when I get there.”

2. The Notre Dame-Michigan game features quarterbacks who toiled in the shadow of more accomplished players. The Irish’s Tommy Rees, who lost the starting job last season to Everett Golson, looked polished and comfortable against Temple. The Wolverines’ Devin Gardner, who replaced the injured Denard Robinson last season, has been astounding. According ESPN Stats & Info, in six starts, Gardner has taken Michigan into the red zone 22 times and scored 19 touchdowns. That’s a Miguel-Cabrera-like number.

3. Guess the author of this Facebook post Tuesday: “Woke up feisty and looking forward to traveling to Athens on Sat. If you know fans who act more like they’re at a tennis match or watching a round of golf please buy their ticket and give it to someone on Adderall who’s willing not to take it on Sat. If you don’t have the stamina to stand on your feet & yell for several hours please give your ticket to someone who can. If you let down after the 1st sign of adversity, please sell your ticket. I’m tired of other fans out yelling and out lasting us. We MUST be a factor Saturday! That is all.” Aaron Murray’s mother Lauren wrote that post. Dawg fans, you have been challenged.

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