Tag Archives: Brady Hoke

Playoff or Bust for the Wolverines

I’m in my car on my way home from work Wednesday afternoon, listening to Valenti and Foster, a sports talk show on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit.  Mike Valenti, my favorite sports talk show host, asks a crucial question of Michigan fans.  At this point, should the expectation be Playoff or bust for the Wolverines this year?

At 6-0, fresh off an 11-touchdown, shutout conference road win (somebody get Pat Hobbs a beer, please), currently ranked fourth in the nation, yes, it most certainly is Playoff or bust for the Wolverines in 2016.  That’s not me being a fan.  Truly, I will be just as happy watching Nick Saban lift another trophy this January.  No, this is me looking at the position Michigan is in and recognizing this could be the year.  Here’s why:

As Valenti pointed out on the show, this is a talented team.  Brady Hoke was a clown of a coach but for whatever reason, kids 17-23 love this guy.  Jim Harbaugh inherited a stacked roster.  Hoke recruited better than most could have and he left a cupboard full of top talent that’s coming of age in Harbaugh’s second season in Ann Arbor.

The Talent is There

Jourdan Lewis is the best cover corner in the country and it’s not because of this slick pick.  He’s been locking down his side of the field for the past two years.  That’s one of Hoke’s guys.  Taco Charlton is a force on the defensive line, another Hoke guy.  Jabrill Peppers is Jabrill Peppers.  He’s also a leftover from Hoke.  These are just a few examples.

No matter whose recruits they are, they’re all Harbaugh’s players now.  He doesn’t have to wait for his guys to get to campus.  It doesn’t seem like he’s having a hard time fitting the ones he’s got into his system.  Harbaugh has the talent he needs right now and he’s clearly the man better suited to elevating their game.

The Schedule Opens Up

Take a look at the remaining schedule.  It looks much easier than originally anticipated, doesn’t it?  Let’s be honest: Illinois is terrible, Michigan State is reeling, Maryland lost to the only decent team it’s played, Iowa has returned to its usual form, and Indiana isn’t nearly as scary away from Bloomington.  There’s one more game left on the Wolverines’ schedule, too.  I just can’t place it.

Look, The Game is going to be the toughest test of the season every year for the rest of eternity.  It doesn’t matter where it’s played or how good either team is.  Everybody brings their best when the Wolverines and the Buckeyes clash.  Blowouts are not common.  In the past 20 years, only four meetings have been decided by more than 14 points.  You better come to play two days after Thanksgiving or you might not finish the game.

The Big Ten Difference

I’m safely assuming the Big Ten East teams with only one conference loss (Penn State, Maryland, Indiana) will all lose at least once more, leaving the Wolverines and Buckeyes to figure it out themselves.  Even if one of them takes a loss before the November 26 matchup, a win there would end up being the tiebreaker.  Plenty of Michigan fans would tell you it’s a failure of a season if you don’t beat Theee Ohio State University anyway.  This year, just add a Playoff spot to the stakes.

That’s my point. That, more than anything is why it’s Playoff or bust this fall for Harbaugh and his Wolverines.  Beating the Buckeyes secures you a spot in the Playoff.

Really, the Big Ten Championship Game won’t matter at that point.  Obviously, a win would boost your resume but a loss wouldn’t ruin it.  Think about it.  Wisconsin has lost to Michigan and will lose to Ohio State this weekend.  Nebraska will lose this weekend at Indiana, at Wisconsin in a couple weeks and probably at Iowa to end the season.  Forget the Badgers.  Forget the Huskers.  A Big Ten championship won’t be enough of a boost for either of them.  And there’s a zero percent chance the Big Ten gets locked out of the College Football Playoff this fall.

There are higher powers at work here.  Despite the total mediocrity of the mid- to lower-tiers of the conference, the Big Ten is getting a lot of hype nationally, this season.  There are currently four Big Ten teams in the top 10 for the first time during a season since 1960.  People are sick of the SEC and they want a replacement.  Unfortunately for them; the Big 12 is absolute garbage, the Pac-12 can’t keep its average teams from devouring its good teams, and the ACC’s best three teams are clustered in the Atlantic division, preventing its biggest game from featuring its best matchup.  That leaves the Big Ten, which might actually sneak two teams into the Playoff.

It all comes down to The Game, as it should.  Since that’s the case, it might as well be Playoff or bust for the 2016 Michigan Wolverines.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

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Pac-12 Coaching and Player Changes

The season is over and now the changes to coaching staffs and player personnel happen that can alter the fortunes of many programs for the upcoming season. There has been plenty of turnover for many schools in the Pac-12 Conference. Which ones will pay immediate dividends? Which ones will take time? All great questions, but one of the things that the Pac-12 has going for it is that many coaches and players want to be part of the conference because of its competitive nature and its exciting brand of football. Let’s look at these changes.

Pac-12 North

California

The coaching changes almost happened at the top of the coaching staff with Sonny Dykes. It seemed like Dykes was interviewing for any open job in college football and had no interest in returning to Berkley. In the end, he returned, with a new contract, more money, and gives the football team stability with his return. The big personnel change will be with Jared Goff leaving for the NFL. Goff arguably the best quarterback in the conference in 2015 will be a very tough player to replace because of his mental and physical abilities that he brought to the table for California, but that responsibility looks like it will be thrown upon freshman Chase Forrest. The Bears made a bowl for the first time in years and to maintain this positive roll for the program Sonny Dykes needs make sure Chase Forrest is the quarterback for the program moving forward. The quarterback position will be the biggest question for the Golden Bears going into 2016.

Stanford

Finishing third in the final poll of the season was a great accomplishment for David Shaw, his staff, and players. What David Shaw has done since he took over is amazing. He is getting great talent combined with having a “Stanford intelligence” to come to Palo Alto to play football. Going into next year there isn’t a lot of turnover with the coaching staff at all. Why leave a good thing, right? However, on the player personnel side, they will be missing Barry Sanders Jr and Kevin Hogan. They will also be missing some possible linemen as well. Michael Rector, Cardinal receiver will be coming back for his fifth and final year of eligibility. Replacing Hogan will be a big task for Head Coach David Shaw, but let’s remember, he still has Christian McCaffrey. When you have him, it’ll make the job of the quarterback a little more bearable, but much like California, the quarterback question will be a big one for the Cardinal.

Oregon

Questions abound in Eugene. After the debacle of the Alamo Bowl in which the Ducks lost a 31-0 lead and lost in overtime people are wondering if the Duck run of success is over. Other people are wondering if they can develop a quarterback in the post-Mariota era at Oregon. Vernon Adams comes in, does a decent job, but gets injured and his back up, Jeff Lockie stinks up the stadium with his play. Lockie, a career back up at Oregon, looked like he hadn’t been taught the game at all. Once again, the Ducks have a fifth year transfer player in Dakota Prukop this year and he’s already on campus taking classes, so there will be no Vernon Adams issues in terms of classes. Enter new quarterbacks coach David Yost, who comes over from Washington State to help develop Duck quarterbacks. Other changes also are former Michigan Coach Brady Hoke who will be the new defensive coordinator replacing Don Pellum who was moved to linebackers coach. All in all, a season of change is upon the Oregon Ducks. How will it go? Only time will tell.

Oregon State

The Beavers will be looking to improve upon their disaster of a season in 2015 where they only had two wins under first year coach Gary Andersen. The coaching change at defensive coordinator will be the one area that could garner most of the discussion going into 2016. Kalani Sitake left Corvallis for the head coaching position at BYU, so Coach Andersen went and got Kevin Clune to take over at defensive coordinator. New schemes, new way of thinking for a defense that ranked near the bottom in defense in the country. The Beavers will also have co-offensive coordinators in T.J. Woods and Kevin McGiven. Once again, new schemes and new ways of thinking on the offensive side of the ball. The Beavers need to continuity and stability on both sides of the ball and hopefully after all this change it happens for them. Coach Anderson will have to give the fans something more than two wins to get excited about. It’ll be tough, but Coach Andersen is committed to bringing a winner to Oregon State and I, for one, believe he can do it.

Washington State

For all the talk about the demise of Mike Leach, it may have been greatly exaggerated. Washington State was the surprise team in the Pac-12 by a wide margin and ended the year with a great win over Miami in the Sun Bowl. Changes are occurring in the Palouse for Leach and his staff though. David Yost, left to coach the quarterbacks at Oregon, JaMarcus Shepard comes from Western Kentucky to coach receivers, Dave Nichol is added to the receiver coaching staff as well, and they will get a graduate transfer from Michigan in Logan Tuley-Tillman who will provide immediate help to the offensive line. Mike Leach has to keep the positive vibe going with the program because the hot seat he may have been on can be repeated with a disappointing season in 2016. The Cougars will be one of the few teams in the Pac-12 to have a returning quarterback in Luke Falk, so that will not be the question. The question is can the coaching staff build upon 2015 with creating more depth and getting more talent to come out to Wazzu.

Washington

Washington also showed that they could be on the way up as well. Head Coach Chris Peterson was starting to hear the complaints and he actually turned in a season that Husky fans were fairly happy with. Peterson came from Boise State with that reputation as an offensive guru and really has yet to deliver on that. Like his rival at Washington State, Peterson will have a returning quarterback in Jake Browning. The Huskies will also have a returning running back in Myles Gaskin that has the speed of Reggie Bush and a returning offensive line that showed promise in 2015. The Huskies will not experience major changes in their coaching staff or their player personnel for 2016 and that has created a sense of optimism around the program. The defense was pretty good despite losing some major talent to the NFL and they will continue to get better and the offense showed by the end of the year that they would be considered more of strength than a liability going into next season.

Pac-12 South

Arizona

A season of disappointment happened for the Arizona Wildcats in 2015 and headed into next season there are plenty of questions. Will Rich Rodriguez be the head coach long term for Arizona? He had discussions with South Carolina about their opening and it certainly caused nervous moments in Tucson for a few days. Is Anu Solomon going to be their quarterback? He suffered through injuries and just a bad season when he was playing. Who will replace future NFL draft pick Scooby Wright on the defensive side of the ball? Wright created some much mayhem on opposing offenses, it’s going to be tough finding a guy that has a motor like Wright. Coaching changes abound for the Cats. Rich Rod has let defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel go, defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich go, and cornerbacks coach David Lockwood go. By doing this he has to replace three fourths of his defensive staff. The Wildcat defense has become worse of the last three seasons and a change was needed in Tucson. Who will Rich Rodriguez get to come in? Good question, but they have to do something to return to the “Desert Swarm” days.

Arizona State

Where do I begin with the Sun Devils? A season of huge expectations came crashing down quickly and they were regulated to a very second/third tier bowl game in the Cactus Bowl against West Virginia. A game that they lost, which just put a disappointing stamp on the season. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell left to be the head coach at Memphis and he took a few coaches with him. Chip Lindsey was hired as the new offensive coordinator for the Devils and he brings the same type of offense that Todd Graham likes to run which is that zone-read/spread offense. Kodi Burns was brought in to coach the running backs and he brings a wealth of knowledge from Auburn. The Sun Devils will also have to replace Mike Bercovici at quarterback and D.J. Foster at running back/wide receiver. Replacing that experience and talent will be a question facing the Arizona State going into 2016 as well as the coaching additions that the Devils will have.

Utah

Utah was the team I was pushing for winning the conference this past season. It was going well until a day against USC pretty much ruined everything and they ended up in the Las Vegas Bowl playing BYU. This may be a season of transition for the Utes, they will have questions at quarterback, punter, and running back because Travis Wilson, Tom Hackett and Devontae Booker are gone. What will Kyle Whittingham do? Oh, just reload with a bunch of players that have chips on their shoulders because bigger programs were not interested. That is what Whittingham has built his program on and he is getting a nice little pipeline of players coming from the island of Samoa too. As far as coaching changes, he recently named Justin Ena and Sharrieff Shah as special teams co-coordinators, which seems a little odd to have dual coordinators for special teams, but it’s what Utah does. Most of the coaching changes for the Utes have stayed within the program, only one of the changes comes from outside the program and that is Guy Holliday who comes from BYU to coach the receivers. The main questions will be who will be the quarterback and running back for the Utes? We shall see, but one thing is for certain, the Utes will be a tough out for any team.

Colorado

Colorado could be the Washington State of 2016 for the Pac-12, but then again, it’s Colorado. A lot of young talent that made life interesting for a lot of conference teams this past year, but could not quite get over the hump in terms of wins. Head Coach Mike MacIntyre has had a bit of a fixer-up project since he arrived in Boulder three seasons ago. Coaching changes have been minimal, but the one hire that stands out is Jim Leavitt who will be the defensive coordinator for the Buffaloes. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from both the college and professional level. That is nice upgrade for the coaching staff. What do they have to do for 2016? Is the head coach on the hot seat? The answer to those questions is win and no, for right now. The Buffs just can’t get the talent to come to Colorado and when they do it’s because of a connection through family or others that gets the talent to Boulder. When you don’t win, talent does not come to you. They will have junior quarterback Sefo Liufau who has got better every year he’s been there, but the talent around him has not been the best for him. Right now if you can stop Sefo, you stop Colorado. If Colorado can’t get better and win, they will not have any success in the very tough Pac-12.

USC

The Trojans are the Pac-12’s version of a soap opera in recent years. With removing the interim tag from Clay Helton and making him the head coach, that removed some of the doubt from the program with coaching. Helton wasted no time in making sweeping changes to the Trojan staff. Helton has promoted Tee Martin to offensive coordinator, brought on Clancy Pendergast as the new defensive coordinator, and recently brought on Tommie Robinson as running backs coach. It’s not all the change, but these were the major ones for the Trojans. It’ll be Martin’s first chance to run an offense and he’ll have plenty of weapons to use. Adoree’ Jackson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, a young offensive line, and a good running game. The question Tee Martin will have is at quarterback. Cody Kessler is gone, so this will be a major question for the Trojans for 2016. Helton will also be a question mark as well because he wasn’t the big name, big splash hire that many alumni wanted. Helton also didn’t endear himself to the faithful by losing to a Nebraska team that had a losing record. The talent is there, but can the new coaching staff put USC back on the map and at the top of the college football world?

UCLA

The Bruins were a trendy pick to win the Pac-12 Conference and to make it to the college football playoff. That didn’t happen. Bruins on losing talent on both sides of the ball. From running back Paul Perkins, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, Myles Jack, to wide receiver Thomas Duarte there is plenty of talent that Head Coach Jim Mora is going to have to replace with another stellar recruiting class. Josh Rosen is back for his sophomore season and he has all the skills to be a great quarterback, even a Heisman Trophy candidate at some point in his career at UCLA. Coaching changes are certainly happening for the Bruins. Mora promoted Kennedy Polamalu to offensive coordinator, brought Marques Tuiasosopo from USC to coach quarterbacks, and Rip Scherer will coach tight ends. People feared that the “Bruin Revolution” may be over, but with these hires fans are backing off of that thought. The big question for me will be the offensive line. Josh Rosen can’t perform any magic if he is getting hit all day, so the offensive line play is going to have to improve for the Bruins to do any damage next season.

All in all, there are plenty of questions for the Pac-12 heading into 2016 with coaches and players. What will we see? Hard to say in January, but as a fan of the conference let’s hope that coaches and players get things figured out, so the conference can return to the college football playoff and remind people that some of the best football is played out here in the West.

Michigan and Michigan State: A True Sibling Rivalry

This Saturday the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans will battle on the gridiron for the 108th time.  And while both sides are well aware of the history, this particular matchup feels unlike any other.

The dynamic of this brotherly rivalry is unique.  On one hand you’ve got Michigan who constantly antagonizes its “little brother” by saying the State game doesn’t mean nearly as much as The Game against Ohio State does.  Then you look at Michigan State, who continues to live in the Wolverines’ shadow despite their coming of age in recent years.

Michigan State’s head coach Mark Dantonio has transformed his program into a perennial national championship contender since taking over in 2007.  Meanwhile, Michigan made two bad coaching hires and spent the better part of that time chasing guys out of town.

State has won six of the last seven head-to-head matchups, and has outscored Michigan embarrassingly, 221-129, since 2007.

For some reason though, the roles have not reversed like the success has.

It’s been rare for Michigan and Michigan State to be good simultaneously.  2011 saw both win 11 games and a bowl, but that was a total fluke on Michigan’s end.  Brady Hoke got lucky with Rich Rodriguez’s players in a Sugar Bowl game they probably didn’t deserve to be in against a Virginia Tech team that didn’t show up that night.  I digress.

Other than 2011, it’s been one or the other experiencing success, not both.

You have to go back to 2003 to find the last time this rivalry was played between two top 15 teams.  That November #13 Michigan went to East Lansing and beat ninth-ranked Michigan State.

So what do we have in store for us this time around?  Well, it’s set up to be the best installment of the series that we’ve seen for quite some time.

Michigan looks like it’s found its identity.  Run the ball, pass when you need to, and simply don’t allow your opponent to score a point.  The Wolverines have pitched three straight shutouts, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 1980.  And it’s not like they’ve relied on their defense to do all the work.  Jim Harbaugh’s pro-style offense is churning out points and seems to fit the personnel available.

Michigan State, however, has struggled in a couple consecutive contests.  People, State fans in particular, are wondering what’s wrong with the team.  The offense just isn’t clicking.  The defense hasn’t locked up weaker opponents like we’re used to seeing.  Yet, the Spartans are still undefeated as they come to Ann Arbor for their toughest challenge to date.

Michigan moved up six spots in the AP Poll from last week after dismantling Northwestern.  State slid down three places due to the trouble they had defeating Rutgers.

The greatest part is that none of it matters one bit.

Throw out the Wolverines’ 68-34-5 all-time record against the Spartans.  The guys playing now weren’t even alive for the vast majority of those games.  Forget about State’s 6-1 record in the past seven meetings.  We’re looking at two completely different teams now.  Disregard what you’ve seen from both teams so far this season.  It all means nothing on Saturday afternoon.

There’s honestly only one thing you need to know heading into this matchup.  Understand that, in Dantonio and Harbaugh, we’re talking about the two best motivators in college football.  Realize that they will have their guys focused on the task at hand, not what happened years ago or what could happen later this year.  There is nothing but Saturday afternoon for these two teams, contrary to what Michigan fans would have you believe.

This rivalry has produced countless classics with one team or the other being heavily favored so imagine what we’ll get to see this weekend when neither one is a decided favorite.

You do not want to miss this sibling showdown as these two try to pin each other with the “little brother” tag until next fall.

Depth Chart OR…?

Jim Harbaugh told us he would have answers this Monday.  He said he would release his depth chart three days before the Wolverines open the season in Utah.  In fact, the long-awaited depth chart did finally surface, yet we still have few definitive answers.

Much of Harbaugh’s two-deep reads like the lyrics to the chorus of Black Sheep’s The Choice is Yours.  Two big, bold letters repeatedly remind those reading that the choice is his alone.

“OR”

Apparently there are 16 spots (backups included) still up-for-grabs, each clearly marked with an OR.

The first wideout will either be Amara Darboh, OR Drake Harris.  The other receiver will be Jehu Chesson, OR Grant Perry.  Either Derrick Green OR Ty Isaac will backup starting tailback De’Veon Smith.  Both returner spots are listed as Chesson OR Jabrill Peppers.

Of all the OR’s we see, the one people obviously care most about is at QB.  Shane Morris OR Jake Rudock will start under center on Thursday night, but we won’t find out until the Wolverines take the field.

Morris, the ‘experienced’ junior, still hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in college.  He’s averaged less than four and a half yards per passing attempt while completing just 49 percent of his passes.  The lefty flat out has not looked at all comfortable in any of the games he’s played for Michigan.

Rudock is a graduate transfer from Iowa.  He started 25 of the Hawkeyes’ 26 games in the past two years, making him the real experienced option.  During those two seasons Rudock completed 60 percent of his passes.  He also drastically cut his interception total down to five in 2014 after throwing 13 in ‘13.  He played poorly at home against Michigan in 2013, throwing three picks.  Still, he and the Hawkeyes found a way to win by a field goal.

Despite what the hype machine has the fans thinking, this will be a ‘rebuilding’ season for Harbaugh and his Wolverines.  The goal for this season should be setting the team up for success going forward.  Essentially, 2015 will be the bridge that you can burn after crossing so you never have to think about the Rich Rodriguez/ Brady Hoke era ever again.

That being the case, it would make sense to go with a quarterback who’s already established himself somewhat, a guy who can bring a bit of stability to an offense (a whole team, for that matter) that has a lot of uncertainty surrounding it.  It makes sense to give the reins to someone with just one year of eligibility left.

If I’m Harbaugh, I’m looking at it like this: for one reason or another, none of the nine quarterbacks on the current roster fit the ‘franchise quarterback’ profile right now.  Therefore, there’s no point in playing a guy for the sake of building experience.  No good can come out of putting a guy in a spot he is unprepared for.

Continue to develop Morris and all the other backups in practice throughout the week, and let Rudock handle Saturdays.  That way next fall we can have the same conversation about who to start.  Except next time it will be a choice between Morris, OR Alex Malzone, OR Wilton Speight, OR Zach Gentry, OR John O’Korn, OR whoever else comes to Ann Arbor to play quarterback.

It would be a mistake to add to an already long list of question marks.  Rudock has shown far more over his career than Morris has.  That’s why he’ll end up winning the job.

When renting something you want to get your money’s worth while you still have whatever it is.  Rudock is a rental who will only be around this fall.  Failing to utilize him would be an utter waste of his time and Michigan’s season.

The Pipeline – August 29, 2015: A Firing, some Fines, and a new Television Deal

1. Illinois Fires Tim Beckman Seven Days before Season Opener

Our top news story in this week’s Pipeline comes from the University of Illinois.  (Never thought you’d read that, did you?)  Yes, the Illini have attracted national attention, at least for a couple days.

Head coach Tim Beckman was fired Friday afternoon just seven days before Illinois opens its season against Kent State.  Director of Athletics Mike Thomas dismissed Beckman due to the findings of an external investigation into the mistreatment of players.

Beckman is alleged to have deterred the reporting of player injuries, and pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and play through injuries.  There are also some questions as to whether or not seniors were treated fairly with respect to their scholarship status during the spring semester once they were done playing.  He has, of course, denied that the allegations are accurate, setting the stage for a future lawsuit.

These are very serious accusations.  And there must have been quite a lot of damning evidence to substantiate these claims for Thomas to can Beckman so close to the season opener.

Bill Cubit will take over for the 2015 as interim head coach.  He joined the Illini coaching staff in 2013 as offensive coordinator.

The issue of player safety became real for us last fall when Brady Hoke and the Michigan training staff failed miserably in protecting quarterback Shane Morris.  Excuse the video quality, but you should hear how Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham brought this to a live audience.  Now that a coach has been fired for mismanaging his players, it’s officially a hot button issue.

2. Fining College Football Players?

On Wednesday, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said some things he shouldn’t have about the possibility of fining players.  Athletic director Whit Babcock was quick to shut the idea down, saying Tech would be doing no such thing.

On Thursday a list of all finable offenses is spotted outside the Tech locker room.  A picture is taken.  The picture makes its way around the internet.  And Foster’s words are legitimized, proving that there was a plan in place to fine Hokie players for misbehavior.

Then, Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville seconds Foster’s motion.  The AD in this case, UC’s Mike Bohn does not squash his coach’s idea, but instead agrees with him.

There’s some confusion about whether this is legal.  NCAA rules state that taking money from a student’s scholarship is impermissible.  However, there is supposedly some language in these financial aid contracts which states the school may subtract aid if the violations go against department policy or the student code of conduct.

I’m no legal eagle.  I’ll let the lawyers decide what exactly the contracts allow schools to do with players’ financial aid.  I can say that this will undoubtedly add another convoluted layer to the already complicated cake that is the controversy over compensating college athletes.

3. Pac-12 Network on DirecTV

As our own Mike Wilson wrote last week, west coast football fans might be able to relax soon.  After years of not carrying the Pac-12 Network on their cable package, DirecTV will finally give fans out west what they want.

DirecTV, which was recently bought by AT&T, began testing on Friday that appears to be the first step towards bringing the Pac-12 Network to their customers’ television sets.

Imagine the frustration of paying for sports packages you’re not interested in while your favorite conference’s network is unavailable to you.  This is what some fans have been dealing with since the Pac-12 Network’s inception in 2012.

Luckily for them it seems to be coming to an end just in time for the 2015 season.

4. Sarkisian Apologizes for “Inappropriate” Behavior

Steve Sarkisian addressed the media on Tuesday concerning his “inappropriate” behavior at a USC donor event last Saturday.  Apparently, he had too much to drink and had taken some pills he was prescribed.

The press conference was short, but notably odd.

There were unnecessarily personal questions about specifically what medication Sarkisian was referring to in his statement.  Rightfully, he declined to disclose that information.

When asked if he had a drinking problem, Sarkisian said, “No, I don’t believe so, but through Pat [Haden] and the University, I’m going to find that out.”

“I don’t know if I even need rehab,” Sarkisian said.  “That’s part of the process, and I credit Pat Haden for this, that he has put things in place for me to have meetings to figure that out.”

He was quick to ‘swear off’ drinking for the rest of the season, and clarified that while there was never any alcohol in the players’ locker room, it will now be completely banned from all USC football facilities.

The USC players had their coach do a set of down-ups, just as they would have had to do for breaking team rules.

The team has moved on and so should the media.  This was a big mistake, but it was not an accurate reflection of Sarkisian’s character.

5. Vernon Adams Wins Oregon’s Starting QB Job

Anyone who was following the quarterback battle at Oregon knew there was a good chance Vernon Adams would end up winning the job.  The Ducks’ week one depth chart was released on Friday, and sure enough Adams was at the top.

This is news mostly because it wasn’t news to those of us who were paying attention.

Adams is a graduate transfer student who played three seasons at Eastern Washington.  He put up the type of numbers you see from Oregon quarterbacks, throwing for 10,438 yards and 110 touchdowns while with the Eagles.  With Marcus Mariota gone to the NFL and the rest of the team in place, the Ducks needed a new quarterback who could step in and preform immediately.  In Adams, they’ve got just that.

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Interestingly, Adams will make his first start against his alma mater next weekend when the Ducks host the Eagles.  That’s right, just three weeks after graduating from Eastern Washington he will take the field against his former team.

Ahh, what a glorious loophole in the NCAA’s transfer rules.

The Big Ten in 2014: The Lows

Welcome to the first part of my look back at the 2014 season for the Big Ten Conference.

With the exception of Ohio State playing in the National Championship game, the season is over for the conference. So now is the time to look back at the highs and lows of the Big Ten. In this first installment, we’re going to examine some of the lows. This was originally going to be the highs of the season but after watching my Lions get screwed by the refs, I don’t have a lot of positivity right now.

Obviously I won’t be able to talk about every bad thing that happened in the Big Ten because then this article might drift into the “too long; didn’t read” territory. So if I don’t mention your school… well, I don’t know why you’d be complaining. This is the Lows part. You should be happy to not relive those moments.

Anyways, let’s get this thing started with…

September 6: Black Saturday

This was one of the most high-profile days for the Big Ten. Michigan was facing Notre Dame for the last time for the foreseeable future, Michigan State and Oregon were locking horns in a matchup of potential playoff contenders, and Ohio State was facing Virginia Tech on national TV since the early season is usually devoid of major program matchups.

Well…

Michigan lead things off by getting shut out and blown out by Notre Dame. It wasn’t even a game. MSU weathered an early Oregon storm before surging back into the lead. Then they ran out of gas and Orbreakupegon scored at will to win by almost 3 scores. Ohio State was the Big Ten’s only hope of saving face that day but the inexperience of J.T. Barrett showed as he only completed 9 passes not including his 3 interceptions. The Buckeyes were taken down 35-21 and the ridicule of the Big Ten began.

Black Saturday Part 2: It Got Worse

Since the three big dogs in the Big Ten had been destroyed, people seemed to not notice some of the other action that had happened in the conference.

Or should I say MAC-tion.

The MAC is barely considered a conference at times, one of those groups that you usually forget exists except around bowl season unless you live in that area. Maybe the Big Ten should have taken them more seriously. Indiana went to Bowling Green and the Falcons knocked off the Hoosiers 45-42. Purdue brought in Central Michigan and got demolished by the Chippewas. It wasn’t even a close game as the Boilermakers fell 38-17 in front of their own fans.

Shane Morris

Some schools had great success when they played other quarterbacks (see Ohio State) but Michigan did not.

Struggling starter Devin Gardner got benched for the Minnesota game to see if sophomore Shane Morris might give a struggling offense life. What transpired ultimately contributed to two men losing their jobs.

shane-morris-e7e0d1ab12abc476Morris got bashed around by the Minnesota defense, having to be literally picked up by his offensive line. He could barely walk and barely seemed to know where he was at times. Yet somehow he was cleared to go back into the game. The poor kid should have had his helmet taken away no matter how much he wanted to go back in. The poor handling of what was eventually revealed to be a concussion helped usher athletic director Dave Brandon and head coach Brady Hoke out the door.

Indiana’s Quarterback Situation

The Hoosiers were another team who didn’t have luck with multiple quarterbacks. Of the three quarterbacks they had in 2013 that saw playing time, 2 of them transferred and Nate Sudfeld who stayed separated his shoulder early on in the season.

That left Indiana with Zander Diamont who was supposed to redshirt and Chris Covington, both of whom had never seen playing time. Predictably this did not go well. The three men combined for 7 scores versus 9 interceptions. Granted this is a team with Tevin Coleman but still, you need more than that from your quarterbacks.

Coaching Carousel

Brady Hoke was fired as was expected at the end of the season. What was unexpected was the firing of Nebraska’s Bo Pelini. Pelini had won 9 games every year since he had become the head coach at Nebraska, been highly ranked during most of that time and always contended for a Big Ten title. Yet he was gone and most people were understandably upset. It’s hard to justify firing a coach that wins that much even if he’s a bit rough around the edges.

Then Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen up and left his team after the Big Ten Title game. It looked pretty bad for the conference when one of the participants in its title game that had also won 10 games had their coach jump ship for a PAC-12 school that went 5-7. That almost made it seem like even coaches in the Big Ten viewed other conferences as superior.

Was there more terribleness that happened this season? Yeah, probably but do we really want to dwell on it any further?

Stay turned for something a little more inspiring later.

 

The University of Michigan’s Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

Hi. It’s the University of Michigan.

We know it’s been a while since we’ve written but well… we aren’t sure who else to turn to at this point and it is your time of the year. I think the last time we wrote was back in 1996 (thanks again for that National Championship). Hopefully you’ll forgive us for not writing every year because we pretty much had everything we wanted.

We almost wrote you in 2007 but we thought we had Les Miles in the bag. In retrospect, we probably should’ve asked for him just to be safe. Speaking of coaches, was that you in 2011? It wasn’t us specifically that asked for Rich Rod to be fired but we’re guessing a whole lot of other people did. It worked out okay for a while. Brady Hoke was a good guy but he just didn’t live up the expectations. We’re glad that he got fired already otherwise this would have been a very different letter.

The songs say that you’re always watching but we want you to know that we’ve been extra good this year. We kicked Frank Clark off the team when he did bad things and he was a really good player! Lots of other programs might have let him stay on (we know who those programs are if you’re too busy to check. Just saying). Devin Gardner also was really classy and consoled J.T. Barrett when Barrett broke his ankle. Ohio State even sent him a letter because they were so touched.

Don’t let them fool you though. They still belong on the Naughty list.

Well anyways, that’s probably enough catching up. You’re a busy guy and have lots of other lists to read too! So here’s ours:

  • A really awesome new head coach

It doesn’t have to be Jim Harbaugh (John would be fine too) but we certainly wouldn’t say no to him! We’re just looking for someone to lead us into a new era of success. Les Miles is kind of an older model but he’d probably work just as well. We know Bo Pelini is on the Naughty list but he’d most likely end up on the Nice list again if he came to work for us. It needs to be a dependable guy though. We won’t make it with another coach who hasn’t faced the big lights of a Power Five conference again. (We’ve also been hearing Pat Fitzgerald is on the Nice list. Him, us, think about it)

  • A new stud quarterback

It seems like everyone has a stud quarterback these days. We want one too!

Devin Gardner was a good guy but he never really panned out. He’d look great one week and then like he’d never played football before the next. And then there’s Shane Morris who… um, well let’s not talk about him. Russell Bellomy! He’s completed more passes to defenders than to our players! Don’t get us wrong though. Nice kid, just not someone who’s going to throw for 30 touchdowns in a year.

  • For another prestigious program to have a down period.

Seriously. For real, it’s someone else’s turn. We’ve had one good year since 2007 and two decent years. Yeah we know Florida is down too but come on. How about some stumbles for Alabama or Ohio State? We don’t think that’s too much to ask for. We’re willing to be that lots of other programs are asking for the same thing! Think of how convenient it would be for you to cross off all those requests at once!

  • For Urban Meyer to miss his family again

He went back to them for one year. That’s not enough. He should spend at least three more years with them. And no, this is not the same as number 3 on our list! It is very specifically different!

So anyways Santa, that’s all we’re asking for. We really don’t think it’s all that much and we would really, really appreciate it. We’ll make sure to plow you a nice runway in the Big House so you can land safely. There’ll be a cookie buffet in the locker room for you too (chocolate chip, Oreos, snickerdoodles, whatever you want) and some snacks for the reindeer.

Thanks again,

The University of Michigan

 

P.S.

Don’t forget about Michigan State. They belong on the Naughty list too.

Next Steps for Michigan Football

The Michigan Wolverines finished under .500 for the first time since their second season under Rich Rodriguez in 2009. Fall of 2014 will be remembered in Ann Arbor for some time to come as a new beginning of sorts due to the forced resignation of the athletic director midseason and the head coach being fired at the end of it.

Still, I can’t help but think this is the best case scenario.

We don’t have to watch this team play in a bowl game and the disliked duo of Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke are finally out of town. Both had worn out their welcome and having them stick around any longer would’ve been counter-intuitive. To be fair to Hoke, many players had very nice things to say about him after they were informed he had been let go.

sad hoke

Michigan now has a blank canvas with which to work. And while uncertainty can be a scary thought, at the same time few things are more exciting. It all depends on your outlook. The Wolverines have been blessed with another chance at a fresh start, an opportunity that many programs would love to have. It’s time to get to work.

Going into this offseason the University of Michigan has three tasks to accomplish in order to avoid risking irrelevance next season. Figuring out the AD situation should be the first step. Since interim AD Jim Hackett is heading up the coaching search I think he should and will ultimately be chosen to run the show. I’m not sure why that hasn’t already happened.

635503808912932621-hackettsub

Hiring a head coach is the next step and I can’t stress enough how important it is to make the right pick. We’ve seen what can quickly happen to a prestigious program that makes a questionable hire. The past two coaching searches have not ended ideally for Michigan. This time around, they need to get their man, whoever that may be.

There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of rumored names flying around. I’ve heard Jim Harbaugh, Les Miles and Greg Schiano like everyone else has.  I’ve also heard farfetched ideas like Jim Tressel and Pat Narduzzi.  Of course, these are merely speculation and we’ll likely not find out who is being seriously considered until the hire has been made.

Though he has repeatedly said he will not be coming north, I believe Miles is the man for the job. He’s the kind of crazy you want whereas Harbaugh’s just absolutely nuts.

Harbaugh

Step three, and possibly the most difficult of all, is finding a quarterback. Mercifully, Devin Gardner is gone too. It’s a relief he’s such a good student and overall person because his play this season often made me feel ill. As a general rule, if you throw more picks than touchdowns, you had a bad year. I can’t confidently say Shane Morris is the answer, judging by his brief appearances this fall.

We were forced to witness what happens when a quarterback’s abilities and an offensive strategy don’t align. I’d prefer not to have to go through it again next season. Whether the new guy’s a stud recruit, an unhappy transfer, or a guy currently buried on their own depth chart, the Wolverines need an adequate quarterback and a matching offensive scheme quite badly.

devin-gardner-1

Ceasing to schedule cupcakes as non-conference opponents is an additional step that would help tremendously. I know this won’t happen because games are scheduled about a decade in advance, but it should. Bringing in higher quality opponents would boost attendance and therefore revenue. Playing in those games would provide players with valuable experience they could use later in the season. Win or lose, those games are resume builders you can point to at the end of a season.

You’re probably feeling uneasy not knowing what’s to come for Michigan. That’s completely normal. Just relax, await the announcement of the new head coach, and prepare for an overdue rebuild. If the future is making you more nervous than excited, look back on the past and ask yourself: Could things be that much worse than they have been lately?

CFB Roundtable #38: Big Ten Football Championship Preview with Mark Hasty

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Damien Bowman (@damienbowman) welcomes in Midwest Sports Fan’s (@ByMSF) Mark Hasty (@MarkHasty) to preview Saturday’s Big Ten Football Championship game, discuss the firings of Nebraska’s Bo Pelini and Michigan’s Brady Hoke. Mark, living is Wisconsin, gives some background on why there was speculation on Arkansas’ Brett Bielema possibly taking the Nebraska job. Finally Damien and Mark touch on Florida State, Jameis Winston, and the College Football Playoff.

The End of an Era: Brady Hoke

And so the end of the Brake Hoke regime has come and sooner than anyone would have expected it. The University of Michigan announced that head coach Brady Hoke would not be returning for next season. What seemed like a good fit between coach and school in 2010 has fallen apart, resulting in the firing of both former athletic director Dave Brandon and now head coach Brady Hoke.

Perhaps Hoke just wasn’t ready for this kind of spotlight just yet. His successes before were at Ball State and San Diego State, hardly household names outside of their respective areas. There was not nearly as much pressure to succeed nor the national scrutiny. At Ball State and San Diego, simply bringing in superior talent would be enough to win games in weaker conferences.

But we can’t pretend like Hoke just suddenly forgot how to coach. Even with slightly superior talent at his previous stops, that doesn’t guarantee 10-win seasons like he managed to produce. His first year at Michigan he won 11 games. That doesn’t just happen by accident. He also did it mostly with guys recruited by someone else for a different system. Hoke coached those kids to Michigan’s first bowl win since 2008 before starting to really bring in his own players.

That is one thing that Hoke did well in recruiting. No matter what his overall record might reflect, Brady Hoke was a hell of a recruiter. He brought in top-tier talent after talent, year after year. His recruiting classes were always highly ranked by both ESPN and Rivals. His teams at Michigan were never starved for talent.

That is also where Brady Hoke fell short. Despite bringing all this highly coveted talent, they did not develop. Very few players showed noticeable improvement while Hoke presided over the team. The much maligned quarterback Devin Gardner is the best example. A highly coveted player that had been brought in by Hoke’s predecessor, Gardner never really seemed to improve from year to year.  This is not all Hoke’s fault but since he is the man in charge, he takes the blame for it.

In a way, Gardner and Hoke’s careers are very similar to one another’s.

Brady Hoke and Devin Gardner
Brady Hoke and Devin Gardner

Each of them arrived in Ann Arbor with a lot of hype.  Gardner was one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and Brady Hoke was being hyped as the second coming of legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler. Early on in their careers at Michigan, both of them lived up to the hype. After taking over for Denard Robinson halfway through 2012 and into the start of 2013, Gardner was putting up big stats. Hoke started his first season with 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl win. For Michigan fans, it was a dream come true.

Then things started sliding backwards. Gardner began to become prone to turnovers. Michigan began to lose. They went from 11 wins to 8, to 7 and finally to 5. Gardner’s stats continued to drop even to the point where he was benched for a game in favor of Shane Morris. Gardner’s health also began to deteriorate at the same rate as Michigan’s win totals.

However, there is one thing that cannot be taken away from Brady Hoke or Devin Gardner: they were both all about the team. Hoke always did his best to protect his player from the media, never blaming them for anything. He always put the blame on his own shoulders and the gave credit to the players for success. Devin Gardner’s commitment to the team can be demonstrated by his performance against Ohio State in 2013 when he gutted out a broken foot to lead the Wolverines to within a 2-point conversion of a win.

Although this is the end of his time here at the University of Michigan, this is not the end for Brady Hoke. The man will coach again somewhere, of that there is no doubt. He is simply too good of a recruiter to go unhired. Hoke may just need to go cut his teeth on a program that is less of a national focus but bigger than his previous teams. Perhaps somewhere like a Kentucky or a Virginia, someone in a Power 5 conference.

I, for one, will be a little sad to see Brady Hoke go. As far as coaches go he wasn’t the greatest but he was far, far from the worst. The one thing that everyone said about him was how good of a person he was. Players, the media, the administration and the fans all talked about what a good guy he was and that’s rare. Todd Graham of Arizona State is very poorly thought of, as is Nick Saban at Alabama. Hoke was a good ambassador for both the school and the sport and for that I thank him.

Brady Hoke was definitely out of time at Michigan but I was to remind fans of one thing: getting a better coach isn’t a sure thing. Things can get much, much worse.