If you have a Big House, you must have a Big Potluck. And this week's potluck is huge -- we're talking a Bill Simmons-esque 3300+ word smorgasboard of Maize and Blue discussion.
So belly up to the buffet (if Brady Hoke has left you any room), and join us as we discuss the myth of the "Michigan Man," addition-by-subtraction GERG-style, why you can hear a pin drop in the Big House, whether Brady Hoke can see/tie his "Shoelace," and schadenfreude.....
1. Appetizer: RichRod is gone. Never have three words sounded so good to Michigan fans (the only feasible competition? "Winless Ohio
State.") Arguably better is the fact that Brady Hoke, a true "Michigan Man" who coached the D-line from 1995-2002, replaces RichRod. So here are my questions: what the hell is a "Michigan Man"? Do you need to be a "Michigan Man" to win at Michigan? And is there any other school in the B1G that requires a "(Fill in the name of the school) Man" as coach in order to succeed (and if so, what type of coach is that for that school)?
Ted Glover: Hmmm, what is a 'Michigan Man'? Well, I've done a lot of research and will answer this in greater detail on Friday (heh heh), but today, for this article, a 'Michigan Man' is a guy that 'gets it'. As in, he gets the importance of tradition, the importance of rivalries, and the importance of carrying on an impressive legacy, minus the last few years. Hoke gets it in a way that an outsider wouldn't, and that will only help the program. Oh, and I would bet anyone almost any amount of money that you won't see Coach Hoke invoke Josh Groban for inspiration. Ever.
Do you need to be a 'Michigan Man' to win there? No, but you need to become one. The guy that coined the phrase was a former Ohio
State Assistant Coach, but Bo came in and embraced everything about Michigan and became a 'Michigan Man'. You do have to understand the history and importance of the football program at Michigan, and had RichRod really gone 'all in for Michigan' he might still be around. He never placed a high enough importance on beating UM's three main rivals, especially Ohio State, ceded in-state recruiting to MSU, and just gave lip service to the Michigan traditions.
As for any other school that requires a '(fill in the blank) guy', you could argue Nebraska after the Callahan fiasco needed a return to the Blackshirts and running the football, and I think Ohio
State will need an Ohio guy to pick up the pieces in the post-Tressel era, but generally no, I don't think so. That said, you do need a guy that understands your rivalries and your traditions in a way the fans do, and he better embrace them like the fans do. Being associated with the school in some way helps, but it's not mandatory.
(CHADNUDJ EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Michigan week, so we're cribbing from Hoke's example when referring to Michigan's rival. We'll use "That Team Up North" when "Ohio
State" week arrives. All references to Ohio State in that format are my formatting changes, and not Ted's.)
2. Salad: I take it back -- "GERG is gone" might be even better than "RichRod is gone" to most Michigan fans. If ever there was a case for addition by subtraction, Michigan ditching defensive coordinator Greg Robinson and his preposterous 3-3-5 defense is it. The 2010 Wolverines were 108th in total defense (giving up 454.6 ypg), 104th in scoring defense (35.1 ppg allowed), 89th in rushing defense (189.4 rushing ypg allowed), and 113th in passing defense (265.2 passing ypg allowed)....a trainwreck of unimaginable proportions. The defensive talent obviously needs to improve, but what can new UM defensive coordinator Greg Mattison bring schematically from his days coaching Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and the Baltimore Ravens to improve UM's defense in 2011? And where do you think the 2011 Michigan defense will end up, rankings wise?
Graham Filler: Per usual, I'll take the middle road with my answer because the offseason is a terrible time to claim the Maize and Blue will be a Top 25 defense nationally (who am I kidding? the offseason is perfect for those kinds of rash predictions). Here's the truth: Michigan has made its bones on defensive toughness for years. Years. Sure we had some offensive stars, but hell, no one could consistently run on the solid-as-rock Michigan 4-3 with their big linebackers and murderous defensive linemen.
We are now back in rebuilding mode in the absolute truest sense of the word. No more 3-4 stack, 4-4 with a stand up DE/LB...those schemes were flawed and didn't fit the personnel. One day, if you feel like watching a horror movie, want the Wolverines get pummeled by both MSU's in 2010. The most simple run plays went for monster gains. This year, Michigan will be running a true to form 4-3 with a couple veterans up front, but little playmaking ability or size across the board. The advantage of a 4-3? In a run-focused conference, you've automatically got at least 4 players engaging blockers right at the snap, something you must have to slow dives or off-tackle runs.
Final rank? 75th, giving up something like 360 yards per game. The D is bound to learn its lesson by giving up 500 yards a few times early (ND probably), but the D is also bound to slow down some bunnies that racked up monster yards in 2010.
3. Rice/potato dish: Michigan Stadium, a.k.a. the Big House, is undeniably one of the most legendary stadiums in college football -- built in 1927, official capacity of 109,901 (largest stadium in the United States), home of the modern single-game attendance records for college football (113,090 for a Sept. 4, 2010 game between Michigan and UConn) and hockey (104,073 for a Michigan-MSU game on December 11, 2010), and soon to host its first-ever night game against Notre Dame on September 10, 2011. But for all that history and size....it's really not much of a home-field advantage given it's bowl design, which filters noise out rather than onto the field. Frankly, the Horseshoe, Kinnick, Beaver Stadium, and Camp Randall are all more intimidating places to play given the noise created by their fans. Is the "Big House" a disadvantage for Michigan? And should they consider doing something (long-term, obviously -- they just finished renovations) to increase the noise?
Ricardo Efendi: Should they consider doing anything long-term? No. Two reasons.
Firstly, people who have actually been to the Big House in the last year inform me the renovations have changed the stadium's acoustics for the better: the place is actually loud. So, no- I do not feel further changes necessary. Moreover, no number of structural changes will address the two major issues at the root of Michigan's noise problem.
The team and the fans. I fully expect Brady Hoke will have the program back to traditional standards within three years (vying for conference championships, not sixth place), meaning the Wolverine faithful will actually have reason to yell. So we're left with the fans.
My view of Michigan fans is not (completely) based on my perspective as a Wisconsin fan/alum, but rather four years of living in Ann Arbor (2005-2009, to be resumed this fall after a two-year hiatus called dissertation research). On the basis of these impressions, which are more anecdotal than empirical, I drop Michigan fans (more specifically, the student section that should be leading the figurative battle charge) into the following three categories:
1) Local Kids
I would venture to say the overwhelming majority of kids in Ann Arbor today, or anyone who turns out for a game on a Saturday in the fall, is a local- in-state, a real Michigander. They've been socialized into this thing called Michigan football; they probably grew up listening to their parents curse under their breaths at the mere whisper of "Woody Hayes," and reenacted the Desmond Howard pose after hitting paydirt at recess. And if they gain acceptance to the U of M? That just cements the bond that much more. For them Michigan football is a kind of ritual; flip out the maize and blue for other colors and they're really no different from any other college football fan in the upper Midwest- minus heightened expectations and a boatload of history.
These kids fall into both the preceding and following categories. The only difference is they grew up with parents/families that were not only fans, but alumni. Growing with a parent who is a fan is one thing; growing up with one that plunged into the student section for four years is something else. Now go do that yourself. Suddenly being a Michigan football fan transcends wins and losses; it's a veritable way of life that ties together generations. Fans in this group, much like those in the first, live and breathe Michigan football, immersing themselves into the game's minutiae: from recruiting, game plans, the strength coach's regimen for the defensive secondary, down to the linemen's splits. These people are great fans.
3) The Privileged
Here's where the worm turns. Sure, some of these people fall into the previous two categories. Ann Arbor is an expensive place to live. The University of Michigan is an expensive place to attend... if you're an in-state resident. Four years of tuition for an out-of-stater? Yeah.... I'd rather buy a fleet of Humvees. And I'd probably save money. If you can afford the out-of-state tuition, you're probably loaded. Probably lived a life of luxury and privilege. Do not misunderstand me - a number of these students are real football fans. But the majority of them? They're the first to bail ship (true story: after Wisconsin beat Michigan on an improbable John Stocco draw in 2005, I overheard some of the kids in this group whining, "I don't even care about the season anymore!" Yeah... after one loss? Some fan you are...). The people who form the majority of the first two groups probably take a Michigan loss the same way I digest one by Wisconsin: not well. At all. The Privileged? They don't care. They're the ones chatting on their cell phones during a game. If Michigan wins - great! But either way they're more interested in whatever party they're crashing that evening.
These three groups exist in every Big Ten student section, in every college football fan base. But that third group- they're a problem. When your team needs to force a stop on 4th-and-1 with under a minute to go, you would probably prefer to draw on fans from the first two groups, the ones who want it even more than the guys on the field. But definitely not the third group.
Here's the problem with Michigan. A disproportionately large percentage of its student body (and, by extension, alumni) comes from that third group. Now consider that getting student season tickets is a "cool thing" to do -a place to see and be seen. Combine that privilege, indifference with the impossibly high expectations and historical baggage that any Michigan team must try to live up to. Drop all of that into a yuppie town west of Detroit that tries too hard to be laid back and cool and you have a recipe for disaster. That hardcore edge, the my-week-depends-on-the-outcome-of-this-game vibe the first two groups give you is blunted.
I liken this, in part, to Bill Simmons' argument that homefield advantage in the NFL dissipated after luxury boxes, new stadiums, and pariah owners trying to squeeze out every last cent priced out the hardcore fans. Unless they start giving kids megaphones, no amount of stadium renovation is going to address the lack of noise provided by a group of front-runners.
4. Meat Dish/Hot Dish: Brady Hoke obviously brings a lot of changes on both offense and defense to Ann Arbor. One of the most pressing questions is how Hoke's offense will impact the production of Denard Robinson, who put up all-conference numbers last season, but also finished a lot of games on the bench dinged up and injured. Do you think Shoelace puts up worse, similar, or better numbers in 2011? And how do the offensive and defensive changes brought to Ann Arbor by Hoke affect the dual bottom lines in Ann Arbor: (a) Michigan's overall record, and (b) Michigan's chances in The Game against Ohio
Jonathan Franz: Denard Robinson will put up worse numbers next year. There's no doubt in my mind. But I think he'll be a better player in 2011 than he was in 2010, and that's because he won't be forced to play every position on the field. To be sure, rushing for 1,702 yards and 14 touchdowns and throwing for 2,570 and 18 more touchdowns is pretty impressive. But it's a problem when you account for 67% of your team's total offense for a season while spending significant time on the bench.
Brady Hoke's plan to integrate two-back formations and mix up personnel assignments should take just enough of the load off ole Shoelaces to keep him around for late game heroics.
But it won't be enough.
I think Michigan's offense takes a small step back in 2011 from a points and production standpoint. Yeah they've got 8 returning starters, but these are guys conditioned to operating in a run-spread universe. Can they make the transition to the West Coast? Sure. But it won't be without a little jet lag.
It's an equal and opposite reaction on the defensive side of the ball. Michigan's defense, with 9 returning
scarecrows starters, will gain a bit schematically with Greg Mattison at the helm. But it won't make up for a cast of glorified walk-ons.
In the end, the defense gains, the offense wanes, and the Wolverines wonder into a lower tier bowl at 7-5, with losses to Notre Dame, at Michigan State, at Iowa, Nebraska, and Ohio
Speaking of the Bobcats, I think the offensive and defense changes can't help but increase Michigan's chances of winning the Game, but they pale in comparison to the [potential] psychological impact of playing an Ohio
State team that's reeling from NCAA sanctions.
5. Dessert: Nothing tastes sweeter than schadenfreude. And this offseason, Michigan fans have gotten a lot of it, thanks to Ohio
State, Tattoogate/Tresselgate, and now the revelations about Ohio Stateplayers with free/discounted cars. But honestly, how should Michigan fans feel about the problems, foibles, and NCAA punishments/compliance problems at Ohio State? Should they rejoice in the misery of the Buckeyes? And a special BONUS question for everyone: if you were allowed to pick one off-field, non-violent-crime related (look, we don't want anyone hurt) embarassment/scandal for your school's biggest rival to suffer, purely for your own amusement, what would it be?
Bama Hawkeye: Should they rejoice? Should they rejoice? The Big House should be reverberating with Hosannas! Of course they should rejoice. For Michigan fans, this is a beautiful gift on several levels. Let's walk through what I'd be thinking if I were a Michigan fan...
TODAY: If you're a Michigan fan and you have a friend coworker that attended Ohio
State, you have free reign to heckle his tattoos, his pants, and the price of his car. What's his response? "But, The Ohio State has won 6 games in a row!" So what? That was last decade (Remember, decades start on the 1 and end on the 0.) and under our old coaches. Besides, by the time we meet again, the record books will show that you lost our last Game, too. "RichRod made your players work out too long." That's right, and we're ripped. Now go trade your pants for another tattoo with a misspelling.
AUGUST: As every team is preparing for the season to start and all attention is locked in on college football (no NFL, remember), Ohio
State has to frog-march Jim Tressel before the NCAA. That will be a week's worth of delicious stories re-hashing all that the Buckeyes have done wrong. Plus, once the NCAA starts poking around, you never know what other sweatervest-clad skeletons that they'll find.
OCTOBER: By this point, we should learn the additional punishments that the NCAA will be dropping on the Buckeyes. It seems almost certain that 2010's Game will be vacated, so neither team can claim a victory in that game. And if Ohio
State gets a bowl ban? I'm getting tingly...
NOVEMBER: Possibly without Tressel, possibly without the Tattoo Six, possibly without Cheap Car Brigade, the Buckeyes will bring whichever of their players haven't been caught yet into Ann Arbor. It could well be that the Wolverines are the ones with something at stake in the game. This could be very exciting for Big Blue.
BEYOND: You think that this will help Brady Hoke on the recruiting trail? "Look son, we realize that Ohio
State probably promised you all kinds of benefits that, well, we can't give to you. But the players who took those improper things are paying the price for that right now. If you want to go to...Ed Martin? No, I don't think he's alive any more...Back to what I was saying..." Anyway, this has to help Michigan in their head-to-head recruiting battles. And, that has to help Michigan on the gridiron on future Saturdays. All in all, a great deal.
BONUS: Well this is fun. I've always been a big fan of the academic scandals, because it really rips at the integrity of the idea of student-athlete. I'd love to see Bo Pelini (That's right, I'm all onboard with hating Nebraska.) getting busted for having student managers writing term papers. Unfortunately, the managers are unable to write passing papers. The situation comes to light when Pelini writes a letter to the Lincoln Journal Star lambasting a student body "so dumb they can't keep my team on the field." Unfortunately, these are the kinds of problems that you can have at a school that isn't good enough to be in the AAU.
Graham Filler: I would love to see Craig Krenzel make a political run in Ohio (he did win a national championship) and then have his eventual campaign derailed because of something crazy, like he only uses Maize and Blue colored condoms (he is from Michigan) or uses those bucknut necklaces for...backdoor purposes. I mean that would be great for all parties involved; Krenzel's a freak, so he's having fun, while Michigan fans get to add "perv" to their list of stereotypical OSU insults.
Chadnudj: As a Northwestern fan, it seems pointless to pick on Illinois more by giving them an off-field scandal -- if it's not basketball season, their fans frankly don't care enough to make trash-talking Illini football amusing. (Do YOU see any Illinois fans in the comments here, or any Illinois writers on this site? Of course not. No one in Champaign-Urbana has heard of the internet. FACT.)
But, if I were given the power to give them a scandal, it'd have to be a combination academic/cheating scandal (i.e. players taking blow-off classes and submitting hilariously bad papers that would get "leaked" on the internet for all of us to read) with a "paying for players" scandal.....only the players Illinois paid were terrible, and merely repeated the "3 terrible losing seasons, one mediocre bowl season" pattern that's been Illinois' hallmark (despite decent/upper-half of Big Ten recruiting classes) the past 20 years. Oh, and it would HAVE to involve a prominent Illinois politician in some form -- this is Illinois, and if we don't get crooked politicians involved, it's not a real scandal.
Oh, and Zook would have to survive, just because Zook is terrible as a coach....
Of course, who needs off-field scandals? Illinois should be embarrassed enough by this:
Zook waterskiing....the gift that keeps on giving...