What the Deuce: August 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Big Ten on ESPN

Yesterday, on the way to Wild Oats, I caught a couple of minutes of Mike Tirico and Dana Jacobson's interview with Big Ten Commisioner Jim Delaney on This is ESPN Radio. Not surprisingly, for the short time I listened, Delaney was answering questions about the Big Ten Network and the conference's inability to come to an agreement with the larger cable providers. Unfortunately, I reached my destination before Delaney stopped talking, and being somewhat green, I decided against sitting in my car listening to the interview. Of course, when I got back, the interview was over. Fortunately, you can find the entire 10:20 conversation here. Also, I was excited to see a link to the interview Tirico and Jacboson conducted with Lloyd Carr earlier during the program. If you aren't the listening type, here are the salient points from the interviews (questions and answers paraphrased):

Lloyd Carr:

Jacobson asks about the 4 straight losses to Ohio State and the fans' focusing on the Ohio State game even before the season has begun

Carr: It makes sense that the fans have high expectations and focus on this game because each school has it's rival and Ohio State is Michigan's. We're dedicated to turning it around.

Jacobson: Which team is the most improved team and which team was the hardest hit (loss of players to the NFL and/or graduation)?

Carr: You never know the impact of the guys lost or what you have in the younger players until the season begins. It's difficult to know who has improved until you have something on film. [Carr went on to say that all will be good in addition to making generic comments about each - Penn State has a veteran QB, Wisconsin brings back a lot of guys but lost a veteran QB, Ohio State is breaking in a new QB but their defense returns a strong core]

Tirico: Have you changed your mind about a playoff system?

Carr: I've changed from the traditionalist view but I'm still a traditionalist. In fairness to the players, you have to open it up. With two teams you'll have situations...I think it's doable and will happen, but the question is when.

Jacobson poorly phrases a question about whether having a senior team has any impact on getting ready for the season (Note this is a follow up, in sorts, to an earlier question Tirico asked about how teams get ready for the regular season without having exhibitions like the NFL does).

Offensively, it gives us tremendous confidence that they (Henne, Hart, Long, Manningham, etc.) have played together at a high level...they are talented and motivated because we came up short last year. The key will be replacing Steve Breaston on special teams [Carr talked about Breaston's ability to make big plays and also mentioned the defense as the other key].

The interview concluded with the usual jovial banter between the hosts and guest.

Jim Delaney:

Tirico opens strong asking where the Big Ten is in it's negotiations with the cable providers

Delaney: It's a continuing challenge. (emphasis mine). We have access to 15-16 million homes via DirecTV. We've hit the 100 number mark with the smaller cable operators and a nationwide deal with AT&T. Some negotiations are going well and not so well with Comcast. (empahsis mine). We feel good about where we are right now but cable poses signifcant challenges.

Tirico: What is the purpose of creating a channel like this?

Delaney: There were two main reasons...when ESPN launched ESPN U and 360 we noticed more of our games were migrating to a narrower platform. (emphasis added). The second deals with the syndication of basketball games and that it was harder to get some of the games on. [Delaney additionally commented that the network was created to expand events and make them available to more people]. It's really about promoting the institutions and the brands. The channel will offer deep coverage of the institutions. [Delaney concluded by talking about specific programming on the channel including a highlight show - he compared this show to SportsCenter and how, instead of seeing a 7-10 second clip of a football game, viewers would get 7-10 minutes ].

Tirico: You're going to have what we have, but on a regional basis...? (emphasis added).

Delaney: No doubt about it. (emphasis added). [Delaney added that, in the long term, the network will allow the conference to build its brand and teams].

Jacobson asks about a conference championship game for football.

Delaney: We can't have a conference championship without a 12th team [Jacobson then asks about expansion]. It's possible in the long, long run. The game has the potential for marketing and fan appeal, but it will not drive expansion. Expansion will be driven by a schools that fits academically, is competitive, and adds the conference's marketing appeal. We haven't identified that institution.

Jacobson asks about moving conference games for football later into the season (e.g. after Thanksgiving) to avoid a repeat of last year's voting

[Delaney began by praising Florida and USC for their performances against Ohio State and Michigan]. The reality is that 11 schools want a bye and 6 don't want the schedule to extend past Thanksgiving [I don't know how this works because 11+6=17...my assumption is that there are schools that want both the bye and season to end before Thanksgiving]. The other option is to start earlier in August but that would require NCAA rule changes and that is unlikely. We are exploring changing the schedule where the schools who wanted to play after Thanksgiving could and the ones that didn't want to would not.

Delaney concluded the interview by saying that he does not believe there is widespread support for a (an?) NFL style playoff and that the "plus 1" might be an option but that the same problems would arise in the "plus 1" situation as does right now.

As expected, Carr's interview was bland and non-informative - hell, he wouldn't even answer Jacobson's question about if Carr was using a book or any other non-football item, like he did in 1997, to motivate the team. On the other hand, the interview with Delaney was comical, in a sad way. Delaney cited Big Ten games moving to smaller platforms as his reason for starting the Big Ten Network but his unwillingness to accept less for the channel threatens to re-create what Delaney set out to solve! Even more comical was his admission that the channel is regional and appeals to mainly Big Ten fans (who predominately live in the Midwest). That's not going to help in negotiations with Comcast.

I'm not going to go into who I think is right and who is wrong - I think the blame is on both. I think Delaney and the Big Ten are taking a ridiculous position by overvaluing their asset. Comcast is the Devil. We've all come to the conclusion that there's going to be no movement by the end of this week and that's why I'll be in a smoke filled bar at noon on Saturday.

Monday, August 27, 2007

First The Captaincy, Then the Herbies

I moved to Miami three years ago and the first part of Miami life that I became accustomed to was the weather - December no longer meant winter coats and scraping windshields, but instead, going to the beach to watch girls wearing tiny bikinis. Still, because of the lack of seasons, it never feels like football season. Growing up in the midwest, Michigan football started when the weather was hot, continued in full swing as the leaves changed color and the temperature dropped, and ended, hopefully, with a win on a freezing January day.

When I was at home a couple of weeks ago, I felt football season - a little brisk in the morning, comfortable in the morning, and sweltering in the afternoon. Not so in Miami - hot in the morning, afternoon, and at night. When I came back to Miami, it didn't feel like football anymore. In fact, the season seemed so far away. So when I saw a preview for Michigan's game against Appalachian State, I was reminded that the college football New Year is only 3 days away and Michigan's first game is only 5 days away.

One of columns I enjoy reading at the start of every year is Kirk Herbstreit's Herbie Awards - a celebration of "the players, coaches and color and pageantry of
[college football]." In the 7th incarnation of the awards, Michigan's program makes multiple appearances:

Best RB - Veterans: Mike Hart (#4 behind Darren McFadden, Steve Slaton, and Ray Rice)

Best WR - Speed to Burn:
Mario Manningham (#5 behind DeSean Jackson, Early Doucet, Malcolm Kelly, and Limas Sweed)

Dream Offensive Line: Jake Long (Sam Baker is the other tackle)

Head Coaches in Waiting: Ron English (#7 behind Bo Pelini (LSU), Steve Sarkisian (USC), Paul Chryst (Wis), Kevin Steele ('Bama), Jimbo Fisher (FSU), and John McNulty (Rutgers))

Other notable praise for Michigan - Jake Long is on the All-Uni Team and Herbie ranks Michigan's band the 3rd best in the country behind Ohio State's and Wisconsins.

I wasn't surprised by the inclusions but was surprised by the omissions, including Chad Henne from the list of the top traditional drop-back passers (Brohm, Booty, Brennan, Woodson (KY), Ryan (BC), and Longshore) and Mike DeBord from Herbie's list of favorite playcallers (who keep the defense off balance).

Now, I don't know what criteria Herbstreit used in making these lists, but Henne has to be on the list of drop back passers. Just look at the career numbers for each of the QB's listed (courtesy ESPN.com):

Henne 666 1109 60 7.01 70 28 SR
Booty 296 478 62 7.69 32 11 SR
Longshore 235 388 61 8.12 25 14 JR
Ryan 419 693 60 6.94 25 18 SR
Woodson 464 760 61 7.44 39 14 SR
Brennan 756 1074 70 9.17 93 25 JR
Brohm 472 712 66 9.48 41 12 SR

The numbers are slightly skewed in Henne's favor because of two major factors - lack of injuries and games started. Only Brennan started as a freshman and sophomore and Brohm suffered an elbow injury during his junior year. Even taking these factors into consideration, Henne compares favorably with the QBs on Herbstreit's list. The biggest knock against Henne is that he has never won a Bowl Game or beaten Ohio State, but Henne performed very well in those 6 games. Needless to say, it's odd that Henne isn't on this list.

Finally, Herbie picks Penn State to win the Big Ten citing their favorable schedule and only major road game being in Ann Arbor. Apparently, Penn State's defense will make up for their terrible offense in leading the Nittany Lions to the Big Ten title.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mike DeBord on WDFN

Earlier today, Mike DeBord, offensive coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines, appeared as a guest on The Stoney and Wojo Show (WDFN - The Fan Detroit). In typical Michigan football coach fashion, DeBord was bland and evasive with his answers. I don't think there is much to be gleaned from the interview, but some of his answers did stick out. I attempted to transcribe the interview the best I could. Everything that follows is paraphrased:

Wojo: How excited are you about the offense? Is it going to as explosive as everyone predicts it will be?

DeBord: You never really know until you get into games. We face some good defenses and it's not going to be as easy as everyone thinks. I'm happy with our progress in camp. It's been one of the better offensive camps in terms of execution that I have been a part of. [DeBord went on to specifically mention route running, blocking up front, and running back play]

Chengelis: What is going on with the right side of the line?

DeBord: I'm pleased with the play of Justin Boren at center. Schilling and Ortmann are competing for the right guard spot. Steve has started to step up. (emphasis mine). Cuilla is playing right guard now. We're happy that Alex Mitchell will be able to come back. (emphasis is mine). We just can't lose guys up front because it makes us thinner up front.

Wojo: What different things are we going to see from Chad Henne?

DeBord: Henne is a dependable quarterback. He's gotten better from his freshman year to now. We're going to give him help in the shotgun...give him more time.

Wojo: Who is behind Mike Hart at running back? Who's the fullback

DeBord: Brandon Minor is behind Mike Hart. He's had a great camp and brings speed to the backfield[DeBord talked about last year Minor "showing what he could do."] Mondrous is the fullback but we will be using multiple personnel and not just the Pro [Debord specifically mentioned the Ace and 2 TE]

Chengelis: Talk a little about Ryan Mallett. Will he play this year?

DeBord: We haven't talked much about how much Mallett will play this year. Today was the last day of camp and we will talk about it when we meet Sunday. The best way to describe him is that he's learning. He needs to learn what Chad knows. He knows some of the playbook but not all of it. [Debord compared Mallett's situation to when Henne the coaches scaled the playbook back to help Henne as a starter during Henne's freshman year]

Chengelis: Any concerns on offense?

DeBord: Depth. We can't afford to lose guys. We need to make the younger guys and even older guys that are backups better so they are ready.

Wojo: What have you seen from the defense? Will they be able to fill the holes left by Woodley and Branch?

DeBord: I think the holes will be filled quickly. We've had our moments and they have had their's. My experience shows that when one side of the ball dominates camp, it's usually not a good season.

Wojo: Will be seeing more of the TE going across the middle?

DeBord: [DeBord began by saying that the impression the tight ends aren't being used in the passing game as much as in the past is incorrect]. We put in the passes last year ("naked passes" because the offense fakes the run to one side and both the QB and TE go in the opposite direction). Sometimes the TE is not open and the ball goes into the flat but people just notice the ball going into the flat and not the fact the TE was covered. It's a good counter to our running game especially when the defense gets to the point of attack against the run.

As mentioned before, there were no revelations. I think the most telling answer given came in response to the offensive line question. Reading between the lines, it doesn't appear as if the coaches are happy with the options behind Mitchell at RG - "Cuilla is playing the right guard right now. We are happy that Alex Mitchell will be able to come back." Hopefully, it's not as bad as I've interpreted it to be.

Other than that, maybe DeBord will open up the offense against Appalachian State, Eastern, etc. (HA!) so that the younger guys and backups actually get some meaningful playing time during the year instead of having to runMike Hart into the line deep because the Wolverines are only up 10 in the middle of the 4th.

This can only help - fresh bodies that can contribute late in the season, especially against Wisconsin and Ohio State in consecutive weeks, are an important factor in whether Michigan competes for the National Championship.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Oh Those Tigers

The Tigers need to start winning, now. Considered the best team in baseball going into the All-Star break, the Tigers have one of the worst second half records in baseball (10-22) and have not won a series since the middle of July. After losing to Cleveland yesterday, the Tigers are 2.5 games out of first in the AL Central and 5 behind the Mariners for the Wild Card.

It's been a rough season in Detroit, especially after an unexpected World Series berth in 2006. All the things that fell into place last year aren't this year and that's the biggest difference between the two seasons. Sean Baligian of WDFN said it best: Last year you expected the Tigers to win a close game. This year you expect them to lose. The bullpen that was an asset in 2006 is potential liability. Same for the starting pitching. Injuries to key players - Zumaya, Rogers, and Sheffield - have also taken a toll. I also think the is something to be said about the inflated expectations thrust upon such a young team.

The Tigers making the World Series last year was both a gift and a curse. It was a gift for obvious reasons: the first winning record since 1993, postseason appearance since 1987, and pennant since 1984. Nobody expected a year like that, especially only 2 years removed from losing 119 games. It is a curse because it created, in my mind, unrealistic expectations for this year's team.

Going into 2006, I think most fans expected, and would have been happy with a .500 finish or better. Maybe some flirting for the AL Central title but nothing more. This year would the expectations would have been slightly higher - a postseason berth and actually contending for the division crown. That progression was abandoned after last year's surprise finish and it was the worst thing that could have happened to the 2007 Tigers.

Compare this scenario to one where a NFL star rushes back from a major injury. There are countless stories about a guy coming back faster than expected only to play at a level lower than before the injury (see Daunte Culpepper circa 2006). Inevitably, it comes out later, that the guy probably was not ready to play and would have been better off coming back a little bit later. Similarly, here, I think expectations should have been tempered even after what happened last year for a number of reasons.

First, this team is still young and learning how to win. They made huge strides last year under Jim Leyland but still ended the season on a slide. In fact, Minnesota, a team that had been the class of the AL Central early in the decade, got on hot streak, took the season ending series from the Tigers to win the AL Central - after the Tigers had led the division for the majority of the year.

Second, the pitching last year was better than expected. Kenny Rogers had a stellar season along with guys like Verlander, Bonderman, Zumaya, and Todd Jones. This year, it appears if these guys have been injured, regressed, or just gone back to being the players they were pre 2006. Mathematically, this makes sense - if you are a .300 career hitter, you may hit higher or lower in a given part of a season, but more than likely, you're going to end around .300. Also, I think last year's postseason run has fatigued the Tiger staff, similar to what happened with the White Sox after they won the World Series. This has probably also contributed to the injuries to both the pitchers and position players.

Finally, the Tigers aren't a disciplined team at the plate. The media constantly harped on this last year but not so much this year (primarily because of the injuries to the pitching staff). Brandon Inge is struggling at the plate like he always has. Pudge has 5 walks all season. The only consistent batter has been Ordonez. When the pitching isn't coming through, the offense has to, but with no plate discipline, this has rarely happened this year. Yesterday, the Tigers had 12 runner LOB. Even Leyland said that one hit would have made a difference.

With about a month and a half to go in the season, I don't think the Tigers will make the playoffs. If they do, it's because Cleveland doesn't play well during this span - which wouldn't be a stretch given they way the Indians have played so far this year. Realistically, I think the Tigers need a winter off to get rest and get stronger. If they can do that, I think they will seriously contend for the World Series in 2008.

I'm Back, Baby!

I broke my New Year's Resolution of posting everyday, oh, about a week into 2007. I haven't written since March 8 (according to blogger), but I'M BACK. After a spring of law school exams and a summer preparing for the Florida Bar, I'm attempting a comeback which, hopefully, is more successful than Penny Hardaway's.

I started the blog out of the frustration that stems from Michigan football and the Detroit Lions. It was a place where I could vent, potentially connect with other fans who felt the same (or different), and improve my writing. After some thought, I've decided to expand the scope of this blog. In addition to University of Michigan sports, I'm going to talk about the other Detroit sports teams (a staple of my youth and current life), food, and other random stuff that tickles my fancy. Basically, it's going to be like every other blog out there.

Hope to have a post about the Tigers by tomorrow morning.