Thursday, November 30, 2006


GO BRUINS! I'm still hanging on to faint hopes of a UCLA upset. I spent all of last weekend watching the remaining national title contenders, and hoping for the impossible. Last weekend started out okay with LSU knocking Arizona out of national title contention, although they didn't really have much of a shot anyways. FSU had a decent shot at an upset, but the offense played just well enough to lose. The high point of the game was when Florida State cornerback Michael Garvin kickoff return appeared to have tied the game at 21, but it was called back to the FSU 48 when it was revealed that he stepped an inch out of bounds. Oh well - those in power have decided that Florida is out of the title hunt anyways.

I really wasn't that impressed with USC. They tried to give the game away, but Notre Dame was simply unable to put points on the board, regardless of the seemingly endless number of chances they had in the red zone towards the end of the first half.

If it wasn't for the onside kick returned for a touchdown, the score would've been 37-24, and perhaps the entire country doesn't jump on USC's bandwagon. I bet half the sportswriters in the country didn't stay up to watch the game, took one look at the 44-24 score, and declared USC the new coke. I can't help but feel that if Notre Dame scores in one of those red zone possessions near the end of the first half, the score stays close, and Michigan holds on to the #2 ranking.

I guess I can't complain too much - Michigan had a chance to get the job done themselves, and came up a little short. They managed to keep close, but the combination of a seemingly unstoppable Troy Smith, an incredibly sloppy playing field, a less-than-100% burgess, an injury early on to Barringer, a lack of depth in the secondary, and an unwillingness to adjust to these conditions until the end of the half was just too much for the offense to overcome.

If the Wolverines are resigned to the Rose Bowl, I really, really, really hope that we do not see a rematch against Notre Dame. As one of the biggest Wolverine fans around, I still think I'd have a hard time getting up for that matchup, and I feel like the players would feel the same way. The recent rumors of a Michigan-LSU matchup have me salivating. LSU has been just under the radar all season long, but they are one of the best teams in college football. With all the talk of this being a down year in the Big Ten, and all the accolades going to the PAC10 and SEC, I'd like to see OSU, Michigan and Wisconsin represent during the bowl season. Wisconsin accepted a Capitol One bid, and won't know who they play, but it looks like Arkansas may have the inside track at the moment.

If the Big Ten wins all three of these matchups, they lay claim to the strongest conference title:

#1 OSU vs. #2 USC
#3 Michigan vs. #5 LSU
#7 Wisconsin vs. #8 Arkansas


OthelloRank - A First Attempt at a Non-biased BCS Computer Ranking Algorithm

I've been frustrated over the complete arbitrariness of deciding which of Michigan, USC and Florida is most worthy of a matchup against Ohio State in the national championship. I wanted to see for myself if I could come up with completely objective and non-arbitrary ranking algorithm. I was inspired by the simplicity of the game Reversi/Othello. A more thorough description of the algorithm used follows.

When I finally got around to running the program as I had initially designed in my head, I ended up with Ohio State ranked #1, Boise State ranked #2, Michigan #3. I realized that I had a few parameters I could tweak ( i.e. how many levels of propagation should be counted, how many points to assign a loss, or a secondary loss, etc. Eventually, I concluded that it's impossible to make these decisions without introducing my own bias into the results, thus negating my purpose for creating the entire experiment. I guess I'd have to start by configuring the rankings against historical results without taking the current season into account at all. Once I've fine-tuned things, I can turn around and use the algorithm with confidence that I haven't introduced my own bias. If they don't scrap the BCS entirely, I might try to work on that for next season.

I did come up with some pretty convincing results with about five hours of work, half of which was writing a program to extract the teams, schedules and results from ESPN's website. In the end, I decided to only propagate out two levels, and to count wins as 1 point, and those opponent's wins as a second point, losses as -15 points, and those opponent's losses as -10 points. Using this approach, I have my top four as #1. Ohio State, #2 Florida, #3 USC, #4 Michigan.

In the end, I ended up solving nothing. I can make my rankings look however I want, depending on how much emphasis I put on losses. It is readily apparent that both Florida and USC had tougher schedules than Michigan. If Michigan had chosen a tougher SEC or PAC10 opponent instead of Ball State, Vanberbilt, or Central Michigan as another out-of-conference opponent, they would've had enough to overtake USC/Florida, but as it stands, it's hard to make a case. Florida gets the nod over USC because a loss against Auburn doesn't cost as much as a loss against Oregon State.

I guess when it comes down to it, this all points to the necessity of a playoff system. On the one hand, a playoff system may somewhat diminish the importance of the regular system, but on the other, it's incredibly agonizing to see Michigan come so close to a national championship, but fall short the series of belts, pulleys, gears and kludges known as the BCS.

Download Links:

OthelloRank Executable: (Note: .NET 2.0 Framework is required - 37 KB)

OthelloRank Source Code: (Written using VS2005/C# - 77 KB)


Top Twelve

1. Ohio State 20.25
2. Florida 19.27
3. USC 19.00
4. Michigan 18.92
5. Louisville 16.45
6. Boise State 13.27
7. Wisconsin 12.82
8. Rutgers 12.00
9. LSU 11.92
10. Notre Dame 11.17
11. Arkansas 9.55
12. Auburn 9.42

Michigan Team Report

Wins Against (11 total)

Vanderbilt (3-8) SCORE: 12
Central Michigan (8-4) SCORE: 18
Notre Dame (10-2) SCORE: 42
Wisconsin (10-1) SCORE: 26
Minnesota (5-6) SCORE: 22
Michigan State (4-8) SCORE: 17
Penn State (7-4) SCORE: 21
Iowa (5-6) SCORE: 22
Northwestern (4-7) SCORE: 14
Ball State (5-6) SCORE: 12
Indiana (5-6) SCORE: 22

Losses Against (1 total)

Ohio State (12-0) SCORE: -1

Cumulative score is 227

Weighted Score is 18.92


USC Team Report

Wins Against (10 total)

Arkansas (9-2) SCORE: 31
Nebraska (8-3) SCORE: 28
Arizona (5-6) SCORE: 26
Washington State (6-6) SCORE: 21
Washington (5-7) SCORE: 22
Arizona State (6-5) SCORE: 25
Stanford (1-10) SCORE: 8
Oregon (6-5) SCORE: 27
California (7-3) SCORE: 25
Notre Dame (10-2) SCORE: 42

Losses Against (1 total)

Oregon State (7-4) SCORE: -46

Cumulative score is 209

Weighted Score is 19

Florida Team Report

Wins Against (10 total)

Southern Miss (7-4) SCORE: 20
UCF (3-8) SCORE: 9
Tennessee (9-3) SCORE: 37
Kentucky (6-5) SCORE: 24
Alabama (6-6) SCORE: 20
LSU (10-2) SCORE: 40
Georgia (7-4) SCORE: 31
Vanderbilt (3-8) SCORE: 12
South Carolina (6-5) SCORE: 24
Florida State (6-6) SCORE: 31

Losses Against (1 total)

Auburn (10-2) SCORE: -36

Cumulative score is 212
Weighted Score is 19.27

About OthelloRank

OthelloRank is an attempt to build a completely objective BCS computer ranking algorithm. There is no preseason rankings, no assumptions, no margins of victory, or anything else of that sort. The only item that is looked at is wins and losses.

The algorithm is called OthelloRank, and it loosely based on the basic concepts of the board game Othello (Also known as Reversi). In Othello, the object of the game is to capture as many pieces as possible, thereby changing the polarity of those pieces on the game board that don't already belong to you.

Assume that a win represents a white game piece, and a loss represents a black game piece. In Othello, the simplest move you can perform is to surround and capture one opposing piece on the game board. In OthelloRank, each game played is considered one move. The OthelloRank equivalent to capturing a single game piece is to defeat an opponent that has zero wins. This move flips the polarity of a single team, and provides you with one point.

Moving back to the board game, With a strategically placed move, it is possible to capture pieces in several different directions with a single move. This would be considered a quality move. The equivalent in OthelloRank is a "Quality Win". If you defeat an opponent with five wins on the season. The polarity of each of those teams switches, giving you six points. In addition, additional points can be won by proxy. Each sub-opponent that one of those opponents has defeated can also have their polarity switched, resulting in additional points. This process propagates on outward until either the configured limit, or until all possible outcomes have been considered. Each opponent's polarity can only be switched once, resulting in a maximum theoretical score of 118 points per turn (You cannot obtain points)

Consider the reverse - A loss in OthelloRank is the equivalent of an opponent taking a turn in the game of Othello. Polarities are flipped the opposite direction, resulting in a net loss of points. Losses are propagated by proxy, meaning that if you lose against a strong team, with no losses themselves, you will only lose one point (The exact number of points is configurable), but if you lose against a weak team, with many losses, many additional points may be lost.

Each game played by a team is considered. Games played against non-Division I-A opponents are thrown out entirely. The final rank is generated by dividing the cumulative score achieved by the # of games played. The maximum theoretical score is 118, and the minimum theoretical score is -118.

At a glance, this method may appear to give teams that play in weaker conferences a competitive advantage, since they have inflated records by playing against weaker competition. The theory is, that, over the course of a season, the opponents in those weaker conferences will have compiled worse non-conference schedules, resulting in fewer available net points available. The goal with this ranking algorithm is to eliminate all arbitrary assumptions, and allow the computer to decide which team is the strongest.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Cheering for the Enemy

Michigan wrapped up their season last week, and forced to watch the rest of the season unfold from the sidelines. The Wolverines won't know whether to pack their bags for the National Championship game in Glendale, AZ, or the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

There four teams with a possibility of making it into the national championship game to face OSU are Michigan, USC, Florida and Arkansas. Arkansas has a very remote of making the big show, as they were blown out at home by USC, while Michigan's only loss was by 3 points on the road, to the #1 team in the nation. The only way Arkansas can take over the #2 seed is with incredibly impressive wins against both LSU and Florida.

This afternoon, at 2:30 PM, I will assume the roll of a Tigers fan, as Arkansas visits LSU on the road. An LSU win isn't absolutely necessary, but it will serve the dual purpose of eliminating the Razorbacks from national title contention and hurting USC's strength of schedule.

Tomorrow afternoon, I will become a huge Seminoles fan, as Florida visits their in-state rivals, the Florida State Seminoles at 12:00 PM. With a win over Florida State and Arkansas, Florida make have enough to overtake Michigan, since many voters will look for any excuse to avoid a rematch in the title game.

Saturday evening (8:00 PM) is the biggest game of the season for a Michigan Wolverine fan that does not include the Wolverines taking the field. Although the remote possibility exists for UCLA to knock off the Trojans in the final game of the season, the best chance for a USC loss is today. This is the single biggest thing that needs to happen for Michigan to advance to a neutral field showdown vs. OSU.

  • 11/24 Arkansas vs LSU 2:30 PM (An Arkansas loss would knock the Razerbacks out of contention) VEGAS LINE: LSU -2
  • 11/25 Florida at Florida State 12:00 PM (A Florida loss would knock the Gators out of contention) VEGAS LINE: FLORIDA -9
  • 11/25 USC vs. Notre Dame 8:00 PM (A USC loss would knock the Trojans out of contention) VEGAS LINE: USC -7.5
  • 12/02 USC at UCLA 4:30 PM (If USC manages to get by the Fighting Irish, this is one last chance for a loss)
  • 12/02 SEC Championship Arkansas vs. Florida 6:00 PM (One last chance for either Arkansas or Florida to lose)


Monday, November 20, 2006

Lobbying for "The Rematch"

Here's to hoping Notre Dame does Michigan a huge favor this Saturday. An LSU win over Arkansas on Friday, and then an Arkansas win in the SEC championship would cement the deal. I feel that USC is the only team that still deserves a chance to steal the #2 seed, although that stretch of games involving Washington State, Washington, Arizona and Oregon State didn't exactly scream out "National Title Contender".

There is no way anyone is going to rank Notre Dame above Michigan, so a win by the Fighting Irish does nothing but increase Michigan's strength of schedule. Arkansas got blown out badly by USC earlier this year.

The tough call for me is between Michigan and Florida. The Gators are 10-1, with their only loss coming against #14 Auburn, but they needed a couple blocked field goals to get by South Carolina, and the margin of victory over Vanderbilt was nothing to write home about. To be fair - Michigan squeaked by Ball State earlier this season, but that was because Carr put in the second stringers on defense way too early.

Ranking the #2s

#2 Michigan
Quality Victories:
at #5 Notre Dame (47-21); vs #8 Wisconsin (27-13); at #25 Penn State (17-10)
Losses: at #1 Ohio State (42-39)
Ugly Wins: unranked Ball State (34-26)

#3 USC
Quality Wins:
at #6 Arkansas (50-14), vs #23 Nebraska (28-10), vs #22 Cal (23-9)
Losses: at unranked Oregon State (33-31)
Ugly Wins: unranked Washington State (28-22), unranked Washington (26-20), unranked Arizona State (28-21)

#4 Florida
Quality Wins:
at #19 Tennessee (21-20), vs #9 LSU (23-10),
Losses: at #14 Auburn 27-17
Ugly Wins: at unranked Vanberbilt 25-19, unranked S Carolina 17-16

#5 Arkansas
Quality Wins:
#19 Tennessee (31-14), at #14 Auburn (27-10)
Losses: vs #3 USC (50-14)
Ugly Wins: at unranked Vanberbilt 21-19; vs unranked Alabama 24-23; at unranked S Carolina 26-20


Michigan 3 Quality Wins, 1 loss (very close; vs #1 team in the country), 1 ugly win
USC 3 Quality Wins, 1 loss (vs an unranked opponent), 3 Ugly Wins
Florida 2 Quality Wins, 1 loss (vs #14 team in country), 2 Ugly Wins
Arkansas 2 Quality Wins, 1 loss (blowout at home vs #3 team in the country) 3 ugly wins

Michigan lost by a field goal to the #1 team in the country; USC lost against an unranked opponent, Florida lost against Auburn, and barely squeeked by S Carolina, and Arkansas was blown out by USC, and looked very ordinary against several opponents this season. Notre Dame was blown out by Michigan, so moving them ahead of the Wolverines is a non-starter.

Regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, I don't know how you move any team ahead of the Wolverines. In order to remove all speculation over who should play in the national championship, I really hope USC, Arkansas and Florida all find a way to lose in their last two games, but I feel the Wolverines should play in the championship, regardless of what happens between now and then. The chief argument against the rematch is that it is unfair to require that Ohio State defeat Michigan twice in the same season. I dismiss that argument are irrelevent. The BCS is designed to pit the two top teams against each other in the National Championship, on a neutral field. The key to this is that it should be a neutral playing field. OSU defeated Michigan by a field goal at home. Does that really tell us that OSU is a better football team than Michigan? If OSU is a better team, they should be able to defeat the Wolverines on a neutral field. If Michigan wins in the rematch, I'd argue that it should be enough to give the Wolverines the outright championship, because the all the first games showed us is that Ohio State is three points better than Michigan when playing at home.

Michigan and Ohio State are far and away the best two teams in the country. This weekend, Ohio State definitely looked more impressive, but they had time to prepare for the absolutely horrible field conditions, had the home field advantage, and got a huge break when Barringer went down, exposing the weakest link in Michigan's lineup, which is depth at secondary.

Critics of the rematch argue that the game wasn't really as close as the final score (42-39) indicates, but I beg to differ. OSU fans like to point out that the only thing that kept the game close was two fluke turnovers. True - a couple of those turnovers were giftwrapped, but it wasn't like OSU didn't have a few things go their way. If that roughing the passer against Crable was avoided, Michigan, who had all the momentum, would've go the ball back, with a chance to take the lead; Manningham was wide open for a sure touchdown, but slipped on the cursed grass; if Barringer didn't go down early, there is no way those two runs by Pittman and Wells would've both gone for scores; Michigan defenders were falling all over the place - I'm almost positive that Tressel dictated that the field be kept in the worst shape possible, and has his players practice on the field to determine what types of cuts they can get away with without falling over, in order to gain a competitive advantage.

A rematch is the best thing that could happen for college football. If Ohio States wants the national championship, they shouldn't be afraid to play the Wolverines on a neutral playing field, and a level playing surface. OSU and Michigan went into the game with the two of the most impressive defenses in recent memory, and both were exposed. A rematch would allow both teams to remedy the issues exposed on defense. This weekends game was a truly exciting match, and the highest rated television audience for a College Football match in the past thirteen years. Since this game lived up to all the hype, a rematch would be an even bigger spectacle. I believe a rematch would be the true "Game of the Century".


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Michigan is still #2

The new BCS rankings came out, and Michigan is still #2, with USC close behind.

Since Michigan lost by only 3 points, on the road, to the #1 team in the country, it didn't hurt their ranking much, and it leaves the distinct possibility of a rematch for the national championship (on a neutral field, to boot)

The rematch basically comes down to next week, when Notre Dame plays USC on the road. USC has the best change of overtaking Michigan in the BCS rankings, and a win over Notre Dame would guarantee that to happen. However, if Notre Dame pulls out the win, it increases Michigan's strength of the schedule to the point, where I don't think any other team can catch them.

A Notre Dame win over USC should be enough to guarantee a rematch, but there are still two SEC teams that overtake Michigan,depending on how the season plays out. In an ideal world, LSU beats Arkansas, and then Arkansas defeats Florida in the SEC championship. That scenario would guarantee a rematch.

Key Remaining Matchups:

  • 11/24 Arkansas vs LSU 2:30 PM (An Arkansas loss would knock the Razerbacks out of contention)
  • 11/25 Florida at Florida State 12:00 PM (A Florida loss would knock the Gators out of contention)
  • 11/25 USC vs. Notre Dame 8:00 PM (A USC loss would knock the Trojans out of contention)
  • 12/02 USC at UCLA 4:30 PM (If USC manages to get by the Fighting Irish, this is one last chance for a loss)
  • 12/02 SEC Championship Arkansas vs. Florida 6:00 PM (One last chance for either Arkansas or Florida to lose)

Each of the three contenders (USC, Florida and Arkansas) have two chances left to lose. #3 USC has to play #6 Notre Dame, who is 10-1, with only a loss to #2 Michigan. #5 Arkansas has to play #9 LSU, who is 9-2 and then #4 Florida. #4 Florida has to play in-state rival Florida State, and then #5 Arkansas. There is a good chance all three teams will lose one more game. The most important matchup will be USC vs. Notre Dame, because if USC loses, there is a very good chance Michigan will play in the national title game, regardless of how Arkansas and Florida finish out the season.

The worst case scenario for Michigan is that they represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl against USC or Cal. It's been a very good season as a Wolverine fan, and regardless of how things play out in the upcoming weeks, I am proud of what this team has accomplished.


Friday, November 17, 2006

RIP, Bo Schembechler

Edit: It's tough to find just the right words to say on the subject. Brian, from mgoblog, has expressed it better than I can hope to. See Eleven Swans.

A sad day, but also a great day to remember the greatest coach in Michigan football. He had a heart attack in 1970, and another one in 1987, so this was a long time coming, but it is incredibly hard to take for football fans. Bo Schembechler lived for the Michigan/Ohio State rivalry - while he was coach, his team reviewed tapes of Ohio State every week of the season in preparation for the big game. He was the Michigan coach, during the "Ten Years War", while legend Woody Hayes was the Ohio State coach.

Bo Schembechler started his career working as an assistant for Woody Hayes, and he titled his autobiography "Woody and Me". Woody passed away in 1987. It's somehow fitting the Bo passed away during the weekend of the biggest game in Michigan/Ohio State history, while the entire national spotlight is on the rivalry. ESPN is going to spend the entire day covering Bo Schembechler's life story.

Bo was not planning on attending the game, since his health prevented him from attending away games, but I'm sure he was looking forward to watching this game. His last public comments were at a press conference earlier this week. You can listen to audio from the press conference at

Further reading:

Wikipedia - Bo Schembechler

Wikipedia - Michigan - Ohio State Rivalary

ESPN just had a helicopter shot of the Michigan Football teams buses departing for Columbus, OH. The biggest game in the history of college football just took a backseat to a football legend. The memory of Bo Schembechler will weight heavy on the hearts of everyone at the game tomorrow, as the legend of Bo and Woody lives on during another chapter in the most storied rivalary in all of sports.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Game of the Century - Michigan Wolverines vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

Everybody is talking about it. The next "Game of the Century". Querying Google News for "Game of the Century" currently brings up 165 results, although some appear to be discussing chess and less well-known non-American football. A couple weeks ago, I referenced Wikipedia to see what they had to say about the Game of the Century. There were eight different games listed as the "Game of the Century", but no mention of the storied Michigan/Ohio State University rivalry. I decided to follow in the footsteps of my personal hero, Stephen Colbert, and edit Wikipedia with my own version of the truth, adding a ninth entry to the GOTC article:

2006 #2 Michigan vs. #1 Ohio State

This yet-to-be-played matchup will take place on November 18th, 2006, and has frequently been billed as the "Game of the Century". Ohio State has been ranked #1 in all major polls for the entire season. Michigan started the season ranked #14 in the AP Poll, but jumped up to #6 after week three with a dominating 46-21 road win against then #2 Notre Dame. Michigan took over the #2 ranking in all three major polls (AP, BCS, Coach's poll) in week ten, after USC stumbled against unranked Oregon State. Ohio State's biggest win of the season was a dominating 24-7 win on the road against then #2 Texas. This past week, both teams, perhaps caught looking forward to their head-to-head matchup, struggled against unranked opponents, as Michigan pulled out a 34-26 win over Ball State, and Ohio State held on for a 17-10 win over Illinois.

November 18th will mark the first time Michigan and Ohio State have entered the season-ending matchup in the storied Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, which ESPN ranked as the greatest sports rivalry in a 2000 poll [1], where both teams are undefeated, and ranked #1 and #2 in the nation. [2]. The last time the two teams were undefeated when they met was in 1973, where the game finished in a 10-10 tie.


  1. ^
  2. ^

My revision to the Wikipedia entry on the Game of the Century lasted about a week, and then somebody took it down, suggesting that despite the fact that the game has been frequently billed as the Game of of the Century, it is not in fact, the Game of the Century. You can still view my version of the truth in the Wikipedia History.


I continue to follow the media's lead in referring to the upcoming Michigan/OSU matchup as the Game of the Century, despite my wife's insistence that, technically, we cannot declare a Game of the Century when we are only seven years into the current century (or six, if you discuss the matter with one who vehemently declares that there was no year zero, and the millennium should have been celebrated on January 1st, 2001.)

Technically, in that case, I should be free to declare November 18th as the Game of the Century, since the Wikipedia's most recent Game of the Century occurred in 1993, well before the dawn of the twenty-first century. Technically, they should decide on one "Game of the Century" for the twentieth century from the nine offered, and allow my entry to stand as is.


As I mentioned in the wiki entry, ESPN ranked Michigan/Ohio State as the #1 rivalry in all of sports. Michigan and Ohio State have never met as undefeated opponents ranked as #1 and #2 in the nation. This is the first meeting in the storied #1 ranked rivalry in all of sports where teams are ranked as #1 and #2 in the nation. How can anybody not be excited for this matchup? How is this not the Game of the Century? How am I going to get any sleep this week?

Let the hype begin :)

Then there was 1 (Game) -

Border Battle Reaches Uncharted Territories

Wolverines can finally focus on Ohio State (ESPN)

Let the Hype Begin (Sports Illustrated)

It's finally official: OSU-Michigan will be No. 1 vs. No. 2 (Sportsline)

Nothing Stands Between Ohio State and Michigan (ESPN)

Buckeyes/Michigan: Ready to Rumble (Toronto Star)


Michigan got a first place vote! 62 more up for grabs :)

The Week #12 AP Poll is here, and Michigan put a small dent in OSU's armor, with 1 out of a possible 63 first place votes. OSU picked up the other 62 first place votes. This is the first week that the voters have unanimously declared Ohio State Michigan as number #1 and #2, as Michigan had 1 first place vote and 62 second place votes.

Florida is the new #3, Rutgers jumps up to #8, Wisconsin moves into the top ten for the first time this season:

1. Ohio State (62) 11-0 1,574
2. Michigan (1) 11-0 1,513
3. Florida 9-1 1,381
4. USC 8-1 1,373
5. Notre Dame 9-1 1,273
6. Arkansas 9-1 1,248
7. West Virginia 8-1 1,113
8. Rutgers 9-0 1,082
9. LSU 8-2 1,054
10. Wisconsin 10-1 928

Middle Tennessee State and Central Michigan both received some recognition for perfect conference records with 1 vote each. I was actually pretty impressed by CMU when they visited Ann Arbor early this season, and I'm glad to see that they're receiving some national recognition.

My only gripe is that a 1 loss West Virginia is a spot ahead of an undefeated Rutgers. Preseason bias' really take a long time to let go of.


Will any legitimate #3 team remaining?

National Title contenders are dropping like the price of candy the day after Halloween. Each week, the media picks a new darling, and each week, that darling fails to represent. For a while, two sports columnists went so far as to have West Virginia ranked #1 in their polls, despite, at the time, the Mountaineers having a schedule ranked as the 104th easiest in the country. When the Mountaineers ran into their first tough competition of the season, they folded like a double helix.

Early on this season, we witnessed #2 Texas losing to Ohio State in week two, #2 Notre Dame losing to Michigan in week three, #2 Auburn losing to unranked Arkansas in week six, and #2 Florida losing to Auburn in week seven. Since that point, the #1 and #2 ranks have been relatively secure, with Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Michigan holding out for the upcoming Armageddon/Game of the CenturyTM.

Since then, it's been #3 and below that has had trouble holding on. In week nine, #3 USC lost to unranked Oregon State. In week ten, newly appointed heir to the throne, West Virginia, couldn't hold on against upstart Louisville. Louisville held on the title of next-in-line for a total of one week, losing to Rutgers on Thursday night, a prelude to the BCS shakeup that occurred last night. In the past week, the following occured:

#3 Louisville lost to #15 Rutgers 28-25
#4 Texas lost to unranked Kansas State 45-42
#5 Auburn was blown out by unranked Georgia 37-15
#8 California lost to unranked Arizona 24-20

and #6 Florida needed to come up with a blocked field goal attempt with eight seconds left to pull out a 17-16 victory from the jaws of defeat over unranked South Carolina.

So, who's left...

#6 Florida is now 9-1, but after barely eaking out the victory over South Carolina, do they deserve to move up to #3. Florida has a clear path to the SEC championship game, and should make a decent case to appear in the national title game with a 12-1 record and an SEC championship.

#7 USC looked impressive in their win over upstart Oregon, two weeks after losing to Oregon State. They now face California and Notre Dame in their next two weeks to wrap up their schedule. USC is 8-1, and should also make a strong case for a national title appearance if they can pull out wins over Cal and Notre Dame. USC has looked pedestrian at times this season, but seems to be putting things together since the big upset.

#9 Notre Dame - Besides the 47-21 blowout loss against Michigan, Notre Dame has held their own. Mind you, their schedule hasn't really been much to brag about since the amazing come-from-behind win against Michigan State. Notre Dame's lone tough remaining match is in two weeks against USC.

#11 Arkansas - After an opening week 50-14 blowout loss against USC, Arkansas continues to roll, with another impressive 31-14 win over #13 Tennessee. If it wasn't for preseason rankings and long-standing biases, Arkansas would've been ranked a lot higher by now. It's hard to understand why Auburn was #5, while a one-loss Arkansas was #11 after winning the head-to-head matchup.

#14 Boise State - Entering long-shot territory. Boise State does not play a ranked opponent this season. At 9-0, they deserve a BCS game, but do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the national title game until they pick up some ranked non-conference opponents. If they win out, they guarantee themselves a spot in a BCS matchup after last night's big shakeup.

#15 Rutgers - Rutgers is the most complete team I've seen this season outside of Michigan/Ohio State, and they are completely underrated. If teams were not judged by preseason rankings and long-standing biases, Rutgers would definitely be in the top ten by now. On Thursday, Rutgers demonstrated how for ahead they are of the rest of the Big East, with a dominating second half defensive performance. Defense wins championships, and after falling behind 25-7 to Louisville, the Rutgers defense pitched a shutout, and allowed the offense to continue grinding out enough points for the eventual victory. Ray Rice seems to be almost a clone of Michael Hart, and the speedy, but undersized, Scarlet Knights defensive front should present a unique challenge to any team. I'd keep Rutgers out of the top 5 for now, but if they pull out a win against the Mountaineers, I think the Scarlet Knights should deserve serious consideration for a national championship appearance.

If it was up to me, the new rankings would look like this:

#1. Ohio State (11-0)
#2. Michigan (11-0)
#3. Florida (9-1)
#4. Arkansas (9-1)
#5. Rutgers (9-0)
#6. USC (8-1)
#7. Notre Dame (9-1)
#8. LSU (8-2)
#9. Boise State (10-0)

If either Florida or Arkansas runs the table to the SEC championship, they should have be given the most consideration for a national title bid. Yesterday's mess improves the chances of a Ohio State/Michigan rematch for the national title if Armageddon is close. If it was up to me, I'd say Flordia, Arkansas, Rutgers, USC, and Notre Dame all still have a shot of making the national championship game, but we'll have to wait and see what the media decides.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Michigan - Indiana Preview

Indiana is a team that Michigan cannot afford to take lightly, but given how close the last few games have ended up, I'm sure they are going to take this game seriously. I fully expect Michigan to be prepared to play for the full sixty minutes on both offense and defense today.

The chief concerns for Michigan should be stopping the passing attack and special teams of the Hoosiers. The passing attack is headed by freshman quarterback Kellen Lewis, who has restored respectability to the organization, and brought them within 1 win of bowl eligibility. Lewis has 13 passing touchdowns and 4 rushing touchdowns, and, as a mobile quarterback, he represents a decent preview for the Wolverine defense in preparation for Armageddon against supposed Heisman lock-in Troy Smith. Lewis' primary target will be James Hardy, who has 9 touchdowns on the season, and at 6'7" represents a very tough challenge for the Wolverine secondary. Finally, the third player to watch out for is Marcus Thigpen on special teams. Thigpen leads the division 1-A with 3 touchdowns on kickoff returns, and he is averaging an amazing 32.65 yards per kickoff return on the season.

Offensively, we should witness the best output for the Wolverines in quite a while. Mario Manningham looked comfortable last week in running routes, and drawing double coverage to open up the field, and he should be close to 100% this week. Having Manningham back in the lineup opens up everything for the Wolverines offense. Last week, Michigan's backs tore it up for over 300 yards rushing, and we should expect more of the same today, and Indiana is ranked 100th in the nation, giving up an average of 170 yards on the ground. I expect Hart and Minor to run for over 100 yards each again today. Henne should find Manningham streaking past the secondary at least once or twice for scores. Other than that, Henne will mix it up with screens are out routes to Breaston, mid-range passes to Arrington, and tight end options to Ecker, Massey or Butler, who should all be healthy for today's games.

With last week's 216 all purpose yard performance, Steve Breaston has officially re-emerged as another threat in the Wolverine's offensive toolbox. Breaston has played well for the majority of the second half of the season, although he took a huge step back in the cold/rainy/windy game against Northwestern. For the season, Breaston is now second in the big ten behind Thigpen, averaging 25.46 yards per kickoff return. Every Wolverine fan wants to see him break one more kickoff/punt return for a touchdown before the end of his career, and if he saves that for the winning score against Ohio State, I'm not going to complain, but I feel like we might see one today. For all the talk about Breaston being overrated or "worthless", he has put up some pretty impressive numbers over his career: Steve Breaston is the #3 Active Career Leader in Division 1-A All Purpose Yards, with 5146, behind only Garrot Wolfe and Ryne Robinson, who both play in much weaker conferences. He is also #2 overall in Punt Return Yards, with 1516, and #2 overall with 1857 kickoff return yards, #4 overall in punt return touchdowns with 3, and #7 overall in average yards per kickoff return, at 25.44. That’s about all you have to now about Steve Breaston to recognize his worthiness to the Wolverines offense.

Today's game could end up being another battle to the wire, but if the Wolverines come prepared to take care of business, it shouldn't be close.

Final Score: Michigan 38 - Indiana 13


Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Sky is not falling!

As Michael Rosenburg points out in his editorial, Michigan fans don't panic; Carr knows what he's doing, Michigan fans do not need to worry after yesterday's 34-26 scare against Ball State. Carr played with fire yesterday, taking out the starting defense in an effort to get them some rest early in the third quarter. Backup cornerbacks Sears and Stewart gave up big plays that allowed Ball State to close within 8 points late in the game. It wasn't until Ball State drove to Michigan's own 2 yard line with a chance to tie the game that Carr put the full starting defense back into the game. When push came to shove, Michigan's defense held strong, keeping the Cardinals out of the end zone for seven straight plays from first and goal.

When you take out the 9 points surrendered by the offense, and 14 surrendered by the backup defense, Ball State managed to put up only 3 points against the starting defense. Offensively, Michigan put up over 500 total yards, Breaston played well, and Hart and Minor both managed over 100 yards rushing. All of this happened without a single reception by go-to wide receiver Mario Manningham, who was healthy enough to run several routes throughout the game.

As USC demonstrated against Oregon state, and Ohio State demonstrated with a close 17-10 win over Illinois, every game in college football must be played, and no win is automatic. Carr didn't take the game against Ball State seriously enough - partly because he wanted to rest the starters, partly because he didn't want to blow out friend and former assistant coach Brady Hoke, and partly because the entire team spent too much time focusing on November 18th. He played with fire, but the important thing is that the team came away with the win.

I think we're going to see a much more focused Wolverines team on the road next week. Indiana has the ability to put a lot of points on the board quickly, and I'm pretty sure Carr isn't going to flirt with danger one week before the biggest game in college football history. Ball State made it close, but it wasn't against the players that will be on the field on November 18th. Michigan won the game - their 10-0, and they are still ranked #2 in both the AP and Coach's polls. Breath easy, and rest assured that Michigan will be ready for the Game of the Century.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Michigan Survives a close one

The game shouldn't have been close. This is starting to sound like a familiar tune. In a game where Michigan put 507 yards of offense against one of lower ranked teams in the nation, the score shouldn't have been close..but it was. A few key plays allowed Ball State to stay in this game.

Early on, a Ball State punt took a Cardinals bounce over Breaston's head, and put Michigan in poor field position near their goal line. Mike Hart, who never fumbles, did. The fumble ended up into the end zone, giving Ball State two points, and good field position. On Michigan's ensuing drive, Ball State safety Erik Keys sat on Breaston's route, and picked it off for a touchdown, giving Ball State the early 9-7 lead.

From there, Michigan seemed to take control of the game, and sailed out 31-12 lead in the fourth quarter. Hart came out of the lineup and the team relaxed. From that point on, Michigan's offense managed but a field goal. Defensively, Michigan's secondary got burned three times for big gains, allowing Ball State into the red zone with a few minutes to play, and a chance to tie it with a two point conversion.

The defense stood its ground when it mattered the most. After stopping the Cardinals on three straight plays, they were called for roughing the passer, and had to face another first and goal. The defense didn't give them anything, and came away with the ball, and the game.

Positives to take away from the game:
  • Michigan's rushing defense was again dominant, although Ball State did manage to work their way into positive yardage, with 47 yards on the ground, an d 2.1 yards on the ground
  • Michigan's ground attack obliterated the opposition for 352 yards rushing on 7.7 yards per carry. Hart led the way with 154 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, while Brandon Minor picked up 108 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
  • Steve Breaston responded to critics and proved his worth with a huge effort, leading the way with 7 receptions, 133 kickoff return yards, 50 receiving yards, 22 punt return yards, and 11 rushing yards, good for a total of 216 all purpose yards. This was Breaston's biggest game of the season.
  • Although Manningham did not have any balls thrown his way today, he ran his routes, looked quick, and consistently drew double coverage, which spread out the defense, and gave room for the rest of the offense to operate. Manningham looked pretty close to 100% to me - his wheels were definitely there. I think Carr just wanted to give him some game action to slowly work himself back into the game, while avoiding an injury any possibility of re-injury.
Overall, the last few games have been tighter than they should've been, but the important thing is that the Wolverines have walked away with the victory each time. I don't really know what to expect from Indiana on the road next week. They've knocked off Iowa and Michigan State, so they should be a fairly competitive team, but I don't understand how Minnesota managed to put up 63 points against them. I'll have to check out the highlights later.


Manningham a go!

Woot! According to the Detroit News, sources say Manningham is a go today, and will be used sparingly. This is incredible good news for the Michigan Wolverines, who have struggled offensively for the three weeks Super Mario was out of the lineup. The trick is to not rush Mario into the lineup too quickly, but if he's playing against Ball State, I'm sure the doctors and coaches think he is ready. I'm glad to see he'll be eased back into the lineup against Ball State, because Armageddon is looming large, only fourteen days away now, and it may take a few plays to work out the rust.

I really don't know what to expect with the Michigan offense anymore. Last week, the weather was miserable, and the Wolverines played an incredibly boring offensive set in order to minimize mistakes. It got the job down, but it was an ugly win against inferior competition. Ball State has the worst ranked pass defense in all of Division-I football, giving up over 289 yards passing per game. They are also 93rd overall in rush defense, giving up another 160 YPG on the ground. Last week, I predicted that Michigan would put up 500 yards of total offense, and this week, I mean it. I know Carr doesn't like blowouts, so don't expect the Wolverines to pour it on like the Buckeyes like to do week after week. What I'd like to see is Michigan jump out to an early 28 point lead in the first half, so the outcome is no longer in question, and then rest their starters for the rest of the game.

I'd like to see Breaston respond to all the haters out there this week. By now, everybody has heard Kirk Herbstreit's comments: "Breaston can go back to whatever he's doing these days, if they could ever find a way to actually apply him in the offense. He's worthless in my mind, outside of returning a few punts." It's harsh hearing that about your favorite player, and it's completely inaccurate. Sure, Breaston has had his rough moments this season. Earlier this season, Breaston had trouble holding onto passes, but he seemed to have the kinks worked out, with big games against Penn State and Iowa. Last week, against Northwestern, was his worst performance, dropping two easy passes, and muffing a punt to the Wildcasts in good field position. In Breaston's defense, it was absolutely the worst playing conditions out there. It was 38 degrees, raining, with 24 mile an hour winds, and a windchill of 29 degrees. Have you ever tried to catch a football when your hands are frozen, the ball is slippery, and gusts of wind are blowing the ball three feet of course. Carr came to Breaston's defense on the muffed punt, stating that after reviewing the tape he thought Breaston was hit before the ball reached him.

So, what has Breaston done this season? For starters, he is leading the team with 38 receptions. I'm not sure if they keep track of this stat, but I'm sure he has more first downs than anyone else on the team besides Mike Hart. Breaston has 384 yards receiving, 227 yards on punt returns, 198 yards on kickoff returns, and 60 yards rushing, which is good for 869 all-purpose yards, second on the team, behind Hart. Breaston responds in big games. He holds the all-time record for punt return yards in the Big Ten, and he broke O.J Simpsons record with 315 all purpose yards in the Rose Bowl vs. Texas. Herbstreit is a OSU homer, and wouldn't it just be poetic justice if Breaston returned a punt for the game winning touchdown on November 18th?

As for today, I'm not going to ask for miracles out of the Wolverines offense. It'd be nice to see the defense hold yet another team to negative rushing yardage, another pick from Leon Hall, and a big day from Steve Breaston. It's senior's day today, and the last chance to see Steve Breaston, Leon Hall, Prescott Burgess, Jerome Jackson, David Harris, Lamar Woodley and Rondell Biggs at home. Unfortunately, the game got relegated to ESPN-U, so not too many people will get a chance to see the performance.

My Prediction: Wolverines up big early 2nd quarter, Manningham gets a touchdown before coming out the game, Breaston gets his first touchdown of the season (on a punt return), Hart gets his 10th TD, the defense gives up it's first TD in three games.

Final Score: 35-10.