December 29, 2005

2005 Michigan Wolverines - Best 7-5 team EVER?

I heard this idea on my way to work today, put forth by none other than the great mind of Mel Kiper Jr. on ESPN Radio. He made some compelling points, but I thought I would dig a bit deeper, then also follow up with a review of this theory after bowl season - you know, after three more BCS Bowl teams that Michigan lost to in 2005 play for the final time?

Here are the scores:

9/3 Northern Illinois W 33-17 (NR on Harris Poll 12/29)
9/10 Notre Dame L 17-10 (7th)
9/17 Eastern Mich W 55-0 (NR)
9/24 at Wisconsin L 23-20 (20)
10/1 at Mich St W 34-31 OT (NR)
10/8 Minnesota L 23-20 (NR)
10/15 Penn State W 27-25 (3rd)
10/22 at Iowa W 23-20 OT (25)
10/29 at Nwestern W 33-17 (NR)
11/12 Indiana W 41-14 (NR)
11/19 Ohio State L 25-21 (6th)
12/28 Nebraska L 32-28 (Alamo Bowl) (NR)

Two losses to unranked teams truly maimed their rep, although Minnesota was ranked 22nd on October 9 on the heels of that Maroney-Russell running extravaganza. You could argue that Lloyd Carr should have had a shot to win the Alamo Bowl last night if not for the poor Sun Belt officiating throughout the contest.

Let us examine how Michigan could compete with the nation’s elite, but inexpicably managed to just be better than average.

  • The average margin of loss was only 4.2 points and consumed only 49 seconds - Notre Dame controlled their low scoring contest, Wisconsin won on a TD with :24 left on the clock, Minnesota kicked a FG with :01 on the clock, and the killer was the late Antonio Pittman rushing TD by Ohio State with :24 on the clock in the Rivalry. Are you feeling me now, that this Wolverine team could have easily been undefeated?
  • The wins set an equally dramatic tone - a last second TD pass to freshman WR Mario Manningham beat Penn State, and RB Jerome Jackson scored in the bottom of the OT to beat Iowa. It is truly amazing how close the guys with the crazy helmets came to being 5-7!
  • Lack of a killer instinct could be another reason, but that is a hard variable to quantify - except by the win-loss record.
What went wrong? Mike Hart injuries and the inability to stop the run come to mind immediately. When Mike Hart plays, the Wolverines offense operates much more smoothly - without him and his healthy hamstring, the offense looked lost despite all that Chad Henne’s best efforts. Wolverines allowed 136.1 yards per game rushing, almost twice what the top-ranked Buckeyes allowed (74.5) and that inability to control the clock made all the difference in the losses.

I am going to email this article to Lloyd Carr - he could use it during his year end meeting with the Board of Regents, arguing that he should keep his job. I imagine the Regents will decide to keep him employed by a margin as close as this season was to being special.

December 26, 2005

How good is Marshawn Lynch?

Everyone saw Marshawn Lynch coming in 2005, a sophomore running back at the University of California-Berkeley who showed not only the talent but also a nice balance of humility and bravado in 2004 that often portends stardom.

Last year, senior JJ Arrington racked up 2000 yards, and Lynch ably spelled the star, averaging nine yards a carry and scoring ten TDs - perfect recipe for a hype machine, no?

So where were Lynch’s big numbers this year?

I ask because Lynch tore up BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl with 194 yards and three touchdowns, giving viewers a glimpse of all that promise that truly wasn’t delivered in 2005. Sure, Lynch broke 1000 yards in the regular season, but Lynch missed two games with a broken figure and parts of others due to fumbling issues.

My point is do not be so hard on Lynch - if not for the injuries, his season could have been special. Should we really be disappointed in a 196 carry, 1246 yard and ten TD season? This is easily a case of outrageous expectations.

Stay tuned, especially you fantasy gamers…Cal’s 2005 team was super young, and learned a lot this year on the fly. Remember, Joseph Ayoob’s OJT hampered the offensive maturity - he was billed as the white Mike Vick, and in my mind that is no compliment and Ayoob lived up to it. Imagine Lynch (and his mate Justin Forsett) with a steady QB and the continued emergence of now soph WR DeSean Jackson - this Cal team should be a top ten team in 2006.

December 25, 2005

Snatching Defeat from the jaws of victory

UCF snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, missing an extra point in OT to lose 49-48 to the Nevada Wolfpack. UCF doinked an OT extra point versus Ohio last year also, showing a disturbing trend for a program that only seems to get in its own way.

Just wanted to draw attention to a couple very good young running backs in the Christmas Eve Hawaii Bowl for all you football freaks out there, fantasy or other wise.

UCF freshman Kevin Smith celebrated his first visit to the islands with 29 carries for 200 yards and three touchdowns. Most of the year the Knights shared carries among three backs, but Smith had his breakout game in the bowl and has to be considered the number one option in 2006.

Nevada had the WAC Player of the Year in RB BJ Mitchell, but next year the Wolfpack can rely on freshman Robert Hubbard who broke off 126 yards on just 15 carries, three of which went to paydirt. Hubbard spelled Mitchel throughout the year, and Hubbard was the one making similar numbers in the upset win over Fresno State.

File that away somewhere…

December 16, 2005

The Next Great College Football Head Coach

I want to categorize this story as one of life’s gimme-gotchas…you know, every good thing has its bad thing to keep the universe in parallel, to maintain that Newtonian balance…

Boise State’s Dan Hawkins discusses the Colorado head coaching job today, perhaps ending one of the finest non-major conference coaching regimes in recent memory. I find it difficult to envision the Blue Turf without Hawkins on the sideline.

Long rumored to be on many big college program’s short lists of coaching candidates, Hawkins has turned in some amazing results over the last five years in Boise;

  • Four consecutive WAC championships
  • 26 straight WAC wins until the Fresno loss this year.
  • #1 in the nation 2003-2005 in margin of victory, according to
  • Top ten national ranking in 2004, peaking at #7 in the BCS rankings.

Hawkins had often said that he had every thing he wanted in Boise, including Associate Athletic Director titles and complete autonomy. But as with many coaches, the allure of proving their talents at a higher level of competition presents itself as a great temptress, and the ability to take over a talented Buffaloes roster in a weak Big 12 North division makes this look like the perfect venue for Hawkins to display his talents for the nation to appreciate.

Let’s remember that not all coaches with success at smaller schools have translated well to the big time. Dennis Franchione (TCU to Alabama and Texas A&M), Gerry DiNardo (Vandy to LSU), John L. Smith (Louisville to Michigan State) come to mind as leaders who may have been better off staying in place.

But success stories like Jim Tressel (Youngstown St. to Ohio State), Joe Tiller (Wyoming to Purdue) and to a lesser degree Dirk Koetter (Boise to Arizona State) provide a more likely set to compare Hawkins expected results. (Grades are incomplete on Urban Meyer - I know you were looking for his name.)

The gimme is a great hire for Colorado if the deal is done. The gotcha is that the Boise program must restart again. Stay Tuned.