As football season approaches there is a pretty wide range of thoughts and feelings that approach with it. There’s the excitement of finally being able to watch my favorite sport every season. There’s also the uncertainty that comes along with not being a fan of the New England Patriots or the Alabama Crimson Tide. It’s an uncertainty rooted in the volatility of the sport from season to season. Aside from a privileged few who produce top notch teams every single year, there’s no telling for sure who will be any good. For everyone who doesn’t have Bill Belichick or Nick Saban at the helm, it’s a crap shoot on any given year. A few thing go wrong and poof! Season is over.
Before any games are played, preseason or otherwise, it’s impossible to predict a team’s performance, but that doesn’t stop the legions of sports media from trying to figure out which teams will rule and which will drool. This leads to endless preseason rankings and in-depth analysis of where every team is thought to stand by people who have no real idea of what will transpire over the course of a football season. No one should put any stock in these preseason lies and conjecture, but alas, they do. And inevitably someone’s favorite team will be picked to be among the worst.
Harbaugh at the helm and still no preseason love.
This brings me to my two favorite football teams, the Detroit Lions and the University of Michigan Wolverines. Neither of them are getting a ton of love this summer leading up to the 2017 season. Michigan lost almost all of their starters so there’s reason to temper expectations and the Lions are the punching bag of the NFL, so there’s that. It’s not like everyone is saying that both these teams will suck this year, but most of what I’ve heard about their prospects has been negative. And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m not saying that I want the Lions or Wolverines to be a laughingstock, but I would rather have them coming into the year with a chip on their shoulder than have people calling for them to win the Super Bowl or the College Football Playoff. I enjoy being the underdog and without the overblown expectations I like to believe my team is free to just go out there and play the game. Not to mention that every time one of my teams is picked by the talking heads to do big things they inevitably trip over their own feet and do something stupid, like lose to Appalachian State in the season opener.
Give me some Matthew Stafford with something to prove, please.
No, no. Better to be overlooked out of the gate and shock the world. There’s no better feeling than be discounted only to come back and shut up all of the naysayers. Because when everyone thinks you ain’t shit, the only way to go is up. It’s so much sweeter that way. Maybe it’s just my Detroit roots, who knows. But I’d rather be the underdog any day. This season and for every season to come.
The Patriots can have their next championship handed to them before any games have been played, but as for my Lions, I’d rather have them earn it. Alabama or Ohio State can get crowned before the school year even begins, but I’d rather have the Wolverines ruin someone else’s perfect season out of nowhere. Like a cobra laying in wait for it’s prey, I like my teams to surprise the opposition and the spectators alike. I identify with the little guy and the life of an underdog is the one for me.
Before the NFL draft, we hold a Miss America-style pageant of football skills called the NFL combine. A showcase for college athletes trying to make the leap to the pros. The combine is voluntary but it creates helpful data that top brass use in deciding whether they want to draft someone or not. The combine evaluations measure speed, strength and agility. Events include the 40 yard dash, bench press, broad jump, vertical jump, shuttle run and the 3-cone drill. But modern football is a different game, so let’s add some events to round out the combine for today’s football.
Reading and Writing
All combine athletes should have to take a basic reading and writing test. Nothing crazy but all of them graduated high school and presumedly went to at least a few college classes. I’m sure everyone would like to know which prospective players can read at an adult level. This is not just to make fun of “stupid” football players, as many GMs would love to have a metric on brain-power before they waste a first round pick on a dummy.
Most NFL athletes are forced to take this test sometime in their career, so maybe younger players should start practicing for it now. The field sobriety test at the combine would act like a random police traffic stop. The combine athlete would start in the prop car and a coach, acting as the cop, will ask the player to step put of the vehicle a preform a series coordination tests. The main goal here is to NOT get arrested. Hell, everyone should practice this stuff. Oh and memorize the alphabet, backwards.
This is where each star gets to shine. Every combine competitor will get 1-5 minutes of solo stage time where they can showcase any non-football talent they have. Whatever that may be: standup comedy, singing, juggling, ventriloquism, yo-yo tricks, whatever they are proud of. Some may say this is unnecessary but I’ll argue that it can only benefit both parties by knowing more about each other. Communication is never a bad thing. Now curtains up, full lights, party time!
All the above ideas are about getting to know the men beyond their physical attributes. This is the element that the current combine is sorely missing. Players aren’t just how many reps they can lift or how fast they can run. My new combine gives a deeper look into the person as a whole package.
Do you have a great idea for a modern combine event? Please leave it in the comments. Do you have a special sports skill or a crazy trick shot video? Tell me and I’ll make ScoreBoredSports put it on the front page. Pinky swear.
Seems like every year, sports pundits and talking heads compare college football’s best against the NFL’s worst in some hypothetical showdown. First off, it could never happen, ever. Not like when people say McGregor vs. Mayweather won’t happen. I mean legally, it can’t happen. We are talking pros playing students. But for the sake of arguments, let’s say the Cleveland Browns met the Alabama Crimson Tide on a neutral field, under the cover of darkness to settle the score. What would happen? Let’s look at this matchup from all angles and predict the winner.
Currently, the Browns are 0-13 and facing a potential zero win season while Alabama sits at 12-0 and is getting ready for the college football playoffs with hopes of yet another national championship. It’s Bama’s dominance that keeps bringing this question up, year after year. Sports writers see the Tide roll everyone they face and the natural conclusion is that they are ready to take that next step in competition. But this isn’t English soccer, we don’t relegate the lowest pro teams and promote the top college squads. And for good reason. Any NFL team would kill a college squad. Period.
Don’t get me wrong, Alabama is amazing. The best program in the country. They have skill at every position and have a top tier coaching staff that gets them ready to play every weekend. Their 2016 roster will send many to the NFL and some of those players may turn out to be superstars but this is the rub. Not all of the 2016 roster will make the pros while every member of the Browns is a pro. That’s the difference. Every Brown was a scouted, recruited talent that did all the right things to get to that highest level. Cleveland, even with a bad NFL record, is a squad of men who were the best players on their respective college teams.
“But Alabama is younger and faster.” Okay, let’s concede that point. Maybe they could score some points with that speed but football is four quarters and lineman on both sides of the ball for Cleveland will dictate the ultimate pace of the game. Those huge adult bodies will wear down any teenagers, no matter how freakishly good they are. The Browns’ pass rush would be too much for Alabama to handle. Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts is a freshman. How often have we seen some great QBs come out of college, after racking up video game level stats, fall back to earth in the pros in their first few years? There is a steep learning curve. The pro game is much quicker, the margins much slimmer. It’s just too much to ask from an 18-year-old.
The last factor here is pride. Bama loses none with a loss, they are supposed to lose. But for Cleveland? This game would be everything. Those players would go berserk defending their honor against these college kids. This issue alone is enough to tip the scales and as we all know sports is about who wants it more. Hats off to Alabama, the fact that we always talk about this is compliment enough. But enough. Let’s put this theoretical battle to bed, once and for all.
There was a time in college football when the cash was flowing and players were bought. Boosters and coaches lined pockets of their potential recruits, using money and gifts to build powerhouse programs. Winning the game was all that mattered and this was how the game was played and won. Not to say that the college football recruiting game has been totally cleaned up (the Reggie Bush/USC scandal is still fresh) but back in those days it truly was the wild west.
Paying to get players to come to your school, and even paying them while they attended, was a big thing, and just like everything else, it was bigger in Texas. It was in Texas that this situation came to a head when Southern Methodist University (SMU) became ground zero for the issue. The punishment that SMU received for recruiting violations was and is the most severe ever handed out in college football. It sent shockwaves through college football and forever changed the landscape of the game. SBS Remembers the SMU Death Penalty, a punishment so extreme that it will probably never be seen again.
Throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, the Southern Methodist University Mustangs were a powerhouse football program and posted a 49-9-1 record from 1980-84. This was despite being one of the smallest schools in all of college football, with an enrollment of about 9,000 student. They were members of the now defunct Southwest Conference, that featured such monsters as Texas, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Houston. In order to keep up with the big kids they played the same game everyone else was playing. And that meant enticing the nation’s best recruits, by any means necessary.
There were rumors of coaches walking in high schools and giving out money to players. When they landed the nation’s #1 recruit Eric Dickerson, in 1979, there were rumors that he had been enticed to join the Mustangs using un-ethical means. The fact that he showed up driving a brand new gold-colored Trans Am, probably helped feed those rumors. From 1974 on, the program was under almost constant scrutiny from the NCAA and the program was placed on probation five times between 1974 and 1985.
The well-to-do Dallas business men who comprised the boosters at SMU weren’t going to let a pesky little thing like NCAA probation stop them from maintaining the standard of excellence that the program had become accustomed to with recruiting. Payments to prospective athletes continued and there was even a payroll for players currently enrolled at the school via a slush fund maintained by boosters. There were players who had their apartments paid for, and players whose families, most of whom were poor, received money in order to help make ends meet. These violations were constant, and ongoing, with the knowledge of the administration and athletic department at the highest levels in the university.
Southern Methodist University was clearly not the only offender when it comes to enormous recruiting violations. In fact, that gold Trans Am that Eric Dickerson fell into on the eve of national signing day in 1979 was said to be initially financed by Texas A&M, who Dickerson was originally committed to. After a last second flip to the Mustangs, it’s reported that SMU and the boosters kept up the payments. These brazen acts of bribery were commonplace throughout the NCAA. So how was it that the SMU Mustangs were singled out to such an extreme level?
Aside from being located in Dallas, where football is god, the school also happened to be caught smack-dab in the middle of a full-fledged media war. The two main newspapers (remember those?) in town were the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News. They were constantly competing with each other for readership and nothing increases readers like a good scandal. It is out of this intense rivalry between newspapers that all the dirt on SMU got stirred up. In some cases it was the media in Dallas that did the work for the NCAA.
Disgruntled ex-players became more and more of a problem for the school as well. None more than David Stanley, who put the final nail in the coffin of SMU. Stanley was kicked off the team for substance abuse problems and had his scholarship rescinded. Once the media got ahold of him he claimed that SMU athletic officials had paid him $25,000 to sign with the school. When school officials denied the allegations, reporters produced a series of envelopes that had allegedly been used to send money to Stanley’s family. A few envelopes wouldn’t be particularly damning unless you realized that the envelopes had been sent from the SMU athletic department with the official department stationary and initialed by administrative assistant, Henry Lee Parker.
When initially presented with Lee quickly indicated that the envelope was indeed sent by him from his department, but once he was told that the envelopes were used to send money to David Stanley’s family, he backtracked. Parker pulled out his reading glasses, perused the damning evidence that had just been thrown in his face and said, “No, this is printed… I don’t write that way.” All of this happened on camera. You can watch the ESPN doc, Pony Exce$$, to see just how guilty he looked. A handwriting expert later confirmed that it was in deed Parker’s signature. These guys were so brazen that they were sending payments with official university stationary. What’s more, is that one of these envelopes was postmarked October 4, 1985, a date after SMU had been placed on its most recent probation. The date on this envelope would become the last ingredient to the perfect storm that made the SMU Death Penalty possible.
Despite being repeatedly caught, the school continued its unethical recruiting practices, that’s when the NCAA decided to take drastic measures. Around the time that SMU had been handed its most recent round of sanctions, the NCAA called an emergency meeting to address the rash of violations committed by college football programs around the country in the 70’s and 80’s. Among the things that came to pass at that emergency meeting was a reinforcement of the NCAA’s power to hand down the “Death Penalty.” Also known as the Repeat Violator Rule, the Death Penalty states that any school found guilty of two major violations within five years could be barred from competing in the sport involved in the second violation for up to two years.
The postmark on those David Stanley envelopes would be the final piece of evidence that the NCAA needed to put a stop to SMU’s cowboy recruiting practices once and for all. On February 25, 1987 the NCAA Infractions Committee voted unanimously to cancel the entirety of SMU’s 1987 season and all four home games in 1988. The committee stated that SMU had gained an unfair competitive advantage as the result of cheating and the “death penalty” was a way to rectify that advantage. The full list of penalties is as follows:
1987 season canceled. Only conditioning drills allowed in 1987 calendar year.
All 1988 home games canceled.
Existing probation extended until 1990.
Existing ban on bowl games and live television extended until 1989.
SMU lost 55 new scholarship positions over 4 years.
SMU would face further punishments if previously banned boosters continued to associate with the program.
Team only allowed to hire five full-time assistants as opposed to usual nine.
No off-campus recruiting until August 1988.
These amounted to the most extreme set of punishments ever handed down in college football. Previously the “death penalty” had been handed down to Kentucky Basketball in 1952 and Southwestern Louisiana Basketball in 1973. Officials from the NCAA had stated that while the punishment was indeed severe, it was seen as the only option for dealing with a program that was completely out of control and refused to change its cheating ways, despite numerous opportunities and second chances to do so.
Though the Mustangs were allowed to participate in all seven of their away games in 1988, the program canceled the season. As a result of the “death penalty” the NCAA granted a full release to every player on the team, allowing them to transfer to other schools without losing eligibility. Under the circumstances, SMU could not possibly field a competitive team, and the walk-ons and scrubs who stuck around risked serious injury if they took the field against the likes of Texas and other big dogs in the Southwest Conference. The film Necessary Roughness is loosely based around what might have happened had they fielded a team in 1988.
When the SMU Mustangs returned to the field in 1989, the results were not pretty and the suffered lossed of 59-6 to Notre Dame and 95-21 to Houston. The loss of those 55 scholarships over the course of four years ensured that the results stayed ugly for a while. The Mustangs’ football team has never fully recovered and has posted just three winning seasons and four bowl appearances since returning to the field in 1989.
The SMU Death Penalty also led to the downfall of the Southwest Conference. The conference had been so besmirched by the SMU scandal, as well as the actions of its other members (at one point only Arkansas, Baylor and Rice were not on probation), that in the years following the “death penalty” schools departed the conference en masse. By 1996 the conference had folded, ending 82-years of history. The schools that had once comprised the conference now reside in the SEC, WAC, Big 12 and Conference USA. The SMU Mustangs are currently members of the AAC.
The SMU Death Penalty is a cautionary tale of what can happen when money is allowed to be the main driver behind college athletics. While the penalty was well-deserved, even those that handed it down admitted that it was probably too much and have expressed doubt that the “death penalty” will ever be used again. Like the nuclear option in the military, the “death penalty” had to be used in order to know the true nature of the damage it could inflict. It was meant to bring an unrelenting rules violator to heel, but instead it destroyed college football culture in the City of Dallas. Now the scandal is ancient history, but there are still lessons to be taken from it. Most importantly that failing to play by the rules for decades can lead to the loss of everything you hold dear.
This one still stings. It’s going to sting for a while. Probably until next November.
It’s now been three days since The Game, and I’ve barely been able to bring myself to leave the house ever since. The sick feeling in my stomach is eerily reminiscent of feeling I had on a certain Tuesday night earlier this month. It’s like if you ate some really bad food and you were about to be sick, and just at the moment you were about to spew that grocery store sushi all over whoever might be unlucky enough to be within your blast radius, Mike Tyson came up and punched you in the stomach, then you got hit by a city bus. You could say I’m a little salty.
There was some rage on the sideline.
Before I dig into the reasons for my unremitting saltiness, let me get one thing clear. In the end, the only thing that matters is the final score. Ohio State won. Michigan lost. For the better part of The Game, the Michigan Wolverines were the better team. Anybody watching could plainly see that for three-plus quarters, Michigan’s top-ranked defense had the Buckeyes figured out. Then it all came undone. In the end, the loss is on Michigan and no one else. Two interceptions and a fumble by QB Wilton Speight on the OSU 1-yard line showed that the Wolverines signal caller was still affected by a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Indiana game, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. The Wolverines had every chance to win, and they didn’t. The only thing history will truly remember is the final score. 30-27 OSU in 2OT
That doesn’t mean that Michigan, their coach, their players or their fans don’t have ample reason to be angry after the game.
In his post-game press conference, Michigan’s head coach, Jim Harbaugh, relentlessly attacked the officiating. The Big Ten has since reprimanded him and fined the school $10,000. I’m sure the athletic department will be crippled by such an extreme penalty. Who cares, the conference had to do something about the post-game rant I suppose. What they didn’t do was own up to the fact that the officiating in this game was aggressively skewed in Ohio’s favor at worst and very suspect at best. Michigan finished the game with 7 penalties for 59 yards, a seemingly reasonable total for an emotion filled matchup against a hated rival. Ohio State finished the game with 2 penalties for 6 yards. That’s ridiculous. In a game featuring two of the best teams in the entire country, there’s no way the penalty count should be that lopsided.
The Big Ten should be ashamed for refusing to even comment on the officiating and for making a situation like this possible in the first place. The crew that was chosen to call this game have suspicion, ineptitude and conflict of interest written all over them. One of the zebras, Dan Capron, was disciplined by the Big Ten back in 2002 and not allowed to ref another game the rest of that season. Why is that guy on the field for the biggest game of the year? The other two officials, Kevin Schwarzel and Bobby Sagers Jr, both reside in Ohio. That doesn’t seem like a bad idea to the Big Ten? Hell, Schwarzel was barred from calling The Game in 2006 because of the question of his Ohio residency. It makes no sense to risk the integrity of the conference’s most important game into question. And that is exactly what has happened now.
I’m not saying that the game was rigged, but it looks suspicious enough that it warrants a closer look. Especially when the calls were so one-sided. Michigan had every chance to take this game out of the refs hands, and they didn’t. That can’t be denied. But why does it seem like officials always seem to have such an impact on the final scores of football games. From college, all the way to the NFL, referees, the supposed stewards of the game, always seem to be at the center of some controversy. It’s time that the governing bodies at all levels of football start to take this problem seriously. If all of the technological tools available were employed, there would never be a question of where the ball was on the 4th-down play. Michigan lost to Ohio State, but when there are these clouds of uncertainty surrounding the outcomes of games of this magnitude, we all lose.
It’s finally almost here. The moment everyone in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Columbus, Ohio have been waiting for. The moment college football fans across the country have waited for. The Game, the name given to the annual matchup of the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes, is just days away. Many people consider this the best rivalry in college football, if not all of sports. The first meeting of these two storied college football programs occurred on October 16, 1897 with Michigan winning by a score of 34-0. The teams have now met a total of 111 times and the Wolverines lead the series with a record of 58-47-6.
To fans of these teams, this game is all that matters. The entire season is a tune-up for The Game. Even when one team is not very good, this ends up being one of the toughest games on either’s schedule. But every now and then, the stakes get raised to epic proportions. And this is one of those times.
Ohio State is sitting at #2 in the College Football Playoff standings. Michigan is #3. Both teams have 10-1 records and have looked dominate for most of the season. While the Buckeyes struggled against the Michigan State Spartans last week, and Michigan had issues against Indiana, there is no doubt that both of these teams are among the best in the country. They have top defenses and their offenses have the ability to break a big play at any given moment. For the first time in a long time this game will have national championship implications. The winner will likely be headed to the Big Ten Championship and the College Football Playoff. Let’s take a look at some things to keep an eye out for in The Game.
Home-field Horseshoe Advantage
The Buckeye crowd will be going wild.
This the game will be played in Columbus, Ohio at the Horseshoe. For Michigan, it will be their second big rivalry game of the season played on the road. But this one will be way bigger than when they met Michigan State in East Lansing last month. Mostly because the Ohio State Buckeyes are a far, far better team than this year’s Spartans are. The Horseshoe is an extremely hard place to win for teams not named the Buckeyes. In fact, Ohio State has lost just once on its home field in the last two years. That’s a big challenge for Michigan and it’s world-beating defense.
The crowd will be going crazy and that will make things very difficult for the Michigan offense. Especially when you consider that QB Wilton Speight may not yet be ready to return to the field after suffering a shoulder injury two weeks ago in the loss to Iowa. If Michigan is forced to roll out John O’Korn again, who struggled in his debut last week against Indiana, it could be a long day. Whoever starts at QB for the Michigan offense is going to need to have nerves of steel in order to shake off that loud and aggressive OSU Crowd at the Horseshoe.
Jabrill is going to need to bring his A-game.
One of the most dynamic players in the country, Jabrill Peppers, does it all for the Wolverines. He has played 12 positions for Michigan this season and has seen the field with every unit on the team. He makes his living on defense as a linebacker but also happens to be perhaps the most dangerous kick returner in the country. He also routinely gets time with the offense as both a running back and wildcat quarterback. Last week at Indiana, Peppers didn’t play any offensive snaps until the game was already in hand, but you can bet that they were just resting him up for this week’s game against the Buckeyes.
Look for Jabrill Peppers to be on the field in his normal capacity as a sure-tackling, QB rushing linebacker, but also keep an eye out for some new and inventive ways that he might get involved on the offensive side of the ball. The coaches at Michigan are sure to have some tricks up their sleeve with Peppers this week. This is the game everyone has been looking forward to all year so there has to be some plays that they have been saving for this game specifically. Perhaps Jabrill will complete his first pass of the season, or perhaps he will catch a touchdown pass? Either way, look for one of the most exciting players in the country to go off, or die trying come Saturday.
Battle of the titans.
When the University of Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh as the 20th head coach in the school’s history, we just knew that there would be some showdowns with Ohio State like this one. We just didn’t know we would get it so soon. In only his second year as head coach in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has already turned the Wolverines around and pulled them out of the depths of despair that characterized the Rich Rodriguez/Brady Hoke era at Michigan. Along with Urban Meyer (and Mark Dantonio), Harbaugh represents the cream of the crop in college football coaching and coaching in the Big 10. So it’s safe to say that us fans are in for a big treat this weekend.
This matchup of football coaching titans is sure to produce some memorable moments. With proven QB JT Barrett running Urban Meyers’ offense and a Michigan defensive line that makes life miserable for QBs and routinely knocks them out of games altogether, this will be a hard fought battle. Contests like this are why Jim Harbaugh came to Michigan in the first place. To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best and that’s what Ohio State has been consistently since the turn of the century. Both teams have shown signs of weakness recently, but you better believe these two head coaches will have their guys ready to play. Get ready for the most exciting game of chess you’ve ever witnessed.
Those are some of the bigger points of The Game to look out for this year. On Saturday November 26th, a year’s worth of hard work and preparation for both teams will come to a head. Look for this year’s edition of Michigan vs Ohio State to be one of the most exciting meetings in recent memory. Whatever the outcome, it’s us fans who will be the real winners.
What a week this has been. If you asked me on Monday November 7, 2016 what life would be like after that day, I probably would have told you that it would be pretty much the same. The world would keep moving on in the same direction it had been moving. No big shakeups other than the usual cyclical hiccups we experience as a society from time to time. Business as usual.
I was wrong. We were all wrong. We were all so very wrong.
On election day, America decided to hand the keys over to Donald Trump. He is the first ever person to win the office of president despite having zero experience governing in any capacity. The country rejected one of the most qualified candidates in history, in favor of the least qualified. Actually, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 2 million votes, but in a country that is still bows to rural farmers, despite not being an agrarian society for more than 100 years, there is a system to offset that actual will of the people in presidential elections. So now, we as a people are forced to stomach an uncouth, white-rage fueled demagogue and his bigot-laden administration for four years. That’s cool. Whatever. I guess we all knew we were headed in this direction.
What is happening?
But then things kept getting weirder.
On Saturday November 12, 2016, the 3rd ranked University of Michigan Wolverines traveled to unranked Iowa for a matchup with the Hawkeyes. The Harbaugh coached Wolverines have done a great job of taking care of business all season, and because of that they came into the game undefeated. Iowa had been pretty bad all season and was sitting at 5-4. Once the game started, it didn’t take long to realize that Michigan was in for a long night out in corn country. The Hawkeyes won on a last minute field goal. Michigan joined #2 Clemson and #4 Washington to complete the trifecta of losers and mark the first time since 1985 that the 2nd, 3rd and 4th ranked teams in the country all lost on the same day. College football fans were shocked from coast to coast.
But the weird just kept coming.
On Sunday November 13, 2016, the NFL went on with its usual slate of Sunday games. The Detroit Lions were at home resting on their bye week. A chance to get healthy and come back refreshed and ready to fight for the division. But somehow, they won without even playing. Thanks to the continued implosion of a Minnesota Vikings team that is being critically hampered by its offense (or lack there of), and a blow out loss for the Green Bay Packers at the hands of the Tennessee Titans, the Lions are sitting in 1st place in the NFC North. That’s right the Lions are in 1st place in the division in mid-November. I don’t even really know how to process that.
That 1st place feeling.
After the election of Trump, I was sure that our country was screwed. Once the rest of last weeks events played out, I started to think that things were getting a little too weird to just be a coincidence. All of this has led me to question our entire existence, and after some deep introspective mental toiling and examination of the world around us, I have come to believe that this is not real life.
Sometime before those first east coast polls closed last Tuesday, our timeline split and we are now traveling through some alternate reality where the craziest things that you thought were impossible are, in fact, possible. Many of us are still trying to put the pieces of ourselves back together and make sense of last week. But maybe we can’t make sense of it because nothing will ever make sense again.
Now that I think of it, this split may have occurred earlier than originally suspected. The Cubs won the World Series. Cleveland once again has a championship team. PRESIDENT DONALD J TRUMP. What is happening? My own selfishness says that if all of this means that the Lions are going to win a Super Bowl then I support our immersion in this alternate universe. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever understand it. And that doesn’t mean I’ll ever be able to reconcile a Trump presidency with my now deeply hurt American pride. But what choice do I have?
Don’t let the final score fool you. The game may have been a bit closer than many people, including the oddsmakers in Vegas, had thought it would be. But for most of last Saturday’s matchup between Michigan and Michigan State, the Wolverines were in control. And now they are back in the top spot in the state when it comes to college football, leaving a somewhat uncertain path ahead for the program in East Lansing.
With the Wolverines back on top in the Big 10, you can’t help but wonder if the Spartans will be headed back to the hated role of “little brother.” It doesn’t look good for them, as Michigan and Ohio State are clearly the class of the conference, with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Penn State also trending upward. U of M is a once again a powerhouse program with as much visibility as any school in the country. For the traditionally less successful school in the state, how do you compete?
“Make it stop.”
The addition of Air Jordan to the brand of Michigan is going to make recruiting, both in-state and out of state, even more difficult for Sparty. It was already an uphill battle competing for recruits with Michigan, even when they weren’t very good. But with the way Michigan is winning games this season, and the very legitimate chance of them heading to the college football playoff, things may get even worse. As if the allure and mystique of Michigan needed a boost.
There’s also the brutal fact that MSU shares a division with not only the Wolverines, but also the Buckeyes. There’s a good chance that those two will alternate the top spot, not only in their division or conference, but in all of college football for years to come. Mark Dantonio has always gotten by with his good coaching and he will keep them competitive at times. But his style is going to have a hard time producing positive results against teams like UM and OSU on a consistent basis. The ground and pound game that MSU has found success with is just going to have trouble keeping up with other teams that have quality QBs and tough defenses. And that’s exactly what they face with their two biggest foes.
Is frustration the new normal?
Though some former Spartans QBs have had success at the NFL level, no one would ever accuse the school of having a prolific air attack. And that has to be a large part of your game in order to be in the postseason consistently. There will certainly be some seasons when MSU is top-tier but another decade long hot streak seems unlikely. Now that the big dog in the mitten is back on its feet, it will be harder to stay on top of them for such long periods.
The Spartans may have a difficult time recovering from the disaster that is the 2016 season. The old order is being restored and that is going to mean a lot of broken hearts in East Lansing. With the establishment of Jim Harbaugh as heir apparent to the college football throne, the sun may be setting on this bright and prosperous period at MSU.
More and more, there will be seasons when the Spartans are looking up at the their most hated rivals. It’s inevitable. The sky is darkening and there’s a storm rolling into the state of Michigan. It is centered in Ann Arbor and might spell doom for the Michigan State Spartans. This year is surely lost, but there might be more like it and for us Wolverines fans, it doesn’t get much sweeter than that.
It’s time to open the SBS Film Vault back up and dig deep for 1991’s NecessaryRoughness. This is a film that is loosely based on the “death penalty” given to SMU in 1987 and only loosely funny, but full of so much early 90’s nostalgia that you’ve got to love it. Let’s open up the vault and take a look at this off the wall comedy about a sad excuse for a college football team.
Meet the Armadillos
The Fightin’ Armadillos are the pride and joy of Texas State University and have been a perennial championship powerhouse in college football. That is, until the previous administration, coaches and players were found guilty of multiple NCAA rules violations. The sanctions handed down to the team are reminiscent of those given to SMU in 1987. The resulting “death penalty” forces the team to start the season with an entirely new slate of players and coaches. To top it all off, the dean of Texas State, is a total dick that keeps trying to sabotage the team so he can shut down the program entirely.
With no scholarships, the team must hold tryouts and after the dean declares many prospective players ineligible, they are left with 17 scrubs. The team is forced to play ironman football, meaning that the players play on both offense and defense. The head coach, Ed Gennero (Hector Elizondo) and his trusty d-coordinator and assistant, Wally Riggendorf (TV’s Robert Loggia), find themselves using some unorthodox tactics to fill the holes on the team. That includes finding older players who still have NCAA eligibility for various reasons.
Quarterback, Paul Blake (Scott Bakula), is a 34-year-old former high school football star who never attended college. Coach Riggendorf finds him working the family farm and convinces him to go back to college and play some ball. Good thing they get his old ass off the farm and onto campus because it’s Blake who recruits graduate student teaching assistant Andre Krimm, played by 90’s favorite Sinbad. Krimm is a braniac who left the game behind because he was told he would need to take blow-off classes if he wanted to play. Because of that he still has a year of eligibility and is able to join the team.
Under the leadership of Scott Bakula’s poor excuse for a Texas accent, and Sinbad’s light-hearted, fun-loving attitude, the Armadillo’s are ready to take on the world! And get beaten to a pulp. One last big roster addition is the move to secure a kicker. In order to do that, the coaches poach Lucy Draper, played by bombshell Kathy Ireland, from the school’s women’s soccer team. Add in a the guys who played Alvin Mack and Lattimer in The Program, and a young, fresh-face Jason Bateman, and you’ve got the makings of one awful college football team.
Poor man’s Major League
All one has to do it look at the poster for this movie to realize that they are going hard for the whole Major League thing. They lay it on pretty thick, but they can’t really pull it off. It’s pretty hard to rip off a classic that was released only two years prior, and make it all come together. It’s got a similar story, in that this is a team that is horrible and regularly gets stomped by opposing teams only to pull it together in the end and beat the first-ranked University of Texas Colts, who the team also got into a bar fight with.
Perhaps the most egregious imitation of the film Major League is the the use of a quirky announcer to cut away from the game action and accentuate just how bad this team is. Instead of the the hilarious Bob Uecker, this movie brings you the insufferable Rob Schneider. The second you see it on screen you know they are ripping off a much better sports comedy. It’s mildly infuriating and sadly not very funny. Schneider brings the whole “makin the copies” thing to the broadcast booth and makes you want to break your tv.
So that’s our quick look at Necessary Roughness. Maybe I’m being too hard on this movie, but I really don’t think so. It’s too much of a Major League ripoff too soon. As a kid, I remember watching and being entertained but I think that’s only because Kathy Ireland was on a poster in my bedroom and I was a big Sinbad fan. But don’t take my word for it. Go watch it, and report back here in the comments section to give your opinion.
What is happening in East Lansing? The Michigan State Spartans, a powerhouse in the Big Ten and contender for the national championship in recent years, are in shambles. The team sits on the cusp of missing a bowl game, less than one year after winning a Big Ten title with a 12-2 record and an appearance in the college football playoff. How the mighty have fallen. After owning the State of Michigan for the better part of the 21st century they are back at the bottom, looking up at their “big brother” the University of Michigan.
The Michigan State Spartans were handed their fourth straight defeat on Saturday, at the hands of the Northwestern Wildcats. Three of those four losses have been at home and it’s clear that the wheels have completely fallen off for Mark Dantonio and his once dominant football team. The Spartans lost 54-40 this past weekend. I’ll let that sink in. 54 points allowed to Northwestern. At home. The team trotted out a new quarterback, redshirt freshmen, Brian Lewerke. No luck. They brought back in much-maligned fifth-year senior, Tyler O’Connor, in the third quarter and he brought the team to within two points after completing two long touchdown passes. Then the Spartans allowed a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown. The cries of agony could be heard clear across the state in Ann Arbor.
Spartans fans everywhere will need to lean on each other the rest of this season.
With the coaching that this team has and the holdovers from last year’s playoff squad, it’s hard to imagine that they could possibly be this bad. But they are. Mark Dantonio needs to take a long look at this roster and start giving his next generation of players more time on the field to gain experience for next season. Because 2016 is over. The Spartans are looking at 6 wins if they are lucky and with the sub-par opponents they’ve lost to, their chances of making a bowl are not great. The time to use the rest of this season as a springboard into the 2017 season has come.
As a Michigan fan who has had to sit by as this program pummeled my beloved Wolverines for the better part of the last decade, I wish I could take joy in this. And to be honest, for the first couple losses of the Spartans’ losing streak I was pretty happy. Now it’s just getting ugly and they are making the whole conference look bad. I never had a doubt that my Wolverines would win against MSU this year but what fun is it when one of your most hated rivals isn’t even good? The Wolverines could probably go out and win by 60-points on October 29 in East Lansing, but against an obviously inferior opponent, what’s the point? As a fan I would much rather my team go out and throttle a worthy opponent. Not whatever the Spartans are putting on the field these days.
Coach is not amused.
I feel your pain, Sparty. The Wolverines have had a few bad years recently. We know what you’re going through, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Much worse actually, because in two weeks the Michigan Wolverines head your way. With how these two teams are trending in opposite directions, it’s not going to be pretty. So crack open another beer and think back to the good times. Because they might not come back again for quite a while.
If you didn’t watch the University of Michigan Wolverines road win over the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers then you missed one of the more lopsided games in the modern history of college football. I say modern history because if you count the entirety of college football history then you get things like coach John Heisman’s (they named a trophy after him) Georgia Tech team beating up Cumberland by a score of 222-0 in 1916. That’s an insane score in which Georgia tech racked up 978 rushing yards and 32 rushing TDs while not bothering to pass the ball a single time. You know, cuz it was 100 years ago and people didn’t do crazy things like pass the ball or allow black folks to play.
Now that we are done with that little history lesson, let’s get back to this century and talk about just how good the Michigan Wolverines are this season. After a tight 14-7 win last week against #8 Wisconsin that wasn’t fully decided until a late interception by All American CB Jourdan Lewis, the Wolverines left Ann Arbor for the first time this season to play Rutgers. The Wolverines came into the game as 30 point favorites, which seemed pretty fair considering Rutgers had just gotten their asses handed to them by #2 Ohio State to the tune of 58-0 in The Horseshoe. What unfolded in New Jersey on Saturday was even more brutal than anything the oddsmakers in Vegas could have dreamed up.
The boys are killing everyone in their path.
When all was said and done, the Michigan Wolverines had beaten the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 78-0, their largest margin of victory since they beat the Chicago Maroons 85-0 in 1939. There was not a single position or group on the Wolverine roster that failed to get in on the action and it seemed like they were playing their 5th stringers by the time the Scarlet Knights gained their first of two total 1st downs late in the 4th quarter. It was Rutgers worst defeat since the year 1888, and it has to have them second-guessing moving to the Big Ten from the AAC three years ago. They are now the official punching bag of the conference with a 1-10 record and it’s becoming increasingly obvious they don’t belong.
The Scarlet Knights will be seeing Jabrill Peppers their nightmares after gaining just 39 total yards against him and the dominant defense that he leads. It was like nothing I’ve ever witnessed. The offense chipped in 9 rushing touchdowns including 2 from Peppers, who was playing QB in the wildcat formation. He has now lined up at 12 different positions so far this season and his coach Jim Harbaugh, seems to think he is the best candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He had another amazing punt return touchdown that was taken off the board for a block in the back penalty. With 74 total rush yards, 2 tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss, and a QB hurry, I’m beginning to think coach Harbaugh is right about his Heisman chances. But more importantly, he could have a legitimate chance to lead the Michigan Wolverines to a win in Columbus and a trip to the College Football Playoff.
Not to overlook some of Michigan’s upcoming opponents, such as Iowa and Michigan State, but the Wolverines have already seen their toughest test until OSU with Wisconsin last week. And it seems to have been proven so far this season that this Jim Harbaugh coached Michigan Wolverines football team comes ready to play every single Saturday. They do what they are supposed to do and they dominate the teams they are supposed to dominate. There’s still a lot of football to be played but it looks an awful lot like Michigan and Ohio State are destined to be undefeated and playing for a spot in the playoff when they meet at noon on November 26th.
For the first time in a long time, it looks like the Wolverines will go on the road and give the Buckeyes a run for their money. I’m not saying they will win, but they do have arguably the best defense in the country and the most versatile and electric playmaker in the country in Jabrill Peppers. When you have that, combined with a run game that can pound the rock and a quarterback who has shown improvement as the year progresses, anything is possible.
Things are back to the old order in the Big Ten, with Michigan and Ohio State a head above the rest. Both teams are looking for a playoff birth but with both residing in the east division of the Big Ten, only one will be headed to the conference championship game, which means in all likelihood, only one will be headed to the playoffs. Jim Harbaugh, Jabrill Peppers, and everyone else in Ann Arbor hope that they do enough against the Buckeyes to make sure that it’s the Wolverines making their first ever trip to the dance.
For a few short weeks every year, the third largest city in the Nevada springs forth from the nothingness of the Black Rock Desert. This vast expanse of alkali-flats, situated in the northern part of the state, is the home of Burning Man. The festival of art, music and insanity brings all types of crazy things to life, and attendees are constantly bombarded by surprises that keep you in a childlike state of wonderment. Black Rock City is a strange and magical place. A place where anything can happen and the unexpected should be expected. You never quite know what’s next out there in the dust.
This was my first time back at “The Burn” in a couple years, and as always there were a million things that I wanted to do and explore. And as always, it was impossible to hit all of the marks I had set for myself over the week long festival of indulgence and adventure. But there was one thing that I refused to miss. College football. That’s right, I said college football. At Burning Man.
Back in 2013, one of my fellow Lab RaTz (a subsect of NuTz Camp) was thumbing through the list of events that the greeters give attendees upon entering the gates of Black Rock City and stumbled upon “College Football Gameday.” As a group of Michigan Wolverines fans, we figured this would be a nice break from the far out world of art and music that we had been living in, and a chance to indulge in a little good old fashioned Saturday morning American fun. We could get our college football fix, something that seemed very un-Burning Man (which really is the most Burning Man-y thing you can do if you think about it), and check the score of the Michigan Game. Good deal!
Some people might say, “what are you doing trying to watch football at Burning Man? Save that for the default world!” Some of my less football-enthused campmates gave me that same shit. You know what I said? “Fuck off, it’s my Burn and I’ll go check the Michigan score if I want to!” Burning Man is all about self expression and it just so happens that the Wolverines are a part of my “self.” And it was even more glorious than we had imagined. We unexpectedly walked into a tent filled with 20-30 maize and blue clad U of M fanatics and the chants of “Go Blue” were roaring! We were just thinking we would get to check the score and wound up amongst so many of our own! We stuck around for a couple of quarters and to watch our beloved Wolverines stomp the CMU Chippewas and relish the camaraderie of like-minded college football fans for a while.
When I made the decision to return home to Black Rock City this year, along with a few more Michigan fans who happened to be first-timers at the Burn, I knew we had to find my way back Harmonic Convergence Camp for the Michigan game. It took me all of five minutes on the internet to find out that the college football tailgate and viewing party was once again going down and I made sure to let the crew know we were most certainly going to be in attendance.
We peeled ourselves out of bed on that Saturday morning after what you can imagine was a wild Friday night. We made it for the start of the second quarter and were once again met by a tent full of Michigan fans sipping mimosas and watching the Wolverines get after the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii. Greeted by smiles, hugs, chips, dips and alcohol, we settled in for some dusty football. And man, was it a blast. There were Michiganders galore. Plus people from other places who came to pay respect to the winningest team in the history of the sport, and tons of general lovers of the game. Our feast of Doritos and english muffins was more than we could have asked for. After the mimosas, our gracious hosts broke out the red wine and our boys in blue broke the game wide open.
Every time Michigan scored (which was often), Puma, the master of ceremonies for this unlikeliest of football viewing parties, would lead the group in a spirited rendition of “Hail to the Victors,” the greatest fight song in all of sports. The atmosphere was electric. People were hanging with old friends and making new ones. All while cheering on the Wolverines. Burning Man is all about that feeling of community that you get between your friends and all those wonderful strangers. This was a prime example of that. We didn’t know most of the people watching the game but for those few hours we were brothers and sisters in arms.
Before I was lucky enough to stumble on these geniuses with satellite tv at fucking Burning Man, I never imagined I would get that big game, home team high that I know and love so much out in the desert. For that, my entire crew and I owe Harmonic Convergence Camp a debt of gratitude. Between the tasty Brunello and the brotherhood of being Michigan fans, it was the perfect way to kick off the day the Man burns.
In addition to the good fortune of knowing there was a Michigan football viewing party, which would be fun either way, the boys looked good. I mean, real good. After a poorly thrown ball that turned into an interception to start the game, QB Wilton Speight, settled in and looked pretty solid for the rest of the day. The running game racked up 306 yards and 4 touchdowns. The real star of the day, however, was the defense led by genetically engineered, football freak, Jabrill Peppers. They held the Rainbow Warriors to just 3 points and 232 total offensive yards.
When all was said and done, the Wolverines had a put up an impressive 63-3 victory and we were all riding high. Win or lose, it still would have been a great time. But the fact that we all got to bond over our Michigan roots in a place so far far away and see the Wolverines win big, makes the experience all the more magical. Typical Burning Man.
Jabrill is for real.
It’s kind of hard to describe Burning Man as a whole to someone who has never attended. I like to think of it as a series moments that mystify and sometimes confuse you, but ultimately enrich your life by causing you to question your perspective. There’s so many things that surprise you that by the time you finally think you’ve got it totally figure out, something crazy and unexpected happens to show you that you don’t know shit.
Some people use events like this as a way to completely escape their reality in the real world, but I think it’s all the more special if you can combine your default world with your Burning Man world. Watching the Michigan Wolverines with a bunch of fellow fans does just that. I love Burning Man and I’ve always loved the Wolverines. Doing both at the same time just makes too much sense. It was the best of both worlds. So for everyone who helped make this event possible, I’d like to say thank you and see you next year!
Should student athletes be allowed to unionize? That’s a complicated question that has yet to be definitively answered. This is a battle that is far from over. So I’m here to give you my thoughts on the issue.
I’ve alway had a firm belief that if there is a group of people profiting off of the labor and dedication of others, then the people doing the work have a right to band together in order to present a united front to management. For the workers, it’s really the only chance they have to be on a level playing field with the people profiting off of their endeavors. The owners of capital hold all of the cards in this game and as an individual, the laborer, has little chance of being able to stand up to the bosses.
So the real question regarding this whole situation is: are student athletes in fact employees? When the football players at Northwestern University attempted to unionize last year, the National Labor Relations Board declined to rule on the question of employment. Instead, they refused to extend their jurisdiction to college athletics altogether, stating “potential negative consequences” that could be associated with such a move. They didn’t necessarily overturn the lower regional ruling that the revenue-generating student athletes at Northwestern were, in fact, employees of the university, but they refused to even hear the question.
That just doesn’t make sense. The college sports industry is valued at something like $11 billion, yet the student athletes that help make all of that possible get none of the profits, have little recourse for airing grievances, and are denied certain rights that are available to other students. That’s a travesty, especially when you consider that the lack of profit sharing leaves an estimated 85% of student athletes below the poverty line. Sure, they receive room and board, in addition to tuition, but almost all agree that it isn’t enough to live on. They sacrifice their education in the name of sports. Athletes routinely miss classes in order to fulfill their commitments to the team.
All of that is secondary to what I consider the most important reason that student athletes should be able to unionize, and that’s long term health benefits. This probably applies more to football than to basketball. I don’t want to trivialize the physical sacrifices that college basketball players make, but the high impact nature of college football means that there are long-term, internal effects of that game that aren’t as obvious as the joint and bone injuries common in hoops. With everything that we now know about repeated concussions sustained in football, I believe that there should be some responsibility by the universities that are making millions off of these kids. There could be mental effects that these athletes won’t feel for years to come, and if they aren’t lucky enough to make it to the NFL, then they may be left to deal with them on their own. That’s just not fair.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was raised in a UAW family and have always been a strong believer in the benefits of unions in general. I recognize that the power they hold has been abused at times, but you can certainly say the same thing for management in almost every industry. These kids are making huge sacrifices in the name of their schools. I understand that making unionization possible for big money sports like football and basketball could put smaller, less profitable college sports in jeopardy, but I also think there is a way to work around that. There is no shortage of money in college athletics. Now the only problem is getting those that hold that money to share a little bit of it with the people who generate it. That’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s not impossible either. First, we need the student athletes of the world to unite and demand their rights as employees of their respective universities.
The AP released the first Top 25 poll of 2016 recently, signaling the beginning of college football. The preseason poll is all speculation, but it’s fun to see where the pundits put our favorite teams in relation to other teams around the country. It’s no surprise that the defending National Champion, Alabama, sits atop the poll and there are some other familiar faces in the top 1o. Teams like LSU, Oklahoma and Ohio State are no strangers to the preseason top 10 in the AP poll. They continually field the nation’s top football teams and their positions in the poll reflect that.
One team that is just making a return to the top 10 after some dark years is the University of Michigan Wolverines. Jim Harbaugh has quickly turned around the situation in Ann Arbor and after a successful first season with the Wolverines, he has brought the program back to the ranks of college football’s top dogs. There’s a ton of buzz around the team and with a chance to build on some very positive things from 2015, there’s a chance the hype may be well deserved. The team finished 2015 ranked #12 after going 10-3 and then dominating Florida in a 41-7 Citrus Bowl victory. This year, the Wolverines come in at #7 in the preseason. And to me that seems just about right. Here’s why…
Look for Taco (delicious!) and the defensive line to shine.
This is going to be where the Wolverines live and die this season. Last year, the Wolverines defense finished 4th in yards per game and 9th in points allowed. With the team returning a ton of starters on that side of the ball, there’s a chance to build on last year’s success in a big way. Jabrill Peppers has the chance to be the best player in the country and his shift to linebacker in Don Brown’s defense should pay large dividends from the get go. But he is far from the only stud on that squad. Senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis is being talked about as the best player at his position in the country. There’s even rumors that he might play both ways. That would make two defensive starters getting reps on offense, not to mention special teams where the two will be big factors.
So the maize and blue have (at least) one stud at the top two levels of the defense, but where this unit is really going to stand out is along the defensive line. Lewis and Peppers are going to be the guys who end up on the SportsCenter Top 10 more often, but it’s going to be because of the big guys up front that those guys shine. They have Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow (who was sorely missed after he went down with an injury late last season) coming back for their 5th year senior seasons. Along with those two, they have a defensive end with the most delicious name in football, Taco Charlton. Those three will provide a ton of leadership and big play ability in the trenches, but the real star might be Rashan Gary. The 5 star recruit was the #1 player in the country when he choose to attend Michigan. He is listed at 6’4″ 287 lbs and looks like he is a 25-year-old NFL player. Gary is a bonafide stud and has all of the skills to dominate immediately.
Look for him to get a ton of playing time early and be a big part of why the Wolverines have one of the top defenses in the nation. This is a defense that has a great mix of veteran leadership, fundamental skills, and eye-popping athleticism. It’s one of the big reasons that Michigan is being ranked in the top 10 in the preseason. And if the team should be lucky enough to finish the season in a similar position it will be because they lived up to the hype and shut down the opposition all year long.
The Running Game
De’Veon’s going to eat.
For years and years, the running game was the hallmark of Wolverine football. Under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, it was not the same hit-you-in-the-mouth style of play that they were accustomed to in Ann Arbor. Along with Jim Harbaugh came Tim Drevno and the offensive line took big steps forward. In his quest to return Michigan to its former glory, making the running game as feared as it once was is just as important as fielding a world beating defense. With the team returning four of five starters along the offensive line this could be the year that it happens.
Look for the offensive line to bully opposing defenses this year. It probably helps that they get to practice against that stud defensive line that we talked about earlier. They might not face tougher competition all year than what they see in practice every day. That should leave them very well prepared for game day and allow them to open up huge holes for De’Veon Smith, who will see most of the action at running back. Look for him to rush for over 1,000 yards this season and carry the Wolverines offense.
7 is high, but not too high…
Harbaugh will get the best out of whatever QB plays.
Some people may be surprised that the University of Michigan is ranked higher than Michigan State to start the season. Or that they are in the top 10 with such illustrious company. They might say that the team still has questions at quarterback. With unproven redshirt sophomore, Wilton Speight, seemingly in line to win the QB battle and start the season under center those people wouldn’t be wrong. But this is where the coaching comes in.
The college football community knows how good of a football coach Jim Harbaugh is. Casual sports fans have a pretty good idea of how good a coach Jim Harbaugh is. It’s because of him that the Wolverines will begin the season in the Top 10. But it’s also because of those questions regarding the quarterback that the team isn’t higher. The team is returning a ton of starters from last year, and that group ended last season on a high note (except for the OSU hangover) despite dealing with injuries to some important players. This team belongs in the top 10 but this is probably as high as I can justify putting them in the preseason, and that’s why #7 feels just right.
After just one season as head coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines, Jim Harbaugh has already achieved god-like status for fans of the team. That might be a little over the top but that’s just the way it seems in Ann Arbor and all across the maize and blue nation. The khaki-clad assassin changed the culture of the football program immediately by winning games and making the team a desirable destination for the nation’s top high school athletes.
So if Harbaugh, who is one of the most exciting coaches in all of football, is our new god, then what does that make the team’s most exciting and electrifying player? Is Jabrill Peppers the messiah? Is he the second coming? There may not be a new religion founded in his honor (or maybe there will), but this guy could blossom into the best player to wear maize and blue in decades. If he can stay healthy and continue to grow as a player, he could make what Charles Woodson did for the team look like child’s play.
What’s the word for someone who is more than a triple-threat?
Stories out of Wolverines’ training camp are that Jabrill Peppers is ready to explode this coming season. The world already knows that this kid has tons of talent, but with the way people are talking he could be the most electrifying player in the country once games begin this fall. The 20-year-old redshirt sophomore has already shown what he could do last season when he was consistently the most dangerous player on the field, regardless of which position he was playing. For his efforts he won the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year award in the Big 10.
You don’t have to watch the game tape for very long to realize what an impact Peppers has on every single snap of the game. As a safety/cornerback last season, it was evident that in addition to his freakish physical abilities, he had a high level of understanding of the game. His coverage skills are more than adequate, as shown by his 10 pass breakups in 2015. But his skills as a tackler are what make him such an asset to the Wolverines’ defense. Once he sets his sights on an opposing runner his ability to track and tackle are as good as it gets, and if he gets the chance to really tee off on an opposing offensive player he lays the lumber with the best of ’em in college football. I’m talking SportsCenter Top 10 style hits.
This year he has made the switch to more of a hybrid linebacker/safety type position in Don Brown’s defense. He will still spend time in coverage but will also have more of a chance to showcase his tackling skill as he plays closer to the line of scrimmage and strikes fear into the hearts of opposing offenses in the Big 10. With the rock solid defensive line that Michigan is sporting this season, look for Jabrill to have free reign up and down the line of scrimmage as the big boys up front occupy the other teams’ offensive lines. With that kind of freedom, watch him to rack up tackles for loss in 2016.
So Jabrill Peppers is a top notch defender, but everybody knows that defenders don’t win Heisman Trophies. You know who does, though? Guys who play both offense and defense, or even better, guys who play, offense, defense and return kicks. That’s right, just like the last defender to win the Heisman, Charles Woodson, Jabrill Peppers makes plays on all sides of the ball. And he makes it look good.
If he shows up like we think he will, this Heisman race might be no-contest.
There really isn’t any reason that Jabrill Peppers shouldn’t be on the field for every meaningful offensive snap this season. Even if he’s slightly gassed, you can throw him out there as decoy and defenses must account for his presence on the field. The Wolverines can you use him as a receiver, running back or wildcat QB, and he has the athleticism and speed to take it to the house on any given play. He clocked in at 4.34 seconds in a 40-yard dash that he ran in June. The fact that he is able to play so many different positions and be the best player on the field no matter where you put him is extraordinary.
It’s because of the fact that he is consistently the best player on the field, regardless of position, that coach Harbaugh said that they envision him to playing up to 100 plays per game. That’s bananas. Should he see that much time on the field every game then ESPN has rightly labeled him as the #9 player in the country, and we should expect his TD numbers to skyrocket. And if that happens we will be seeing his name in the Heisman discussion by the end of September. This kid might not be the second coming of Jesus Christ in cleats, but he might just be the next coming of the Heisman Trophy in Michigan, and maybe even the College Football Playoff and beyond.