I’d rather be the underdog

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Published on : July 28, 2017

 

 

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.

 

 


Nobody wants to play Michigan right now

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Published on : March 14, 2017

 

 

Michigan basketball is coming into the 2017 NCAA March Madness tournament absolutely on fire. With the exception of the OT win against Purdue, the Wolverines blew away the competition in the Big 10 Tournament. After a rough patch in early January, the team has become sneaky dangerous to anyone they might run into on a basketball court. They began to turn the corner in January after a team meeting brought on by an embarrassing 85-69 loss at Illinois. But it’s something that happened between the end of the regular season and the start of the conference tournament in Washington, D.C. that really shaped this team.

 

The plane in question.
                                                              The plane in question.

 

On Wednesday March 8, as the team was taking off from Willow Run Airport in Michigan, the airplane was forced to abort takeoff due to high winds. The plane skidded for the length of four football fields and stopped just short of a ravine. No one was seriously injured but the team was shaken up to the point that they almost decided to forfeit their matchup against Illinois in round one of the conference tournament. They had come scarily close to death and no one would blame them for sitting out the tourney. It’s just a game after all, and they might have chosen to be with their families after a near death experience. Or maybe they would be just too horrified at the idea of getting on another plane so soon.

 

The team had a meeting and everyone was allowed to speak. Some people were apprehensive about boarding a plane after the incident but they put it to a group vote and let the majority decide. Instead of hiding from the reality of what had happened, they made the choice to face it head on. And in turn, they lit a fire within themselves. They let their flirtation with death galvanize them as a team. Now they are one of the hottest squads going into March Madness and no one should want to face them.

 

 With their game jerseys stuck on the plane, Michigan was forced to wear their practice uniforms in round one of the Big Ten Tournament.

 

The Wolverines owned the Big 10 tournament. They played great basketball and everyone was getting in on the action. A month ago they were being talked about as a bubble team and now people are talking like they should have been ranked even higher than their 7-seed for the tourney. Should they win their first round game against Oklahoma State (which I think they will) they could be looking at a rematch of the 2013 NCAA title game against Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals. Michigan’s perimeter scoring vs Louisville’s staunch defense could make for another Pitino/Beilein classic. And if Michigan can somehow pull that win out then the sky is the limit for them.

 

This team is peaking at the right time. They have a new found appreciation for life and they are going to use that to make the most of this tourney run. If they should come out in round one playing with the type of fire that they showed in the Big 10 tournament then watch out because they might just be the team of destiny in this year’s March Madness.

 

 


This loss stings

Written by :
Published on : November 29, 2016

 

 

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.

 

Does that face look impartial?
                                                                    Does that face look impartial?

 

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.

 

 


Showdown in Columbus

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Published on : November 22, 2016

 

 

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 Peppers

 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.

 

Coaching Battle

 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.

 

 


Trump won. The Wolverines lost. And the Lions are in 1st place. Welcome to our strange new reality.

Written by :
Published on : November 14, 2016

 

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.

 

 Presidential.

 

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?

 

Detroit Lions, Super Bowl LI Champions.

 

God help us all.

 

 


Dark Days Ahead for Michigan State

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Published on : November 1, 2016

 

 

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.

 

 


Michigan Wolverines are storming towards OSU and the College Football Playoff

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Published on : October 10, 2016

 

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.

 

 


#7 feels about right for the Wolverines

Written by :
Published on : August 28, 2016

 

 

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…

 

The Defense

 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.

 


Two Teams, One Mitten

Written by :
Published on : January 3, 2016

 

 

What a difference a couple of days can make. Michigan and Michigan State were both feeling pretty good about themselves heading into their bowl matchups on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but the Spartans were riding a much bigger wave of confidence than the Wolverines. They were coming off of their second Big Ten Championship Game victory over Iowa and were playing for a chance to go to the National Title Game. The Wolverines, however, last played against Ohio State, and let’s just say that didn’t go exactly as planned. That’s putting lightly. The Maize and Blue got their asses kicked to the tune of 42-13.

 

It was a complete embarrassment. An embarrassment that capped off a season where the Wolverines vastly overachieved compared to what people thought they would do, but an embarrassment none the less. That game was U of M’s chance to play into the conference championship game (they needed some help from other teams too), and they totally shit the bed. Instead, hated in-state rival MSU got a trip Lucas Oil Field, where they beat Iowa for a chance to head to the second ever College Football Playoff. They were matched up against Alabama, and many people, including myself, actually gave them a fighter’s chance in the game. Man, did they fuck that up.

 

 Trevon Pendleton echoes the sentiment of Spartans fans everywhere after the Cotton Bowl.

 

The Spartans made a game of it for a quarter or so, and then it all fell apart. Alabama started slowly adding on points before their defense came alive and smothered the team known in some parts of Michigan as “Little Brother.” The Spartans went on to lose the game 38-0. That’s right, they didn’t score a single point. The Wolverines at least put up a couple of touchdowns in their 41-14 ass-kicking at the hands of the Crimson Tide, back in 2012. But I wouldn’t call the loss, as bad as it is, a setback for the program. Rather this game was a huge step in the right direction for the football team in East Lansing. It was the final sign that Mark Dantonio has brought this team to the upper echelon of College Football teams, but that won’t stop us Michigan fans from talking some serious shit until we play next fall. So let me just say, you guys sucked bad. Like real bad. So take that!

 

Now let’s talk about something I love even more than Michigan State losing, and that’s Michigan winning. And man, did they win big. 41-7 over the Florida Gators to be exact, and the outcome was never really in doubt. The Wolverines controlled every facet of the game and looked like a confident powerhouse of a program, much like they did before they choked away a win over MSU in the final seconds and then got pummeled by the Buckeyes.

 

 The Wolverines celebrate their big win over the Gators.

 

The Citrus Bowl win was the final stamp on Jim Harbaugh’s stellar first year coaching his alma mater. He has turned the program completely around in his first year and is boasting a top 5 recruiting class coming into the 2016 season. “Big Brother” is back, and that’s something that should make Spartans fans nervous. I mean, is The Mitten big enough to support two powerhouse college football programs?

 

Only time will tell if the two teams can coexist at the top of the game, but one has to feel like Michigan State benefited from the chaos that characterized the program in Ann Arbor for the past half of a decade. Now that the khaki-clad savior has resurrected the winningest football team ever from the ashes of the Rodriguez/Hoke era, things could start to shift back to the old paradigm. The one where Michigan is the top dog and Michigan State is constantly trying to catch them. And that’s just fine with me.

 

I’m not saying that Michigan and Michigan State are trending in opposite directions. I think that both of these programs are headed in the right direction, but Michigan is definitely back, and that could spell trouble for Michigan State, sooner rather than later.

 

 


From Michigan to Ohio State: An Ode to My Favorite Rival

Written by :
Published on : November 27, 2015

 

 

Dear Ohio State,

 

 

It’s that time of year again where our respective student bodies cram into stadiums, bars, and living rooms across the nation. The air is peppered with smells of pizza, hot dogs, and the ever-present stale aroma of weeks old Natty Light. Ah yes, The Game, as it so condescendingly known to our lesser rivals, is upon us. No longer must we shake our fists to the sky and threaten each other from afar as if we were easily provoked world leaders on the brink of war. Now we get to meet face to face. Finally, our frustrations and joys from an entire year of football can be honed into three plus hours of drama right in the heart of our nation. Will we return to work with our shoulders hung low, or will we breathe new life once again as the victors for another 364?

 

Man-drinking-water

         Not actual photo of ScoreBoredSports office life

 

Aside from all of the animosity, however, it is also a time to be thankful. With Thanksgiving still close behind in the rear-view mirror, one can almost forget the things that we should be thankful for. So, Ohio State, while I savor the month’s worth of Thanksgiving leftovers scattered across my refrigerator like buried treasure, I would like to reach out my turkey-leg free hand and say that I am thankful for you. I know fellow Wolverines, I know. This doesn’t seem right and, frankly, writing it out on the page gives me pause but I have to acknowledge what the famed school down south brings to the table. For it is their presence on the other side of those hallowed sidelines that makes this rivalry worth it. Red vs. Blue. Woody vs. Bo. Slytherin vs. Gryffindor. No matter which way you slice it, we were meant for each other from the very start. By the way, that start in 1897 resulted in a 34-0 shellacking from Michigan, but I digress.

 

Draco-vs-Harry-draco-malfoy-vs-harry-potter-7684972-1023-584

                                                    Ohio State vs. Michigan

 

Just think about all of the memories we have shared together. Who could forget Desmond Howard’s famed Heisman pose? Or what about the legendary #1 vs. #2 match up in 2006 where the Buckeyes barely escaped and advanced to the National Championship game? And you DEFINITELY can’t give thanks and remember all the good times without being reminded that we once thought these two jokers were good enough to coach our teams. But what truly makes the stories even better is the fans. Every Michigan and Ohio State fan has a story or experience related to The Game. I can tell you about the joy I felt rushing the field when Michigan finally won in 2011. I didn’t care that it was a supposed “off year” for Ohio State. I’ll never forget feeling the Michigan field underneath my sneakers. On the flip side, I can also tell you what it was like to hear the echoed silence of the Big House when Ohio State obliterated us during my freshman year. At that point (2008) we were pretty used to losing but that didn’t make it hurt any less.

 

This upcoming Saturday is just the next chapter in our story. Today, we find ourselves both coached by madmen. Men who represent their alma maters with an intensity and dedication to detail that will make the game itself into a massively televised chess match. We have the spirits of Bo and Woody back, with all the bells and whistles of old. We have our old rankings back. We have the fire of the greatest rivalry in football burning as bright as it has in years. We have pride, bowl games, and, yes, maybe even playoffs on the line. That is, of course, assuming that Christian Hackenburg plays like the 1st round QB a lot of us hope he is because a certain SOMEONE couldn’t beat Michigan State without their QB but, again, I digress.

 

635738806334487915-DFP-0613-drew-main-1-1-D1B2HRRK-L627366010

                        Don’t let the smiles fool you. They’re both clinically insane.

 

See you Saturday Ohio State. I’m happy that it’s you guys I get to hate.

 

 


Champ and Chump: Week 8

Written by :
Published on : November 7, 2015

 

As we reach the halfway point of the NFL season, and the first college football playoff rankings are revealed, we crown a true champion in this week’s Champ and Chump. The World Series is over, the dust has settled on the infields soon to be covered by snow in many parts of this nation and we bid farewell to America’s past-time for 4-5 months. This week we welcome a couple first timers to our Champ and Chump section, but also see a familiar face. Spoiler alert: My Detroit Lions are the definition of “Chump”. Alex always said in his NFL Spread picks, “Always bet on the Packers”, well you might as well always bet against the Lions. But before I go on a 6-page tangent that goes through all the feels, six beers, and a box a Kleenex, I’ll just cut to the picks for Champ and Chump this week.

Champ: Kansas City Royals

The Royals getting hype in the 9th inning of their series winning game 5 matchup with the Mets.

 

Not too much of a surprise here. Let’s face it, if you win the World Series, or any championship for that matter, you have a great shot at finishing as my Champ of the week. A year after losing Game 7 of the World Series to the San Francisco Giants, the Royals had one goal all season long, and for the most part they played pretty consistent baseball to get there. As a Tigers fan, I know all too well how good these Royals are and have been the past few years. Often described as a gnat, or pest, that just won’t go away, they battle for 9 innings, and most times end up on top. They made great moves at the trade deadline, and I declared them winners there, and a few months later, those moves paid off. A quick 5 game dismantling of the New York Mets gave the Royals their first World Series title since 1985. Hats off to them.

 

Honorable Mention:

Drew Brees- 39-50 for 505 yards with 7 touchdowns. 91.7 QBR and a passer rating of 131.7 begs the question, “Is this a video game?” Big win over the Giants and Eli, mentioned below

Eli Manning- Weird to have a loser from a game in the same “Champ” category but what else could you have asked Eli to do vs the Saints? 30-41 for 350 and 6 touchdowns with zero turnovers. QBR or 94.1 and a passer rating of 138.2, insane.

Andre Drummond- Pistons fans haven’t had much to cheer about the past six or seven years but they have an absolute star in the making at center. Through four games, Drummond is averaging 20/20 a game following a monster performance vs Indiana where he scored 25 and ripped down 29 boards.

 

 

Chump: Minnesota Golden Gophers’ late 4th quarter clock management

Because of the terrible clock management, Michigan once again holds the Little Brown Jug.

 

A little over a week ago, Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill had to resign due to health reasons. In a very sad press conference, Kill was emotional as he knew that coaching the game he loved was taken away from him far too soon. Kill was building a very successful program at Minnesota, a tough feat to achieve. From a 3 win season in his first year, to coming one win shy of a Big Ten West title last year. He led the Gophers to a 4-2 start before having to say goodbye. Tracy Claeys, an assistant under Kill, took over the job as interim head coach and figures to have a legitimate shot to become the long term replacement. After an emotional week, the Gophers and Gopher fans were ready to “win one for the gipper” as they say. They welcomed the Michigan Wolverines for a game on Saturday night. A back and forth game had Minnesota driving deep into Michigan territory, down 3 with under a minute to play. Then with 19 seconds left Minnesota thought they had it, a touchdown pass to win the game, but it was reviewed and called down. Minnesota had the ball, first and goal at the 1-yard line. Apparently, Minnesota spent no time drawing up a play just in case their touchdown was reversed because they got to the line, the ball was spotted, the clock began and they went on to waste a dozen seconds before even snapping the ball. Minnesota’s quarterback then ran around and threw the ball away leaving them 2 seconds left. They called timeout (yes they had a timeout) and ultimately opted for a quarterback sneak which came up short, and they lost. Two things really bothered me about this complete mismanagement of the clock: For one, call timeout as soon as the play is reversed and you would have four cracks at it from the 1-yard line, and secondly, you’re down 3, kick the field goal and force OT. Michigan was down to their backup quarterback due to an injury, so trust that your quarterback can outduel him in overtime. Also to quote Brian Piccolo from the famous Brian’s Song, “When you dedicate a game to somebody, you are then supposed to go out and win it, idiot. Pat O’Brien never said let’s blow one for the gipper.”

 

Dishonorable Mention:

Detroit Lions- Congratulations to the Lions as they now suck on two continents, a tough feat. Falling to 1-7 across the pond to the woeful Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 45-10 has led to the firing of their President and General Manager, a week after firing a couple coaches. Cheers Lions fans, it literally cannot get worse (we’ve already achieved 0-16), so hang your hat on that.

Los Angeles Lakers- The Lakers and NBA fans couldn’t wait for Kobe Bryant to return this season, and in what may be his final season he is far from riding off into the sunset on a high note. Sitting at 0-4 Kobe’s $25 million per year contract is easily the worst contract in sports right now… well, aside from Bobby Bonilla still getting paid in New York. The guy is shooting 32% from the field, and just 20% from 3-point land, averaging just 16 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists per game. To make matters worse, first round pick Deangelo Russell appears to be struggling compared to a lot of the other top-10 picks from this past draft.

Chelsea Football Club- In England’s Premier League, Chelsea has enjoyed much success in the 21st century and have done so while having some of the most loathsome creatures take the pitch in their all blue kits. Being a Manchester United fan, there isn’t much I enjoy more than seeing Chelsea completely crumbling right now. Currently sitting in 15th place in the table, just four points from relegation, has Chelsea frantically clawing to stay above the cut. While I am sure they will avoid relegation, it is still a bit satisfying to watch them struggle.

 

 

 


Champ and Chump: Week 5

Written by :
Published on : October 15, 2015

 

 

Welcome back to another installment of Champ and Chump. The Major League Playoffs are in full swing, college football is at the halfway point of the season and we are beginning to separate the contenders from the pretenders around the NFL. Hockey is back, and the NBA is on its way with a few more preseason tilts left for each team. Be sure to check out a couple recent articles by Antoine and Patrick to educate yourself on what to expect from the NHL and NBA this season. As for me this week, here’s a look at the champs and chumps.

 

Champ: University of Michigan Football

Harbaugh and khakis have led the Wolverines to the nation’s top ranked defense.

 

It was only a matter of time before Jim Harbaugh was going to revitalize the football program at Michigan, but I’m not sure even the biggest Wolverine slappy thought it would be this fast. Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, realistic expectations had Michigan needing a full season under their belts before they could compete for a conference championship, let alone a national championship. After just 6 games, Harbaugh and company look primed and ready for potentially both as they dismantled Northwestern this past weekend 38-0. It was the third consecutive shutout for the Wolverines who have outscored their last three opponents 97-0. Michigan has the nation’s #1 ranked defense and the offense seems to be finding a groove too. Climbing up to #12 in the rankings has folks in Ann Arbor ready to explode and with in-state rival Michigan State coming to town this weekend, expect the college football world to be glued to some Big Ten action.

 

Honorable Mention:

MLB Divisional Rounds- With at least two of the four going to the maximum 5 games and the other two looking like they may as well, the 2015 playoffs have gotten off to an awesome start.

Eli Manning- For as much shit as people give this guy (myself included), he’s having one hell of a season and Sunday Night was no exception. He went 41-54, for 441 yards and 3 touchdowns including the winner with 21 ticks left.

Andy Dalton- Leading the Bengals to an undefeated record thus far is anything but expected but perhaps something we need to get used to. After all, the guy’s made the playoffs every year. He went 30-44, for 331 with 3 touchdowns in an overtime win over the Seahawks Sunday afternoon.

 

 

 

Chump: Bret Bielema

 

If you didn’t see it, Bret Bielema and the Arkansas Razorbacks went down to Tuscaloosa to take on the Crimson Tide this past weekend. While Alabama went on to win the game, Bielema himself looked like a loser on two fronts. One, he coached the losing team, which is no embarrassing feat when you play Bama. However, after an interception in the first half, a little shoving happened, all of it very mild and the type of behavior you’d expect to see on a football field after almost every play. Bielema is seen in a video getting in between the players to separate this “confrontation” that is clearly not going to escalate, and then sells a shove by flopping away from the Bama player, getting the referee to throw a flag. This immature small victory causes Bielema to celebrate like a 5-year old who just knocked down his first couple pins in bumper bowling. I’m a big soccer fan, and much like we see in the NBA nowadays too, I am ok with a little selling of the foul every once in a while. Granted, there better be some contact, I am 100% against completely flopping. In the case with Bielema, you’re a coach. You should be setting the example for the players on the field, and instead you’re desperately trying to sell that to get your team 15 yards? It is cheap, classless and down right embarrassing. Stay on the sidelines and let the players determine the outcome of the game because after all, you were hired to coach. You do remember how to coach right? (12-19 career record at Arkansas)

 

Dishonorable Mention:

Rutgers QB Chris Laviano- Ugh this poor guy. In the final seconds, on 4th down near midfield with his team down 7, he spikes the ball trying to stop the clock turning the ball over to Michigan State.

Golden Tate- Saying that Lion fans have “turned their backs” on the Lions? Really?! You’re 0-5, have one playoff win in 57 years, you find any and every way to lose while making millions of dollars, yet they owe you more?… he has since apologized but the damage is done.

US Men’s Soccer- On Saturday night, the USMNT had one last chance to clinch a spot in the 2017 Confederation’s Cup after losing during the Gold Cup this past summer. Played in Pasadena, California, the US Men got on the board early only to lose 3-2 in extra time. These guys have been absoluty Jekyll and Hyde recently, when it matters most they’ve faltered.

 


2015-16 NHL Season Preview: Pacific Division

Written by :
Published on : October 6, 2015

 

 

Hot damn, thanks for reading ScoreBoredSports 2015-16 NHL Season Preview: Pacific Division edition. What a nice ride it’s been, but things are bound to get shakier. The Pacific division is one of the NHL’s strongest, or maybe, one of the weakest. It might be sending six teams to the playoffs, or two. Very hard to tell with so much movement going on in San Jose and Calgary, a new era in Edmonton, and the ever-burning question of why in the name of great Satan there is a hockey team in Arizona. But luckily, you have good old Antoine to guide you. Sure, I may be a handsome genius who has a great record making NFL picks, but hockey will set us all free. Let’s get started with the Pacific.

 

Pacific NHL
Image by Roger Pretzel

 

Pacific Division:

  • Ducks 
  • Coyotes
  • Flames 
  • Oilers 
  • Kings
  • Sharks 
  • Canucks

 

Falling

Vancouver Canucks:

Twinsies!

 

Another year goes by in the prime of the Sedin twins’ career, and they continue to produce at high levels.  Last year, Henrik set them up, and Daniel knocked them down, with the help of high-efficiency winger Radim Vrbata.  The Canucks will have to rely on an aging leadership core of the Sedins, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler (Edler is, in fact, only 29 but his output has diminished quite a bit since his heyday), and goaltender Ryan Miller.   There’s some good depth with forwards like Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins, as well as offseason acquisitions Brandon Sutter and Brandon Prust.  It’s all a bit underwhelming, though, and the Canucks will have to rely on the ongoing development of Bo Horvat for that extra spark.  Yet there’s enough chemistry between the Sedin twins and Vrbata, a traditionally excellent player in possession, that they have a realistic shot of putting together solid offensive numbers with that supporting cast.  I see them coming into the playoffs at a lower seed than last year.  I remain cautious, however, about any team that pins its hopes on Ryan Miller to make a playoff run, when he’s really never been effective in the playoffs.  After the debacle with the Blues two seasons ago, and last season’s surprising upset at the hands of the Flames, I’m not any more confident in Miller’s resumé.

 

Falling OR RISING

Calgary Flames:

Flame on!

 

I want to feel really confident that this is a team destined for regression, that their run to the second round of the playoffs was a sign of things to come rather than a result of statistically anomalous excellence. They had the third-highest PDO number in the NHL last season, which is a red flag; they were poor in possession, with the fifth-worst team Corsi For percentage, and had the second-highest Team Shooting Percentage in the league. Jonas Hiller has had an up-and-down career, and the flames goaltending situation is tenuous past him, with Karri Ramo never really stepping out and distinguishing himself. All that said, I can’t help but take notice that they sustained much of their winning play last year without their best player and one of the best defenseman in the NHL, Mark Giordano. They have a deep defensive corps with the newly-signed Dougie Hamilton boosting their potential for developing into the NHL’s most elite defensive unit.  The flames relied heavily on their defense for offensive production, with players like TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman, and Kris Russell each scoring on a regular basis, and Hamilton should comfortably join those ranks. I recognize that Johnny Gadreau may be in for a sophomore slump;  is it possible Johnny Hockey takes a leap instead of step backward? If his shooting percentage is any hint, the answer to that question will be “probably not”; at 14.4%, his shooting percentage was about 5% above the league average.  Here’s the thing: that slump just didn’t happen to Sean Monahan, the Flames’ top center, who nearly doubled the output from his rookie campaign with a strong, 31-goal season.  Perhaps they’ve found the right recipe for development in Calgary.  Or perhaps they found some good luck and took it to the second round of the playoffs. Or, moments before suiting up on opening night, the Flames players might all decide to abandon the game of hockey, and instead explore their masculinity together in a remote cabin in Manitoba for the next two years. Only the snow knows the answers.

 

Rising OR FALLING

San Jose Sharks:

Jawsome!

 

The second of two inscrutable teams in this division, the San Jose Sharks, are just as replete with uncertainty. Most pressing question: is new hire Peter Deboer even a good coach? He’s 217-200 in his career, and missed the playoffs in 6 out of 7 of his seasons at the helm of an NHL team in Florida, then New Jersey. The only time he made the playoffs, he took New Jersey on an improbable run to the finals, and lost. The second giant question mark is in net: is newcomer Martin Jones a starting NHL goalie? Some might become alarmed at the fact that Martin Jones’ career numbers may be buoyed by some artificial inflation, as he faced the fewest shots per 60 minutes in the league last year. Then again, the Sharks have a veteran defense with Brent Burns and Paul Martin, a shrewd summer signing, that may be able to aptly shield Jones and keep those shots on goal around 25 a game.

 

The third and final question is, perhaps, the funniest one: who is the Sharks’ captain? For those who don’t know, there’s been a years-long, buffoonish shadow-war being fought “behind the scenes” (yet, somehow, quite publicly) in San Jose between General Manager Doug Wilson and former Captain and All-Star, Joe Thornton. Essentially, Wilson implied (to the media) that Thornton couldn’t handle being in a leadership role, then went a whole year without naming a captain after demoting Thornton; old Joe finally told him (through the media) to shut his mouth and that he didn’t know what he was talking about. They still don’t have a captain.  In and of itself, that’s not so uncommon, but the way this has unfolded has just had a touch of Théâtre de l’Absurde.  It’s like if you had one of those scenes in a crime drama where the police captain tells the rogue detective, “turn in your badge and gun. You’re done in this department.” Then the detective complies, only he remains seated in the captain’s office for the next year, just staring, and that’s the rest of the movie.  At least the Sharks also picked up Joel Ward over the summer, who is a canny playoff scorer that can provide some physicality and timely finishing. Who knows with this team. 82-0.

 

Rising

Edmonton Oilers:

Cam Talbot doing work.

 

Easy enough, but drafting a generational talent like Connor McDavid with a first-overall pick will usually cause a team to rise. Combine that with new front-office blood in former Cup-winning architect of the Bruins, Peter Chiarelli, and new coach Todd Mclellan, and I see this team coalescing into a much more competent unit. On offense, it’s pretty straight-forward. They have tons of marquee talent after spending the last decade taking lottery picks in the draft, including last year’s 3rd overall pick, Center Leo Draisaitl. Now is the time for some of the stragglers among those picks to truly step up and become relevant players. This means Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have to find that next level of consistency, and Nail Yakupov will have to take advantage of having the coolest first name in hockey. Question marks are, of course, all over this team, which has had one of the shakiest defenses in the NHL over the past few seasons. Edmonton’s faithful are hoping that Cam Talbot is the new answer in net after acquitting himself with high efficacy during his run filling in for Henrik Lundqvist in New York last year. If highly-touted pick Darnell Nurse can slot into the lineup as a reliable top-six defender, and summer signee Andrej Sekera provides consistency, their defense will hopefully take a step up. They have solid veterans in Mark Fayne and Andrew Ference, but have lacked defensemen with two-way effectiveness. With so many questions to ask, the key one remains: will the Oilers somehow find another way to screw this up? I don’t think that’s in this team’s future.  I see them contending for a playoff spot but coming up short in a respectable season that may just be a precursor to much bigger things.

 

Los Angeles Kings:

Hail to the king.

 

It’s hard to imagine a squad this laden with Stanley Cup-winning talent will remain outside of the playoff picture another year.  Belying their narrow miss, the Kings boasted the second-best Corsi For percentage in the NHL last year, but suffered from pretty bad puck luck with a PDO in the bottom 10 in the league.  The Kings used the off-season to jettison controversy in the form of Slava Voynov and Mike Richards, and hopefully the cloud won’t be hanging over that team’s head for much longer.  Questions remain on the contract of Anze Kopitar, but I’m not especially worried about that.  I bet they just want to see him work hard in a contract year after an uneven campaign last year, with his production taking a dip, scoring only 16 goals and 64 points, his fewest in a non-injured season since he was a rookie.  The Kings re-loaded with some interesting pieces in Milan Lucic, a cup winner himself in Boston, and Christian Erhoff.  Erhoff didn’t have a particularly productive campaign last year with the Penguins, but he’s looked sharp in the pre-season and seems to be able to fill a need for a second power-play unit anchor and a skilled third-pairing defender.  I’d also look for increased production from Tyler Toffoli, who looked commanding and lost at different times last year.  But with their top lines looking to be set, there’s some scary potential if Anze Kopitar can get back on track, and Marian Gaborik can stay healthy.  If it breaks right, they are a true dark-horse contender for a run to the Cup; until we see how the new pieces jell, it’s safe to say the Kings will be dangerous foes in the playoff race.

 

Contenders

Anaheim Ducks:

Quack, quack, quack!

 

Loaded roster.  High-caliber leaders that are willing to go the extra mile (and by “the extra mile,” obviously, we’re referring to heinous acts of goonery).  Middle-of-the-road team possession and PDO numbers, indicating there will be no obviously-indicated regression.  New assistant coaches with experience and talent.  That’s just a recipe for success.  However, there was also a lot of turnover, losing key players like François Beauchemin and Matt Beleskey.  Luckily key replacements are there to slot into the lineup, like Kevin Bieksa, who offers the same kind of stalwart leadership, grit, and timely offensive play as Beauchemin. Newcomers like former Michigan Wolverine Carl Hagelin and former Northern Michigan Wildcat Mike Santorelli offer potentially new and exciting looks as the team made a point to incorporate a ton of speed in the off-season.  Even in spite of such a roster shakeup, the core remains intact in proven Cup-winners Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.  The goaltending situation seems to have settled with Fredrik Andersen taking the reigns and performing with enough confidence that young John Gibson will have time to develop his craft before taking over permanently.  Anton Khudobin provides an interesting safety net in the meantime should Fredrik Andersen falter, though Andersen was a steady performer last year.  They’ll need to figure out who will play on Perry’s opposite wing, but there are lots of options.  My bet is that Hagelin stands out and benefits from a supply of well-timed breakout passes from Getzlaf, streaking his way to a 30-goal year.  Theoretically, the last major hurdle was Chicago, a team significantly weakened by controversy and attrition, who would now have a tough time competing over 7 games with this Ducks team.  Pit them against any other team in the West, and I see them breaking through.  Without obvious weaknesses, and power and speed aplenty, I believe this Ducks team will get to the Stanley Cup Final, but ultimately won’t hoist the hardware after a competitive series.

 

Other Thoughts: 

  • Arizona Coyotes… give me a break.   Instead, here’s a snapshot of my screenplay “the Redemption of Quack City,” a sort of NHL fan-fic if you will.  Notes are welcome but PLEASE BE GENTLE.

INT. Day: Rinkside, Anaheim Ducks Practice Facility.

A hulking RYAN GETZLAF waddles on his skates, trying to get to the ice (Think: Taylor Kitsch / Josh Hartnett / an Unknown could work).  He looks up and sees that COREY PERRY (think JASON STATHAM) is in his way, but not wearing his PENDANT.  GETZLAF shoots  him a strong glance, but PERRY is focused on trying to get the door to the rink open with his gloves on.  GETZLAF approaches PERRY and confronts him by GRABBING HIS ARM.

Perry: 
Bro, Wha Fuck?

Getzlaf:
WHY YOU NO WEAR SHITHEAD PENDANT.  SHITHEAD PENDANT MAKE STRONG AND MAKE ENEMY WEAK.

Perry: 
OH I NO… I … fuck, I can’t do this, Ryan.  I’m a peaceful man. I can’t be taking cheap shots and making all these opportunistic, borderline hits.  I’m not that guy.

Getzlaf: 
BUT… NO… NO SHITHEAD?

Perry: 
No… let’s just try to win by playing hockey.

GETZLAF falls to knees and weeps. 

Getzlaf (screaming to heavens):
LAST SHITHEAD! NOOOOOOO!!!!!

[cut to black].

 

Stay tuned for the conclusion of ScoreBoredSports.com’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview, coming soon on this very tube!  

 

 


For Michigan State, it’s College Football Playoff or Bust

Written by :
Published on : September 19, 2015

 

The college football world took a much anticipated trip to the great state of Michigan last weekend. ESPN decided to broadcast SportsCenter live from Ann Arbor for Jim Harbaugh’s home coaching debut at his alma mater. Since Harbaugh took the job this past winter, much of the attention in college football has been focused towards Michigan as they try to revitalize one of the most glorified programs in the history of college football. While most believe Harbaugh is the perfect coach to get the job done in Ann Arbor, Michigan no longer has the fortune of only having to look South to find their big competition. There is a potential bigger threat some 60 miles Northwest—yes the once thought “Little Brother” has grown up in East Lansing, and he goes by the name Sparty.

 

Sparty himself.

 

Following the SportsCenter broadcast last Saturday, ESPN’s College Gameday kicked off its show live from East Lansing, as Michigan State vs Oregon was the featured game of the week. Part two in a scheduled home-and-home series between these two teams was again expected to have College Football Playoff implications and both teams are expected to compete for a championship in their respective conferences. Last year in Eugene, Michigan State surprised many by hanging with, and in fact leading, Oregon through three quarters of the game. That was before eventual Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota and the high powered Duck offense began to dominate a tired Michigan State defense on their way to a 19-point victory.

 

Oregon would go on to lose in the NCAA Championship game vs Ohio State, while Michigan State would end their season with a Cotton Bowl victory over Baylor in one of the greatest games of the 2014 season. Heading into the 2014 season, Spartans coach, Mark Dantonio, certainly had his eyes on the inaugural playoff, and while there was no doubt some disappointment when they didn’t make it, it was far from a failed season. Especially when you consider that the only two losses the Spartans had were against the two teams competing for the National Championship.

 

The team celebrates the Cotton Bowl victory over Baylor to close out last season.

 

The bar has been raised in East Lansing significantly. Under Dantonio, Michigan State has won eleven or more games in four of the past five years. They have dominated the in-state rivalry against Michigan, winning six of the last seven. They’ve also appeared in two conference championship games (winning one), and have turned what used to be known as a “basketball school” into a strong, well-rounded athletic program.

 

Heading into this season, Michigan State came in ranked 5th in the nation, and again have their eyes on the playoff and some higher expectations, but first focused on some familiar faces that stand in their way. Having both Oregon and Ohio State on the schedule again, Michigan State knew a win against at least one of those opponents would be necessary if their dreams would eventually come to fruition. On Saturday, the Spartans helped their playoff chances by beating the Ducks and bumping themselves up one spot, to #4 in the polls. I think if Michigan State were to have finished the season 11-1 last season, they would have made the College Football Playoff, and that if they finish with that record this year, they will make the playoff.

 

They’ve already beaten the Ducks, but there’s work to be done yet.

 

Outside of Ohio State, there doesn’t seem to be any clear-cut favorite or obvious choices to win any of the Power 5 conferences like in past years. For that reason, I don’t expect many teams to finish undefeated, if any. In recent years, Alabama, Florida State, and Oregon all seemed like shoe-ins for their conference. This year, all three may not even get to their conference championship games because there seems to be a lot more parity, and I think it’s a good thing. I think Ohio State goes undefeated, and potentially a team like TCU or Baylor could as well, (they play each other at the end of November) but that could be it.

 

Ohio State is the only remaining ranked team the Spartans have to play as of right now. The Spartans do still have a couple potential trap games in Ann Arbor and at Nebraska but Michigan State should be undefeated (10-0) heading into Columbus on November 21st. Provided Michigan State can keep that game reasonably close, say within a couple of touchdowns, the “little brother” from East Lansing could be punching a ticket to the Playoff for the first time. With Oregon already out of the way, I think Michigan State needs to be playing in college football’s Final Four on New Year’s Day.

 

The prize that the Spartans have their eyes on.

 

The past few years, Dantonio and company haven’t gotten the attention and respect they probably deserve up in East Lansing. Often taking the backseat to Ohio State and hated rival Michigan, the Spartans always seem to fly a little bit under the radar but Dantonio pushes on, getting them closer to the pinnacle, slightly raising the bar each year while ensuring that the brand is strong. Conference champions, they’ve been there and done that. A Rose Bowl victory, been there too. New Year’s Six? Yup, did that last year. There’s one big step left, and the Spartans control their own destiny the rest of the way. It’s a funny thing about expectations, when you have them, it means your team is pretty good, but when you exceed them, it means you’ve done something great. The College Football Playoff, it’s all Michigan State has left, everything else Spartan fans have already seen.

 

 

 


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