Braxton Miller could have Antwaan Randle El type NFL career

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When Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller switched positions, many media members portrayed the decision as a selfless act by an individual placing team needs above his own. That’s a half-truth. Miller has no NFL future as a QB. He does have a lot of pro potential as a wide receiver though. So the situation is actually a win-win for Braxton Miller, for both his individual, and his team goals.

Take the case of former Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El? Like Miller, he wasn’t tall enough to play quarterback in the NFL, so Randle El moved to receiver where he had a very fine pro career. He especially excelled on special teams. Braxton Miller is dynamic like Randle El, but he has more size.

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One Cream Puff Too Many for the Buckeyes?

Last Saturday was a great day for camping. The cool autumn air quickened my bloodstream, the moon laced the woods with a lustrous silver light, and the Ohio State Buckeyes—along with most of the Big Ten—welcomed a cream puff into their home stadium for an early season feast.

Cream puffs are tasty and go down easy with a hot drink, but watching someone eat a cream puff for sixty minutes is not must-see entertainment. I hope you used last Saturday wisely: finally put new brakes on the car, maybe split some firewood for the winter, or, even better, escaped the hometown with your lover for a romantic weekend, because the Big Ten season starts this Saturday, the talent gap closes, and the football gets interesting and mean.

Hans Hetrick

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Michigan State 8-0 In Big Ten For 1st Time Ever!

By Jeff Ghiringhelli

Michigan State is off to its best Big Ten start in school history at 8-0. Barely. The Spartans escaped another upset bid tonight. This time at the hands of their bitter rivals, the Michigan Wolverines.

Kalin Lucas hit another clutch jump shot with 3.5 seconds left to carry MSU to the 57-56 victory. On Saturday, it was Lucas again who hit the go-ahead three-pointer against Minnesota with just 1:30 left. Tonight’s game was very close throughout, with neither team holding a lead greater than seven points.

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Michigan needs to clean things up to keep the good times rolling

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By H. Jose Bosch

Drink a glass of water a day and it’s just a glass of water.

Drink a glass of water after running a couple miles and it becomes the most important glass of water you’ve ever had in your life.

The same concept applies to Michigan football. For almost every year until 2007, the Wolverines were never short of wins. They had the best all-time winning percentage and the most all time wins. In other words, a win was just a win.

Then the team goes 3-9, the worst season in 40 years, and all of a sudden we as fans were gasping for air down the last straight away.

Michigan’s 4-0 start has been just like one long, cool swig of purified water. Strike that, it’s been like four long, cool swigs of purified water. I never thought a win would taste so good. Each one sustains me like a battery on the back of the Energizer bunny. I’m delirious with happiness over the team’s success. I mean, four wins already? After three all of last season? Hot damn!

But, enough with the crazy fandom; it’s time to get serious. As great as the four-game winning streak has been, there have been some flaws with the Wolverines. The secondary and the offensive line have been less than stellar. We already knew how lame the secondary was. Boubacar Cissoko and JT Floyd were awful on the corners this week and that situation doesn’t look much better.

As for the offensive line, the loss of David Molk hurt more than I thought it would. The slight rearranging to fill in for him affected the line enough to make Tate Forcier’s day a little more difficult.

And Forcier looked like a freshman for the first time this season. It was easy for all of us to forget how young he was since he played so well. And he did a great job leading the team back. But he needs to cut down on those mistakes, especially on the road in East Lansing.

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Michigan State is the Wolverines’ first road game and first road test this season. The Spartans have looked average in their first four games but in a rivalry game you throw everything out the window, especially when the underdog is the home team.

The way the Wolverines have played in the past, they can definitely win in East Lansing. But if Michigan plays on Saturday the same way they played against Indiana, it’s going to be a long afternoon.

All Hail! the mighty Wolverines … for now.

Julian Gonzalez/DFP

Julian Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press

By H. Jose Bosch

I went to Michigan bar in the middle of the desert or Scottsdale, Arizona depending on your perspective, to watch Michigan’s home opener.

It was me, a friend and quite a few Michigan fans huddled around the many TVs throughout the top floor of the bar. The Syracuse-Minnesota crapfest had just ended on ESPN 2 and all of us were waiting in anticipation for the first glimpse at our new team.

For five straight years I watched Michigan’s opening game in person — four years as an undergrad and once as an alum.

My record was 3-2, but the last two years included an epic fail against Appalachian State and a “good loss” to eventual undefeated Utah.

Needless to say I was ready to watch the opener from a remote location this year, especially after the “controversy” stirred up by the Detroit Free Press earlier in the week. What was going to happen on the field Saturday afternoon?

Would Rich Rodriguez’s thin hold on the team slip away after another embarrassing loss to a MAC school?

Or would the team rally behind its fearless leader and, for one week at least, make alumni proud of the football program again?

Whatever happened, I took comfort in the fact that I didn’t have to bake in the sun for two and a half hours to find out.

Then the image on the screen finally flickered to the Michigan game. It took a moment for anyone to register what was going on. Our first image of the 2009 season was … I didn’t know. I’m bad at matching numbers with players. Who the hell is No. 21? And why are a bunch of teammates surrounding him?

Wait.

Touchdown!

Julian Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press

Julian Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press

Yes, the first image of the 2009 season for some 80ish Michigan fans was the celebration following Tate Forcier’s first touchdown pass of the day. We’d later learn that he wisely stepped up in a well-formed pocket to avoid the rush, ran to his left and made sure not to cross the line of scrimmage before he hit Junior Hemmingway with a perfect pass. The rest didn’t matter, just the result.

It was 7-0 Michigan and we hadn’t even watched 30 seconds of the game.

The rest of the afternoon was just a blur of giddiness. Part of it was Michigan’s first-half performance and part of it was the Blue Moon. At the end of the day I was on cloud 12, ready to call this season a success after just one week.

Screw the anti-Rich Rodriguez faction. This team is for real.

I’ve had a day to sober up literally and figuratively. The excitement is still there. Even after just one week I’m convinced this team is heads and shoulders better than last year’s abomination. But that won’t necessarily translate into a much better season.

Before the game I was willing to say that just about every game was predictable one way or the other with the exception of the game against Purdue. Now I will say that the Wolverines have a chance against Notre Dame (since the game is in Ann Arbor) and a chance at Illinois (because the Illini crapped the bed this weekend against Missouri).

That’s a possible two-game swing that makes them 7-5 rather than my predicted 5-7. I’m probably getting ahead of myself. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. The second half wasn’t particularly inspiring and we don’t know if the special teams will be clutch when we need it.

But for one week I’d like to bask in the greatness of Michigan football, believe that the Wolverines are back and that Rich Rodriguez is moving in the right direction.

For one week the Wolverines won’t be the butt of every joke in the college football world.

Michigan season preview part III: special teams and outlook

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By H. Jose Bosch

Part III of my “epic” season preview of Michigan is supposed to focus on the special teams.

Woot!

The sad thing is Michigan’s best special teams player, arguably the best player in terms of how he plays his position, is the punter, Zoltan Mesko. Great guy. But it’s not good when the punter is the only player excelling at his position.

As for place kicking, who knows what to expect. KC Lopata was the go-to guy last season. If he was the starter last year with his numbers (10-15) that means the other kickers must have been sitting in a corner, gnawing on their kicking shoes while being distracted by a set of keys.
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Rich Rodriguez’s reputation may take a hit but it shouldn’t

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By H. Jose Bosch

The Michigan football team officially began their season but no one really cares about football practice when a recently dismissed player is accused of trying to sell cocaine.

Welcome to the new Michigan football, where the drama isn’t just on the field!

OK, I had my Michigan fan moment.

All of us are just hoping that 2009 will wash off some (not all) of the stink from last season. I don’t think anyone but the biggest homers thinks this will be a nine or 10-win year but there is some hope that 2009 will be better because it really can’t get any worse in Ann Arbor.

Then the Detroit Free Press has to pee in the freshly fallen snow of our optimism by releasing a report about why Justin Feagin was really dismissed from the team. In case you missed it and are too lazy to click a link, Feagin is accused of taking $600 from someone he knew and promising cocaine in return.

Whether he actually knew someone who would ship cocaine or he planned on pocketing the money for himself is unknown and irrelevant. Both scenarios make him a grade-A jerk.

I would never condone illegal activity, but if you’re going to break the law, at least be competent about it. Did Feagin really think that he could be a cocaine middle man without anyone finding out? And even if he never intended to sell cocaine, did he really think that he could take $600 from someone and not be pursued by the guy?

But the actions and stupidity don’t really upset me. Feagin was an insignificant and whether Rodriguez kicked him off the team for allegedly peddling cocaine or for jay-walking, I wouldn’t really lose sleep.

What is upsetting is that an incident like this could hurt Rich Rodriguez’s reputation and undermine what he’s trying to do at Michigan. Rodriguez was painted as the anti-Lloyd Carr, a coach that was willing to win at all cost, even if it meant hurting the integrity of a program. At a school like Michigan, which replaces the concept of gentleman with “Michigan man,” integrity is a major pillar of the institution.

So when a player who was brought in by Rodriguez does something as stupid as this, it hurts Rodriguez, who was already walking on eggshells after a 3-9 season.

upset_rodriguezI don’t think this incident will lead to everyone getting the pitchforks out of the shed and running Rodriguez out of town right away, but each time something goes wrong within the program it’s another line drawn in the sand. And like the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, too many lines and Rodriguez is going to step out over the ledge and plummet off the map.

I will admit that while Rodriguez was at West Virginia, he probably had to take more risks on players than Carr ever did. He was late to the recruiting game when he was hired and probably stretched more than he would normally do at Michigan. But this mistake doesn’t mean there will be many more in the future. Sometimes coaches get it wrong. Souring on Rodriguez quickly could do more damage than good here.

Instead, we must forge ahead and be as optimistic as possible for the year. We can’t un-ring this bell but we shouldn’t let it ruin what will hopefully be a fun season.

Michigan Wolverines football preview part 1: The offense

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By H. Jose Bosch

Last season, Michigan’s traditional “3 yards and a cloud of dust” offense transformed into 3 yards and I want to throw up. Actually, I may be giving them too much credit: most of the time it didn’t even feel like they could move the ball three yards at a time.

Michigan fans were warned of it. In Rodriguez’s first season with West Virginia he went just 3-8. We ignored it. This was Michigan. Rodriguez wasn’t going to fall the same way he did in puny West Virginia. We had the nation’s longest winning-seasons streak (40) and the longest bowl streak (33) on the line. But we’re haughty, supercilious and we brag about knowing the definition of words no one really uses to describe being arrogant.

upset_rodriguez1So the 3-9 season was a shock to the system. Not a surprise, but a shock. Rodriguez had not only broken the two aforementioned streaks but he also broke a nine-game winning streak over Penn State, a six-game winning streak over Michigan State and a 24-game winning streak over the Mid-American Conference. The only real good news for Rodriguez was that he wasn’t the coach who lost to Appalachian State.

Now that the Wolverines have thoroughly been beaten to a pulp, 2009 will hopefully be the year Michigan channels its inner phoenix and rises from its ashes. Rodriguez coached the Mountaineers to bowl eligibility the year after his 3-8 debut and since he has that experience there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again.

2008 record: 3-9 (2-6 in the Big Ten)
Returning starters: 15 (10 offense, 5 defense)
Total Offense: 290.75 (109th in the nation, 11th in the Big Ten)
Scoring Offense: 20.25 (101st, 11th)
Rushing Offense: 147.58 (59th, 7th)
Passing Offense: 143.17 (108th, 11th)

Notable returns:
RB Brandon Minor WR, Martavious Odoms, LB Obi Ezeh, DE Brandon Graham, and  S Stevie Brown, TE Kevin Koger, WR Greg Mathews, P Zoltan Mesko, C David Molk, G David Moosman, LB Jonas Mouton, OT Stephen Schilling, WR Darryl Stonum, Donovan Warren

Key losses: S Brandon Harrison, DE Tim Jamison, DT Will Johnson, RB Sam McGuffie, DT Terrance Taylor, LB John Thompson, QB Steven Threet, CB Morgan Trent

Quarterbacks: Since Rodriguez came to a school with athletes ill-fitted for his system, he needed to go MacGyver if he had any chance of succeeding. There were times where a paper clip, rubber band and some tin foil might’ve been the better alternative behind center.

Tom and Jerry made a more intimidating duo than Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet. Neither was suited for the job and they couldn’t throw the ball beyond five yards with any semblance of accuracy.

Now that Threet is gone the No. 1 candidate to start on opening day is freshman Tate Forcier. He impressed everyone during the spring game and has the skills Rodriguez wants/needs for his system. Denard Robinson is the other new man on campus and he’s not too bad himself. Expect both to see time under center.

Running backs: The ground game was one of the few bright spots of last season and it was really more of a dull glow than anything else. Brandon Minor emerged as the team’s rushing leader and gave fans a glimpse of how good Michigan could be after career days against Penn State and Purdue. His game could be enhanced this year with a viable quarterback threat. That needed help was especially obvious in the Penn State game when the Nittany Lions finally figured out Michigan couldn’t pass the ball. Next thing you know, eight men in the box.

Minor won’t have his running partner in Sam McGuffie, who transferred to Rice, but he does have Carlos Brown. Brown didn’t look too shabby when both Minor and McGuffie were battling injuries last season and he ran for 115 yards against Northwestern.

Receivers: To really get a sense of the offensive drop off from 2007 to last season, one can look at the receivmartavious_odomsers. In 2007 Mario Manningham led the team with 1, 174 yards receiving. Last year Martavious Odoms led the team with just 443 yards. The lack of a good quarterback and two true freshman starters contributed to this drop in production.

This year the Wolverines don’t lose anyone of significance and they’ll likely have a better quarterback heaving the pigskin. This will bode well for the receiving core. While Rodriguez prefers a running spread, having Odoms, Darryl Stonum and Greg Matthews with a better quarterback could make the offense more dynamic.

Offensive line: Last season Rodriguez had to start from scratch with his o-line. He had to replace four starters. Of the remaining lineman, there were just 16 starts among them and Stephen Schilling accounted for 13 of them. Constant shuffling and injuries made matters worse. The line’s numbers fell (144 rushing ypg last season compared to 165 the year before) but the damage could’ve been worse. Somewhat surprisingly the sack totals dropped (22 last year compared to 28 in 2007). Part of that can be attributed to the various bootlegs Michigan ran but the point is despite everything going against them, the line didn’t perform half as badly as one would expect.

This season all five starters return and there are seven players who have four or more starts under their belt. Returning that many players is always welcomed but it’s especially crucial when you have little time to implement an entirely new system, like Rodriguez is doing now. This unit will benefit greatly from having a second year under Rodriguez and they can make life even easier for the new signal caller.

Overall this offense still isn’t what Rodriguez ideally wants but it’s getting there. Even if the Wolverines showed minimal improvement, all they have to do is cut down on turnovers and it could be a vastly different team. The key will be the quarterback and it will likely fall on Tate Forcier’s shoulders to get the Rich Rodriguez era moving in the right direction.

Kurt Wermers thinks scholars are “the wrong crowd”

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By H. Jose Bosch

Hmmmm. Seems like someone probably wishes he had a reset button for his life. On Monday ESPN.com reported that Kurt Wermers, the offensive lineman afraid of mixing with the wrong crowd, was in fact the wrong crowd.

Sources within the program confirmed that Wermers was academically ineligible when he transferred to Ball State. In case you forgot, this is what Wermers said on the way out the door:

“I really didn’t get along with the new coaches. They were bringing in a lot of different kids that were not my kind of crowd. Coach (Lloyd) Carr’s staff was a whole different ballgame. It was like a family. But when Rodriguez came in, it was a whole different feeling. It was more of a business. I figured I’d get out while I could.”

I guess it should come as no surprise the kid was academically ineligible.

Michigan prides itself on its academic superiority but I met some of the athletes during my undergrad years and not all of them slept with Kant under their pillows. To be ineligible you practically have to try.

Now we here at The Sports Bank do more than make fun of college athletes with serious decision-making flaws. We also do some investigative reporting. I’ve managed to find the University’s letter to Wermers informing him of his ineligibility. It reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Wermers,

We regret to in form you that … oh, who are we kidding. Based on your grades you clearly haven’t spent time reading anything the University gives you.

We’d blab on and on about wanting to still be friends and hoping there are no hard feelings but we’re pretty certain you already threw this letter into the garbage. We just hope you don’t do anything stupid like making vague criticisms of the football program on your way out the door. Man that would suck. Are we still talking to ourselves in this letter?

Well, good luck Mr. Wermers in all your future endeavors. You will be missed. Unless you decide to burn all your bridges. Then you’re just asking to be criticized.

Sincerely,
placeholder_lifeatmichigan

The University of Michigan

Another one bites the dust

sad_rich_rod

By H. Jose Bosch

On Wednesday offensive lineman Kurt Wermers announced he was leaving Michigan for greener pastures at Ball State (alma mater of one David Letterman). Normally this move would be nothing more than a blip at the end of the notes section of a more important story.

But Mr. Wermers decided to give Wolverine fans (and journalist and bloggers) something to talk about, albeit for a few seconds. Here’s what he said:

“I really didn’t get along with the new coaches,” Wermers is quoted as saying by nwi.com of Munster, Ind. “They were bringing in a lot of different kids that were not my kind of crowd.”

sharks1Did they all walk into Schembechler Hall snapping in rhythm like the Jets or the Sharks? Because those were bad crowds. He also said:

“Coach Carr’s staff was a whole different ballgame,” Wermers says in the report. “It was like a family. But when Rodriguez came in it was a whole different feeling. It was more of a business. I figured I’d get out while I could.”

This got me thinking about college athletics in general. Should athletes expect a more familial atmosphere when they sign up? Considering this is an extra-curricular activity, shouldn’t the coaches be more sympathetic to the players’ needs? Almost all college student athletes are just that: student athletes. They bust their butts on the field and in the classroom and it may seem unfair if the volleyball coach starts berating one of his or her obscure players. Some of these kids just want the free education. I respect those athletes, especially the ones who go through college life in obscurity and are still yelled at constantly.

But for football programs like Michigan, Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, USC and even Notre Dame, the overall goal of the program isn’t to graduate fine outstanding gentleman. It’s to win football games.

Does that mean the coaches promote heathenism? No. Well, unless it’s Jim Tressel. (I kid! I kid!) But coaches are under so much pressure to succeed, the extra time a coach could’ve spent pulling a player aside to talk about personal issues is instead spent in a film room or working drills.

The days of football coaches as father figures at the highest level of college football is slowly going away. Some may argue it never existed, but I’m going to give old timers the benefit of the doubt. All coaches will have their favorite players, yes, but it will become increasingly less beneficial for the coach to develop any kind of relationship beyond the ones on the field. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Just highly unlikely.

Kurt Wermers

Kurt Wermers

Wermers didn’t like what he saw and left. I’ll respect that. But I laugh at the idea that he felt cheated or betrayed or that he was missing out on a warm and fuzzy family experience. Kurt, this is the reality of high echelon college football. Coaches are going to ride your tail; teammates are going to be cutthroat while jockeying for position on the depth chart and many fans don’t care how well you’re doing in school if you don’t contribute to the team’s success.

Please, if you ever feel the need to leave another school or a job sometime in the future, don’t talk.

The Death of the Media Guide: 3008 to Your 2000 & Late

old-media-guide1

By Melissa S. Wollering

Statistics crunched in 8,469+ ways—sometimes over more than a century—always encompassing a team’s entire existence.  Can you live without it?  As of the 2009-2010 season, you’ll see the beginning of the end of this desktop reference guide. You’ll be driven to the Web. The University of Wisconsin’s Athletic Department is part of the trend; will your team follow?

On Thursday, three Big 10 schools announced they will stop printing their beloved media guides. Michigan and Ohio State have already stopped production of the guides for all of their sports and say the information will be available on the Web. Michigan and Ohio State estimate they will save a combined $250,000 per year as a result of the decision. That’s enough to purchase approximately 416 Fergie-inspired Hewlett-Packard notebooks to make their athletes smarter.

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University of Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez says his department will stop printing media guides for all UW sports.  He says the move will save the school $200,000 and the trend doesn’t stop at the collegiate level. In February, Major League Baseball ceased printing its green and red guides to the National and American leagues.  PDF versions of the information were made available to all media.

At a PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) luncheon that I attended at the Hilton in downtown Madison last week, featured speaker and UW Associate Athletic Director for Communications Justin Doherty addressed the death of the media guide.  He says UW will cease production of the books no later than the 2010-2011 season, possibly sooner.

Doherty says more fans and reporters are turning to his department’s website, uwbadgers.com, for the same information printed in media guides. It sounds simple.  But if you think sports organizations won’t make the leap to marketing themselves as AP-like wire services, you haven’t fully assessed the impact of the media guide’s passing.

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Badger fans can now access live streaming press conferences, player and coach post-game interviews, live game blogs, articles, analysis, pictures and even virtual tours of UW athletic facilities.  Barry Alvarez himself ‘walks’ onto your screen and greets you as enter the UW’s new multimedia experience. Doherty says it all started with an intern and one camera.

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“I asked one of our interns to capture the gameday experience one Saturday,” says UW Assistant AD for Communications Justin Doherty.  “All I gave him was a camera and he came back with this great visual story from his photographs. He took pictures of fans tailgating before the game, players on the field and students jumping around in the 3rd quarter.  We had a huge response.”

Doherty himself began to live-blog from the stands at Camp Randall. Soon he had fans and alumni from around the world following along during the game, responding with questions and checking out other parts of the website. UW’s Athletic Department now has pages on both Twitter and Facebook. It sends fans and friends updates on everything from season tickets to travel packages to breaking news.

“We have the advantage,” says Doherty. “We have full access to our own locker rooms and our coaching staff.  We are the best-equipped to provide fans with information.”

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Could the end of your favorite media guide signal the end of your traditional sports reporter? Will athletic departments eliminate the need for a ‘middleman’ if consumers trust their websites as primary sources? Will consumers fully understand that athletic departments still control the message and will proactively and strategically release information for their benefit? Have communications and public relations professionals found a way to put traditional press releases to bed along with media guides? What if WE create the news before it becomes news with our own podcasts, streaming news conferences and online articles?

Remember when your friends left journalism and reporting for the PR world?  Remember when they came back and urged you to join the ‘dark side’?  This TSB contributor is pretty glad she’s done both. My new job may become my old job faster than you can look that stat up in the ‘08 media guide on your desk. Boom, boom, boom. Let me hear that…

blackeyedpeas

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