Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hey Look, Words

So as it turns out, accepting a new job offer and planning a big move doesn't exactly leave much time for blogging (or anything, really). I have gone, in a word, missing. And this time mid-season when every day of every week matters. Mike's been keeping the site semi-afloat with his weekly picks and that is a scary thought for all of us on the Internet. I thought the blog would be renamed Burrito Pages by now with a special feature on Qdoba. We're apparently still here.

While I've obviously watched all the games--had to DVR Iowa; I know, I'm disgusted with myself too--and been keeping up with the commentary, it's been frustrating not having the time to watch each game 2-3 times and do some independent analysis myself. At this point, it's a little pointless to rehash my specific thoughts on the past few games; the post-game bullets from the usual suspects are up and linked accordingly. Other stuff happened: Mitch McGary, Drake Johnson, PSU. As somebody who likes to stay informed as much as possible, I quickly learned just how boundless Michigan athletics can be. It's fast-moving and never-ending. You will be left behind.

The other lazy excuse for my silence is that I really didn't have much to say over the last few weeks. After Michigan's improbable 6-0 dream start coming to an end with the State loss, I began viewing the season on a more macroscopic level. Michigan was about to enter the most important bye I can remember. Now bye weeks are generally considered season halftimes anyway but given our recent past, this year's 2nd half was critical for 2 reasons: 1) to finish the season strong (that includes a late-season and/or road win) and 2) to beat Ohio State. After we dropped Iowa, the Big Ten championship and BCS were out of reach ( the time. As of now, the former is statistically true and the latter is still very much in play with Michigan projected to play Houston in the Sugar Bowl should we win today) in my mind unless we had significant help. Regardless, post-Purdue, the last 4 games became the mini-season that would ultimately define the entire season with the silver bullet, of course, being Ohio State.

The individual matchups of those last 4 games were important, yes, but I remember the conversation shifting back in terms of overall record, like it was during the preseason. Considering that preseason expectations hovered around 7-8 wins, just having a chance to beat Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska or Ohio State was gravy. Would 2-2 for 9 wins without Ohio State suffice? 1-3 including OSU for 8 wins? Dare I say 3-1 with Ohio State? (Yes, please) Hoke somehow managed to provide a season's worth of satisfaction with still a third left to play and November 26th in his back pocket. This was already a special season for us. Could he make it even more special for Those Who Stayed?

Moreover, with two-thirds of the season in the books, there were few surprises regarding the caliber of our remaining 4 opponents: mediocre to above-average, at best. But nothing special and most importantly, all beatable. Iowa inexplicably lost to Minnesota; Illinois were who we thought they were, starting the season 6-0 before dropping 4 straight; Nebraska was a mirror image of us except with a, in the words of Mike, "Mexican Denard"; OSU dissolution was being realized before our eyes confirmed by a loss to Purdue. Each team had shown considerable weakness in the Big Ten. Even Vegas favored us, whether it was by default or not. With ND and MSU and 7 wins all in the rear view, it's all about the march to November 26th. Just win, baby. Nothing else matters.

But then it sort of hit me: so much of this season isn't even about football. It's about erasing the ghosts of Rich Rodriguez. The mid-season release of Bacon's Three and Out was a painful and stark reminder of that fact, highlighting exactly how messed up we were. Rodriguez is in Arizona now, an obvious better fit, but his footprint is still on this program. When bloggers and media folk analyze these games, they inevitably compare it with the last 3 seasons: defensive improvements, Denard's regression, whatever it may be. What is remarkable to me is just how little of that footprint is left; minus the players, Hoke has planted his foot right over Rodriguez's. We HAVE won on the road this season. We HAVE won late in this season. While the MSU ghost may still be there, winning today would erase much of whatever's left. We will have accomplished most of what this season is really about.

In an hour, the regular season will close with a football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines, just like it has for the last 107 years. But we all know it's about so much more. And I'm not referring to random Facebook status updates and Twitter messages saying "Go Blue" or "#BeatOhio". I'm not even referring to the last 7 years or where this blog fits in my life (if it still does). This Rivalry is personal not because of the opponent or history, but because of the experiences that has surrounded, does surround, and will always surround this special game. It's about the banter my friends and I exchange during Hate Week. It's about the way we sulked together, sometimes in complete silence, through the losses. It's about the hugs, the laughs and yes, even tears, that we shared because of this game.

If this season is about more than just football, let the experiences of this game define our season.

To new experiences.

Go Blue.

Hate Week Videos

I'm drunk. Words that will attempt to describe feelings will be posted on the blog tomorrow morning, if I go to bed tonight, including a bad excuse for my extended absence. But for now, I'm going to try to properly link YouTube videos I've been posting all week on my Facebook and G+ pages (for those who are friends with me). Watch them sequentially. If you are not hyped by the end, then I don't want anything to do with you.

I take that back. I'm sorry. If you love Michigan, I love you. Period. LET'S GO. BEAT OHIO. GO BLUE.






HATE WEEK: Thanksgiving Bonus.



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Daylight Savings Time

(Sorry Jeff and I have been absent the past few weeks. He has been knee deep in a job search/move and I have been busy with work. I am sure everyone missed my weekly picks. )

As we turn into another Ohio State week I can't help but think back to one year ago at this time. Not to bring up to gloomy of memories but from what I remember of last years game that Saturday went something like this...

I woke up, like I always do, at 6 am like a ten year old on Christmas. I had barely slept and I tried as had as I could to dream up some thought of an upset so that Michigan could finally beat OSU. I was back home in Pittsburgh at the time and my family and I were scheduled to drive up to Toledo that morning to watch the game with my Mom's family and to celebrate my Grandmother's 80th Birthday. I made my sisters hop in the car with me super early and drive up so we didn't miss any of the game. My parents left a bit behind me, not sharing my short term optimism for what might happen. (I must admit, the OSU game is the one game I can't look at objectively the week of the game. For the past few years in the months leading up to the game I would mention how daunting it would be to beat them and then the week of I would talk myself into absurd reason we would win like Nick Sheridan will get a jet pack or something. It was bad.)

So we got there to my aunt's house and I sat myself on the couch next to my cousin who is the only OSU fan of the family. (Until my sister just got engaged to a Buckeye but that is another story.) He is a respectful fan but he is trying to talk to me about Rich Rod and his job status and I just want to focus on the game. The game went as it went and luckily for me I brought a case of Yuengling along for the ride to comfort me as the beat down took place once again.

More and more family showed up as the score just got worse and worse. Everyone else was just going about their day and catching up as most family occasions go. I am not only having a miserable time watching the game but I forgot that my aunt has two cats and I am horribly allergic to those creatures and I didn't bring any medicine. So not only is Michigan getting dismantled but I am sneezing like crazy as I continue to pound down the Yeunglings.

Finally the game ends and the girls of the family have already long stopped caring as we men gather around the food and chat about Rich Rod and other such nonsense. I am just sitting there, God knows how many deep, just a sad panda. Finally my parents suggest we go check into the hotel and take a nap before the birthday dinner. The ride from the party to the hotel was one of the more silent car rides I have had in a long time. It was my Mom, Dad and myself and my Mom tried to keep the discussion positive as both my Dad and I just grunted everything off because there was nothing to say.

We check into the hotel and I plop myself down on the bed, half drunk and still sneezing. My phone is blowing up with more and more garble about Michigan and I just ignore it. I lie there just staring at the ceiling not knowing what to think. I try not to think to short term because I know it will be bad. I try not to think about the long term because all I can think about is Tressel and his vest and wondering if I am going to be 30 the next time I see Michigan beat OSU. Thinking about that long term scared me more than anything. Think back to just after that game, didn't you just ask yourself, "how in the hell are we every going to beat these guys? When will Michigan be back to what we, as fans, expect?" These are dark questions that every fan, no matter the team, never wants to be uttered because there is no instant answer. Instead, we shower up, head back out there and hunker down for the long haul...

That seems like a long time ago doesn't it? Like longer than a year ago.

2011 has been a transition year not only for Michigan football but for college football as well.

We all know how 2011 has changed those feeling about Michigan football and the rivalry towards OSU. From more feeling of disappointment in the "process" of actually hiring Hoke, everything from that point on has taken one step in the positive direction. From the moment Hoke said, "This is Michigan" one positive thing happened after another. At first it just started as a joke. Denard decided to stay, Michigan swept MSU in hoops, Michigan Hockey went to the Title game and it all built steam into what we now call "Hokemania." My friends and I joked as other positive things happened in our day to day lives. Michigan gets a four star recruit, it has to be the work of Hokeamania. Someone we know gets engaged, chalk it up to Hokeamania. You get that promotion at work, it has to be the Hokemania, right?

Then the big one hit, Tressel resigned. The best Memorial Day present any of us have ever received. I can still taste the champagne. The OSU folks stood proud with their guy and still claimed their dominance over Michigan. We had nothing to say back, we just whispered to ourselves, Hokeamania. It started to feel real. (Like some sort of weird religious experience.)

Now I don't think that Hoke has any magical powers but I am a believer that in sports moments and momentum matter. I haven't been able to get through all of Three and Out but my biggest takeaway so far is how important it is to have a figurehead within an athletic department to be the voice when things are going tough. In terms of Michigan, ours was obviously Bo. As Bacon pointed out, his influence might have helped the situation in ways we may never know.

Now I bring that up but to rather to bring up the point that figureheads are important and almost necessary for any successful athletic organization both college and pro. For my fan hood, guys like Mario Lemieux and Dan Rooney set the tone for their respective organizations while the Pirates flounder around hoping Andrew McCutchen or some other prospect will take on the face of the organization. (The 35 year plan feels like it is working out though.) Other Big Ten schools have their guy, MSU has Izzo, Nebraska has Osborne and Wisconsin has Alvarez.

The only problem with those figureheads, as shown in college football, is that sometimes they become elevated to an unhealthy status. Tressel was brought down for lying and Joe Pa has been ousted for something much more serious than anything any of us can imagine. (That is for a whole other discussion.)

The point of these figure heads is to steer not only the team and the department but the fan base throughout both the good and bad times. When Michigan lost Bo, Michigan clearly lost its way. As Hoke has come in this past year and done things we clearly have enjoyed watching we are starting to see him become that face of Michigan. He isn't there yet but you can tell that shortly, when people think Michigan football, they will start to think of Brady Hoke.

I am kind of losing my way here but I want to end on two things the long and short term versus Ohio State. Starting with the long term, when the Tressel resigned the Buckeyes lost their leader. This past year has been dreadful for them on their field and what they expect their football team to look like on Saturdays. It looks like they are going to pony up and pay Urban Meyer to come in and be that instant figure head that only a few coaches can bring. This makes sense for the reasons outlined above. He will come in with no questions asked and steer the program through its sanctions and have it up and running in no time. Well worth the investment. (I can't believe I am typing this but USC is their outline for how to get it done. Nice work Kiffin.)

This has some Michigan fans worried that Urban will come in and there will be a dark cloud once again. I am not worried about that at all. In fact, I am excited by Urban to come in. Since I have watched this rivalry it has either been Michigan dominating in the 90s or OSU dominating this past decade. There has been no balance. That "Ten Year War" everyone talks about has been gone for a long time. I think it is about time we brought that back. I take one look at the Saban and Les rivalry down South and I am jealous. I want that here, in the Big Ten. Now maybe I am wishing it to happen but anyone who thinks Hoke is going to fall over at the sight of Urban and his 0-1 record against Michigan is fooling themselves. Two prominent figureheads, going toe to toe for next decade. Sounds too good to be true.

I am getting to far ahead of myself though. There is still a game to be played this week and by all accounts Hokeamania has continued its magic. Thinking back to that day last November as I sat there on the bed the most amazing thing Hoke has done is almost moved time forward. (Or backward, I can't figure it out.)

The fact that Michigan can beat Ohio State this week and go to a BCS bowl is something I thought I would be typing two years from now at the earliest (Or 30 years from now where we all just type into the air and then go fight teradactyls.)

To me, the unfloudering belief that Michigan should and will meet expectations has been the most impressive thing Hoke has accomplished. He has come in from day one and said that beating Ohio and winning the Big Ten is the standard we will see from him and his teams. While winning the Big Ten can't happen, a win over OSU Saturday and everyone starts taking Hoke and his Hokespeake a little more seriously. Especially those down in Columbus.

Go Blue. Give them Hell this Saturday.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's Going Down?

The man of the week so far has been Les Miles and his wonderfully white hat. This feature ran today at ESPN and someone showed me this clip which fired me up to go hit someone right now.

Les Miles is as entertaining as anyone and I am fortunate enough to work with some people that know him personally and verify that he is as crazy as he seems.

As much as I love to watch his antics I am more interested to see what Saban has cooked up for Saturday night. As boring and grumpy he seems, the man is too busy focusing on every detail that will help his team win. (Including helping teach his own team how to think.)

Alabama's defense is putting up historic numbers and as much of a special feeling I get when I watch LSU play there is something about watching Alabama.

The Tide players admit that their expectations are so high that they don't get to celebrate like other teams with victories. The standard is the standard as one of my favorite coaches likes to say. The biggest question I have is does Saban have his guys ready to embrace those colassal expecatons or are these kids just kids. It will be interesting to see. There really isn't much else to say about this matchup that hasn't already been said. Like the Ravens and Steelers that will play the following evening, just sit back and watch grown as men do work. On with the picks...

Brown at Yale Noon EST- I am starting off this epic weekend with a doozy. I am picking this game because my friend Colelli is an asshole and supposedly went to Brown. This year the first down Browns are 6-1 and are in contention for the Ivy League. Unfortunately for them their only loss was Harvard and lets be honest, Harvard and Yale are far superior to Brown. Suck it Colelli. Yale 28-20.

Louisville at WVU Noon EST- Louisville tried their best not to get left behind in the Big East but WVU jumped ship first. Unless it is WVU, I really hope the BCS just tells the Big East it won't accept its team into a bowl this year. Then the BCS would be sweet. WVU 35-22.

Texas Tech at Texas Noon EST- I have no idea what to expect from this game. I watch Tech's offennse blow away Oklahoma and then get blown out by ISU. The Horns held lowly Kansas to like 4 yards or something. I am gong with Texas because I want them to be good again. I want us to be us again. Texas 35-31.

Northwestern at Nebraska 3:30 EST- The 330 spot is a little light this week. I have no idea why ESPN is even televising any other night games. This game is part of the sub par Big Ten week. I still think the Wildcats have one big upset in them. I think it might be against Sparty though. Nebraska 31-21.

Texas A&M at Oklahoma 3:30 EST- I think everyone in the Big XII is going to miss the Aggies and their weekly choke jobs. I know the SEC is looking forward to them. OU 45-28.

South Carolina at Arkansas 7:15 EST- These are the 3rd and 4th best teams in the SEC and after them it gets pretty dicey. I am not dreading a New Years Day (technically Jan 2) matchup with an SEC team this year. Arkansas 27-20.

Arizona St at UCLA 7:30 EST- What a battle for the Pac 12 South. I just hope ASU wins so they can put Slick Rick out of his misery. ASU 41-10.

Kansas St at Oklahoma St 8 EST- I almost with I could listen to Musburger and Herbie half ass their announcing of this game as they watch the Bama/LSU game on a TV in the booth. One of my favorite Musburger traditions is when he brings up the Vegas odds. I can't wait until he brings up the lines for a game he isn't even covering. It needs to be a part of this game. OK St 61-13.

LSU at Alabama 8 EST- I want to see how AJ McCarron. It is not that I don't think he is any good it is that he hasn't done anything yet. LSU's back four are legit and if A.J. has no turnovers then I think Bama gets it done. The one big turnover will be the key. Bama 23-16.

Oregon at Washington 1030 EST- If Bama/LSU is legit you can keep the adrenaline running with this shootout. The Ducks need a win to set up a show down next week on the Farm. I think we get another big game next week. Ducks 41-35.

Have fun. Bring a chinstrap.