Friday, September 30, 2016

The return of the wordplay-based meter

Last year, the Drevnometer collapsed like a football unit trying to operate in an overcomplicated scheme. As the season went on, cracks in the facade turned into a full-blown collapse. It seemed as though the idea of pun-based offensive ranking meters had run its course. We here were hopeful that John O'Korn would get the starting job because the nü-metal O'Kornmeter is a clear concept, but we were also dreading the possibility because then we would have to listen to a bunch of nü-metal songs to figure out how they should be ranked.

When Wilton Speight won the job, the days of pun-based rankings were over, but fortunately, Speight provides an unexpectedly different kind of wordplay. Not only is Wilton Speight an anagram goldmine, but anagrams of his name provide references that harken back to Michigan quarterbacks of yore. WHITEST LOPING is clearly a reference to John Navarre and there is no phrase more clearly associated with Tom Brady than LIGHTEN TWO PSI.

So not only do we have an anagram-meter, but the anagrams are rated according to the reputations of the great Michigan QBs they're clearing referencing. So what do we have?

Wilton Speight's Anagram Meter

1/10. Let's hope they never play like they overslept and missed their flight. It's Ryan Mallett: O, SITTING WHELP.

2/10. Do people look like they'd rather be playing baseball and striking out a lot? It's Drew Henson: WHIP IT LONGEST.

3/10. Sometimes the offense tries and fails to do things it should never have been asked to do. That describes poor Denard Robinson in THE PISTOL WING to a tee.

4/10. Are things erratic but finally rounding into legitimately good shape? Then we've got Jake Rudock: LEGIT TOWNSHIP.

5/10. An 8-4 season would be a disappointment, so let's hope things go better than they did for Todd Collins: EIGHT WINS PLOT.

6/10. Is the offense good enough to win it all with a legendarily great defense? If so, we've got Brian Griese: TOWNIES' PLIGHT, because Scorekeepers window jokes are still funny two decades later.

7/10. Is Michigan setting all kinds of offensive records, but still getting sniped at for everything that goes wrong? Then it's John Navarre: WHITEST LOPING!

8/10. Can the offense storm back from behind and beat Michigan State? If so, we've got Chad Henne: GO WIN THIS PELT

9/10. An Orange Bowl win and a preeminent NFL career only gets you so far, Tom Brady: LIGHTEN TWO PSI

10/10. Winning Orange Bowls and Super Bowls is nice, but they're no Rose Bowls, and they're definitely not People's 1998 Sexiest Athlete Alive Award. So capping off the meter is Elvis Grbac: HOT PIGLET WINS

No Michigan QB is bad enough to be associated WITH INEPT SLOG for 0/10, so we'll just go with "Rutgers" instead. (There is also an 11 - yes it is Harbaugh - but we're keeping that in reserve until it's needed.)

Standards on the Speight-meter have gone way up over the days of the Borges-O-Meter. Now 3/10 gets you a beloved long-time quarterback. No more giving bad offense a 5/10 out of hope. We're kicking off the Speight-meter this week with a rating of 6.

High expectations aboud when a national championship gets you a 6. Blame Phil Fulmer, like we always do.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Shine a Light

(Author's note: I wrestled with this post, or at least, the notions behind it,  for a long time.  I wanted to get the tone and message just right, and each time I thought I had it, I still wasn't sure it was right.  But I'd rather be mostly right than silent; because silence's time is over.  I am only speaking for myself in the words that follow.)

The recent events at Michigan, between the raised fist protest by members of the football team and the racially charged flyering, there's been lots of attention paid to where we are as a campus and alumni community at Michigan, part of a larger national conversation.  This conversation has no easy answers, because if it did, it would already have taken place.  A piece on this topic by MTV News's (and Michigan alumna) Jane Coaston helped me understand that maybe I did have one small thing to add to this conversation.

I'm a 38-year-old white guy from the suburbs.  My entire life has been lived in a triangle bounded by Livonia, Ann Arbor, and Cone, Michigan.  By any estimation, I have had an incredibly blessed life, one for which I am grateful, though perhaps not always as grateful as I should be. Whatever my anxieties or stresses are, they are not life or death.  I do not know the African American experience, nor would I make any claim to understanding it beyond what I have read and what I have heard from listening to people whose opinions I respect discuss it or write about it.  But I do feel like an important piece has been, if not missing, at least undervalued, in the discussion of the protests taking place regarding the national anthem.  It is in this area is where I feel comfortable, as someone who is well versed in America's history, in making a point.

In the preamble to the United States Constitution, Madison and the other Founders gave their generations and those in their posterity, a mission statement for the United States.  We, the People, of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union.  "More perfect" is a statement of striving, an aspirational goal that says "It's not going to be perfect, but we should try to be better."  Immediately following that statement, the Framers provide a list of things that this Constitution seeks to accomplish: establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.  That "establish Justice" and "insure domestic Tranquility" sit side by side is what gives us pause.  Those who are protesting are seeking, in a very oversimplified by me, way, equal protection under the law, something the Constitution would not assure its citizens for nearly 90 years after its ratification by the several States.  That the quest for that assurance has, in the minds of some, disrupted domestic tranquility is frustrating or even angering, but it is truly in the best traditions of America's history.

One of the heritage narrative themes that runs through America's history, in its telling, is that we are a country founded on dissent and protest.  The Puritans were religious dissenters who left England for an errand in the wilderness and resolved to make their colony a "city upon a hill," an example to the rest of the world.  When middle-class artisans and upper-class Bostonians felt their way of life being threatened by increased regulation from Britain, they took a series of steps to express their displeasure, culminating in the Boston Tea Party.  When men and women alike began to question the role slavery was playing in the United States, they began to write, and write, and write to expose what they saw as a grave injustice, often at great personal or political cost.  When women felt they had waited for a half century of empty promises to grant women's suffrage, seeing nothing come of the words but delays and prevarications, they took to the streets and made their case.  When African-Americans realized that nearly a century after the Civil War, America was still a segregated society of two classes of citizens, they employed a variety of techniques to make their message heard.  All of these moments were, in their time, denounced by the status quo as needless agitations and harmful to the proper order of society.  Today, we celebrate these groups as examples what America can do at its best, shine a light on that where we are wrong and through commitment, dedication, and courage, make things better.  We strive ever forward towards more perfect, though knowing that while perfect may never be attainable, it is a lofty and worthy goal of a nation that believes in the ideals of liberty, freedom, and equality.

At a university whose motto is "Arts, Knowledge, Truth," we too can seek a better way forward.  We can have minds broad enough to embrace positions with seeming contradictions.  We can support the players who protest knowing that they understand their beliefs fall firmly between a love of country and a desire to see that country be better.  We can believe in the possibilities of a better tomorrow while simultaneously listening to those whose today needs immediate care.  We can learn from each other if we listen to each other. If we accept that, well, just maybe, we don't know better than everyone else.  If we don't presume motives without asking questions, and if we can use knowledge gleaned from a wide variety of sources, backgrounds, and beliefs, perhaps we can find something closer to the truth.

I'm just one person, with a very tiny platform, if I can use my platform to support the courage of young men who seek to use their athletic gifts to benefit the university I love, and who use their platform to help draw attention to difficult truths worth examining, then I know that we are keeping in the best traditions of the university I love.  A university that seeks better tomorrows together, and walks together into that future, one that is hopefully made brighter by the honor, courage, and sacrifice of those who shine a light today.

I thank you for reading, and as always, we fight for better days.

Monday, September 26, 2016


So, during the fourth quarter of a blowout, you hope no one gets hurt (speedy recovery Jeremy Clark) and you start to fill with tangential material.  So we ended up doing this.

So, in this vein, here is, in no particular order, a list of anagrams for selected members of the 2016 Michigan football team (fun fact, J words are very tricky in anagrams.  Also, Jake Butt is impossible to anagram, which makes sense, since it's so perfect on its own).












DELANO HILL gets you NO DEAL, HILL (wait, that's terrible.)

DELANO HILL gets you HELLION LAD (that, that is awesome.)

KYLE KALIS gets you SKA, LIKELY (Which I believe was a rejected name for Ace's ska band.)





Sunday, September 25, 2016

In a Mirror, Darkly

Celebrating with the students, and our ride or dies, the MGoYipYips.
See all of Dustin's photos from the game at Maize n Brew. (Photo credit: Dustin Johnson)
The rout-like nature of the game this week allowed me to think about other notions regarding college football, and specifically Penn State's place in it, five years after what was one of the biggest and most soul wrenching scandals in the history of the sport.

Let's be transparent about a couple of very critical points before we move forward. Firstly, many Penn State loyalists are still wounded and horrified by the Sandusky child abuse scandal, because they may be Penn State fans, but they are thinking, feeling human beings first. They know the gravity, the magnitude, and the sheer awfulness of the whole of it and do not seek to wish it away, but rather want to channel it into positive directions of "Never Forget, so it never happens to anyone again." My genuine belief is that these fans are numerous, but not necessarily visible,  in part because, truth be told, many of us on the outside would rather bury that chapter of college football history in the past. Perhaps occasionally, we present some fist shaking of out revulsion at the scandal to remind ourselves that we are, in fact, human.  Part of this may be that creeping sense that the structural flaws of college football as constructed in American life today are a large part of what made the Sandusky scandal possible and those lessons show no signs of taking root in America writ large.  Whether we like it or not, there is still a sense of "there but for the grace of God go I" as it relates to one's program.

Secondly, we cannot deny that there is a faction within the Penn State fan community disconnected with reality. In rejecting it as such, have tried to force upon the rest of the college football world a narrative that is soulless, honor-free, and numb to the victims and their very real trauma and very real pain. These people do not deserve to be listened to or given any regard, as they have chosen to recreate a pretense of a false world, one built on lies at worst, or a blind eye and few questions if we are generous.  But the recriminations are so natural, so obvious; we hammer them because it makes us feel better about that we didn't choose that path.  Five years on, we're no closer to answers, no closer to healing, no closer to having seemed to learn anything, and that secondary tragedy is nearly as depressing as the original scandal.

All of that said, perhaps the more fascinating, which is to say hilarious rather than soul-numbing, disconnect from reality that Penn State suffers from is the idea that James Franklin is a coach on the level of an Urban Meyer, a Mark Dantonio, or a Jim Harbaugh. That James Franklin, who seems to understand less each passing year about the nature of time and clock management, is a high-level coach that can bring Penn State's "success with honor" vision to fruition. That James Franklin is the right man for the job in State College. That James Franklin, if given the choice, would be a general preference to run your program, even if you could get a Harbaugh (just ask the PennLive writers).

James Franklin pulled a rare moment of doubling down on a surrender field goal, choosing to kick a 21 yarder after a timeout taken to avoid a delay of game penalty.  This after his team had forced a three and out to open the half, and his offense had actually shown some signs of life, driving over 70 yards and making its first real impression on the Michigan side of the field all day. While I cannot prove this, I genuinely believe that this field goal had to inflame the competitive soul of Jim Harbaugh, who realized that quarter was being asked, but that no quarter was being considered, let alone granted.

So Coach Harbaugh called for the challenge on the spot on fourth down up 35-3 late in the third quarter. So Coach Harbaugh kept the starters in until the dying moments of the fourth quarter. Coach Harbaugh's philosophy is simple, we're out here to win the game, and your job is to stop us (a lesson he took from a 2004 game against Penn when he was at San Diego. I'm not calling off the dogs is about you getting stops than me not trying.) Harbaugh saw the tiny white flag attached to that field goal and ordered Penn State's continued devastation. You don't get to decide to surrender, you don't get to sue for peace, we're going to ground you into powder because I would expect no different if the roles were reversed.  This will lead to calls of "classlessness" and "poor sportsmanship" but Harbaugh "always sees the game as 0-0, no matter what the scoreboard says" in a paraphrase of Brian Griese from Saturday's telecast.  Harbaugh has stated that they only way you get better at playing football is playing football, and so those live snaps are some valuable time in the lab, seeing how concepts the staff have drawn up in the film room and on the practice field at the Glick play out in game situations.  You've got four legitimate running backs? Let's see how all of them work?  You've got three tight ends?  Let's see who can block and who can catch.  Coach Harbaugh knows the challenge that Michigan faces next week, not peeking ahead, but having to know that Wisconsin will be the first genuine test of Michigan's mettle.  The no quarter flag is flying at Michigan Stadium and the man who raised it knows the price involved.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Tacking into the Wind

A little bit of everything.  (Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports)
I'd love to be able to tell you that I saw this coming, but no, I did not.  I did not think today would be a romp; Colorado has some guys on scholarship, after all, but the quick strike touchdown, followed by the sack-fumble-touchdown, and the only comforting thought in the Big House was that it was still really early, and Michigan has not exactly struggled on offense this season.

In sailing, when the direction that one wants to sail in is into the wind, a sailor, with great effort, must tack, or turn its bow into the danger zone, to achieve the desired direction.  It requires discipline, recognition of the circumstances, and willingness to do what is needed to find a way forward.

So, after being stalled in the doldrums for much of the first quarter, Michigan's offense and defense both made adjustments that took them from 21-7 down to 45-28 as a final.  We have become so acclimated to Michigan failing to adjust to what the opponent is trying to do, Michigan being stubborn and refusing to break its tendencies. That it seemed like a minor miracle when midway through the second quarter,  (Truth be told, while the adjustments, which are just coaching, are better for my sanity, they make for worse columns.  I was clearly much better at this when there was some "died bravely" thread running through the piece.  It is a trade-off I can and happily will live with.)

So much of that "tacking" boils down to the efforts of Jabrill Peppers.  Peppers needed to be great and provided a spark on defense and special teams.  He was stopping the run; he executed a tremendous safety blitz that Colorado did not see until their backup quarterback was picking pieces of rubber out of his mouthguard 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage.  Then, of course, there was punt return.

Because of the importance of punt returns for touchdowns in previous Heisman-winning seasons for Michigan players, there has been, in my estimation, a collective will in the Big House to compel by some larger force, Peppers into getting a punt return TD.

So when that ball took a flat trajectory into Peppers' hands, just past the midfield stripe and burst forward, it was the hope that Peppers could score in that end zone that Howard and Woodson had made famous all those years ago.  It was not the prettiest run back, but Peppers is more about bursting through and fighting through than gliding fast and free.  The score and subsequent point after put Michigan up 17 and for the first time all day, Michigan fans felt as though they could breathe with some ease.

And so Michigan emerges from the non-conference portion of the calendar with a 3-0 record, not as easily as some had predicted, but 3-0 nevertheless.  This team is still a flawed team, but it has surpluses in critical areas that allow for those deficits to not necessarily be a huge concern...yet.

But, for now, as long as Michigan has a Peppers, it feels like it always has a chance.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Future Imperfect

This, this was pretty good.
This had to happen.  It was inevitable because it is what happens when expectations are raised.  Michigan won by 37 points, and people aren't happy.  There is a legitimacy in this because it's the inevitability of disappointment, and disappointment only comes when expectations exist.  Expectations have not been "real" in Ann Arbor for much of the last decade, after all.  There have been historical expectations, but that is based as much on a bizarre combination of entitlement and factual evidence as anything.  The expectations that this team entered the 2016 season were, in some ways, too low.  They were tempered by the "three tough road games" narrative and the worry that Year 2 was too soon to think Playoff.  But there were others who said, perhaps rightfully so, that this was the year.  But wherever one fell on that continuum, there were expectations and those expectations were created by the roster and staff that Michigan was rolling out on the field this season.

Michigan punted on its first offensive series of the game, the first time they had punted all season. Their next six drives went touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal.  By the time they punted for the second time this season to essentially close out the first half, Michigan was up 34-7, and the online kvetching had begun in earnest.  Michigan can't run the ball!  Michigan can't stop the run!  Michigan looks sloppy on their assignments! Michigan didn't provide enough condiment stations for the family pack hot dog plans!

There is a difference between "complaints" and "concerns".  Complaints boil down to "I'm mad that you're not doing what I expected of you!"  Concerns are "Well, that needs to be fixed going forward."  It's mostly a matter of tonality.  What's interesting about yesterday's results are that despite the score it is the other stats on the Big House scoreboard served to confirm many of our concerns as fans from the beginning of the season, that Michigan might have a hard time establishing the run, that Michigan might have difficulty with securing contain in an aggressive defensive scheme,  The difference is a belief that the coaching staff working to fix the problems.  Colorado will likely provide a stiffer test than expected before the season started, and the progress from this week will be measured against the rising expectations of "OK, good, but..."

In the end, we got back exactly what we have wanted for the last ten years, the goal of being in the running for the national championship.  Those expectations come at a high cost.  In Bo's Lasting Lessons, John U. Bacon relays the story (which I am paraphrasing here) that when Bo's captains would choose goals for the season, if they wanted the national championship, he would remind them that they would need to be perfect, not just on every play on Saturday, but in every snap in practice.  Even then, you would need more than your fair share of luck.  Having the highest goals for the season is not an objectively bad thing, Harbaugh himself has said himself: "If nobody's laughing, you didn't set your goals high enough."  But goals only become real when paired with execution.  Saturday showed us, and this team that you can still win a game even if you don't play perfectly.  But this was against Central Florida, a team that went 0-12 last season.  All of us, the fans, the players, and the coaching staff know that this won't cut it against a Wisconsin, or certainly not a Michigan State or an Ohio State.  But, just like the fumbled punt snap yesterday that Kenny Allen fell on, perhaps it is good that it happened early, while there's still time to fix it.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Where No Man Has Gone Before

Speight, the final frontier.  (Credit: Getty Images / Gregory Shamus)
50 years ago this month, Star Trek debuted on NBC.  Though a modest hit at best, it developed, over time, a cult-like following, obsessives who pored over every detail of the original 79 episodes and became the sci-fi fandom against which other fandoms are judged.

137 seasons into Michigan football, each new season is eagerly awaited by its fans (and its hate-watchers) to see which twists and turns the writers have in store for this year.  Social media will see hushed moments of awe and vociferous complaint in the online recaps.  Some will say that this season is a return to form, on par with the classics.  Others will worry that the new landscape will never allow this year to measure up.  But the season is here, and well, these are the voyages.

In the grand scheme, this was as strong a season opener as you could hope for in this kind of enterprise.  When your defense loses the shutout because the kicker defiantly nails a 55-yarder, you just kind of laugh, because the offense nearly covered the over by itself.  So many freshmen played today, it felt like an away team with all of the redshirts burning.  This game, by itself, does not answer many questions, it's just one episode.  New horizons wait next week, new discoveries to be made.  But make no bones about it, if we're going to get beyond the last decade, one that took us into darkness, then the reboot under Harbaugh, keeping the things we loved about the original, but adding a new cast of characters, starting with a head coach with a ridiculous Q score, one seemingly regarded as an emissary by the faithful, that's where all of this brings us, to Year 2, an undiscovered country.  The future remains to be written, but when you have good leadership, your crew can defy the impossible again and again.

First games are about learning something.  Michigan learned a lot from last year's away mission to Salt Lake City, it bounced back because it worked on correcting mistakes that cost them a victory.  All of the preseason expectations change as we gather data points.  Is Colorado better than advertised, or is Colorado State really bad?  Could Wisconsin be more of a challenge than anticipated?  Is the defense for real?  These are the storylines, some will be answered, others will be forgotten as the season moves forward.  Here's to hoping that we will never have to say "Dammit Jim."

Saturday, September 03, 2016

10 Years

I got bored when I didn't have a band. So I started a band, man...

A photo posted by The Hold Steady (@theholdsteady) on

In 2006, I was a year and a half into the job I still hold, but I didn't have much else going on. Work took up most of my time, and trying to make friends as an adult is weird. I started gravitating online, and a lot of that gravitation took me to MGoBlog. I was completely on board with that, and with my extra time, I figured I could pour that into something similar. So I started a blog, and recruited my friends. It wasn't particularly good (at least not my stuff), but it existed and that was enough. As the years have gone on, my job got bigger, and I fell in love, got married, sold a house, moved 4 times, and bought another house. That slice of time I had has gotten slimmer, and my writing has not gotten any better, so I've receded around here.

But we're back here for the 2016 season, and there's a palpable buzz in the air. I've long given up predicting a year's outcome. It's much more likely to go well, when compared to most of the last decade, but there's a reason they play the games, etc., etc. I want to enjoy this season, just like I enjoyed the 2006 season. It should be a wild ride, and I want to hang on and watch these guys work through it. I hope you'll join me.