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Junior QB Ricky Stanzi hopes to lead Iowa to a Big Ten title.

Junior QB Ricky Stanzi hopes to lead Iowa to a Big Ten title.

Hey, how about some talk about actual football? We’re just five days away from the Western game, which means I need to hurry up and finish my predictions. Today I look at the Indiana, Michigan State, and Iowa games. Part I can be found here.

IndianaGame Four — Sept. 26: Indiana

Indiana returns 17 starters from a team that finished 3-9 in 2008, but, well, they were 3-9 and lose their best offensive weapon (WR/QB Kellen Lewis, who was booted from the team in April). Also, returning nine starters on defense doesn’t sound nearly as good when that defense gave up 35.3 points per game the prior season (good for 108th in the country). If my prior picks are correct, then Michigan will be riding high going into their fourth consecutive home game, and the attention should be back on the football team’s play on the field, not their practice habits off it.

Key Matchup: The offensive line vs. Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton — Kirlew and Middleton give Indiana perhaps the Big Ten’s best defensive end tandem, with Kirlew coming off a First-Team All-Big Ten season in 2008 (10.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss among 74 total tackles). With a freshman quarterback (presumably) starting, Michigan will have to be at their best when protecting the passer. Pressure can lead to drive-killing sacks, fumbles, and interceptions, so the offensive line, especially tackles Mark Ortmann and Mark Huyge, will have to step up.

Prediction: Hoosier head coach Bill Lynch will really be feeling the heat after a beatdown in the Big House. Michigan 41, Indiana 24.

Michigan_StGame Five — Oct. 3: @ Michigan State

Ah, the Spartans. A team expected to finish in the Top 25 despite losing both their quarterback and running back (/entire team offense) from last season. Everything I stand for as a Michigan fan makes me want to pick us to beat little brother and start the season a shocking 5-0. However, Kirk Cousins/Keith Nichol (whichever Spartan QB wins the starting job) will be surrounded by a lot of returning talent, with WR Mark Dell leading the way alongside a stable of talented running backs vying to replace Javon Ringer. The defense, led by preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones at linebacker, should be solid. The difference in this game could come down to kicking, as Michigan has yet to name a starter while MSU returns All-Big Ten kicker Brett Swenson.

Key Matchup: Donovan Warren and Boubacar Cissoko vs. Blair White and Mark Dell — Big plays by Spartan receivers killed Michigan in last year’s loss to MSU (White and Dell combined for over 200 yards receiving, and White opened the scoring with a 61-yard TD reception). Warren and Cissoko will be relied on to shut down the Spartans’ dynamic duo this year, and they have to cut down on the big play if UM hopes to win.

Prediction: This should be close, and my heart tells me to pick the good guys, but my brain just won’t let me do it. Michigan State 27, Michigan 20

IowaGame Six — Oct. 10: @ Iowa

Some fans look at this game and see it as the toughest on Michigan’s schedule. Iowa has a lot of experts thinking Big Ten dark horse, and they do return eight players from a defense that only allowed 13.0 points per game in 2008 (5th in the country). However, losing Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene is a huge blow to the Hawkeye offense, and his expected replacement, sophomore Jewel Hampton, has been plagued by knee injuries in the offseason and is no guarantee to stay healthy in the fall. Also, Iowa loses both starting defensive tackles from last year, and could be vulnerable to the run as a result.

Key Matchup: Michigan’s rushing attack vs. Iowa’s defensive interior — The loss of DTs Mitch King and Matt Kroul (both four-year starters) leaves Iowa with a big hole to fill in the middle of their defense. If Michigan can get an interior running game going, they can control the pace of the game and move the ball against an otherwise stingy defense.

Prediction: Michigan is going to upset somebody this season, and if I had to pick a team that looks the most vulnerable, it’s Iowa. I think Michigan moves the ball enough on the ground to pull the upset in a defensive battle. Michigan 20, Iowa 16.

So, I see Michigan starting the season 5-1, getting a signature victory against the Hawkeyes, and being just seven points away from shocking the world and starting 6-0. Unfortunately, the schedule gets a little more serious from this point forward. Keep checking back as I continue my preseason predictions tomorrow.

Rich Rodriguez at this mornings press conference.

Rich Rodriguez at this morning's press conference.

Today’s Wolverines on the Web will be presented without comment, because I’m as sick of this stuff as I’m sure most of you are, I’ve already stated my opinion on the matter, and I don’t think a links post is the greatest forum for opinion anyway (neither is an investigative report, but don’t tell that to Rosenberg). Here’s a roundup of various opinion and news pieces on the Freep scandal:

After reading through the Free Press “investigation” last night, I, like most of you (judging by various blog posts, comments, and message board posts) was irate at what appeared to be a couple anonymous quotes from “current or former players” (emphasis mine) and two quotes from freshmen with no context provided (the Stokes and Hawthorne quotes) blown up into a national news story that had ‘agenda’ written all over it. I even screwed around with Photoshop and had this ready to go for this morning:

spartyfreep
I was very close to not posting that after reading various, level-headed reactions from Michigan fans (as well as Joe Schad’s corroboration of the report at ESPN.com) that pushed homerism aside and believed the accusations to be both serious and difficult (or, in the WLA’s case, “nearly impossible”) to refute. However, I’m very stuck on a few things:

  1. The timing. There is just no freaking way that putting out the story on the Saturday before the first game of the season, just in time for maximum exposure (as well as the Sunday edition of the paper) was a total coincidence. It’s tough not to think of this as a grasp for attention when the timing of the report is so obviously calculated
  2. The tone behind the report. Your soap box, Rivalry, Esq.:

    I mean, have you looked at the Freep website? The Freep brought down the hammer, article wise, with an armada of supplemental articles to the major breaking story.MSU plays by the rules, say ex-players,” A look inside Rodriguez’s rigorous program,” and my personal favorite, “National voices provide context on issue.”The last one is my favorite because they ask a 70 year old about what weight training was like in his playing days. Shockingly enough, things were different when he played in late 1950’s.

    The Detroit Free Press decided they had landed a big Michigan story and have attacked on all fronts. After bringing the story to the University of Michigan’s attention, they dropped this huge stack of articles and reactions. These are not, I repeat, these are not two-sided articles. Take a look at the “rigorous program” article. As Rosenberg goes on about the hard-ass qualities of Barwis and RichRod’s workout programs, one heading reads “Wow, this is absurd.” WOAH, you say, caught off-guard by this bold heading, Barwis and RichRod must have done something horrendous to inspire such a reaction from someone. Of course you quickly find out that a) the quote was taken out of context and b) the quote was never actually said by anyone. It was simply Barwis stating what he thought former NFL players would think of his workout. As Dave from Maize and Brew would say, “SEE! See what I did there??!!” Tricky writing/reporting from Rosenberg.

  3. The precedent set by the Freep. There was a whole lot of hubbub over the Justin Feagin dismissal, and rightfully so. Cocaine is a big deal, no matter how you spin it (although I was pleased with how quickly RichRod dealt with the matter). However, remember Glenn Winston, convicted assailant of MSU hockey player A.J. Sturges, being immediately let back onto the team right around the same time? And then one day later Drew Sharp pens the article “Michigan State glad to take boredom anytime“? That’s hitting Fox News levels of “fair and balanced”.
  4. The vagueness of the anonymous sources. The amount of times quotes pick up in the middle of a sentence (or even just quote one word) while Rosenberg gives the context gives me pause. Call me crazy, but I know the NCAA, if/when they investigate, will want a lot more than some choice quotes hand-picked from interviews where the subjects are (1) anonymous and (2) may or may not have known what they were being interviewed about. I want the same thing. (For a great breakdown of the journalism tactics used for the investigation, check out this post on The Fort by Chuck Jaffe, former Michigan Daily sports editor and current columnist for MarketWatch, who, like me, wants more concrete proof.)

While I will still wait to pass total judgment until the NCAA investigates (and, according to MGoBrian, any potential repercussions should be minor if any penalties are levied at all, based on NCAA precedent), I still find this to be (1) irresponsible journalism and (2) therefore totally overblown until someone can actually prove to me that these accusations are true. Unless something bigger (like in-context quotes taken from current players or an NCAA investigation) comes down, consider this the last time I pay any attention to Rosenberg and the Freep.

I got an email today from Drew Cieszynski, a Big Ten football fan who is planning to embark on a Big Ten football tour in 2009, hitting all 11 stadiums and the Rose Bowl while chronicling his (and a few friends’) travels at theBig10tour.com. Tailgating and grubbing are two integral parts of the Big 10 football experience, so I’m going to run down my ideal tailgating weekend in Ann Arbor, assuming a Friday evening arrival and a Sunday departure (Note: despite the gushing tone I take when describing these places, I’m not being paid by any of them … they’re just my favorite spots in Ann Arbor):

Friday Night Dinner:

Now THATS a sandwich.

Now THAT'S a sandwich.

They’re world famous for a reason: there’s just no topping a massive sandwich from Zingerman’s Deli, located just a little bit off campus on Detroit Street, in the heart of old downtown Ann Arbor. The ingredients are unparalleled, there’s a ton of different sandwiches to choose from, and you can stuff yourself silly for less than $20. My personal favorite is the Zingerman’s Reuben (#2), but there’s something for everyone on their menu. My mouth is watering as I type this.

Friday Night Drinks:

It doesnt get any fresher than beer brewed on-site.

It doesn't get any fresher than beer brewed on-site.

For a nice calm watering hole to hit the night before the storm, Grizzly Peak provides the perfect combination of laid-back bar and delicious beer. Located on West Washington Street, The Grizzly Den Bar offers five beers brewed on-site year-round, as well as special seasonal brews. My personal favorite is the Victors’ Golden Ale, but those looking for a fuller beer can rest easy, as the Bear Paw Porter is also fantastic. If you love beer, you’ll love Grizzly Peak.

Saturday Morning Tailgate:

Sig Ep is one of the many frats lining State Street that will be going hard on a football Saturday. Id post a picture of a real tailgate, but dont want to accidentally incriminate somebody for having a good time.

Sig Ep is one of the many frats lining State Street that will be going hard on a football Saturday. I'd post a picture of a real tailgate, but don't want to accidentally incriminate somebody for having a good time.

Maybe, as a student, I’m a bit biased, but when it comes to college football tailgates, it’s the college students that do it best. This may sound strange/creepy, but I really think the best way to experience the Michigan tailgate scene is to simply walk down State Street and then make your way through the student ghetto (don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe) towards Michigan Stadium, making the requisite stops at whatever frat or house tailgate happens to catch your eye (and welcomes you in … we’re generally a friendly bunch). No matter the weather (and we’ve seen it all) the students will still be outside, red Solo cup in hand, getting geared up to watch the Wolverines.

Post-Game Dinner/Drink:

Ignore the liquor. At Ashleys, its all about the taps.

Ignore the liquor. At Ashley's, it's all about the taps.

At this point, who really cares about the food? Ashley’s, located on State Street, has solid-enough bar food, but the big draw here is, again, the beer. Just check out (and review) their brews … there’s no bigger selection in Ann Arbor (70 drafts on-tap), and they know their stuff. If you’re willing to drop a little dime, try the Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue Label). I’ve never had a better beer in my life.

Sunday Morning Breakfast:

The only way to leave Ann Arbor ... a big breakfast at Angelos.

The only way to leave Ann Arbor ... a big breakfast at Angelo's.

Ask anybody who knows Ann Arbor, and they’ll point you to one place for breakfast: Angelo’s. I don’t even know where to begin: try anything off their breakfast menu, and you’ll be pleased. Just trust me. You won’t be disappointed.

What’s your favorite tailgate spot, bar, or football weekend restaurant? Leave your suggestions in the comments, and make sure to give Drew and the crew a big Michigan welcome when they roll into town for the Penn State game. Remember, they’ll be blogging, so make sure to show them a good time.

Rich Rodriguez isn't concerned about playing all three quarterbacks to start the season.

Rich Rodriguez isn't concerned about playing all three quarterbacks to start the season.

Football:

  • QB rotations are a bad idea, but it’s right for Michigan at the moment — Detroit Free Press — Detroit sports radio mainstay Jamie Samuelsen is surprised to find that he isn’t against playing three quarterbacks to start the season for Michigan. I’m still a little wary, and would like to see Forcier and Robinson get a shot before resorting to Sheridan, but I’m going to trust the coaches on this one until I see it in action.
  • OK, Michigan’s Sheridan-as-starter meme isn’t funny anymore — Dr. Saturday — The Doc points out just how historically awful Nick Sheridan was last season (81.09 quarterback efficiency in 2008; the next-worst in the Big 10 by a qualifying QB was 105.26 by … Steven Threet), and makes it clear that if Michigan is relying on Sheridan as anything but a worst-case backup plan, things won’t improve a whole lot from last season. If this wasn’t the internet, I’d have stamped his article with a giant “co-sign”.
  • Weekly Recruiting Wrap — The Wolverine — Josh Helmholdt takes a look at each of Michigan’s 18 verbal commits for 2010 and lays out his expectations for their senior seasons in high school. Many of M’s commits have a lot to prove in their final season, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on them to see if fans’ consternation about the quality of the class is legit.
  • U-M football officials pleased with suite commitments — Detroit News — There’s a ton of content out about the new suites after the athletic department took the media on a tour this week. Michigan has sold 70% of the suites with a year to spare before they open, which bodes very well for the AD. Those who were not on board with the renovations should really reconsider … the suites look great (can you really complain about the exterior brickwork?), and should bring in a lot of money for the school.
  • Unverified Voracity Deletes Six Jokes — MGoBlog — Just click. You’ll thank me later … namely when Penn State comes to town in October. Like Brian, I will refrain from comment as long as anything I write on this site can later be attributed to my real name.
  • Birk’s Eye View: Six position battles to watch as Michigan breaks football camp — AnnArbor.com — With all the focus on the quarterback, two battles to really look for are the kicker (obviously, as covered on this site before) and the running backs. Even with all the hype around Brandon Minor, he hasn’t been healthy all camp (or his entire career, really) and if Carlos Brown can stay healthy we could see a real battle for carries this fall.
  • U-M OL Cory Zirbel can’t play, so he’ll coach — Detroit Free Press — I’ll make no further comment than what Zirbel himself said: “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘How can you be a part of that coaching staff?’ Those people aren’t true Michigan fans. … People don’t understand how I accept my role, but those people don’t know.
    “It’s an honor. It’s Michigan, always going to be Michigan. Coach Rodriguez is a great guy, presented me an opportunity, and I took it.”
  • Mesko Named Candidate for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team — MGoBlue — Good Works Team now, Supreme Ruler of the Universe tomorrow.

Basketball:

  • Beilein wants back at work after big season — Detroit Free Press — I can’t express how much I like Beilein as Michigan’s coach: he runs a clean program, directs teams that are fun to watch, and lives and breathes basketball. Also, a very interesting quote here: “I didn’t write it down,” [Beilein] said. “But coming back from the Alaska trip (two years ago) was an eye-opener for us. We lost to Boston College and Harvard back-to-back after that. If you would have told me you’ll be .500 and go to the NIT in the second year, I would have said, alright. I thought we had a long way to go but some pieces fell into place.” Yeah, no kidding.
  • Position by Position: Zack Novak — UMHoops — Dylan begins his breakdown of Michigan’s basketball squad by looking at … Zack Novak, because he can play more than half the positions on the court. Dylan likes him at the power forward, but I’m hoping he’ll play more 2 and 3 this season if one of the freshman bigs can develop into a viable option in the post.
  • The Eight Steps … Ben Cronin’s Journey Back — MGoBlue — Hey, a viable big (maybe)! Cronin has been through a lot before really having a chance to contribute at Michigan, thanks to a hip injury that forced the team to shut him down for his freshman season. Cronin seems to have a great attitude and a drive to compete, and if he could contribute as a rotation player this season it would be a huge boost for Michigan’s frontcourt depth.

Other Sports:

  • Volleyball Stuns Huskers — MGoBlog — The Michigan volleyball team notched a historic victory yesterday as they defeated #3 Nebraska in Omaha three sets to none in the top regular season tournament in college volleyball, the Runza/AVCA Challenge. This is the type of victory a program can look back on as a turning point towards national prominence … Michigan may not be a title contender this season (according to formerlyanonymous, who I will defer to as the expert here, since I can’t say I follow volleyball much at all) but this victory is huge nonetheless.

Bronco QB Tim Hiller will give Michigan's secondary an early test.

Bronco QB Tim Hiller will give Michigan's secondary an early test.

With the season only eight days (!) away, it’s time to start breaking down the schedule game by game. Today, I’ll be looking at Michigan’s first three games, all at home, against Western Michigan, Notre Dame, and Eastern Michigan.

Western_MichiganGame One — Sept. 5: Western Michigan

Western Michigan is the type of game that is almost a no-win for Michigan. Beat them, and fans say, “Well, of course you won, you played Western.” Lose, and it’s a complete disaster, despite the fact that WMU was bowl team last season, going 9-4, and they return seven starters from an offense that ranked 11th in the nation in passing offense. Quarterback Tim Hiller passed for 3,725 yards and 36 touchdowns (against 10 interceptions) as a junior, but loses three of his top four receivers from last season. The Broncos also return a 1,000 yard rusher in senior Brandon West, who rushed for 1,026 yards and eight touchdowns on only 204 attempts last year. The good news for Michigan: the defense, which allowed 24.9 points per game in 2008, returns only four starters.

Key Matchup: The Michigan secondary vs. Tim Hiller and Co. — The Wolverines will be breaking in three new starters in the secondary, and face one of the most prolific passers in the country. Michigan should be able to score some points against an inexperienced Bronco defense, and it will be critical for the defense to not give up big plays, especially through the air.

Prediction: The offense starts clicking in the second half, and the Wolverines come up with just enough stops to get off to a 1-0 start. Michigan 27, Western Michigan 21.

Notre_DameGame Two — Sept. 12: Notre Dame

Charlie Weis will be looking to save his job this season after losing 15 games the past two seasons (the most in Irish history), and he has the talent to make a run at a BCS bowl game with 18 returning starters. The much-hyped Jimmy Clausen enters his junior season after becoming the second ND quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in a season in 2008. He’s got plenty of weapons to throw to, with Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Duval Kamara all returning at receiver and three tailbacks (Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, and Jonas Gray) fighting for the starting spot. If there was ever a season for Notre Dame to return to glory, it’s 2009.

Key Matchup: Michigan’s pass rush vs. Notre Dame’s O-Line — Notre Dame returns every single starter from a much-improved 2008 offensive line, while Michigan will rely on Brandon Graham to anchor the defensive line while breaking in Mike Martin (although Martin should be very good) and Ryan Van Bergen as new starters. Last season Michigan was gashed by huge plays to Golden Tate, who finished with four receptions for 127 yards and a 40-yard touchdown reception. If Graham and Co. can get to Clausen it will take a lot of the pressure off of the defensive backs to stop the big play.

Prediction: Michigan should have a quarterback step up and take the starting job by this point (I hope), and Notre Dame has only one returning linebacker, so the Wolverines should be able to move the ball with the run and the pass. This one will be close, but I have no confidence in Charlie Weis’ ability to coach a team up to their full potential. Michigan 34, Notre Dame 28.

Eastern_MichiganGame Three — Sept. 19: Eastern Michigan

Michigan fans will recognize the guy manning the headset for EMU, as former UM defensive coordinator Ron English enters his first season as the Eagles’ head coach. Unfortunately for English, he takes over a perennial doormat who finished 3-9 last season. In 2008, Eastern was able to move the ball though the air, finishing 20th nationally in passing offense, and they return eight starters on offense, including senior QB Andy Schmitt and top receiver Jacory Stone. However, their defense, which also returns eight starters, was downright abysmal, finishing 109th in scoring defense (35.6 points allowed per game), 103rd in rushing defense (196.3 yards per game), and 116th in passing efficiency defense (156.0 rating against). English is a young coach on the rise, but he’s going to have a very tough time pulling this team out of the MAC cellar this season.

Key Matchup: Michigan vs. Disappointment — This one is very simple. There is simply no reason for Michigan not to win this game. If the team is coming off a victory over Notre Dame, the team will have to make sure not to overlook the Eagles and put forward 100% effort. A loss against the Eagles would fall squarely on the shoulders of Rich Rodriguez for not having his team prepared and focused.

Prediction: As strange as this sounds, this game could be a jumping-off point for Michigan if they go on to have a successful season. There’s nothing like having a team click on all cylinders and tee off on a hapless opponent to help raise a team’s confidence. Michigan 42, Eastern Michigan 16.

There you have it. I see Michigan going 3-0 to start the year, and confidence should by flying high going into the Big Ten schedule. I’ll be continuing by predictions over the weekend, so make sure to check back here, and also make sure to head over to The Wolverine for more on the upcoming season.

Despite all the red, this is not Indiana's home stadium.

Despite all the red, this is not Indiana's home stadium.

  • Indiana, Penn State to play at FedEx Field in 2010 — ESPN.com — Essentially, Indiana sold a home game for $3 million, as the Redskins’ home stadium is far closer to Happy Valley than Bloomington. Naturally, the locals aren’t pleased, and neither are, well, our locals. This sets a really dangerous precedent, and I’d be furious if I was a Hoosier fan who had to watch my team sell a home game in a complete money-grab.
  • Paterno says OL, receivers faltering — Altoona Mirror — Well, this certainly doesn’t bode well for those (myself included) who think Penn State will take the Big Ten title this year:  “We’re still struggling with that offensive line right now, and we’re not sure about our wideouts,” he said. “We’ve got some kids that are someday going to be really good, but it’s all so new to them. So we’re not anywhere near where I would hope we would be at this stage.
    “We’re only [nine] days away from playing a football game, and if we had to play this week – well, we’ll have troubles regardless – but we’d have big, big troubles.”
  • Tolzien set to start against Northern Illinois in opener — Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel — Despite senior Dustin Scherer still being on the roster after starting the last seven games for Wisconsin last year, junior Scott Tolzien will be the man under center for the Badgers. In fact, Scherer drops all the way to No. 3, behind redshirt freshman Curt Phillips.
  • Kirk Cousins named MSU football co-captain — Detroit News — Call me crazy, but this certainly sounds like Cousins has the edge for the starting quarterback job over Keith Nichol. Mark Dantonio still won’t name a starter, but it’s hard to imagine the co-captain starting the season on the bench.
  • Juice Williams for Heisman in 2009. Why not? — Hail to the Orange — Your first instinct may be to call this crazy, but I don’t think this is any more unreasonable than the Terrelle Pryor for Heisman campaign. Williams may not be a stalwart passer, but he’s improved every season, and Michigan fans know all too well how dangerous he is with his legs.