The 2012 Look Ahead: The Schedule

Brian Kelly can't wait to play this guy again. Getty Images
Well, the 2011 season is in the books, and by almost all accounts it was a resounding success. Eleven wins, beat Notre Dame in the first ever night game at the Big House, beat Ohio...finally, beat Virginia Tech in overtime in the Sugar Bowl – hard to look back, even with the losses to Sparty and Iowa on the road, and remember this season, Brady Hoke's first, and team 132, as anything other than memorable.

But 2011 is sooo last year.

We can only sit back and enjoy past accomplishments for so long. It's also January and we don't go gaga over recruiting, so we need something to talk about.

So what's going on for 2012? What can we look forward to? Who's leaving? What incoming and red-shirt freshman will make an immediate impact? How does the schedule look? This series of posts will attempt to address each one of these topics.

First up, the schedule, after the break.

Mike Martin Gets Into It with Ohio's Brewster, David Molk's Sugar Bowl Injury

Martin following the win against Ohio on Nov. 26, 2011.
Senior Bowl practice is well underway, and Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin is making news after his brief altercation with Ohio center Mike Brewster.
[Brewster] got into a brief shoving match with Mike Martin (DT, Michigan) after Martin beat him on an inside move during position drills.  Brewster and Martin are familiar foes, of course, because of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. "He's one of my best competitors," Brewster said after practice. "I love going against him."
This doesn't sound anything more than a little extra fire due to the long rivalry between these two guys who have been starters for their respective teams for many years. Frankly, I'd be surprised if this didn't happen. Nice to see the hate is alive and well going into the next level.

If I were a media member covering the Senior Bowl, I'd like the opportunity to ask Mike how well Brewster stacks up against David Molk, who beat Brewster out for top Big Ten honors and the Rimington Award.

More on Molk, and some hardcore NFL training video after the jump.

Brady Hoke on Paterno's Passing

Via UM media relations:

University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke on the passing of Joe Paterno:

"I am certainly saddened by the news today of Coach Paterno's passing. College football has lost one of its greatest, a coaching icon. Even though I was just an assistant when our teams faced one another, I feel honored to have shared the field with Joe. His players' love for him, it shows how he touched their lives and it tells who he was as a man. He will be missed. His mark on Penn State and college football will never be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Joe's family and friends and the entire Penn State community."

Related:
Joe Paterno Dead at 85

Joe Paterno Dead at 85

Joe Paterno, 1926-2012
At a time of unprecedented scandal at Penn State University, Joe Paterno died this morning, of complications due to lung cancer. Joe was not at the center of the scandal, but was certainly well within it's reach. I hope that in time, Joe's legacy will not just reflect the latest events in State College, PA.

RIP Joe. You will be missed.

Doing My Small Part to Fight SOPA & PIPA

This is a protest.
Please join us, along with fellow Michigan blog The MZone, and thousands of websites around the country, in our modest protest of the proposed legislation that would drastically change how each and every one of us uses the internet. Being an internet maker, as well as a consumer, I feel compelled to act.

I don't claim to know exactly how it all works, but from what I've been reading, it's not good. Here's a helpful video to explain what SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) is and what it could do.



Want to know more? Go here.

Darryl Stonum Dismissed from Team

A comeback would've been a nice story, but I understand and support the decision. Hoke is setting the standard, and I don't think anyone will dispute it.

Per UM media relations:
Wide Receiver Darryl Stonum Dismissed from U-M Football Team
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan head football coach Brady Hoke announced on Tuesday (Jan. 17) that wide receiver Darryl Stonum has been dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.

"I love Darryl and wish him nothing but the absolute best," Hoke said.  "However, there is a responsibility and a higher standard you must be accountable to as a University of Michigan football student-athlete.  That does not and will not change.  It's unfortunate because I believe he has grown a great deal as a person since the beginning of the season.  My hope is that maturing process continues."

Stonum started 25 of 36 career games at U-M, catching 76 passes for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns.  He also returned 62 kickoffs for 1,538 yards and holds the single-season kickoff return mark with 39 returns for 1,001 yards in 2009.  Stonum redshirted in 2011.

"I appreciate everything the University of Michigan, Dave Brandon and Coach Hoke have done for me," said Stonum.  "I look forward to continuing my football career down the road, but more importantly, right now I'm focused on graduating from Michigan this Spring.  I understand only I am responsible for my actions. I'm sad about how all of this turned out, but I completely understand.  I love this school and my team and will miss them all greatly.  But I'll always be a Wolverine.  I know I have grown and matured as a person over the last nine months, and I will continue to learn and grow every day.  I want to thank everyone for all of their support, and I hope they will support me in the future."
Related:
Stonum's Future at Michigan in Limbo


My Favorite Photos of 2011

While we're all looking ahead to 2012, but I thought it would be nice to take a quick look back at some of the moments I was able to capture with my camera in 2011.

Having a media pass, I wanted to take as full advantage of it as I could, so I was snapping photos of everything. Once in a while I'd get lucky and a photo would turn out pretty good. I'm not a professional photog by any means, but not bad for a blogger, though.



Sports photography is a tough racket, no question. I have a new-found respect for the guys who do this for a living. Timing is everything and being in the right place doesn't hurt either. I know this now.

NCAA President Likes a 4-Team Playoff, My System Revealed

This.
After giving his annual state of the association speech Thursday in Indianapolis, NCAA President Mark Emmert acknowledged he would back a small playoff if that's what Bowl Championship Series officials decide to adopt.

''The notion of having a Final Four approach is probably a sound one,'' Emmert said when asked what he heard coming out of New Orleans this week.

''Moving toward a 16-team playoff is highly problematic because I think that's too much to ask a young man's body to do. It's too many games, it intrudes into the school year and, of course, it would probably necessitate a complete end to the bowl system that so many people like now.''

BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said Tuesday that 50-60 possibilities for various changes were presented during a deliberate meeting in New Orleans, where Alabama beat LSU in the BCS title game Monday night. Hancock anticipates it will take another five to seven meetings to reach a conclusion in July.

One possibility is the four-team playoff, or the so-called plus-one approach, that would create two national semifinals and a championship game played one week later.
This would be a good place to mention that the NCAA has absolutely nothing to do with the BCS. Nothing. Those BCS games are not NCAA-sanctioned events...whatever that means?

But this news could spell the death of the BCS. At least it would seem that way.

The idea of a "+1" system has always seemed the most logical due to things like logistics of wooing fan bases to venues, satisfying the "What about the student-athletes?!" crowd, and providing a logical step forward to maybe a larger playoff system down the road.

I don't think we're headed towards a March Madness of college football, but I've always thought an 8-team playoff made the most sense in terms of making it competitive and exciting. Four teams is a good start, but it should not end there.

My obligatory post-season idea...a pure hypothetical.
In my system, the Rose Bowl would always host the NCAA title game.
Less is more
First thing, we need to get over the bowls. They are essentially meaningless and there are way too many of them. I love the bowl games, I really do. But even I'll admit that the vast majority of them are a waste of time that dilutes the rest of the bowls that could actually mean something.

I think there were 35 bowl games this year. This has to stop. Going to a bowl game used to mean you had a great season worth celebrating. Now, bowl games have turned into participation ribbons.

"Hey Ohio State, you finished an abysmal season 6-6. Here's your New Year's Day bowl!"

The sooner we can make getting to the post-season an actual accomplishment, the sooner bowl TV ratings will stop sliding. Making the field of 65 teams in the NCAA tournament is not easy. Good teams are left out every year, but that's what makes it exciting.

8-teams, new rankings system
The +1 idea would create a 4-team playoff. But why stop there?

I think 8 teams, decided by a new rankings system, is where we're ultimately headed. No one likes the BCS. The combination of human and computer polls isn't just mysterious in it's function, but it creates a lot of friction because one of the human elements is the coaches poll...which doesn't make sense because coaches don't watch any other team other than their own and the one they're playing next.

No conference title games
I don't know how this is going to go over, but I don't think the conference title games should be played. Why? Because it's a useless game that doesn't really help the winner, and really hurts the loser. Allow me to explain.

Case-in-point: Alabama won the national championship and didn't play in the SEC title game.

Yeah, winning your conference is great. But in today's world of college football, a conference title game doesn't make sense. And if we do away with conference title games, we can do away with conference divisions.

Each conference should be capped at 10 teams*. That way every team could play every other team in their conference once during the regular season. There would be no argument that team X didn't play team Y, and that would help ease the loss of a conference title game, and you'd still have a real conference champion.

And the addition of the NCAA playoff would more than make up for the loss of revenue to conferences via their title games.

No automatic qualifiers
This stems from the new rankings system and the elimination of conference title games. It also eases the insane conference realignment chaos that is happening. It also helps cap each conference at 10 teams.

Making the playoff field of 8 will be based 100% on your ranking. Rankings would be based on a similar system to the BCS, but would eliminate the coaches poll from the equation. It would keep the Harris poll and the computer rankings. It could include the AP poll as another human element, but it certainly wouldn't comprise 1/3 of the final equation.

No conference will have an automatic qualifier for the playoff. Odds are a major conference champion will make the field of eight anyway, but it is not guaranteed (I'm looking at you Big East).

The logistics of actual games being played
As far as logistics of playing this playoff in the real-world...it won't be easy.

I think the first rounds four quarter-final games of the playoff should take place at the higher seed's home stadium. Again, university presidents and ADs will like this, and so will conferences, but so will that team's fans. Schools in the north will love it, schools in the south will not. Deal with it. It's not called home-field advantage for nothing.

Round two's semi-final games will be at a major bowl location. Any two of the following...Miami, NOLA, Arlington, Glendale, Orlando (maybe they can rotate?). And then of course the championship game...which I think should always be played in Pasadena.

What can I say? I think the Rose Bowl is a perfect place for the title game. Why not experience this every year? I am biased.

I think round one would be played the week following the regular season, round two the following week, and then a break over Christmas leading up to the title game on January 1st.

All other bowls can exists as they are, including bowls where round two playoff games are played. But the playoff would render the rest of the bowls even more meaningless than they already are...but that's just an unfortunate byproduct of creating a playoff. We've been heading down that road for years now anyway.

What say you?

*Yes, I fully recognize this would create an enormous mess. But this is purely a hypothetical.

Congratulations Alabama...

Stonum's Future at Michigan in Limbo

Michigan WR Darryl Stonum, who sat out the 2011 season due to a disciplinary measure by Brady Hoke because of more than a couple alcohol related charges that put him hot water with the new coach, was back in court yesterday for violating his probation.

Stonum was issued a traffic citation Thursday morning by Ann Arbor police for driving on a revoked license. The ironic thing is, he was coming from his probation office downtown, where had just checked in.

Darryl has been sentenced to 10 days in jail. No question, this is very bad news for both Darryl and Michigan's 2012 WR corps who were looking forward to having the senior wideout back on the field.

Via AA.com:
Stonum lied to his probation officer prior to being pulled over, court records show. When Stonum checked in at the office, he told the officer that a female friend had dropped him off in the area. Because of the ticket and lie, Stonum was charged with violating probation, said Stonum's probation officer, Steve Hill.

Stonum admitted to the probation violation in court today in front of Judge Charles Pope. Pope said Stonum will have to convince the court that he can continue in the sobriety court program.

"Nobody did this to you," Pope told Stonum in 15th District Court. "You did this to yourself." Stonum was led away by officers and taken to a cell.

Pope said earlier in court today that Stonum has had four alcohol-related encounters with the criminal justice system, which he called "extremely unusual" for someone Stonum's age.

"The part that's the worst is your deceit about it," Pope said.

"Trust is the easiest thing to lose, and the hardest thing to regain Darryl, and that's the situation you're in."
What's worse, he could be back in Brady Hoke's dog house. On Thursday at an already scheduled presser at Schembechler Hall, Hoke had this to say about Stonum's status on the team.
"Until we know everything, it hasn’t changed," Hoke said Thursday at a previously scheduled season wrap-up news conference. When asked if he was concerned about Stonum's decision-making, Hoke simply replied, "No."
Given the nature of these wrongdoings alone, I don't think they merit a dismissal from the team, but certainly the frequency of these mistakes and his decision-making ability overall signal a serious problem. Darryl has been a bright spot for this team when he has played, and I certainly don't want to see him go, but I wouldn't be surprised if that did happen.

Stonum was Michigan's 2nd-leading receiver in 2010 with 49 catches for 633 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Michigan's Man in the Middle [Video]

For those who might have missed this when it aired before the Sugar Bowl, or for those who just want to see it again. ESPN's special feature on David Molk.

Sugar Bowl Thoughts

Dave Martin, AP
We made a ton of mistakes in this game. We played very undisciplined on both sides of the ball, but mainly on offense. We looked hesitant at times, graceful at times, downright terrible at times. But when the clock read all zeros, Michigan stormed the field like 3rd graders on the last day of school.

And it was sweet.

Why so sweet? Because bowl games are dessert. That's all they are.

Offense?
I can spare Al Borges some of the blame for our offensive ineptitude. It wasn't his fault David Molk didn't play the first series. I really think the first three plays screwed with the timing of everything we tried to do for much of the game.

For reasons passing understanding, we looked like we had never run this type of offense before. Granted, Borges was throwing in some new looks, and failed to abandon them when they flat out just were not working, but still. Execution was just not there a lot of the times.

It might be safe to say that about over an hour into the game and well into the second quarter, we were probably still running scripted plays. At least I hope not.

I don't watch the offense like a hawk during each game, but I don't remember seeing a lot of double zone-read fake handoffs during the regular season. One fake zone-read to a slot WR, and then once again to Fitz. If you're going to fake a handoff on a zone-read, do it once and sell it...twice on the same play is too much, IMO.

Aaaaand. Bubble-screen, where are you? Thatta been nice.

Defense
Defense was stout when they needed to be, except on 3rd and long...which we won't get into for fear that this post could be much less of a wrap-up and much more of a first-person psychological experiment.

I'll just say that we held VT to field goals when last year those would have been touchdowns...which would have led to the game getting away from us fast (hello: 2011 Gator Bowl).

But, can I just say, Ryan Van Bergen played much of the entire game with a fractured leg? Because that's exactly what I think he did. Try to do anything with a fractured leg. Go ahead, just try.

They weren't kidding with that Rimington Award
Speaking of David Molk, the Molk-pacalypse that ensued at approx. 7:32 local time on Monday evening, and lasted about 10 minutes, greatly illustrates just how vital the Rimington Award-winning center is to this offense.

Quote via MVictors
“I was fine before we got here. As pregame went through, one thing led to another and something happened.”
“I was waiting for feeling. Once I got that…it’s humanly impossibly for me to sit and watch football when I’m dressed up. So I figured it out, taped it up…and went at it.”
And then my favorite, in response to Chris Balas's question, "Where you fighting for your life?".
“I don’t know if I was fighting for my life.  I still had one leg.  Come on, I squat a ton [laughs] so one leg’s good enough.”
Dude sat in the locker room on a folding chair after the game, refusing to take his jersey/pads off. This guy will be missed. Anyone who reads this site knows that Molk is one of my all-time favorites. Got to interview him back on media day in 2010. He'll be back on a Michigan sideline someday, I just know it.


I played center for a few seasons back in my playing days, and I can tell you that there is an art to a shotgun snap. Just getting the ball from the ground, through your legs with one hand to a guy 5 yards behind you without either rocketing it 10 yards over his head, or rolling it back to him, is not exactly the easiest thing to do....let alone putting it where the QB needs it to be – right about neck-level with the laces squarely in his throwing hand.

It's not something that feels natural. You have to practice it...a lot.

Time to get to work Rocko.

Just how good is this team?
I don't know yet where this team ranks in terms of best Michigan teams of all-time. At the moment, they'd probably not rank as high as they should. I guess it depends on how you measure it, and who you ask.

The first thing I would do to judge is to throw out this bowl game. Why? Because bowl games, essentially, are meaningless. Yes, even BCS games. This is the new reality the BCS has created, one bowl to rule them all. The rest simply exist in a vacuum of time and space. They do matter in terms of, its a game against a similarly ranked opponent, but little else.

Statistically, this team has put together a compelling argument: 11 wins, beat Ohio, won 8 home games, won a BCS bowl. I mean, the numbers are there. But do they stack up against such recent greats as 1997? 2003? 2006?

If you measure a team's greatness by how much they play for each other, and how much heart a team has, then this could very well be the greatest Michigan team since 1969. Never before have I felt that a group of seniors felt so much like a group of true leaders. They didn't lead because someone said they should, because somehow just by being a senior makes you a leader. They led because they had to.

From day 1 of the Brady Hoke regime, this group of seniors, at the time some juniors, took it upon themselves to make certain that what happened to the team in 2008, didn't happen in 2011. There would be no mass-exodus. These guys basically duct-tapped this team together before Hoke and his staff could apply the cement.

And what came out on the other side was a group of tougher and more resolute men, forged through years of enduring the lowest of the lows ever experienced by a single class to go through the Michigan program.

It's insane to think that David Molk was recruited by Lloyd Carr, signed on to play for the old coach, and then in year two, was introduced to Rich Rod, spent 3 season battling injuries and 22 losses only to be handed off to Brady Hoke for one year of glory that most other Michigan centers get to experience at least 3 or 4 times over.

To say that this Michigan team didn't deserve a season like this isn't just callus, it's sacrilegious. Call me a homer, I am, but when Brendan Gibbons turned and started running towards his teammates before the ball had even got to the uprights, 3 years of struggle and hardship evaporated into the Louisiana ether.

MVP
Junior Hemingway's comments to Chris Fowler on the celebration stage was the result of what happens when you take a young man, strip him of everything he expected coming into a powerhouse collegiate program, make him work harder than he ever thought he would have to just to be considered "average", and then give him a season of highs that can just barely scrape away the three season's of lows that came before it.

Junior started the season being forced into the #1 WR spot because of Darryl Stonum's season-long suspension. And before the second game of the year, Jon Falk sewed a patch onto his jersey with the name "Desmond Howard" on it.

Junior finished the season with 34 catches for 699 yards and 4 touchdowns. He only caught the ball twice in this game, but both of those grabs were touchdowns, which is why he got to spend the plane ride home with some extra hardware from the Sugar Bowl committee.

Whatever it takes, I suppose
Brendan Gibbons, not exactly the picture of kicking consistency coming into the season, completely resurrected his career with one swing of the leg on Monday. Much like Phil Brabbs against Washington in 2002, Gibbons will go down in Michigan lore as one of the few to drive home a clutch game-winning field goal.


And he'll also go down as one of the few to completely own a post-game presser. Was his comment inappropriate? Yes. Was it brutally honest? Yes. Should be have censored himself and given the vanilla answer? Hell no. This is football. And as Brady Hoke said the first day on the job, "Football is a tough man's game."

If a guy needs visions of brunette girls to settle down his emotions, so be it. I can think of a few worse mental images a football player might use to get psyched up. These guys aren't exactly saints.

What does this win mean for 2012?
We'll have plenty of time to discuss that. My first impression: It doesn't hurt.

#GeauxBlue

Related:

Sugar Bowl Morning After Video Roundup

Well, this should just about kill the rest of your morning. But on some coffee (extra sugar, of course), sit back and drink in some Sugar Bowl sweetness.

First and foremost, Ron Burgundy Brendan Gibbons and his brunette girl thoughts.


Trophy presentation and Hemingway speech.


Post-game locker-room Victors.


Game highlights in stunning high definition, thrown together hastily.


MGoBlue highlights.


MGoBlue interviews.


BTN interviews.


Michigan post-game presser.

Sugar Bowl Highlights [Video]

Michigan Wins the 2012 Sugar Bowl 23-20

Call it ugly, which it was. Call us lucky, which we were. I don't care!

Michigan is 11-2 and just won the 2012 Sugar Bowl!

SUGAR BOWL CHAMPS!!!!!
Via TreezyUM12

It's Game Day – Sugar Bowl Edition!

I had great expectations of getting together a great decent preview post for today, but for many reasons, it never got off the ground. Thankfully, some of my fellow cohorts came through in true blogger fashion. As usual, MGoBlog breaks down the game with a preview and Ace drops a FFFF. MZone does Know Your Foe. BWS does likewise. And MVictors breaks down yesterday's Hoke presser.

Follow me!
In case you didn't already, follow me on Twitter as that's where I am during games. Also while you're at it, follow me on Facebook, too.

Here's what we're playing for.

We're actually playing for much more than that, but the trophy is a nice bonus.

There's been some banter back and forth about how big of a game this is for Michigan. Does a win here signify that Michigan is "back"? Or does a loss set this program back at all?

My answer to both questions is a resounding "maybe". I mean, Michigan won 10 games this year. They beat Notre Dame, beat Ohio, won 8 games at home, got to a BCS bowl, and Brady Hoke and Co. have put together a top 5 recruiting class. In my mind, this year is already a success, win or lose. Sure, a loss in a bowl game doesn't feel good, just ask most B1G teams. And a win would feel great, but it certainly doesn't mean that the program is back.

Were we ever gone? Does the Michigan name endure a rough stretch of 3 years of ineptitude? I think so. Especially with direction the program is headed right now.

A bowl is a weird thing in that it's sort of a litmus test as where you are in terms of being able to hang with a similarly ranked team from another conference. The biggest thing about a bowl, especially a BCS bowl, is that it's on a national stage. But my argument against this game being so important, is that Michigan biggest game of the year was on November 26th, not January 3rd. Hands down.

And honestly, I think the 2012 opener against Alabama is going to be a far better judge of this team's overall "back-ness" than a bowl game that essentially exists in a vacuum of time and space.

Ohio lost 7 games this year and got handled pretty well in their bowl game against a mediocre Florida team. They also got handed a 1-year post-season ban. Are they gone? Do they need to come "back" in 2013? No, because they're Ohio, and that means that they'll never sink to the level of a Purdue, or an Illinois or a Minnesota. They just won't. They may need to redeem themselves, but no one is going take them lightly.

The powerhouses in college football endure because that's just the way it is. Like death and taxes. Michigan was down, but not out. A bowl game is not a great gauge of how good a program/coach/team is. If it were, Bo Schembechler would have been run out of town after his 5th Rose Bowl loss in a row.

The point is, no matter what happens in this game tonight, Michigan is still Michigan. VaTech is still VaTech. This game is going to be played and someone will win, but the loser is certainly not down. Both teams got to this game, and means something. Thinking that a team is going to spiral out of control because of a loss in a BCS game is just grasping at straws to find a storyline that really doesn't exist.

End of rant.

Inside Michigan Football: Sugar Bowl Edition (the whole show)


Fan Fest? Fan Fest!

Michigan's Sugar Bowl Walkthrough at the Super Dome [Video]

Video/Hoke interview from today's (1/2) walkthrough practice at the Super Dome in NOLA.