Anything but special
Wolverines might have been contenders if not for punting, kicking woes
Posted: Tuesday October 7, 2003 11:29AM; Updated: Tuesday October 7, 2003 1:34PM
Another year, another set of Michigan national title hopes flushed down the toilet before Halloween.
And while there are a whole lot of teams out there that would give their right arm to be staring at their umpteenth straight Citrus or Outback Bowl, the Wolverines, and especially their fans, are not among them.
I'm sick of this mediocrity that I have had to suffer with while being a Michigan fan. How much longer do we have to waste our talent before we fire Lloyd Carr?
I am a huge Michigan Wolverine fan. UM seems to be totally unprepared as a football team this year. Do you think it is a time for a change in leadership?
On the one hand, I don't think this year's Michigan team is bursting at the seams with talent to the extent it's been portrayed. Yes, they have a lot of it. But Chris Perry was put on the elite running back pedestal based on three games, when in fact there are any number of guys out there who are more explosive. And don't even get me started on the unexplainable myth that is Braylon Edwards.
The second coming of Brian Griese/Tim Biakabutuka/Amani Toomer or Drew Henson/Anthony Thomas/David Terrell they are not.
However, we might not even be having this discussion if not for one overriding problem that contributed to both of Michigan's losses, the responsibility for which falls squarely on the shoulders of the coach: horrible special teams.
Against Oregon, the Wolverines muffed two extra points, had one punt returned for a touchdown and another one blocked for a score. That's 16 points worth of errors in a four-point loss.
Then against Iowa, Michigan, worried about injuries on its protection unit, decided to unveil a sprint-out punt formation -- using freshman kicker Garret Rivas instead of junior punter Adam Finley -- and got one punt blocked (setting up a Hawkeyes field goal) and another returned for 43 yards to set up a TD. That's a 10-point swing in a three-point loss.
All this after Carr swore over the offseason that his special teams -- which made just 12 of 24 field goals last year -- would be improved.
Look at the top four teams in the polls this week: Oklahoma, Miami, Ohio State, Virginia Tech.
In terms of tradition, recruiting and resources, Michigan is on par with or better than all of them. Their talent level is similar. A major difference, though, is that those four also happen to get some of the best special teams play in the country.
Until Carr starts taking that area more seriously, it's Orlando or Tampa here we come ... again.
Not a lot of questions this week, so first, a few random thoughts, in case anyone cares ...
Have you heard that new John Mayer song? Oh yeah, of course you have, it's on EVERY RADIO STATION IN THE COUNTRY EVERY WAKING MOMENT OF THE DAY.
Monday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. I asked for forgiveness for picking North Carolina State to win the ACC.
Four years into his 15 minutes and I've still yet to figure out the appeal of Jack Black. Great in High Fidelity, but you mean to tell me there are millions of people out there who, having seen Shallow Hal, still plopped down nine bucks for School of Rock?
Now, on to more intellectually stimulating topics. ...
Do you think that Rush Limbaugh's comments would have had more substance to it had he used Ty Willingham in place of Donovan McNabb and the fact that the media wants to see a black coach succeed at Notre Dame? I think he is the most overrated coach in NCAA history.
Now that's an interesting one.
Unlike with McNabb, whose race had rarely entered anyone's consciousness before Limbaugh, I don't think any media member would deny that Willingham's race was a major reason his hiring was such a big story, both because he was Notre Dame's first black coach and because the dearth of minority head coaches in college football is a major issue.
From that point forward, though, I don't think your theory holds water. First of all, because of the East Coast media's obsession with Notre Dame, any coach who started 8-0 in his first season with the Irish -- black, white or purple -- would have become a national sensation. Secondly, now that they've lost six of their past nine, it's not like those puff pieces are still pouring out of South Bend. He's taking the same kind of heat Bob Davie did whenever they hit a skid, particularly about his handling of the quarterbacks.
And, finally, to suggest Willingham is the most overrated coach in history is just plain ludicrous. He might not be Knute Rockne yet, but he did take Stanford to its first Rose Bowl in 28 years and is the only ND coach ever to win 10 games his first season.
Besides, wasn't the most overrated football coach in history working in your state, Arizona, until last week?
After the great game West Virginia had against Miami last Thursday, do you think that the Mountaineers can turn their season around after a disappointing 1-4 start?
Clearly the Mountaineers showed they're a better team than their record, but it all depends on how they respond. Will the confidence gained from knowing they had the No. 2 team in the country on the ropes push them over the top against a Virginia Tech or Pittsburgh? Or will they be discouraged by the fact that all they have to show for their hard work is 1-4?
All I know is, even if West Virginia ultimately winds up below .500 this season, it shouldn't dissuade anyone from thinking that Rich Rodriguez has that program headed in the right direction.
Why is it that Ohio State wins in overtime against 22nd-ranked N.C. State and falls in the polls, then the Buckeyes have a close game against Bowling Green, which knocked off Purdue, and fall again in the polls? Now Miami has a close call against an unranked West Virginia team and the Hurricanes remain at the No. 2 spot. What gives?
Because there is a massive, worldwide conspiracy -- involving both media and coaches and reaching all the way to the Oval Office -- to make sure the Buckeyes don't get a chance to defend their championship.
That is what you wanted to hear, isn't it?
I'll be interested in what you have to say after the Texas Tech vs. A&M game. Tech's defense is not good, but Tech will put up 40-plus on A&M. You picked the score 42-35 for A&M, but unless there is a torrential downpour A&M has no chance to stop Tech. B.J. Symons will put up about the same numbers as he has the last couple of weeks.
Remember the since-deserted Foot in Mouth E-Mail of the Week? Johnny wins the Mailbag's first-ever Miss Cleo Psychic E-Mail of the Week award.
Again, one of the 7 percent [female readers] checking in. What about Bob Pruett for the Florida job? Then they'd have both Marshall coaches.
I've said before that I don't think you can truly judge Zook until next season, but it's getting to the point where his support is eroding so rapidly, AD Jeremy Foley may have no choice but to pull the plug. It all depends on whether the Gators improve down the stretch.
Unlike Zook, Pruett -- Spurrier's defensive coordinator in 1994-95 -- has certainly demonstrated he can be a head coach. Two problems, though: He's still associated in Gainesville with the Gators' defensive meltdown against Nebraska (62-24) in the '96 Fiesta Bowl, and if things continue at the current pace, here's guessing there won't be much enthusiasm left for the Marshall/Ed Zaunbrecher offense. A more attractive "mid-major" candidate -- as he will be to any team in the country with an opening -- might be Utah's Urban Meyer.
If Northern Illinois goes undefeated, will they go to a BCS bowl game?
Good question. To do so, the Huskies would need to finish sixth or higher in the final BCS rankings. Currently, according to CollegeBCS.com, they are 15th. I don't have any doubt that nine teams above them will lose between now and the end of the season. What I do doubt is that NIU will make it through unscathed. Nothing against the Huskies, they're a fine team, but they happen to play in a tough conference, having already been taken to overtime by Ohio in their league opener. While NIU may be the conference's last undefeated team, it's like there's a big drop-off, if any at all, between the Huskies and Toledo or Bowling Green.
It's a shame that nowadays they'll let just about anyone write about college football, including yourself, who have obviously never played a down in your life.
It's ridiculous, isn't it? You'd think they'd give the job to someone who's played but can't write.
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.