Friday, September 26, 2008

Know Your Foe - Wisconsin

This Saturday marks the beginning of the Big Ten season. The Wolverines play host to Wisconsin this week. Michigan had two weeks to bounce back from a sloppy loss to Notre Dame. I was unable (fortunately or unfortunately - you make the call) to see the game due to hurricane issues down here in Texas. So far this season, Wisconsin has three victories over "mid-majors," including an impressive road victory over perennial giant-killer Fresno State. Likewise, this is Michigan's first game this season against a ranked opponent.

With that, I give you this week's installment of "Know Your Foe."

The University of Wisconsin is a public University that was established in 1848. The Madison campus is known for several things, including the liberal activism and hard partying ways of its students. In fact, in the May 2006 issue of Playboy, Wisconsin was named the #1 party school in the country. I remember I bought that issue just so I could read that article - really, the articles are great.

Madison, Wisconsin. The campus is located about a mile from the state capitol building. From all accounts I have read, it is considered a beautiful campus, and Madison often is found in the "nicest places to live" lists put out by various publications. The home football games are played at Camp Randall Stadium, which has a capacity of just over 80,000.

The nickname "Badgers" was borrowed from the state of Wisconsin. The territory was dubbed the "Badger State," not because of animals in the region, but rather because of an association with lead miners. In the 1820s and 1830s, prospectors came to the state looking for minerals, and without shelter in the winter, the miners had to "live like badgers" in tunnels burrowed into hillsides. The badger and the wolverine are actually part of the same family of carvinorous mammals known as Mustelidae. The family also includes weasels and ferrets.

Colors/Logo/Fight Song
The official colors are "cardinal and white." Just call it "red," will ya? The logo is kind of a stylized block W. I think it's called the "Motion W" and the university sued some high schools whose logos looked too much like the Badgers' logo. It seems to me to be a little bit petty, since afterall, it's really just a font? Can you trademark a font?

The fight song is a pretty good one, but it's obviously centered around football. Do they sing this during basketball games?

On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin, plunge right through that line.
Run the ball clear down the field, a touchdown sure this time.
On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin, fight on for her fame.
Fight, fellows, fight, fight, fight, we'll win this game.

On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin, stand up Badgers sing.
"Forward" is our driving spirit, loyal voices ring.
On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin, raise her glowing flame.
Stand, fellows, let us now salute her name.

However, what I remember most about this fight song is its use in some sort of ad campaign for cheese back in the 80s. It used the same tune, but the lyrics were something like "On Wisconsin, on your taco, on your cordon bleu, on your *something*, on your *something*, the taste is good for you." The use of their fight song in a cheesy cheese ad for cheese automatically downgrades it.

Bucky the Badger is one of the more recognizable mascots in the country. I particularly like the 20s style striped sweater that badgers have been known to wear in nature for thousands of years.

According to US News and World Reports, Wisconsin (Madison) ranks a respectable 35th, on par with the likes of Georgia Tech, Lehigh, UC-San Diego, and Rochester (Michigan ranks 26th). The University is a leader in stem cell research, and is one of thirty "sea grant colleges" in the US. These colleges are involved (which include UofM and MSU, among others) in scientific research, education, training, and extension projects geared toward the conservation and practical use of U.S. coasts, the Great Lakes and other marine areas.

Barry Alvarez put the Badgers back on the football map when he took over in 1990. His first season, they were 1-10. With the exception of 2001, Wisconsin has been to a bowl game every year since 1996. In 1998 and 1998, the Badgers finished in the top five in the country for the year. Bret Bielema took over the head coaching duties for the 2006 season, and has continued the success. Wisco's men's basketball program has also become a consistently successful one. They have made the NCAA tournament the last nine years, including one final four. The men's and women's hockey teams each won national championships in 2006. Also, the men's and women's rowing teams have won 27 non-NCAA titles (whatever that means) between 1990 and 2006.

Famous Alums
This is a pretty good list, but lacks true "star power." The list includes lots of football and hockey players. Among the more interesting alums are major league baseball commissioner and former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers Bud Selig, Second Lady Lynne Cheney, musician Steve Miller, actress Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm In The Middle), aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, broadcaster Greta Van Susteren, ESPN basketball writer Andy Katz, Democratic Senator and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks Herb Kohl, Sierra Club founder John Muir, and movie producers Jerry and David Zucker, who were responsible for producing and directing what might be the single funniest movie of my childhood, the 1980 classic "Airplane!" Surely, everyone is familiar with that movie. "I am familiar with it. And don't call me Shirley."

The Game
Despite the fact that the Wolverines' first three games have been uninspiring (to say the least), I have a good feeling about this game. The Badgers' style is pretty straightforward. They will run PJ Hill until he collapses from exhaustion. Fortunately for Michigan, their strength is the defensive line. Unfortunately for Michigan, the linebackers have been inconsistent. If the defense is able to control the Wisco running game, there is a good chance that Michigan comes out of this game with a victory. If Hill runs for less than 50 yards, it means that they have pretty well controlled the line of scrimmage. If he runs for over 120, that's a bad sign. On the other side of the ball, if Michigan can get competent play from their QB this week, they have a chance. For that to happen, the the big fellas on the offensive line have to play a lot better, and the little fellas have to hang onto the ball. Call me crazy, but if Fresno State can hold Wisco to 13 points, Michigan should be able to do the same. The question is whether or not the offense can generate any points. There was significant improvements offensively against the Irish (except for those pesky fumbles), but the Badgers are a lot better then ND. I say the offense gets some footing and is able to run the ball against the Badgers defense. The home field is the key here, and the Wolverines win their Big Ten opener: Michigan 21, Wisconsin 13.

Go Blue!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Know Your Foe - Notre Dame

In week 2, we saw Rich Rodriguez's first victory as Michigan coach. It was an ugly, close victory against a MAC team, but it's still a win. This week's opponent is a familiar one - The University of Notre Dame. The Irish looked pretty unimpressive themselves in pulling out a close victory at home over a San Diego State team that lost in week one to Cal Poly. The game this weekend is between the two winningest programs in college football history. However, this year's matchup does not have the luster of years past. It's got all the excitement of a MAC school taking on a Sun Belt school. So, bring on Troy vs. Eastern Michigan. With that, I give you this week's installment of "Know Your Foe."

The University of Notre Dame is a private school that was founded by a Catholic Priest (who may or may not have been a pedophile) as an all-male institution in 1842. Currently, it's organized into five colleges and one professional school. It became co-ed in 1972. Undergrad enrollment is only 8,352. There are no fraternities or sororities on campus, and 80% of the undergrads live on campus in single-sex dorms. Also part of its history, I attended an all-sports camp there for two weeks during one summer in the late 1970s, where I excelled in nothing and was recruited by no one. I did, however, learn some interesting new ways to use swear words to my advantage, and I ran into Notre Dame basketball stars Orlando Woolridge and Bill Laimbeer.

Notre Dame, Indiana. That's right. I bet you thought it was in South Bend. Notre Dame is actually an unincorporated community just north of South Bend. It's in northeastern Indiana, just four miles from the Michigan border.

Iconic campus buildings
Notre Dame has two - the golden dome that sits atop the "Main Building" (wow, that's some inventive nomenclature), and of course the library, on which is painted the famous "Touchdown Jesus."


The Fighting Irish nickname was originated in the early 20s. I must admit, it's a pretty good nickname. Any nickname that includes the word "fighting" is okay by me. Before the official adoption of the Fighting Irish nickname, Notre Dame had several other unofficial nicknames, including Rovers, Ramblers, and Terriers. Other nicknames for students and alumni include Domers, Assholes, and Insufferable Pricks.

Colors/Logo/Fight Song
The official colors of Notre Dame are "Madonna blue" and "Papal gold." In modern culture, when the words "Madonna" and "blue" are used in the same sentence, the "blue" is usually a verb, as in "That Madonna concert really blew," or "When she blew me, I was thinking of Madonna circa 1990." The teams also occasionally wear green because of the whole Irish thing.

The Irish have several different logos. The interlocking ND is a classic, but the fighting leprechaun (show above) is good too.

The Notre Dame fight song ("Notre Dame Victory March"), along with Michigan's and a few others, is probably one of the most recognizable collegiate fight songs in the country. The lyrics are inspiring, and the tune is memorable. The lyrics include lots of battle and war imagery - glory, fight, heart, loyal, thunder, victory, and of course a "rah rah" thrown in for good measure. A good school fight song should be able to be used in football or in battle. This one could definitely inspire an army infantryman or a defensive lineman. It's a classic.

Rally sons of Notre Dame
Sing her glory and sound her fame
Raise her Gold and Blue
And cheer with voices true:
Rah, rah, for Notre Dame
We will fight in every game,
Strong of heart and true to her name
We will ne'er forget her
And will cheer her ever
Loyal to Notre Dame.

Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame,
Wake up the echoes cheering her name,
Send a volley cheer on high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky!
What though the odds be great or small,
Old Notre Dame will win over all,
While her loyal sons are marching
Onward to victory!

Change "Notre Dame" to "USA," and "Gold and Blue" to "Red, White, and Blue" and you'd have yourself a nice little song to rally the troops prior to battle.

According to US News and World Reports, Notre Dame ranks an impressive 18th, on par with the likes of Vanderbilt, Rice, Emory, and Cal-Berkeley (Michigan ranks 26th). They've got a good law school, a good business school, and a good architecture school. It appears that the Notre Dame educational experience is very well rounded, much like head football coach Charlie Weis.

Notre Dame competes in the Big East Conference in all major sports (unless you consider hockey a major sport - the hockey team competes in the CCHA) except football, where they have maintained their independence, mainly due to money: they have their own TV deal; they don't have to share the money they make from bowl games; and they can schedule service academies every year. In football the Irish have won 11 national championships (the last one being in 1988) and have had seven Heisman Trophy winners. Recently, the football team has fallen on (relatively) hard times. They have not won a bowl game since 1994, and during their 9-game bowl losing streak, they have lost those bowl games by an average of about 17 points. The Irish have been invited to join the Big Ten numerous times - most recently in 1999 - but each time they declined.

Notre Dame is also competitive in women's soccer (national title in 1995 and 2004, runner up in 2006), men's hockey, women's basketball, and men's basketball. But make no mistake about it - Notre Dame is a football school.

Famous Alums
While the list of prominent Notre Dame alumni is long, it's mostly populated by educators, researchers, businessmen, and anonymous politicians. Among the more significant alums: rocker Ted Leo (of Ted Leo and The Pharmacists), the four founding members of the band Umphrey's McGee, actor George Wendt, former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, talk show hosts Phil Donahue and Regis Philbin, famous Chicago scapegoat Steve Bartman, and Hubert Schlafly, the inventor of the teleprompter.

The Game
This could be ugly. Michigan has struggled to score points in their first two games under Rich Rodriguez. The QB play has been unsurprisingly abysmal. The running game showed signs of life against Miami but let's be honest - it was only Miami. Notre Dame, as referenced in the intro, has played just one game so far this year, and it was an uninspiring victory at home against one of the worst teams in the country. There have been some ugly games in the recent history of this rivalry, but those were ugly because they were lopsided in favor of Michigan (two 38-0 games and a 47-21 game in the last six years). This one's gonna be ugly because both teams are struggling. This is a pivotal game for both teams, since the winner of this game is going to come through it with much needed momentum to carry into the rest of the season. Michigan gets a week off before hosting Wisconsin and Illinois, and the Irish have to travel to East Lansing to face a tough MSU team. If Michigan loses, the fans will have an extra week to panic about the state of the team and the wisdom of hiring RichRod. If the Irish lose, their already panicky fanbase may start to turn on Jabba the Weis. I think this will be a low scoring game, with Michigan managing to limit their mistakes a tiny bit more than the Irish. The Wolverine ground game will gain more momentum against the questionable Irish defense. Jimmy Clausen will get sacked at least four times. Michigan 16, Notre Dame 12. Confidence level - approaching zero. So now, thanks to Hurricane Ike, it's off to the storm cellar, where I will subsist on water and spam for the next week or so. I hope our double-wide house makes it through. Enjoy the games this weekend, and of course...

Go Blue!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Epic Fail - 2005 NFL Draft

With the latest news that Niner QB Alex Smith is out for the season, and his career for the Niners is probably over, I decided to take a look at the 2005 NFL draft and check the status of the top ten picks in that draft. Smith was the top pick in the draft. Here are the rest of the top ten. It does not look too good:

2. Ronnie Brown - He is backing up Ricky Williams, of all people, for the Dolphins. While he has had a couple decent seasons, the second pick in the draft has to be considered a failure if he's not a starter and a consistent 1200 yard rusher.

3. Braylon Edwards - He's been great. No complaints. One of the few Michigan receivers that has lived up to his lofty draft pick *coughDavidTerrellcough* and the only one from this list who has made a Pro Bowl.

4. Cedric Benson - Released by the Bears this past offseason, and not currently on an NFL roster. Has been arrested twice this year for alcohol-related offenses.

5. Cadillac Williams - Suffered a patellar tendon tear last year while playing for the Buccaneers, and doctors are doubtful that he will ever come back to full strength.

6. Adam Jones - "Pacman" had an unspectacular rookie season, a very good second season, and was suspended for the entirety of his third season due to legal troubles. He was traded to the Cowboys for a fourth round pick. I'm sure that if you could find a Tennessee Titans fan, he would tell you that Pacman was a huge disappointment. Most well known for "makin it rain" in a Las Vegas strip club.

7. Troy Williamson - The Vikings needed a speedy receiver after trading Randy Moss to the Raiders. What they got was 79 catches in three seasons. He was traded this offseason to the Jaguars for a 6th round draft pick.

8. Antrel Rolle - Missed almost all of his rookie season with a knee injury. Played fairly well last season, but was moved to safety prior to this season.

9. Carlos Rogers - Serviceable cornerback, but has only 150 tackles and 4 INTs in three seasons.

10. Mike Williams - He was the third consecutive WR picked in the first round by the Lions. Two of the three are not only no longer with the Lions, but also no longer playing in the NFL. Williams is one of those. He totaled 44 receptions in three seasons.

By any measure, this has to be the worst overall top ten NFL draft picks in recent memory. One Pro Bowl appearance, two guys already traded, and two guys already out of the league after three years (and not due to injury). By comparison, the 2004 draft has already had six players from the top ten picks make the Pro Bowl, and even the 2007 draft already has two Pro Bowlers.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


He starts hanging out with celebs like McConaughey...

Lance Armstrong announced today that he is coming out of retirement to try to win his eighth Tour de France title next summer. After a bit of soul-searching, I reached deep inside myself and discovered that I don't care about this even a tiny little bit. To be honest, he could not have timed his announcement any worse. Obviously he should have timed it to maximize the publicity (and make no mistake about it - that's most likely what this is about). But football season has begun, Tom Brady is injured, a MILF is running for VP, and there is an election coming up, so you'll forgive me if I am underwhelmed by the news that another retired athlete (from a very minor sport, at that) has decided to make another run at glory. The last Tour de France title he won was in 2005, so by the time the next Tour comes along, it will have been a full four years since his last triumph at the Arc de Triomphe. How well do "un-retirements" go after relatively long layoffs? Not well.

...and this is what happens

Michael Jordan
Michael took two years off after his second retirement following the 1998 season (and his sixth NBA title), then joined the Washington Wizards prior to the 2001-2002 season. While his stats were respectable for the Wizards, he tore up his knee after 60 games in the 2001 season, and they did not make the playoffs either of the two years he played for the Wizards. His style of play had changed significantly since his high-flying days with the Bulls. He was mostly a low post player who took a lot of fadeaway jumpers and was not as prone to drive to the basket as he was in his earlier years. He was an all-star both years, but at that point he was coasting on his reputation and all-star voting is a popularity contest. Most NBA fans would agree that this comeback was a bad idea.

Magic Johnson
Magic took a physical prior to the 1991 NBA season and it was discovered that he was HIV+. He immediately announced his retirement. After an aborted comeback in the 1992 season, and a failed attempt at coaching in the 1993 season, he decided to have a go at a comeback late in the 1994-95 season. He played the last 32 games of the season (at power forward) and the Lakers lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Rockets. His numbers were decent, but like Michael's comeback, he was a totally different player than his fans remembered. I think most NBA fans would also agree that this idea was ill-conceived.

There have to be others that I'm missing, right? Remember, I'm not talking about Favre-like or Clemens-like retirements that don't even last a full offseason, but rather the ones that were years in length. I'd also like to hear about successful ones too. I just can't think of any right now.

NOTE: By the way, I am purposefully omitting boxers, because they seemingly retire after every big fight, so I can't tell what's an extended layoff between fights and what's a "retirement."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Know Your Foe - Miami University

Well, week one did not go as planned for the Wolverines. I'd love to say that Michigan gets a break this week with a MAC school coming into the big house, but App State is still fresh in my mind from last year. However, Utah is a top 20 team, and Miami is not. Michigan and Miami have squared off four times overall, and they last played in 2004 - which Michigan won 43-10. It was true freshman QB Chad Henne's first start, and it was my daughter's first Michigan game. The Redhawks have never beaten Michigan on the football field. Miami is coming off an opening week loss to Vanderbilt. With that, I bring you this week's installment of "Know Your Foe."

Miami University was founded in 1809 (!). The land grant for the school was actually signed by George Washington in 1792. The university's first president envisioned Miami as a "Yale of The West." It has instead become the "Yale of The MAC." Undergrad enrollment on the main campus is 14,265.

Oxford, OH - which is about 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati. The "Miami" in the school's name actually refers to the Miami River Valley, which is formed by two rivers - the Little Miami River and the Great Miami River. The river valley was named for the Miami Indians, who lived there before the settlers came, got them drunk, and shuffled them off to a reservation or something. Incidentally, I have a feeling that the theme of "named after Indians whose land they settled on" is going to be a common theme in the "Know Your Foe" series. So far, we're two-for-two.

They were formerly known as the Redskins, but at the request of the Oklahoma-based Miami tribe, in 1997 they changed their nickname to the Redhawks.

Colors/Logo/Fight Song
The Redhawks colors are exactly what you'd expect of a team with "red" in their name - Red and White. The logo is of course a Redhawk, but the football helmet is white with a red M outlined in black.

The fight song seems like a short and insignificant little ditty, but the Alma Mater of Miami is full of haughty biblical language and imagery:

Old Miami from thy hillcrest,
Thou hast watched the decades roll,
While thy sons have quested from thee,
Sturdy hearted, pure of soul.

Aging in thy simple splendor,

Thou the calm and they the storm;
Thou didst give them joy in conquest,
Strength from thee sustained their arm.

Now of late thyself envigored,
Larger usefulness awaits;
Hosts assemble for thy blessing,
Youth and maiden throng thy gate.

Thou shalt stand a constant beacon,
Crimson tow'rs against the sky;
Men shall ever seek thy guiding,
Pow'r like thine shall never die.

Chorus*:Old Miami! New Miami!
Days of old and days to be;
Weave the story of thy glory,
Our Miami, here's to thee!

*The chorus is sung between each verse and at the end.

Are you kidding me? Thee? Thine? Thou?

According to US News and World Reports, Miami ranks a surprisingly respectable 66th, on par with the likes of Purdue, SMU, UConn, Iowa, and Texas A&M (as a reference, Michigan ranks 26th). Their business school is ranked as the best in the state of Ohio, and eighth best nationally among public schools. It's by far the top academic school in the Mid American Conference (the next MAC school on the list is Ohio, down at 116).

The Redhawks last went to a bowl game in 2004, when they lost to Iowa State in the Independence Bowl. Strangely enough, they actually played in something called the "Salad Bowl" in 1951. The hockey team plays in the CCHA, where they have been moderately sucessful. The mens basketball team (coached by irascible curmedgeon Charlie Coles) has traditionally been pretty successful, making the postseason the last three years. Miami is also home the one of the country's few sychronized skating teams. They won a silver medal at the 2007 International Skating Union World Synchronized Skating Championships. So they've got that going for them - which is nice.

Famous Alums
Miami is one of only four universities (the others are Stanford, Michigan, and the Naval Academy) to produce both a US President (Benjamin Harrison) and a Super Bowl winning QB (Ben Roethlisberger). Other famous alums include author PJ O'Rourke, actress Tina Louise, and a disturbingly large number of reality show cast members (total of at least three). Actually, I think the more disturbing thing is that wiki lists reality show cast members as famous alums. I think it's a sign that the alumni list is not terribly extensive. Due to the strength of the business school, there are lots of CEOs on the list, but no one I would consider famous.

Miami is also known as the "Cradle of Coaches," due to the prominent coaches who were students/athletes/coaches at the school. Among these coaches: Paul Brown, Sid Gillman, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, Weeb Ewbank, Ron Zook, Jim Tressel, and of course Bo Schembechler.

The Game
Miami came into the season with a pretty decent outlook (16 starters returning, including 9 on defense) and CFN called them the team to beat in the MAC, but their 34-13 loss to a mediocre Vanderbilt team opening week says otherwise. Vandy ran for 269 yards against Miami's defense. This bodes well for Michigan's anemic ground game, which was completely inept against Utah. Expect to see a lot of the Michigan ground attack, but the QBs need to get some confidence thru the air as well. Michigan should be able to control the line of scrimmage against the relatively puny Miami defense and open some holes for Minor, Shaw, and McGuffie. This should open up the passing lanes for presumptive starter Steven Threet, and Michigan should be able to coast to a victory. Michigan 35 Miami 10.

Go Blue!