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College Football Recap... I mean, Preview
Tuesday, 2007 January 23 - 9:26 am
I'm just a little bit late on this article. Or am I early for next season?

So.... Big Ten football, eh?

Michigan 18, USC 32. There's no two ways about it... Michigan got waxed. A late touchdown made the score respectable, but the truth is, Michigan was thoroughly outplayed and outcoached. A few things became clear: Michigan lacked strength and depth in the defensive secondary, and Michigan did not have a good enough offensive game plan coming into the game.

When Michigan had the ball, USC plugged up Michigan's zone blocking by putting a defensive player in every gap, and getting penetration into the backfield. The result: Michigan ended up with only 12 net yards rushing. Interestingly, if Michigan had pulled out an isolation-blocking trap play once in a while, it might have sprung for a big play, what with all the USC defenders overcommitted.

Michigan's passing game fared little better, as USC blitzed continuously and sacked Henne six times. Curiously, Michigan didn't throw slants and quick passes, or run any trick plays, to try to slow the USC pass rush. They seemed content to drop back in the pocket and take the heat. Later interviews with players and coaches would reveal that Michigan tried to fix their passing game by changing their pass blocking schemes, not by changing their play-calling... a fatal mistake.

USC, on the other hand, seemed to be able to pass at will. They negated Michigan's pass rush by getting rid of the ball quickly, and they exploited Michigan's biggest vulnerability by throwing to slot receivers on slant passes. Michigan simply didn't have enough speed and strength in their defensive secondary to stop USC's fast, physical receivers. This will need to be a point of emphasis next year.

Michigan was able to stop USC's rushing attack... but USC didn't really care, as they completely abandoned the running game by the second half of the game. Unlike Michigan, USC recognized when something wasn't working, and they tried something else.

All the Michigan fans I talked to felt the same way: Michigan could have overcome its shortcomings in the defensive secondary if the game had been better coached from the sideline.

Ohio State 14, Florida 42. Well, at least we're not Ohio State. In a game eerily similar to the Michigan-USC game, Ohio State's defense was outmatched, and their coaches failed to come up with an effective gameplan. Ohio State seemed to get off to a good start when Ted Ginn returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown... but that turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory as Ted Ginn was hurt in the ensuing celebration. Without Ginn, OSU was left without a legitimate downfield threat, and Troy Smith's play became tentative and erratic.

* * *

So it was tough being a Big Ten fan at the end of this season. I imagine it was tougher being a Notre Dame fan, and probably not so great being an Oklahoma fan either. But the great thing about college football is that there's always next year. So with that said, let's look ahead a little at Michigan, OSU, and their bowl opponents from this year.

Michigan returns nearly all of its skill players on offense, including quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart, both of whom may be Heisman contenders. Receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington will be big play threats all season, if they can stay healthy. All American left tackle Jake Long will anchor the offensive line. If Michigan's offensive coordinator finally feels comfortable enough to expand the playbook a little, Michigan might score 40 points a game.

On defense, the bad news is that Michigan loses defensive end Lamarr Woodley, defensive tackle Alan Branch, and cornerback Leon Hall, who all had stellar seasons this year. The good news is that Michigan's depth in the front seven is excellent, and I'm guessing there won't be much of a dropoff there. Michigan does need to do something about its defensive secondary, as the OSU and USC games proved to us this year. Don't be surprised to see a freshman recruit in the starting lineup... Michigan has high hopes for incoming cornerback Michael Williams.

USC will be one of the clear favorites next season, returning nearly all of its starters on a good defensive squad. Quarterback John David Booty won't have his two top receivers any more, but USC has a wealth of incoming talent to draw from.

Florida will look to defend its national title. Heralded quarterback Tim Tebow will finally be the starter, and expectations are high that he will be even better than Chris Leak. However, much of their defense is going to the NFL, and its already-mediocre running game will be hurt by DeShawn Wynn's graduation.

Ohio State should have an off year, by their standards. They lose essentially their entire passing game, as Troy Smith, Ted Ginn, and Antonio Gonzalez are all going to the NFL. Their young defense should improve and they'll still have tailback Chris Wells, but things might get ugly if one of their young quarterbacks can't step up.
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Posted by Ken in: sports

Comments

Comment #1 from JohnC (Guest)
2007 Jan 23 - 11:40 am : #
It is a big ten rule... we are not allowed ot add any new plays or change anything about our schemes before the bowl game. USC and Florida are clearly in violation of NCAA rules on this account

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