Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Rare Week

This is a very interesting week if you're a sports fan. You may wonder why, though. Football is barely a month old, baseball is ending, and basketball and hockey have only begun to have training camp.

Wait a minute...

Sure enough - if you're an NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL fan, all four of your teams are working right now!

The Detroit Pistons website alerted me to this when they announced that practices have officially begun! I already knew that the Red Wings had a preseason game on Sunday, and the Lions have gone winless in 3 regular season games. Currently, I am listening to Game 1 of a doubleheader between the Tigers and the Cleveland Indians.

It's pretty crazy to think about!

I know I could get flak for saying that the Red Wings and Pistons are "in season", when clearly they are still getting their preseasons under way. But I like to think that counts. After all, the players are wearing official uniforms, getting together as a team, and being managed by their coaches. They aren't doing individual workouts or pending quality vacation time in Malibu.

So what do we do about this rare phenomenon?

Enjoy it! Sure, the Tigers aren't going to the playoffs, but they're still playing good baseball! They swept the Twins over the weekend, and Comerica Park sounded like it had playoff atmosphere. Make sure to stay tuned to their last few games, and give them your full support. After all, we can sit there the entire game and analyze how they are going to fare in 2011.

When it comes to the Lions, they're only 0-3. They're going to Green Bay this weekend to face a very upset Packer squad that imploded with penalties on Monday night. Not to mention that the Lions haven't won in Wisconsin since 1991. But maybe the Packers will be so lackluster from a short week of practice that the Lions will take the upper hand.

Well, maybe not. Let's just take bets on when the Lions will let QB Matt Stafford return!

The Pistons have just begun practice, so all wecan take from them is their quotes from Media Day. They have a scrimmage coming up, which may result in a pretty fun dunk contest. Optimism is high, so it's the perfect time to pay attention!

As for the Red Wings, we can anticipate a season with fresh players. We didn't make it all the way to the Final last year, and that may be the best result for this team. You can get pretty tired playing from October through June two years in a row! Hopefully that extra rest will be instrumental in getting them off to a hot start.

This is one of the only times of the year where we can truly enjoy being a four-sport fan (and if you're a Detroit fan, enjoy the fact that we're a four-sport town). The only other time I can see would be April (in the D!), where the NHL playoffs have started, NBA season is winding down, MLB has just begun, and the NFL has its high-profile draft.

But April is still so far away. Enjoy this time now, before it's all over!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

PLUS: HBO's Movie Supremacy

Welcome to a PLUS section of the blog! Since this is called the Michigan+ blog, occasionally I'll write about non-sports items. In this case, I'm writing about HBO.

Over the summer I have been watching quite a lot of movies and miniseries. I was astonished to notice that my favorite DVDs to put in were all released by HBO.

I don't know how HBO does it (and why it seems like no network stations can follow suit), but they constantly put out grade A movies and miniseries. They are well cast, well shot, and well edited, and the stories really matter.

Two of my favorite miniseries of all time are From the Earth to the Moon (1998) and Band of Brothers (2001), both released by HBO. I have these both on DVD, and decided it was time for me to watch them again.

I have explained to people that I follow a lot of other shows and movies because actors in those movies and shows were cast in Band of Brothers. I called this the BoB Effect.  I became so invested in their storylines and their acting skills that I kept watching them in other things! But this Effect didn't start and finish with Band of Brothers. It also happened with From the Earth to the Moon. I had a few actors and actresses that I liked, and as I watched that miniseries again, I realized that many of them were in it!

I also watched two newer HBO events this summer. I watched Temple Grandin simply because the Emmys told me to - it won Emmy after Emmy after Emmy, Temple Grandin herself was in the audience looking giddy as ever, and I decided to see what the fuss was about.

What I watched was fantastic. I could barely tell that it was Claire Danes playing the lead! The story was incredible, and I was rooting for Temple to succeed from the very beginning. I could hardly believe that people treated her (a person suffering from Autism) so terribly. But at the same time, she persevered and used her brilliant mind to foster her passion for cattle and treating them well.

I would highly recommend this movie if you're looking for a feel-good movie. Be warned: she does advocate for the rights of cattle in slaughterhouses, so if you get queasy thinking about where your hamburger comes from, it may be a bad idea to watch this.

I was also recommended by a friend to watch John Adams, the miniseries that aired two years ago and features Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams. I guess I was just assuming it would cover the time leading up to and immediately following the Revolutionary War. Boy, was I wrong! It barely covered any events of the Revolution, instead reminding us that Adams spent much of the war overseas in France and the Netherlands. And the end of the war took place at the end of the third episode - there were still four episodes to go!

I had always been a fan of John Adams - mainly because of William Daniels' portrayal as Adams in the musical 1776. And I knew that he was obnoxious and disliked. But he was really obnoxious and disliked! I can't believe he even became the President of the United States! He spent so much time obsessing over the US Government and striving to keep peace between the US and France that his quality time with his children was incredibly slim. It's amazing that one of them was elected President (John Q. Adams).

I think the thing that impressed me the most about this miniseries were the costumes. Since this followed the life of Adams from 1770 to his death in 1826 (on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence), the styles of fashion changed dramatically - not to mention they had to include French and British clothing styles, as well. And the costume designers did an incredible job - so much that I, the least fashionable person you'd know, noticed it!

This portrayal of John Adams is a depressing one, but you can't help shedding a tear when they show the last days of his life and how he continued to stay close to his friend Thomas Jefferson till the very end. When the series concluded I could honestly say "That was well done."

I haven't been disappointed by an HBO production yet. Now I can hardly wait to get my hands on The Pacific, another Tom Hanks-Steven Spielberg production about World War II. My parents watched it and said it was amazing; I can't wait to witness it for myself.

So how about it, networks? Instead of doing movie events about a hurricane striking New York City or other drivel like that, how about putting money into something really worthwhile? Because if you don't, HBO is going to beat you to the punch every time.

U-M/Bowling Green: Nothing to Fear

It was all over the news: DENARD ROBINSON LEAVES GAME WITH INJURY. The headlines might as well have said EVERYBODY PANIC!!! with how serious that headline sounded.

Never fear! We have two competent backups who know how to play the game of football. Both Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner came into the game and did not look shabby at all. But there was no reason to panic, anyway; if Denard Robinson had needed to come in and help Michigan beat Bowling Green, it would have happened.

Luckily, we never needed Robinson after halftime.

It got a little hairy during the second quarter, with Bowling Green getting two quick touchdowns before halftime to make the Michigan lead merely 14 - not a great lead. But before we had horrible visions of UMass again, the offense turned on the jets and the defense kept things in blowout mode.

The defense looked far better this game. There were still a few spots that needed help - Aaron Pankratz threw for 231 yards (his longest was 71), and in the two Bowling Green series where they had 4th and goal, the defense allowed two TDs. But the defense made sacks, they caught interceptions, and the rushing crew could only muster 32 yards - a far cry from last week's horrible tackling at the line of scrimmage. The defense has practiced a lot.

I was relieved to give Robinson some time off, even if he had to leave due to injury. He runs, he throws, he scrambles, and he needed a break! While Denard needed a break, Forcier needed to get warmed up. He went 12-for-12, threw for over 100 yards, and was part of a rushing corp (9 players) that gained 466 yards. He looked crisp, and I have a lot more confidence in our Michigan team with whoever is behind center!

Looking back at a few items from the day:

- Was that officiating crew bad or what? Between throwing flags and then taking them back, calling ridiculous penalties, and not calling touchdowns when it clearly was, they were just bad. I hope they aren't doing any more Michigan games this season.
- If you're going to be called Bowling Green, why can't they have a little green in their uniform? It's just confusing.

Finally, we look ahead to Indiana:

If you're looking for a trap game, this may be it. Indiana has always been the punching bag of the Big Ten, where you see them on the schedule and you breathe a sigh of relief. I don't think it's going to be that way this time. Michigan needs to make a statement in this game that they are ready to take on whatever the Big Ten teams are going to throw their way.  Last year we barely escaped from Indiana, and then we didn't win another game the rest of the season.

This year has to be different. We have to come out and crush Indiana from the start, and show Michigan State that we are ready for anything.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

U-M/UMass Reaction: All About Defense

Why has it been that the last two Michigan wins have felt like losses?

Last week against Notre Dame I was so wiped out from that last ten minutes of the game that I could barely celebrate. This week was a little different.

I was listening to podcasts this week, reading articles, and got myself ready for the fact that the University of Massachusetts - a Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-A is a Football Bowl School, or FBS) - is actually a pretty good team. They are part of the Colonial Athletic Association - just like James Madison, who upset Virginia Tech AT Virginia Tech last week. Four years ago they played Appalachian State in the national championship game - right before the winner of that championship played in Ann Arbor and football was never the same. UMass was 2-0 this season, even beating the former #4 team in the FCS: William and Mary.

I was ready for a good Minutemen team to come into Michigan Stadium. Was Michigan's defense?

The Wolverine defense gave up 439 yards of offense to UMass, most of which came from running backs Jonathan Hernandez and John Griffin. Even quarterback Kyle Havens had a stellar game, picking apart the Wolverine secondary and showing they were a freshman and sophomore secondary. He went 22-for-29 with 222 yards and 2 touchdowns.

I was thrilled initially to find out that UMass is a primary rushing team, with Hernandez and Griffin. But I was quickly dismayed when both of them were finding all the holes in the world to rush through. Both of them combined had over 200 yards rushing.

If the Michigan defense is having this much trouble on all parts of the defense, then how is it going to fare when a team like Michigan State comes to town, with their very potent offense? The defense made good steps last week, but this week it seemed to take a step back.

Fortunately, the Michigan running backs had great games and helped make the offense a layered threat, instead of just the wonder and majesty of Denard Robinson leading that side of the team. Michael Shaw especially made his mark, with 126 yards of offense and (finally!) a few breaks through the line. It seemed like whenever Shaw rushed, he always got stopped at the line. Today he was finally getting some yards after that. I'm unsure if it was getting ripped by RichRod before the game, or that the linesmen had a great game. Maybe it was both.

Do you say that Denard Robinson had an average game? He only had 361 yards of total offense this game. But I saw him stay in the pocket a lot more and complete some very nice passes. After the first 28 minutes of the game, where the Michigan offense looked like it hadn't woken up yet, the offense looked fine.

But alas, another problem arises. The kicking team. I never thought I'd be as distraught with our kicking/punting unit than I did when Hayden Epstein left Michigan. But it's getting really close, especially since every kicker we've put out there hasn't been the reliable kicker we'd hope to have. Will Hagerup, our punter, still seems very scared when punting - going for only 33 yards in one punt and getting blocked, too. When are we going to see those two positions get off the ground? Will we have to go to the Michigan soccer team and recruit from there?

I checked out our opponent for next week - Bowling Green - and they are currently 0-2. Hopefully that will be a good warm-up for our team next week. What we need to happen is for everything to go right: the defense allows fewer than 200 yards and accomplish tons of sacks, fumbles, and interceptions. The kicking unit gets all the time in the world to set up and kick beautiful PATs and field goals. The punter doesn't freak out. And Denard gets to play five series and then sit and relax for the rest of the game. We really need for a few of those dreams to happen next week - because if we have another nailbiter, we'll be down to our knuckles once the Big Ten season begins in October.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Big Ten...BIG Changes

I think everyone that lives in a Big Ten state should read this blog, because there are lots of changes going on next year. Yes, NEXT year - 2011. This season everything is as it has been. Eleven schools, play everyone but three, rivalries still there, no championship game. But over the summer (I almost missed this news, since I was in Disney World) Nebraska agreed to leave the Big Twelve Conference and join the Big Ten. Of course, this caused me to drool, since I hate Nebraska almost as much as I hate Ohio State (almost) and a chance to play them on a regular basis is neat.

But this also caused the Conference to deal with the fact that it's not a Ten. Nor is it even an Eleven! (Goodbye, old logo, which I didn't even realize had an 11 in it till a few years back!) It is a Twelve (though it's still going to be called Ten - don't get me started.), and by being a 12-school conference, they are obligated to have a championship game and split into divisions.

Tonight, the Big Ten announced those divisions and explained how it would keep traditional rivalries while maintaining divisions. The two divisions are

Division 1: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin
Division 2: Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern.

If you read that carefully, you'll realize that Ohio State and Michigan are NOT in the same division. But while yes, a team will play each of its division teams every year, they'll also play three of the other division's teams. One of those games will be a "guaranteed cross-rival game" where those two teams will play each other even though they're not in the same division. And yup, Michigan's guaranteed cross-rival game will always be Ohio State.

My dad hates this, because he thinks it's going to make it even harder to make it into the championship game because they're always playing the always formidable Ohio State. And this guy I'm watching on the Big Ten Network, Gerry DiNardo, is saying the same thing.

I also have a few thoughts. Read on...
  • Honestly, how much money did Michigan State AD Mark Hollis pay the Big Ten to have INDIANA be their cross-conference rival on a permanent basis? We play Ohio State; they play INDIANA?? Are you kidding me??
  • I am loving the fact that Wisconsin and Penn State are not in our division. We don't even see either team in the 2011 or 2012 seasons! They are always difficult teams to play, and not having them on the schedules make me breathe a little easier.
  • I am eagerly anticipating the final two games of the 2011 season for Michigan. Both games are at home, and the first is Nebraska; the second is Ohio State. I'd like to mention now that I am all for the match-ups. Unlike my dad, who always likes to see how we'll get to a championship game, I take each game at a time (unlike what I do for baseball, where I'm always looking ahead). To host Nebraska will almost be more exciting than going to the Ohio State game! (Dad: I'd like to claim that ticket, if I can get the free time.) I can already imagine the lusty booing that will resound through the newly renovated stadium. 
  • I watched the Big Ten Network coverage tonight, and they interviewed Nebraska AD Tom Osborne. It looked like he'd been dead for two years and had been decomposing! It's the Crypt-Keeper!
  • I really didn't care if U-M/OSU was at the end of the season. I'm happy it is, but having to play them while they are NOT a division rival is a bit unsettling.
  • The season just got a ton harder. That mountain that Lloyd Carr talked about back in 1997 was just a molehill compared to this gigantic Everest that we're going to have to play in future seasons.
  • The first championship game is in Indianapolis, but I really hope that Ford Field can claim a championship game in the future.
  • I'm still a little confused about how exactly you get to the Big Ten championship game. If you win all your divisional games, does that put you in the championship? Or do you have to win every game in the conference, regardless of which divisional team you're playing? Because people keep saying that Michigan and Ohio State could play twice in a row. (For example, both teams are 5-0 in their division and play each other twice.) But I only see that happening if they only count the divisional games. How do the conferences like the SEC and ACC do it?
  • This is all extended only to the 2012 seasons. This is a method that even the Big Ten commissioner has said can change. And I'm comfortable with that. It's not like the BCS, where the NCAA has pretty much said that there's no way a playoff is going in place anytime soon - it's the BCS, period. The adjustments after the 2012 season will be welcome.
  • Did we really have to keep all the rivalries? It seems like they wasted a lot of time on something that is purely tradition. If they had done away with tradition and just adopted any old format, sure the fans would have griped for a while about schedules, but after the griping we would begin to adjust with what's been given us. One acronym helps me to explain this reasoning: ALCS. After the 1968 season  Major League Baseball adopted a divisional system where they had a championship game for the AL and the NL before the World Series. There was complaining, but after a while it just became how it is.
So here's how it is, and here's how we handle it. We complain for a little while, and then let it happen. And then when they change it, we'll want this version back! So I'm just going to skip over all of that complaining stuff and go with it. I hope you do, too. It will make the transition a liiiiittle easier.