Introducing - the top ten list. The clever new way for bad writers to look competent.
The link to the Top Ten Disappointments this year: http://www.maizenbrew.com/2013/12/4/5174810/top-ten-disappointments-this-year
1. Devin Gardner is a beast in the form of an All-American talent.
Yes, at his absolute worst he is a conveyer belt of turnovers. But at his best, he's a Heisman-level talent whose largest weakness is consistency from week to week and a penchant for taking big hits. Many, many years ago it might feel like, but Brady Hoke was quoted as saying he'd rather have Devin Gardner than otherworldly Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. People took it as the ever-loyal Hoke just makng waves, but how about this - against Indiana, DG had 584 yards of offense, a 240.9 quarterback rating and 5 touchdowns, Under The Lights he went 21/33 for 294 yards passing, 82 rushing, and 5 TD's, and against TTDS he had 451 yards passing on 32/45 and, again, 5 TD's. In his six best games he accounted for 24 touchdowns, which, spread over a full twelve, would be one more than Johnny Football had in 2012.
2. Devin Funchess, a.k.a. The Lieutenant, since he marches his team up and down the field, or Jumpin' Flamingo, just cuz Jumpin' Flamingo
Jumpin' Flamingo has not had the season Jeremy Gallon's had, but he did just finish the best season a Michigan tight end's ever had (which begins to bring some of Michigan's recruiting promises to bear, since this is "tight end heaven"), won the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year Award, and will be in Ann Arbor for one or two more years. Jumpin' Flamingo will likely continue his hybrid wide receiver role next season due to the depth at tight end provided by Jake Butt and A.J. Williams and the versatility it provides Al Borges. After all, our wide receivers have to block too.
3. Jeremy Gallon
A lot of people (and I was not one of them, I honestly confess) thought Jeremy Gallon could go for 1,000 receiving yards this season, and what did he do? Challenge Braylon Edwards' mark of 1,330. What will this do for Michigan going forward? Well, Gallon's set to graduate, but he's NFL-bound and continues Michigan's rich tradition of sending wideouts to the big league. It doesn't hurt when Kirk Herbstreit calls you the best pound-for-pound wide receiver in college football.
4. Taylor Lewan spending a year with the offensive line
Something the coaches will always have on us is that they get to see inside the practices - does this guy fumble a lot? Does that receiver run the routes exactly right? They'll always know a little more than we will. But Taylor Lewan promised to come back to educate the young guys on our team and be a leader for them, something I can only assume he's done with flying colors. Having an NFL-bound talent on your team is something that's been criticized occasionally, with merit, but I'm going to take this as a positive that will show up in the play of guys like Kalis, Bosch, Dawson, and Kugler down the line.
5. Damien Harris, George Campbell, et al
Neither one of them has played a snap for Michigan, and may never do so, but it was perhaps underappreciated that we snagged two premier 2015 talents to come to Michigan while we were chasing after Da'Shawn Hand. Remember the days when Hoke couldn't get the on-the-ball talent? Now we're swimming in it, relatively, with Funchess (a.k.a. Jumpin' Flamingo), Gallon, Drake Harris and a small but growing stable of backs. Perhaps we should come up with nicknames for them....
This guy's accomplishments went a little under the radar this year, but he registered 81 tackles and protected the second level while Jake Ryan worked his way back, and I think his loss really hurt us against Iowa in the second-to-last game of the year. Next year's linebacking corps will start Jake Ryan, James Ross III, and Desmond Morgan in the middle, with capable back-ups all around. Ross has come a long way since playing against Alabama last year and registering two tackles in limited time.
7. We beat ND
I remember some people putting this rivalry ahead of Michigan State a while ago, but when push comes to shove, I'd bet most of us care about Little Brother beating us a little more than Guy Across the Street Who Doesn't Care About Us and Cavorts With Stanford and Navy. Sure, we hate losing to Notre Dame... and we love beating them... but I think we'll take a page out of Notre Dame's book. Notre who?
8. We did it hard and fast.
No, that's not the first line of a porno, but it could be - I'm referring to our growing pains this season. Again, I'm taking a stand among fans here: we were young this year. Baby faces all around. Even our veteran QB had never gone through an entire single season as the leading guy and it showed in the mistakes he made at the beginning. By my count, we went through the 'damn we can play' phase of Central Michigan and Notre Dame, the turnovers phase a la Akron and UConn, a bright spot with Minnesota, the too-conservative phase of Penn State, another round of holy-cow with Indiana and then 'cow hitting the fan and that mental image is appropriate for how those games went' November ending with the 'you again' Ohio State game. You can't tabulate learning moments, but it seems there were a lot of them, and plenty of young guys on the field to absorb them. This year is the bedrock for the experienced group we will field next season, and with no Denards or Kovacs this year to lead the team, 85% of our raw talent will be back next year.
i'm smushing a lot of guys in at #9, but they all deserve mention and it's not the Top Twelve. Smith was underrated ever since he got here, which is a curious note on context in sports - if Derrick Green weren't also on our team, would we be pinning all our hopes on him? You bet we would. Jake Butt is a guy who's given depth and versatility to our receiving corps by coming onto campus in impeccable shape (Al Borges was drooling). That enabled the staff to separate U-back responsibilities from... well, the details are still a little hazy, but the gist is that having enough depth makes it easier on everybody involved, and Butt came in and helped everyone else do what they do best. And Willie Henry is actually a guy on the interior of the D-line that the staff has coached up who won't just leave after one year! I can see the number of fires the coaching staff has to deal with is diminishing....
10. We didn't get Da'Shawn Hand
Yes, this is revisionist history in full force. It's also stupid. But who wants a player who isn't fully committed to that program? Nobody, regardless of the program. And as MSU fans will certainly remind us, it isn't just about high school ratings, and with a little bit of distance and clarity from the whole experience, I think we have enough five-star recruits at the moment. Let me explain.
Something I love about sports, more than the numbers or the storylines, is watching an organization or team grow. Each sports team in every sport has a culture, a set of expectations and mental baggage that comes from its history in the sport. Michigan is growing, and if the recipe that I recall is right, it takes two parts five-star athletes, four parts experience, three parts savvy, a little time, two and a half cups of hard work, and a trust in being fundamentally sound, and just adding in extra talent doesn't itself get us anywhere. We're Michigan; the five-star athletes will come, after we build what we set out to build. Hats off to everyone who's committed to our program so far, and let's get to work. Negatives are positives in disguise, and this was a reminder of keeping focused on the recipe.
(Whether or not that's true, that's the attitude you have to take. And it is true.)