New Kid On The Block
Grant Newsome probably didn't expect to be playing, let alone starting, in the eighth game of his first season. Then again, the former four-star recruit who almost went to Penn State already knew some of the Michigan greats who wore #77, and wanted to be able to add to that rich tradition. According to Jim, he will.
"He's physically mature-er than most," said Jim Harbaugh yesterday. "Mentally, very sharp. More so than most. And he's a battler. He's tough. He hasn't taken a back seat - since he's been here. He doesn't - gives no quarter, takes no quarter, you know? I like that about him, so all those things. I know he's going to be really good. And he's ready now, so - I go back with the instincts that these - any player, they're better when they play football. You get better at football by playing football."
Newsome represents a little more than a sixth offensive lineman in 2015, even though he might have earned that tag by playing in a lot of six-offensive-lineman sets against Minnesota. He's also a challenger for a starting job in 2016, and one of the grizzled veterans for a 2017 season seguing from Magnuson, Kalis, and Braden. That will be a group anchored by Mason Cole, but others have to step up. Newsome already has.
"Newsome looked good," said Brian Cook in a post on MGoBlog. "If they're expecting he moves into the starting lineup next year then the move makes a lot of sense. That could happen one of two ways: Michigan moves Mason Cole to center, where he practiced a bunch in spring, or Newsome displaces Magnuson (and possibly Magnuson displaces someone else)."
Harbaugh has done a good job of seeing roster problems five steps early and adjusting accordingly. With the offensive line, some of the bigger questions will be how to grow depth, what competition there is at left guard spot with a senior Ben Braden next year, and how physical the lighter guys like Newsome and Cole can become. The off-season was, of course, going to produce some gains. But it's encouraging to see a contributor we hadn't expected settling in so early.
Soapbox XLVIII: Revenge of the Memos
Sports are awesome. They are instructive, exciting, full of culture, they bring people together, and sometimes, they get us to talk about larger issues that we didn't originally expect to handle. That last quality is probably maybe my favorite one, and it adds another dimension to seeing a 3-1 pitch to Roberto Clemente, Joe Louis fighting in 1936, or the end of a hockey game. But it's important to remember that it's not the primary purpose. Sports writers aren't politicians, or police, or doctors, and we shouldn't pretend to be.
However, with the news that J.T. Barrett is going to lose a small part of his scholarship - with the chance to earn it back - I'm going to step gingerly back onto the soapbox for a minute. Over the last year and a half of covering college football, I've started to feel like a couple changes are necessary to handle tragedy or controversy in a preventative manner. College football has become a massive, money-making entity, and I think it requires an office with a more individualized focus than the NCAA.
This would be an office where players could go for a second medical opinion, where coaches could go to discuss how best to handle players like Sam Ukwuachu (rather than point fingers at each other after the fact), and where professors can go if they are struggling to support players appropriately. This entity doesn't have to be unduly large; it just has to understand the pressures and changing landscape of college football. A small collection of former players and coaches can offer tips to the NCAA on good policy and communicate with athletic departments. Former players and professors can work together on solidifying a more consistent set of expectations across the country for football players in the classroom.
Doctors can verify what the medical staff on an athlete's campus is seeing or not seeing, and they can also emphasize mental health for coaches or players who are under too much stress. And, in talking with coaches who constantly innovate for the good of the program, doctors can research practices that lead to reduced injuries for players. Faculty can talk about ways to challenge student-athletes in a productive way, without turning to things like underwater basket-weaving to maintain an arbitrary GPA.
And when a student-athlete steps on campus, after a recruiting process filled with any number of promises, he deserves to feel comfortable that he can finish school at that university while fulfilling his obligation to an athletic scholarship. Too often players are treated as expendable roster numbers, but this is not a professional league. These are students going to school. And sometimes in the rush to excel at sports, players lose opportunities in the classroom.
You could say that this issue is not really about sports at all, but about how a person can thrive and be healthy under pressure. Football, really, is as simple as that: mental and physical pressure. And that's true with college football even more than professional sports. The confluence of athletics and academics has a lot of pitfalls: it challenges amateurs to act like professionals, coaches to act like statesmen, businessmen, doctors, and psychiatrists, university administration to act like investigators, and university employees (like police or professors) to entangle themselves in things that have implications for much more powerful people.
Head coaches of college football programs have an incredible amount of power, and often they're the ones who decide punishment, scholarships, opportunities, and even official policy. While this works well enough most of the time, in part because of the threat of media uproar after the fact, everyone in a university deserves to have an entity that can explain and support good choices - particularly when many issues are too nuanced and private to handle effectively over public news.
Big stages and bright lights are great. Pressure, fear, glory, and heartbreak are great. This game is unbelievably great. And while media and fans can actually do a lot of good in keeping bad ideas out of the game, we should maintain this wonderful sport with an entity that's cognizant of the many issues connected to college football. Football might be about applying pressure, but we can build an administration that protects the students of the game from any actual harm. It's what we need to do. It's something we can easily do.
Hitting the Links Reminisces Over Chicago
That's right, Minnesota turns around from its game with Michigan and now has to try to take down Ohio State. Good luck to them. (Also, the game will be an 8:00 start on ABC.)
Harbaugh: "The No. 1 natural steroid is sleep. No. 2 is whole milk. No. 3 is water. No. 4 is steak." ...— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) November 3, 2015
Quite simply, this team hasn't played focused or passionate football - quite the opposite of the usual crowds at Memorial Stadium. It's hard to see how Riley can right the ship.
The last time that the Big Ten had three teams with 8-0 records was 1903, and one of those three was Chicago.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) November 2, 2015
For those who aren't history buffs: one of the Big Ten's founding members was the University of Chicago, which actually was a key force in making the game how it is and kicked a lot of behind until 1939, when the faculty decided the game was too toxic for a university campus. The Maroons have a Heisman winner, two national titles, and 7 Big Ten titles.
This has been said by others before now, but Illinois' defensive line has made some really nice strides under Mike Phair. Wes Lunt entered this game with a reputation for avoiding sacks, but he got taken down three times by Penn State's defense to get to 10 sacks on the season. One of those sacks belonged to Carl Nassib, who is close to the Penn State sack record.
Kirk Ferentz built up a reputation as recently as last year for playing the wrong guys on offense. And with breakout performances the last couple weeks by the third-string and fourth-string tailbacks, I was ready to levy that claim again. But against Maryland, it simply wouldn't have been accurate. Ferentz did a good job utilizing all three of his healthy runners: 19 carries for the speedy Akrum Wadley, 13 for the burly LeShun Daniels, Jr., and a great play call on 3rd and 10 to get Derrick Mitchell a 19-yard pass gain. Zebra changing stripes.
Donovan McNabb shares a few interesting thoughts about Chip Kelly, who's having a bit of a hard time in Philly this year. There's been a lot of talk about Kelly's possible return to the college ranks this January, which is when his show-cause with the NCAA expires (and SB Nation has a cool list of his best destination options). I'd be a little surprised if Kelly was fired and more surprised if he came back to college, but we'll see what happens.
This season has been something of a perfect storm against Richt, with a fanbase that's getting antsy about big game failures. Georgia is currently 5-3, with two blowout losses to rivals Florida and Alabama.
People talk a lot about recruiting in Texas, Florida, and California, but there may not be another program in the country with the opportunity to dominate recruiting that Georgia does. After all, there's Miami, UF, and FSU in Florida; Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, and Texas A&M in the Lone Star State, and Cal, Stanford, UCLA, and USC in the Golden State. Georgia has UGA and Georgia Tech, and Paul Johnson's program operates with an unusual option offense. Yet Georgia had more three-stars than blue-chips in 2012, 2013, and 2015, and that's a little surprising for a successful program in a fertile recruiting ground. The Dawgs have lost a majority of their in-state recruiting battles to other SEC teams, and that hurts Richt a little bit.
How this relates to Michigan: Jim Harbaugh is trying to get into the state as well, with five-star athlete and #2 player in the state Mecole Hardman, Jr. considering the Wolverines. Michigan is in Hardman's top ten, and he will take an official visit the week of Ohio State. But many expect Hardman to ultimately sign with Georgia, Tennessee, or Auburn.