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Seven Thoughts From A Rather Crazy Week

There’s been a lot to digest this week, from playoff committee drama to the aftermath of The Game to referees and the fine.

Patrick Barron - MGoBlog

Well, that was a tough loss. There’s no doubt about that.

One thing that helped me feel better this week - it was a bit of a random thing, to be honest - was discussion in Ohio State circles about the possibility of having to replace Greg Schiano as their co-defensive coordinator. Ohio State fans were worrying about the possibility of reverting back to the defense of just a few years ago.

It reminded me that, while the Buckeyes may feel like a juggernaut, not too long ago their defense was held up by a All-American weakside linebacker (Ryan Shazier, now making plays for the Steelers) and an All-World athlete at corner (Bradley Roby, now on the Broncos), followed by some duct tape and wire hangers.

The Buckeyes still won their games during those first couple years under Urban Meyer. And, they were still one of the top five teams in the country. But there was also a measure of scraping by while some well-hidden warts kept them from truly winning how they wanted to.

Michigan’s in a similar spot now. We know this team has a few weaknesses. Even with them, the Wolverines are undoubtedly one of the top five teams in the country. But whatever happens with playoff committee shenanigans (more on that in a bit) and conference championship games, we’ll be just fine.

Let me add this, too: winning on the road is very tough. Michigan wasn’t really challenged at this until late in the year, but I think they showed a lot of growth between the Iowa game and the Ohio State game in terms of how they were able to handle a hostile atmosphere.

I guess there’s only so much praise you can give here - the offense still had problems, and the result was still a loss - but hats off to the Wolverines for showing up against an elite team on the road and putting enough plays out there to win it.

Photo credit: John Weast/Getty Images

Without a doubt, this is the marquee topic of the week: the decision-making of the playoff committee, the thing that everyone will be paying attention to next week with bated breath.

There’s been a lot of backlash against the committee this year, from its confusing adoration of Texas A&M and Houston, leaving USF unranked, and a couple other head-scratchers. It does feel like there’s a certain opaqueness behind their thought processes, and they have certainly been unconventional and somewhat unapologetic about it with fans who don’t really know what to expect.

To be fair, though, the backlash from this week, at least, seems to be based on poor communication more than anything else. A look back at the Selection Committee Protocol:

The criteria to be provided to the selection committee must be aligned with the ideals of the commissioners, Presidents, athletic directors and coaches to honor regular season success while at the same time providing enough flexibility and discretion to select a non-champion or independent under circumstances where that particular non-champion or independent is unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country. When circumstances at the margins indicate that teams are comparable, then the following criteria must be considered:

  • Championships won
  • Strength of schedule
  • Head-to-head competition (if it occurred)
  • Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)

We believe that a committee of experts properly instructed (based on beliefs that the regular season is unique and must be preserved; and that championships won on the field and strength of schedule are important values that must be incorporated into the selection process) has very strong support throughout the college football community.

Under the current construct, polls (although well-intended) have not expressed these values; particularly at the margins where teams that have won head-to-head competition and championships are sometimes ranked behind non-champions and teams that have lost in head-to-head competition. Nuanced mathematical formulas ignore some teams who “deserve” to be selected.

This is a bit of a concoction of different philosophies: selecting the most deserving and the best, emphasizing conference championships but acknowledging that it’s not a straight ticket in. And, to some extent, I think the committee has held to this approach.

For Michigan, then, their best argument is that they are one of the four best teams in the country. They did, after all, beat both of the Big Ten’s division champs (it was a blowout over Penn State), and they also picked off another top-ten team (Colorado) while Washington has appeared weaker than their 11-1 record would indicate. So, Michigan’s case is not as crazy as it would first appear - they do clearly seem like one of the best teams in the country, with valid arguments over potential Big Ten and Pac-12 champs.

It is pretty crazy, though, that the playoff committee is poised to put two Big Ten non-conference winners into the final four, after spending the past two-plus years emphasizing conference championships in the way that they have.

In the end, get ready for a lot of thrown eggs if Michigan is so lucky.

Photo credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

You know, it may be a coaching cliche, but if there is only one thing that matters, it has to be getting better every week. Michigan, for a while in November, seemed to be running on neutral. Luckily for them, the pungent taste of defeat, combined with a month off to reflect, is a damn good elixir for problems like that.

At this point, I’m not really worried about the linebackers. Mike McCray is getting better, Ben Gedeon has definitely gotten better, and Jabrill is getting it done from all over the field. I’m also not worried about Wilton Speight: whoever we play next, Wilton will be in better shape and ready to make big plays while avoiding the costly turnover. I’m also not worried about the running backs, or the wideouts, or Jake Butt. And don’t even make me pretend to throw a worry at Don Brown or that defense.

I will, though, be impatient to see what Tim Drevno can do with the offensive line during this upcoming month of practices. A year ago, Michigan’s linemen were the biggest beneficiaries of bowl prep, and we all remember how they came out and performed against Florida. Now, once again, the offensive line is Michigan’s biggest, most concerning question mark. Can they turn it around? A lot will be riding on them.

Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

All right, maybe I should let this one go, but there was something that bothered me about the fine that Jim Harbaugh got this week. First, let me say that complaining about the refs is nothing new. It’s been going on since the first time a little boy told his parents he wanted to be a “ref” when he grew up, and it will surely continue until after the sun explodes - with refs upholding it upon review, of course.

But I also think it’s important for everyone to acknowledge that the rule book has been getting steadily more complex, games are getting longer and slower due to constant reviews, and yet there remains a massive and frustrating gray area when it comes to targeting and pass interference calls, among others.

It may seem like I’m piling on the refs, but in fact I think they have an impossible job to do - and the people in charge of the rule book need to make their lives, and by extension our lives, a little easier.

I’ve given up hoping that it will actually happen. I’ve also come to expect that coaches (and players, too, in pro leagues) will be fined for voicing what’s often very valid concerns about the outcomes of their games. I don’t expect refereeing will actually get better any time soon, or that the governing bodies that employ them will acknowledge they have a responsibility to make it happen.

But if those governing bodies aren’t going to hold up their end, and if they are instead going to fine coaches like Jim Harbaugh for bringing it up, they can at least avoid snarky comments on their way out the door.

The Big Ten determined that Harbaugh’s postgame comments regarding officials were in violation of Big Ten Conference Agreement 10.01, which states in part that “The Big Ten Conference expects all contests involving a member institution to be conducted without compromise to any fundamental element of sportsmanship. Such fundamental elements include integrity of competition, civility toward all, and respect, particularly toward opponents and officials.” Coaches are teachers as well, and there is an expectation that they set the example for students and others in the area of sportsmanship.

Not only is raising issues with quality of play an asset that should be encouraged, and not only would this be a moot point if the governing bodies did their job right in the first place, but something just bothers me about the Big Ten pretending to know about Jim Harbaugh’s general influence on 18- to 22-year-olds.

Need I remind you that Art Briles has never been fined by any entity for what happened at Baylor. Not only that, but there is no common understanding on how any coaches actually handle disciplinary matters behind closed doors. But the governing bodies suddenly get very high and mighty when it comes to criticizing the refs, and Jim Harbaugh’s pockets (or, more accurately, those of the athletic department) are $10,000 lighter for expressing “bitter disappointment” at the officiating of a rivalry game.

Let the players play. Let the coaches coach. And please just admit that your primary, secondary, and tertiary motivation is to make bucketfuls of money at their expense. You’re not a paragon of sportsmanship, so don’t pretend to be just to throw some more stones in other peoples’ direction.

Photo credit: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Like I said, it’s been a crazy week. I’m sure you all heard about the attack on Ohio State students a couple days after The Game. Afterward, Michigan players offered their prayers and support, and one awesome OSU professor spouted bad-ass things like, “We’re a great university. We still beat Michigan,” and, “He’s dead. I’m going home.”

Now that’s a good rivalry. It’s special to be hated like that, and it’s a treasure, as well, to share that kind of respect.

By the way, one last parting thought: can we stop trying to measure each other’s rivalries against each other? I’m done caring if Michigan-Ohio State is the biggest rivalry in the land. It’s my rivalry. That’s enough for me.

All right, that’s it. I’m out of thoughts.