The Great Jake Butt
The transition has been as seamless as anybody could hope: Hoke left a roster ready to win in the trenches and compete in a pro-style offense, and Harbaugh has filled in weak spots at QB and tight end like a man possessed. (Let's all overlook the offensive line here, if we could.) The biggest schematic difference, we were told, would be at tight end. Not just one great tight end on the field, but a swarm of them. Jake Butt would be just the beginning.
Still, the great tight end left over from the Hoke era has been the ambassador. He overcame an ACL injury. He overcame early criticism that he was a glorified receiver. He even overcame a few jokes. And from a freshman year where he made eight starts and averaged 18.1 yards a game, to an upcoming senior year where he's a favorite for the Mackey Award, Butt has been exactly what Michigan's needed.
And yes, he's been one of the best in Michigan's history. So, here's a look at some of the distinguished company, ranked as things stand today - with a pivotal 2016 still hanging in the balance.
#1. Ron Kramer (1953-56)
The best. A three-sport athlete at U-M, Kramer led the football team in scoring for two straight years and also the basketball team in scoring for two straight years. In basketball, he was a three-time team MVP. As a high jumper, he excelled despite weighing 230 pounds.
On the football field, though, Kramer was a two-time All-American thanks to a 224-yard season in '55 and a 353-yard campaign in '56. His three touchdown game against Missouri in 1955 was a program record. He went on to play for Vince Lombardi, won two championships in 1961 and '62, and is a member of the Packers Hall of Fame.
#2. Jack Clancy (1963-66)
Clancy made his way to Ann Arbor as a quarterback. Then, he was a halfback and kickoff returner. But in '65, he found a home at end. To this day, there's a lot of controversy about whether he should be included in these lists because of the way Michigan used its ends at the time - more like receivers. But the numbers were undeniable. Over the course of two seasons, Clancy re-wrote most of Michigan's receiving records.
We had a pretty good passing game at Michigan at that time. It was mostly three yards and a cloud of dust until we came along. When I moved to wide receiver I think they saw a chance to open up a little bit, and Vidmer wasn't a running quarterback like they had before. He was more of a drop-back quarterback. ...
My junior year we started throwing. Dick Vidmer was then the backup to Wally Gabler in his senior year, and I was a junior. We started throwing it more and more. We weren't to the level they are now, of course, but we all worked hard and spent a lot of time in the summers.
Knee injuries cut Clancy's NFL career short, but his rookie year he caught 67 passes for 868 yards.
#3. Jim "Mad Dog" Mandich (1967-69)
Again, a consensus first team tight end, this time in the legendary 1969 season. A native Ohioan. A team captain. And, on October 11th, 1969, a 10-reception, 156-yard game against Purdue - outstanding numbers for his era. His finished his senior year with 676 yards on 51 passes and 3 touchdowns, numbers that are almost identical to what Jake Butt produced in 2015 (654, 51, 3).
#4. Jerame Tuman (1995-98)
Tuman deserves recognition for starting on the 1997 team, as well as gaining All-Big Ten honors three years in a row. Tuman was recognized as an All-American by some outlets in '97, but his best statistical year actually came the year before.
The three-time All-Conference player caught the decisive touchdown in the '98 Rose Bowl that gave Michigan the championship. He also won a Super Bowl with the Steelers.
#5. Jake Butt (2013-16)
Eleven hundred career yards. 92 receptions, including 51 last year. A cool 12.0 yards a catch. Seven TD's. And still with his senior season in front of him. Jake Butt will be a trusted weapon in Michigan's offense in 2016, right alongside top receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh. He'll have plenty of opportunities to break some records with Jim Harbaugh running the offense.
In fact, Butt almost broke a Michigan record in 2015 - Bennie Joppru's mark of 53 receptions in a season by a tight end. If Butt can at least replicate his production from last year (654 yards, three touchdowns), let alone surpass it, he'll jump several spots on this list. How far up he goes, though, is based on whether he can take another step forward and play even better as a senior.
Hitting the Links Enjoys A Midnight Pancake
Michigan playing both MSU and OSU at home every other year is something that can't be changed until 2020 at the earliest, unfortunately. It would be great to play Notre Dame again, though. This article goes through some of the challenges and options in making it happen.
The stakes have been raised for just one of the 35 camps.
Stewart Mandel has a good argument for Michigan's high hype level, and also goes into detail about USC's schedule and the Huskies being ranked ahead of Oregon.
Having tough games later in the year is perfect for Michigan, which develops its players during the season like few other teams in football.
Well, this was inevitable: Michigan makes the cut. The Wolverines are proving to be the lightning rod of the off-season.
If they can get most of the way to this, I'll be very happy.
ESPN has some panache here, as evidenced by worries about recruits wanting a connection to the ESPN networks. But it also seems like that panache is slowly, steadily fading away, despite the lack of solid competition - and some might argue the 'slowly' part. For a very good defense of the pairing, though, here's a piece by SBN's Matt Brown at LGHL. Brian Hamilton at SI also has an interesting look.
Speaking of which, USA Today went through the Big Ten's tax return. Here's their breakdown of the numbers.
There should be less stress involved here, which is great for Kill's health. KSU gets a man of character who knows football inside and out, which is a vital thing to have in an A.D. for the long-term success of the football program. Really, this is a win-win.
A bit of a random thought, but the middle class of the Big Ten is definitely getting stronger. Indiana is no push-over in the East. The West is muddy, but Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Nebraska ensure that there's respectability for the division. Minnesota is a wild card, but they also haven't won fewer than 6 games since 2011. And there's Illinois, which is now coached by an NFL-seasoned staff.
An idea Ash has taken from Ohio State, and a very good (and necessary?) way to bolster the Knights' coaching staff.