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A college sports blog from The Oakland Press, dedicated to covering Michigan and Michigan State athletics as well as former Oakland County athletes at other schools.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Michigan's MAC schools will have lowered expectations this year

DETROIT — As the dean of Mid-American Conference coaches, Western Michigan’s Bill Cubit knows as well as anyone what flies in the league, and what doesn’t.

And he’s not necessarily buying the assertion — put forward by the media-voted preseason poll unveiled at Friday’s MAC Media Day at Ford Field — that Central Michigan’s reign atop the league is done.

“It’s hard to beat the champion. I’m a Philly fan, and I’m watching what’s going on there (with the Phillies). Everyone leaves them for dead and all of a sudden — hey, the kids know how to win,” said the fifth-year Broncos coach of the archrival Chippewas, who have won three of the last four MAC titles, and won the in-state rivalry game four straight years. “I told somebody, until somebody beats them, they’ve got the right to say anything they want.”

Understandably, the members of the MAC media contingent were voting with an eye on how many of those “winning” kids returned for CMU, noting the league-low 41 returning lettermen. Most glaring in his absence is record-setting quarterback Dan LeFevour, and not just because his giant picture — which loomed over the entrance to Ford Field for two years, from across the street on the outfield wall of Comerica Park — is no longer up on a promotional billboard.

A sixth-round pick of his hometown Chicago Bears in the NFL draft, LeFevour is gone from the league he’d helped dominate throughout his four-year career, and so are his two favorite targets, Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson. For that matter, so is his coach, Butch Jones, who bolted for Cincinnati.

For all that the MAC has been a quarterback-driven league — from Byron Leftwich, Chad Pennington and Ben Roethlisberger to Charlie Frye, Josh Cribbs and Bruce Gradkowski — you can’t just vote based on name-recognition at the QB position, Cubit insisted. Just look at his own team from a year ago.

“We had the least amount of starters back, but because you have a quarterback — that’s a media thing, to look at that. I knew it was going to be (a rough year). I was hoping it wasn’t going to be as bad,” said Cubit, who grimaced when his Broncos were picked for a close second behind CMU last year, only to finish a distant third, with a 5-7 record. “Still, we’re about three plays away from going 7-5, and making a bowl game with a bunch of young kids. ... I really think we’re going to be a lot better off, in that respect, but now everybody looks and says, ‘Well, you don’t have a quarterback.’ ”

True, the Broncos also graduated a decorated signalcaller in Tim Hiller — who made it to training camp with the Indianapolis Colts — but Cubit isn’t buying that the Broncos will fall off a cliff without Hiller, especially given the supporting cast inherited by his likely replacement, sophomore Alex Carder.

“We had a deficiency on the offensive line ... and the easiest thing was to put it on Tim’s shoulders. We don’t have to do that this year,” said Cubit, noting the maturity of his offensive line, which will enable the Broncos to be more smash-mouth again. “It’s the surrounding guys that make it (work). That’s probably what hurt Tim last year: Our surrounding guys weren’t as good as the year before. ... I think there’s a little hesitation (in voting), because there aren’t as many quarterbacks returning as there have been in the past. And quarterbacks (that) are going to play well, those teams are going to win, and if they don’t play well, you’re not going to win. But you’ve gotta have some guys around them.”

The Broncos were picked to finish third in the MAC West, behind Northern Illinois and CMU. The Huskies had dipped the last few years under longtime coach Joe Novak, but have come back under second-year coach Jerry Kill, after a very quick retooling of the program.

With CMU’s recent success — four straight bowl games, capped by the program’s first-ever Top 25 ranking last fall — new Chippewa coach Dan Enos knows he’s probably not even going to have the luxury of even that kind of time.

“Even if ... the perception is maybe you have a little time, or you don’t, whatver — coaches, we put it on ourselves, anyway. As a coach, you never say, ‘Oh, we have some time. If we win four games, five games this year, we’re OK,’ ” said Enos, who came to CMU from his alma mater, Michigan State.

“I think it’s a total positive that we’re at a place that has high expectations, because if you think about what the opposite end of it can be, if there were no expectations, that’d be tough. It’d be tough on the players and the coaches. One thing that our coaches have commented on since we’ve been there is that our football team expects to win. When you take over a football team that maybe hasn’t won ... part of your process is trying to get into the mindset of your players, that they have to learn how to expect to win, and learn what it takes to win. And I don’t think we’ve had to spend a whole lot of time talking with our players about expectations, and what it takes to win. ... The previous two staffs did an outstanding job of building a culture where guys expect to do that.”

Unfortunately, a coach who knows all too well what it’s like being on the opposite end of that spectrum is Eastern Michigan’s Ron English. After an 0-12 campaign in his first season a year ago, the Eagles lost 14 players to graduation, and another 25 to other forms of attrition.

English understands all too well the rebuilding project he’s been handed.

“I was talking to a friend of my family last night. He’s from Detroit, and I said, ‘Look Wayne, if you go to Detroit right now, and you buy one of these old houses, are you going to try to refurbish it, or are you going to knock the thing down and start over?’ You’re going to knock it down and start over,” English said. “That’s really what we did (at EMU), to be honest with you. We said we’re going to take a hit here, but we’re not going to tread water. We’re going to knock the thing down and start over.”

The MAC season kicks off with five non-conference games on Thursday, Sept. 2, and the league season commences with a doozy, when CMU visits Temple, the team tabbed to win the MAC East, on Sept. 9.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Spartans cross border for commit No. 10

The Michigan State Spartans locked up one of the stars of their camp from last week, getting a verbal commitment from Windsor (Ontario) WF Herman safety Arjen Colquhoun on Monday, giving the 2011 class a round 10 members.

Unrated by, but a two-star prospect according to, Colquhoun is a lanky 6-foot-1, 180-pound defensive back/wide receiver who reportedly ran a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash at the MSU camp, standing out with his ball skills. The multi-sport star also returns kicks.

While there is obviously a quality (not to mention rules) difference between high school football in Canada and the U.S., WF Herman has produced a couple of quality DBs in the past: current Duke CB Chris Rwabukamba and St. Louis Rams safety O.J. Atogwe.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Local names dominate U-M's top-ranked men's swim recruiting class

In his third year as the head coach of the storied University of Michigan men's swimming and diving program, Mike Bottom continues to remake the Wolverines' roster in his own image, but the image isn't really all that unfamiliar.

Despite all the new faces he's brought in with the last two recruiting classes — 14 last year and 20 more this year, in a class that was ranked the nation's best by — a lot of those faces are very familiar around here, as nearly half of this year's class are from the state, and a handful of those are from right here in Oakland County.

And the results are just as familiar. Led by two-time national champion Tyler Clay (400 IM), last year's eight-man senior class led the Wolverines — who've lost just one dual meet in two seasons under Bottom — to a runner-up finish at the Big Ten Championships and a seventh-place finish at the NCAA meet, extending the program's streak of top-10 finishes to a full decade.

Bottom wasn't simply trying to replace quality with quantity, though, as he nabbed the No. 3-ranked recruit in the nation (Indiana's Kyle Whitaker, the national high school record-holder in the 200 IM), along with the top recruit in Arizona (John Wojciechowski) and the No. 2 recruit in both Washington (D'Voreaux Cann) and Michigan (Grandville's Eric Wynalda).

In all, the nine Michiganders in the class combined to win six MHSAA state titles in individual or relay events this spring, including one apiece by South Lyon's Adam Oxner (100 breaststroke in D-1) and Walled Lake Northern's Riley Cole (100 butterfly in D-2).

Bottom's yet-to-be-hired diving coach will have six new divers to work with, four of them from this state. Lake Orion's Chris Fraga took ninth at the MHSAA D-1 meet this spring, while NISCA All-American Chris Ervasti of Madison Heights Lamphere — the county dive champ in 2008 and '09 — was third at the MHSAA D-3 meet.

Jonathon Ekleberry, a Rochester Adams grad who swam for Auburn Hills Avondale as a freshman and sophomore before concentrating solely on club swimming with the Oakland Live Y'ers, signed on with the class in the fall. He was ranked the No. 6 recruit in the state by, giving the recruiting class five of the state's top 20 recruits, according to the website.

"We are really happy with the additions to the Michigan swimming and diving program with this group of men," Bottom said in a press release announcing the class in May. "We added more depth to both our swimming and diving teams while keeping the top talent in the state of Michigan from leaving."

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No surprise: Lloyd Carr steps down as U-M assistant AD

There wasn't a whole lot of shock when former University of Michigan head football coach Lloyd Carr announced Tuesday he was retiring from his emeritus position as an assistant athletic director at the school, effective in September.

I guess the only surprise in the situation was that he didn't outlast his successor as head coach, Rich Rodriguez.

And therein lies the problem.

Every time Carr's name came up in the last two and a half years, so did Rodriguez's. Every time Carr appeared at a U-M function, the questions were asked. How is RichRod doing? Do you like him? Is there a rift? What's happening to the program?

The two men became inextricably linked.

For Carr — who during his tenure as U-M's coach had a cautious relationship with the media (not 'strained,' by any means, nor 'rocky,' 'tenuous' or 'volatile' ... just 'cautious') — landing what essentially became a PR job, and a PR job doing spin-control for someone else, became an untenable situation. If not entirely open and candid with the media (like his fellow Northern Michigan University alumnus and coaching contemporary up the road in East Lansing, Tom Izzo, could be termed), Carr was always at the very least sincere in his dealings with the media. Lloyd wasn't going to overshare, but he also wasn't going to spin you. Always a man of integrity, you knew that Carr wasn't going to massage the truth in an answer he gave you. He'd be more likely just not to answer.

So when he landed the cushy assistant AD job after his retirement from coaching, a job that had no real, defined duties — other than shaking some hands, making a few appearances at golf outings and charity events — Carr was probably expecting to be able to fade into the sunset. At bare minimum, I'm sure he was expecting a break from the hounding.

Instead, it just got worse.

Never truly comfortable with the scrutiny and questioning while he was head coach, Carr seemed less comfortable when the questions he was bombarded with were about someone else's program.
And the thing that kept those questions coming was Carr's continued association with the school he'd given 30 years of service to.

It's no surprise that he got sick of the situation pretty quickly.

And it's no surprise that he took the high road, and simply decided to remove himself from the situation.

Hopefully this retirement will bring Carr more of the peace and quiet he was hoping for the first time around.

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