Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Thought on Hype

On my way back from lunch on Monday, I was listening to the Two Live Stews and they were discussing whether Denard Robinson is: (1) faster than Mike Vick; and/or (2) a more accurate passer than Mike Vick. (For the record, Vick is a better comparison for Robinson than Pat White. White was not as good a passer as Robinson, certainly not at this stage of his career. Vick has a significantly stronger arm than Robinson, but I don't remember him being this accurate. We'll know more when Robinson plays Iowa and Penn State. Notre Dame and UConn aren't going to make us forget the '92 Tide anytime soon.) This morning on the way to work, David Pollack was discussing the advantages of defending against Ryan Mallett as opposed to Robinson.

If Denard Robinson is being discussed on a regular basis on sports talk radio in Atlanta, then he has invaded the national picture. Normally, this would make me uncomfortable. Robinson is receiving a ton of attention for two brilliant performances against teams of questionable defensive quality. My alarm bells are going off for "overreaction based on a small sample size! Hyping a popular program to generate clicks!" However, in this case, the hype is good for Michigan, so I'm all for it.

This is a get-over-the-hump year for Rich Rodriguez. If he wins at least eight games and shows the offense that got him hired, then he'll make it into year four. In 2011, Rodriguez will have: (1) an experienced team (there are two senior starters on the offense and four on the defense); (2) his best corner back (Troy Woolfolk is out for the season with a broken ankle); (3) a running back who projects as Slaton to Robinson's White (Dee Hart, who has Michigan, Alabama, and Auburn in his final three and Michigan probably leads as long as Rodriguez keeps his job); and (4) Ohio State, Nebraska, and Notre Dame all at home. Thus, positive national buzz is a big deal to make sure that this confluence of events happens in 2011, as opposed to Jim Harbaugh trying to figure out the best way to move the ball with players recruited for the Spread 'n' Shred.

Positive national buzz can also perpetuate itself by leading to recruiting victories. It can't hurt Michigan's chances with Hart or North Carolina linebacker Kris Frost (another blue chipper who could start from day one at a position of need) when LeBron James is tweeting about Denard. (This would seem to be a good point at which to worry about the attention getting to Mr. Robinson's wonderfully coiffed head. One imagines a montage of the past two weeks with "Take it to the Limit" playing in the background. That said, Denard seems to have a Leo Messi-style humility to him [from what little one can tell so far].)

The way the media portrays a team or individual will shape our perceptions. To steal an idea from Jonathan Chait, TV producers can make or break a coach by showing him after particularly good or bad plays so we associate that coach with success or failure. (A great example from this morning: at the close of the highlights of the Yankees-Rays game, a no-name Yankee rightfielder made a phenomenal throw to cut down Carl Crawford at third for the last out of the game, pushing the Yankees back into first place in a pennant race that would have mattered 17 years ago. The camera immediately pans to Derek Jeter for the obligatory fist pump. We [consciously or unconsciously] associate Jeter with the win. Footnote: Crawford was only on second because Jeter dropped a perfect throw from Jorge Posada when Crawford was attempting to steal the base.) To date, the media narrative on Rodriguez has been that the team has been losing and that he got Michigan football its first NCAA sanctions. The latter was driven by the Detroit Free Press in vendetta fashion and it became part of the national perception. Denard's first two games have changed the story arc. I hate the cliche that perception is reality, but it does matter (especially in college football), so it's a big deal that Michigan is on the lips of sports talk hosts 700 miles from Ann Arbor because the quarterback is good.

All that said, if non-Michigan fans get annoyed by the hype, I'll understand.


Ryno said...

I was listening to the Two Live Stews

Oh Michael, say it ain't so....

Jerry Hinnen said...

I'll agree that Pat White isn't the exact analogue for Shoelace, either, but I'm not sure Vick is any better, is he? Vick had terrific top-end speed, of course, but his greatest strength as a runner was his unreal elusiveness, change-of-direction skills, acceleration, etc. Robinson is elusive, but not on Vick's level; I'd say his strengths are his straight-line sprinter's speed, burst into the hole, and relative thickness and durability (would Vick have ever wanted to carry 28 times a game?). And throwing the ball, they strike me as very different quarterbacks--Vick had a rocket launcher for an arm but was notoriously inaccurate on short-to-intermediate throws, whereas Robinson has (to-date) been outstanding on the short-to-intermediate routes but doesn't have the supernatural arm strength or--yet--much touch on the deep ball.

So I'd say he's closer to White, who I think he's more similar to as a runner, even if you're absolutely right that it took White four years to be the passer Robinson is now.

I'll also admit I don't know who'd I'd nominate for the "proper" analogue to Robinson; guys with his particular brand of accuracy, speed, and running-back-like ability to squeeze yards over the course of 25+ carries don't come along very often.

Anonymous said...

Amazing blown call in tonight's Rays-Yanks game, almost gave the Yankees an unearned win.

That pennant race might not matter as much as it once did, but the Rays have really showed something in this one. That franchise is amazing.

Power Strider said...

Excellent post.

Michael said...

Ryno, I was in the car for five minutes, so it wasn't worth it to me to hook up my iPhone. I apologize.

Jerry, excellent point about Vick's cutting ability. Denard hasn't shown the sort of change of direction skill that Vick showed in the Sugar Bowl against Florida State. Of all peoople, HeismanPundit had a good post on Denard being the next stage of evolution because we haven't seen a quarterback with cornerback skills before.

Misopogon said...

Interesting take.

The closest analogue to Denard I can think of would be Antwaan Randle El, except Denard has a better arm (just not as much touch). Randel El had that same ability to find a hole and be gone for 10 yards, but his desire to play basketball for Bobby Knight, and considering how bad the rest of the team was (including his coach), Antwaan never had the chance to put up the stats to go with the WOW! reaction he instilled in anyone who watched him play. He, too, was thought of as a pretty humble guy.

When the 2001 Heisman candidates were up for debate, I tried to submit a column to the Daily sports editor, whom I figured owed me for all the cigarettes he bummed off me while he was "quitting." N.E.Hoosier, the article did not get printed but it said, less succinctly:

Is the Heisman meant to be awarded to the player with the best stats? For surely then it should go to Florida's Rex Grossman.

Or is it meant for the player completing the greatest career?, for if so must be handed immediately to Nebraska's illustrious Eric Crouch.

But perhaps, as we have heard, it is really an award meant to be given to the best player on the best team, because if this is so, then is not Ken Dorsey, triggerman of the mighty Miami Hurricanes, the year's most successful warrior?

Or maybe it is a combination of these things, a statistical giant who is completing an illustrious career, and led his team toward the pinnacle of success, for if it is these things all that count, then your Heisman is Oregon's Joe Harrington.

Do we know what the award is for? Let us check it -- we fortunately have a few around. Let's see....Desmond Howard....Charles Woodson....AH, here it is:

"Awarded to the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity."

Oh, well then that's obvious: Mr. Antwaan Randle El of Indiana, come collect your trophy.

Had MGoBlog existed at the time (or had I known an Every Three Weekly editor would go for that kind of thing, you might have seen an article I wrote about the 2001 Heisman voting. As it was, the editor forgot the name of the editorial board member who had bummed him countless Camel Lights in the bitter watches of a shipping, zipping and NYPD night, or just didn't think my sports writing was good enough.

the_dude said...

I think it's perfectly fine to call Denard a more accurate Pat White. Because hey, you know what? Pat White was a pretty dang phenomenal QB. Pat White rushed for 4,907 yards, passed for 6,808 yards, and accounted for 112 TDs. So you're telling me I can sign up for THAT?! And if I do sign up there's a chance I could end up getting something even better??!! If so I will never be able to believe our good fortune.

Can Denard replicate that kind of production? It's really tough to put all that on his shoulders after two seminal starts. Let's just say Pat White is an intriguing comparison for a myriad of reasons, the most intriguing projection being that Pat White got Rich Rod two BCS bowl wins and got him within one game of playing for the BCS championship.

Stats are nice and all but being competitive while competing amongst the best of the best is really what every single Michigan fan wants more than anything. Here's hoping Denard can lead us to the promised land.