OK, Dr. Sap got us to this point now it’s up to you.
Who was Bo’s Best Back?
[listen to WTKA 1050AM @michiganinsider Friday 4/7 8am EDT for more]
— MVictors (@MVictors) April 5, 2017
Here’s the bracket:
With the first two rounds in the books, it’s time to turn our attention to Round 3.
This time, the criteria used for each pairing will be the best, or signature, run from each running back. When you think of these running backs, what play do you think of? Whose one play is better than the other’s?
To make it easier for you and your memory banks, I went deep into the Dr. Sap Archives and captured what I feel is the best play/run for each of our remaining running backs. The links provided will give you a trip down memory lane for sure and bring us one step closer to determining Bo’s Best Back.
Here are the brackets:
ROUND 3 – BEST / SIGNATURE RUN
1970s BURTON REGION
(#1) Rob Lytle vs. (#4) Russell Davis
1976 Rob Lytle 75-yard TD run vs. Michigan State
1976 Russell Davis 85-yard TD run vs. Stanford
While Davis’s run was right up there with Tom Harmon’s record-setting jaunt against California in 1940, it did come against the Stanford backups. But should that matter? The run by Lytle is why he was dubbed the “Fremont Flash” by Bob Ufer. Another close one to call, but I gotta go with Lytle. That run against MSU served notice to everyone that Michigan and #41 were a force to be reckoned with in 1976.
WINNER: ROB LYTLE
1970’s STOBART REGION
(#2) Billy Taylor vs. (#3) Gordon Bell
1971 Billy Taylor 21-yard TD run vs. Ohio State
1975 Gordon Bell 25-yard TD run vs. Purdue
Make no mistake about it, Gordon Bell’s run was an amazing individual effort, but is it enough to overcome Billy Taylor’s game-winning run against Ohio State that preserved an undefeated season? Both are great, iconic and signature runs for each player. It’s why #5 is remembered as “The Whirling Dervish” and why #42 is remembered as “Touchdown Billy Taylor!” A tough one to call for sure, but I gotta go with BT on this one!
WINNER: BILLY TAYLOR
1980s MOELLER REGION
(#1) Jamie Morris vs. (#4) Leroy Hoard
When you think of these two backs, these plays come to mind. Both were tough to bring down and both could go the distance. Either play is the essence of who these backs were – strong, fast and determined to get into the endzone. In the final analysis, I’m gonna go with Jamie Morris & his Alabama run. That was, and still is, an incredible run!
WINNER: JAMIE MORRIS
1980s NEHLEN REGION
(#2) Butch Woolfolk vs. (#3) Tony Boles
An incredible matchup here as we have the longest run in Michigan Football history and the second longest run in the annals of Wolverine pigskin lore. Too tough to call as both backs went the distance, but both also made defenders miss. Both made it look easy, but didn’t make my decision any easier. In a tossup, I’m gonna go with Butch – by a yard!
WINNER: BUTCH WOOLFOLK
Next up: A quick post on the final 4 and voting
By Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis
Read the breakdown from Round 1 and here’s the updated bracket:
Here are the round 2 match-ups and winners, again, based on each running back’s signature game – all as selected by Dr. Sap:
1970’s Burton Region
(#1) Rob Lytle
(#9) Chuck Heater
This numbers in this pairing are surprising both players. Heater lugged the pigskin 29 times, gained over 150 yards and scored 2 TD’s in Champaign-Urbana. That’s solid! That being said, The Fremont Flash, as Bob Ufer used to call Rob Lytle, carried only 10 times against MSU in 1976, but #41 torched the Sparty D for 180 yards – an 18.0 yard per carry average (still a Michigan record to this day) – UNREAL!! Gawdy numbers all over the place, but Lytle gets the nod to move to Round 3.
WINNER: ROB LYTLE
(#4) Russell Davis
(#5) Ed Shuttlesworth
Another fullback matchup and this one is a doozie! Easy Ed romps for over 150 yards on 20 carries with 3 three TD’s as a fullback. Very impressive. Russell Davis, from the fullback spot, torched the Stanford Cardinal for 2 TD’s, 116 yards, a 16.6 yards per carry average and punctuated his effort with an 85-yard lightning bolt – then the longest run in Michigan Football History – WoW! In what may be the toughest decision so far in the tournament, I gotta go with #33 on this one. That’s just an impressive effort any way you slice it. Davis moves on to Round 3.
WINNER: RUSSELL DAVIS
1970’s Chuck Stobart REGION
(#2) Billy Taylor
(#7) Glenn Doughty
These teammates and roommates get to settle it once and for all – who had the best game between the two of them? Their average yards per carry was almost identical, but Taylor’s performance against the Hawkeyes in 1969 is head and shoulders better than Doughty’s 85 yards and 1 TD against MSU in 1970. Bo talked about how Michigan “dismembered” Iowa in 1969, and much of that had to do with Taylor’s 225 yards on 21 carries and 2 TD’s – Dang, THAT’S impressive! Billy Taylor moves on to Round 3.
WINNER: BILLY TAYLOR
(#3) Gordon Bell
(#6) Harlan Huckleby
This is another tough decision. In 1976 against Stanford, Huckleby scampered for 157 yards with a 9.8 yard average, and one 54-yard eye-opening TD run to start the game. That’s just an impressive effort any way you slice it. Bell carried 28 times, ran for over 200 yards and averaged over 7 yards a carry on the road, in Camp Randall no less – that’s yeomen-like, as well! Like I said, this is a tough one, but I gotta put Gordy Bell and all his juke moves into Round 3.
WINNER: GORDON BELL
1980’s Gary Moeller REGION
(#1) Jamie Morris
(#8) Gerald White
Another matchup involving teammates, and it’s a good one! Gerald White’s best game as a Michigan running back came against Ohio State in 1985. He carried 29 times and gained 110 yards in that victory against the Buckeyes. Jamie Morris, however, took it to another level in his last game as a Wolverine. J-Mo went for 234 yards, 3 TD’s and a 10.2 yards per carry average against Alabama! Are you kidding me? It ranks as one of, if not, THE most impressive game by a running back in Michigan Football Bowl history, according to Dr. Sap. Morris with his historic and herculean effort move on to Round 3.
WINNER: JAMIE MORRIS
(#4) Leroy Hoard
(#5) Stanley Edwards
Another good matchup with some big time numbers put up by both backs. Anytime you rush for over 150 yards, average over 8 yards per carry and score a TD, that’s a heckuva day! I was there when Stanley Edwards did this against Illinois and Purdue in 1980. He was running downhill and at his best in those games, in my opinion. While Leroy Hoard gained more yards in other games, his performance against Indiana in 1988 was quite the memorable one. He carried the ball only 7 times, but scored 3 TD’s and gained 128 yards including a 54 yard TD against the Hoosiers. I gotta go with #33 here! Hoard roars on to Round 3!
WINNER: LEROY HOARD
1980’s Don Nehlen REGION
(#2) Butch Woolfolk
(#7) Jarrod Bunch
Jarrod Bunch had his best game as a Wolverine against Indiana in 1990. He rumbled for 78 yards, 1 TD and averaged almost 9 yards per carry. I’m sure the IU defenders left with multiple headaches that afternoon thanks to #32. Butch Woolfolk showed MSU and the Michigan faithful that he was not just a track guy who played football. Any questions about Butch’s strength and ability to carry the load for an entire game was put to rest that day in 1981. The guy who’s real name is Harold, lugged the rock 39 times and gained 253 yards against the Spartans his senior season. That’s good enough to get #24 on to Round 3.
WINNER: BUTCH WOOLFOLK
(#3) Tony Boles
(#6) Lawrence Ricks
To quote Hall of Fame Broadcaster, Dick Enberg, “Oh my!” What a matchup we have here! Lawrence Ricks bludgeoned Purdue for 196 yards on 31 carries and 2 TD’s (including a 52-yarder) against the Boilermakers in 1982. Tony Boles had his best game against Wisconsin in 1988. He only carried 10 times, but torched the Badgers for 179 yards and 3 TD’s – very similar to Rob Lytle’s record-setting effort against MSU in 1976. That’s good enough to move Boles on to Round 3.
WINNER: TONY BOLES
Next up: the Elite 8 evaluated on the hypothetical handoff – 1 play for all the marbles, who gets the ball?
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Guest post by Steve “Dr. Sap” Sapardanis
Much like I did a few years ago with the Bo Brackets in trying to determine Bo’s best team, this time I decided to answer the age old question: Who was Bo’s best running back?
There have been some great ones over the years and I thought it would be a fun look back on what these former Wolverines did on the gridiron. Again, when looking back, I kept the backs in their own era or decade – this makes it easier when comparing stats and accomplishments. As a result, I put the best 16 backs of the 70’s on one side and the top 16 backs of the 80’s on the other side of the brackets. I used the following criteria to help determine who would advance each round to become Bo’s Best Back:
Alright, enough of the preamble. Below are the brackets:
On to the match-ups!
ROUND 1 – ALL ABOUT THE NUMBERS
(#1) Rob Lytle vs. (#16) Kevin King
While these two backs were teammates, this matchup is a no-brainer. You have a guy who most M fans don’t even remember pitted up against an All-American, who placed 3rd in the Heisman Trophy his senior year. Kevin King played four years in a crowded and talented Wolverine backfield. His lone TD came in the closing moments of the 69-0 rout of Navy in 1976. King netted 182 total yards in his career, while Lytle finished his career as Michigan’s All-Time Leading Rusher and is in the College Football Hall of Fame. No upset here. Lytle moves on to Round 2.
WINNER: ROB LYTLE
(#8) Fritz Seyferth vs. (#9) Chuck Heater
While both of these backs scored about the same amount of TD’s, it’s the yardage that separates these two. Fritz Seyferth scored 14 TD’s and ran for over 500 yards in his M career as a blocking fullback (see Billy Taylor’s TD run vs. OSU in 1971). Chuck Heater is most remembered as a current College Coordinator and Coach with notable stops in Colorado (with Bill McCartney) and Florida (with Urban Meyer). In a mild upset, Heater with almost 2,000 yards and 17 TD’s, gets the nod to move on to Round 2.
WINNER: CHUCK HEATER
(#5) Ed Shuttlesworth vs. (#12) Gil Chapman
In a matchup of great Bob Ufer nicknames, The “Jersey Jet,” Gil Chapman, put up a good fight, but it wasn’t enough to take down “Easy Ed” Shuttlesworth. For those who don’t remember Chapman, think Jamie Morris – just not as powerful. Remembered most for his 58-yard end around scamper for a TD against MSU in 1972, Chapman was a great change of pace back compared to the bruisers and pounders that Bo loved to ram down the opponents’ throats back in the day. The nod goes to Shuttlesworth as he was one tough guy between the tackles. He averaged 777 yards a season and hit paydirt 26 times in his career. With over 2,300 yards rushing, “Easy Ed” advances to the second round.
WINNER: ED SHUTTLESWORTH
Readers of this site probably know at least the basics of the drama that led Michigan’s departure from the Big Ten between 1906-1908 and its subsequent return in 1917. As a refresher check out my posts and naturally Papa John U. Bacon has a wonderful discussion of the drama here.
Given the history and deep ties between U-M and the B1G conference since those days astray, it seems hard to comprehend an alternate reality where your beloved Wolverines are not part of the conference. I really never have put much thought into the notion of U-M going it alone.
Enter SB Nation’s Matt Brown. He’s working on a book around a series of college football ‘what if’ scenarios. He reached out to ask me a few beauties, leading off with a hypothetical gem:
Brown: In your personal opinion, do you think Michigan could have sustained playing as an independent outside of the Big Ten? How do you think that would have impacted Big Ten history?
Me: The most likely outcome is that interest in Michigan football wanes, Yost loses influence and the anti-football academic forces at U-M gain power. If Yost is even still around in the early 1920s, he definitely doesn’t get the support [from the university or from boosters financially] to build Michigan Stadium. Then you have the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression, and you have to wonder if Michigan football slowly fades away like Chicago. So Michigan doesn’t win the national titles in the early 1930s or the late 1940s – there’s no Fritz Crisler or winged helmet. Cats and dogs start living together.
If Michigan does survive outside the B1G, it would have taken a stroke of luck and possibly an iconic Rockne-like coach to build a strong independent following like Notre Dame. And speaking of the Irish, the bitterness following the 1910 game cancellation would be put aside in the early 1920s and Michigan would have to try schedule regular games with the Irish and hopefully do the same with a few Big Ten teams as well.
Of course we’re talking about football, but think of the impact on all of the other sports. Travel wasn’t as easy back then, and moving back and forth from the east coast for meets and matches would have been a major drain. Maybe a few rivalries emerge but nothing like the broad set of historic rivalries that Michigan enjoyed in conference. Michigan athletics would suffer big time.
I’m sure the Big Ten survives and thrives, but removing an original member and a crown jewel (with a national reputation) it just isn’t as strong.
How much of the Big Ten’s decision to push for rules that appeared to disadvantage Michigan the most, in your opinion, was motivated by jealousy, or a specific desire to get at Yost, and how much do you think was a reaction to say, anti-football panic nationally? It’s a bit unclear, to me. Certainly a desire to take a hard stand on reform, while eastern schools dithered, would have been attractive for midwestern leaders.
Of course Michigan fans still view the rules as a direct shot at Michigan – I think primarily to take Yost down a couple pegs. The truth is probably more in between a desire to control the sport (including for safety) and its place within academic institutions. But as chronicled in John Kryk’s excellent book, Stagg vs. Yost, the Chicago coach was very manipulative and had a lot of power in the conference and in the media, and would do just about anything to cut out Yost’s legs.
Why did the Big Ten change its mind ?
It doesn’t seem like the Big Ten pushed back on Michigan’s return. Admittedly my perspective and my sources are heavily shaped by a Michigan’s view of the situation, but I don’t find much evidence of resistance in any form, from the conference when U-M decided it wanted back in. The various groups (alumni, students, Yost, regents) within Michigan brought the topic to a head early in 1917 and overwhelmingly supported a return. The conference immediately allowed the Wolverines to complete in a conference track meet that spring. The other schools welcomed the decision Michigan made to return – not the other way around. Once it was official on U-M’s side, it seemed football schedules were immediately updated. Only Northwestern had an open date available in the fall of 1917 so a game was scheduled, and others had to wait for openings.
The fact is the conference was stronger with Michigan in it (competitively and financially) – so it’s not hard to understand why U-M was welcomed back. And for what it’s worth, the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917 – precisely the time all this was going down – so you have to wonder if people were more inclined to set aside gridiron-infused grudges.
If the Big Ten banned conference members from playing Michigan during this era, how were they able to schedule games against Minnesota in 1909 and 1910?
Check out this gem, from February 1946 via the Michigan Daily digital archives. Bill Mullendorf, an outgoing senior and Daily sport editor, composed what appears to be a farewell column.
Instead of dropping a retrospective of the great sports triumphs during his days at the Daily, he chose instead to discuss an unplanned encounter a Michigan legend at practice in the fall of 1944. Give it a read – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed:
Yost passed away few months after this was published.
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Yes M’am! It happened. Thank you to the U-M Library, the U-M Bentley Historical Library, The Michigan Daily, and support from “The Kemp Family Foundation, who finally did what I’ve been anxious hoping would happen: an searchable digitized archive of the Daily. Feel free to give it a test run:
Dude. Sweet. The search works great, and you can download and save pages and links as you go along. Well done. The only drawback? Like with any text-based scanning software, sometimes the text search is spotty if the quality of the scanned page is in rough shape, as of course can happen as the pages have aged.
Within seconds I was able to search for and find a few never-before-seen nuggets on a few of my favorite topics like The Little Brown Jug and Willis Ward.
Speaking of Ward, you may know a lot about the 1934 Willis Ward controversy that played out before the Georgia Tech game that year, either from this site or on mgoblue.com, or via the kickass and Emmy-nominated documentary Black and Blue. I don’t think I had heard about this, tough.
It turns more than a few folks raised a suspicious eye when, in May 1934 (yes, months before the Georgia Tech game mess heated up) the U-M track team failed to elect Ward captain of the 1935 squad. Here’s one of the letters to the Daily in the May 25, 1934 edition:
So nicely done, C.A. Blue.
Thanks to a quick search in the new digital archive, I know that “Murmuring Michigan” is a reference to a piece that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, where the author described a few days on campus in Ann Arbor. As I understand it, he observed a movement of students on campus beginning to rebel against the established norms/biases of the day. Like racism.
He was right. In a few months later, the campus exploded before the Georgia Tech game.
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While the committee chairman’s words Tuesday night were promising, I still struggle seeing this happen for Michigan. I think people agree the best scenario is Colorado winning on Friday night, opening the #4 slot in the playoff.
First, via CFN here is how the committee selection process works:
2. Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first ranking step. This is known as the “listing step.”
3. In the first ranking step, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The best team in each member’s ranking will receive one point; second-best, two points, etc. The members’ rankings will be added together and the three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next ranking step.
4. Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next ranking step.
We also know the committee values head-to-head and conference championships, but not necessarily more than the other. And they only really look at these metrics when the teams are comparable. But the other thing Hocutt noted was that they don’t look ahead. To me, this implies is that they can’t (yet) place value on a potential conference championship, but they could once the conference championship is actually earned.
So back to the selection process. If Colorado drops Washington and Clemson beats Va Tech, let’s assume a few things:
A couple scenarios of how this could go:
Scenario #1 – Mild emphasis on conference championships.
Under this scenario, Michigan would get the 4th playoff spot by a hair.
Scenario #2 – Medium emphasis on conference championships.
Under this scenario, despite Michigan easily earning the most votes from the committee for that 4th spot, the B1G champ would get the 4th playoff spot by a hair. The Rose Bowl would likely select Michigan.
And you can see where it goes from there, depending on what the voters (or some of the voters) place on the conference championship. The point is that a slight shift from Michigan to the conference champions can swing this.
Oh, and god forbid we get full on Fulmer’ed – with one of these guys putting Michigan 4th or 5th or worse – because then we are truly screwed.
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I don’t see Michigan in play for a playoff spot no matter what happens. If Washington and/or Clemson lose, I see the committee going for the B1G champ over Michigan and they aren’t putting three B1G teams in the playoff.
The committee understands that if it takes Ohio State alone from the B1G, it will obviously ignore the conference champion. The idealistic view is that the major conference champions more or less feed into the playoff. They will debate taking solely Ohio State over Penn State should the Lions win Saturday – so much so that I could see Ohio State getting dropped out if Penn State wins. The “only Ohio” scenario is less of a concern if Wisconsin wins for sure, but still a concern.
Given the opportunity of a slot opening up, they will thankfully take the B1G champ. I think they signal this tonight by putting Michigan at #6, but even if they have them at #5, they will justify the B1G champ jumping them in the final rankings based on the championship win.
So that leaves Michigan out. But to me the consolation prize is pretty agreeable. With the B1G champ in the playoff, the Rose Bowl has discretion and will take Michigan. Under the scenario that Washington loses to Colorado to free up the B1G champ to be in the playoff, this would set-up a rematch with the Buffaloes. Some might argue that they wouldn’t want a U-M vs. CU rematch. What they really don’t want is Colorado–but they won’t have that choice (they must take the PAC 10 champ). So given the best option to make the game special, they will go for Michigan and Harbaugh of course – rematch be damned. It’s been a decade, you know you want to go back and Michigan just participated in a 10.4 rating for a noon game.
If things go according to script, with Clemson and Washington winning, I still see debate of Ohio State vs. Penn State/Wisconsin for the playoff spot but only one B1G team will end up in the final four. In this case, yes, Michigan heads to Miami and the Orange Bowl as widely projected.
Cheers to the Rose Bowl: