Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Spartan's Guide to Fantasy Football

On almost all of my fantasy football teams through the years, I've given myself an unofficial requirement. If possible, I should keep on roster at least one Michigan State alumnus - something that never really proved difficult thanks to two guys, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason.

Problem is, Burress is awaiting trial on charges stemming from an incident in a club where he shot himself in the leg, while Mason told the Baltimore Ravens that he's retiring. So what am I to do this year? That's why I developed this guide to Spartans in the NFL - and how they can help your fantasy football squad.

The guide is broken down into three sections - starters, backups and "avoid"- based on a 12-team league, starting QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE, K, D, with standard scoring.


Now that Plaxico's career is shot (pun very much intended) the top Spartan fantasy option is easily Washington's Devin Thomas. Reports from D.C. indicate that Thomas is ready to make a leap in his second year, though he still represents a bit of a leap of faith. On the plus side, he's a magic-maker who could evolve into a low #1 option. On the minus, he'd be a weak #2 or strong #3. Either way, he's a guy well worth having on any roster.

Muhsin Muhammad, on the other hand, is a very consistent fantasy player, something very valuable in my books. He's not a flashy guy, nor a speed burner, but is typically good for 900-1,000 yards and 4-8 touchdowns. Not a bad third option in most leagues.


Normally these are the guys I'd keep on my bench and use to cover byes. But there's no MSU alum this year that meets that criteria. Instead, these are players who might be worth a mid-season free agent pickup, should things go their way. Emphasis on the "might," as you'll see below.

Chris Baker, a tight end on the Patriots roster, is fighting starter Ben Watson for playing time and some reports indicate he might be winning. That said, Baker is more of a blocking tight end, and probably won't pose much of a threat except inside the red zone, where his 5-to-10-yard game can shine.

I'm going out on a limb here and saying Javon Ringer might be a good free agent pickup mid-year, filling the shoes of Tennessee speedster Chris Johnson should he get hurt. As his owners last year can attest, Johnson's a bit injury prone. Ringer, for that matter, is also injury prone, but he's been able to get fully healthy thanks to a long layoff after last season - and that could be trouble for NFL defenses if he gets on the field.

Here's my difficulty with Dave Rayner, a stud kicker with a booming leg: I was always more confident in him from 50 yards than 30 in college, simply because he's got very little accuracy. He's currently fighting for a starting spot in Washington, and could really contribute for your team if a) he starts, b) your league rewards long kicks from 40 or 50+ and c) you don't get penalized for misses.


Here's what you need to know about TE Kellen Davis, a Chicago native now playing for his hometown Bears. Last year, in 16 games, he recorded 0 catches for 0 yards and 0 touchdowns. A big skip if ever I saw one.

While we know that running backs DeAndra Cobb (Jax) and Jehuu Caulcrick (NYJ) could ball in college, they're both reserves deep on the bench behind established starters Maurice Jones-Drew and Thomas Jones, respectively. Neither will likely get much time on the field, though Cobb could see time returning kicks and punts.

It's the same story with MSU's two quarterbacks in the NFL. Brian Hoyer is fighting for third on the depth chart in New England behind Tom Brady and Kevin O'Connell. Ditto in Detroit for Hoyer's collegiate mentor Drew Stanton, a former second-round pick who's stuck behind Daunte Culpepper and #1 overall pick this year Matt Stafford of Georgia. Skip them both.

Overall, it's one of the weakest years in recent memory for Spartan fantasy players. And if you want one on your team, there are pretty much only two options.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Littlest Spartan

We wanted to take a moment today to congratulate long-time reader Greg Hose (pronounced hos-AY) of Chicago on two great accomplishments. The first being the recent birth of his first child, a beautiful baby girl. The second - bestowing upon his daughter a name even the most Spartan among us would be proud of.

The story goes like this: Greg and his wife Rose were thumbing through baby name books, as expectant couples often do, when Greg - obviously having looked at one too many odd baby names - started throwing out "unique" monikers of his own.

Rose didn't bite on "Tommy" or "Izzo", but something happened with the next name Greg tossed out in jest - it stuck.

"It's funny, because Rose has no connection to MSU or East Lansing," Greg told me. "She just really liked the name."

Greg talked his wife into a more traditional first name (a fine English name too, I might add), but one that when abbreviated to its first initial will make it obvious to the world which university his daughter is forever destined to join.

Welcome to the world, Evelyn Lansing Hose.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

MSU's Brave New Media World

The cream of the Midwest's sports media crop descend on Chicago Monday for Big Ten media days, which ordinarily would warrant a look at the state of MSU's media coverage.

But those of you who have been with TOSSS since the beginning will remember our three-part series on MSU's "missing media" problem - the fact that MSU's press boxes are becoming more and more vacant as news organizations scale back on their coverage as money gets more and more tight. So instead, we thought we'd take a closer peek at the one organization that has dramatically expanded it's coverage efforts for the upcoming football season - Michigan State's own sports information department.

New this year: Several Twitter feeds, including ones for Spartan athletics and MSU football. Neither are real world-changers, their content consisting mostly of links to news stories, but they're a start.

MSU's weekly TV shows have been overhauled, as have signature websites for the two big coaches: Football's Mark Dantonio and men's basketball's Tom Izzo.

But probably the most exciting (and generally useful) development is the new photo store. See, MSU has its own photographers at every big event, whose stuff usually graces programs, media guides and the website. But never before had MSU figured out a way to make money directly off its photo efforts.

You could get an iconic photo of the Game of the Century, Javon Ringer beating Michigan or the Cold War. Perhaps you want something more obscure like a pic of Spartan Stadium getting built or MSU's old polo team. For a price, all those memories can be yours.

This is not a new concept - most media organizations (including the State News and Lansing State Journal) do the exact same thing. But no media company in Michigan has anywhere near as good a website for ordering photos of Spartan athletics, nor will they likely have as much access as MSU will give, well, itself to shoot those key intimate moments.

The photo store, Twitter feeds, niche websites - they're all examples of a university trying to bridge the gap between sport and fan - a space formerly exclusively occupied by the media that will be gathered in Chicago this week.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

TOSSS Pick Wins Student Football Shirt Design Contest

A month ago, we asked you which MSU football student section t-shirt design you liked best, encouraging voters to pack the polls in favor of the TOSSS-approved favorite.

Well guess what folks? It worked.

The winning designs for the back and the front were announced today by MSU officials as the victor of the online fan vote, with the back design that won (seen on the left) garnering 46 percent of the vote. That was no surprise to us here and it was also the winner of the TOSSS poll.

The three finalist designs for the front were all pretty similar. But the winner (seen right) won by an even larger margin - garnering 52 percent of its vote.

Shirts will be distributed to student ticket holders beginning Sept. 1, but can be purchased starting in mid-August. Proceeds go to the MSU cheerleaders, dance team and the Sparty program.

Monday, July 20, 2009

That Damned Carolina Shirt

RALEIGH, N.C. - It might have been the nine-hour flight from London, complete with terrible airline food and a lady behind me who kept tugging on my seat back. It might have been that the only movies on the flight were kids films featuring Brendan Fraser, or that it took 30 minutes to clear customs from just one plane. It might have been that my rolling suitcase came out of baggage claim bent like a banana, sopping wet and with just one wheel intact.

Whatever it was, I just wasn't in the mood to see what I saw as I walked into the airport convenience store near the gate for my connecting flight back home to Baltimore. All I wanted was some peace, quiet and a Diet Dr. Pepper.

Despite the fact that Raleigh/Durham is home to N.C. State and Duke, it's close enough to Chapel Hill that this particular shop also had a ton of UNC merchandise. OK, I can deal with that - heck, even Lansing's airport has some U-M apparel. (Side note: I don't like that it does, but I understand their desire to make money selling it to the Wal-Mart Wolverine fans who pass through.)

And it makes sense that they'd have National Championship gear on sale as well. Again, no problem there.

But this shirt just set me off. Well, not this one exactly, but one very much like it. It featured very prominently a certain lopsided score from a certain championship match this past April that shall go unmentioned. And it made me want to puke.

Now understand, there's nothing TECHNICALLY wrong with the shirt. It's not out of bounds to have or wear. And all the Carolina fans that noticed my Steve Smith charity golf outing carry-on with the MSU bag tags were really sympathetic - saying we had a great young team and a great coach and that we'd "win it again soon". Carolina fans are polite like that (they were in after they won in the 2005 Final Four as well).

But, cranky as I was, I didn't care. I still don't.

All I can think of when I think back on that accursed shirt in that accursed store in that accursed state is that MSU gets to play UNC again next year. One more chance to right the wrongs of last season. But not in Detroit - this one's in Chapel Hill.

I hope we win. I hope we win huge - and make a t-shirt to remember it by.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Construction Update: Old College Field

The next phase of construction at Old College Field is gearing up, this time affecting the softball field. While the new baseball stadium opened for this season, renovations throughout the complex are still ongoing, such as at the concessions and restroom building. Now work is getting ready to begin to upgrade the stands and press box for the softball field.

Plans were presented for the new Drayton McLane, Jr. Stadium at this month's Construction Junction in Wells Hall. These plans will go before the MSU Board of Trustees in September before any work will begin, but the plans are part of an already approved overall development plan for the Old College Field project, so don't expect there to be many changes to these.

The complete presentation may be found online here.

Images courtesy of Michigan State University.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hollis: Season Ticket Sales "Awesome"

The economy is terrible, especially in Michigan. Unemployment has topped 14 percent in the state - highest in the nation. So it's absolutely no surprise that 13 percent of MSU football season ticket holders aren't renewing for next year - up from the eight percent in a normal year.

That's the bad news. The good news? So many people are buying season tickets who didn't last year that Michigan State is on pace to sell its more than 60,000 season ticket plans this year - the most it has since 2001.

Hollis, talking to the Lansing State Journal, called the numbers "awesome", adding that orders for a season pack of the $44-per-game tickets ($308 total) had picked up in the past month.

This is positively huge news folks. Football pays for almost every sport MSU offers (men's basketball is the other revenue generator), so butts in the seats on fall Saturdays directly translate to State being able to compete in everything from golf to volleyball to gymnastics.

Part of the success is clearly due to Mark Dantonio's revived football program, and the expectation that great things are to come this year. A recent LSJ online poll asked fans how State would do this year, and the most chosen record was 10-2. That's a bit optimistic in my view (I think 9-3 or 8-4 with a bowl win is more likely) but that expectation has clearly been reflected in orders.

Two other keys: The family and young alumni plans. Family plans are $231 for the season, while recent grads who left school two years ago or less can buy theirs for $175. Student tickets, at $148, go on sale in August.

We'll see if the Spartan sales office can keep up the momentum, but consider this a tip of the cap to a job, so far, well done.

New Concession Options in Spartan Stadium

As we discussed here last month, there are changes coming to Spartan Stadium concessions, most notably the loss of the Panchero's near the Student Section.

TOSSS has been working to find out what other changes we should expect, and specifically what vendor will be replacing the Panchero's. It looks like the vendor fans should expect in that location will be Submarina. Their store location in town is over in the Edgewood Towne Center off of Cedar St. They were also the sub vendor for Breslin Center starting last season, and MSU "Received very good feedback from our customers," according to Bill Kost, Associate Director of Retail Food Service at MSU.

For those that just can't give up the craving for Mexican food during a Spartan football game, MSU is adding Maria's Tacos at a location in the South endzone, next to Sparty's Pizza. This should help to offset the loss of the Panchero's in food variety. No word yet if Maria's will be serving anything that may qualify as a "Victory Burrito," but TOSSS will continue to investigate.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Spartan Tartan

So I'm online the other day, scrolling for a tartan pattern for a kilt I'm planning to get made at some point in the not-too-distant future (don't ask, long story), when I stumble across something amazing: The official Michigan State University tartan.

I'm not talking about some design someone whipped together on a whim and posted to some message board, this is actually registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans, which oversees that sort of thing. It was registered to commemorate the university's sesquicentennial anniversary in 2005.

For those unfamiliar with Scottish rites, a tartan is not the skirt-looking thing most people think it is (that's a kilt), the tartan is actually the color pattern. It's measured in a stitch-by-stitch color palette. For example, Gr20, Blk5, Gr20 would be 20 stitches of green, five of black and 20 of green, for a thin black stripe between two thick green stripes. Repeat as necessary, on both the x and y axes of the design, and you get the box-shaped patterns that frequent most tartans.

The colors of the MSU tartan, oddly enough, aren't green and white though, instead a green and light gray, with dark gray and black accents. There's a sensible reason for this, as white is very rarely used in casual tartans because it shows any amount of dirt very easily. Hence the light gray.

There are two other official tartans in the state, one for the Michigan State Police (an unfortunate blue and yellow design) and a regional design for the state's "Up North" area. The Up North design is the leading candidate to be made the state of Michigan's official tartan, though legislation to that effect is stalled in a state Senate committee.

As for the University of Michigan? They have no tartan. I put it down to a lack of confidence needed to wear the thing in public.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Black Sparty?

An interesting suggestion occurred during the October 2nd, 2008 meeting of the Athletic Council, an oversight committee made up of MSU faculty, staff and students.

From the meeting minutes, "Joe Francese mentioned the idea that MSU would be wise to
consider adding two additional Sparty models: African American and Hispanic."

The idea gave us pause as many thoughts came to mind. What race is Sparty? White? Perhaps Spartan? Sparta was in Ancient Greece, is he Greek? Does it matter what race he is?

Then the brainstorming on the logistics of this began. Would it be two totally new suits? Or would we just dress the current Sparty up every once in a while so he looks African American or Hispanic? Is there really any tasteful way to do that? Sparty has toed the line of cultural stereotypes in the past. Pictured here is Sparty dressed as a Spanish matador during a football game.

Does this honor and celebrate the racial and ethnic diversity of Michigan State? Is it just odd? Or at worst, is it offensive? And how much might all this cost anyway?

Now before anyone gets too concerned about this, it seems it was simply a case of thinking out loud that made it into the meeting record. Mr. Francese, a faculty representative on the council, is a Professor in the Department of French, Classics and Italian. When contacted, Professor Francese referred all comment to Athletic Council Chairman Mike Kasavana.

When asked about the comment in the minutes, Chairman Kasavana said, "This was an impromptu idea, without actual intent for serious consideration. Nothing further happened or is happening with regard to this suggestion."

So, what do you think? Should Sparty be more diverse?

Note: We'll be reacting to other items from the 2008-2009 Athletic Council minutes in upcoming days. Stay tuned!

Photos complements of Sparty's account.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Construction Update: Football Traffic Update

Some more detailed information has been shared regarding the football parking situation out at the commuter lot, adding to the last update we gave you a few weeks ago.

First, for the Farm Lane project, a firm open to traffic date has still not been set. However, we do know that contractually, they have only until September 22nd to finish all work. If all available time is used, that would have it opening after the first two home games (Sept. 5th, Sept. 12th) but before the Michigan game on Oct. 3rd.

We also have been told that Farm Lane will most likely open to both vehicles and pedestrians at the same time. One thought floated by fans was to open the sidewalks to pedestrians early if possible, so that there would at least be a walkable route to the commuter lot from Spartan Stadium, even if the buses still had to take the detour. It looks like this will not happen.

Second, the Mt. Hope resurfacing project time line is becoming clearer, thanks to the City of East Lansing's Project Clause. While a more detailed schedule will be set once a project bid is accepted, a general timetable is available now. According to the document, the project is divided into several phases. Phase I would begin on July 27th or within ten days of the contract being awarded. Once lane closures began, they would have fourteen days to reopen those lanes, with August 29th being the end point for this phase. Phase II would start immediately following Phase I, and this phase will include lane resurfacing and closures as well. Once that starts, the contractors will have thirty days to complete the work, with a contractual completion date of Oct. 2nd.

One interesting point from the document specifically concerns football game days. From the document:
"No work shall occur that impacts traffic outside of the approved lane/road closures on the following dates:

MSU Student Move-in: August 30, 2009, August 31, 2009 and September 1, 2009
MSU Home Football Game (Montana State): September 5, 2009
MSU Home Football Game (Central Michigan): September 12, 2009
MSU Home Football Game (University of Michigan): October 3, 2009

Any hauling, loading, grading, paving or any other activity that involves any impact on the remaining travel ways on any street shall be prohibited on the above dates."
It is nice to see this requirement specifically laid out early on in the bidding process. It recognizes the issues the project may place on football traffic and shows that there is a conscious attempt to minimize them. It also inadvertently recognizes the potential for project delays by listing a "no work day" on Oct. 3rd, a day after the project's completion date of Oct. 2nd.

Looking at what we know now about the project completion dates for both Farm Lane and Mt. Hope, the "fun" scenario outlined a few weeks ago looks like a strong possibility. This is where Farm Lane opens before Mt. Hope is complete, causing a large increase in traffic to the area, and therefore backups. While the completion dates on the projects suggest this may occur, both completion dates are currently scheduled for after the second home football game but before the third. So, if both can open before their contractual end dates, there will be no issues for the first big home game, against Michigan on Oct. 3rd.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Michael Jackson in Spartan Stadium!

Michael Jackson's passing last week has created many tribute plans around the country, both immediate and in the upcoming weeks and months. The Only Colors Blog last week recalled one of the best Spartan Marching Band moments in recent memory, their performance of Michael Jackson's Thriller. This led to the question, "Will the Spartan Marching Band be doing a tribute, perhaps even performing Thriller again?"

Well, from Director John Madden, the answer is no. Sort of. The Spartan Marching Band has no plans to add Thriller to any of this season's shows, but they are planning a "Motown at 50" show, and that will feature the Jackson 5. So the music of Michael Jackson will sound in Spartan Stadium this season!