[Ed.: as a basis for discussion. IME, the FO-based stats are the best available for reducing noise when you're evaluating how good of a team you've got.]
Hey guys, I don't know about you, but 99% of the conversations I've seen or heard about Rich Rodriguez's future at the University of Michigan hinge on how much each person thinks the team has improved. So obviously, the question is how much have we improved, exactly?
To start off, I'm going to make a few assumptions and attempt to defend them. First, very few people can simply watch the games, watch the highlights and determine if their own team has gotten better. Frankly, we don't know enough about the game on a micro level for our eyeball test to mean anything, not to mention the TV angles don't have large parts of the play, we don't know what play was called, etc.
Secondly, no mere mortal is actually capable of rating teams, especially the mediocre ones. There are around 50 games a week during the season, and while many of us wish we could be superfans, we simply are not capable of watching that many games in any meaningful sense. If you aren't watching the games, what are you basing your eyeball rankings off of?
Because of those two assumptions, the only place we can really look for improvement is found in statistics.
Statistics? @#$@, like math?
Don't they lie or something?
Well, yeah sometimes. There are many different ways to look at football statistically, and frankly, all of them have fairly severe flaws. Football simply has too many intangibles to model mathematically as well as baseball. However, that doesn't mean that all statistical analysis of football is useless, just that you have to be careful not to overstate your case and to look at the data in as many ways as possible. For this diary, we're going to look at three major ways of quantifying football games. The goal is to compare the results and see if we can get some sort of idea of what's going on.
OK so what are these different ways? Didn't Brian post about FEI or something?
The first, and most common, are methods that mostly rely on looking at who won against who and/or by how much. This is the type of method used by Sagarin, Massey and more. For the BCS formulations, Massey and Sagarin are not allowed to use margin of victory in their calculations. However, when Massey and Sagarin use margin of victory, their models are more accurate.
The second one we'll look at is basically drive analysis. This is FEI, and is best explained by Football Outsiders:
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football. All drives are filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis of the remaining possessions then determines the baseline possession efficiency expectations against which each team is measured. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams, win or lose, and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams.
The last one we'll look at is an analysis that uses a play by play analysis. Again, Football Outsiders:
The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from the play-by-play data of all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). There are three key components to the S&P+:
Elsewhere in the thoughts of people who are Dave Brandon. Brandon speaking on the football team's season:
"The team has the opportunity to practice 15 days and prepare for a bowl game, which they've earned the right to," Brandon said. "I have so consistently stated what my process is, how I do this, and what is in the best interest of the program. That's what I do, and that's what I'm going to do. All of this desire for information sooner, all this speculation is fueling curiosity — it doesn't change how I'm doing my job.
"Back when we were 5-0, I said (this would be the evaluation process), along the way, I've said it, after exciting wins I've said it. This is how I'm going to do my job. I have not equivocated on that at all. Just because people out there are stirring the pot, that's not going to deter what I'm going to do."
Since every scenario out there has Michigan in a bowl on New Year's Day or a few days after Christmas (the Insight is the 28th), the final word will have to wait a full month. Stanford is likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl on January first, so a hypothetical transition could take place immediately without putting Harbaugh in the same bind Miles or Kelly was. There's a theory floating out there that letting Rodriguez coach the bowl is tantamount to keeping him for 2011, but given the Harbaugh situation I don't think that's true. It's not an indication either way.
Denard Robinson: awesome. Not a quarterback. So Denard Robinson is the Big Ten's offensive player of the year, which is nice and obvious. He's also not even on the coaches' All Big Ten list, which lolwut? I get Scott Tolzien—he may not have to throw much but when he does it's in the chest of his receiver every time—but Dan Persa? He's got the numbers, I guess, but being at the helm of an offense that's actually good at scoring and stuff is kind of important for a QB and the Wildcats are just 51s in total offense, 74th in scoring, and 21st in passer efficiency. That last number sounds good but is only 5th in a QB-heavy Big Ten. Kirk Cousins, Tolzien, Stanzi, and Pryor are all ahead of him with Denard not far behind and with a vast advantage on the ground.
In other All Big Ten QB news, Terrelle Pryor is still as likeable as Stalin.
Steadily more and more likeable. Meanwhile, Tate Forcier explained to his local paper his thought process about staying with the program after the infamous "I'm out" moment that sent Tom scrambling to Papa Forcier to put out the fire. Via MGoShoe:
“It’s hard to go from starting to backing up. A lot of people told me to leave. I wanted to leave. But it was just too hard. I didn’t want to leave the (coaching) staff or these players. I felt I was going to be a part of something great.”
“Two quarterbacks have to play in this offense. It might not happen every game, but you’re going to get your chance. I’m not banking on Denard getting injured. Nothing like that. But in this offense, you never know what can happen.”
“A lot of people would think me and Denard would have something against each other because he starts, but Denard is a good guy. We hang out. And he works hard. What’s hard for me is he’s having so much success and there’s nothing you can do about it except stay ready.”
“I’ve learned to be way more humble. I look back at freshman year, and I was a little cocky. I was getting too caught up in seeing myself on TV every week. I think that would happen to anybody who would go from being a regular kid in high school to a national stage like that. It was crazy.”
I said something early in the year about how Michigan would need Forcier down the stretch, and they did. He finished off the Illinois win and was a third and ten stop away from driving for the tie against Iowa; if he'd actually been "out" Michigan would not have been able to redshirt Gardner and we probably wouldn't be talking about retaining Rodriguez at all.
I also said I'd be meh about Rodriguez leaving, and while that's largely true I think my overwhelming feeling would be sadness that guys like Denard and Forcier and everyone else who signed up for the RR era would not get to finish their careers on the terms they started them.
These uniforms designed for personal fouls. Another reason it's good to get away from Nike:
"The gloves had a black ‘Block O' on the inside when you put your hands together and so that's what (Posey) was trying to do," receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said.
But he didn't celebrate his redemption for long. The referee gave Posey a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration.
Gesturing to the crowd, even if it's your crowd, gets you a flag. Unless it's this…
…or dozens of other motions like shushing the crowd that go unpunished every week. File under the massive pile of data that suggests the NCAA should just drop excessive celebration penalties for anything short of taunting.
Opinions I Officially Do Not Care About but you might. Opinions on the Rodriguez job thing—you know, that—from Mets Maize:
Having said that, I do support Rich Rodriguez returning for 2011 IF changes are made on the defensive staff. My reasons are pretty consistent listed above, but the one that stands out the most is the offense. It simply makes no sense to fire the only man who can take this offense to the next level next year. People often talk about how "young" our defense is, which sort of implies we have a relatively older offense. If by "older" we mean not true-freshman, then yes, we have a veteran offense. But the fact is we're prime for not only 2011 but also 2012--Denard's senior year. So that leaves the defense to which I ask...
What added benefit does a change in HEAD COACH give to the DEFENSE that a change in DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR wouldn't bring?
Beaford at Maize n Brew:
Rodriguez should get broomed and Harbaugh should be installed here, but if that doesn't happen my reaction will largely be "meh." In the three years that he has been the head coach, the offense have demonstrably improved, just as we thought it would. The problem is that the defense has actually regressed each year. Even before the Woolfolk injury, this defense was set up to be likely the worst in program history.
And Markus at MNB drops references to David Foster Wallace on Federer and Brian Phillips on Pele, which means it gets autolinked. It's long and not really blockquote-friendly but recommended. My mom, by the way, believes Rodriguez is "not a Michigan Man" and would like to see him gone. Road Games also drops Richard Buckner.
Let's say it again, then.
Etc.: Anne Hathaway proposes "Anne Does Ann Arbor." As someone who has viewed the Get Smart remake I heartily endorse this idea. This Week In Schadenfreude is epic this week. Apparently I missed the date on the "Everyone in Iowa Drinks Four Loko" fanpost at Black Heart Gold Pants, but seriously I'm guessing that happened again after they lost to Minnesota. Brabbs surveys the Michigan-vs-cancer matchups going on. AnnArbor.com's take on the Denard Robinson story.
If you're looking for an MGoShirt or ten this holiday season you should know a few things. One thing: the Bo Shirt has been redesigned and, after a long trek through the wilderness, is now good to go permanently. A chunk of all sales go to the Bo Foundation:
Also Moe's and UGP have extended their deal to today for MGoReaders. Enter "mgocybertuesday" in the MGoStore, on Moe's, UGP Classics, or UGP itself and you'll get 20% off your order. Proceeds from the Brock Mealer and Phil Brabbs shirts go to those guys, as well.
Michigan gets to go to a bowl this year, spawning a beleaguered cheer from the beleaguered, filthy masses.
Bowls are made of… wood. And wood has a winning record against… water… so… A WITCH
But which crappy bowl? And which surprisingly un-crappy opponent shall face them? An exploration follows.
Punch Yourself In A Circle, Please
The Big Ten has a unique situation on its hands with three one-loss teams and then the Great Heap Of Mediocrity: four 7-5 teams with a fifth on the way if Illinois can beat Western Michigan on the road this weekend. (Yes, this game is happening. No, no one knows why.) Bowls can pick any team that's within a game of any other team and everyone in the Heap is 4-4 or 3-5, so literally any bowl eligible team in the league not ticketed for the BCS (OSU, Wisconsin) or Citrus (MSU) could slot into the Outback Bowl, where they will be crushed to little tiny bits by the #3 or #4 SEC team.
Michigan could end up in the…
- Outback Bowl against the #3/4 SEC team
- Gator Bowl against the #6 SEC team
- Insight Bowl against the #4 Big Twelve team
- Texas Bowl against the #6 Big Twelve team
- Dallas Bowl against the #8 Big Twelve team
Opponents range in fearsomeness from Alabama/South Carolina to Kansas State/Texas Tech. Everyone's pointless bowl projections have Michigan behind Penn State and Iowa and in front of Northwestern and Illinois, invariably slotting them in the Insight against Missouri (er…) or Nebraska (argh?) or Oklahoma State (guh).
The Big Twelve has four 10-2 teams this year and will apparently not be getting a second BCS bid (thanks, Big East!)—whoever gets locked into the Insight is going up against a team that looks much better than it. The dropoff from the Insight to the Texas Bowl is vast, as whoever's slotted into that draws Baylor. The Gator Bowl is actually a much more manageable matchup: almost everyone has 7-5 Florida as the opponent.
In order of win probability:
- Dallas [Kansas State or Texas Tech]
- Texas [Baylor]
- Gator [Florida]
- Outback/Insight [Random 10-2 Big 12 Team, Alabama, or LSU]
In order of likelihood:
This is a bizarre situation that will resolve itself next year when the Big Ten poaches one of those 10-2 Big Twelve teams and suddenly finds itself looking at a lot of favorable bowl matchups for the first time, but right now the Insight is a death trap to be avoided at all costs. Michigan's lost heavily to Iowa and Penn State but it's possible the Gator, which won the coin toss that decides which pick they'll get, surveys the sex appeal of Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan and goes with the team featuring a dreadlocked assassin and a defense even Florida can score on instead of probably better but less lucrative stodgy Big Ten Program with the same record, anyway.
You're Rooting For
A failure in cosmic justice that sees Michigan selected to play in the worst NYD bowl since last year, taking on fellow 7-5 struggler Florida in the Gator Bowl.
You're Staring Down The Barrel Of
A 10-2 Big Twelve team in the Insight.
The Outback also surveys the field of candidates and elects to put Michigan opposite LSU or Alabama for storylines (Les Miles vs alma mater/2012 preview) over competitiveness (not so much).
Michigan will not fall behind Northwestern or Illinois in the pecking order.
These next few weeks will be crucial for the finish of Michigan's recruiting class. This weekend and next weekend will see Michigan hosting lots of talent. Here's a few updates on some of those recruits, a new visitor scheduled, and a current commitment.
6'0", 190 lbs.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Michigan was outside of Wayne's top list for a while, and they weren't sure if they would get an official visit from him. He decided that the Wolverines would be included in his top five, which will result in the official. He'll be in Ann Arbor this weekend with his mother to take in the campus.
I'm really just looking for comfort, and I want the coaches to make it clear to me how I'm going to fit into the system. I'm hoping to see a good environment and campus, and how the coaching staff works. I'll also be looking at depth charts, and I know Michigan needs defensive backs.
An important factor in this process will be Wayne's mother, who will be accompanying him on this visit.
My mom is really looking for a lot of the same things that I am. She wants to feel comfortable with the school, and feel comfortable enough to let me go there.
His mother has been on all his trips with him so far and will also be at his final visit to Nebraska. Lyons will be making his announcement at the Army All American game, and Michigan has been making some strides with him. Also visiting this weekend are four star Maryland DB Blake Countess, who Michigan is in good shape for, and current commit DB Delonte Hollowell. I'll update as I hear any more recruits that will be in town.
6'2", 230 lbs.
Dawson had told me a few weeks back that he wasn't as interested in Michigan as some of the other schools in his top seven. He has always maintained that Michigan is in that top seven, but they needed some work to do. They will now get a chance to do that work, as he's decided to schedule a visit to Ann Arbor.
I'm coming up there on January 22nd. Michigan's in my top seven, and I didn't get to go there for a game so I thought I'd come and take a look. I don't really have any leaders right now, but I'm looking for a place that I feel comfortable. I haven't really seen as much of Michigan, so they're still a little behind some others.
As he noted Michigan is behind, but like Lyons a visit is a step in the right direction. Dawson won't be making his decision until signing day, so there's plenty of time to think about it, plenty of time for Michigan to let him know how much they want him. The other schools he lists in his top seven are Tennessee, USC, Florida, Louisville, Kentucky, and Oregon.
6'1", 210 lbs.
Kellen's family is as excited as anyone for him to join the Michigan family. His father is an MGoBlog reader, and wanted me to share a few things with his fellow fans. The pictures below are of Kellen with former Michigan linebacker Jarrett Irons at a family get together, and the second with Coach Rodriguez and former Michigan great Desmond Howard. Below that is a highlight tape from one of Kellen's games a few weeks ago against St. Thomas, where his team won 33-28 (ED: I'm having problems with uploading the video to YouTube. I'll post it when it goes up). Enjoy.
- New Jersey TE Jack Tabb is visiting North Carolina this weekend, and most likely Arkansas on the 10th. He's hoping to have his decision made by Christmas. Michigan has put themselves in good position with Tabb after his official visit.
From this point on I don't care about the following opinions on what Rich Rodriguez deserves after three years:
- Yours, unless you are Dave Brandon (call me)
I also don't have anything that's definitive. We know that there is no McMahon-style "you're firrrrrrrred" press conference today, and given the way things work that means Rodriguez will be the coach through the bowl game. We know that the rumors were heavy enough for Dave Brandon to personally debunk them on the twitters. We can read the withering sarcasm between the lines of this from Brandon…
…and if it's not withering sarcasm* I don't want to know.
I've got some stuff in the inbox and from elsewhere. A bit of it says Rodriguez is getting fired, period, citing "impeccable sources." Another from before the OSU game reports second hand that Harbaugh "has an offer" while expressing skepticism at the nature of the information given its timing—what if Michigan had won Saturday? Some other stuff has filtered to me via talkative former players all saying "canned," as well.
The part I trust—the one that called Brandon as the likely new AD and tipped me off about the Alabama game—is far from certain except about one thing: anyone who says anything with certainty is full of it. Brandon keeps his own counsel and makes his own decisions. Since Brandon has a direct line to the obvious head coaching candidate there will be no search committee or consultants tapped or planning, cutting off virtually all of the usual leak sources. It's unlikely anyone has anything until hours before it breaks, at which point it will be everywhere.
I'm not inclined to put much in the widespread chatter that had RR out the door after the OSU game and seems to be continuing since its sourcing seems to be pissed-off-you-guys folk clearly unhappy with the state of the program taking small interactions and interpreting them as they desire. However, the vibe I'm getting from other people who seem to be on the fence about what to do—or at least close to it—also makes it seem unlikely Rodriguez is back. Emphasis on all the qualifying words in the previous sentence, please. I've got nothing solid because no one does.
In the event that happens, Harbaugh is the obvious #1 guy, with the main sticking point being Harbaugh's willingness to accept the imposition of a silly, off-putting buyout in case any NFL teams get ideas. It sounds like if the decision is made to pursue Harbaugh, something will be worked out and he will be introduced essentially immediately. They won't get rid of Rodriguez unless they know they have the next coach lined up.
So… that's what I've got. I'm uncertain about everything. I guess that's good from a program standpoint, but it's frustrating when the next month will see Michigan's future hang in the balance with nothing trustworthy to put a foot on.
*(Not specifically about Desmond, who tweeted a couple things about how he had faith in Brandon to make the decision. More the "Appreciate the passion & interest," random talk-radio raver.)