(via College Game Balls)
So. It has come to this: deciding whether Notre Dame 2007 or Michigan 2008 was a worse football team. Ink and blood has been spilled already; let's get down to business.
"Worse" is subjective, so a definition. In general we're trying to determine which team would win more games if you had a hypothetical matchup between them and every other team in the country. We make a key assumption: the average competence of college football teams did not change between 2007 and 2008.
Also note that football games are 6% shorter this year, which provides more time for crappy teams to get blown out. When we look at overall margins keep that in mind: Michigan's should be a little bit better just because there was less time to suck in.
Both teams went 3-9, obviously. Despite Notre Dame claims to the World's Most Dangerous Schedule last year, their SOS rank according to Sagarin actually trails Michigan's: ND was #24 in 2007; Michigan is #21. If the Big Ten experiences wholesale destruction in bowl games that will drop a little, but at the very least Michigan's 2008 schedule grades out as Notre Dame's equivalent.
Other metrics in table form:
|SOS||#21||#24||Push pending bowl results|
|TO Margin||-0.83 (#107)||0 (#55)||Michigan*|
|Total D||367 (#66)||357 (#39)||Notre Dame|
|Total O||290 (#111)||242 (#119)||Michigan|
|Scoring D||28.9 (#90)||28.8 (#72)||Notre Dame|
|Scoring O||20.3 (#97)||16.4 (#116)||Michigan|
On that asterisk: It's a long-held tenet of this blog that turnover margin is mostly random, so a team serious afflicted by turnovers is probably a better team than another team that has similar scoring marks but a larger negative yardage gap.
It's impossible to save the suspense given the above: ND had a marginally tougher defense than Michigan but the gap between offenses was immense; Michigan's yardage gap was 34% smaller, scoring gap 31% smaller, and all that with a horrific, likely fluky turnover margin.
The answer here is Notre Dame. But let's dig a little deeper just to make sure.
GAME BY GAME
It's hard to line these up separately. You can pair off Michigan's uninspiring win over a completely awful Fake Miami team (2-9 pending 2-10) with Notre Dame's uninspiring win over a completely awful Duke team. But then Michigan had one win over a completely mediocre and poorly coached BCS team that ended up around .500 and snuck into a bowl; this is about on par with ND's UCLA win last year… if Wisconsin's top eight quarterbacks had been killed in a cheese tragedy. And Stanford (4-8 and mostly roadkill except for three fortunate victories) doesn't match up with Minnesota (a fraud-licious 7-5 but still bowl eligible) at all.
Michigan gets the nod here, because there's a sizable gap between QB-less UCLA/Stanford and Wisconsin/Minnesota.
The Usual Losses
Epic destruction by highly talented chief rival. There isn't much to choose from here:
Minor points to Michigan for keeping it closer for longer: they were down 14-7 at the half instead of 17-0 and made it look like a game until a disastrous pair of runs turned first and ten from the OSU nine into a touchdown and the floodgates opened. Notre Dame never looked like making USC sweat.
But, yeah: PUSH.
Epic destruction by secondary rival with a fair bit of talent themselves.
Also please recall that Ryan Mallett made his college debut in the M-ND game with Henne sidelined.
This is clearly a Michigan advantage. Notre Dame was playing a 9-4 team's backup quarterback. Michigan was playing the healthy Big Ten champions. Michigan actually led at halftime and the game was close until midway through the third, when Nick Sheridan entered and hope died. Notre Dame yakety saxed its way through the 2007 Michigan game and never seemed like a threat.
Somewhat Close Game Against Either A Complete Non-Rival Or A Team You Swear To God Isn't Your Rival And Condescendingly Call "Fredo" Despite The Fact Fredo Has Beat Your Ass Six Straight Times, Oh And By The Way These Teams Are Pretty Good, Say Top 10-15-ish.
It's stretching "somewhat close" to call a 13-point game in which you're outgained 2-1 "somewhat close," but ND was within six as late as 7 minutes left in the third quarter, so that's close-ish. ND got a Sharpley touchdown and a Matt Ryan pick six to stay in it after falling behind 20-0, immediately gave up a response touchdown, and never threatened again.
Meanwhile, Michigan actually led 10-6 early before Louie Sakoda ripped off a field goal festival (with a touchdown pass from Brian Johnson in there); midway through the third quarter it was 25-10. Michigan blocked a Sakoda punt and got a one-play TD bomb to Junior Hemingway, then benefited from a Utah fumble to punch in another touchdown to get within two; the two-point conversion failed. Michigan would have two cracks at a game-winning field goal drive, getting neither.
Neither of these games suggested the team in question was competitive without flukes, but Michigan kept the yardage a lot closer and had a legitimate shot to win; ND did not.
Utterly Humiliating Close Loss Involving Field Goals And The Throwing Of Remotes And Such
Navy was 8-5, beat Pitt, and had a close game against Utah in the bowl game. They ere also lost to Ball State, beat Duke by 3, and gave up 62 points to North Texas. But they weren't a 3-8 MAC team.
Verdict: Notre Dame.
Getting Your Head Kicked In By A Meh Opponent
|VERSUS||Notre Dame||Michigan State|
|VERSUS||Michigan State||Penn State|
This actually comes in three flavors, as you can see above. The above opponents match up pretty well: ND 2008 is a totally mediocre .500 team like Michigan State 2007; Illinois 2008 is a totally mediocre .500 team like Georgia Tech 2007; Michigan State 2008 is a 9-3 team probably a bit worse than its record that hovers at the edge of the top 25; so did Penn State last year.
Despite Michigan's ability to keep the score closer in all these games, the overall here is a push, I think. Michigan's loss to ND may have been a turnover-filled fluke but the only reason they were even close to State was the Spartans grim determination to miss field goals, turn the ball over, and generally Sparty it up. I guess you can hand out points to Michigan for making it look like a game against MSU and Illinois, but… no. Push.
Loss to Severely Undertalented Team With Surplus Of White Dudes
Northwestern and Air Force are very similar teams here: 9-3, bowl pending, versus 9-4; wins largely garnered against the weakest schedule the teams could line up. Michigan led 14-7 at the half and gave up two quick touchdowns in the third quarter, which finished the scoring on a miserable day at Michigan Stadium. Notre Dame was down 17-10 at the half; Air Force blew it open in the third and ND never recovered.
A much closer game against a similar quality opponent gives Michigan the nod here.
The problem with getting all these games to line up is that eventually you're stuck with the leftovers and sometimes the last one makes no sense. In this case we're comparing an 8-5 Purdue team to a 4-8 one.
It's not that ridiculous a comparison, though. Purdue's conference record was just one game worse this year; adding Oregon and a Notre Dame team that wasn't the 2007 edition turned 7-5 into 5-7 and robbed the Boilers of a chance to pad their winning percentage with a 3-point victory over a MAC team. The underlying team quality isn't too different.
Yeah, "yardage gap" does not come close to describing what happened in these two games. Michigan got a punt return touchdown that doesn't count there; Purdue ran a 60-yard fake punt that does. Michigan and Purdue were tied until a last-minute hook and ladder put Purdue up for good; Notre Dame was down 23-0 at halftime, though they did pull within seven halfway through the fourth quarter. Purdue immediately drove down the field for a clinching touchdown
So, a nailbiter against a slightly worse Purdue team or a not-that-close game against a slightly better one? Eh: push.
In the losses category we have one for Notre Dame—not losing to a three-win MAC team—and maybe the Purdue game if you're being generous. For Michigan, we have a vaguely competitive game against Penn State, a narrower loss to the whitest team on the schedule, and a much closer game against the top 10-15 opponent. Also, Michigan's wins (all three!) are superior to Notre Dame's.
Again: Michigan was less resolutely awful.
THE TRUMP CARD
Now, this is subjective and all that, but Yakety Sax II is far more yakety-sax-y to this correspondent.
Congratulations, Michigan, you are the champion. Of not being the worst power team of the decade. Barely.
Malcolm Gladwell is smarter than you. Just take that for granted. Herein is a condemnation of Charlie Weis and a plea for understanding for Rich Rodriguez wrapped into a couple of paragraphs:
THE MAG: Based on this book, if I'm an owner, I should be the most patient one in sports, right? After all, the Beatles, as you write, played a ridiculous 1,200 gigs—a lifetime—before they became any good.
GLADWELL: It's interesting. Andy Reid has said that with the offense he runs in Philadelphia, it takes a receiver three years to be comfortable in it. A receiver! I don't think we take this into account. We create offenses of such stunning complexity in the NFL, that it's impossible to truly judge anyone in their rookie season. It's ludicrous. How can you, if you're Detroit, draft all these wide receivers and then give up on anything after a couple years, or call 'em busts, when it's far more about executing a system that takes years to master? You have to give them their work.
Or if the Lions offensive players were calc majors…
Yeah, you can't go into a math class and pronounce who the great students are after two weeks. No one can master calculus in two weeks. So we need to be consistent. If you hire a coach that has offensive schemes as complicated as calculus, then you better have the patience you'd have with those students. Let's stop and acknowledge that football is not a sport for dumb jocks. It's a highly complex cognitive activity.
The plea for understanding: everyone's a rookie in this offense this year, and the most important player on the field will likely be a rookie next year. The condemnation: Weis attempted to port an NFL system like this to a college team and it blew up as soon as he had guys he actually had to coach.
ND rewind. Touching on two things you may have already seen:
- They might be able to fire Charlie Weis after all. After 4-5 articles all claiming that Notre Dame had given Weis the world's dumbest contract (example) comes this from the Chicago Tribune:
The common perception of Weis' buyout is not accurate. Multiple sources have told the Tribune the buyout, far smaller than believed, will not affect whether Notre Dame decides to fire Weis after Saturday's game at USC. One prominent alumnus called the amount "loose change."
That is far more in line with what I assume the reality is. Prediction: ND loses dismally to ND, gets shut out of a bowl game due to rules about 7-5 teams getting placed ahead of 6-6 ones, and Weis gets canned.
- Oh, the hilarity. Your faithful corresponded has derived much pleasure from Notre Dame's latest bout of misery and meltdown, but nothing has been quite as enjoyable as the commenters on EDSBS's latest Tommy Kilborn guest post, who, to a man, believe that Kilborn is a real person. Which: ha.
Graham things. There has been further behind the scenes confirmation that Brandon Graham intends to stay for his senior year, but he is leaving the door open:
"I'm not really worried about (making a decision soon)," Graham said. "I'm worried about my team and this loss right now and trying to get better."
Later in that article, Mike Martin guesses:
"When I talked to him personally, I got a good feeling that he'll be back," Martin said. "It would be real big. As much strength as we can have for next year on the D-line would help, and he's a big strength, as everybody knows."
Still feeling good here, but also wishing January 15th would get here ASAP.
Reinforcements. The hockey team is struggling badly of late, but there's some good news on the horizon. It looks like Steve Kampfer may return earlier than anyone had hoped:
“They say I’ll be at full strength in a month or so,” Kampfer said. “They want to make sure the bone has healed, and I’m trying to move my neck around to get the muscles loosened up.”
Michigan takes on Wisconsin and Minnesota in the College Hockey Showcase this weekend; things might be rough. A split would be nice.
I'm out for the holiday. Happy Thanksgiving, all. See you Monday.
Remember that BCS thing we used to play a role in? I’d be interested to hear your two pennies on ESPN’s new deal to take over coverage of its games in future years. I really don’t care what channel the games or on – that’s not my concern.
Personally I can’t stand the current system and would like to see a 6-8 team playoff. Funny thing is, I seem to remember a lot of people on ESPN expressing a similar sentiment. Now, I know that sports analysts are likely not consulted for their opinion when the network puts out an offer of this size, but ultimately a new BCS contract only extends our misery without a playoff that much longer. So by putting their money on the table is ESPN now part of the problem, or was an extension already inevitable making ESPN’s decision to bid an innocent business decision?
Also, did the BCS contract have to be renegotiated right now or would it have been possible to hold off and (ideally) discuss a playoff alternative that the NCAA could also make money off of? If the former applies, then I’m not sure how the BCS will ever go away when the TV contract is always renewed years before it is set to expire. Asking for people to act on something (i.e. installing a playoff system) that wouldn’t actually be implemented for years might be too much to ask…the motivated parties start to lose said motivation.
If ESPN hadn't won the BCS rights, Fox would have and the BCS would continue to exist as-is until 2015. The TV networks don't have much control over the format of the thing, they just broadcast it as-is. Any change will have to come from within, from presidents and ADs and coaches.
The solution, as always, is to root for outrage, disaster, and embarrassment. Your best bet this year is for Texas Tech to make the Big 12 championship game by beating Oklahoma only to see Missouri upset the Red Raiders, opening the door for Texas, which TT beat and didn't even win their own division.
Brian,I think that last number I saw for early enrollment was 7 recruits. How soon should Coach Rodriguez know that these kids are enrolled and coming to Michigan?The reason I ask is that if 7 kids enroll in December, the coaching staff could essentially stop recruiting them and really put the push on other prospects to rope in some last minute guys on the edge of interest with Michigan. Seems like this would be a huge advantage (and no bowl game either) for us with this class.Also, another thing that came to mind is the fact that Terrance Robinson is going to be available next year. I think this kid is going to have a huge impact on the team (assuming someone can get him the ball). What other redshirt freshman do you think could make an impact next year?
Depending on how the class falls out that number could be as high as ten; both Will Campbell and Vlad Emilien plan on hitting campus early. You are correct that once the kids enroll, which will be in late December, they can't decommit and are essentially locked in, though Michigan fans will remember that you can transfer after that semester without penalty other than an enforced redshirt. That's how Michigan landed Steven Threet.
So, yes, Michigan will have a lot of free time and a lot of kids they don't have to babysit, which should allow them to focus their efforts on a limited number of kids and hopefully finish the class out strong. The flipside of that is they have a lot of free time because they're 3-9.
Re: Robinson, I was pretty high on him based on the high school highlights I saw (and, of course, the sick "dream shake" you can see on youtube) and expect him to get a hefty slice of playing time. I'm also a fan of Odoms, though, and don't think we'll see an enormous amount of increased production from the spot except what better quarterback play provides.
Re: other redshirt freshman to make an impact:
- Ricky Barnum has been getting insider buzz like he is a serious candidate to start next year. With the emergence of Ferrara he's going to have a battle on his hands but if any of the freshmen OL break through it will probably be him.
- Brandon Smith has been getting similar buzz at safety, but I'm a little more skeptical of that. In high school he was regarded a great athlete that needed a lot of work and he's missed a ton of practice after undergoing an appendectomy this fall. I think he'll work into the rotation. He will likely trail Brown and Williams.
- This one might be a little bit of a surprise: Mike Cox should play next year, and could find himself the RAGE heir apparent. The rest of the backs on the roster are going to be little darters; Cox is the only underclass running back who can fill the Minor/Grady role as a pounder. He wasn't a huge recruit but he could have slipped through the cracks due to his location (Avon Old Farms, a prep school better known for hockey) and a senior-year injury. Michigan did pick him over ND freshman Jonas Gray, basically, as both showed up at summer camp and it was Cox who emerged with a running back offer. (Gray was offered as an "athlete.")
More on recruiting:
Read your thread about whether RR will actually be able to fill all the scholarships available. Maybe I'm in the minority with this position, but I'd just assume he didn't fill them all, rather then fill them all with (for lack of a better word) 'borderline' recruits just to fill all the scholarships. Obviously depth is an issue at a lot of positions, so bodies are needed. At the same time, talented players are needed. I'd kinda rather he didn't fill them all if he's going to fill them just to fill them, and wait until next year to try and get some stud recruits.
Other then Brandon Graham (and maybe Minor) there's probably not a single starter on the UM team that would start for one of the Top 5 or so teams in the country. At best most of Michigan's starters would be second stringers on these teams, if not 3rd or 4th stringers.
I don't think Michigan is going to fill the rest of their class with leftover sorts. Michigan's already at 20 commitments and should be looking at a finish like:
- MI DT Will Campbell
- FL CB Josh Robinson or FL CB Mywan Jackson or FL CB Jayron Hosley
- Two of AZ OL Taylor Lewan, OH OL Mike Freeman, SC OL Quinton Washington, and NC OL Travis Bond
- Some Other Guy
- Maybe Another Two Guys
That's 24 prospects, all of whom have had Michigan offers for at least six months save Hosley, who's a four-star. None of these guys are borderline recruits Michigan is flinging offers to just to get the numbers up. Guys 25-27 might be high profile or low, but chances are if Michigan throws an offer at someone it's because they think he'll be useful.
The best case in point: five years ago, Michigan threw a signing day offer to two-star Kentucky commit Brandent Englemon. The second best: Michigan made a late offer to two-star Cincinnati commit Patrick Omameh. I'd like to see every open scholarship filled.
Another in a series of cool things from the past:
I worked in the equipment room for Jon Falk from 1975-1979 (the Rick Leach era).
I’ll never forget Bo’s pre-game speech before the 1975 Ohio State game:
“Gentlemen, this is it. Let’s go!”
Short, sweet and to the point. We almost had them that game. That darn Ray Griffin oskie killed us.
That's all; nothing to add.
I think the thing with requests is this: the weirder they are, the more compelling they seem. So here's one for the photoshop savants out there:
Would you mind featuring at some time in the next year some photos of Fremen or Paul Mu'adib in particular, the blue within blue eyes, perhaps with Ms in them?
I leave it in your hands, readers.
So on Monday I said something like "talent? what talent?" A few readers had objections to that; one went so far as to dredge up Michigan's class rankings from the last few years.
Here you go:
Just dug this up.
Recruiting rankings of the Michigan classes by Rivals:
2008 - #10
2007 - #12
2006 - #13
2005 - #6
2004 - #5
First, let's stipulate that whatever talent exists in the 2008 and 2007 classes is young. Even if those guys are all "talent" you can take freshman five stars and lose to senior three stars by 40. So let's just look at the three classes that comprise Michigan's upperclassmen.
Second, what is "talent" according to the gurus? Four and five star guys, mostly, with definite gradations between the two. Sometimes a player has offers that defy their ranking; I'll try to note that were possible.
- Eligibility Expired: Henne, Branch, Graham, Adams, Hart.
- Transferred, Injured or Quit Before Rodriguez Arrived: Walton, Cheathem, DeBenedictis, Ciulla, Mitchell, Martin, Rogers, Gallimore, Allison.
- Departed After Rodriguez Arrived: Arrington (NFL draft).
Tim Jamison: a top-50 player who didn't quite live up to expectations but was an above-average defensive end.
Will Johnson: four-star who played like it.
Morgan Trent: four-star who ended up a three year starter; two disappointing years sandwich a good one.
Doug Dutch: top-100 player who was an obvious bust well before Rodriguez arrived.
Mike Massey: Four star DE who lost his job at TE to Carson Butler. Think about Carson Butler, and think about Lloyd Carr, and think about Pat Massey. What does that say about Massey's talent level?
There are only two other players from the class on the roster, John Thompson, a fringe three star who picked Michigan over Wisconsin and Minnesota who was a poor starting linebacker, and Charles Stewart, mid-three star, who was buried on the bench until Morgan Trent broke his hand during the 2005 Wisconsin game. Then he was torched by Minnesota, moved to safety, languished until graduation forced him into the lineup. He did not do well.
That's it. The entirety of the 2004 class that made it to this year was seven guys, two of them obvious busts before Rodriguez arrived, three of them high rated guys who played well (Trent is iffy, I guess), and two low-rated guys forced into the lineup who played poorly. Only one departure can even sort of be blamed on Rodriguez, and Arrington was just barely hanging on already.
Notable: every offensive lineman in this class washed out.
- Injured, Transferred, or Quit Before Rodriguez arrived: Bass, McKinney, Schifano, Germany, Simpson, Forcier, Sears, McLaurin, Richards
- Left After Rodriguez Arrived: Manningham (NFL Draft), Slocum (academics).
- Injured and Unavailable After Rodriguez Arrived: Zirbel.
Michigan pulled 11 four or five star prospects in the class of 2005, and Rodriguez got to use four of them:
Kevin Grady. Bust, and one that was obvious before Rodriguez's arrival.
Terrance Taylor. Very good multi-year starter who played well.
Brandon Harrison. Fringe four star was a middling multi-year starter.
David Moosman. Fringe four star looked locked on the bench; started at RG all year and was okay.
Other than Mark Ortmann, the rest of the class are non-contributors: Logan and Criswell never saw time except on special teams, Carson Butler is Carson Butler, and Tim McAvoy was never going to start until Boren transferred, at which point he was put out there until they were comfortable with their switched defensive tackle.
This class is the killer, a complete disaster with one very good starter, three meh starters, and no one else from the #6 class in the country.
- Injured, Transferred, or Quit Before Rodriguez Arrived: Mixon, Woods
- Left After Rodriguez Arrived: Patilla, Boren
This class is mostly intact. (Jason Kates just left, but Michigan had him at his disposal if he wanted to use him.) The big recruits:
Five star Brandon Graham is a beast.
Five star Steve Schilling is a two-year starter but has just been okay; his first year under Carr was much worse. He has improved.
Carlos Brown is injury-plagued; had a good Northwestern game.
Jonas Mouton was a first-year starter after shifting from safety, was okay, and is now getting pretty good.
Stevie Brown is Stevie Brown.
Greg Mathews is a starting wide receiver.
Adam Patterson saw about a dozen snaps this year.
Brandon Minor was Michigan's most effective running back.
John Ferrara saw some PT as a redshirt freshman on the DL, then moved to guard. Dorrestein is a backup OT. Ezeh is a mediocre starting linebacker. CONER.
So, A Count
How much four and five star talent actually resides in the upper classes? We can discount Grady, Dutch, Massey, and Patterson; all appear to be busts and were definitely headed that way before Rodriguez arrived. The answer:
- The Entire Defensive Line. And it played like it.
- Minor and Brown. When healthy, played like it.
- Mathews. Michigan's best receiver; ideally a #2 on a good team.
- Mouton. Rough start due to inexperience; very good finish; likely future star.
- Harrison, Trent, and Brown. Collectively, an enormous disappointment.
- Schilling. Slightly disappointing but at least serviceable.
That's your talent. Four guys on offense who collectively missed about 15 games, the badass DL, one linebacker, and the secondary. Is that enough to make up for the worst quarterback situation in the conference, and possibly the entirety of BCS conferences, a lack of depth at linebacker and offensive line, and a slew of injuries and a slew of freshmen making stupid mistakes? No.
A second note: "talent" is only talent if there is depth behind it. There is always a chance a guy is a huge bust. When it's Grady or Patterson he's sitting behind other guys who were high rated and play well. When it's Brown, there are zero other options and you're forced to play the guy. You see depth of talent at RB (Minor, Brown, Grady) and DL somewhat (Patterson is left over), and nowhere else.
Michigan got killed by back-to-back classes that saw a ton of attrition at key spots. Basically the only thing Michigan has to show from the 2004 and 2005 classes is the defensive line, which was Big Ten championship caliber.*
The rest of the team? Is not.
*(Though it should be noted that the 2004 class wasn't exactly a bust; it's just that most of the awesome guys in it didn't redshirt. And the OL was a disaster.)