and... i like them? I think I like them.
Special Teams: Bit of a mixed bag, just not in the way you expected.
This is the final edition of the 2011 Preview Review, focusing on special teams and Brian's "stupid predictions"—his term, not mine. Instead of breaking it down in the categories I've used in the two previous posts, I'm just going to go prediction-by-prediction for this one, since there's obviously less to cover here.
First, however... never forget:
This picture, encapsulating the gawd-awfulness of Michigan's 2010 attempts to split the uprights with a football, prefaced the preview section for kickers. The general assumption, given said gawd-awfulness, was that highly-touted freshman Matt Wile would step onto campus and immediately take over the starting job. Instead, three photos of post-shank Brendan Gibbons graced the top of the "kicker" section ("Rating: 2?"), followed by this caption:
WHAT THE BALLS WHY IS THIS MAN'S PICTURE HERE
It was a legitimate question. Gibbons went 1-for-4 in the 2010 regular season, lost his job to Seth Broekhuizen (3-for-9), then put a fitting cap on RichRod's final season by completely biffing a 35-yarder in the Gator Bowl. Optimism, well, was justifiably absent:
The idea of Gibbons hitting the field again gives me hives. At least this time around there's another option, though it's an option that lost out to Brendan Gibbons. Guh.
I always punt on kickers I haven't seen play but the chances Michigan has come up totally incompetent on two straight scholarship guys is low. Either Gibbons has gotten a lot better or they're trying not to put too much on Wile's plate.
So, of course, Gibbons goes out and hits 13 of 17 field goals, then cements himself in Michigan lore by drilling the game-winner in the Sugar Bowl while thinking about brunettes. By midseason, I wasn't even hiding my eyes when Hoke sent out the field goal unit. Gibbons improved dramatically; I won't attempt to figure out why—kickers are weird—but the stark contrast in reactions between Hoke and Rodriguez when the kicking game went to hell isn't a bad place to start.
The aspect of the kicking game that purported to be rock-solid was punting, where Wile was supposed to hold down the fort for four games until Will Hagerup made a grand, Zoltan-esque return from suspension.
If he manages to get through September without immolating his career, Michigan will have one of those punters color commentators call a "weapon" whenever he strolls onto the field. In Hagerup's case this is almost not hyperbolic.
Brian gave the punters a rating of "3, then 5" with the expectation that Hagerup would put behind him the early struggles of his freshman season and punt like the guy who averaged 44 yards per boot in Big Ten play. Instead, he wasn't even the best punter on the team: Wile averaged 42 yards per punt, while Hagerup managed just 36. Hagerup still started for most of the season, but when he shanked punts for 26 and 24 yards in the Sugar Bowl, Wile came on in relief and again performed better. Michigan finished the season 109th in net punting, a bitterly disappointing effort from a unit that was thought to be a strength.
Less surprising were Michigan's struggles in the return game, where Jeremy Gallon's contined presence at punt returner after finding every conceivable way to fumble in 2010 was deemed "inexplicable." There was one mission, and one mission only:
Gallon and the kick returners? Ask again later. I'm not expecting miracles. Just HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.
There were no miracles. Gallon averaged a hair over ten yards per punt return as the Wolverines finished 53rd nationally in that category. Martavious Odoms and Vincent Smith handled most of the kick return duties; both were underwhelming, and Michigan was 117th in the country, averaging just 18.4 yards. Fumbles were notably absent, however, and thus the masses were placated.
Now we delve into the "Heuristics and Stupid Prediction" portion of the preview. Brian again recounted RichRod's "weird evil turnover juju," then predicted that Michigan would experience a much-needed regression to the mean after finishing -10 in turnover margin in 2010, in large part due to a competent defense and experience (say what?) at quarterback.
If Robinson remains healthy Michigan should improve significantly. The defense has to suck less and Robinson's responsibility should improve rapidly relative to players more than a year removed from being novelty freak shows. I'm afraid that Robinson is just a fumble-prone guy—Mike Hart didn't need experience to hold on to the damn ball—but the interception rate should dip considerably.
On the other side of the ball, a defense that rushes more than three players and has Martin, RVB, and Roh should get back to at least average in sacks. The center of the Gaussian distribution here is probably –3 turnovers on the year; even that would be massive improvement.
Robinson's interception rate, unfortunately, did not take a dive, but that didn't stop the Wolverines from vastly exceeding those expectations. Michigan finished +7 on the year, jumping from 109th to 25th in the national rankings.
The part you all want to see, however, is the final, "stupid" prediction. Before the ultimate unveiling, Brian put forth best-case and worst-case scenarios. Your nightmare season:
There's no bottom if Denard and a couple of other key defensive players are hurt. Leaving the worst-worst case out, a relatively healthy Michigan has no business losing to WMU, EMU, Minnesota, or Purdue at home.
San Diego State, Northwestern, Illinois are all losable but Denard should be able to snake at least one of those. 5-7 is the floor.
Obviously, none of that happened, because this website is not devoted to pictures of kittens. As for the best-case season:
The schedule is fairly soft, with no true road games until Michigan State (the game at Northwestern will be at least half M fans) and both Penn State and Wisconsin rotating off. If the offense maintains its current level of productivity and Mattison mediocres the defense real good, the only game that still seems entirely out of reach is Nebraska.
That's not to say Michigan can reasonably expect to win all games in reach. Taking more than two from Notre Dame, Michigan State, Iowa, and the Akron State Golden Bobcats seems to be irrational optimism. 9-3 is about all you can reasonably hope for.
Take out what ended up being overblown faith in Nebraska and understandable skepticism about the defense being anything better than mediocre and this is essentially what happened. Hooray for besting the "best-case" scenario. Less hooray for overrating Iowa and seeing them beat us anyway.
And finally, Brian's actual prediction:
I add it up and I come up with eight wins and change. Assume one irreplaceable player is annihilated and that comes back down to an even 8-4. Unlike last year, when I predicted 7-5 but thought 6-6 was more likely than 8-4, I think Michigan is more likely to surprise to the positive until such time as we have another Woolfolk ankle explosion pity party.
Some commenters have suggested that the exactingly specific predictions in the previous posts today suggest I'd be predicting something better than 8-4, but I think turnovers, while getting much better, will still be in the red. Though the special teams issues can't be as bad they will still be a problem that could kill Michigan in a close game.
Robinson, Martin, Van Bergen, and Demens all survived the season without significant injury; dodging those potential bullets cannot be understated in its significance. Throw in Michigan's turnover reversal, a defense that surprised even the most irrational optimist, and a competent kicking game—plus the implosion in Columbus—and you get a 10-2 regular season, landmark victories over Notre Dame and Ohio State, and a (completely fluky) Sugar Bowl triumph over Virginia Tech.
Please predict 10-2 this time around, Brian. That's how these things work, right?
WR ALERT. Devin Gardner's facebook:
Stop everything you're doing for the next three months and talk about this. Certain packages are likely to include the redzone and third down stuff when Michigan has four WRs on the field. 20-30 catches maybe? Unless an enraged Al Borges refuses to field a leaker?
UPDATE: Michigan says that's not actually Devin Gardner's facebook page. Woo!
Wow. Of all the quotes to put on Joe Paterno's grave, this is the best one:
No idea if that was planned previously and now takes on a vastly sadder meaning in the aftermath or someone in the family calling a ballsy audible. But, yeah.
When Irish legs are drunkenly crane-kicking you. Tommy Rees was at a party in South Bend that was broken up because it's South Bend. City motto: Where Fun Goes to Die. He got some tickets and stuff, but then the crushing weight of life in rural Indiana finally got to him and he went "wwrrroaaaaaAAHHHH" at a cop:
Officers saw five people jumping a fence to run away and they chased them down, catching Rees and Calabrese.
In an attempt to get away, Trent says Rees kneed an officer in the stomach.
Rees got pepper-sprayed—internet, where is the Tommy Rees getting it from Pepper Spray Cop image?—and arrested on various charges including a felony that has a zero point zero percent chance of sticking.
This is par for the Tommy Rees decision-making course. Confronted by police, the options he considered included:
- calmly taking the ticket and going home
- licking Manti Te'o's face just to see what would happen
- detaching his arm, insisting that it was actually Tommy Rees and he was Steve Miller of Steve Miller band
- transferring to any school coached by a non-mauve person
ANSWER KEY: #5: 10 points. #1: 5 points. #2: one point. #4: zero points. #5: you have been eaten by a grue'o.
So he could have done worse. Irish fans are hoping this disqualifies him from starting this fall. Opponents are hoping for his safe, addled return.
BONUS: Carlo Calabrese is as connected as you would expect a guy named "Carlo Calabrese" to be:
At 1 point, (Carlo) Calabrese allegedly told officers, "my people will get you," per police reports.
DOUBLE DRAGON BONUS: Jacobi uses the Furman suspension to troll Notre Dame about their lack of character. Well done. (BR link!)
Give us back our New Year's Day, and do so by taking it away. Remember when New Year's Day was reserved for teams that had won, like, eight games? Yeah, man, back then you really had to eke out a mediocre season to play on January first. No longer:
At the 2010 Outback Bowl, Auburn became the first team in 62 years to play on New Year’s Day with a losing conference record. Five more teams have done that since then: Northwestern, Texas Tech, Michigan, Florida and Ohio State.
In the past five years, 10 of the 27 New Year’s Day bowls featured a team without a winning conference record. That occurred in just six of the 221 New Year’s Day bowls from 1968 to 2007.
Fans have been treated like suckers. The powers-that-be figured by putting something on New Year’s Day — even if it was undeserving teams — you’d keep filling seats, watching on TV and building up ratings for BCS bowls in the coming days.
You can't even blame TV since the Big Ten's desire to cram every game they're in onto New Year's Day means four games I'd watch if given the option are on at the same time. As long as we're banning 6-6 teams from the postseason, let's ban teams with more than three losses from New Year's Day.
The erosion of NYD is a fine example of the stuff that drives me nuts the increasingly short-term thinking plaguing of college athletics: you have an institution that is loved, so you milk it for dollars until you've destroyed the meaning of that institution. Get The Picture:
The thing is, it’s not like that happened in a vacuum. It wasn’t an accident. It’s what TV wanted. And the conference commissioners were more than happy to comply with the request, as long as the checks rolled in. Now the panic has set in as the numbers decline. But who’s to say that the guys who drove the bus into the ditch in the first place are qualified to pilot the tow truck to pull the bowl season out of the ditch? Does anybody really believe they’d place the sanctity of New Year’s Day above a few more dollars?
On the national level this results in Gator Bowls between 7-5 teams on NYD; on the local level it results in the reseating of Crisler with absolutely no consideration given to the guys who have had tickets for the last crappy decade.
Alienating your most loyal fans is rarely a winner unless you're winding down an industry. (See: profitable but debt-laden newspapers slashing content willy-nilly.)
How to do it. I may expand this into a larger post later, but amongst an avalanche of head-nods and "you go girl" exclamations while I read Dan Wetzel's latest article on how to construct playoffs I found myself having a serious disagreement. It's here:
There is no good way to choose the field. None. There has to be a subjective decision made, and no one likes subjective decisions.
The best of a bad situation is to have that subjectivity hashed out in a cool, calm and studied environment and then make the selection process as transparent as possible.
As such, the sport would be best served if it created a single computer formula. People could decide how important strength of schedule (preferably giving extra credence to tough nonconference scheduling) or margin of victory or home-field/road-game criteria should be. They could program the formula accordingly and then test and tweak the next two seasons.
Most importantly, they could offer it up to everyone so that teams can plan ahead, know what they are up against and track the progress as the season goes along.
I'm a math guy, but that's not going to work. There is just not enough data in a 12-game season with very little meaningful overlap between conferences. Adding MOV helps, but not enough. Even computer models that try to take every drive or play into account spit out weird results like Virginia Tech #3 overall in 2009. While any selection mechanism would fall on the descriptive side of the descriptive/predictive rankings divide*, I just don't see a computer ranking ever getting fine enough that it will be right as much as a dedicated selection committee.
You need the committee to override groupthink like "Oregon has more losses than Stanford because it played LSU, so Stanford makes it."
In other playoff ideas, I do like the idea that a conference champ ranked 5 or 6 gets in over someone who didn't win the conference. Without that limitation you get some squirrelly fields. That one seems good to me since it solves that Oregon issue.
*[IE: rankings either describe what you've done—evaluate who's had the best season—or attempt to predict the future by ignoring noisy wins and losses for a more robust underlying model.]
Stop, collaborate, and listen. Joe Stapleton talked with Zak Irvin's AAU coach and came back with some tantalizing tidbits. He's his loaded AAU team's go-to scorer and we also get some additional indication he could be BRJ 3000:
“Defensively, he’s our stopper,” Green said. “We put him on the other team’s best player. So sometimes you’ve got the best offensive guy, he’s going to work, but then he’s got to turn around and play defense against the other team’s best player. He’s capable of doing both.”
When the All-Stars were in zone, Irvin played at the top and was disruptive. His 6-foot-6 frame and long arms made it nearly impossible for smaller guards to get a lob pass over him, and his quickness allowed him to hound the ball without getting taken advantage of.
When the All-Stars were in man-to-man, Irvin guarded the opposing team’s best player and gave them plenty of trouble. Irvin’s combination of size and quickness allowed him to guard post players and wing players equally effectively.
“His best attribute right now is being a lockdown defender,” Green said. “Defensively, he’s always been a lockdown defender and that’s never going to change.”
I love players who can add value without using possessions, whether they're Aaron Craft or Ben Wallace. Irvin is going to use possessions, possibly at a Hardaway rate—in AAU the dude is an aggressive shooter. Add in a lot more value than Hardaway has at the other end of the floor, where he's an indifferent defender, and an inch or two of height and Irvin sounds like a top 50 player easy.
Etc.: Various coaches on playoffs. Considerable speculation that Alabama's projected starting tailback may not be ready for the Jerryworld game. They would plug in a five-star freshman in his stead. You are annihilating the EDSBS fundraiser. Good luck, St. Louis group trying to get a Big 10-SEC bowl game there. Seriously, good luck.
An apparently continuing series on Dave Brandon's remarkably malleable opinions.
Dave Brandon, January 16th($):
"This whole notion of a playoff is ridiculous because I don't care what you come up with, it's not going to be a fair playoff. You've got a bunch of teams that don't play one another and play different competition and in different time zones in different conferences in different stadiums in front of different crowds and different weather and suddenly at some point in the year you are trying to arbitrarily decide which one is better and which one deserves to be in a four-team playoff or a six-team playoff."
Dave Brandon, May 3rd:
"I'm not opposed to 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3, plus-one concept," Brandon said. "I don't see it as a true playoff system. It's a clever way to come up with one more football game. I'm not sure I call that a playoff, but if it makes everybody feel better, call it a playoff."
Mmmm, bendy. Dave Brandon's line between playoff and not playoff is 5.87 teams, no fewer, no more.
|Akron, OH – 6'2", 190|
22 in black
|Scout||4*, #19 S, #245 overall|
|Rivals||4*, #12 S, #15 OH|
|ESPN||4*, 80, #13 S, #9 OH|
|24/7||4*, #15 S, #16 OH|
|Other Suitors||Penn State, Notre Dame, Stanford, Michigan State|
|YMRMFSPA||Jamar Adams. I mean it this time.|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Tim. Tom interviews Ricky Powers.|
|Notes||Coach is… former Wolverine Ricky Powers. Early enrolee.|
You may already be familiar with Jarrod Wilson from the spring game and practice videos. He's the guy a second late when a running back breaks past the line, the one who's diving at ankles and not quite making the tackle. That's fine. Wilson was suiting up for Akron Buchtel a few months ago and is still adapting to the speed of the college game. Once he accelerates his thinking he'll be on his feet, bringing people down.
What Michigan has in Wilson is a safety. Not a safety who's probably a linebacker, or a tight end, or a wide receiver, or a gibbering pile of meat that explodes into touchdown confetti whenever play action occurs. A safety. At 6'2", 190 pounds Wilson will fill out to 200 or 210 or maybe 220 and still be the rangy center-field type who can come down and cover a tight end or running back man-to-man. He will not end up at strongside linebacker. He is a safety. Michigan fans have a slight paranoia about this position group.
Don't listen to me, listen to everyone. The recruiting sites seemed to have huddled up on Wilson, agreed to rank him somewhere around the #15 safety in the country, and split up with a "no gibbering pile of touchdown meat" break. After dispersing, they all wrote the same things.
Wilson should emerge as an upper-tier free safety prospect in 2012. …Possesses great size. Tall, well-built with good length and room to fill out. He flashes great range, particularly in deep coverage and good overall speed. Best attribute may be his reads and diagnosing skills. Rarely caught out of position, stays deep as the deepest and expertly splits twins set receivers. Consistently takes direct angles to the ball while keeping the pass in front of him. Times his break accurately and has the range to get over and on the top of deep routes.
The lone downside is a lack of explosive explosiveness. Everything else is there: frame, smarts, range. The scouting report goes on to praise his ability to keep leverage, cover a deep half, be a cover-one safety, etc. For a Michigan fan burned over and over again by alarming safety play, this is catnip. Seriously, if you have insider, just read it, then read it again, and then try really hard not to think about Isaiah Bell.
It's basically the same elsewhere. Trieu praises his closing speed, awareness, and hands, notes his quickness and flexibility are relative downsides, and speaks thusly:
Wilson is a rangy safety with a knack for making big plays. He has good closing speed, ball skills and anticipation. When the ball is in his hands, he's usually a threat to score or have a big return. He's not as good side to side as he is in a straight line.
Bucknuts' Duane Long:
If a college coach came to me and said he played eight in the box alot and needed a centerfielder right in the middle of the field I would suggest Jarrod Wilson. He is fast and very athletic. He reads the game and reacts to the ball as well as any safety in the class. The best cover safety in the class. The best safety in the class on the ball. He needs to be a better tackler. The good news is he is a willing tackler. Never shies away from contact.
Rivals site Ohio Varsity praises($) his "ideal size," "knack for being at the right place at the right time," and says his "reactions are blue chip caliber." Run support is just adequate, man-to-man is something to work on, etc. Bill Greene caught a game and came back saying the same bit about "covering a large area of the field." You get the idea.
FWIW, when he showed at the Best of the Midwest camp last year Josh Helmholdt thought he did okay($):
One of the biggest questions regarding Wilson's game coming into Sunday's event was whether the big safety could handle man-to-man coverage, and he answered that satisfactorily. Wilson flips his hips well and showed the speed necessary to stay with even the smaller receivers. He is still destined for safety in college, but his coverage skills should be no longer in doubt.
He's not a corner; he'll be able to cope unless the defense gets really mixed up.
One area in which his athleticism is not in doubt is getting off the ground. Multiple reports held that he is a Hemingway-esque leaper, with this the most evocative($):
Jarrod Wilson, a 4-star safety prospect from Buchtel High in Akron, Ohio, had his fellow campers buzzing when he leaped so high during the vertical-jump competition that his right hand passed over the top rung of the testing apparatus.
Wilson was credited with a 42-inch leap because the machine was set to record jumps up to 42 inches. After several minutes of discussion, D1 officials reset the apparatus to accommodate higher jumps. Wilson couldn't match his previous magic, however, posting a best of 41 inches on three subsequent jumps.
All that got Wilson every major Midwest offer save Ohio State—who went after some guys who showed at camp instead—plus various distant offers of varying impressiveness: UCLA, WVU, Stanford. (It's always nice to see a Stanford offer, since that means chances of not qualifying are zero.) So: Wilson, a large, rangy safety with an issue or two in run support who is not going in the first round of the draft because he is not an A+ athlete. I'll take two.
We have yet more data on Wilson since he showed up early. Forced into the two deep immediately thanks to Josh Furman's suspension, Wilson was the subject of more chatter than all topics not involving Joe Bolden or Devin Gardner at WR. Jordan Kovacs on his adjustment:
“He’s come in and picked up the defense really, really well. That’s one of the things he’s got the football smarts and as a defensive back you really need that,” Kovacs said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are things he needs to get cleaned up and improved on, but I’m definitely impressed with how much he’s progressed and how good of a ballplayer he is as a senior in high school. He has a lot more time here and I expect big things in the future.”
Kovacs went another step. When asked if he felt Wilson could play in the fall, he said he could see it.
Powers had said something similar($) earlier in the year:
"He's starting to be a student of the game," said Buchtel coach Ricky Powers. "He's coming to watch film and do all those things that need to be done to get him better. He's a smart kid anyway, so it wasn't hard.
"We taught him to understand offenses and what defenses he should be calling what looks they're going to show us and how he can counter those looks with the calls he makes. More classroom work than anything else. The kid has the physical ability to do anything." …
"He's just a smart kid," Powers said. "There's a reason why he's going to Michigan, and he's proven that."
While no one wants to see a freshman starting at safety ever again, Wilson may be able to step in as a sophomore and play beyond his years thanks to his well-oiled thinkin' organ. If pressed into duty this year things could be as un-disastrous as they were when Jamar Adams was.
Long term, there's this feeling. It's not like dread. It's kind of a feeling that you get when the sun's out and it's nice and breezy. No idea what it is, but not dread. Sort of like thinking something might work out in the future. No idea what it is.
Etc.: Smartphone video of his commitment. Not a hat dude. Had a sign. Michigan's hat dude drought continues. Rivals AMP feature on one of his games. Team got blown out 31-6, unfortunately. Won some sort of MVP at something called the "Offense-Defense Bowl." Postgame interview. Monster game to finish his high school career.
He's on the couch. It's quite a couch. It's got plastic all over it.
Magnus is… happy?
I am a huge fan of Wilson's abilities. He has the size, speed, tackling ability, and ballhawking instincts that Michigan teams have been lacking for the last several years. And, perhaps best of all, he's the elusive Michigan-recruited safety who actually looks like a safety and not a linebacker.
Well all right then.
Why Jamar Adams? Adams gets dragged out a lot in YMRMFSPA because comparing incoming recruits to other Michigan safeties over the last decade is a good way to get on an enemies list, but in this case the comparison is pretty tight. Both guys are 6'2". Adams topped out around 215, which is where Wilson will probably end up. Adams was also a high character guy with the smarts not to get annihilated in coverage as a freshman.
While Adams was a generic three-star recruit he outperformed his recruiting ranking and had a quintessential mid-four-star career as a three-year starter who was second-team all conference twice. Adams also lacked the explosive explosivity that makes NFL teams drool, went undrafted, and kicked around NFL practice squads for a bit.
Wilson may have a little bit more upside, athleticism and range; we'll see. No one will be complaining if he's an atom-accurate replica of Adams.
Guru Reliability: High. They're in lockstep, Wilson was healthy, well-scouted, etc. Only some additional camp appearances or an All Star game thing would have helped.
Variance: Very low. Smart kid and good student not likely to have academic issues. Already on campus, picking up praise for his understanding of the defense. Projects to a spot he played in high school. Injury-free so far.
Ceiling: Moderate-plus. Seems like he has a B+/A- ceiling he's likely to reach.
General Excitement Level: After implementing a complex anti-jinx ritual I can say this: high. While Wilson seems to lack the outrageous athleticism that would pop him up into the Dymonte Thomas range, he's got everything else. He's taken the first step towards contributing by showing up and seeming to belong this spring and will be the #1 candidate to step into Jordan Kovacs's unerringly accurate shoes.
I have a lower threshold for "high" at safety than anywhere else, admittedly.
Projection: What it says above: someone's got to replace Jordan Kovacs next year and the bet here is that Wilson is the guy with Marvin Robinson the major threat. If Robinson wins run support will probably be the reason why. I am not putting much emphasis on the distinction between free and strong safety because my guess is that Michigan's safeties get a lot more interchangeable once Kovacs is gone and they don't have a weird player with elite skills and major issues all in one package.
Wilson probably will not redshirt as Michigan tries to get him prepped for major time as a sophomore. Michigan will deploy him on special teams and maybe use him to give the starting safeties a breather if they find themselves in games that aren't particularly hairy.
About 50 minutes. Also, I'm hosting, so you'll have to wait for another time to hear Brian's dulcet tones on the mic.
MORE RECRUITIN'. The top remaining positions of need—and the top targets to fill those needs—are discussed. You should be able to guess my top three Michigan targets without even bothering to listen (but please listen).
THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY RECRUITING GRAIL. Realistic expectations for how each class will fill out are put forth, as are guesses about where they will land in the national team rankings. I try very hard not to scream "eat it suckers we're number one!!!1!" I mostly succeed.
EVERYBODY IN THE CLUB COMMITTIN' EARLY. Why? We have theories.
NON-COMMITTABLE OFFERS AND YOU. Hate to break it to you, but Brady Hoke recruits a lot more like Urban Meyer than Bill O'Brien.
SONGS. Um, Brian chose the songs. Ask him. [ED: There aren't any songs except for the intro and outro since it's just one long segment.]
The usual links:
Unattributed from Colley Matrix computer poll / Archived from MGoBlue.com
Earlier this week Brian discussed the latest iteration of college football's playoff structure. While the commissioners try to get a ratification whip count from the states and techs etc., we're now left with a far narrower scope of playoff possibilities to argue, opine, and get ignored about. The number of teams is probably four. The parameters:
- Site: Current bowls or home games for higher seeds.
- Decision Process: BCS-like system or committee
At the moment I'm much more concerned with the first. Fortunately we have an entire BCS history's worth of trials to test these things. So let's just imagine that a four-team playoff was instituted in 1998 instead of the BCS.
Actually I did something similar last December to decide how big the field should be (answer: six). The point of this exercise is a little different in focusing on a four-team system; hopefully it'll give us a preview of what we're getting into. Perhaps by running through BCS history we can anticipate the kinds of controversies a four-team playoff will generate, and which iniquities of the current system will be eradicated.
Fortune Favors Where the Heart Is
Brian's all for home games and so am I, but that's because I'm a college football fan who likes campuses and pageantry and bands playing associative 19th century marching tunes and sidelines where the subs aren't $3.99 sandwiches. Fortunately money is on the side of home games too. Travel costs are at least halved, yes, but the capacities also increase by an average of 10,000 per game.
I got that number by re-seeding the last 14 years of BCS playoffs as if it was a four-team instead of two-team playoff, and showing the capacities of the home stadia they might have played in versus the bowl games they would have been assigned via a host's tie-in system:
|Year||Game||Game||Venue||Host Capacity||Bowl||Bowl Capacity|
|1998||#1 v #4||Ohio St @ Tennessee||Neyland||102,455||Sugar||76,468|
|1998||#2 v #3||Kansas St @ FSU||Doak Campbell||82,300||Orange||76,500|
|1999||#1 v #4||Alabama @ FSU||Doak Campbell||82,300||Orange||76,500|
|1999||#2 v #3||Nebraska @ Va Tech||Lane Stadium||66,233||Fiesta||73,227|
|2000||#1 v #4||Miami @ Oklahoma *||Gaylord||82,112||Fiesta||73,227|
|2000||#2 v #3||Washington @ FSU †||Doak Campbell||82,300||Orange||76,500|
|2001||#1 v #4||Colorado @ Miami||Dolphin Stadium||76,500||Orange||76,500|
|2001||#2 v #3||Oregon @ Nebraska ‡||Memorial||81,067||Fiesta||73,227|
|2002||#1 v #4||USC @ Miami||Dolphin Stadium||76,500||Orange||76,500|
|2002||#2 v #3||Georgia @ Ohio St||Ohio Stadium||102,329||Rose||94,392|
|2003||#1 v #4||MICH @ Oklahoma§||Gaylord||82,112||Fiesta||73,227|
|2003||#2 v #3||USC @ LSU||Tiger Stadium||99,500||Sugar||76,468|
|2004||#1 v #4||Utah @ USC ‖||LA Coliseum||93,607||Rose||94,392|
|2004||#2 v #3||Auburn @ Oklahoma||Gaylord||82,112||Fiesta||73,227|
|2005||#1 v #4||Ohio St @ USC||LA Coliseum||93,607||Rose||94,392|
|2005||#2 v #3||Penn St @ Texas||Darrell K Royal||100,119||Fiesta||73,227|
|2006||#1 v #4||LSU @ Ohio St||Ohio Stadium||102,329||Rose||94,392|
|2006||#2 v #3||Florida @ MICH ¶||The Big House||109,901||Sugar||76,468|
|2007||#1 v #4||Oklahoma @ Ohio St||Ohio Stadium||102,329||Rose||94,392|
|2007||#2 v #3||Va Tech @ LSU||Tiger Stadium||99,500||Sugar||76,468|
|2008||#1 v #4||Alabama @ Oklahoma||Gaylord||82,112||Fiesta||73,227|
|2008||#2 v #3||Texas @ Florida||The Swamp||88,548||Sugar||76,468|
|2009||#1 v #4||TCU @ Alabama||Bryant-Denny||101,821||Sugar||76,468|
|2009||#2 v #3||Cincinnati @ Texas||Darrell K Royal||100,119||Fiesta||73,227|
|2010||#1 v #4||Stanford @ Auburn||Jordan-Hare||87,451||Sugar||76,468|
|2010||#2 v #3||TCU @ Oregon||Autzen||54,000||Rose||94,392|
|2011||#1 v #4||Stanford @ LSU||Tiger Stadium||99,500||Sugar||76,468|
|2011||#2 v #3||Okla St @ Alabama||Bryant-Denny||101,821||Orange||76,500|
* Miami finished 4th and Washington 3rd in the BCS standing, but I swapped them to avoid an FSU-Miami rematch.
† 10-1 Washington is in over 10-1 VT and 10-1 Oregon State.
‡ Nebraska/Colorado/Oregon is a mess. I figured 2 losses mean Colorado takes the back seat, and Oregon gets screwed by the committee who don't want a game in Eugene if they can avoid it.
§ Another mess. The committee could as easily put USC here to face Michigan.
‖ Texas and Cal were both ranked higher than Utah, but Utah gets nod so that 4/5 undefeated teams are in the playoffs Boise State is out.
¶ I put Michigan as the No. 2 and host since bumping Florida no longer avoids a rematch.
And the numbers:
|% of Games < 80k||21.4%||78.6%|
In 1998 a difference of 10,000 seats might have been made up for by the bowl venues because of their luxury boxes and better concessions, but since then the big-time collegiate venues, i.e. the ones most likely to be ranked in the Top 2 at the end of the regular season, have more than caught up to the pros in every regard except in-stadium advertising (for good reason). Meanwhile the only bowl venue comparable to the homes of D-I power programs is the Rose (a college stadium).
There were some calls I had to make in there, for example LSU won't increase its capacity to 99,500 until 2014 (they're at 93,000 now). And U-Phoenix Stadium was listed at its maximum football capacity to date, not the one they say they can get to with their ultra-hydro-matic seating expansion system™, because if they couldn't whip them out for the Superbowl why would they have them for an NCAA semi-final?
Sanity-checking, I did this initially using real numbers—taking the largest announced capacities for each host's and bowl's venue for that year (example: Neyland Stadium's 107,653 in 1998 is from the '98 Florida game)—and the numbers barely moved. Avg. capacity for home games: 88,489; Avg. capacity for bowls: 77,877. Same difference.
Future-proofing the dolla dolla bill y'all advantage, college football stadiums are growing in capacity while the bowl stadiums aren't.
I emphasize this because the bits of conversation leaking from the commisionerati keep fearing things like Cincinnati (Nippert Stadium: 35,097) finishing in the Top 2. Looking above there are just four games in 28 in which a stadium of under 80,000 capacity would have hosted: Autzen's 54,000 once, Virginia Tech's 66,000 once, and two games at Miami (YTM)'s home, which is the same place they play the Orange Bowl.
This is our concern Lebowski
I don't believe the dreaded small venue is that much of a threat. Paul Brown Stadium is three miles away from Nippert and is tapped often for "big" games like West Virginia and Louisville. TCU is in Fort Worth, spitting distance from JerryWorld. Boise State sneaking in after trouncing the now mid-major Big East is the real concern, but they've been handily kept out of the Top Two so far; if it actually comes down to undefeated Boise getting a home seed, either suck it up and let them have the most important event in Idaho history they deserve after being so good so long, or find a way to slide a 2-loss SEC team ahead of them and ride out the now-standard outrage.
Brian mentioned the bowl games aren't worried about selling out since they sell mostly to scalpers who then assume the risk/reward of the eventual matchup, but this also creates a middle-man scenario. The reason scalpers do this is the market is almost always higher than the face value once the teams are decided, with fans commonly paying three times the initial value. If you want to know how to flow this price variance to the athletic departments instead of the scalpers, just have Dave Brandon give his seminar on Creating the Future™ to ADs; a huge donation to get on the waiting list for season tickets feels like fleecing, but if I'm paying $300 on Stubhub now, why wouldn't I donate $200 to the university to reserve my $100 seat?
There Is a Downside to Home Games
And I just hinted at a big one just now: any controversy a four-team field avoids over a two-team field, it gains back again by having either pollsters, computers, or committees parsing between nearly identical seasons to decide who hosts the #2-#3 game. All it takes is one petulant Dantonio (or Urban Meyer PR campaign, or Fulmer with Heisman envy) to swap Gators in the Big House for Wolverines in the Swamp.
Add that to the fact that you just swapped the "who's in" wrangling from 2-3 to 4-5, and now there's at least two teams every season likely to believe they got screwed. Neutral site games at least neutralize any advantage gained by being #2 rather than #3. Of course it also neutralizes the advantage of being #1 versus #4 (except for a vaguely easier matchup in the first round). There is a possibility of a compromise solution here where #1 plays #4 at home but the 2-3 game goes to a predetermined neutral site. Of course now you're just shifting that argument to 1-2.
Another advantage of using the bowls—to the ADs, not the fans—is that home games at college stadiums invite the nasty beast of student tickets. Students pay more now than they ever did (my senior year was $85) but it's still way less than alumni. Make them buy general admission for a semifinal game and you invite the inevitable Daily column and Diag outrage. Give 'em the student discount and you just wiped out much of your 10,000-toushie advantage. Go to a bowl and the question is moot.
ADDED: I forgot (and meant to) mention that another consideration against home sites is that the teams themselves would probably rather travel. The big schools use their bowl trips and bowl swag to reward the players and recruit new ones. Roy Roundtree (just using him as an e.g. senior everyone likes) would probably take the free trip to Pasadena over another home game in Ann Arbor if you put it to him that way. The big thing the bowls have going for them is that the teams themselves love traveling to the bowls.
What happened: Tennessee came in 12-0 and an obvious No. 1, but there was some debate about who should play them. Florida State, near the peak of their powers, was the most sensible pick. Other claimants included one-loss Kansas State and Ohio State, both behind FSU more for the timing of their one loss than anything else. Tulane went undefeated spread 'n shredding a Conf-USA schedule. Arizona and Wisconsin also went 11-1.
And then we had a big debate about: Mostly that Kansas State wasn't invited to any BCS bowl; they ended up losing to Purdue in the Alamo.
If we had a playoff: Tennessee hosts Ohio State, Kansas State visits Tallahassee, and nobody complains but Tulane. The normal tie-ins for bowls fit just as nicely.
Outcome: Few thought Ohio State or Kansas State were better than Florida State so this works out either way.
What happened: Oklahoma was undefeated and an obvious #1. After that it was an inbred mess of one-loss teams. Florida State's loss was to one-loss Miami (YTM), as was V-Tech's only loss. Miami only lost to Washington, who only lost to Oregon, who had two losses one of which being to Oregon State, who only lost to Washington. FSU got the nod because they're Florida State.
And then we had a big debate about: If only Henson had been healthy all year. And the whole head-to-head-to-head thing.
If we had a playoff game: Well you leave out Oregon State and VT, though everyone but the fans of those teams could be down with that. But now you need to do some fiddling to avoid a rematch in the semifinals. For this reason you want FSU playing Washington, but which one hosts? Probably Florida State, and Miami has to be content with facing Oklahoma when they thought they should be hosts themselves.
Outcome: This illustrates the playoff problem of rematches, which if not controlled by a committee of sorts would become twice as likely now that twice as many teams are in the playoffs.
What happened: Similar situation as the previous year, fewer teams, more debate. Miami was obviously #1 and mentioned among the best teams ever. Nebraska thought they might be in that conversation until losing to Colorado, who went on to win the Big XII championship but had two losses. And then there's Oregon, as justifiable and as ignored in the year-long, racial-overtoned Huskers vs. Canes fest as Joey Harrington's Heisman-level campaign. Nebraska got the nod, and got demolished.
And then we had a big debate about: If you don't even win your conference… Nobody mentioned Oregon, which I thought was very weird and spent most of a night trying to convince the Daily sports editor to back over Colorado.
If we had a playoff game: Hooray they're all in. Again there's the rematch situation that's easily solved by having Colorado be the fourth seed and Oregon visit Nebraska. We all win.
Outcome: Here we see how a neutral site isn't necessarily a home game, since a Miami home game and the Orange Bowl are the same thing. On the other hand you're trading Tempe for Nebraska in early January.
What happened: There were three viable one-loss teams and only two spots. The BCS used computers to judge the strength of a season to make up for pollsters' obsession with shiny things and whatever happened three seconds ago, and this resulted in LSU and Oklahoma playing with USC left out despite being #1 to both polls of people who are easily distracted by Reggie Bush. The AP rebelled and said it would stick with USC if they beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
And then we had a big debate about: How computers and statistics and the hard realities of the world around us are not nearly as important to the greater human experience as the world that we perceive, that what makes us human is this capacity for fallibility, that we can make choices of the heart even in the face of concrete logical evidence. If you think otherwise then you're a pointy-eared bastard.
If we had a playoff game: Well there's three one-loss teams and then a whole slew of relatively even two-loss teams. However the 5th ranked one had just lost to the 4th ranked one, which was Michigan. So John Navarre and co. travel to Norman while USC faces LSU.
Outcome: I actually like our chances against Oklahoma. Not love, but like better than USC. Oh right, hypothetical. Well USC going to Baton Rouge instead of staying in L.A. because of a computer would bother them just as much as going to New Orleans instead of the Rose Bowl because of a computer.
What happened: Virtually the same thing, different result. Three undefeated teams on top plus two undefeated mid-majors, and two one-loss teams between them.
And then we had a big debate about: How Auburn could be left out because pollsters don't care about strength of schedule and the computers were neutered.
If we had a playoff game: Well now Auburn is in but who plays USC? Can Mack Brown downvote Cal to get the Longhorns into the playoffs instead of the Rose Bowl? Or do they take the Bears for having lost only to USC (and do they play at USC again, or do we move the #1 seed so now Auburn's playing USC? Or do we take 11-0 Utah and skip the be-loss'ed teams? Then what about Boise State? Eh, screw Boise. Oklahoma gets Utah and Auburn visits USC.
Outcome: This is a classic example of how odd numbers screw with playoffs. A two-team playoff left out Auburn; a four-team playoff now elevates the Texas-Cal dishonesty to playoff proportions. That's why I said they ought to take Utah. What I don't want to see is for the system to force them to take an undefeated 6th seed over a 1-loss four-seed. I'm pretty sure by this point that I'm for a committee, not a ranking system, determining the seeds.
What happened: You already know about [deep echoey voice] FOOTBALL ARMAGEDDON and the result.
And then we had a big debate about: You know that too.
If we had a playoff game: Now the question is which two-loss team between LSU and USC? And down the line there's still one-loss Louisville, one-loss Wisconsin, and undefeated Boise State. This time I invite the Broncos, because there's such a clear line between Michigan's season and LSU's (at this point anyway).
Outcome: Here's the 2 or 3 problem. We know Florida got in when Michigan's prima facie case was far stronger, but that was to avoid a rematch of [deep voice] FOOTBALL ARMAGEDDON. Would they do the same just to avoid a January date in the vicinity of Great Lakes?
What happened: Final BCS Standings: 1. Oklahoma (12-1), 2. Florida (12-1), 3. Texas (11-1), 4. Alabama (12-1), 5. USC (11-1), 6. Utah 12-0, 7. Texas Tech (11-1), 8. Penn State (11-1), 9. Boise State (12-0)
And then we had a big debate about: All of the things.
If we had a playoff game: Half of the things.
Outcome: Expanding to four teams does not guarantee a national champ.
What happened: Five teams finished undefeated, and Florida had only lost to Bama in the SEC championship game. Since only two of the undefeated teams were from real BCS conferences (We had to be reminded multiple times that season that Cincy was in the Big East. q.v.) it was an easy choice.
And then we had a big debate about: How mid-majors who play perfect seasons always get screwed, even after they are careful to add at least one football team to their schedules full of Rocky Mountain mime schools.
If we had a playoff game: Boise still gets left out, Bama and Texas munch on snackycake undefeated teams before the inevitable matchup between them.
Outcome: You got the idea awhile ago. The following year TCU was undefeated and left out of an otherwise obvious matchup of Auburn and Oregon.
What happened: LSU was 13-0, and had already beaten No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Okie State and Stanford made one-loss runs that nobody thought were as good as Bama's season. So we played the rematch nobody wanted to see outside the SEC, and horror of horrors the original loser won by enough to win the battle of "my win over you was better than your win over me, let's lolz at everyone else who is puny for not cutting their bad players and replacing them with robots! lolz lolz lolz S-E-C!"
And then we had a big debate about: How we need a playoffs.
If we had a playoff game: For the first time it would have been almost perfect.
Outcome: As with every other BCS season, the perfect system for any given year is the one implemented next year.
1999, 2000, 2002, and 2005 are examples of when a four-team playoff would have overly complicated a relatively simple field of two. This ought to be a greater concern than whether a school that seats 35,000 and doesn't have access to an NFL venue nearby will end up ranked in the Top 2. I believe an option to skip the semifinals in obvious situations would ensure they have the right playoff every year, but that creates its own problems.
Birthday shout-out to my little brother. You're getting MGoShirts again.