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Michigan Softball 2016 Season Preview
Sprinkle the cheese
It’s hard to put the experience of Michigan’s 2015 softball season into words. It was totally unique in so many ways. Michigan fans were desperate for something to go right after hockey, basketball, and football all came up well short of pre-season expectations. Jim Harbaugh was making headlines, but concrete results were still months away, and the Michigan community was still convalescing from its long bout of Brandonitis. It was the perfect time for niche sport to make a bid for mainstream status, as fans needed something, anything to go right, to make things feel like Michigan again.
Into this void stepped a group of twenty young women, swinging bats and making pizza as they blasted their way through the country and the Big Ten, into the record books and Maize and Blue hearts nationwide. The team combined absurd offensive production and strong pitching with an unmatched rootability factor. Whether on TV or in person, this team was fun. When Lauren Haeger’s Gators bounced them in the last game of the season, it felt like an injustice, just like Trey Burke missing out on his crown or the Legend of Shawn Hunwick falling short against Minnesota-Duluth.
The difference between those crimes and this one, however, is that Michigan has a chance to put things right. Almost everyone is back from the 2015 squad, and there’s no question that they’ve been working harder than ever all offseason to earn what was denied them a year ago. It’s a new year with fresh faces and stiff competition, but this is a team on a mission. Below, we’ll break down roster changes, offense and defense, and the opposition Michigan will face in the season ahead. 2016 isn’t going to be 2015 all over again, and Hutch and her crew are smart enough not to try to make it that. It just might be a little bit better.
Michigan’s class of 2015, while small, was one of the most storied in recent history. They left Ann Arbor having recorded exactly 200 wins, 4 Big Ten Regular Seasons Championships (3 outright), 1 Big Ten Tournament Title, 2 trips to the WCWS, 2 more trips to the Super-Regionals, and one appearance in the championship series. Only 2 members of that remarkable class saw significant playing time in 2015.
Lauren Sweet was the definition of steady as a rock for Michigan behind the plate. She played in 237 games in her Michigan career, starting as the primary catcher all 4 years. Early on in her career, Sweet’s offense was a bit uneven, but her defense was stellar, culminating in a senior season in which she was literally error-free. Her offense also broke through as a senior, as she finished with a .302 batting average and became one of 5 Michigan players to hit double-digit home runs.
Haylie Wagner’s career at Michigan was filled with ups and downs. In her first year, she broke Jordan Taylor’s freshman wins record (32) and looked set to be a 4-year ace. Injuries and other struggles held her back as a sophomore, however, as Sara Driesenga took over top billing, and then as a junior Betsa rose as Driesenga faded, eating into Wagner’s time once again. In her senior year, Wagner looked to be playing second fiddle to Betsa until the playoffs, as Betsa stumbled and Wagner rose to the occasion. While she couldn’t get that last W, she remains etched in the Michigan record books and in Maize and Blue hearts forever. One of only 3 Wolverines to win 100 games in the circle, Wagner is a legend. Her tearful post-game interview in Oklahoma City was a powerful reminder of everything that is best in college sports.
Becca Garfinkel also graduated. A career role-player, she did not make many on-field appearances at Michigan. She did win Academic All-Big Ten honors 3 times, however, and won the 2015 Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. Sara Driesenga came to Michigan with this class as well, and was expected to graduate with them. Circumstances changed, however, when she suffered an early-season injury which led to a medical redshirt and a 5th year. More on her below.
Michigan welcomes a large freshman class this year. Seven new players will be joining the Maize & Blue in 2016, including some who may be called upon to make an instant impact. As usual, I will turn this section over to other authors who have a better grasp on recruiting than I do. In particular, MGoSoftball put together some great “Hello” posts a while back, and MGoBlue.com has some fun fluff pieces on getting to know the players.
Alex Sobczak (officially listed as UT, but most expect her to be the starting C) - http://mgoblog.com/mgoboard/hello-alex-sobczak & http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/w-softbl/spec-rel/120215aaa.html
Courtney Richardson (OF) - http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/w-softbl/spec-rel/112515aaa.html
Katie Alexander (C) - http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/w-softbl/spec-rel/102115aab.html
Mackenzie Nemitz (IF) - http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/w-softbl/spec-rel/111115aaa.html (Yes, younger sister of Nikki Nemitz)
For more information on the freshmen, as well as the rest of the team, I’d also direct you to the dynamic website that ಠ_ಠ put together: http://michigansoftball.pwnz.org/. The site includes info on the whole roster, projected depth charts at every position, and expectations for each player for the year ahead.
In the Circle
Pitching should be a strength for Michigan in 2016, although some questions remain. With ground-ball specialist Haylie Wagner now playing in the pros, Michigan turns to strike-out queen Megan Betsa as the unquestioned ace of the staff. Betsa has been a regular contributor from the moment she stepped onto campus, tossing a no-hitter against Detroit, leading the team in Ks (150), and finishing the year as the 2nd-team All-Big Ten pitcher. As a sophomore, she improved in almost every statistical category. While pitching 81 more innings than she did as a freshman, she cut .43 off her ERA (down to 1.72), .22 off opponent batting average (1.68), threw 2 more no-hitters, and more than doubled her strike-outs, fanning a staggering 333 batters in 2016. Only two pitchers in the nation struck out more hitters per seven innings than Betsa last year. The only knocks on Betsa are that she remained a bit more likely to give up the long ball than Wagner and gave up too many walks (104). She also seemed to fade a little down the stretch, struggling in the playoffs, especially the WCWS. Nevertheless, she played well enough to earn both 2nd-team All-American honors and the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year award. The only question with Betsa is whether she will merely remain very good or take that next step and become one of the all-time greats. Given the degree of improvement she showed from freshman to sophomore year, I’d be hard pressed to bet against her. Even if she just stands pat, however, Michigan will have one of the nation’s best pitchers headlining the staff.
After Betsa, the presumed #2 pitcher will be 5th-year senior Sara Driesenga. A RHP somewhere between Wagner and Betsa on the strike-out/ground-out scale, Driesenga was expected to be a major factor on the team last season. She started off very strong, posting a .78 ERA in limited appearances. She was sidelined by injury early on, however, and while she continued to dress for games, it was clear by late in the season that the coaches were looking to get her a medical redshirt, which is what ended up happening. Her Michigan journey has been a winding one. As a freshman, her pitching was middling, but she contributed in a major way at the plate, hitting .340. As a sophomore, she found her stride and hurled the Wolverines all the way to the WCWS, but in her junior year was never able to return to that level of performance. She was a bit of a wildcard coming into last year, and now having missed almost an entire season of competition, it’s very difficult to project how she’ll end up performing. At the very least, she should provide some strong senior leadership and an experienced option when the younger pitchers get into tight spots. It’s entirely possible, though, that she will come out guns-blazing and give Michigan one of the best 1-2 punches in the nation. There’s just no way to know until she steps into that circle.
Finally, there is sophomore RHP Tera Blanco. With Betsa and Wagner playing at such a high-level in 2015 and Blanco struggling to catch up to the college game, she spent most of the year at 1st base, making her major contributions at the dish. After the season, Hutch had some stern words regarding Blanco in a radio interview, reminding listeners that Tera was not brought to Michigan to play in the field, and if she wanted to live up to expectations, she’d have to step up her game in the circle. There is no question that she has the physical capabilities needed for the job. She’s got a lot of power, evident in her hitting as a freshman, and she was one of the top two or three pitching recruits nationwide coming out of high school. She’s got potential, and pitching coach Jennifer Brundage is one of the best in the country. She might be Michigan’s third option behind Driesenga, or she might have a break-out year and become the number two. Like Driesenga, she’s tough to project. All Michigan needs to do is hit on one of the two of them, though, in order to have an excellent staff. If both are playing at a high level, then Michigan’s only problem will be finding enough innings to go around.
Freshman RHP Leah Crockett also comes in with a pile of hype and loads of raw talent. While it’s theoretically possible that she could break into the line-up this year, with 3 talented and experienced pitchers ahead of her, it’s hard to see a clear route to playing time. Don’t expect to see her much this year – ಠ_ಠ speculates that Crockett might even get the rare non-medical redshirt. It would be great if she did; regardless, she’s more a name to keep in mind for 2017 and beyond than for this year’s squad.
At the Plate
I’ve said it each of the last two years, and now I get to say it one last time: discussion of Michigan’s offense has to begin with none other than super-star infielder Sierra Romero. Romero is Ms. Everything at the plate for Michigan. She can hit for power, holding both the #1 and #2 single-season home-run totals in Michigan softball history as well as the NCAA career grand-slam record (set in just three years!). At the same time, she hits for average better than anyone else on the team, so much so that her .449 mark last year was actually a minor disappointment after she nearly hit .500 as a sophomore. She’ll play small ball as well, always alert to bunt for a base hit if she catches the defense playing her too deep. Last but not least, she is a phenomenally disciplined hitter. She only struck out 8 times last year while drawing 58 BBs and 12 HBPs. She finished 4th nationally in on-base percentage a year ago (1st among major conference players) with a .601 mark while also being tied for 12th in the country in home runs. She won the inaugural espnW Softball Player of the Year award, and narrowly missed out on the more prestigious USA Collegiate Softball Player of the Year Award. It’s hard to imagine how she could get better at this point, but she probably will somehow. Even if she doesn’t, she’s among the favorites for national player of the year honors in 2016 and will be the lynchpin of Michigan’s offense. A year ago, she batted 2nd for the most part, where her power could drive in Sierra Lawrence and 9-hitter Abby Ramirez, while her OBP put Christner, Susalla, and Sweet in position to succeed. In the early going, Hutch is sure to tinker, and Romo can easily bat in any of the top 4 spots in the line-up. Wherever she ends up hitting, she’ll have opposing pitchers shaking in their shoes and Michigan fans jumping to their feet.
I could easily fill a couple more pages with praise for Romo, but that would be a disservice to the rest of the team. Michigan returns almost all of last year’s heavy artillery. 5 players hit double-digit home runs in 2015, and of those 5, only Lauren Sweet has departed. That means that 88% of Michigan’s record-setting home-run production is back. Kelly Christner was without doubt the break-out player of the year last season, upping her BA from .299 to .393, her OBP from .368 to .484, and, best of all, going from only 3 HRs as a freshman to a whopping 21 as a sophomore. Not far behind are Kelsey Susalla (who would have been the break-out player were it not for Christner’s crazy production) and Sierra Lawrence. Both hit 14 homers and got on base well over 40% of the time. Susalla’s numbers are actually a little ahead of Lawrence’s, but Lawrence is still likely to lead off as she did last year due to her blazing speed and brilliant base-running abilities. Aidan Falk, Tera Blanco, and Taylor Swearingen all brought significant power to bear as freshmen last year, and will be looking to break out themselves in 2016. They’ll need to do so if they want to stay consistently in the line-up, as Michigan’s depth will keep at-bats at a premium.
After the heavy hitters, Michigan has plenty of capable on-base merchants as well. Lindsey Montemarano fended off some early challenges to her playing time, partly through her stout defense, but also due to a sharp up-tick in her plate discipline. She only hit .242 last year, easily the lowest among Michigan’s regular starters, but she used a keen eye and her small frame (with its attendant small strike zone) to rack up 42 walks, good for an OBP of 427. Abby Ramirez, meanwhile, thrived in the 9-hole, flying under the radar but effectively turning over the line-up time after time. She could move up to the lead-off spot if Hutch wants, but she might also be the perfect player to make a home in that sneaky 9 spot. Amanda Vargas showed potential last year as well, and some of the freshmen – most notably Alex Sobczak, who will likely be in the line-up thanks to her catching duties – will be pushing for playing time as well.
By my count, Michigan has at least 11 starter-quality batters on the team, likely more than that when we factor in the other freshmen and potential improvement from some of last year’s bench crew. This means that we should not have to fear complacency after last year’s brilliant offense, as any player caught resting on her laurels will soon find herself resting on the bench instead. The only challenge should be finding enough playing time for everyone and figuring out what order to put players in. Michigan should have the best offense in the country this year, with an un-matched combination of home-run power and on-base percentage. The offense alone is enough to carry Michigan deep into the playoffs, and this team has a lot more than just offense.
In the Field
Defense is one of the more difficult areas of softball to prognosticate for. Errors are infrequent and hard to predict, and it isn’t always quite clear what makes for an elite defensive squad. Whatever that formula is, though, Michigan was following it pretty well last season, finishing tied for 19th in the nation in fielding percentage at .973 – only the slightest of drop-offs from 2014, despite significant defensive losses to graduation. There’s room for improvement there, but overall a solid performance. Sierra Romero once again posted the most errors on the team with 10, although she did manage once again to improve in that department despite a positional switch aimed at minimizing strain on a nagging arm injury. The rest of the infield had their struggles as well, while the outfield was nearly flawless (only 5 errors all year between Lawrence, Christner, and Susalla combined).
The real question, however, is whether Sobczak can step in from day one and be a successful D-I catcher. She’s filling some pretty big shoes, as 4-year starter Lauren Sweet bids farewell, and takes her 1.000 fielding percentage with her. No one is expecting Sobczak to be senior-level Sweet right off the bat, but reliability behind the plate is hugely important to sound defense. She’ll be pushed from behind by Katie Alexander, a walk-on out of my old school, Saline High. In a pinch, Michigan might also turn to sophomore Aidan Falk, who stepped in at catcher for a spell last year when Sweet went down with an injury. Early returns are good on both Sobczak and Alexander, who were reported to have played well in fall ball by those in attendance. It’s a safe bet that, out of the 3 candidates, someone will emerge who can field the position and keep up with the nasty movement the Wolverine pitchers put on the ball. The bigger question will be whether the player who locks down the catcher position can also keep pace with the rest of the line-up on offense.
Overall, Michigan really just needs to stand pat from a year ago, although improvement is always welcome. The pitchers should make the defense’s job fairly easy, and the offense has the firepower to cover up the occasional mistake. Against the nation’s elite, though, high-level defense can be the difference between a close win and a close loss. Excellence in the field will be a key component in Michigan’s run to Oklahoma City.
Now that we know who the 2016 Wolverines are, it’s time to take a look at the opponents they’ve got in store. As always, Michigan faces a brutal road schedule filled with road trips to the South & West before returning to the Midwest to face a comparatively navigable Big Ten slate.
The non-conference grind has become one of the distinctive elements of Michigan softball over the course of Carol Hutchins’ career. SEC & PAC-12 teams know they have elite competition in conference, and thus don’t feel the need to play many top-notch opponents until later in the year. Other Northern teams, meanwhile, are rarely up for the challenge of a series of rough road tests. Only a special breed of young women are willing to come to Michigan to go through the rigors of trans-continental flights and long stretches away from home. Those who are, though, bond through the unique experience and develop the kind of mental toughness that Hutch and her staff value so highly. This year is no different from any other, as team 39 faces 29 straight road contests before getting their first chance to play in the friendly confines of Alumni Field. While a number of easier opponents are mixed in for filler, Michigan will have plenty of opportunities to get quality wins. 2015 tournament teams Florida (#1 in the nation in the preseason poll), South Carolina, NC State, UNC, Missouri, California, UCLA, Oklahoma, Washington, Virginia Tech and Florida State all make appearances on Michigan’s non-conference slate, several more than once. A few losses will surely crop up, but so should a number of quality wins. Vengeance against the Gators in the third game of the season would be especially sweet, both emotionally and in the rankings. Michigan will either be a favorite (often heavily so) or a push in every game they play. Look for the Wolverines to come through strong but not unscathed, staying in the top-8 and on schedule to host a super-regional.
Big Ten scheduling in recent years has been nothing if not odd. The three-game format combined with the shortened season to accommodate the tournament means that Michigan only plays 8 Big Ten opponents. In a bloated, 14-team conference, this means missing out on a lot of enticing match-ups. Making matters worse, softball schedules are done on a heavily regional basis in order to minimize travel costs, meaning that Michigan misses out on a lot of the tougher Western teams while getting stuck with less appealing dates with the Marylands & Rutgers of the world. This year Michigan skips their toughest challenger (#14 Minnesota), and takes on only three teams with winning Big Ten records in 2015. Conference play opens with a big home series against Northwestern (the only other Big Ten team to sniff the top-25) before road trips to mediocre Indiana and always-tough Nebraska. If Michigan can get through this opening stretch with no more than a loss or two, the rest of the conference slate is manageable to say the least. Michigan has three game sets against mediocrities like OSU, Rutgers, Maryland, and Penn State and a home-and-home (split up over a couple weeks) against a miserable MSU squad. If Michigan takes more than 2, maybe 3 losses in conference, it will be a significant surprise and disappointment.
In just a moment, I’ll lay down my expectations for the season ahead, including Big Ten and tournament forecasts. First, though, a look back at last year’s hot takes and how I did with those:
“Michigan will end the non-conference portion of the season with a few big wins, but suffer too many setbacks to stay in the top-ten. They will still be in position to host a regional, however, with a ranking in the top 16.”
Pretty far off on this one, and I was glad to be so. Michigan dominated the non-conference schedule last year, dropping only four games, two of which were against (sigh) eventual national champion Florida. Meanwhile, they racked up 7 Ws against ranked teams, including two each against top-ten Florida State and Alabama in their home ball-parks. Michigan entered Big Ten play at #4 in the nation, easily in position to host not just a regional, but a super-regional as well.
“When a team has won seven conference championships in a row and returns this kind of pitching and talents like the Sierras, it is almost impossible to pick against them in conference play. Even if Michigan struggles, the substantially easier slate of opponents will guide the Maize and Blue to another outright Big Ten crown.”
Spot-on, and the team did me one better by bringing home the tournament crown as well. After a boggling early loss to Iowa and a run-rule defeat at Minnesota, the light went on, and Michigan won their next 19 conference games to complete the double. Taking 2 out of 3 at Minnesota proved decisive, as the Gophers finished just one game back. In the tournament, Michigan out-scored Penn State, Northwestern, and Nebraska by a combined score of 31-2.
“Michigan will host a regional in Ann Arbor, but probably not a super-regional unless the youth movement on offense comes together in a big way. A trip to the WCWS is very much in play, but not a lock.”
I’ll claim partial credit on this one. Michigan did indeed host a regional, and went on to host a super-regional as well. The prediction that some new stars would need to emerge on offense in order to secure this was on-point – fortunately, stars emerged in grand style. Michigan’s ability to bat through the entire order was a major factor in their drive to Oklahoma City.
“A bonus prediction: with Hutch only needing 28 wins to crack the 1,400 mark and having earned at least 40 wins in every single season since 1994, look for her to fly past 1,400 career wins in 2015.”
This was, admittedly, an easy one. Hutch notched more than double the needed wins, soaring to 1,432 career Ws. Hutch also passed Arizona’s head man, Mike Candrea, who boasts 1,428 wins in his illustrious career.
Now, for some predictions for the year ahead. Last season, I was cautious in my prognostications, pointing to the wide array of question marks including a large number of new faces on offense, a pitching staff that had never yet been able to put it all together at the same time, and more. This year, there are many more knowns than unknowns as huge portions of last year’s national runner-up team return. The only things that temper my optimism going into the 2016 season are my innate pessimism and the fact that I don’t know as much as I’d like to about some of our top competition around the nation. That said, I feel as good about this team as I’ve felt about any of the teams I follow in recent memory. So, without further ado:
- Michigan enters the season ranked #2 in the nation, so we won’t be sneaking up on anyone, and a few hiccups are all but inevitable. Nevertheless, only the absolute best pitchers in America will be able to slow down our dominant offense. Look for Michigan to emerge from the non-conference schedule ranked in the top-10, likely the top-5, and boasting a number of high-quality wins to burnish the tournament résumé.
- Michigan has won 8 consecutive Big Ten regular season titles. There’s no way I can pick against them doing so once again in 2016. The schedules look to be a little more even this year, so we won’t have that advantage, and with the Golden Gophers rotating off of Michigan’s slate, we won’t have the chance to take games directly from our primary competition. Michigan’s schedule is pretty light, however, and the talent is deep. As long as they don’t all go cold at the same time, Michigan should emerge on top after the conference grind.
- Boasting a conference championship and likely a top-10 or even top-5 ranking to boot, Michigan can expect to be in position to host both a regional and a super-regional. Losing at either of these stages would be a major, major disappointment. Once you get to Oklahoma City, all bets are off, as only the best teams reach that level. That said, last year Michigan and Florida were clearly a cut above the rest of the field at the WCWS. Florida lost their best player, while Michigan returns much more. Make of that what you will…
- Finally, two individual predictions, one for a player and one for the coach. Last year, Carol Hutchins moved into first place among active coaches on the wins list. This year, she needs only 25 wins to pass Margie Wright on the all-time list. This is a lock to happen; the only question is where she’ll be in relation to Mike Candrea, the only other name I’m willing to countenance alongside Hutch for the title of greatest softball coach of all time. Look for Hutch to spend at least part of the season as the winningest coach the sport has ever seen.
- Last but not least, I expect Sierra Romero to cement her status as the greatest softball player ever to don the Maize & Blue. Barring injury, she should win Big Ten Player of the Year for a 3rd time, be named a first-team All American for the 3rd straight season, and – I’m going to come right out and say it – claim softball’s Heisman Trophy, the USA Collegiate Softball Player of the Year Award.
Nothing is set in stone, and until the games are played there’s no way to know for sure what is going to happen. We’ve all seen teams that weren’t expected to go anywhere over-achieve, and we’ve seen stacked rosters come up short. This is not a time for pessimism or paranoia, however. Michigan rolls into 2016 with a sterling record of recent achievement, the best batting order in the nation, and the hunger that can only come from falling in the final game of the season. No one on this team is ready to rest on their laurels. This is a team built to succeed at the highest levels. Just how far they go will be settled on the field. Get your tickets now.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college football program. It is one of the three key components along with player developement and sceme/game day coaching, that leads to championships. Many of us feel that we have 2 and 3 covered with the current staff, but how far are we away in the talent department if we want to compete with the big boys?
To answer that question, I looked at the last four recruiting classes with the focus on five and four star players using the 247 Composite Rankings. This a simple method and has some flaws, but it is a starting point for discussion. One problem is that 247 only awards 25 five stars and in 2016 they awarded 313 four stars. That seems a little off to me. Rashan Gary, as the #1 player, was given a score of 1.000 while the #25 player was rated at .9835. That is a fairly tight grouping. The four stars range from #26 at .9821 to #338 at .8901. Player #339 drops off by only .0002 to .8899, yet he becomes only a three star. So with this method of only counting the number of stars a team takes, no weight is given to which end of the scale those stars were nearer to. And then there are the issues with the ratings themselves and how subjective they are. Did this player attend our camp and what does his offer sheet look like?
Lastly, this method looks only at incoming classes and doesn't account for incoming grad transfers, PWOs or attrition.
Before we can win a natty, we will first need to win the Big Ten. How well do we stack up against our fellow conferebce members? Pretty well, thank you. I broke this down by division because I found it to be very interesting.
|2013||2014||2015||2016||2013 - 2016|
In the last four years, the Big Ten has landed a total of 228 five and four star players and 189 of them, including all 10 five stars, went to the east division. In the 2016 class, the ratio is 53 to 9. Wow! Talk about competitive balance. Not. Iowa and Purdue each managed only one four star in the last four years. WTF?
We appear to be in a two-team race with OSU and we were pretty much in a dead heat this year. Over the four-year period, these two teams landed 51% of the top talent taken by the Big Ten. A current problem for Michigan is that we have two weak classes sandwiched between our strong 2013 and 2016. We have a great shot at winning the Big Ten this year based on talent.
Here is the top recruiting competition on the national scene.
|2013||2014||2015||2016||2013 - 2016|
To no surprise, Alabama is in a class by themselves. Only OSU, LSU, FSU, Auburn, Georgia and USC are even in the conversation. Michigan is about two full recruiting classes away from catching up with Alabama talent, meaning they would need to add about 28 more 5 and 4 stars. If Michigan continues recruiting at this years pace, we will be fine. At a minimum, I think that we need to achieve an on-going four year cycle of two top 15 classes and two top 7ish classes to stay competitive with talent. I think that is very doable as long as we continue to show results on the field.
Hey it's Bill C day. For those of us who love the statistics he is a must read. Today's earlier post had me thinking about Phil Steele's annual look at teams ranked by returning starters as I am a big believer that unless you are Bama or 2-3 other schools experience matters. Last year's came out in January (here) but I don't see one yet for 2016. After some googling I found this neat story by Bill C last week (here) as he foreshadowed today's overall rankings. As always he takes the normal stats we have relied on (X starters is better than Y starters!) to a new level - i.e. a mediocre starter w/o much production is not a big advantage. (i.e. Rutgers is bringing back a lot of crappy players) So rather than just bodies returning he looks at production returning.
With the caveat it's much more difficult to do in football than basketball i.e. scoring assists rebounds are easier to measure than what an returning offensive tackle can give you, below I snipped portions of his tables. UM was "less experienced" on offense than I expected until I remembered the most important position on the field has departed and with him all that production.
Here are some key takeaways Bill offers at the 40K foot view (he has only been doing this for a few years so he now has enough data to offer these views without sample size screwing it up)
- Experience matters more on defense than offense (in effect on S&P+ rank for that unit)
- Experience in the secondary matters more than in the front 7
- Teams with under 50% returning offensive production usually meant doom - in 2016 that means it might be a rough time for OSU and Stanford.
Some of these things are counterintuitive to me. For item 1, I expected the opposite but maybe I am clouded by the experienced of RichRod and Hoke where inexperience meant doom on offense. But other programs seemingly just reload (hi Baylor Oregon OSU etc) so maybe we are the wrong place to judge. Item 2 makes sense as one mistake in the secondary and you are looking at a TD. One mistake by a LB and you usually just are looking at a 22 yard gain. Item 3 makes sense (except for Baylor apparently) - you don't need to be supremely experienced on offense but if you are very green you will feel pain.
There is also a controversial view on "returning OL starts" measuring future offensive success (he found almost no correlation ...which obviously is not true) but Bill believes he needs to find a better way to measure it. So he is not saying OL returning stars don't matter - he just needs to find a better measure than career starts. Again it's not basketball where an OL is easy to measure in performance.
If you are into the statistical stuff a full read of his piece is in order as he goes through various correlations impact on Defensive S&P+ (an advanced stat) i.e. how much impact returning pass breakups correlate overall defensive rank vs sacks returning, etc.
Tables below don't list all P5 but I picked "top 25ish" teams to list at extremes of top and bottom and then other teams of interest at bottom. Showed entire Big 10.
*I also included the 3 UM non conf opponents
As expected - OSU with 6 returning starters is the team bringing back the least production in P5 (ASU not far ahead), and MSU's O without Burbridge & Kings and Cook needs to rebuild production from scratch in passing game. As I noted in the "Our 2016 Schedule is not Extremely Tough so Stop Saying It Is" diary a while ago - there is not a better time to play OSU and MSU on the road than this year (well, at least until those coaches retire from the programs).
Outside those 2, Iowa brings back a good amount of production so that looks like a tough game as expected...while Wisconsin is going to be bringing in an inexperienced team to the Big House.
Should also note UCF was horrible last year but they at least will be experienced this year - and Colo brings back a lot of production so I expected that to be a tricker game than most folks think due to their dual threat QB... and this only reinforces that.
In non UM stuff, Charlie Strong finally brings back some experience in year 3, TN has been tagged a team to breakout this year and you can see why, Bill loves Washington and the production returning shows why, and LSU if they can find a QB should do great things....
P5 "In the Middle"
Part 1: Introduction
In the aftermath of two consecutive, embarassing losses at home and a season that has been satisfactory at best (and by satisfactory, I mean, that outside of a win against Maryland, Michigan has handled the teams they should beat and lost to the teams they should lose to), there has been an ongoing debate on whether John Beilein should be on the hot seat or even fired. This is an objective look at John Beilein's success in the context of Michigan basketball history and Beilein's modern contemporaries.
Part 2: Michigan's Place in the Pecking Order
A week or so ago there was a debate about "blue bloods" as it pertained to college football programs. The consensus was that some programs (Michigan among them) have an inherent advantage and sustained legacy of success. The program draws the best coaches and the best players. Jim Harbaugh isn't leaving the NFL to go coach Purdue. John Calipari isn't leaving Memphis for Auburn. I used a fairly simple system to rank every program in a Power 5 + AAC + Big East conference. A NCAA Tournament appearance is worth 1 point. A Final Four is worth 5 points. A National Championship is worth 10 points.
In the interest of time and space I won't list every level and program. The system came up with 7 "Blue Bloods". UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Indiana, Louisville, and Kansas. On the second level, there were 12 programs. They are:
Ohio State, Michigan State, Connecticut, Arizona, Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Syracuse, Arkansas, Michigan, Villanova, Georgetown, and Florida.
These are the programs that historically have matched Michigan's success. You could argue against Oklahoma State's inclusion (made it based on two titles in the 1940s) or that State or UConn deserves to be bumped up a level. So, how is John Beilein doing compared to the coaches of these 11 programs (Ohio State and Michigan State will be saved for the B1G section)? Let's take a look:
|John Thompson III||Georgetown||11+||.675||3||8||1||0|
Throw out Boeheim. It's impossible to compare Beilein to a guy who has been at Syracuse for 40 years. Beilein's resume at this point is most comparable to Mick Cronin at Cincinnati which makes sense. Cronin relies on fielding a strong defense that creates rock fights, but his teams routinely hae trouble scoring. Cincinnati was in a strong Big East minus the last 2+ years so it's not like the American offered an easy way into the tournament. Every other coach outside of Mike Anderson (who has a higher winning %) has been more successful.
Part 3: Beilein's Place in Michigan History
Okay, so Beilein hasn't been as successful as the coaches of other programs on Michigan's level, but he turned what had been a pretty big disaster and resurrected it. How does Beilein compare to the other coaches in Michigan's long history? Because the NCAA Tournament didn't expand until 1985, I gave coaches a tournament berth if their team had a winning % over .667 (a 20-10 record today).
|Bill Freider||9||.680||2||5 (+1)||0||0|
|Johnny Orr||12||.649||0||4 (+1)||1||0|
|Dave Strack||8||.559||3||3 (+1)||2||0|
|Bill Perigo||8||.438||0||0 (+1)||0||0|
|Ernie McCoy||4||.460||0||0 (+1)||0||0|
This looks a little better for Beilein. He's already led Michigan to the 3rd most NCAA Tournaments under one coach (counting an extra one for Freider). He brought respectability back to Michigan basketball. His % of NCAA Tournaments to seasons is better than everybody but Fisher. Is he the 2nd best coach in Michigan history? I think he is.
Part 4: Beilein vs B1G Contemporaries
Last part of the analysis is how is Beilein doing compared to the other coaches who have been in the B1G while Beilein has been at Michigan.
|Tom Izzo||Michigan St.||20+||.717||7||18||7||1|
|Thad Matta||Ohio St.||11+||..751||5||9||2||0|
|Ed DeChellis||Penn St.||8||.452||0||1||0||0|
|Pat Chambers||Penn St.||4+||.439||0||0||0||0|
Wow, that's a lot of data and one joke, so let's try to break it down. Matta, Ryan, and Izzo have been the gold standard for the past decade plus in the B1G. Beilein's closest comparison is probably Bruce Weber. You know who got fired after missing the tournament 3 times in 5 years? Bruce Weber. Still, during Beilein's tenure Michigan has been the 4th best program in the conference. That's basically in line with history.
Part 5: So, Should He Be Fired?
No. We don't know what the hell is going to happen the rest of the year. Michigan needs to take care of business against Minnesota and Northwestern, go 1-2 in their road games against Ohio St., Wisky and Maryland, and split their homes games against Iowa and Purdue. That'll give them 2 solid wins and no bad losses at 21-10 and a winning record in the B1G which should put them in the tournament. If that happens, Beilein is safe. If they make a run to the Elite 8 or Sweet 16, then it's even more of a no brainer. However, if Michigan collapses and loses 5 of their last 7 and miss the tournament, he goes into next year on the hot seat. If they miss the tournament against next year, that puts him well below the level set by let's say Matt Painter at Purdue, traditionally a worse program than Michigan's.
I thought I'd share some data from information I was curious about myself in case anyone else was curious about this topic ... and/or you are just bored and want to read stuff on MGoBlog.
What I was searching for is to see what schools the top 2016 HS players landed at from the ranks of the states that produce the most NFL talent. I saw a story a year ago that had some great data on which states (and even HSs) produced the most NFL players in absolute terms - and then per capita (I did a post here if interested). So I went thru the 247 data by state for 2016 and was curious which schools pull the top players from each state. Also I wanted to see how many top players each state produced in 2016 - there were some surprises.
My table below has 7 columns - let me explain how it works:
- State Name
- State Rank in Absolute # of players in NFL
- State Rank in Per Capita players in NFL (I only have the top 10, so if a state was not in the top 10 I just labeled it n/a)
- # of 5* in 2016 class in that state
- # of 4* in 2016 class in that state
- Distribution of those 10 players by college i.e. OSU (3 - 0/2/1) means Ohio State got 3 of the top 10 players with two 4* and one 3*
- The last column was a look at players 11-20 in that state just from a 40,000 foot point of view as I was curious where the next batch of kids was going in each state if any patterns.
Here are some national thoughts:
- As expected Georgia, Ohio State, and LSU have a very special advantage. States rich in talent, without any serious in state competition (GA Tech haha) where lots of the very top end kids go to the "state school", and then they can fill the bottom end of the class with still quite talented kids. LSU in particular right now is just off the charts in retention.
- USC, Texas, and FSU / Florida are not quite as lucky as the 3 schools above as they have in state competition plus a lot of schools from outside the state vie for their players, but they are in amazingly talent rich states and USC and FSU right now are killing it. UF and Texas not as much. Miami is on the outside looking in right now at least in top top talent - they do grab a ton of 4* talent rated a bit lower in the state of FL.
- UM is sort of like PSU & Clemson (and I imagine Oklahoma) in that it has solid in state talent but not one of the "supreme" states and has an in state rival that sucks some of it off (MSU, Pitt, South Carolina, OK State respectively). However I'd say the rise of MSU gives UM the largest disadvantage of these 4 schools as MSU has the longest reign of success vs the in state rival, and OK and CLEM were just in the playoffs so have the mindshare in those states. PSU is sort of in its own category as PITT is a long ago power - but PSU isn't great shakes either.
- Bama (the state) had far less in state talent this year than I thought - it was good at the top but fell off to 3* very fast. I did not expect that but "sample size". That said Bama basically goes into every state and has a chance at their top 5 players. But I was expecting Bama to be similar in talent to a state like LA - it was not close in 2016.
- USC should never win less than 10 games - the type of talent they get is silly.
- Amazing amount of talent in FL and so many schools are there from all over the country trying to get to it.
- Texas (the school) is obviously struggling with the top 10 but did good in the 11-20 range which in many states would be similar to a top 10.
- Very impressed with Stanford's recruiting - they are in almost every top state and have a vast geographic footprint; it surprised me - I expected a ton of CA kids and then a few here or there.
- MSU owned Illinois - I don't like that. It's a solid state for talent once you get past the top 10 without an in state power and we can't just concede the state.
- MSU doing well in other states means this is the first year they didn't have to settle for a lot of kids in the 11-20 range in Ohio; that talent instead went to places like Pitt.
- Les is silly. I know its easy to say "they have all the talent in state" but you still need to retain it. And I know everyone cheats down there so whatever is happening Les is able to "out incentive" everyone - he has an amazing retention rate in state when you consider Bama, Auburn, Ole Mi$$ are going for those kids.
- PSU had a hell of a year in MD - they got three 4* there. OSU was just behind as well.
Strategy/Thoughts for for UM:
- UM did very well in CA; not easy to get kids to travel 3000 miles and we got 1 of the top 10, and 2 of next 10.
- UM needs to do better in FL. OSU got 3 of the top 25 kids (obv Urban has his old connections there) while UM's best player was #45 (Bush Jr) and then Eubanks at 50. Maybe we don't get top 10 kids out of there but we need to make inroads in that 15 to 30 range.
- UM obviously owned NJ. I dislike that MSU made inroads there too.
- UM whiffed in TX but its round 1, it's a state "open for business" just like FL. Such a deep talent pool. Again like FL - getting a #17 ranked kid from TX would be like #5 in most states.
- The VA/DC/MD area is a place we need to do better long term and attack with an EUTM like Jersey. Obviously not getting Davis, and losing Hamilton late hurt but there is a lot of population shift there and a good amount of talent without in state powers. Every guy we pull out of there is one that doesn't go to B10 East competitors (just as in Jersey) PSU & OSU took 5 of the top 10 out of MD and OSU got a top 1 out of VA/DC. This is "north enough" that we can do well in the future.
- North Carolina (the state) surprised me with a good talent haul this year - while that is more ACC country again OSU went in there and got a guy; it's another place to kick tires and get a presence as its a growing state without an in state power.
- Don't condede the state of IL.
- Do better in top 5-6 of MI.
- At some point get some OH kids - obviously winning vs the Buckeyes would help.
(Note - I rolled in D.C. with Virginia although it could have been thrown in with Maryland just the same - D.C. is 3rd in per capita talent and had four 4* this year)
Below are the top 14 states in NFL production - and then I threw Maryland (state #18) in there as it is now in our footprint and our B10 East peers killed it there.
|Per||Top 10 Star|
|CA||1||n/a||5||40||USC (4 - 2/2/0)||4 UCLA, 2 UM|
|ALA (1 - 1/0/0)|
|OU (1 - 1/0/0)|
|UCLA (1 - 1/0/0)|
|STAN (1 - 0/1/0)|
|FSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|UM (1 - 0/1/0)|
|FL||2||6||3||44||FSU (2 - 0/2/0)||3 FSU, 2 MIA|
|UF (2 - 0/2/0)||No FL!|
|MISS (1 - 1/0/0)|
|OSU (1 - 1/0/0)|
|GA (1 - 1/0/0)|
|AUB (1 - 0/1/0)|
|LSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|CLE (1 - 0/1/0)|
|TX||3||n/a||2||50||MISS (2 - 1/1/0)||4 TX|
|BAY (2 - 0/2/0)|
|HOU (1 - 1/0/0)|
|UF (1 - 0/1/0)|
|STAN (1 - 0/1/0)|
|TX (1 - 0/1/0)|
|AUB (1 - 0/1/0)|
|LSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|A&M (1 - 0/1/0)|
|GA||4||8||3||22||AUB (3 - 1/2/0)||5 GA|
|GA (2 - 1/1/0)|
|UF (1 - 0/1/0)|
|CLE (1 - 0/1/0)|
|TN (1 - 0/1/0)|
|USC (1 - 0/1/0)|
|OH||5||10||0||12||OSU (4 - 0/4/0)||3 OSU, 2 PITT|
|ND (2 - 0/2/0)|
|WVA (1 - 0/1/0)|
|PITT (1 - 0/1/0)|
|MSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|AUB (1 - 0/1/0)|
|LA||6||1||2||19||LSU (9 - 2/7/0)||4 LSU|
|ALA (1 - 0/1/0)|
|SC||T7||2||0||5||CLE (3 - 0/2/1)||2 STAN, 2 SC|
|SC (2 - 0/2/0)|
|ND (1 - 0/1/0)|
|DUKE (1 - 0/0/1)|
|CC (1 - 0/0/1)|
|2 Uncommited 3*|
|PA||T7||n/a||1||8||PSU (3 - 1/2/0)||5 PITT, 2 TEMP|
|PITT (1 - 0/1/0)|
|FSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|TEMP (1 - 0/1/0)|
|SC (1 - 0/1/0)|
|USC (1 - 0/1/0)|
|STAN (1 - 0/1/0)|
|UM (1 - 0/0/1)|
|VA*||T7||9||1||9*||FSU (3 - 1/2/0)||3 NC, 3 VT|
|DC has||3||DUKE (1 - 0/1/0)|
|four 4*||MARSH (1 - 0/1/0)|
|STAN (1 - 0/1/0)|
|OSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|ALA (1 - 0/1/0)|
|A&M (1 - 0/1/0)|
|MD (1 - 0/1/0)|
|NJ||T7||n/a||1||7||UM (5 - 1/4/0)||2 STAN, 2 RUTG|
|MSU (2 - 0/1/1)|
|OSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|TN (1 - 0/1/0)|
|MIA (1 - 0/1/0)|
|AL||11||5||2||5||ALA (4 - 2/2/0)||ALA, AUB, LOU|
|AUB (2 - 0/2/0)|
|UF (2 - 0/1/1)|
|MSU (2 - 0/0/2)|
|NC||12||n/a||1||14||CLE (3 - 1/2/0)||2 STAN|
|FSU (3 - 0/3/0)|
|OSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|OK (1 - 0/1/0)|
|TN (1 - 0/1/0)|
|ALA (1 - 0/1/0)|
|MI||13||n/a||0||9||MSU (4 - 0/3/1)||2 IOWA|
|UM (2 - 0/2/0)|
|ND (2 - 0/2/0)|
|OSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|LOU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|IL||14||n/a||0||6||MSU (4 - 0/3/1)||2 STAN, 2 IOWA|
|OSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|PSU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|ISU (1 - 0/1/0)|
|MISS (1 - 0/1/0)|
|OK (1 - 0/1/0)|
|NEB (1 - 0/1/0)|
|MD||18||n/a||0||11||PSU (3 - 0/3/0)||Everywhere|
|OSU (2 - 0/2/0)|
|MD (2 - 0/2/0)|
|ALA (1 - 0/1/0)|
|STAN (1 - 0/1/0)|
|WVA (1 - 0/1/0)|
Reading yesterday’s T.W.O./Roundtable, specifically the bit on recruit names, got me thinking about great Michigan player names over the years. So this is my list. It only includes players I can actually remember watching play, so “All-Time” actually only means “since 1974.” Ace hit the nail on the head with the Keith Jackson test, so I was definitely imagining Keith saying each name, as well as Howard King (I’ve only seen a handful of games with Grapentine), and whoanellie is it fun! You should totally try it! So that was the main deciding factor for most of the names on my list. How I decided how to break down the positions, how many of each position to include, etc., was pretty much arbitrary, based on my whims. Your whims may differ. It’s all about the whimsy. Here’s my list:
QB: Elvis Grbac— Elvis, yes, but also Grbac is the right kind of short and strong to fit happily in the play-by-play. Plus its first syllable has no vowel
RB: Harlan Huckleby— Go ahead, say this one out loud: it just rolls
RB: Tshimanga Baikabutuka— Some people shorten the first name to “Tim.” People not me
FB: Jarrod Bunch
TE: Bennie Joppru
TE: Jake Butt— “Dear Football, Please accept our gift to you: our son, Jake Butt, Tight End. Sincerely, Mr. and Mrs. Butt”
WR: Triando Markray— I always hear it with the accent on –ray, which I hope is correct, because it’s fabulous
WR: Felman Malveaux
WR: Martavious Odoms— I feel like “Martavious” should be an adjective
OT: Mark Huyge— Unfortunately not pronounced the way we want it to be, so this one’s in just based on what it looks like in print or on the back of his jersey
OT: Trezelle Jenkins
OG: Dean Dingman
OG: Mark Hammerstein— Hammer + stein which is German for stone or a beer vessel. But even so, it just sounds strong
C: Rod Payne— Opposite of Huyge, this one’s all about what it sounds like, and implications thereof
CB: Ty Law— Even if you knew nothing about him, you would not want to mess with someone named Ty Law
CB: Boubacar Cissoko
S: Tripp Welborne
S: Shonte Peoples
DT: Mike Hammerstein— See brother Mark, above. I think Mike actually makes it sound even stronger
DT: Ninef Aghakhan
DE: Glen Steele— Announcers always made a thing out of Steele, Sword, Irons, and usually also Swett. I guess it could have gotten annoying, but I always kinda liked it. Because it IS cool
DE: Taco Charlton
LB: Jarrett Irons— See Glen Steele, above
LB: Sam Sword— See Glen Steele, above
LB: Rob Swett— See Glen Steele, above
K: Ali Haji-Sheikh— The best announcers really made this name boom. Kinda like his kickoffs, which routinely went through the end zone
P: Zoltan Mesko— It’s a close contest between this and Jake Butt, Tight End for #1 all-time
One additional note: looking at the old team pages on Bentley I saw a lot of variations in position names over the years. I classed Flankers, Wing Backs, and Split Ends all as WRs. Defensive Guards and Tackles are all DTs. Wolfman is a S. Actually Wolfman is Jabrill Peppers. It may be up to us to start calling him that, though, if the coaching staff won’t. I think we need to make this happen.