Meh: A Learning Experience
As someone who has worked at any company, ever, in the history of the world, I've had to suffer through my fair share of employee evaluations. Usually I've been the one evaluated, (very) occasionally the evaluator. They will obviously vary between institutions, but most follow a general script. You are asked to either evaluate yourself or your direct superior. Maybe it's on a spreadsheet, maybe it's a form, maybe it's just an email. Then you and your direct superior/HR rep/random person who got lost on the way to the bathroom sit down in a small conference room and stare at each other for a couple minutes while you wait for the WiFi to reconnect and each pull up the appropriate Google Doc, or fumble through a stack of nearly-identical printed-out forms with numbers next to fields like "Integrity" and "Passion for the Customer", as if not stealing and giving a crap about your job are attributes you can power up with Mana after killing ROUSes in swamps.
But whatever, the reviews tend to be full of generalizations and platitudes, because if you were really a bad employee, chances are you wouldn't still be employed there. But inevitably, there has to be a takeaway, an area of improvement, something to build on. It may be something trivial, or something you never even thought of, or the very thing that makes you look up impostor syndrome because you just knew there was a word for that feeling.
But in the end, things mostly go back to the way they were, maybe with incrementally more insight and self-awareness, because at some point you are what you are, and even with conscious effort there may only be a ceiling for what you can do in the near future.
This game felt like one of those meetings. At no point did UM even sniff trouble out of UCF; after punting on their first drive, UM scored on 6 straight possessions (4 TDs, 2 FGs) while UCF scored on one 87-yard drive that was (probably) helped by an uncalled hold or two but that was about it for the half. Scoring was down in the second half, mostly because UCF held onto the ball a bit longer and had 2 10+ play drives that barely went anywhere (42, 40) and ended on downs, but UM's offense just kept humming along.
Speight had a great day passing, going 25/37 for 312 and 4 TDs, and the three big targets (Darboh, Butt, and Chesson) all had at least 80 yards receiving, with Darboh and Butt both pulling in 2 TDs. The defense record 10 TFLs, including the first (of many) sacks by Rashan Gary, hit the QB about 8 times, forced two fumbles, and limited UCF to 2.5 ypa on 22 passes. The team also blocked 2 punts and 2 FGs, recovered a pooch kick following a kickoff that I LOVED when it happened and am even happier about the more I think about it, and Peppers nearly broke a punt for a TD to boot. Over the first two weeks of the season, UM has outscored their opposition by a total of 114 to 17. By any objective metric, this was a clinical ass-kicking, only (slightly) less impressive than the one they dished out last week.
But still, there were sore points that you have to highlight. QB runs continue to be an issue for UM's defense, though at least now it feels a bit like the struggles everyone has with mobile QBs and spread-to-run offensive attacks, as opposed to earlier eras when such plays were deemed "a fad" and "sorcery". But there were a couple of bad breaks in containment, when a LB or S didn't keep his lane or guys were able to get outside for big gains. Before going out with an injury, Justin Holman got a couple of long first-down scrambles on 3rd downs because UM failed to protect against the QB run, and against guys like J.T. Barrett and…well…J.T. Barrett those aren't just first-downs, they're scores. And UCF's two rushing TDs came on long runs where, again, people were out of position.
On the other side of the ball, the running game never really got on track. De'Veon Smith had a couple of runs where he sort of bulldozed over UCF defenders but that was about it for him; Chris Evans failed to follow up his sensational debut with anything memorable here, going for 37 yards on 9 carries. As a team, they didn't come close to cracking 4 ypc even if you excise sacks and whatever that was with Kenny Allen. Part of this was absolutely due to UCF daring UM to beat them in the air by sending 8 or 9 guys to stop the run, but at the same time it seemed like the offensive line and backs failed to pick up blitzers well or hold up their blocks at the edges; a couple of times UM would be close to breaking a run just to see a single LB or end push a blocker back or hold up a cutback just long enough to trip someone up. UCF has athletes on defense and are definitely a better team than they were last season, but the fact UM couldn't "impose its will" at the line of scrimmage offensively was a bit discouraging. I'll be interested to see how the line grades out this week.
So it wasn't a perfect weekend; UM has some things to work on. And at least for me, those areas are a bit more alarming because they are the areas people were most worried about coming into the year; namely, offensive line play and the ability for the defense to handle spread offenses with a focus on running. The defense I'm actually less worried about; it's still a bunch of guys breaking in a new system, and with so many guys shuttling in and out of the lineup it's not surprising an assignment or two might be busted when the score is so lopsided. But the offensive line is sort of what it's going to be this year. The younger guys like Newsome, Bredeson, Kugler, and Cole might improve a bit, but the rest of that line is sort of what it's going to be this year. Harbaugh said during the press conference he thought the line played fine, so it might just be a situation where UM didn't try to make UCF pay for their aggressiveness because of the score and situation. But you look at the upcoming schedule and you wonder how they'll hold up against Wisconsin, PSU, OSU, MSU, Iowa, and some of the other solid defensive clubs on the schedule. They may just be what they are in that aspect of the game, and the defense and passing attack will have to compensate a bit more.
So yeah, again, I'm not sure how much we can glean from a game that UM won by 37 , was up by 27 at the half, and showed basically nothing in the playbook on either side of the ball. But this week at least shows potential areas for concern and improvement.
Worst: Predicting Competiveness
Though it's hard to complain about getting a couple easy wins under your belt, I have seen fans lament the OOC schedule quality both at UM specifically and college football generally. The opening week of the season was pretty amazing considering you had maybe the best top-to-bottom collection of games in recent memory featuring some of the more storied programs in the country AND many of those games had memorable moments. The second week…not so much; the marquee game was a football game played in the middle of a NASCAR track between Virginia Tech and Tennessee, and to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, if that's your big football game, you might be a redneck (and out of ideas). And to make matters worse, the matchup itself isn't all that appealing; VT is breaking in a new coach after the great Frank Beamer returned to the mountains and Popeyes Chicken from whence he was birthed, while UT barely escaped Appalachian State and thought hiring the guy who was the offensive mastermind behind this made sense.
But yeah, quite a hangover after last week's festivities. But the thing is, you oftentimes schedule these games a couple years in the future; UCF was scheduled back in 2013. At that time, The Knights had gone 11-3, 5-7, and 10-4 (including 2 bowl wins) the previous 3 years, and then went 12-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl in 2013. This was a legitimate top G5 program; hell, half the teams in the Big 10 would have killed to have that level of consistency. By comparison, Colorado hasn't finished with a winning record since 2002, and haven't won 10+ games since 2001. And yet, a mere 3 years later UCF just suffered through a winless season and are breaking in a new coaching staff and having to pick through the wreckage for anything salvageable. And Colorado looks like a pretty decent Pac-12 team with a shot at being competitive in the South division as long as USC continues to not be vintage USC.
Now, some of you might construe this as a defense for Dave Brandon, who oversaw this scheduling. Please, put down your pitchworks. No, really, the fire, it burn…..
But no, this felt like an attempt to make a semi-competitive OOC schedule with a couple of "name" programs. And because Brandon loves to dump salt in wounds AND thinks getting revenge is beating teams during games ESPN broadcasters blabber on about a game that happened 22 years ago, he brought CU into the mix as well. That's right: 22 years ago. THE MEMORY OF THIS GAME I HAVE IS OLD ENOUGH TO DRINK WITH ME IN A BAR AND SCREAM "KNOCK IT DOWN!"
So yeah, watching UM demolish two teams by a combined eleventy billion points doesn't make for compelling television, but these games are always hard to predict years in the future; in 2007, I doubt anyone would have expected playing UM would hurt your overall SOS, and yet we've had a couple of years where UM was a below-average BCS team.
And going forward, there will be more marquee games against top-notch programs. But I think both UCF and CU will be good teams this year in their conferences, and it's been nice to see UM get more of a challenge than I expected going into the year. The fact UM is, again, going to blow the doors off everyone in the process is more a positive for the team and less an indictment of the opposition.
Worst: How is This So Hard?
In my preseason preview, I noted that UM hadn't had a thousand-yard rusher since the days of Denard, and that teams like Indiana, PSU, Northwestern, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Wisconsin had done it multiple times in the interim. I hoped that this year UM would finally have a back break out and establish, if not a dominant rushing attack, at least a dangerous one.
And yet, two weeks into the season I am still left wondering if the running game is going to be better that middling. Yes, UCF game planned extensively to stop the run, and my layman's view at times showed UM blocking the guys they could but simply being overwhelmed. And yes, UM was never going to show much against UCF in terms of wrinkles offensively, especially when simple play-action was working so well because, again, UCF decided that they were at least going to get blown out in the air, not in the air and on the ground.
The raw numbers, though, aren't all that inspiring. UCF recorded 6 TFLs for 22 yards (by comparison, Hawaii had 4 for 9), and UM averaged under 3 ypc on 41 carries. Yes, they didn't really need to run the ball much to dominate this game, but you still want to see a team with a bunch of seniors roll over a team that went 0-12 last year, and they simply didn't. The defensive gameplan was obviously to make UM a passing team (with disastrous results for the Knights), but still, lots of teams want to make Alabama, OSU, MSU, LS…okay, that last one's a bad example. But there are lots of teams that have to deal with the opposition trying to make them fight left-handed, and sometimes I just wish UM would smash defenses anyway. And for full disclosure, I have a vested interest in seeing Smith being the hammer, as he's one of the RBs on my fantasy football team (ha look, you just listened to a guy complain about his fantasy football team! Welcome to the sports internet, sponsored by Fan Kings, or Draft Duel, or whatever those DFF sites are called).
But still, it remains a run-first team with questions in the RB corps and the offensive line, and I'm still wondering if this is the ceiling for this club until they get more kids into the system. This may just be it, and that's fine, but for a team with huge goals they need to be able to move the ball on the ground effectively and (somewhat) opponent agnostically, and so this week was a bit of a disappointment. Again, I get that UM shredded UCF in the air and won the game by 37, and that they could come out next week and demolish CU on the ground for 350 yards and I'd be proven wrong. And this (in part) a complaint because there isn't that much to talk about this week, but it remains an issue I'll at least keep a cocked-eye on for the next couple of weeks, especially since PSU and Wisconsin await.
Meh: Day and Knight
And, now, where a contradict myself a bit from 1 section earlier. So, yeah, UCF picked up 275 yards on the ground and averaged 6.0 ypc in the process, including a huge 87-yard TD run where the aptly named Adrian Killins just ran away from everyone (that wasn't being held) down the sideline. It wasn't a great performance by any means, and I know I'm supposed to get that bombed-out feeling in the bit of my stomach like I did after IU and OSU last year. And yet…
Against both the Hoosier and the Buckeyes, Michigan was repeatedly gashed for big gains and really didn't have an answer. Against IU Jordan Howard seemed to be able to bounce off linebackers at will, while against OSU UM's insistence (or inability) to alter their safety play led to numerous "odd-man rushes" for Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett. Those games epitomized the ongoing problems UM has had with certain rushing attacks.
But against UCF, the damage was basically inflicted in three plays: the aforementioned 87-yard TD run and two scrambles by Justin Holman of 30 and 35 yards. Throw those 3 runs out, and UCF mustered around 3 ypc even with sacks excised. Now, I know yards count regardless of how you got them, but this game featured a couple of breakdowns, not a wholesale inability to adjust to the opposition. Add in the fact that UM was leading by 34 at the time of the long TD run, and it's hard for me to get overly concerned about this being a fissure in the run defense.
Of course, there are issues. Containment was lost on those two Holman runs, one in which Peppers came in way too deep and didn't get Holman in the backfield, which opened up the field for his run. And that Killins run featured a couple of players in the secondary taking less-than-optimal angles to the ball carrier.
At the same time, UM clearly wasn't rolling with a full defense, and even without seeing the guys on the field I can guess that UM wasn't leaving in all the starters by that point. And more generally, Scott Frost is trying to roll out his version of the Oregon offense at UCF, and those offenses are designed to catch teams in bad position and make them pay with good athletes. For as bad as UCF was last year, they've been recruiting as a top-3 program in the AAC for a couple years now. Their team looks a bit like RR's first year when he came to UM, where they are trying to take stock of what they have and fit it into their systems, but I expect this offense to look really scary in a couple of years.
So ultimately, the takeaway defensively is that these are the (slight) growing pains breaking in Don Brown's system. Boring safety play is gone, and in its stead you'll sometimes see QBs get long runs or get a TD on your face. But then again, if those plays happen in the context of another blowout win, it's hard to get my dander up about it. Colorado will be an interesting challenge simply because they seem fully capable of scoring quickly (an average TD drive of 6 plays in 2:14) and often (a cool 100 points over the first two weeks against admittedly poor competition). UM will be such a massive jump in quality for the Buffs that I doubt they come close to replicating this offensive explosion, but I do expect there to be some breakdowns and a couple of big gains. But again, hard to get too concerned, especially considering how few offenses in conference are designed like the ones they've seen thus far.
Best: Peppers, man
Apparently there was some Twitter battle or beef or something because some local yokel eggs started giving him grief about not having an interception in his career while OSU players have more than 0. Maybe I'm just old, but 35-year-old me has no f*cking idea why you would engage Cro-Magnon fans of any stripe online when you are a fabulous athlete looking at million-dollar NFL paychecks in the near future and they are irrelevant talking heads screaming into a void of 1s and 0s in the hope of impressing other guys (and they are almost always other guys) with how much information you know about a player from another team. I know people are competitive and there is a certain level of abuse online that just becomes oppressive, but just felt like unnecessary effort on his part.
Because man, on the field Peppers has been dynamite. After 2 weeks, Peppers leads the team in tackles with 16, has 4 TFLs including a sack, has 2 QB hits, and continues to erase screens with cruel efficiency. The hype was huge coming into the year, but thus far Peppers has lived up to it. He's a game-changer defensively, and they haven't even really deployed him fully yet. UM has a lot of athletes on that side of the ball, but it's pretty clear how far Peppers stands out because of his rare combination of speed, power, and agility. So even if he doesn't collect a single deflected ball or sailed pass in his career, nobody who watches football is going to think Peppers isn't one of the best defenders in the country right now.
Best: The QB Book According to Harbaugh
In the second week of the 2015 season, against turrible Oregon St., Jake Rudock went 18/26 for 180 (!) yards and 1 (!!) INT, averaging about 7 ypa. That week began a stretch of 7(!!!) straight games wherein Rudock didn't crack 200 yards passing a game, and had a 4:4 TD:INT ratio. That cry you hear are the echoes of many people, including myself, who absolutely 100% thought that Rudock was either injured or just not that good, and believed Harbaugh should try out someone else at the position. We all know how that played out.
Two weeks into the 2016 season, Wilton Speight has completed 70% of his passes for 457 yards, 9.1 ypa, for 7 TDs and 1 INT. He continues to throw the ball into tight windows effectively, leading his receivers and scanning the field like a pro. Yes, the deep ball is still a bit of a work in progress, but in basically a year and a half Speight has gone from a guy Harbaugh bitched out on television to being one of the 2-3 best QBs in the conference. Anyone who still doubts Harbaugh's QB guru-ness, I don't know what to tell you.
And unlike against Hawaii, Speight had a great game while dealing with some pressure. UCF got two sacks and a couple more hits; they brought pressure and Speight had to move around and buy time in order to hit his receivers. He's not a runner but he moves better than you think, and with his height and quick release he can get the ball out under pressure well. He'll definitely be tested by Wisconsin in a couple of weeks, but it's amazing that Speight is basically Rudock at the end of 2015, when he torched a pretty good Florida defense and was basically the whole offense against OSU. I'm not expecting Speight to make an equally-dramatic ascension simply because he's starting from a higher level, but he looks like a completely different player out there than the guy who filled in against Minnesota, and credit goes to him and the staff for making that transformation a reality.
Worst: Salted Frost
This'll be quick, but it seems like everyone wants to get up-in-arms over Scott Frost Present and Scott Frost Past. See, back in 1997, when a decent number of the current UM fans were either not alive or barely aware of football, Frost was the QB for the undefeated Nebraska Cornhuskers, arguably the last time that program was considered a "true" national power. At the end of the year, there were 2 undefeated teams: Nebraska and UM. UM beat a pretty good Washington St. team, while Nebraska pantsed Peyton Manning's Tennessee Volunteers. Frost, as any rational person would do, petitioned for his team to be awarded at least a share of the national title, and (shockingly) his mother agreed. This is considered the words of the devil to some, though, and so a segment of the fanbase spent this week getting really upset about it. In fact, there are three parties I DO have anger toward regarding 1997, and they are (1) the refs in the Missouri game that failed to call an obvious kicked ball, (2) the coaches who voted in the final poll that thought it was a good idea to let Nebraska jump UM for no good reason after having UM ahead for most of the year, and (3) Peyton Manning for once again barely showing up in a meaningful game. Guy never beat Florida, won 2 SBs despite throwing more INTs (5) than TDs (3), and has an unhealthy man-crush on Pape John.
And then after the game, Frost told reporters that he thought his team, which (again) lost to UM by 37 points, "outhit these guys" and that he was proud of them. Yes, I get that Frost arguing the appearance of collisions was a relevant metric is a bit insane, but he's a head coach for a team that went 0-12 last year. He's not going to say "yeah, these young guys got the crap beaten out of them." And again, they averaged 6 ypc and held UM to under 3 ypc on the ground. His team came in and didn't roll over, and that's a credit to them and their coaches. But again, how am I supposed to feel?
The only anger I have toward Scott Frost is because I think him and Tyra should stand trial for the (justifiable) homicide of that one creep.
Best: So Much Special Teams
There are good days for special teams, and then there are days like Saturday. Kenny Allen went 3/3 on FGs, was perfect on extra points (as a Lions fan, NEVER TAKE THAT FOR GRANTED), and outside of one bad punt did a great job. On the other side, UM was getting hands on kicks all day, including a rather emphatic FG rejection. Plus, and this may have been my favorite play of the weekend, they forced a UCF fumble by high-kicking a ball after a penalty set the kickoff on the 50-yard line. So often, you see a team just boot that out of the endzone, but nope, UM forced UCF to at least return the ball and, as a result, were able to catch the Knights off-guard a bit and pick up an extra possession. Losing John Baxter back to USC will have an effect on the special teams, but at least thus far his one-year legacy is still bearing fruit. And in a season with such high expectations, having these types of plays might make all the difference.
Best: Bring on the Buffs
I thought CU would be a better team than some expected coming into the year, and thus far they've been impressive. Yes, that doesn't make me think they'll even come close to beating UM, but this is a program that (finally) seems to be figuring stuff out and competing in the Pac-12, and football is better than Colorado is competitive. Their offense is explosive, and they have a couple of playmakers on defense, chief amongst them Chidobe Awuzie, who should pose a tough matchup for whichever WR he lines up against. UM has quite a bit more talent, but I'm excited to see how both teams look this weekend. Plus, it'll continue to general upward trajectory of opponents just in time for the start of conference play.
Total Wins Revisited
On the heels of the first week of the 2016 season, we can now bear witness to the shift from the relatively subjective preseason forecasts and prognostications to analyses based on the objective (if not deterministic) statistics generated from actual game play. The rub at thist juncture of course is that the statistics are not of the greatest quality for the purposes of predicting future performance for various reasons, not the least of which is the small sample size. The exercise of coming up with more reasons for ignoring these early season statistics are left as an exercise for the reader in the comments below. That said, it doesn’t stop the publication of the statistics such as they are. Nor does it preclude the further rumination on said statistics into still more statistics as a means to enable further discussion, to jump to conclusions, to fly off of the handle or to goad your rival.
As you will recall, the previous diaries presented total win probability distributions for all Big Ten teams for the entire season as well as the in-conference schedules based on relative expected points ratings from Bill Connelly (S&P+), ESPN (FPI) and Ed Feng (Power Rank). To create their respective preseason forecasts, all of these fancy-stats based ratings use a completely different set of metrics than the in-season ratings. S&P+ uses 3 components: returning production, recent history, and a subjective element called recruiting impact. Similarly, ESPN made its preseason FPI sausage using three components similar to those of S&P+: returning starters, prior performance, and recruiting rankings; plus a fourth, coaching tenure.
Schedules, Spreads & Win Probabilities
Since we’re still in the midst of the glorious non-conference segment of the season, it’s a good time to jump back and review the overall schedules, but now with the updated albeit arguably flawed statistics applied.
Note that in the following table of schedules, the applied Red-Green color-map accentuates the forecast point spreads and win probability of each game. A color-shift toward the red corresponds to a more likely loss, and a green shift indicates a more likely win. Also, the colors for both columns are mapped to the win probability number. The sequence of individual win probabilities over the course of a team’s schedule are then used to compute the distribution total expected wins for the entire season.
B1G East Schedule Rundown
The table of schedules below shows the overall schedules for all seven teams in the B1G East based on the Bill Connelly’s S&P+ week 1 ratings. The last table simply shows a rank-ordering of the B1GE teams based on their expected in-conference win totals - it’s not a projection of divsional standings based on projected wins, losses, and tie-breakers.
What is notable with this new S&P+ statistical basis is that the love affair between S&P+ and our beloved Wolverines continues unabated from last season. Indeed, U-M is the only team that is favored in all of its games! That’s right. You know what that means. The other three contenders - Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State - are underdogs in two, three and four games, respectively. The other three (Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers) remain cannon fodder, and at best may be bowl-eligible at the end of the season.
In the aggregate, Michigan looks to be the team to beat with about 10.2 expected wins, edging Ohio State for the top spot by just over 1.4 wins. Nearly 2 full games separate Ohio State from the next 2 teams, PSU and MSU. Michigan is the only team expected to have a double-digit win total.
As promised above, here are links to similar tables of schedule probabilities based on FPI Ratings and Power Rank-ings. These analyses differ to some extent, most notably that the spreads of expected win totals are not as wide, which suggests more closely contested races, and instead all of the “contenders” are underdogs in at least one game.
B1G East Expected Overall Wins
The bar plots below show the expected total overall wins distributions for teams in the B1G East, in alphabetical order. Noted above each bar is the probability for that number of wins (you may need to click & embiggen to read it). The bar with the highest value is the most likely outcome (the mode). Also marked on each plot is the expected overall win total (the mean). The last line plot is just an overlay of the same data from the other seven bar plots.
What remains noticeable from the preseason forecasts is how much higher the peak of Michigan’s distribution is than any other team. The spread is also narrower, but that is less obvious. What this means is that not only does Michigan have the highest expected win total, but it is also the most likely to hit that mark. Also, Michigan has the highest mode of any team at 10 wins, one ahead of OSU follows at 9, followed by MSU and PSU with 8 apiece. Michigan also stands the best chance of having an undefeated season at 11.3% or about 9:1 odds, followed by OSU with a 1.3% likelihood.
B1G West Schedule Rundown
The next table of schedules shows the overall schedules for all seven teams in the B1G West based on the Bill Connelly’s S&P+ week 1 ratings. Again, the last table simply shows a rank-ordering of the B1GW teams based on their expected win totals - it’s not a projection of divisional conference standings per se.
In the case of the B1G West, the emergence of new S&P+ ratings brings with it a shuffling in the order of the four teams at the top. In order, they are now Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin. No team is favored in all of its games. Indeed, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa are all underdogs in 3 games, and Wisconsin is an underdog in four. Minnesota has the highest total expected wins, just ahead of Nebraska by 0.2 wins. Altogether, less than 0.9 wins separate Minnesota from fourth place Wisconsin.
The next tier of two teams - Northwestern and Illinois - are within 0.2 wins of each other, and at between 5 and 6 expected wins have a fighting chance at bowl eligibility, and as such may pose potential trap games to their opponents. Meanwhile, Purdue is only favored in one of its games the remainder of the year.
FPI also forecasts the same four teams expected to have winning records: Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota - except with a much wider spread of total expected wins. No team is favored in all of its games. Iowa is an underdog in the fewest number of games: two. Nebraska and Iowa are underdogs in three; and Minnesota, six! Nebraska also has the highest total expected wins at 8.5, ahead of Iowa by just over 0.4 wins. Thus, it’s Nebraska that looks to be the team to beat in the East, and Iowa is followed closely by Wisconsin.
PR is similar to the others, showing Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota as the contenders. However, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska are all underdogs in three games apiece, and are separated in total expected wins by only 0.5 wins altogether. Minny, on the other hand, is an underdog in five of its remaining games, and lags behind Iowa by 0.5 expected wins.
The bottom line is this: the B1GW race is wide open in the statistical prediction sense. The consensus at this point is that Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin are all evenly matched teams within about 0.5 games of each other. On the other hand, ranging in expected wins from 6.5 to 8.1 and being an underdog in anywhere from three to six games, it still remains that Minnesota is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
B1G West Expected Overall Wins
The bar plots below show the expected in-conference win distributions for the B1G West teams, in alphabetical order.
What is noticeable by comparison here is how closely the distributions of Nebraska and Minnesota match up (within 0.2 expected wins of each other, and the same mode of 8 wins). The distribution for Iowa and Wisconsin are also nearly identical (also within 0.2 wins, with mode of 7 wins). It appears highly unlikely that any team will have an undefeated season. Minnesota has the best chance of a one-loss season at 3.6%, followed by Iowa at 1.4%.
Yours in football, and Go Blue!
First off, thank you for everyone who has or is serving our country, we can never thank you enough for your service. Remember how last week was great weather? Maybe a little warm, but nice and sunny and dry? Well, not so much the case this week unfortunately. I'll be in A2 tomorrow and do my best to provide updates, but if you're headed to the game please keep an eye on things as severe storms can't be ruled out. We have a low pressure system that will first pull a warm front northward across the area tonight, bringing rain and storms late tonight and into early tomorrow morning. We then get a break before the low moves across the straits, dragging a cold front through the region. Storms will once again fire up ahead of the front in the afternoon, with strong storms possible. We have some upper level energy that will help with storm formation too. No doubt the Patriot Parachute Team will be tracking the weather for their jump. Expect relatively breezy WSW winds with temps in the 70s and humid conditions. So to sum up, while it's not a guarantee you'll use it at the game, you may want to grab the rain gear and be prepared. If you traveled for the weekend, the weather will be great Sunday - sun, low 70s, and low humidity.
If you're planning on heading out early, you may want to grab the umbrella and make sure you have a tent to be under. Rain looks to move out mid-morning, so maybe head out to breakfast and then head to the tailgate for some brewskis? The ground may be a little soggy, so it might not be the best day for your favorite white shoes either. We'll start the day in the mid 60s with a SW wind at 15mph, gusting into the low 20s (this is when you'd see small waves on the water, loose paper will blow about) so make sure you have something to hold down your plates & napkins! By mid-morning we'll be up around 70 and have sticky, humid conditions. We look to be dry with cloudy skies heading from the tailgate tent to the gates.
Lots of clouds to start this lunchtime game with a temperature of 75 degrees. It'll be very humid, and a bit breezy. We'll have steady SW winds at 15mph, still gusting into the low 20s. You may catch a few peeks of the sun here and there as we go throughout the first half of the game. Not going to rule out rain, but we might just catch a break here.
Up a degree or two by halftime with still plenty of humidity. Winds will start to pick up a bit. They'll still be out of the SW, but now up to 20mph and gusting up to around 25mph (you'd see moderate size waves and small trees sway). There will still be lots of clouds, and the chance for rain is low, but still there too.
As we get into our mid-afternoon, the cold front approaches, and we'll start to see more scattered showers and storms develop. There is the chance a few of these storms may have gusty winds, frequent lightning, and large hail - definitely not something to be caught outside in. Keep an eye on things and duck inside if a severe storm warning is issued. Temps top out leaving the game at 77 with a WSW wind at 20mph, gusting to 30mph (you'd see large waves, empty garbage cans might tip over). We'll have mostly cloudy skies with storms possible into the late afternoon. The chances for rain really diminish by the time we're having dinner. Winds will still be up into the evening though, turning behind the front to come out of the WNW at 20mph, still gusting to 30mph. If you'll be out late, we'll have a NW wind at 15mph, mainly clear skies, and temperatures down to around 60 degrees. Let's go blue!!
Christina Burkhart is the morning meteorologist for ABC in Flint, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
September 1 - Friday
It’s Christmas eve; football is almost here.
Unverified Voracity: Creepy Baby. Should be titled Links that Don’t Work. I would especially like to see the first one about Brian Kelly being crazy. What did that look like 10 years ago?
September 3 - Sunday
Game notes from the game 1 victory over Vanderbilt. Defense was very impressive, run game looked good, but the passing game was iffy.
September 4 - Monday
Somehow a game open thread two days after the game. Also included is a ‘M’ version of the Night Before Christmas.
Unverified Voracity: By S I Mean Herrmann with quotes about how much more simple and understandable the defense is this season for the players.
September 5 - Tuesday
UFR: Defense vs. Vanderbilt. English is better than Hermann.
English coaches like he's got a talent advantage. He swarmed Vandy instead of sitting back, waiting for them to make an error. Bend-but-don't-break is a rube's game suited for weaklings.
Woodley came in for a +12; Crable and Biggs each got +6s.
Blogpoll update. Tennessee is #1. Michigan is #9.
September 6 - Wednesday
Maxwell Pundit Week 1. Apparently, MGoBlog used to participate in a blogpoll equivalent of the Heisman. Brian’s top three are: Calvin Johnson, Garrett Wolfe, and Buster Davis.
UFR: Offense vs. Vanderbilt. Things looked pretty good, except for maybe the right side of the line (Mitchell/Riley).
What did you like about the dawn of DeBord Era II?
Internet malcontents will be malcontents, but they did get a few of their wishes granted. Michigan's base formation was a three-wide set, something long desired by crabby message-boarders. The zone running game vastly reduced the prevalance of the fullback shuffle. The waggle re-emerged as a weapon.
Side note, it seems weird to me that Brandon Minor was in this game. I associate him with the Rodriguez years so much and forget that he was contributing two years before that.
September 7 - Thursday
Update on Brian’s work at AOL Fanhouse.
An interview with CMU alum Brian Seymour about the upcoming game. It’s an interesting read with thoughts about the legacy of DeBord, Brian Kelly’s crazy play calling, and how a spread offense works.
A collection of links that Brian was not able to post during the last few days.
September 8 - Friday
I have a LeFevour and the only prescription is the most obvious reference available.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
Jamison debuts and gets a sack.
Morgan Trent emerges as the starter opposite Hall.
27-14; panic spreads like wildfire.
September 9 - Saturday
September 11 - Monday
Blogpoll Ballot Week 2. OSU is #1. ‘M’ is #8.
Somebody submitted a ballot to the blogpoll with San Jose State on it. Brian believed this was done just to get attention and tossed the ballot. They weren’t happy.
September 12 - Tuesday
Brian reviews film of Notre Dame’s game against Georgia Tech. His conclusions include: Brady Quinn isn’t that good, and ND played a very 2005 version of Lloydball.
Brian discusses the upcoming ND game with the House Rock Built blog. Lots of discussion on their mood for this game each year and about the history of the last few games.
Maxwell Pundit Week 2. Troy Smith #1 and Calvin Johnson #2.
September 13 - Wednesday
Brian reviews film of Notre Dame’s game against Penn St. His conclusions include: PSU’s coaching staff is dumb, Quinn is better but still not that good, and Victor Abiamiri is going to give Rueben Riley more problems.
UFR: Defense vs. Central. Good, but not as great as against Vanderbilt. Woodley got a +8, Branch +5, but Englemon -3.
September 14 - Thursday
UFR: Offense vs. Central. This is the first offensive UFR to use number grades. Kraus and Oluigbo both get +3, but Riley gets a -5. Brian admits it’s still a work in process.
September 15 - Friday
Brian does a podcast with House Rock Built. Apparently, he talked about when he puts on pants, which is ironic that he discussed this topic on the recent WTKA podcast (9/1/16).
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
Woodley is neutralized.
Hart goes for 150.
A link to “voracity-type substance” on Brian’s AOL site.
September 17 - Sunday
Notre Dame game thread with gleeful update.
Brady Quinn spent the day attempting to remember where he was, then quickly attempting to pretend he was anywhere else. Sorry, kid: there's no happy place on this field. There are only angry places filled with men named Crable, Woodley, Branch, and Burgess.
September 18 - Monday
Some great ND schadenfreude.
As disappointing as this loss is/was/will be, do not forget how Pete Carroll struggled in years 1, 2 and 3.
In year two, Carroll struggled to an 11-2 record and Orange Bowl victory over Iowa. In year three, Carroll struggled his way to national championship.
Unverified Voracity: Victory. With lots of perspectives on the victory, including victory sandwiches and how MGoBlog shirts can make you prophetic.
Brady Quinn for Heisman highlight video! But sadly it no longer works.
September 19 - Tuesday
Maxwell Pundit: Week 3 complete with Brian talking in pirate lingo. One through three is Troy Smith, Dwayne Jarrett, and Lamarr Woodley.
Quinn lets it rip on the first play from scrimmage. Weis is such a genius. It catches us so off guard that Morgan Trent(+2) is in better position than Samarwhatever and can slow up a bit to impede his progress.
This was a dominating performance and 1997 comparisons are beginning to be mentioned. No negatives were given. Crable was +9, Hall +8, and Branch +7.
September 20 - Wednesday
Unverified Voracity: Victory Edition the Sequel is just what it says, lots more takes on Michigan’s recent win.
UFR: Offense vs. Notre Dame. A few concerns about the run game, but with putting up 47 points, there are obviously few concerns. Manningham with +9 and Hart with +7. Long and Eckert both had -3.
September 21 - Thursday
Brian interviews two Wisconsin bloggers about the upcoming game. Nothing earth-shattering in hindsight, but it’s still an interesting read.
Blogpoll Roundtable looks at the beginning of the season and predicts where things will go from here.
Brian takes up the fight against bad journalism by shredding a piece from Matt Hayes.
September 22 - Friday
Nobody Expects Unverified Voracity. A backup Wisconsin LB will miss the game because he stole a moped. Also, ‘M’ hockey gets a commit from Chris Brown.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
PJ Hill averages 2.5 YPC.
September 25 - Monday
make no mistake: this was nearly as beat-down-errific as the Notre Dame game, except in this game Michigan won going away with a -2 in the turnover margin column* instead of a +4.
Also, this is very prescient to the 2016 season; not unlike “The Story: 2016”.
And thus severe cognitive dissonance in the Michigan fanbase. Stung by the Year of Infinite Pain and previous Years of Unnecessary But Thankfully Finite Pain, there is a hestiancy to predict anything better than 10-2, to envision horrible losses to teams with no business on the same field as Michigan (I'm looking at you, Penn State), to prepare for the inevitable hammer blow to the chest courtesy a wacky punt formation or foolish confidence in a slim lead or the plain bloody-mindedness of the universe. We hesitate. We don't want to go through that again.
And yet... this team is not last year's team.
(i.e. any team from the last eight years)
Analysis of recent MSU and OSU games. Drew Stanton is running more, and Troy Smith looked fairly pedestrian against Penn State.
Blogpoll ballot week 4: Brian. Auburn is #1, followed by Michigan and Ohio State.
September 26 - Tuesday
UFR: Defense vs. Wisconsin. Another stellar outing by the defense. The line was strong, led by +12 from Branch, +7 from Woodley, +6 for Taylor, and +5 from Will Johnson.
Brian interviews Jay Mariotti. Really.
Maxwell Pundit Ballot. Calvin Johnson is back to top, followed by Alan Branch, and Troy Smith.
September 27 - Wednesday
Blogpoll ballot week 4: official. Top three OSU, Michigan, and Auburn.
And a closer look at individual blogpoll ballots.
Brian has gotten a couple reports that Morgan Trent’s hand is broken.
Unverified Voracity Has No Catchy Title. The defense is starting to get some national hype, and Mike Valenti rants.
September 28 - Thursday
UFR: Offense vs. Wisconsin. Another strong performance by Manningham, but there are concerns about DeBord’s playcalling, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Brian decided to ditch the +/- system on offense for now until he can perfect it.
September 29 - Friday
Morgan Trent rumors are now determined to be false.
Brian takes a look at the Minnesota vs. Purdue game. Their passing game looks terrible, running game is ok, and the defense is solidly meh.
Brian backs off his Morgan Trent rumor back off, so no one is quite sure what’s going on. You think Counter-Strike rumors are bad, this one involved someone passing along Trent’s IM away message.
Minnesota preview. Doesn’t look like they are going to pose much of a threat.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
Still many first-down runs into stacked fronts.
Recently my new BFF It's Harambe took on the thankless task of asking his fellow MgoBloggers to rank the top 25 Michigan athletes of all time. As the list was revealed it was clear to this reader that some of the most notable players who competed during the athletic stone age (pre-internet) had been forgotten about. This weekly diary will take a look at the more notable players from our past to remind everyone of what they did and why they deserve to be honored and remembered.
Notre Dame’s legendary coach Knute Rockne named Heston “the greatest back of all time.” He told a reporter:“Willie Heston gets my vote as the greatest back of all time. Since those days many wonderful backs have flashed on the gridiron, including Red Grange and my own Four Horsemen of 1924, and my choice is still Heston.”
With Heston in the backfield, the Michigan Wolverines had four of the most successful seasons in the history of college football. The 1901 to 1904 teams became known as the "Point-a-Minute" teams because they averaged more than a point for every minute played. The 1901 team was 11-0 and outscored its opponents 555 to 0. The 1902 team was 11-0 and outscored its opponents 644 to 12. The 1903 team was 11-0-1 and outscored opponents 565 to 6. And the 1904 team was 10-0 and outscored its opponents 577 to 22. In Heston's four years as the starting left halfback, Michigan compiled an overall record of 43-0-1 and outscored its opponents 2,326 to 40.
During his four years at Michigan, Heston was known as a work-horse of the Wolverines' offense. In a 1903 game against the Chicago Maroons, the Michigan team gained 267 yards rushing, and Heston accounted for 237 of them. Noting the frequency with which Heston carried the ball, Ring Lardner wrote, "Michigan called Heston's signal. Maybe it was the only one they had."
Heston later wrote that his first touchdown at Michigan was his greatest thrill in football. His first game for Michigan was a September 1901 match against Albion College. Heston was put into the game in the second half. While sitting on the bench, he noticed that Albion's quarterback made long lateral passes to the backs. Heston snuck through the line, grabbed the ball as the quarterback was trying to throw it to a back, and ran the ball back 30 yards for his first Michigan touchdown.
In the inaugural Rose Bowl game played on January 1, 1902, Heston rushed for 170 yards on 18 carries, as Michigan defeated Stanford 49 to 0. Heston held the record for most rushing yards in a Rose Bowl game for 59 years.
Historic accounts differ on the number of touchdowns scored by Heston. In a letter to Grantland Rice in 1925, Fielding H. Yost claimed that Heston had scored 106 touchdowns at Michigan.The University of Michigan gives the total as 72 touchdowns, which it reports is still the school record. Other sources have variously reported that Heston scored 92 touchdowns, 93 touchdowns, and "more than 100 touchdowns." In 2013 Heston was voted one of the best 25 Michigan football players of all time by the Victors Club and The Football Writers Association of America named Heston as the halfback for its all-time team for the first 50 years of college football.
[Ed-S: Probably going to bump this feature all year unless I forget to.]
Well, that’s one way to start a season.
Best: Roman Reign’d In
In my preseason preview, I cautioned that this column’s length is going to be much more dependent on the quality of the game compared to earlier seasons; life finds a way of limiting the number of hours you can dedicate matching animated gifs to a sporting event involving kids dangerously close to half your age or more.
While the acquitted themselves admirably against Cal to start the year, the Rainbow Warriors were basically what everyone thought they were. Hawaii has a senior QB with a career completion percentage a shade under 50%, a 19:24 TD:INT ratio, and no real mobility. They don’t really have much of a running game if the defense has any ability to hold up even momentarily at the point of attack, and if the guy throwing the ball doesn’t have good numbers, you gotta believe the guys trying to catch those balls aren’t particularly good either. Their defense last year was nestled between North Texas and Oregon St. in FEI, and that was with a couple of guys on the defensive line who were either injured or kicked off the team for this game. I balked at the 44-point spread for the sole reason that I assumed Hawaii would pick up a couple of meaningless points at the end of a blowout to “only” lose by 40.
That’s what would have happened under Carr. It’s what would have happened under Hoke. It wouldn’t have happened under RR simply because the defense would have given up some points along the way. It was about winning with “class”, about beating an inferior opponent soundly but not excessively. You showed up for the body bag games because you had to be part of the equation, the vengeful god smiting the peasants giving you tribute. That’s how Michigan did it for years, and it seemed to work out pretty well.
But Harbaugh ain’t wired like that. Now, he’s not a Steve Spurrier at Florida or an Urban Meyer at OSU, who took any opportunity to run the score up even if it meant going for 2 on your first two scores of the game. But as was his mantra at Stanford, he wants his teams with win with character, but also with cruelty. Harbaugh will put in his backups when appropriate and won’t necessarily “pick” on an opponent, but as we saw in the Citrus Bowl in which Jake Rudock was throwing bombs well into the 4th quarter of that game, he isn’t going to shrink his playbook or go on “cruise control”. He isn’t wired that way, to relent or show mercy in the patronizing way some other coaches do, and he (rightly) assumes that as long as there is time on the clock you play football.
[hit THE JUMP for complaining that a 98-yard touchdown drive should have gone better and stuff]