fair point that
[Ed-Seth- I may start bumping this every week]
Best: The Never-Ending Serene Story
Depending on your metric, I’ve either been writing these game recaps in 2010 against Iowa (with a heavy reliance on a cliched movie poster gimmick) or 2012 (which featured a picture of former Fig Things QB/Men’s Health cover model Brady Quinn and Poison lead singer/searcher-of-love Bret Michaels).
Needless to say, it’s been quite a long time. Over that span, I’ve seen UM attempt to transition to a run-first spread offense populated by mighty mite slot receivers and uber-mobile QBs, then back to whatever Al Borges thought he was running, to the Wreck of the Devin Gardner, to to current Stanfordization happening under Harbaugh. I’ve also seen UM field some of the worst defenses in their history, then a succession of good-to-competent ones, and then to the raging hellbeast that is the current incarnation under Durkin and Mattison. I’ve been writing about the highs and the lows, trying to make sense of the inherently unreasonable nature of college football, to determine if there is some unified theory, some midi-chlorian (ugh) connection that binds these games, these seasons together.
What makes it hard to thread these years together isn’t just that the authors keep changing, but also the readers and their expectations. While UM’s history pre-RR was marked by stability and consistency at the top, the year-to-year fluctuations still existed and made every season feel fresh and new. As I mentioned last week, the main difference under Harbaugh is that fans can safely return to the heightened, sometimes-unrealistic expectations of the past. But the more I’ve thought about it, I’m not sure “expectations” is the right word. Every fanbase has outsized expectations for their team because of how intimately they are attached to that squad; you always figure your middling LB or questionable RG is going to be better than anyone else’s question marks, that the breaks will go your way in the turnover battle, that every toss-up goes for the good guys. It’s human nature, this illusory superiority that manifests along the banks of Lake Wobegon, and it’s why college football has such an illogical hold over large swaths of the population.
[After the jump: Serenity; when is too soon?]
After the first game of the season I made a somewhat negative comment on this here blog and someone responded with, "what did you expect?" That exchange stuck with me. What does it mean to have an expectation? Google can't even figure it out. The first definition is, "a strong belief that something will happen." The second definition is, "a belief that..." So did I strongly believe we would go 10-2 at the beginning of the year, or was that just a belief that it could happen? I don't like to expect 8 win seasons. Why should I root for a team that I expect so little of? (I already have the Lions for that.) This is my team and my school. I want the best for them. If they fail to live up to expectations, we'll just work that much harder and try again. But we should never settle for mediocrity, nor should we expect it.
I've been asking myself, are my expectations realistic, or are they more "best-case scenarios," or my hopes for the season. I was conditioned by my first 36 years of life to expect 9+ wins per season, the occasional Big Ten championship, and to see a team that while maybe didn't win every game, at least was competitive in every game. After all, the ball can take some funny bounces and there is an RPS-aspect to every game. But the Michigan football team was well coached and controlled what they could - putting 11 men on the field, limiting penalties, making tackles, executing blocks, etc. The last seven years sorely tested the expectations I had built up over three decades.
Initially, the team failed to live up to my expectation as a 5th year senior quarterback coached by a QB guru, threw 3 interceptions in one game after throwing only 5 all last season. In the next two games, the team met my expectations by handling inferior opponents at home. In the fourth game against a ranked opponent that had demonstrated competence playing against serious competition, Michigan far exceeded even my lofty expectations, winning 31-0. I expected Maryland to score on us. I expected a close game, heck, they beat us in Ann Arbor last season, and this Michigan team hasn't traveled very well the past few seasons. But this season isn't last season, and that was proven yet again yesterday. Michigan far exceeded my expectations by blowing out the #13 team in the country and recording their third consecutive shutout. My son is 10 years old. The last time Michigan recorded 3 consecutive shutouts, I was 10 years old. A time when my expectations for Michigan football were being formed.
Burst of Impetus
* Is it possible to win a game in the first 13 seconds of action? With this Michigan defense, I'm going to say yes, yes it is. The opening kick return for a touchdown by Jehu Chesson set the tone for the rest of the day. Late in the 2nd quarter, Northwestern had an 8 play drive, granted they only gained 20 yards, but 8 plays is a lot against our defense. On the next drive they eked out a first down and started looking a little comfortable on offense. Then, Jourdan Lewis basically pick-pocketed the NU receiver and returned the ball for a touchdown. Had NU been able to score at the end of the half and score to start the 3rd quarter, maybe you could convince yourself they had a chance. Heck, the past 3 years, we've seen Michigan have trouble with the first and last 5 minutes of a half. But this season is not last season. Do you know what these two plays have in common? It's play-makers making plays. After writing 57 diaries about boxscores, far too often I've seen games decided not by the overall statistics, but by a few plays here and there. The Utah game to start the season is a prime example of this. They got the pick-6 in a 7 point game. Against NU, we got the pick-6 and the kickoff return, but we also dominated in every aspect of the game. When you can do both - make the big plays and dominate the down-to-down action - you've got the makings of a special team.
The Two Jakes
* For the first time this season, Jake Rudock met my arbitrary efficiency metrics with 74% completion percentage, 7.8 yards per attempt, and no turnovers. See, all we need is an efficient QB and we can beat top 20 teams by 38 points. I don't need greatness at the QB position, efficiency is sufficient.
* Jake Butt caught 3 passes for 40 yards with a long of 32. He was overshadowed by...
A.J. Williams, Receiving Threat
* A.J. led the receivers with 4 catches for 48 yards. Exhibit A in the case for Harbaugh's coach of the year nomination is this stat line. He takes guys that Brady Hoke struggled to put in positions to succeed and makes them significant contributors to the team. Other examples include Braden, Clark, Poggi, Houma, and Strobel. And the list just goes on and on. And he knows how special teams are supposed to work.
* Rudock spread the wealth again among 7 receivers. 7 passes went to TEs, 7 went to WRs, and three went to Smith.
* 9 players and one TEAM made carries in the game. Surprisingly, it was Derrick Green who led the team in carries with 12 followed by Smith with 8 AND Karan Higdon with 8.
* De'Veon is clearly the lead back, but I'm starting to think it doesn't matter who gets the next carries. Joe Kerridge got a 34 yard carry. Five player had long runs of 10 or more yards.
Tacos, Peppers and Captain Morgan
* I'll give Northwestern some credit; they did make our back 7 relevant. Safety Jarrod Wilson led the team with 7 tackles followed by linebackers Morgan and Bolden with 6 each.
* Michigan recorded 8 TFLs with Willie Henry leading the way with 2.5.
* A couple weeks ago, I noted that Michigan had 6 BrUps, a huge number. Well, against Northwestern, Michigan had 5 QHs, an equally huge number. I've been doing this for awhile and I don't recall ever seeing that many QHs.
* Peppers led the way with 3 of Michigan's 5 BrUps. Like I said before, play-makers making plays.
* Michigan ran 69 plays to NU's 58. There were 27 special teams plays. 17.5% of the plays were from special teams, or roughly 1 in 6.
* Michigan punted five times. Northwestern returned zero for zero yards.
* Michigan also kicked off seven times. Northwestern returned four of those for a total of 75 yards. Jehu Chesson returned NU's only kickoff for 96 yards and a TD. I'd say that's a win for us.
* Michigan gained 21 first downs to NU's 13.
* Net yards rushing was 201 for Michigan and only 38 for NU.
* Both teams came into the game allowing roughly 20% on third down conversions. Michigan went 7 of 14 while holding NU to 2 of 13.
* Michigan had the ball for 37:05 to NU's 22:55. Like DJ Durkin said after the game, a shutout really is a team statistic. The other team can't score if they don't have the ball, and they can't get in field goal position if the special teams are working and the offense isn't turning the ball over.
WHAT ARE THOOOSE?
* Those are robots and nutrients. You look confused, so let me explain. I didn't think I'd have one of theeese, or more properly, one of thooose, this week, until I turned on the MSU-Rutgers game. During every televised game, in an attempt to maintain the facade that college sports are integral to the academic mission (have I gotten that cynical?) the television network will show commercials for the two competing institutions. During the Michigan game, they showed Prof. Jessy Grizzle's robot. I know and like Prof. Grizzle, and I'm sure his robot is really cool, but it seems like they've been highlighting his research for several years now. Surely, there must be other interesting things going on in Ann Arbor?
* Fast forward to the Spartan game. The MSU commercial promoted a faculty member from their environmental engineering department and his work separating nutrients from cow manure. It was 30 seconds of cows and cows' manure footage. Great big machines were shoving rivers of cow manure towards a nutrient separation system that separated the 90% of manure that is water from the nutrients. The commercial ended with the professor suggestively taking a drink of yummy, recycled, nutrient separated cow manure water. I don't understand how they think that the average high school student watching at home is going to see that and get excited about applying to MSU. It's like they know they are Moo U and they have decided to double down and own their ag-based, academic mission. I have numerous friends and family members who root for sparty. If it was any other week, I probably would have skipped this section of the diary, but you know, there's a somewhat important game coming up on Saturday. Regardless of the outcome, my expectation is that we'll go back to our high technology jobs working with robots, while they will go back to separating nutrients from manure. Have I sufficiently beaten this to death? Yeah, I suppose so.
While we have a weak cold front to the north Friday night, high pressure will be in control of the Great Lakes for the weekend. It looks to be a perfect fall football day! Typical fall in the mitten - you'll want layers as we start the day cool, warm up nicely in the afternoon, and get a little chilly at night. Expect some light winds out of the SW. Get the crockpot and brewskis ready! Let's get a win out there guys!
If you're up and at 'em early you may see some fog. It'll be patchy, but could reduce visibilities quickly if you're out picking up the last minute bag of ice or bottle of hot sauce - just give yourself a couple extra minutes to do so. It will also be chilly! Temps to start the day will be around 40 degrees, with a light northwesterly wind. Without many clouds, sun will let the fog burn off, and begin to warm us up! By mid-morning, we'll be up around 50, and we'll be approaching 60 degrees for that lunchtime tailgate. Winds will shift during the first part of the day, out of the WSW mid-morning, and SW by the time we're heading into the afternoon, remaining around 5-10mph (a light breeze that would blow about some loose paper and leaves). Plenty of sunshine for tailgating - can't ask for much better!
Lots of sun for the kick-off! You may want the hat or the sunglasses for this game, rather than leaving them in the car. 63 degrees for the start, and the low 60s is where our highs will end up for the day. We'll have a few clouds here and there heading throughout the first half, with SW winds right around 10mph.
Down a degree or two by that halftime show, so still plenty comfortable with lots of sunshine. Winds will stay steady, holding at 10mph out of the SW.
Dipping just below that 60 degree mark as you walk out of the gates - smiling from a great win! If you're headed out to dinner, you may want the jacket - or walk a little faster back to the car/home - because temps will continue to drop off without much cloud cover. What will help is that southerly wind flow. Mid 50s for the dinner-time hours, and into the 40s for the late-night, hitting 45 for last call. That little bit of a breeze (SW around 5mph) will add a chill that'll have it feeling like 40. Go Blue!!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for ABC in Flint, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
Just posting this for kicks since I track it.
This is the S&P+ data for opponents thru 6 weeks of UM, OSU, MSU. I also posted those 3 teams week over week changes in data - both OSU and MSU had rough weeks in S&P+ rightly so. This is still early enough in the year, 1 bad or good week can make you move a lot.
In terms of the 18 opponents (5 weeks completed + this week) biggest movers (i.e. 30 spots-ish) were:
- CMU's D took a huge step up for holding N.Ill to 19. Even if N. Ill offense has a bad rank. There could have been other factors like CMU's earlier opponents (not named MSU) doing better.
- VA Tech's offensive S&P ranking sunk as Pitt held them down and they continue to look like boogers.
Utah slid its way up on both offense and defense as they did nothing but sit in a bye as other top teams looked LOL. BYU's D also got a 10ish slot pop. Maryland's O sunk further into the abyss thanks to UM.
Overall same perception as last week - MSU has faced the best offenses, and OSU the worst. UM has faced by far the best defenses (will be 4 top 50 defenses after this week). Even UNLV's D is wonderfully meh by S&P+ standard? Which is better than we thought.
|Off S&P+||Def S&P+||Off S&P+||Def S&P+|
|Opp S&P+||Opp S&P+||Opp S&P+|
|UNLV||98||N. Ill||106||Air Force||27|
|BYU||46||W. MI||69||C. MI||90|
|Opp S&P+||Opp S&P+||Opp S&P+|
|UNLV||64||N. Ill||26||Air Force||52|
|BYU||29||W. MI||112||C. MI||42|
Welcome to your week five edition of these Big 10 Power Rankings! As discussed last week, these rankings are results based, in the sense that they judge what teams have actually done in games (and not how good they are perceived to be by the media). This diary will proceed as follows. First I will explain the methodology (including a major change from last week, as well as a proposed change for next week). Then I will present the rankings. Finally, I'll briefly outline some observations based on the results.
- 2 – win over “good” team
- 1 – win over “solid” team
- 0 – win over “not good” team/loss to “good” team
- -1 – loss to “solid” team
- -2 – loss to “not good” team
NOTE: This system starts by assuming every team is "baseline average," that is to say, every team is expected to beat "not good" teams, expected to lose to "good" teams and expected to win/lose to "solid" teams in roughly equal measure. Anything above that is rewarded and anything below that is penalized.
NOTE: This system does not reward teams for wins over “not good” teams, nor does it penalize teams for losses to “good” teams. The baseline average team is expected to beat the former, lose to the latter and break even against “solid” competition.
NEW: Last week several commenters suggested I make the system for determining “good,” “solid” and “not good” more transparent. So this week, instead of rating each Big 10 team’s opponents individually, I’m just using Football Outsiders’ F+ rating system, like so:
- Good: #s 1-25
- Solid: #s 26-75
- Not Good: #s 76+
Note: in order to avoid endogeneity issues, I’m using the F+ rankings from the previous week (i.e. from before the current slate of games were played).
- 0.5 – road win
- 0.0 – home win/road loss
- -0.5 – home loss
Margin of Victory Weight
- 1.0 – large win over “good” team
- 0.5 – large win over “solid” team/small win over “good” team
- 0.0 -
- -0.5 – large loss to “solid” team/small win/loss to “not good” team
- -1.0 – large loss to “not good” team
EXAMPLE: So a 6 point win over Northwestern this week (currently #17 in F+), would be scored as follows: 2.0 [no home/away weight] + 0.5 = 2.5. A 6 point loss to Northwestern would be scored like this: 0.0 – 0.5 [no weight for MoV]: -0.5.
Proposed Conference Game Weight
Unlike the human polls, this ranking system doesn’t distinguish between recent and older results. As a result, it also potentially overrates non-conference games relative to their importance as part of a conference power ranking system. So I’m wondering: does it make sense to add a +/- 0.5 weight for conference vs. non-conference games? That wouldn’t really change much right now, but going forward it would reduce the impact of early season results against non-conference opponents.
I’m not wedded to the idea, per se, though I think it might improve the system. I’ll implement it next week if you guys think I should, and leave things as is if the balance of opinion tilts that way.
Week 5 Rankings
[Note: the (+/-N) refers to movement up or down the scale since last week: +2 means a given team has climbed the rankings by two spots, say from #4 to #2 (i.e. it's inversely proportional to the numerical value of the rank).]
1. Northwestern (5-0, AP #13): 5.5
(=) Last week’s top ranked team does the most to improve their position this week by crushing “solid” Minnesota at home, but also benefits from previous opponent Duke moving up to #22 in week 4’s F+ rankings (which leads to their reclassification as “good”). Though most observers see Ohio State as the best team in the Big 10, Northwestern has—by far—accomplished the most through five weeks.
2. Iowa (5-0, AP # 22): 4.5
(+4) Iowa is week five’s biggest winner, moving up from #6 to #2. The most obvious reason for this is their (fairly lucky) road win against Wisconsin (#19 in F+). But the shift to using F+ has also benefitted the Hawkeyes in other ways, as previous opponent Iowa State barely squeaked into the “solid” category at #75 in F+ (and Pittsburgh is #50). It’s unlikely that Iowa State will remain in this category, so expect that score to decline somewhat. But Iowa is definitely better than expected.
3. Ohio State (5-0, AP #1): 2.5
(-1) A top five team by most national ranking systems, and the near unanimous preseason #1. Ohio State is undefeated, but have not impressed in victory. The Buckeyes remain at 2.5, as their road victory bonus for winning in Bloomington is canceled out by the small margin of victory over what F+ considered to be a “not good” (# 78) team going in to week five.
4. Michigan (4-1, AP #18): 2.0
(-1) No major change here except for a road win bonus against Maryland, as the system does not factor in large margins of victory against teams rated as “not good.” Still, getting a first road win under Jim Harbaugh is nice. Next week’s matchup against Northwestern provides an opportunity to make a major move upward in these rankings. It will also tell us a lot about where we are as a program.
5(t). Michigan State (5-0, AP #4): 1.0
(-2) Starting from a raw score of 2.0 (for wins over “solid” Oregon and Air Force), MSU is then penalized for failing to win convincingly against bad teams like Central Michigan and Purdue, while another MoV penalty cancels out a road win bonus against WMU. Bottom line, this system expects good teams to impose their will on inferior opponents and the Spartans have yet to do that in a single game. And they almost lost to Purdue (who are very bad). So it still remains to be seen whether MSU is a sleeping giant or paper tiger. A very tractable schedule, though, ensures that latter eventuality probably still translates to 9 wins and a decent bowl game. Bring on Rutgers!
5(t). Minnesota (3-2, AP NR): 1.0
(-2) I’ve never believed in this team, given that they graduated like 90% of last year’s offensive production (i.e. Cobb/Cobb/Maxx). Now Northwestern has exposed the Gophers for the average-plus team they are. For those paying close attention to scores, Minnesota has beaten two “solid” teams according to F+ (Colorado State and Ohio), but is penalized for the loss to Northwestern, since the Wildcats were classified as “solid” by F+ in week four (#26). In other good Gophers news, Purdue and Nebraska are up next.
7. Illinois (4-1, AP NR): 0.5
(+3) This week Illinois beat a struggling Nebraska, whose fans may be regretting the offseason coaching change right now. Prior to the game, though, Nebraska were rated “solid” (#38 in F+). Strangely, Middle Tennessee also qualifies as “solid” (#69 in F+). Nebraska is likely to be downgraded next week, but still—for a team that projected to be straight-up bad, Illinois looks surprisingly mediocre so far, and that’s an improvement over the Tim Beckman era.
8. Wisconsin (3-2, AP NR): -1.5
(-1) Badgers has a sad. On the other hand, the Big 10 West is pretty bad. Wisconsin should be okay, if not much better than okay.
9. Indiana (4-1 AP NR): -2.0
(-1) The Hoosiers definitely look better than expected, and came ever-so-close to upsetting the defending champs this week. But three unconvincing wins over teams that are clearly “not good” does hurt. Even still, Indiana has four very winnable games left on its schedule (away at PSU, Maryland and Purdue, and home versus Rutgers), so bowl eligibility looks to be in the cards.
10. Penn State (4-1, AP NR): -2.5
(+1) PSU may be 4-1, but they’ve struggled against 3 out of 4 “not good” opponents and lost to the only “solid” team they’ve faced. This is the kind of team that might have a surprising performance or two in them, but I only see one likely win on their remaining schedule (home vs. Maryland). The rest of the schedule ranges from tossup (home vs. Illinois) to near-certain loss (away at MSU, OSU, Northwestern). Bowl eligibility is still in question, pending next week’s match against Indiana.
10(t). Maryland (2-3, AP NR): -2.5
(-1) Maryland isn’t very good, but at least their losses are fairly explainable—both West Virginia and Michigan are rated as “good” by F+, and thus the beat downs are expected results vs. an average team, and Maryland, so far, appears to be a moderately below-average team. Sadly, though, the Terrapins really only have one more game on their schedule that I’d consider a likely win (away at Rutgers).
12. Nebraska (2-3, AP NR): -4.0
(=) This is not a good debut season for Mike Riley, though the fact that the Cornhuskers have been “in” each of their losses suggests that this team * might * be able to put it together at some point. Or they might collapse, like our 2009 team did midway through the Illinois game. There are only two likely wins left on the schedule (away at Purdue and Rutgers), so they’ll have to pull an upset if they want to make the postseason. Even odds on that happening.
13(t). Purdue (1-4, AP NR): -4.5
(=) Purdue is bad. How they almost beat MSU is hard to explain—maybe MSU isn’t that good, or maybe it’s just one of those mysteries, like how Ty Willingham’s very bad Washington teams consistently gave Pete Carroll’s USC a game but got shellacked by everyone else in the Pac-12. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, this system does not reward closer-than-expected losses to “good” teams. On the other hand, it does penalize home losses to “solid” opponents—and Purdue has two of those (and the loss to VT was a blowout).
13(t). Rutgers (2-2, AP NR): -4.5
(+1) Rutgers “benefits” from not playing this week. Next week they’ll be the punching bag MSU unloads its frustrations upon. But hey--one dude might be out of legal trouble. That's something, right? Right?
- Mean: -0.3
- Median: -0.5
- Range: 10 (5.5 - -4.5)
Though this ranking system does not predict who would win in a head-to-head matchup (whereas F+ or the AP poll do attempt to do that), it does indicate whose early season records denote accomplishment, and whose do not. Northwestern and Iowa are the teams that have done the most so far, though few, I imagine, would rate them as best in conference. Still, right now it looks like the Big 10 West will come down to these two, and both look much better than expected.
These rankings also confirm what many of us have long suspected: that the human polls are overrating OSU and MSU based on preseason biases. The difference is that OSU has a much higher talent level than anyone else in the conference. By contrast MSU's problems strike me as more serious. Under Dantonio, MSU has relied on effective defensive scheme and a remarkable upcoaching system on both sides of the ball to paper over gaps in raw athleticism relative to elite opponents. This year the scheme, at least, appears to have moved to Pittsburgh. On the other hand, look at their schedule: if everything goes pear shaped, they still probably win 8 games. That's a nice cushion.
As far as Michigan goes, well, the system rates the BYU win higher but not much else. We need another win against someone with a pulse to demonstrate that we are really back, and not just a team that's going to hang around the bottom edge of the AP poll for the rest of the year. That said, this is as good a start as I've seen over the past decade. I'm quietly confident we are on track for a 9 win season, including a rivalry win (my guess would be over MSU).
Finally, the system also tells us not to buy Indiana (despite being game against OSU) or PSU at 4-1. As I see it, Indiana is headed for a respectable 7-5 season. PSU, by contrast, may struggle to earn bowl eligibility. The system is more bullish on Illinois, which just shows how terrible Beckman was.
...oh, and Rutgers is bad. Also Purdue. So MSU should feel bad about almost losing to them.
Okay, that's all for this week. As always, if you have some constructive suggestions, I'm listening. Also, please do tell me what you think about the proposed conference game weight!
I've updated the mini program for the game this weekend. I added a total defense section as well.
Feel free to let me know any changes directly on here.