Last May, I read some tea leaves in anticipation of the 2011 football season. After careful analysis, I concluded that our defense was likely to go from terrible-to-average, and our offense from great-to-good. In all likelihood, it was thought at the time, that we'd go 8-4 or 9-3, with a signature victory over either Li'l Bro or Ohio. A dreary, depressing repeat of 2010's 7-5 was considered the second most likely scenario. All things pointed to "kinda, sorta better...but not really that much better." In other words, not necessarily better than Rich Rodriguez would have done in a hypothetical year 4, though qualitatively different.
Then, at midseason, I read some more. We'd made it to East Lansing undefeated--with 1 more win than we had when we played them in 2010, and 2 more than we had when we played them in 2009. Things looked pretty good. Though 9-3/good 8-4 was still considered the most likely scenario, now that gleaming city on the hill, a 10-2 regular season record, seemed attainable. Imaginable. Plausible.
Then we did it: we went 10-2. Then we did it some more: we beat Virginia Tech in a BCS bowl. In doing so, we accomplished a few things we hadn't done in a while, such as:
Winning 10 games for the first time since 2006-7.
Winning a bowl game for the first time since 2007-8.
Winning a BCS bowl game for the first time since...1999-2000.
That, deserves a big round of applause, doesn't it? So I'd like give it up for Team 132, Brady Hoke and the rest of the coaching staff for exceeding my, and most people's, expectations for the 2011-12 football season. Huzzah!
That Sugar Bowl victory was a funny one, wasn't it? We didn't look like the better team most of the team, and our opponents looked like, well, they looked like the another team with really fast DEs and LBs and a moving rock at QB who can kinda sorta run and kinda sorta pass, but excels at shredding us for big gains. That's right, the Mississippi State team that beat us 52-14 in the 2010 Gator Bowl. Yet, somehow, this time they only scored 20...and we scored 23.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, captures the difference between 2010 and 2011 like the difference between our bowl performances. In 2010 we ran all over the field but couldn't score against good defenses when it mattered, while pretty much anyone with a pulse could score on us at will. In 2011, we sometimes struggled for yards, but scored as much against the good teams as the bad (excepting, of course, Minnesota). Good teams couldn't really put the ball in the endzone on us either, even when they picked up yards. We were good when it mattered; no, we were better when it mattered.
Comparing Performance to Expectations (and 2011 to 2010)
To finish off the diary series, I thought I'd look back at the previous sets of predictions and see how they fared. The initial prediction of 9-3/good 8-4 was predicated on certain concrete ideas about how much we'd improve vs. our performance in 2010. So let's get compare those to what actually happened:
Initial Prediction: A major improvement from wretched (ranked in the 100s) to average (ranked in the 60s-40s).
Midseason Preduction: These guys might be a top 30 defense.
Postmortem: To put it mildly, the defense exceeded all expectations. We weren't an average defense, as predicted back in May, or even a somewhat above average defense, as predicted at midseason. Rather, we were the #17 defense and #6 scoring defense. That's up from #110 and #107 last year.
Or, to put it in more objective terms:
Initial Prediction: A moderate decline in total yards and scoring.
Midseason Prediction: A moderate decline in total yards, but no decline in scoring.
In objective terms:
...and there you have it. We gained fewer yards but scored more points on offense. We allowed fewer yards and even fewer points. Oh, and we kicked a few field goals, thanks to the Brunette Girls of the world.
For one thing, we now know that Mattison is a Defensive God. He, Hoke and the whole defensive staff pulled off something I previously thought impossible...turning a laughing stock into a top-tier unit in exactly 1 year. If we doubted that the problem was coaching before, we know it was now. This unit was the best we've had since 2006-7, and didn't have nearly the talent that defense did.
For another, we now know that Borges can roll with the spread, and will tailor his schemes to what he has around him. Looking forward to 2012 and beyond to the Devin Gardner year(s), this will serve us well. He might not be the offensive genius Rich Rodriguez is, but he's a crafty fella who knows how to win. Should work even better in the Shane Morris + deadly line of maulers era.
Finally, we can dig into the stats a bit and see that one of the underlying constrasts was in Time of Possession. I
t used to be common sense that you tried to dominate ToP, and then the revisionists came around and said that there was no evidence slow offensive teams did better than fast offensive teams. Now, instead, you were supposed to jettison the possession game and score quickly. Or not. Because it didn't matter.
What I learned this season was that ToP may not matter in many cases, but it sure does when you're exactly the kind of team that has close to zero depth on defense. Then you really should keep them off the field if you can. Oregon can do the uptempo thing because they have lots and lots of depth on defense. They may not be Alabama, but they have a legion of solid dudes they can substitute in and out, and that's exactly what they do.
In 2010 and 2011, by contrast, we had an uneven group of starters, and wisps of smoke behind that. Brady Hoke's decision to slow things down paid off for us in 2011, even if it meant losing a little razzle-dazzle in the process. Going uptempo or playing the possession game is a choice you make based on your personnel, not an ideological question with a "right" and a "wrong" answer. In 2011, we chose the right course for that roster, and it made a world of difference.
- 1998: 4
- 1999: 2
- 2000: 4
- 2001: 4
- 2002: 2
- 2003: 3
- 2004: 3
- 2005: 2
- 2006: 5
- 2007: 6
- 2008: 6
- 2009: 5
- 2010: 3
- 2011: 2
- 4 is enough for now (given the MWC and WAC just got raided)
- B12 needs to get up to 12 teams
At this point we'd have 6 BCS conferences with at least 12 teams and each conference having a title game. That leaves you at the end of the regular season with 6 conference championships and history suggests that normally at least 2 of the confereces will have be having off years and can be eliminated via polls. As I mention above this also makes the conference championship games a round of the playoffs. It as also makes the regular matter. Consider the years when a 4 loss team won the Big East. I don't really feel they should have a shot at the national championship. So discarding teams like that ensures that no one will slack off in the regular season. Also if conference winners autobid in, it creates scenarios where you pull your starters when playing teams that aren't in your division, since all you care about during the regular season is winning your division.
The 4 team playoff becomes this weird animal where up to 12 teams can have a shot at the playoffs going in to the title game weekend (assuming B12 gets back to 12). 6 will lose and go off to bowls. 2 will be eliminate by polls and go off to bowls.
History shows that all 6 BCS conferences rarely produce elite teams at the same time. To get to six elite teams for a playoff you need the MWC and WAC producing talent. Those conferences have just been raided (either for coaches or for entire programs) and it seems unlikely we'll see elite talent from the non-BCS conferences for a time period. So if we're seeding 6 every year, we run the risk of having to seed really unworthy teams for #5 and #6.
Basically 4 means you're killing two teams via poll voting and that can at times present problems. 6 teams means you're letting inferior teams many years, but avoiding having the polls as the headsman.
One other comment...if you let all conference champs always get into the playoffs... Giving any conference an autobid to the playoffs is bad for the regular season. Consider the following scenario. Michigan and Ohio State have both won their divisions and are about to play The Game (as in 2006). This means they will meet in the conference championship game no matter what happens in The Game.
If the conference champ of the B1G automatically makes the playoffs, you have a massive incentive to sandbag The Game. You want to the win the B1G Title Game, The Game is meaningless. You actually have an incentive to hide your playbook (since you're playing again next week) and pull players to avoid an injury. #1 OSU vs #2 Michigan is a lot less epic since the coaches care more about winning the following week. If Michigan loses The Game, but beats OSU in the Title Game and goes on to the playoffs we'd be a lot happier than if the opposite outcome happened.
If only 4 out of the 6 BCS Conference champs make it to the next level though that changes. Now you not only have to win your conference but also put together a resume that beats at least of the other conference champs. So then going 2-0 against Ohio State becomes more important.
Whew, it is finally done...
I walk away from this really feeling like we're in a situation where we can move forward logically. If you simply average the numbers for each year, you come up with a 4 team playoff working just fine.
However that ignores the fact that in recent years we had some seasons where 5 and 6 team playoffs were needed. On the other hand, the BCS conferences raiding the MWC and WAC may have put an end to that trend.
As it stands I would consider the logical action to be pushing for a 4 team system to be ready to go when the BCS expires. Install that system for a time period and then watch to if programs arise out of the MWC, WAC, and C-USA. If they do, when the 4 team expires, consider moving to a 6 team system.
Jersey City (NJ) St. Peter's Prep junior Charlie Callinan is one of several wide receivers currently on Michigan's radar for the class of 2013. Callinan already holds an offer from Rutgers and his interest from several BCS programs in the Midwest and East Coast. The 6'4", 205 pound prospect is a member of the ESPNU 150 Watch List, while 247Sports ranks him as the #15 player in New Jersey and the #49 overall receiver among the junior class. Callinan has been in regular contact with Michigan assistant Curt Mallory, and I had the chance to talk to him last night about the recruiting process and where he stands:
ACE: How is everything going in your recruitment? Which schools are going after you the hardest right now?
CHARLIE: Everything is going pretty good. Right now, coaches are coming through, making their stops, just talking to me and watching us work out. I'm in contact with a bunch of coaches and schools, so it's been going pretty good. The [schools going after me the] hardest right now would probably be Rutgers, Michigan, Michigan State, Boston College, South Carolina, UConn, and Virginia.
ACE: Do you have any early favorites out of those schools?
CHARLIE: I don't really know about favorites, but I'm definitely interested in checking out those schools. I could see myself at every single one of those, and I've heard a lot about all of those schools. I don't really know about favorites, but all of those schools are pretty nice.
ACE: Talking about Michigan specifically, which coach has been in contact with you, and what's your impression of the coaching staff and the school?
CHARLIE: I've been talking to Coach Mallory a lot, Curt Mallory. He actually gets on a personal level with you, we'll talk a lot and we'll talk about how the week is going and stuff like that. He'll talk about the school and all that—he's a good guy and I heard a lot about him, I've heard a lot about the program, so I'll probably make it up there for a visit and check it out, and I'll see how it is.
ACE: How did you junior year go in terms of your personal performance? If you know your stats off the top of your head, feel free to rattle them off.
CHARLIE: It wasn't that good—we're more of a running team, so I don't get many looks at receiver. I'm still the number one receiver on the team. I had 35 receptions for 550 yards and five touchdowns.
ACE: If you had to scout yourself, what would you say are you biggest strengths as a player, and what are you looking to improve for your senior year and beyond?
CHARLIE: My strengths are [that] I can use my size pretty well, and I'm a pretty big kid. I'm about 6'4", 205, so I know how to use my size, and I know the game pretty well. I'll run really good routes and I'm just smart with the game, I can read coverages and all that. My speed is getting there, and I'm working on it, but next year that's what I'm mainly focusing on. I'm pretty fast now, but I really want just high-end speed. You can always get faster so I'll be working on that.
ACE: You mentioned Michigan as a possible visit destination. Are there any other schools that you're planning on taking a visit to at this point?
CHARLIE: Yup. On the 11th [of February] I think I'm going down to West Virginia for a visit, and then in the next coming month or so I'll be going down to Michigan State and maybe Virginia and UConn.
ACE: Do you have any idea in terms of a potential timeline?
CHARLIE: No, I have no clue. A lot of my friends committed before the season, I know some kids who committed after, and they pretty much told me that you've just got to know where you want to go to school before you jump to any conclusions. When I realize what school I want to go to, I want to make sure it's the right school, check it out even deeper, then I'll make my decision. There's no really telling what it's going to be.
ACE: What's going to make you know that a school is for you? What are the factors that you're looking at when it comes down to picking a school?
CHARLIE: The environment around me, the team, how I get along with the coaches, pretty much the overall environment. I'm not going to go to a school where I can't really get along with the coaches—it won't be a fun four years or however many years. I'm just looking for a school where I can be successful, do well academically and just as well on the football field.
Six Zero back with the January 2012 installment of:
This monthly offseason feature highlights some of the more famous personalities
here at MGoBlog. Without pulling back the infamous veil of blog anonymity, we’ll
get to know some of your favorite posters better and possibly shed some light
on their definition of why it’s so darn Great, To Be, A Michigan Wolverine.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW PREVIOUS EDITIONS OF MGOPROFILE
(Scroll down to the MGoProfile section of the User-Curated HOF).
SIX QUESTIONS WITH ACE ANBENDER
BIG SHOES TO FILL: 1. Definition(expr.) when a job that was
done by a great person will now be done by someone new.
Ex: Bob was so well-liked and successful; The man
replacing him has some very big shoes to fill.
When the acclaimed TomVH packed up his bags for the bright lights of ESPN, Brian put out the call for his replacement. And, to our surprise, the position was filled rather quickly, by some guy named Ace who previously wrote at some other blog or something. As if other Michigan blogs exist, right?
Since then, Ace has quickly carved out his own niche, both interviewing prospective recruits and covering sporting events and pressers as well. His style and writing voice has blended seamlessly with the existing culture of the blog, and yet he clearly seasoned the official content in ways we have never tasted before. And all the while, he is omnipresent, and certainly his biggest day of the year will fall next Wednesday as we learn of the luckiest two-dozen plus young men who will get to call themselves Michigan Men. In celebration of next week's National Signing Day, Ace broke away from the phone long enough to sit down for this exclusive MgoProfile:
1. First off—in your own words, explain to us the responsibilities and opportunities of being the Recruiting Analyst at MGoBlog?
To be perfectly honest, I’m still trying to figure this out myself. I know the opportunities—a chance to cover the team I grew up watching, a huge amount of exposure for my writing, making great connections, and being a part of the best team-specific blog out there, to name a few. As for the responsibilities, I’m still trying to find a balance between recruiting and football/basketball coverage; Brian has given me a lot of freedom to carve out my niche, and I’m trying to figure out what that is right now. Making sure readers get enough information to be able to follow the important recruiting stories is my main goal, and if I can help them become familiar with the type of people Michigan recruits, that’s a huge bonus and something I really enjoy doing.
As for day-to-day stuff, I’m learning it really changes depending on the season. Football season is a grind, especially when I’m checking out a high school game (or two) on Friday and then turning right around and covering the Michigan game on Saturday, and it’s also incredibly fun. Transitioning to basketball—while trying my hand at UFRing games—has also required a fair share of work. I hear things ease off a fair amount in the summer, and I can’t say I’m not looking forward to chilling out a bit and taking a week or two off in there. At the very least, every day I’m either writing a post or gathering information for one (read: watching film, usually) while also monitoring any recruiting info and trying to continue building my contacts. Though there’s a lot to do, you won’t hear any complaints from my end—I know how lucky I am to be in this position.
2. What was the hiring process to become a FT member of the MGoBlog team? And what on earth is it like to have Brian Cook as your boss?
The hiring process went so fast I barely had time to absorb everything that was going on. I’ve checked MGoBlog on a daily basis going as far back as high school, so I noticed pretty quickly when Brian posted the job opening on the site. I’m pretty sure that was on a Monday morning, and by that afternoon I’d finished up my resume—tailored specifically for the job, since this wasn’t your normal job opening—and sent it to Brian. I heard back within a day or two that I was one of the finalists, and I interviewed with Brian in person that Friday. Before the weekend was over, he informed me I had the job, and from there I hit the ground running.
As for having Brian as a boss, it’s a different experience than with any other job I’ve had (though, admittedly, this is my first full-time job). Most of my interaction with him is through GChat, and he’s not telling me what I should be writing about on any given day—football season had a relatively rigid schedule, but that’s not the case right now. I initially was worried that I would have trouble getting feedback on my writing, but I’ve found that Brian is great about helping me out as long as I take the initiative to voice my concerns to him. I know Brian trusts me to get my work done, and at that point there’s no need to micromanage—if I need something, I ask him about it, and otherwise we’re both focused on taking care of business.
[Ed: remainder after jump.]
Something has young Charlie Blockham stirring in the midnight hour...
and only his mother, well-versed in the lore of Michigan football,
can disarm his anxiety and put his fears to rest.
(Click the image to view full size)
I have found that, so far, Charlie is far and away the easiest Blockham to write for.
I've tried to keep the cast appearances relatively well rounded so far to allow the
readers to get to know the family. But the truth is there's already more Charlie strips
in the can than anyone else. He's just fun to create.
Look for more Charlie, this time interacting with his dad, later this week.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs every Tuesday here at MGoBlog, and at least every
Thursday on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out our newest feature,
Friday Roughs, a spontaneous low-end comic based on current Michigan events, available on Twitter and Facebook every Friday.
Below are the strength of schedules for all Big Ten teams from 2011, as well as Michigan’s opponents in 2012 (note that Massachusetts isn’t listed, more about that later).
If you want to look at the rankings for opponent win percentage for all 120 FBS teams for 2011, check out my website.
Teams who had tough schedules in 2011, and easier schedules in 2012, should, theoretically, improve their win total. By contrast, teams who had easier schedules in 2011, and tougher schedules in 2012, should decrease their win total. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way.
The opponent win percentage is simple based on the combined wins and losses of a team’s opponents (includes bowl games and conference championship games, as well). Note that the rankings do not include games played against FCS opponents.
Once every team in the country has a finalized schedule for 2012 (I’m looking at you, Big 12 and Big East), I’ll throw together the 2012 Strength of Schedule, based on the win totals from 2011.
|8||Penn State||Big Ten||62.1429%|
|53||Ohio State||Big Ten||54.0230%|
|55||Michigan State||Big Ten||53.9474%|
|80||Air Force||Mountain West||50.4132%|
A few notes (on teams other than Michigan and their non-conference opponents) (Note that my projections will include postseason play, too):
Illinois –Illinois’s home conference games are all winnable – Penn State, Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue. The road games are brutal, though: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, finishing up with an easier game at Northwestern. Illinois’s non-conference schedule is a bit tougher than the 2011 version – Western Michigan, at Arizona State, Charleston Southern, and Louisiana Tech. Early projection: Illinois decreases their overall win total in 2012, from 7 in 2011.
Indiana –Hands down the worst team in the Big Ten; schedule was among the toughest due to games against Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Hoosiers have a relatively forgiving non-conference schedule, playing Indiana State, at Massachusetts, Ball State, and at Navy. Early projection: Indiana increases their overall win total in 2012, from 1 in 2011.
Iowa –The Hawkeyes travel to Ann Arbor and East Lansing in 2012, and also make trips to Evanston and Bloomington. The home games, outside of Nebraska, are easily winnable (Minnesota, Penn State and Purdue). Iowa plays Northern Illinois (at Chicago), Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Central Michigan in 2012. Early projection: Iowa increases their overall win total in 2012, from 7 in 2011.
Michigan State –Illinois’s road Big Ten schedule is tough, but the Spartans will have it just as bad at home, as on the road. Michigan State plays Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, and Northwestern at home, while traveling to Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Michigan State’s non-conference schedule is tougher than the one from 2011 (which isn’t saying much, since 2011 was pretty easy) – Boise State, at Central Michigan, Notre Dame, and Eastern Michigan. Early projection: Michigan State decreases their overall win total in 2012, from 11 in 2011.
Minnesota –Partly a byproduct of how bad the Gophers were, also a byproduct of having played Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, all of who had at least ten wins. Minnesota’s non-conference schedule allows the Gophers to improve – at UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Syracuse. Early projection: Minnesota increases their overall win total in 2012, from 3 in 2011.
Nebraska –The Cornhuskers had a particularly challenging schedule in their first year in the Big Ten, having to visit tough environments in Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin. The Huskers will play Ohio, Michigan State, and Iowa on the road (as well as Northwestern). Nebraska has one non-conference game to schedule; they will play Southern Miss, at UCLA, and Arkansas State. Early projection: Nebraska increases their overall win total in 2012, from 9 in 2011.
Northwestern –Easiest schedule out of all the Big Ten teams. Having to replace QB Dan Persa will be tough, but at least QB Kain Colter has experience. The Wildcats will need that experience, as they travel to Michigan and Michigan State on back-to-back weeks; Northwestern also travels to Penn State and Minnesota on back-to-back weeks. The Wildcats host Indiana, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. Northwestern’s non-conference schedule in 2012 won’t be easy, playing at Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College, and South Dakota. Early projection: Northwestern decreases their overall win total in 2012, from 6 in 2011.
Ohio –Talk to a Buckeye fan and they will tell you it was one of the toughest years to stomach, between the NCAA investigations, Jim Tressel, and the losing record, Ohio is looking to forget the 2011 season. 2012 will likely be better, but the Buckeyes won’t be in the postseason. The Buckeyss have a soft non-conference schedule in 2012, playing Miami (OH), UCF, California, and UAB. Early projection: Ohio increases their overall win total in 2012, from 6 in 2011.
Penn State –Oh boy, where do I start here? Penn State’s non-conference schedule has been notoriously soft in recent years. Yes, they did play Alabama the past two seasons, but other than that, its been extremely forgiving. Penn State's schedule turned out to be the toughest because of playing Alabama, Houston, Nebraska, Wisconsin (three of which won double digit games). Next year it gets tougher with games against Navy and at Virginia. Penn State also plays Ohio University and Temple. Early projection: Penn State decreases their overall win total in 2012, from 9 in 2011.
Purdue –Purdue plays five of their first six games at home; an early start would put Purdue in great shape to improve on their 2011 record. Unfortunately for Purdue fans, they catch Michigan and Wisconsin on back-to-back weeks, but at least they are at home. Purdue also plays Penn State and Indiana at West Lafayette. Purdue will make trips to Columbus, Minneapolis, Iowa City, and Illinois. Purdue’s non-conference schedule in 2012, absent Notre Dame, is forgiving; the Boilermakers play Eastern Kentucky, at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, and Marshall. Note that Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio State are on back-to-back-to-back weeks; three straight losses could send Purdue into a tailspin. Early projection: Purdue decreases their overall win total in 2012, from 7 in 2011.
Wisconsin –The Badgers have it relatively easy for their Big Ten road games in 2012. Wisconsin will travel to Indiana and Purdue, but they also play Nebraska and Penn State on the road. Wisconsin’s 2012 non-conference schedule looks like four wins – Northern Iowa, at Oregon State, Utah State, and UTEP. Early projection: Wisconsin matches their overall win total in 2012, from 11 in 2011.
With that said, what are the early thoughts on Michigan?
EDIT: Thanks to Harmon98 and bluebrains98 for pointing out a serious problem. Problem is corrected. For those who are asking, this is based on the 2011 season, with 2011 opponents.