In the last 5 years, I've made it to every Big Ten school (and ND) for an away Michigan Football game. As you’ll see, the Nebraska trip was quite unique. I hope Nebraska fans that visit Ann Arbor leave with an equally positive experience when they visit us.
Putting aside the Wolverines for a moment, the Nebraska football community is no doubt the most prideful, classy, hospitable and kind (in my observation anyway) of all B1G teams. While they don't have a decades-long history of matchups with other B1G football programs, I don't think they would change much if they did. They would still be a great example of how a fanbase is supposed to support its football program and welcome visiting fans.
Below are examples of how they do things:
- Checking in to the hotel (Fairfield Inn – not fancy), the hotel manager offered to give us his number in case we got lost while exploring downtown Lincoln. (Come On Man, I Have A Smartphone)
- Friday night, while at dinner, several groups of people stopped at our table, welcoming us to Lincoln and wishing us luck the next day for the game.
- After dinner, at a campus bar, students went out of their way to welcome us to Lincoln and say "Good luck tomorrow" with a smile. (This is when I start thinking Where Am I?)
- On the walk back to the hotel Friday night, a group of ladies stopped us on the sidewalk and said greeting visiting fans is always a highlight for them and it is "like seeing a celebrity". (Now thinking: Is This Just A Well-Executed Prank?)
- Saturday before the game, we walked all around the stadium and nearby tailgates for about 7 hours. This part deserves sub-bullets:
o About 75% of tailgate parties we walked by asked us to stop and chat with them. 50% offered us food or beverage.
o One tailgate we decided to stop at was run by Tommie Frazier. Yes that Tommie Frazier. His name is on the stadium. Not knowing who he was (all he said was "I used to play here"), we talked to him for about 15 minutes, discussing the ongoing stadium renovations, where various campus/athletic buildings were located, where the best tailgates are, etc. The only reason I know that he wasn't just another guy with a tailgate is because as we were saying goodbye, the Nebraska gymnastics coach walked up and said Tommie's name aloud.
o Another tailgate lot we walked through had all the party buses and RVs in it. A converted school bus stood out as a great piece of fandom and as we were walking by, the door flung open and we were invited inside to drink beer and watch the early games. We sat there for about an hour, totally spontaneously, and shared stories about how both teams think they would have demolished the other if they had played against each other in 1997.
o The last tailgate lot we walked through ended up being about a 3 hour stop. Our plans to go to a bar for pregame dinner were abandoned. One guy demanded we have a blue jello shot with him from the batch that he made in honor of Michigan. A few parking spots away we did several shot-skis. We accepted invitations to eat food from several different grills and slowcookers. All the discussions taking place in these three hours were about football and beer. No taunting or yelling or animosity or complaining of any kind. I never heard a negative remark about either team or their corresponding players. I was in a sea of red and I wanted more. (Is This Real Life?)
- During the game, a Nebraska fan sitting opposite the aisle from us bought us a Runza (a baked pastry filled with meat) from the vendor walking the aisles (yes they have those). He didn't speak a word to us the whole game except when he said "Welcome to Lincoln, this [Runza] is for you" while indicating it was a local delicacy of sorts. It was delicious. (I Didn't Know I Wanted That, But He Did)
- After the game, our section was among the last to file out due to the gate location, and the Nebraska fans walking down the steps with us were interested to know if we enjoyed our time in their city despite the ugly game. We said yes, and they wished us safe travels home.
It got to the point where the sincerity and hospitality were equal parts overwhelming and humbling. I highly recommend you visit this place. I'm still wondering if everybody that visits has such a great experience or if I was just lucky. Either way, this is how Football Saturday should be. I'll likely cheer for Nebraska whenever doing so doesn't conflict with cheering interests that are advantageous for Michigan.
Preseason Prediction: Michigan will end the year with a +8 Turnover Margin (TOM) or better (2011 was +7). The prediction for TOM for M for this year is based on the prediction that M will be a very good team again this year and is not based on the actual TOM of last year. (Very good teams will have a TOM of +5 or better.)
No Way: The replay guys were just brutal. Negate a 50 yard catch by Roundtree and then uphold that interception off the Vincent Smith catch/whatever. If that was a catch, then Smith was down when he hit the ground – if the ball hit the ground, then it should have been incomplete. Michigan had 2 takeaways but the 3 interceptions made the turnover stats for the game ugly. For the year, Bellomy is 4-21 with 4 interceptions and a – 0.65 efficiency rating. And, no, I am not charting that.
Denard Robinson Interception %: Denard was having a good game until the elbow nerve flared up for the third time this year and he did not return to the game. This is a recurring problem that is not going away and it is very likely that Denard will miss major portions of the next 4 games. The chart shows a comparison of Denard's Int% for 2011 and 2012 subdivided by out-of-conference (OOC) and Big Ten games.
In 2011 M ranked #11 at 65% run play %.
Synopsis for Turnovers: M added 1 interception gained (Ojemudia) for a total of 7 interceptions and is ranked #52. M had one forced fumble (Washington) recovered by Heitzman for 6 fumble recoveries for the year (ranked #63). The total of 14 interceptions lost is ranked at #121. Team interception rate is 7.4% – ranked #124 with the next worst being Auburn at 5.95%. M did not lose a fumble and the total of just 3 lost fumbles is ranked #13. Michigan now has 12 different defensive players that have either forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, or intercepted a pass.
Synopsis for Expected Point (EP) Analysis: Turnovers resulted in a net of 5.1 expected points benefitting Nebraska. Although the EP analysis does not indicate that TOs were a significant reason M lost this game, my gut sure tells me that the TOs made it just about impossible for M to win this one.
The folks at Football Outsiders – FEI are also doing weekly "Revisionist Box Scores" that strips out TOs, Special Teams, and Field Position. FEI calculates the value generated by each drive and then lost on the drive up until the turnover, as if the drive had concluded at that spot on the field. Thru Week #8, FEI has 16% of games where TOs were significant.
(See the Section on Gory Details below for how the adjustment for Expected Points (EP) is calculated.)
National Rankings: All rankings include games between two FBS teams ONLY and are from TeamRankings except for forced fumbles which is from CFBStats. The four columns with *** show the best correlation to offense and defense (per Advanced NFL stats).
The Gory Details
Expected Point (EP) Analysis: Basically, the probability of scoring depends on the line of scrimmage for the offense. Therefore, the impact of a TO also depends on the yard line where the TO is lost and the yard line where the TO is gained. Each turnover may result in an immediate lost opportunity for the team committing the TO and a potential gain in field position by the opponent. Both of these components can vary dramatically based upon the down when the TO occurred, the yards the TO is returned, and whether the TO was a fumble or an interception.
Here are the details for the game.
The analysis is a bit tricky because: (A) the TO may directly result in lost EP for the offense but (B) only modifies the EP for the team gaining the TO because the team gaining the TO would have gotten another possession even without the TO (due to a punt, KO after a TD, KO after a field goal, etc.). The Net EP Gain must take into account the potential EP gain without the TO. The EP gain without the turnover is based on where the field position would have been for the next possession if the TO had not occurred.
The expected point calculations are based on data from Brian Fremeau at BCFToys (he also posts at Football Outsiders). Fremeau's data reflects all offensive possessions played in 2007-2010 FBS vs. FBS games. I "smoothed" the actual data.
Here is a summary of the smoothed expected points.
Denard Robinson's injury on Saturday, coupled with Russell Bellomy's poor performance in a backup role, prompts many questions about Michigan's quarterback recruiting. Could the coaches have anticipated this? Were mistakes made? If so, by whom?
Before we try to answer these questions, let's get a few quick observations out of the way.
1. Game performance and practice performance can differ. We don't know what the coaches saw out of Russell Bellomy in practice, but one must assume it was better than what we saw on the field. We do know that Bellomy looked sharp in the spring game, but that was in the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium, against the second-team defense.
2. Anytime a star of Denard Robinson's caliber is knocked out of a tough road game, you're probably going to lose. Obviously, a better performance by Bellomy would have made the game less painful to watch. But the fantasy where he actually wins it was always a long-shot.
3. Bellomy's first performance against a credible opponent with the game on the line, is probably not the best indication of his capabilities.
With that out of the way, let's get back to our original questions.
Quarterback Recruiting is Different
Quarterback recruiting has some unique challenges that the casual fan often does not appreciate.
1. Quarterback rankings are generally accurate. High-school quarterbacks are very highly scrutinized. Their position generates a lot of stats, and they're filmed on every down. It is therefore difficult to surprise anyone at quarterback. I know that Brian Griese was a walk-on, but he was a rare exception. Everyone knows who the great prospects are — including, of course, the prospects themselves.
2. Most teams play only one quarterback. This means that a star QB who's one class behind another star QB, has a very strong chance of spending most of his career on the bench. This situation differs from, say, the offensive line, where the presence of a 5-star on the roster is not necessarily going to dissuade other 5-stars from committing. You can make productive use of more than one of these. At QB, you can't.
3. Quarterbacks are usually not fungible. Leaving aside Devin Gardner, most QBs can only play QB. This means they have less potential for switching positions if they arrive at college and find a depth-chart traffic jam.
4. You don't play quarterback as a hobby. Even for exceptionally talented players, preparing to play quarterback is a full-time job. It is generally not possible to play another position, and then quickly switch to quarterback when the need arises.
What can we draw from these observations?
In economic terms, the market for college quarterbacks is transparent, and quarterbacks have the advantage: there are more schools seeking a great QB, than there are great QBs to go around. And it is rather unlikely that a school will find a great QB that no one else knew about. (Yes, I know: Denard Robinson. Keep reading.)
A highly-touted QB is therefore unlikely to choose a school where he risks losing the job to another highly-touted QB. The best recruits look for a school where there's a clear path to becoming a multi-year starter.
Of course, that's true at every position, to a certain extent. But there's no other position where the typical team plays only ONE guy, and if you're not THAT guy, you probably won't see much game action at all.
The Five-Star Thundercloud
When a five-star quarterback commits to your school, there's good news and bad news. The good news is: you got a five-star quarterback. The bad news is: the classes surrounding him are going to be barren.
Here's the list of Michigan's quarterback commitments in the Rivals era:
|2002||4||Matt Guttierez||Transferred to Idaho State|
|2003||4||Clayton Richard||Switched to baseball after one year|
|2005||3||Jason Forcier||Transferred to Stanford|
|2006||3||David Cone||Stayed but never saw meaningful game action|
|2007||5||Ryan Mallett||Transferred to Arkansas after his freshman season|
|2008||NONE||(Steven Threet had transferred from Georgia Tech the year before.)|
|2009||4||Tate Forcier||Flunked out of school after his sophomore year|
Observe the quarterback vacuum around each of the three five-star quarterbacks that Michigan has recruited in the Rivals era. Other top QBs don't want to compete with these guys.
(Some may recall that there was a similar vacuum around Drew Henson's recruitment. They weren't giving out stars then, but it's likely Henson would have had five, if he'd come along later.)
The Unusual Events of 2008–2010
To a lesser extent, it is also difficult to pick up multiple four-star quarterbacks in consecutive years. These guys aren't quite the nearly-sure things that five-stars are; still, they're in short enough supply that they tend to look for situations where they have a clear path to the top of the depth chart.
In 2008, Rich Rodriguez inherited Georgia Tech transfer Steven Threet (a former four-star) and Nick Sheridan, a walk-on. Neither guy was well-suited to Rodriguez's spread offense. After the 2008 season, Threet transferred for the second time in his short career, leaving a void at the quarterback position.
In the 2009 class, Rodriguez picked up two four-star quarterbacks, a rare feat. This was possible only because most major programs thought that Denard Robinson could not play QB at the college level.
You can't exactly call Robinson a sleeper, because he had offers at multiple top-tier programs, including Florida, Auburn, Georgia, Miami, Ohio State, and West Virginia. But among those schools, only Michigan offered him at quarterback.
Then, four-star Devin Gardner saw the tire fire that was Michigan's 2009 season, and decided to stick with the Wolverines in 2010, although he had other top-tier offers, including Oregon, Notre Dame, and Nebraska.
Thus, Michigan got three four-star QBs in two years, which you'll find is an uncommon occurrence in college football.
But Devin Gardner was taking the risk that all QB recruits take, when they sign the year after another touted recruit. To become a multi-year starter at QB, he needed Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson to both flame out. Only Forcier did.
Adding insult to injury, Rich Rodriguez foolishly burned Gardner's redshirt after Tate Forcier was temporarily demoted to third string, to punish him for a lackluster effort in off-season work-outs. Gardner played a total of three snaps in two games when Robinson was briefly sidelined, plus garbage time against Bowling Green.
At this writing, it is still unclear if Gardner can obtain a medical hardship waiver for an alleged back injury that he suffered midway through his freshman year. I am not sure how serious that back injury was. By the time of Michigan's bowl game, Forcier had already flunked out of school. Gardner made the trip to Jacksonville and would presumably have played if Robinson had been forced out of the game.
Should Gardner be unable to secure a fifth year, his lost freshman season is probably the worst burned redshirt currently on the team, and one of the dumbest ever.
The More Normal Events of 2011–2014
When Brady Hoke arrived in January 2011, he found only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster and none committed. No top-tier quarterbacks were available, and none would have considered Michigan in the wake of an ugly and disorganized transition from Rich Rodriguez to a little-known (at the time) coach from San Diego State.
So Hoke wasn't going to have a lot of options. The best he could get was Russell Bellomy, a three-star from Arlington, Texas, whose best previous offer was Purdue. The Michigan media promptly wrote fawning tributes to Bellomy, but let's not forget: quarterback rankings are generally accurate. There are reasons why his best previous offer was Purdue.
Brady Hoke started recruiting like a firestorm, and within a few months he'd snagged his first trophy: a commitment from Shane Morris, a junior quarterback who was on his way to getting five stars from all of the major recruiting services.
At this point, Michigan quarterback recruiting entered the five-star thundercloud. No one who's better than Russell Bellomy is going to want to risk the possibility that he'll spend three or four years on the bench, watching Shane Morris light up the Big Ten.
You can understand, therefore, why Michigan didn't take a quarterback in 2012. The only ones available would have been the David Cone types, someone practically guaranteed never to see meaningful game action. Certainly, any quarterback they might have taken in 2012 would not have helped avoid the loss to Nebraska. Nor would that hypothetical QB have been any help next year: he'd probably still be fourth string.
Obviously, Michigan will need to take someone in 2014 — Shane Morris can't be their only QB over a three-year period — but unless they find a legacy kid who happens to have four stars, it's probably going to be another three-star who feels that a probable date with a clipboard at Michigan is better than the starting job at Purdue.
Was Devin Gardner Mishandled?
With Devin Gardner, the coaches were damned if they did, and damned if they didn't.
Any idiot ought to have known that Gardner was likely to be a better backup quarterback than Bellomy. Gardner's not only a year older than Bellomy, but he was better than Bellomy in high school, and as we've noted, QB recruiting rankings are generally correct. Nothing we've seen from Bellomy, other than a spring game in which he faced Michigan's second-string defense, should have led you to believe otherwise.
Despite this fact, some people actually believed that Bellomy was better than Gardner; some even believed he was better than Denard. I imagine most have now been disabused of that notion.
I don't think the coaches ever believed Bellomy was better than Gardner. They're not stupid. But unless Denard were injured, Gardner was destined to waste another year on the bench. Pickings were slim at wide receiver, and Gardner was that rare quarterback who actually could play another position, precisely the one where Michigan needed him.
So the coaches took a calculated risk. They knew that if Gardner practiced at WR enough to actually be usable at that position, he would no longer be well enough prepared to step in at QB. They hoped that Bellomy would be good enough to spell Denard occasionally, and that they wouldn't need him to go out and win the game in Lincoln or Columbus.
It wasn't a crazy gamble, from the viewpoint of playing the odds, and trying to give Michigan the best chance to win every game. You can't be so defensive that you keep one of your best athletes off the field, waiting for an injury that might never happen. Unfortunately, they rolled snake-eyes.
So the short answer is: no, I don't think they mishandled Gardner, given what they knew at the time and the depth they inherited at wide receiver.
What Does It Mean for 2013 and Beyond
Devin Gardner will be a full-time quarterback again, starting the day after Michigan's bowl game. Depending on Denard's injury status, he might be switching back now.
The one sure thing, is that even if you believe Bellomy will eventually win the job, you wouldn't just hand it to him. You've got to have at least two ready, and Gardner will be the only other QB available between Denard's departure and Shane Morris's arrival.
Despite Morris's high talent ceiling, he lost half his senior season to mono, he played for a mediocre high school team, and he isn't graduating early. You're kidding yourself if you think he'll arrive in mid-summer, and be ready to start for Michigan (or even to be a credible backup) by September 1st.
My own view is that Gardner will win the job. As I've noted above, QB rankings are usually correct. He came in with a higher ceiling than Bellomy, he's the better athlete, he has more game experience, and he's a year older.
Gardner has provided useful depth at wide receiver, but he has not set the world on fire. This once again validates what Brian Cook has so often said: the presence of a position-switcher on the depth chart is usually a sign of weakness. The two kids Michigan actually recruited at receiver, Darboh and Chesson, should be ready to step up next year. And that's before we consider any production from the two incoming 2013 freshmen who are already committed, or any others who are still considering the Wolverines, such as Laquon Treadwell.
This scenario will allow Gardner to start at quarterback, Bellomy to be the backup once again, and Morris to redshirt. The worst conceivable scenario, which I imagine the coaches would prefer to avoid, is that Morris plays relatively meaningless backup action as a true freshman, and squanders what could otherwise be a far more productive fifth year down the road.
1. You should not be terribly bothered that Michigan didn't take a quarterback in the 2012 class. Anyone realistically available would not have seen the field anyway.
2. Russell Bellomy probably isn't a quarterback you can win a Big Ten title with. That shouldn't have surprised you.
3. You can't really fault the coaches for switching Devin Gardner to wide receiver, given what they had at the time. Nevertheless, he's probably your 2013 starter.
4. Michigan is better off with Shane Morris than without him. But it's hard to get two guys like that in close succession. Any other highly-ranked QB will want to put distance between himself and Morris. Your next stud quarterback won't come until 2015, or maybe even 2016. The next guy they get is going to be another Bellomy type; maybe even the next two.
Brian's alter-ego/literary device paid me a visit prior to the game. Here's a transcript of our discussion.
Who do we play this week?
The corn guys, from out west.
You mean Iowa?
No, the other corn team, the one that wears red and white and is famous for their huge offensive lines.
Oh, Wisconsin. Gotcha.
No, no, NU.
The team that recently joined the conference.
Oh yeah, we are Penn Shhhtate.
No, think of the other one, that has a less than stellar academic reputation.
Of course, Michigan State!
No, the guys with the black shirt defense.
I give up.
So the point of all that is it's my way of saying that we are still learning about Nebraska. Obviously, there is the corn. The telecast showed us one of their mascot things making corn angels (like snow angels, but with corn) and wandering through a corn maze.* It's quite obvious why Nebraskans are so taken with Nebraska football, it's because that is their only respite from all that corn.
Growing up, I learned about all the great football rivalries, with Michigan-Ohio State topping them all. Nebraska-Oklahoma was next, right up there with USC-UCLA and Auburn-Alabama. Then, the Big 8 became the Big 12 and they tried to start a new rivalry with Colorado. That didn't work out because Colorado is a tire fire. Nebraska then joined the Big 10 and were rivalried up with Iowa (corn vs. corn! It's cornageddon!)
But you can't force a rivalry. Our biggest rival is Ohio State because of Bo and Woody, and all the history of The Game. However, after two seasons of Nebraska being in the B1G, it's becoming apparent to me at least, that you can add Nebraska to a list that includes Ohio State, MSU, ND, and, in their own minds at least, Illinois. Our division is going to come down to us vs. Nebraska more times than not, if past is prelude. And that means, prepare yourself for another rivalry game.
* Sparties have a bumper sticker that reads, "You call it maize, we call it corn." With Nebraska, it reads, "You call it maize, we call it our entire life." If you will,
Nebraskans: corn :: Native Americans: buffalo.
It's that time of year when people watch horror flicks, like Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Children of the Corn. In that spirit, I present to you another horror flick.
Burst of Impetus
* So we've got this quarterback who is pretty good, maybe you've heard of him, Denard Robinson. Well, he got hurt. Game over.
* Except it wasn't game over if someone could have stepped up and made a play. Returned a kick, made a pick-six, caused a FF on a sack, or just caught a pass from Bellomy, anything. It seems like when Denard went out, the air went out of the bubble.
* 21 players registered in the defensive stats, lead by Kenny Demens with 10 tackles.
* After taking the last two weeks off, Gordon and Kovacs were back in the top 5 for tackles.
* We had 6 TFLs after not getting any against STAEE. Roh definitively proved that he cannot be blocked by a RB, as he picked up the running back, carried him to the QB and sacked both players.
* We had zero QHs. Note to self: Must get MOAR PASS RUSH.
* Dare I say it, Jake Ryan appeared human, with almost as many missed tackles as tackles.
* Denard was on pace for a nice day, 10 carries for 46 yards and 6 of 11 passing for 55.
* In times of trouble, I try to find the silver lining. Bellomy did hit some receivers in their hands, but no one stepped up to help him out. And then he panicked and all heck broke loose. The less said the better.
Bunches of Funchess
* If Gardner is going to continue running backwards and not jumping for jump balls, and Denard is battling some on-going arm issue, it's about time to move Devin back to QB.
* Funchess nor Dileo caught a pass.
* Bellomy threw a pass a little behind Funchess. Another foot to the right and the Belches era* would have started with a TD pass. Instead, all we got was this:
And Justice for Rawls
* For the 2nd week in a row, no Rawls or Hayes. Perhaps I broke this out a season too early.
* Fitz had what is now, unfortunately, his routine day, 15 carries for 38 yards and a long of 9.
* Gallon had a few end arounds for 17 yards.
Norf and Souf
* Gallon doinked a punt return off his helmet, which caused us to start a drive at our own 1. It was a line drive punt, so if he just lets it go, it likely is a touchback.
* Wile missed a 53 yarder, so Gibbons got the next shot at 52 yards. I thought we learned that his range was only 44 yards. Gibbons is the man.
* NU was penalized 8 times for 104 yards. We were hit with only 3 for 44, and yet, I think that was a horribly officiated and replay officiated game.
* Roy Roundtree caught a 55 yard pass that was overruled. I did not see a conclusive replay showing the ball wobbling when it hit the ground.
* But even if Roy's catch was not a catch, by that standard how in hell was Bellomy's first INT not overruled? If the refs are correct, I'm supposed to believe that the ball hit Vincent Smith's hands which are apparently made of stone, causing the ball to deflect six feet in the air? I mean, there's no chance that ball hit the turf? None?
* Last week I complained about the refs not calling pass interference. Forget I said anything. In this game, if you looked cross-eyed at a WR it cost you 15 yards.
* I will credit the refs with nailing Neb twice for helmet shots. One was so egregious that it ripped the N off the NU player's helmet (but according to him, he hit the WR with his shoulder pad.)
I’ll Take Bullets for a Thousand, Alex
* As bad as we played, the first downs were close, 20-18 in favor of Nebraska. Of course, 6 of our first downs came from Nebraska penalties.
* Nebraska's 20 1st downs translated to 326 total yards, we managed 188 total yards. At least we were efficient with our first downs. Why get 20 or 30 yards when you only need 10?
* We won the TOP, 31:36 to 28:24. Yippee. We did control the clock early, and I was expecting that to pay off in the fourth quarter when we should have been able to grind down their defense, but then, you know, Denard got hurt.
* H/T my brother, who really should be writing this instead of me.
No change this week at the top of the big board, but there's plenty of movement in the bottom half, where Indiana(!) passes three teams with three new commitments. Yes, that Indiana. Changes since the last rankings:
10-15-12: David Kenney decommits from Iowa. Indiana picks up David Kenney. Darius Latham decommits from Wisconsin. Purdue picks up Danny Ezechukwu.
10-23-12: Wisconsin picks up Matt Hubley.
10-24-12: Indiana picks up Rashard Fant and Clyde Newton.
10-28-12: Christian LaCouture decommits from Nebraska.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||24/7 Avg||ESPN Avg||Avg Avg^||POINTS*|
^The average of the average rankings of the four recruiting services (the previous four columns). The figure is calculated based on the raw numbers and then rounded, so the numbers above may not average out exactly.
*The product of number of Commits and Average Average
NOTE: Unranked recruits are counted as two-star players.
On to the full data after the jump.
Video companion to http://mgoblog.com/content/picture-pages-predictability. Analysis courtesy Brian, as usual.
Full YouTube link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPcoRak3NbI