TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
I wrote this after my favorite Notre Dame trip, 2006, though, 1978 comes close.
I plan on going for the finale (?) in 2014.
TRAVELS WITH ERIN
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2006
Up at 6:30 with my 15 year old high school sophomore, Erin, to catch the bus to South Bend for the BIG game on Separation Saturday.
She packs her lucky clothing, but forgets the digital camera. Fortunately, they dispense the tickets on the bus, so I won't be able to lose them.
We are to meet the bus at UM Dearborn, it leaves at 8:00. Per plan, we stop at Einsteins for bagels, and have a cooler with chopped up pineapple, water, gatorade, and brownies from Mom for Erin.
I buy papers to read on the bus. Have my laptop with me to do some work and maybe watch “Hidalgo” a DVD we have which I have not seen.
Still not light, Erin not quite perky, so I drive.
Donna calls to advise she heard on the radio that I-94 is closed at the Jeffries, so her directions must be amended.
Arrive about 7:45, drive around until we see a bus, park, try to enter and are told UM buses in a different lot.
Clock ticking, but another appropriately attired driver asks us directions, so we figure they won't leave without us.
Whoah, four buses. We have no instructions on which number bus is ours. Rejected by captain one, I have to go all the way to the back to find the captain of bus two, who has our names on his list.
Back for Erin, we take the seats all the way in the back, in front of the bathroom, which face each other. The buses are stopping in Ann Arbor to pick up more people, so we may lose our extra area there.
Leave after eight, of course, massive fog. Plan A was for Erin to drive us, so glad we took the bus trip.
Only four or six more hop on at Domino's Farms, so we keep our four seats.
I tell Erin we will see lots of sandhill cranes, remembering the 1998 trip from Lake Bentley to Notre Dame. That was with Janell, but we lost, along with losing in 98 in Columbus and the Spartan Bob timekeeper game, so she does not make road trips anymore.
The fog persists, and we are not on I-94 due to construction, and see not one crane.
Though the announcement was that we would stop only for the driver's personal comfort, the caravan stops at a large rest area with restuarants and a coffee place, and all are allowed to exit.
The announcement also included the statement that it was the first time the driver had navigated anything longer than four feet.
I buy a cappucino as long day looms. Woman in front of me buying candy in spite of her confessed sugar problems. Many patrons express delight at the prospect of real rest rooms.
In between Erin naps, I muse that there would be plenty of time to leave Ann Arbor after next week's Wisconsin game, noon kick off, and get to East Lansing well before eight o'clock kick off against Notre Dame. Erin instantly gives me a big hug and endorses what she takes to be an invitation.
Upon further reflection, driving back around midnight through hordes of inebriated Spartans does not sound nice. If we stay overnight, Sunday will be half over before we get back.
Erin says I shouldn't have mentioned it unless we were going for sure.
Stop and go at a construction bottleneck in Indiana, short stretch.
Fog has lifted and it is clear.
All of the passengers are quite calm. No choruses of the Victors or chants of Let's Go Blue!
I share another thought with Erin. I am not attending a seminar which is the weekend of the game at Indiana, maybe we could go to that. This is greeted with the same enthusiasm as my commitment to bring her on this trip.
In South Bend, we are joined by the fifth bus, which left Friday.
Trip leader Roger has arranged for State trooper escort for all five buses. This accounts for the stares of most pedestrians we pass.
I tell Erin, this is the friendliest place we will visit with the Wolverine team.
She says, “You mean I won't be sworn at, thrown up at, or told my team's quarterback stinks after we win?” These recall incidents from 2004 Columbus trip, and last year's Madison and East Lansing sojourns.
I say no, the fans are passionate but polite.
12:30 we disembark, 30 minutes behind schedule.
It takes the usual ten minutes for Erin to don the layers of lucky clothes and accessories she has worn to the games forever.
Had she accompanied Hillary to the peak of Mt. Everest, he would have told her to remove a few layers.
I am much more comfortable in shorts and UM club T-shirt.
Some of the veteran travelers are unloading grills and other tailgate gear from the storage area under the seats. We have tickets to the official alumni tailgate, which has already started, and is on the other side of the stadium from where we parked. The plan is to walk past the stadium to the south, then wander north through the campus, then east to the tailgate.
Fellow students have told Erin she must tour the lovely campus. We do, and it is.
Our progress is blocked by a line of people on each side of the east-west sidewalk. As we approach, I see it is the Notre Dame team, dressed in coat and tie, walking to the stadium.
Erin is disappointed to find out, reading the paper the next day, that Steve Yzerman was somehwere close to us observing the ritual.
We come upon a large fountain spewing green water. It has four sets of Stonehenge like rocks, one facing each direction, the water spurting up over the height of the formation, landing in a pool.
The rectangular pool is only about three inches deep around the edge, extending a couple of feet into the pool.
Numerous pro Notre Dame slogans and exhortations have been scrawled by finger out of the green algae growth.
This is not acceptable to Erin. She searches for a clear spot, and inscribes a “Go Blue!” in large letters. She takes a picture with her cell phone camera.
Next up, the famous Golden Dome. In the brilliant sunlight, it is almost too bright to look at directly.
We move to the east and pick up the main north-south road, verified by asking a friendly parking lot attendant. I am using a map that came with the bus itinerary.
Wondering if we will be able to spot the tailgate sight, I see a mammoth tent, surrounded by huge UM flags, about a quarter mile away across groomed fields. Some kids are playing soccer.
I bought online, so we pick up the tickets and head inside.
Free peanuts abound, the cash bar is just inside the opening, large screen TVs with the green and white weenies playing at Pitt in every corner.
After finding seats, we return toward the front and buy tickets for food, which is good.
There is a raffle for various prizes, which we do not win.
The last is a Lloyd Carr autographed football.
It is won by a full figured man. Erin thinks, I feel sorry for whoever has to sit next to him.
After the UM cheerleaders fire us up, the party is over.
Just outside the tent, Liberty Mutual insurance has a table with a wheel of fortune style spinner for various prizes, beads, megaphones, pom poms.
Of course, permission is granted for Erin to spin. It hits pom poms. Four of them already adorn various parts of her already. The man suggests megaphones, she gleefully takes two.
He then states they do not want to take anything home, and giver her pom-poms too.
Someone else already gave us maize and blue beads.
It is an hour before kick off, I think, not familiar with NBC time, as actual kick off ends up being 3:45.
We traverse south on the main road. A group of a dozen or so youthful Irish supporters start a chant on seeing Erin.
And so on.
Something that would make any father proud.
Erin is delighted at those who ask what year she is in at UM.
We do hear some cross words from inebriated Irish, all but one appear to be students.
As we get to the stadium, Erin spots a stand for Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Donna had said she had a date with Ben and Jerry Saturday night, while we would be bussing back.
I have Erin take a cell phone picture and send it to Donna.
I guess the wrong direction to our ticket gate, so we walk all the way around the stadium.
When they expanded, they built concourses at each end, on the outside of the old stadium.
Not having had the tickets in hand until boarding the bus, we did not have the chance to look up the location on the internet. Row 26, so I told Erin we should not be too high. I said visiting team seats are always in the end zone or corner, but we did not care.
After climbing to our seats, we find ourselves in the top row. This is great, because the sun is behind us, and we are among the maybe 50 seats in the stadium that are in the shade.
It is hot!
I am on Erin's right. As she looks to her left, there is the winner of the Lloyd Carr football.
Next to me is the woman who bought candy at the rest stop.
She sets it on top of the concrete behind us. Sometime during the first quarter, she accidentally knocks it over the top.
No problem, she says, I can buy more.
The announcer states the winner of the game will have the all time best winning percentage in college football. This fact has been repeated to me, oh, at least twice a day all week by Erin.
They are honoring Heisman winners this year. Johnny Lujack's likeness graces the tickets, and he is there in person for the coin toss.
On the ride back, I point out to Erin that she has now seen the 1943 (?) Heisman winner on his home field, so her college football connection stretches far back.
These late kickoffs are brutal. We are so anxious by the time the game begins.
The Burgess interception for a TD certainly bodes well.
Then the Henne interception. My heart sinks.
Erin points out Henne made the tackle, on the four right in front of us.
Turns out to be one more category in which he bests Quinn.
Then we score 27 unanswered points. Without allowing them a first down in the entire quarter.
Most likely, a once in a lifetime experience.
Amidst the Michigan throng, sheer ecstasy. Cannot recall so many hugs from Erin.
The TV timeouts seem endless.
We let them march down the field to score just before the half.
Twenty point lead. I recall them catching State last year after being down 21 in the fourth quarter. Though I picked UM to win, (in overtime) I am not over confident.
Best T-shirt, solid blue, maize letters on the front "RESTORING THE GLORY SINCE 1993".
I grab frozen lemonades and water for us at halftime.
Apparently, Erin could not pick up the game on the radio. I think she would only listen to the UM broadcast.
However, thanks to cell phones, she is calling her sister for comments on reviewed plays, as there is no screen at ND stadium.
One fan stands up and yells that a call our way will not be reversed. At least according to his father-in-law, who always tells the truth.
Someone (?) yells out, “What does he say about you?” but he does not respond.
Too bad we don't have a go to receiver, I tell my fellow Wolverines after Super Mario hauls in TD number three.
After some noise during the short time the game was tied at 7, the home fans turn mute.
After half time adjustments from offensive genius Charlie Weiss, we hold them without a first down for the entire third quarter.
Fans head for the exits.
We soak up every second. Erin takes a picture of the scoreboard on the way out.
About 50 male UM students have formed a mob, jumping on each other and yelling. Their mood infects the crowd.
The acoustics walking down the concourse are incredible.
“It's great, to be, a Michigan Wolverine!” repeated again and again. Let's Go Blue!”
At the flat area at each turn, there is another group jumping, chanting, exhorting. Everyone is high fiving everyone all the way down.
Other than the euphoria after winning the national championship at the 1998 Rose Bowl, I have seen nothing like it.
I made sure to watch the beginning game of the renewed rivalry in 1978. The contracts had been signed years earlier. I think 1943 had been the last time UM and ND met on the field.
We won that game, but lost when I returned in 1980, and 82, as well as the 98 game.
28 years. Must be wrong.
We walk toward the buses. I think. We could see them from our seats looking back over the parking lots.
After several false alarms, I fortunately see another UM club member who points the way.
Passengers are noisier than before. Our box lunch is handed to us as we board. It is good.
I listen to post game call in show on the radio.
“Do you think this will affect Brady Quinn's Heisman chances?”
Geez, these guys are as smart as Buckeyes.
One delight after another.
At the rest stop on the way home, there is a rush to the facilities. A decked out Notre Dame fan, seated next to his decked out Notre Dame son, is waiving people away.
I think he is mad because of the outcome, he says the rest rooms are the other way, everyone is coming this way by mistake.
I say I thought he was mad, he said, no, we are nicer than Ohio fans, half of whom, like their team, are headed for prison. “And I'm from Ohio.”
Erin explains a difference she has witnessed.
“When I went to my seat in Columus, dressed like this, the usher said to me, “When someone gives you a hard time, let me know.”
“Today, when I went by the usher, he said “Welcome to Notre Dame, we're glad you're here.”
We exchanged more pleasantries, bought something to drink, and resumed our trek.
Erin slept, I watched "Hidalgo" until the laptop battery died.
Other than the DVD mishap, all went well.
Voice vote selected "The 40 Year Old Virgin" to be shown on the screens scattered throughout. Erin said she had already seen it. Was not my choice, but not a lot to do on a dark bus.
After the character tells about his Tijuana trip to see the human horse interplay, the screen goes black. Seems there was a 12 year old somewhere in front of us. Must not have been around when the vote was taken.
I was then able to pick up Florida-Tennessee on the radio, if I held it by the window.
Well after midnight, pulled into Dearborn, loaded the car and made it home after 1:00 am.
According to the game program, which I read on the ride back, Notre Dame's football player graduation rate last year was second only to the Naval Academy.
That is the kind of school I want to keep playing.
UM 47, ND 21. Great!
Spending the entire day, from 6:30 am to one the next morning, with your 15 year old daughter, priceless.
The tidal wave of major conference expansion and re-alignment is complete. The “Big Five” conferences – the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, and Pac-12 – have reached equilibrium. None are likely to grow within the next ten years.
The have nots will continue to jockey for position. The so-called mid-major conferences (the Big East, Sun Belt, C-USA, MAC, and Mountain West) are on the outside looking in. They are destined to remain there for many years to come. You will see additional shifts into or between these conferences, as each hopes to gate-crash the forthcoming playoff.
Every mid-major school hopes that it can be the next Utah or TCU, both of which punched their ticket up to the Big Five in the last round of realignment. It isn’t going to be easy. For crucial structural reasons, it will be extremely difficult for any of the have nots to make a persuasive case for admission to the Big Five.
Many fans make the glib assumption that the conferences that are still at 10 or 12 teams (the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12) will need to get up to 14 or 15 teams, as the ACC and SEC have done. This is not so. These conferences are all in a position of strength. Any change needs to be extremely compelling, and it is difficult to come up with plausible scenarios where that would be the case.
The Four Axioms of Conference Re-alignment
To understand this, you need to know the four axioms of Conference Re-Alignment
They work in the following ways:
- Money. No school willingly changes conferences to make less money. No conference accepts a school if its existing members will lose money.
- Football. No school moves willingly to a weaker football conference. No conference accepts a school that is below the league average in football.
- Academics. No school moves willingly to an academically weaker conference. No conference accepts a school that is drastically weaker academically than the rest of the league.
- Geography. The less sense a move makes geographically, the weaker the contracting parties.
There is no wiggle room in the first two rules. No one makes moves that lose money, and no one makes moves unless they are good for football. To those two axioms I cannot think of any modern exceptions.
The third rule has a bit of wiggle room. The Big Ten added Nebraska, which is slightly weaker academically than any other Big Ten school, but not drastically weaker. Nebraska is still a better “worst” school than the bottom of any other Big Five league, even the relatively strong Pac-12 and ACC. But there are limits to how low the Big Ten will go. On academic grounds alone, if for no other reason, you’ll never see a Cincinnati or a Louisville in the Big Ten.
Conferences occasionally accept schools with academics below the league average, but schools never voluntarily take an academic step down. In every modern move, the destination conference was better academically than the conference the school came from. This is a factor seldom considered by fans, who are only thinking about the football field. Conference moves are approved by school presidents, who are professors first and sports fans second.
The geography axiom has the most wiggle room of all, and it’s correlated with weakness. When the contracting parties are weak, they’re more likely to accept moves that make little or no geographic sense, if the other three axioms are satisfied. The Big 12, as the only net loser in the re-alignment derby, needed to find a tenth member, and with its options dwindling, took West Virginia, the best football school available. They rejected Louisville, which is geographically closer to the Big 12 footprint, but worse at football. West Virginia wanted to escape the collapsing Big East, and was willing to accept worse geography in order to do so.
The ACC accepted Notre Dame, their first member not on or near the Atlantic coast. But as the weakest of the Big Five leagues, the ACC needed to improve its football product, and Notre Dame needed access to the post-season. Here too, it was only because the parties were weak that they accepted a geographically nonsensical arrangement. (Notre Dame, it must be noted, was already in a geographically odd conference, the Big East; for them, the ACC has all upside. For many other reasons, the ACC was a better fit for Notre Dame than the Big Ten.)
Of course, the Gang of Five (i.e., mid-major) leagues have long ignored geography. The Big East is now the Big Everywhere. Conference USA wisely took a name attached to no fixed domicile. That they’re two of the weakest parties in FBS football hardly needs further explanation.
Applying the Axioms to the Big Five Leagues
With these axioms in mind, it is clear that the Big Five are done expanding. Let’s consider the three relevant cases:
- Teams moving up from “mid-major” status to the Big Five
- Continued exodus from the Big East
- Re-alignment within the Big Five
Teams moving up to the Big Five. In the previous round of re-alignment, only two schools managed to do this, and both were special cases. TCU joined the Big 12, but TCU was a former member of the Big 12’s predecessor, the Southwest Conference. Furthermore, the Big 12 had an urgent need to get back to ten teams, after losing Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, and before that Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten.
After accepting Colorado, the Pac-12 needed a twelfth school, so that it could add a conference championship game. Plans to absorb several Big 12 schools fell through, leaving Utah as the only logical twelfth team available. Now that the Pac-12 has a conference championship game, the hurdle for any 13th or 14th school will be much harder to clear. The only Big Five leagues that have gone to 14 football schools had very compelling reasons for doing so—the ACC to bolster a weak football product, the SEC to get access to the Texas recruiting market.
No remaining “mid-major” is even remotely suitable for admission to the Big Five. All are academically weak (by Big Five standards), lack significant football traditions, or come from small markets that would not bring much TV revenue with them. Most are more than one of the above.
Continued Exodus from the Big East. The Big East was considered a peer league of the Big Five for many years, before the mass exodus that saw Boston College, Miami, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Pitt, and Notre Dame, all leaving for the ACC, and West Virginia for the Big 12.
Of the Big East’s original football-playing members, only Rutgers remains. Everyone in the country knows that Rutgers would leave the Big East in a heartbeat. Therefore, the lack of an invitation from the major conferences is telling. No conference commissioner believes that Rutgers can deliver the New York/New Jersey television market. (I live in that area, and I can assure you that no one talks about Rutgers football.) Without a television audience or a large football fan base, there is simply no reason for any conference to take Rutgers.
All of the Big East’s remaining football members are arrivistes—former mid-majors who hoped the Big East was their ticket to the Big Time, only to realize that as they arrived, the league was taking a hard fall. None of them have the combination of a large market, a strong football tradition, and strong academics that the Big Five are looking for.
Realignment within the Big Five.This is the most complex case to consider. Let’s begin with some background. Except for the Big 12 and its predecessor, the Southwest Conference, no Big Five league has lost a member since South Carolina left the ACC in 1971. These leagues are incredibly stable.
The Big 12 was the one unstable major conference, due to fundamental mistakes when it was assembled in 1996 and poor management afterward. As now constituted, the Big 12 is what the Big Ten used to be, and to an even greater degree: a Big Two (Texas and Oklahoma), and a Little Eight. None of the Little Eight are useful to the remaining Big Five leagues, and the Big Two like having a sandbox they can dominate. Nothing will happen in the Big 12 unless Texas and Oklahoma want it. Both schools know that there is no other league where they would have that kind of power. Any potential new member would know that the rest of the league plays second fiddle to those two schools.
Among the Big Five leagues, only the Big 12 is leaving money on the table by remaining at ten teams, and depriving themselves of a conference championship game. As such, the Big 12 is the only Big Five league with an obvious reason to expand. Any other league, such as the Big Ten, would need a school, or more likely a pair of schools, which that brings sufficient revenue on their own, a condition that is hard to satisfy.
Texas and Oklahoma (the Big Two) strongly prefer the Big 12 to remain at 10 teams. The original Big 12 had a divisional split, but the South Division (in which both Big Two teams resided) was usually much stronger than the north, which had only Nebraska as a perennial power. In the 15 years that a championship game was played, Texas or Oklahoma represented the South 13 times, and the only other representative, Texas A&M, is no longer in the league. The South team won the game 11 out of 15 times, including the last seven times, and often by lopsided margins. Kansas State is the only team in the current Big 12, other than the Big Two, that ever won the game.
Because the Big 12 is so competitively lopsided, Texas and Oklahoma prefer to have the conference championship decided by a regular-season round robin, which they figure to dominate 75 to 80 percent of the time. Neither one is comfortable with putting a regular-season crown on the line in a conference championship game, where an upset could knock them out of the top-tier bowls. No doubt there are teams in other leagues that feel the same way, but no other league is dominated by two schools to anywhere near that extent.
Of course, the Big 12 has an additional problem. It is highly unlikely that the league would attract two powerhouse teams comparable to Texas and Oklahoma, which means that almost any conceivable divisional split would be competitively unbalanced unless the Big Two were split up. The Big Two want no part of this, as their annual rivalry is the conference’s biggest game, and they don’t want to dilute it by (potentially) playing it twice.
(I realize that the Big Ten put its two marquee teams, Michigan and Ohio State into separate divisions, a decision that many fans still regret. But Michigan and Ohio State do not dominate the Big Ten the way Texas and Oklahoma dominate the Big 12. Until the recent scandal decimated Penn State, the Big Ten had four premier programs and several others that are frequently strong, a situation the Big 12 cannot replicate.)
A while back, sources from Florida State and Clemson hinted—I stress, hinted—that they might be open to exploring a move to another conference. The FSU president quickly poured cold water on that idea, and that was before the ACC added Notre Dame and instituted a $50 million-per-school exit fee. The newly constituted ACC will probably have a TV package approaching the Big 12’s package in value, thus negating whatever merit some Florida State fans might have seen in moving.
FSU partisans might salivate over annual games against Oklahoma and Texas, but in most years they’d face only one of those teams, along with a steady diet of less desirable opponents like Iowa State, the two Kansas schools, and Baylor. Take another look at Florida State’s ACC schedule, especially with Notre Dame now in the mix, and the Big 12 does not look so good, monetarily or competitively. On top of that, the Big 12 would be a significant step down academically from the ACC, and once again I refer you to the four axioms: in the modern era, no school has moved to an academically less-prestigious conference.
If the Big Ten wanted to expand to 14 teams, he ACC is home to the only schools that might plausibly be available someday, and that might contribute enough television revenue to be considered worthy expansion candidates. But only three current ACC schools have been national powers in the last fifty years: Clemson, Florida State and Miami. Even if the Big Ten wanted them (a dubious proposition in itself), those schools are far more likely to see a path to the national championship through the weaker ACC, than to be playing November football games in places like Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
In addition to Texas—which is clearly not available—you can be sure that the Big Ten looked at every remotely possible school that met its criteria. That the Big Ten has chosen to remain at 12 teams is a pretty good indication that no team is available that the Big Ten wants.
Fans toss out realignment scenarios as if they were trading players in a fantasy football game. The conference commissioners and university presidents who make these decisions are far more ruthless. Any move has to be consistent with the four axioms: money, football, academics, and geography. It’s hard to find moves that meet those criteria, because the Big Five leagues are already very strong and stable, and have no burning need to grow.
Notre Dame was the last big prize remaining unclaimed. The Irish have now made their decision, one that suited their priorities better than any other available option, including the Big Ten. Now that all of the major programs have what they want, look for them to sit tight for a long, long time.
Note: I've added the FEI rankings for offense and defense – these are currently NOT adjusted and FEI waits until week #7 to have enough data to make adjustments to OE and DE.
Synopsis: The folks at FEI are predicting just a 6-6 season for Michigan (the same as last week before the loss to ND). However, this is not quite as bad as you might suspect because early in the season, FEI has universally pessimistic predictions. At the beginning of the year, FEI predicted ZERO teams to go undefeated and ZERO teams to have just one loss! Currently, FEI is still predicting that ZERO FBS teams will go undefeated. Only 2 FBS teams are predicted to have one loss (Florida State & Alabama). All others are predicted to have at least 2 losses.
Alabama (ranked #2 in FEI) is playing only 11 FBS games this year and FEI is predicting a 10.3 FBS win season. Florida State (ranked #1 in FEI) plays just 10 FBS games and is predicted by FEI to win 8.9 FBS.
Michigan is ranked #42 in the FEI. This is an improvement from last week even though we lost the game. This should not be entirely unexpected because the basic purpose of any ranking system is to better reflect the relative strength of a team by making adjustments to the raw win/loss data. In the FEI, the GE (Game Efficiency) represents the raw data before adjustments. M is ranked #60 for GE and after adjustments is ranked #42 for FEI.
Last year after Week#4, M was ranked #10 in the FEI with 10.3 predicted wins.
Fremeau Efficiency Index: The FEI is a drive based analysis considering each of the nearly 20,000 drives each year in FBS college football. The data is filtered to eliminate garbage time (at the half or end of game) and is adjusted for opponent. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams (win or lose) and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams. (This is why M was ranked relatively high after that loss to Alabama, actually fell 13 places after the blowout of UMass, and improved 4 places after a loss to ND.)
National Rankings: The rankings for offense and defense are based on scoring (yardage statistics are inherently flawed). These are simply raw numbers without any adjustments for opponent, garbage time, or anything else. The data is from TeamRankings and includes only games between two FBS teams.
FEI Details: Here are the FEI numbers for Michigan ( Football Outsiders FEI ). FEI is predicting a 6-6 season for the Wolverines (FBS Mean Wins = 6.0). Like most predictive tools, the FEI is less reliable at the beginning of the year because there is so little data.
Points Per Possession: The defense played very well and allowed just 1.3 PPP. The offense also played well but the TOs just were too much to overcome. M lost almost 14 points due to their TOs. The overall average for offense points per possession is 2.5 and for defense points per possession is 2.0. The 2 charts show the raw data for offense and defense with the number of possessions adjusted for "kneel downs" at the half or end-of-game (maximum deduction = 2).
Using Scoring Offense and Scoring Defense National Rankings for the past 5 years (FBS AQ teams only), this table shows the percentage of teams that finish the season with a +WLM and a +5 WLM. For example, teams that finished in the Top 40 in both offense and defense had a 100% chance to be +WLM and an 82% chance to be +5 WLM (9-4 or better).
I posted this over at a blog for which I occasionally write, but it's not a Michigan-centered blog and I don't get much feedback there so I thought I'd share it with the MGoCommunity.
Salty Sam Throws You on a Railroad Track
Being born in 1983 in Ann Arbor to a pair of Michigan alumni was the perfect storm for hating Notre Dame. For my entire life as a minor, Michigan State and Ohio State would occasionally jump up and bite the Wolverines, but they were largely just fodder for Michigan whether the coach was Schembechler, Moeller, or Carr. Notre Dame, however, was in the midst of selling its soul under Lou Holtz who was himself in the midst of getting his second of three straight schools at which he coached in hot water with the NCAA (Minnesota before and South Carolina after ND). Ethics aside, Holtz was a darn good coach which made his bizarre personality and speech pattern all the more obnoxious. At least John L. Smith has the decency to be nothing but comedy relief.
Holtz took the reigns in South Bend in 1986. After losing his first game against Michigan (and debut as Irish coach), 24-23, Holtz then led the Irish to 4 straight victories over Michigan, a stretch that included the 1988 national title for the Irish as well as the "stop kicking it to Rocket Ismail, please" game in 1989 when the Irish and Wolverines were ranked 1-2 to start the year. During this time I ranged in age from 4-7 and my father, like any true Wolverine would, grew an intense distaste for Holtz and the Domers, which I of course fully absorbed. I needed no other reason to hate Notre Dame, but then NBC made it even easier with their absurd TV contract. Half of my Michigan-Notre Dame viewing experiences have featured Tom Hammond (honorable mention in terribleness to ABC/ESPN for subjecting me to Brent Musberger for the other half)
Anyway, 1991 rolled around and in came the Irish to Ann Arbor looking for an unfathomable fifth straight win over the Wolverines. Michigan fans are rightfully (much of the time, anyway) noted for their arrogance, but in 1991 if there was one fan base that could out-smug the Wolverines it was Notre Dame. I was already destined to be a Wolverine slappy, but this cemented me for life:
That play and Remy Hamilton's winner in 1994 are the two that most stand out to me in my early Michigan football memories (of the positive ones, anyway. Don't even mention Miami in 1988. Crap, I just did). Holtz "retired" following the 1996 season. There still isn't a stated reason why. Holtz said "it was the right thing to do." Irish aficionados will tell you it was because the school's brass didn't want Holtz to surpass Knute Rockne's all-time wins record of 105. The likely reason became clear in 1999 when the Irish were hit with probation by the NCAA for failing to report improper benefits and academic fraud during the tenures of Holtz and his successor, Bob Davie. In any case, Holtz was gone and the first of many mediocre coaches to roam the sidelines in South Bend had taken over, so life must have been dandy for the Maize and Blue, right? Not so.
The Irish kept managing to defend their home turf despite fielding lousy teams and despite things like the hilarious hiring gaffe of resume doctor George O'Leary. The "Return to Glory" and "Field Goal Jesus" jokes were always funny, but not as funny as they should have been because Notre Dame still found ways to maintain some relevance by beating ranked Michigan teams. It wasn't until Charlie Weis' "decided schematic advantage" and then Brian "Grimace" Kelly that Michigan was able to put more than one consecutive win together against the Irish. The three most recent saw the Wolverines snatch victory in the waning seconds (I think the first two were by design; Rich Rodriguez didn't know how to win any other way) and the two most recent saw jaw-dropping offensive numbers from Michigan's quarterback, Denard Robinson. The 2012 game brought an opportunity for Michigan to win four straight against the Irish, matching the Irish's streak at the end of the 80's. Notre Dame is Salty Sam, always up to no good until, just when you thought all hope was gone, along Comes Jones in the form of Denard Robinson. There are three verses to the song. This would be Robinson's third and final game against the Irish. The thought of a third thrilling victory for Robinson was just delightful. The idea for this post came to me on Thursday, but I didn't dare say anything about it for fear of the jinx.
This game would be played in South Bend, however, and other than a couple blips on the radar South Bend has been the Bermuda triangle for Michigan. Whether it be an errant pass somehow still completed in 1990, Carlyle Holiday fumbling on the 1 and still getting a touchdown in 2002, or the 2008 slop-fest, good things don't often happen for Michigan in Notre Dame Stadium. The Ghost of Irish Past reared its ugly head again on Saturday and Robinson, with a little help from his friends, had the worst day of his Michigan career. 5 interceptions and a fumble and Michigan still only lost by 7 points. You can make a case that the better team has lost in this game for four straight years now. I was mad, but if you've watched enough of Denard Robinson it's impossible to really be upset with him. He's seen more in his 22 years (oh yeah, Saturday was his 22nd birthday) than most will in their lifetimes. His humility is equally evident in victory as well as defeat. So, instead of seething over this game for two weeks (Michigan has a bye on Saturday) like I would do pretty much every other year, I'm going to try damn hard to get past it because there are only 8-10 opportunities left to watch Denard Robinson in a Michigan uniform. Sure, he's a feast-or-famine kind of player, but when it's been feast I haven't had as much fun watching football since Charles Woodson donned the Maize and Blue.
As for Notre Dame, they've decided to opt out of the rivalry after 2014 due to
joining the ACC scheduling issues. The good news is games like Saturday's won't happen so much, but I'll still miss the rivalry. To me Notre Dame will always be Salty Sam, trying to saw Michigan all in half. It sucks when they succeed, but there's nothing sweeter than when Jones comes along and saves the day. Michigan-ND was a game I looked forward to more than any other; it was better when it was the first game of the year, but sadly Lou Holtz put and end to that by scheduling warm-up games in the early 90's. There's no doubt Bo was right ("To Hell with Notre Dame!"), but it was always truer when Michigan sent them there.
Preseason Prediction (Which Is Looking Pretty Silly Right Now): 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.)
C'Mon Man!: As I watched MSU struggle in their game against EMU, I thought, "we can beat ND!" And we should have (yeah, I know – coulda, shoulda, woulda). Denard has thrown a lot of interceptions in his career (4 in 2009, 10 in 2010, 14 in 2011) but has only thrown 3 picks 3 times (MSU in 2010, ND & NW in 2011). Since Denard's interception at the end of the first half was completely meaningless, this was really his 4th game with 3 interceptions (although the official stats will record it as 4 interceptions). For the year, that is 8 interceptions for DRob and a 8% interception ratio (ranked #123). Last year, Robinson finished the year with a 5.6% interception ratio (ranked #104). DRob did show marked improvement last year in his interception % over the final 9 games going from 8.3% in the first 4 games to 4.7% in the final 9 games. (BTW, 4.7% is still horrible.) Unless the interceptions stop, M is basically starting every game with a TOM of –2 .
Despite what you may have been led to believe, Denard has better statistics this year than last year! Obviously, the only meaningful comparison is between the first 4 games played this year versus the first 4 games last year. After the first 4 games, DRob's interception% is 8.0% this year vs. 8.33% last year. He also has just 1 lost fumble versus 2 lost fumbles in 2011. And, he has completed 53% of his passes vs. 49% last year. Unfortunately, Denard has attempted 100 passes this year versus just 72 last year – that is an increase of 39%!! You may have also forgotten that DRob threw those 3 interceptions last year in the ND game but the 4 TOs by ND (not including the meaningless ND TO at the end of the game) more than negated the interceptions thrown.
M is now –7 in TOM and only a dramatic turnaround (of epic proportions) will avoid a negative TOM for the year. Over the past decade, only 28% of teams with a TOM of –4 or worse have had winning records.
After 4 games last year, M had 6 interceptions and 2 fumbles for a total of 8 giveaways. We had intercepted the opponent 4 times and recovered 9 fumbles for a total of 13 takeaways and a TOM of +5 (ranked #12).
Synopsis for Turnovers: M picked up their first 2 interceptions gained (Gordon & Taylor) and is ranked #67. ND did not fumble and M ended the game with a total of 4 Takeaways for the year (ranked #87). The total of 10 interceptions lost is ranked dead last at #124. The only good news is that M has lost only 1 fumble (ranked #11). Overall the total is 11 giveaways (ranked #109) and a TOM of –7 (ranked #113).
Synopsis for Expected Point (EP) Analysis: Unfortunately, we got our first game where TOs were significant. I am sure no one is surprised that a TOM of –3 (adjusted for the meaningless interception at the end of the half) was the primary reason M lost this game. The analysis indicates a net loss of 9.32 EP for Michigan. M lost nearly 14 points because of their TOs and gained less than 2 points from the ND turnovers for a net loss of 12 points for M. ND lost 6 points because of their TOs and gained nearly 3.5 points from the M TOs for a net loss of less than 3 points for ND.
The folks at Football Outsiders – FEI are also doing weekly "Revisionist Box Scores" that strips out TOs, Special Teams, and Field Position. They show all games where the impact of these items would have impacted which team won the game. In their analysis, Total Turnover Value (TTV) for Michigan in the ND game was: TTV+ = 21.7, TTV- = 9 for a TTV Net = 12.7 and an adjusted score showing a M win by 5.7 points. Thru Week #4, here is their summary:
(See the Section on Gory Details below for how the adjustment for Expected Points (EP) is calculated.)
National Rankings: Ugly, ugly, ugly. 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
Details for Turnovers: Here is overall summary for all games by player (data in yellow was affected by this week's game).
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.
So an hour before the kick off of the annual Michigan vs Notre Dame game the other night, Michigan’s Athletic Director David Brandon was handed a letter from Notre Dame. When he opened it the next day, he learned that Notre Dame was canceling the annual series between the two schools after their meeting in 2014.....
This is sad for me, because I live 20 minutes from Notre Dame, and I’m a HUGE Michigan fan. The result of this is that the chance I get for yearly bragging rights in my community is gone. Its also sad because Notre Dame and Michigan are two of the oldest football traditions in the country, and they’ve got the oldest rivalry in the nation - which like .... awesome! So Notre Dame is pulling the plug on something I think is pretty cool and pretty important to me.
Why would they do this?
They say that its to protect their coastal important rivalries. I think they’re lying through their teeth when they say this.
Well, Notre Dame - a school with a proud of being independent in football (which makes absolutely no sense to me!) is looking to protect its brand. Now hopefully you’re asking, “What does that mean?!?” Well its about about visibility and recruiting.
College sports are a really weird way that schools build their reputation and influence. Example: Pennsylvania State University. In the 1960’s Penn State was a rather insignificant school, but in the next few decades, Joe Paterno, through the power of his football tradition, built up the school’s reputation. Today, “State College” is one of the more respected academic traditions in the country, a member of the prestigious AAU (a collection of the top research institutions on the continent), and national brand. All of this way made possible by the fame and the cash flow brought in by the football team.
Notre Dame, in much the same way as Penn State, has been propped up by its football tradition. The exploits of their traveling football team in the early part of the 20th century put this midwest school in the front of the nation. They would play anybody, anywhere. As a result Notre Dame has strong connections with major cities on either coast. As a result, many of the students that attend the school are from states far away from the school. And you cannot separate the rise of their academic tradition to a top 20 school, from their football tradition.
Now in the past few years decades Notre Dame’s football tradition has become a bit ..... stagnant. They have not finished in the top 25 for the past 6 seasons, they have failed to win a BCS game since the BCS was started in 1998, and they’ve failed to win a National Championship since 1988. Some have dubbed the phrase, “Notre Dame, returning to glory since 1993.”
Winning 1 National Championship in the past 34 years is something that is tough for the proud alumni of the schools, a fact drilled deep into the awareness of many of the alumni from Notre Dame. They insist that their school do everything possible to return their alma mater back to the level it once was. They have gone through multiple coaches looking for the man who can be their messiah; the chosen one capable of winning it all.
There have been several reasons why their brand has suffered; academics, location, the number of schools getting on TV, and the rise of the SEC have all contributed to Notre Dame’s dip in prominence. These factors have weakened Notre Dame.
There is also the way that the National Championship teams build their schedule. You want to have a strong schedule, yet you need to win the majority of your games. Notre Dame hasn’t been able to do these things in recent years. Either they have played teams that were much superior to them in strength, they have lost to their rivals, or they have played teams that were so poor that it did not prepare them/boost their strength of schedule.
Notre Dame has always fiercely maintained their independence from a conference. The main result would be that this would limit their influence. The problem with the major football conferences is that they end up being tied down to a geographical region. (The SEC mainly recruits students to their school from south eastern, the Pac(ific) 12 recruits the west coast, the Big Ten (12) recruits the midwest, and the Big 12(10) recruits Texas.)Notre Dame knows this, and doesn’t want to become geographically limited; they want to make sure that they maintain their national brand.
Notre Dame is located in the midwest part of the country, near Chicago (the region’s largest metropolitan area). They are very visible in this city, so much so that they aren’t worried about recruiting in their own back yard. They are comfortable with their fan base in the middle area of the country.
To be present on the west coast, Notre Dame has played Stanford and Southern Cal. They rotate the years that they play them, so every year Notre Dame makes a trip out to California. They have also been affiliated with the Big East for the past few decades; full members in basketball & the Olympic sports and playing a number of Big East opponents in football. Thus, Notre Dame is visible on both coasts.
In the past few years, Big East football has become diluted. Many of their traditional football programs have left the conference, and Notre Dame has been left to schedule a number of weak teams instead. As a result, ND has chosen to change is conference relationship to an East Coast conference with some football muscle: the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
Notre Dame will now play 5 or 6 games a year against ACC opponents. These ACC opponents will be quality football teams stretch up and down the East Coast. So their move to the ACC is good for their level of competition AND it gives them a presence on that coast. Its a win-win for Notre Dame.
This year, Notre Dame is already playing 4 ACC schools, so to add another game or two against these conference teams means that Notre Dame will need to drop one of its non-coastal, midwest opponents; they chose to drop Michigan.
The problem with Notre Dame saying they are stopping the Michigan rivalry because they value their more important coastal rivalries, is that Michigan isn’t the only non-coastal, midwest school that Notre Dame plays; Michigan State and Purdue are also regular opponents. So to say that Notre Dame canceled their series with Michigan is simply because they’re looking to protect their coastal reputation - which was Notre Dame’s reason for dropping the Michigan series - is to miss the point. There are three schools they could have chosen to stop playing. Now if you look at these three schools and their football rivalry with Notre Dame you’ll see something else.
Purdue: Notre Dame has dominated its series with Purdue. Since 1970, Purdue has only beaten the Irish 10 times; only 2 of these wins being in South Bend! (This includes an 11-game winnings streak by Notre Dame.) This rivalry has been completely one sided.
Michigan State: Michigan State is viewed as a thorn in the side of the Irish. They’re the pesky underdog that usually gives them fits. MSU has always been a 2nd level program in the midwest, surviving on the football players that were rejected by the region’s elite programs. The series is a bit more even than the ND/Purdue series (with Notre Dame winning 2/3rds of the games), yet its still a series where Notre Dame is the favorite.
Michigan: In the non-coastal midwest region, there are three big dogs in the football world: Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan. Not just the biggest in the region, they’re three of the biggest football traditions in the country! They are near the top of the of the totem pole in wins, national championships, budgets, stadiums, Heisman Trophy winners, etc. etc. etc. If there is a stat that can be compared, these three schools are among the leaders in those stats.
While Ohio State and Notre Dame don’t have much of a rivalry, Michigan and Notre Dame have a very fierce rivalry that stretches back to the earliest days of organized college football. Some students from Michigan, were the first to teach ND students how to play the football. Michigan was ND’s first opponent in 1887 (an 8-0 UofM win). And Notre Dame was first described as “the Fighting Irish” by a Michigan newspaper. There is also a long period of time between 1909 and 1978 where the two schools refused to play each other.
Since resuming playing one another (in 1978), Notre Dame and Michigan have played 29 games, each team has winning 14 and tying in 1992. Its as even as it possibly could be. And while both teams like to think they’re a better tradition, they’re the same tradition; Notre Dame == Michigan.
[Also, we should note that since resuming this rivalry, Notre Dame has only won one national championship. 10 of their 11 championships were won during the years the teams did not play each other (1909-1978).]
So what we see is that Notre Dame canceled the rivalry with the midwest rival they’re equal with; while keeping the rivalries that they dominate.
I think we should see this move by Notre Dame as nothing short of the Irish cutting the strongest of their non-coastal, midwestern rivals as they amp up their strength of schedule by moving into a relationship with the ACC. This has nothing to do with protecting their coastal allegiances. They want to avoid a strength of schedule that will limit their ability to compete consistently for the national championship.