Given the interest here in the European Championships, I figured it might be fun to make some predictions about the World Cup 2014 as an OT diary. Sure it's not about University of Michigan sports, but this is the offseason, right? Hope it's okay with everyone, and please know that this is a one-time deal...my next diary is going to be another Reading the Tea Leaves installment, and very much about Michigan football, and the American kind at that.
Back to the subject at hand, I came up with a simple methodology for determining the favorites based 6 measures: quality of attack, midfield, defending and goalkeeping, as well as depth and team cohesion/tactics. Each is rated on a 5 pt, like this:
5 = Elite
4 = Good
3 = Adequate
2 = Problematic
1 = Poor
Obviously, these are all subjective measures, and are based on a combination of “on paper talent” and “recent performances in international competition.” Things can and will change by 2014. But I’m pretty happy with the results. I looked at 8 teams, 7 of which I figure are plausible “favorites,” while the other is England, a national team that will inevitably end up being treated as a favorite, regardless of how undeserved that title might be.
First, a breakdown of teams by the 6 categories, ranking them only according to the measures outlined above:
1. Spain (28/30)
2. Brazil (25/30)
3. Germany (24/30)
3. Italy (24/30)
3. Uruguay (24/30)
6. Portugal (23/25)
7. Argentina (22/25)
8. England (18/30)
Spain is clearly top, and deservedly so. The only weakness, really, is their attack, and it’s still not bad. Besides, with a healthy David Villa, that could get upgraded to a 4 by the time the World Cup starts. Looking at second place, it’s debatable whether Brazil should be ranked higher than Germany, and doing so is perhaps a bit unfair to the Germans. However, I felt that the German defense and goalkeeping were exposed against Italy, and really when you think about it, they weren’t quite as good as they were cracked up to be. Another case could be made for Italy leapfrogging Germany, since they beat them handily in the semi-finals of Euro 2012. This would probably boil down to the argument that I undervalued the midfield. But I think, beyond Pirlo, it’s not great, and they probably overachieved at Euro 2012.
I’m pretty happy with the other assessments. Of course English readers (are there any?) might scoff at giving the Ashley Cole-led defense a meager 3, but I think if you look at Euro 2012 objectively, you see it’s well-deserved. Even with arguably the best keeper in the world behind them and a 1980s-Italy-style turtle strategy where the defenders and at least 2 midfielders stayed back, they still managed to allow 4 goals in 3 group stage games…and against decidedly mediocre competition as well. Add to that a lack of depth, the usual lack of cohesion and a tactical approach they don’t have the defensive personnel for, and you can see how far England has fallen behind the leaders. They might come together as a team by 2014, but a quarterfinal appearance would be their ceiling at World Cup 2014, and they'd need some friendly seeding to even get there.
Adjusted for Playing in Brazil
All that said, it should be noted that no European team has ever won a World Cup in the Americas, while only one South American team has ever won in Europe. Then there’s the way good home teams often do really well (
1970 Brazil winning in Brazil, 1974 West Germany winning in Germany, 1998 France winning in France, etc.). That suggests the need to make some adjustments based on the fact that World Cup 2014 is in Brazil. My methodology here is to give Brazil +2 for playing at home, and other South American teams +1 for playing near home. On the flip side, I penalize European teams -1 for playing in South America, with the exception of Portugal, whose common language, cultural ties and relatively friendly colonizer/ex-colonial relationship should make them feel more at home than other European teams. So they get no bonus or penalty. The new rankings come out like this:
1. Spain (27/30)
1. Brazil (27/30)
3. Uruguay (25/30)
4. Germany (23/30)
4. Portugal (23/30)
4. Italy (23/30)
4. Argentina (23/30)
8. England (17/30)
This leads to the uncontroversial notion of Spain and Brazil as co-favorites, but with Uruguay as the potential dark horse. Given their Copa America victory and 4th place finish at World Cup 2010, this may not be entirely surprising. Then there’s a 4-way tie for 4th place. I ranked Germany at the top of the pile because I think they have the highest ceiling, and Argentina the lowest because I remain unconvinced by basically everyone on that team not named Lionel Messi.
Of course, who makes it to the final also has to do with bracketology and seeding. In the recent European Championships, Portugal might have made it to the final had they faced Italy instead of Spain in the semi-finals. (I'm pretty sure Germany would have lost to Spain, though.) Still, I'm going to put my proverbial cards on the table and say--if there aren't any major injuries or other unexpected calamities befalling the teams in question, my way-too-early prediction is that Spain, Brazil and Uruguay will comprise 3 of the 4 semifinalists.
The first two may be hardly controversial, but for good reason. No one has beaten or even scored on Spain in a knockout match since 2006. They've won an unprecedented 3 tournaments, and are still young enough that a 4th is entirely plausible. Brazil may not have the 1958, 1970 or 1994 team, but they won in 2002 with a side that had trouble qualifying, and this time they're at home. Uruguay gives me the same "hey these guys could really do it" feeling that Germany did in 2010 and 2012, which of course makes it unlikely they will, but a return to the semifinals does seem likely to me.
The 4th semifinalist is up for grabs. After 3 consecutive tournament semifinal appearances, this is Germany's moment to prove it's not the Second Coming of Pre-2008 Spain, a gloriously talented team with dazzling skill but with the collective psychology of the Maginot Line. Can they do it? Or does Portugal surprise? I'll leave that one up to the (association) football gods.
I don't see the playoff expanding too much, and yes, it is for the #1 item on Brian's list, that is, academics. Expanding a playoff would be difficult for two (academic) reasons:
- Fall semester/quarter final exams
- Spring semester/winter quarter classes begin
Because the season (conference championship) isn't over until the first weekend in December you can't fit too many games in before classes start again in January. Here is a list of all of the Saturdays in December 2011-January 2012 until classes start.
- December 3 - Conference championship game
- December 10 - (Potential) CFB national quarters *
- December 17 - End of finals week
- December 24 - Student - Athletes go home for Christmas holiday **
- December 31 - CFB national semis
- January 7 - CFB national championship on following Monday (the 9th) ***
- January 14 - Classes have started (Probably by the 9th) or are about to start (16th)
December 10th and the 17th could probably be flip-flopped depending on how you wanted to handle it. For this reason, I see the ceiling at 8 teams. I also think that there is a diminishing return on a title game the later that you schedule it. For example, I didn't watch any more football after the Sugar Bowl this season. It just didn't make it across my radar. That, and I didn't really care about the Bama - LSU rematch.
* I never understood the whole "the best teams can't go to bowl games if the playoff is too big" argument. The "other 4" bowls can pick from the quarterfinal losers for their games. This idea also rebuts the argument against home sites (at least for the quarters) because they can still go to a bowl game somewhere that there is warm weather.
** I guess that there is an implicit "think of the children" argument here by letting them go home for Christmas. Bowl games played on/around Christmas at least let the student - athletes go home for New Years. Either way, letting 18-22 year olds go home to Mama doesn't seem like a big thing to consider.
*** I so hope that they play one of these at Lambeau. Or Soldier Field would be ok too. Or even Yankee Stadium (I guess...but then I'll have to call certain people "cold-weather pansies")
Two years ago I piled onto the idea that coaches don’t maximize on fourth down. Or at least they don’t maximize to scoring the most points. More likely, they minimize the chance of getting fired for making a risky decision.
Within the post I noted that coaches are too conservative and presented an initial treatment to what the decision matrix should look like. I also identified several of the key objections to the “Stop Punting” movement. Over the last two years I have accumulated more data, thought about the topic further and think there is more to add to the conversation. The general conclusion is the same but I have added some new tools that should shed some new light on the subject and bring some power to the people.
A quick review of the main objections:
4th Down stops don’t account for momentum change
I still haven’t found that this has a quantitative impact to anything. Last month I found that teams go for big passing plays more often but that they don’t actually score any more points.
Assumes all offenses and defenses are average
This is a big one. Two years ago I gave this a surface review but will go into more detail below.
Doesn’t account for in-game situations
It’s a valid critique but one that is rarely applicable and easily approximated. With more than 2 possessions left and a competitive game means expected points are directly correlated with win likelihood. A close game late or a blowout will usually point you where you need to go with common sense. In game situations matter, just less than you think they do.
Men Offenses, Defenses and Kickers are Not Created Equal
This is the big adjustment. Rather than looking at the very best and how their expected value differ from average as I did last time, I made the tool dynamic. I can now look at how each situation changes when you have a dominant offense, or if your defense is a sieve. It can also account for kicker quality. A really good or really bad kicker definitely changes the mindset. Announcers generally frame the decision as “you have to take the three points” even though the odds of success are significantly less than 100%. A great kicker will push the decision closer to that thinking for a quarter of the field. Likewise a terrible kicker takes the field goal out of play for a large portion of the situations.
So to see how different strengths and weaknesses affect the outcomes lets start with the updated baseline chart:
Maximum “go” territory is around the Opponent’s 32 yard line where even on 4th and 10 going for it might be the best play. Once you hit the 20 yard line the field goal is the best option unless you only have one yard to go. This stays true until you get inside the 10, then the opportunity for 3 yards or less becomes more optimal.
So what happens when you get a large variance in teams’ offense and defense. A great example would be the infamous Michigan 2010 team. The offense was as great as the defense and kicking game were terrible. Plugging in extreme values for all three dramatically changes the decision matrix.
Michigan 2010 should have gone for it early and often. Field goals should not have been attempted of 40 yards or more and if the yards to go were 6 or less the offense should have always stayed on the field.
Michigan 2011 was a dramatically different team from 2010. The offense was still good, but not as great as 2010. The defense stopped being a tire fire and the kicking game was much more reliable. I adjusted the offense down a bit and the defense up considerably and moving kicking to average.
The end result is a chart that is somewhere between the baseline and the Michigan 2010. Field goals become the best option when the distance to go is greater but aggressiveness when crossing the 40 is still warranted.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Proper 4th Down Strategy
As part of this work, I have built a public Google Spreadsheet that you at home can use to overanalyze your favorite 4th down situation, complete with dynamic skill ranges.
Each situation adjusts the 4th down conversion chances and upside and downside of any decision. It outputs what the best decision would be and how many expected points you would be leaving on the table with the “wrong” choice.
The offensive and defensive ratings go from +5 to -5 with 0 being average. They are a measure of the difference between the offense and the defense. Michigan’s offense should be a +5 against Minnesota but probably a -2 against Alabama. The rating affects both the odds of conversion and the value of the resulting 1st down if successful. Defense is the same in that it is a measure of the difference between your defense and the opponent offense. Adjusting the defensive metric affects the value of a resulting possession change whether by missed FG, punt or missed fourth down conversion.
I hope you enjoy looking at this and I included some special Easter Eggs for the curious.
FOURTH OF JULY
(Click the image to view full size)
I dar e say this one has it all: Summer fun, meat cooked
with fire (always a good thing), quality time with family, and...
Happy Fourth of July everyone-- have a fun and safe holiday with those you
love the most. And be thankful for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans,
among them the freedom to follow the finest football program in
the history of the sport. Go Blue and God Bless America.
On Thursday we'll check in with Desmond and his quest for redheads.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every Tuesday here at MGoBlog,
and at least every Thursday on its official home page. Also, don't forget to
check out Friday Roughs, a spontaneous low-end comic based on trending
Michigan events, available on Twitter and Facebook every Friday.
While the pace of recruiting has slowed for Michigan, the same cannot be said for the rest of the Big Ten, as eight of the 12 conference teams (plus Notre Dame) picked up commits this week. Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Penn State continue to be in a dogfight for second place, while Indiana goes back to being Indiana after briefly remembering they have a football team. Changes since the last rankings:
6-24-12: Penn State picks up Dorain Johnson. Iowa picks up Trevon Young, Solomon Warfield, and Ike Boettger. Michigan State picks up Dylan Chmura.
6-25-12: Michigan State picks up Trey Kilgore and Jay Harris. Wisconsin picks up Sam Raridon. Northwestern picks up Kyle Queiro. Purdue picks up John Strauser.
6-26-12: Notre Dame picks up Danny Mattingly. Ohio State picks up Darron Lee. Illinois picks up Dawuane Smoot.
6-27-12: Ohio State picks up Michael Hill. Penn State picks up Zach Bradshaw. Wisconsin picks up Matt Miller.
6-28-12: Purdue picks up Brisly Estime.
6-29-12: Notre Dame picks up Michael Deeb. Penn State picks up Zayd Issah. Purdue picks up Jake Replogle.
6-30-12: Illinois picks up Joshua Jones. Northwestern picks up Warren Miles-Long.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||24/7 Avg||ESPN Avg||Avg Avg^|
^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.
NOTE: Unranked recruits are counted as two-star players.
On to the full data after the jump.
The US Olympic Track and Field team will be officially set tomorrow evening, and with the vast majority of teams set, I thought I would take a look at schools and conferences about to be represented in London. My initial hypothesis was that the Pac 12 would run away (lol) with the race for top conference, and this was definitely the case. With the teams set as of this morning, 25/84 athletes competed at Pac schools, for a 29.76% share. The specific schools within the Pac were surprising, with Oregon putting the most men (4) and most overall (5), and Stanford only sending one woman, I went into this believing UCLA and Stanford would be the best represented schools.
In on-topic, MGoBlog news, Michigan has sent two athletes, Jeff Porter qualified for the 110m Hurdles, and Geena Gall made the women's 800m Run team. The Big Ten sent three men (T4) and four women (T2).
Now a diary isn't a diary without Chart? Charts, and I need to explain what you're looking at. I broke down the trials by event, with a separate chart for men and women. The schools of athletes are posted in order of finish, with names posted for schools in the Pac 12, Big Ten, SEC, BXII, Ivy League (men only), ACC and Big East (both women only). Everyone else is represented with an "EE" designation. For further information, I will post the schools and events qualified on the other side of the charts.
|110m H||Tennessee||S. Carolina||Michigan|
|Top Men's Schools|
WIsconsin, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas and Arizona State sent two male athletes. No school sent more than two women, with Tennessee, Texas, USC, Colorado, UCLA, UNC, Cal-State Dominguez and Hampton University each getting two.
The women's everyone else category included athletes from: Cal-State Dominguez, Hampton University, UC Davis, Roberts Wesleyan College, NDSU, Cal-Poly SLO, UNLV, Coastal Carolina.
The men's everyone else category included athletes who competed for: Community College Only, Clemson, Eastern Carolina, Willamette, Cal-State Los Angeles, Northern Arizona, Colorado College, South Dakota, Milliken University, Boise State, Ashland University, Morningside College.
For some closing notes...
- There were a ton of men who transferred from community colleges, although only one did not enroll at a four year institution. There were a couple transfers out of BCS conference schools (mostly out of Tennessee, oddly).
- Marquise Goodwin, the Texas WR, took the top long jump spot.
- Schools were counted by their conference affiliation for 2011-2012, i.e. Missouri is BXII, Nebraska is Big Ten.
Hope this is at least mildly amusing/informative for Sunday morning reading. I plan to update when the entire field is set, but the numbers shouldn't change significantly, as the majority of finalists in remaining events hail from Pac schools (and few events remain).