this may be of some local interest
Somehow, we’re already a full third of the way into the college football season and with league play starting for the Pac-12 and Big 12, opportunities for notable non-conference results have dwindled to a precious few (mostly the rivalry games held between the ACC and SEC East). From now on, we’ll be covering the world of college football on a league-by-league basis.
Even though there were quite a few byes across the conference, the Pac-12 still had the most important games of the weekend. College football’s Week Four was headlined by a trio of intriguing Pac-12 contests; unfortunately, they were mostly a disappointment for the unpartisan viewer – by halftime of those three games, the road teams (UCLA, Utah, and USC) were routing their hosts (Arizona, Oregon, and Arizona State, respectively) in impressive fashion. The three winners on the evening are now the favorites in the potentially excellent Pac-12 South – interestingly, a league with supposedly unparalleled parity (especially in the South) has more definition in its title race than many other conferences.
[Hit the JUMP for more on the college football world]
Hi, I'm Eye of the Tiger. You may remember me from such defunct diary series as "Reading the Tea Leaves," "Zone Blocking Zealot" and "Yet Another CC Roundup!" With the new era starting here in Ann Arbor, I'd decided to start a new diary series--I just couldn't figure out what it should be. Then it hit me: power rankings! Only, I wanted to see what happened if you tried to eliminate biases based on past performances (i.e. last year) or preseason hype. And I wanted to take my own biases out of the equation as much as possible. So I came up with a methodology for a results-based ranking system:
1. All teams are scored on their results this year, and nothing else.
2. A baseline score is derived by associating results with numerical values, as follows:
- 2 – win over “good” team
- 1 – win over “solid” team
- 0 – win over “not good” team/loss to “good” team
- -1 – loss to “solid” team
- -2 – loss to “not good” team
[Note: "good," solid" and "not good" are also performance based, using the same methdology. That means I looked at every team that any Big 10 school has played and tried to score their performances across 4 games. Yes, it took a long time. And was kind of boring.
Notes on categories: "Good" means scoring highly on this scale, and is highly correlated with top 25 deisgnations in major polls and advanced statistical rankings (S&P, FEI, FPI, etc.). On this scoring system, it generally means any team scoring 1.5 or higher. "Not good" generally means any team scoring -1.5 or lower. "Solid" are the teams between 1.5 and -1.5. There aren't many of those in the Big 10 right now, but there are across all of the FBS. As the season progresses, at least a couple Big 10 teams now classified as "good" will end up reclassified as "solid." Possibly one or two of those now classified as "not good" will as well.
Also of note: designations may also change week-to-week. Oregon, for example, is classified as "solid" due to its losses to MSU and Utah; Utah is classified as "good" due to its wins over Michigan and Oregon. If Oregon were to finish the season 10-2, while Utah slid to 8-4, that would likely reverse--and affect Michigan and Michigan State's scores ex post facto.]
3. A place of venue weght is added:
- 0.5 - road win
- 0.0 - home win/road loss
- -0.5 - home loss
4. A margin of victory weight is added:
- 1.0 – large win over “good” team
- 0.5 – large win over “solid” team/small win over “good” team
- 0.0 - small win/loss over "solid" team; large win/loss over "not good" team"
- -0.5 – large loss to “solid” team/small win/loss to “not good” team
- -1.0 – large loss to “not good” team
[Note: "large" win is defined as a win by 20 points or more. This is a fairly arbitrary number, but one that seems--to me, at least--to be a reasonable indicator of a blowout.]
What's Being Measured
The purpose here is to rank teams according to what they've accomplished and not according to residual biases from preseason and/or the previous year. However, it does output some results that buck the conventional wisdom, and are largely a function of differences in schedule. That is to say, if two teams are both 4-0 and team X played better opposition than team X, it will be ranked higher--regardless of whether team Y is considered to be a more capable squad. These rankings thus do not predict who will end the season "best," just who has done the "most" in the tiemframe covered.
Planned Posting Schedule
I plan to update these power rankings either every 2 or 4 weeks--depending on how much time I have (which, between commuting to two jobs, marriage, parenting, actually watching football and writing freelance on the side isn't very much). But enough about that...
4 Week Rankings
1. Northwestern (4-0, AP #16): 3.5
Well there's one surprise! But if you think about it, it shouldn't be that surprising. After all, Northwestern may not be the most talented or heralded team in the Big 10 right now, but they've accomplished the most: beating a good Stanford team at home and a solid Duke on the road (a close win against Ball State is the only blemish). If you take away preseason hype and previous year bias, they have the best resume in the conference.
2. Ohio State (4-0, AP #1): 2.5
Last year's champion has taken care of business, with two victories over solid teams (VT and NIU), but doesn't have a victory on par with Northwestern beating Stanford. It won't get that opportunity until November 21, when it travels to East Lansing.
3. (tie) Michigan State (4-0, AP #2): 1.5
Michigan State's win over Oregon looks much less impressive after their dismantling by Utah, and the polls are likely overrating the Spartans. Meanwhile, injuries are starting to take their toll. But this is still a good team by Big 10 standards--they should end with a winning record in conference play.
3. (tie) Michigan (3-1, AP #22): 1.5
The loss against Utah is no longer working against the Wolverines, while the shellacking of BYU accounts for all of Michigan's points. Upcoming games against Northwestern and Michigan State will show us how far we've come in Jim Harbaugh's first year.
3. (tie) Minnesota (3-1, AP NR): 1.5
Another surprise for me--I don't personally find Minnesota all that impressive, but the loss to TCU doesn't really hurt them, while the road win over Colorado State scores well.
6. Iowa (4-0, AP NR): 0.5
A lot of people are wondering how good Iowa is. This system isn't terribly impressed so far. If they beat Wisconsin, though, that's another story...
7. Wisconsin (3-1, AP #19): 0.0
Wisconsin looked respectably enough in the loss to Alabama, but has only played cupcakes since--a fact that keeps its score low.
8. Indiana (4-0, AP NR): -1.0
For the record, this is as bad a score as a 4-0 team can get. Fall back to Earth imminent.
9. Maryland (2-2, AP NR): -2.0
I expected Maryland to grade out worse than this, frankly. But they are clearly trending downward, and with a hurricane and "weather-proof" Michigan team both coming to town this weekend, the death spiral may come fast.
10. Illinois (2-2, AP NR): -2.0
I'd say the same thing about Illinois, but a shockingly easy schedule could help the Illini stay in fighting distance of bowl eligibility, if not quite make it.
11. Penn State (3-1, AP NR): -2.0
The system doesn't think much of the Nittany Lions, and neither do I.
12. Nebraska (2-2, AP NR): -2.5
It's more surprising to see how badly Nebraska fares. I mean, they are not exactly good, but I'd still expect them to beat Maryland, Illinois or Penn State. Losing to BYU and failing to blow out Southern Miss at home hurt though...
13. Purdue (1-3, AP NR): -4.5
Purdue is bad. If they don't pull off a major upset or two, Hazel will be out of a job before the season ends. Apparently they think they have a plan for Michigan State. Somehow I doubt it, but okay.
14. Rutgers (2-2, AP NR): -5.0
- The mean score for all 14 Big 10 teams is -0.6 and the median is -0.5.
- The range is 3.5 - -5.0.
- There are 6 teams with positive scores, one with a score of 0 and 7 with negative scores.
- Michigan will win
- Rain will come
- Shutout will not happen
- Michigan will win
- NW will find offense highly difficult
- Michigan will find it slightly less difficult
This is my weekly feature to look back at summer previews, get egg on my face, look over what Michigan did, and then project the rest of the year as we get more real time data. Last week's taking stock report can be found here.
Prelude: I did season previews on most UM opponents - I skipped UNLV and Rutgers out of boredom, and OSU out of fear. The rest are below
Someone commented last week that this piece is narcissistic to which I reply "stay thirsty my friend and thank you!"
Let's begin with a look back at my summer comments about BYU with the caveat this included Taysom Hill at QB.
(not Taysom Hill)
I opened my BYU preview with:
While I will not point to BYU as much of a "make or break" game in 2015 because Harbaugh >>>>> Hoke and I expect UM to actually improve as the year goes by (novel concept around these parts the past 7+ years) this is one of 3-4 games that will swing UM anywhere from a 6-7 win team to a 9-10 win team. It also happens to fall into the same slot as last year's Utah game and again UM should enter no worse than 2-1 (UNLV, Ore State, @Utah). So it's a big game that the casual UM fan will count as a "very probable" win but serious CFB fans will see as a very problematic game. Frankly if Hoke was coaching I'd mark this as a near sure loss as I have this game tied with Minn as the 4th toughest on the schedule. #Harbaugh
And ended with
Maybe it is oversimplying the bazillion words above but I see this game as QB v QB. If Taysom Hill has a great day I don't see UM winning. If he has a bad day, UM has a great chance. If Taysom Hill has a "normal day", Jake Rudock* needs to have a great game. UM needs to prove it can contain a dual threat QB, it can stop a strong rush offense and its pass defense has improved from 2014. Jake Rudock* is more than capable of carving up BYU's secondary. But he needs the OL to provide time, and he need some semblance of a running game to keep BYU from cheating to the pass all game. A secondary receiving threat not named Darboh or Butt emerging (Canteen? Ways? Cole? Chesson?) would be a big help for this game.
BYU will be going through a hell of a gauntlet traveling to Nebraska and UCLA and hosting a very good Boise State squad. You can look at this either as a pessimist or optimist - UM will have time to test some things and get players experience post Utah but will they be ready to match the intensity BYU will constantly forced to have through September? Will BYU stay healthy after playing two P5 teams and a top non P5 squad? Will they be mentally exhausted with the travel by then?
I expect a high scoring affair in the 30s as both defenses have areas to exploit and the opposing team has weapons to exploit those holes. I expect a lot of exasperation from UM fans as Hill makes "stick save" types of plays all day. If Rudock* has a 250+ yard passing type game I expect a game decided on a FG in the last minute - either way. Last line was UM favored by 6ish; it seems smart to take those points and expect a nail biter.
So in retrospect this was a somewhat useless preview because so much of my commentary revolved around Taysom Hil vs UM defense. UM did not need to prove it could contain a dual threat QB because one was not there. (yee haw!) Jake Rudock was more than capable of carving up this BYU pass D - well for a half anyhow. The OL did provide all sorts of time. There was more than semblance of a running game. Still no secondary receiving threat after Darboh and Butt - but at this point outside of MSU and OSU there probably is not a great need for one based on calibar of future opponents.
I mentioned the BYU gauntlet could either prepare them well for this test or exhaust them. It looked like the latter. But it also prepared BYU for the rest of their schedule which lightens up considerably from here. Not that we care.
It was interesting that the line in late summer was pretty much the same line before game time once it was confirmed BYU's NT was out.
So I'll consider this my first real "miss" in terms of previews - the other 3 games sort of went in line with expectation. I hate being wrong. Except in this case.
These were my views of the matchups this summer, again with caveat of Hill.
UM rush off v BYU rush def - Adv: BYU. UM's rush offense was solid vs MAC teams or when Drake Johnson ran late in the year. Otherwise it was mostly a meh year. And that was with a QB who was a running threat. While Rudock* has some mobility he is not going to have DC's game plan vs the run like Denard or Devin. So it means UM needs to be able to run using you know... running backs. A lost art here since Molk's 2011 squad. BYU has a UM like rush defense that does not give up big plays and UM hasn't done well against top 20ish rush defenses in years.
UM pass off v BYU pass def - Adv: UM. For UM to win this has to be a big win. Jake* needs a 250+ yd game IMO and the OL needs to have a good game in pass protect. Which shouldn't be TOO difficult considering BYU basically has 1 sack threat. Darboh needs a big game, Butt needs a big game and someone not named Darboh or Butt needs to emerge for balance in the pass game. BYU will score so UM needs to match that - and it's going to have to come via the air.
BYU rush off v UM rush def - Adv: BYU. This one is tricky because UM generally had a nice rush defense in 2014 when NOT playing badass rush offenses. Then Minn comes to town and makes UM rush defense look like tissue paper. MSU ran basically at will (I think they only threw 4x in the 2nd half). So let's compare to Minn. While Cobb was a better running back than Williams is, Hill is way better than Mitch Leidner. And BYU actually throws to non tight ends. Realistically speaking, Taysom Hill will probably be the best running back on the field that Saturday. So my worry here is how exposed the "stout" rush defense is when actually playing teams that excel at running. And with a QB who runs 7.4 yds per carry you have to give this to BYU. UM also lacks speed on the edges in their linebackers IMO outside of James Ross so I fear Hill getting outside the hashes and breaking off a 40+ type run. Or two.
BYU pass off v UM pass def - Adv: BYU. Pass defense was UM's worst unit last year. Peppers is there now but he is still a young pup and could be tasked with spying on Hill all game. The linebackers are going to be busy tasked with the run game and containing Hill as well so this is going to open up seams and the DBs will be asked to do a lot in relative isolation Until they prove they can (outside of Lewis) you have to be concerned.
Advantage BYU on rush D was wrong. UM imposed their will - esp in first half - and it was a sight to behold. Yes BYU's bad ass NT was not in there but still I think even he would have been ground up eventually the way the team was playing.
Advantage UM on pass O was correct but Jake didn't even need 250 yds since there was not any offense from BYU. BYU indeed had little pash rush as assumed. Darboh had a good game, Butt was quiet outside of 1 catch but Hill had 2 nice receptions and Bunting, Poggi, and Williams contributed 1 each so we'll consider that "Buttill".
I gave BYU rush O an advantage due to Hill's dual threat ability only not due to their RB. Without Hill it was moot. Same issues with pass offense - Hill would have been a composed 25 year old 18th year senior who had seen it all, instead we got a freshman who played like one even if 22 years old. That is not to take anything away from the defense which was stellar.
Turning from the summer preview, I wrote this in last week's preview and "ha ha!" caveats apply!
BYU has big play capability thru the air. Magnum is not super efficient - but has a huge arm. BYU's WRs are very tall - but so are Clark/Stribling. The run offense is TBD - was the UCLA breakout a case of UCLA not having a good run D or a case of BYU finding a new weapon? I am leaning towards BYU finding answers at RB because UNLV put up good yardage on UCLA on the ground but once Decker went out at QB (hurt) UNLV basically only ran. And Virginia was held to under 100 yards by UCLA on 34 carries. That said the run game is not where I expect the defense to be hurt - it's through the air. This will be one of 4 aerial attacks of any measure we should face this year (unless Hack comes back from the dead).
On the other side of the ball you beat BYU thru the air, not on the ground. Paul Perkins is probably one of the best players in the country no one talks about. If he played in the SEC he'd be right behind Chubb and Fournette as a top 3-4 RB in the conf and talked about a lot. So BYU giving up 200+ yds to him is more a case of Perkins being good along with a stout OL than BYU sucking. BYU had a top 25ish rush D in 2014 and did well vs both Nebraska (37 carries, 126 yds) and Boise (31 carries, 64 yds). They generally suck in pass D - atrocious in 2014 and this year began with giving up 319 yds to Tommy Armstrong and 300 to Finley of Boise. Rosen sucked but that's a true freshman QB doing what true freshman phenoms do a few times a year as a freshman. So we need Rudock to be a horse in this one as BYU will get points. Going to be a tough game - real tough.
It was not a tough game. We hurt BYU thru both the air and ground. BYU did not hurt us at all. BYU acted sad. BYU wanted to go home by the middle of the 2nd quarter. It was glorious.
A Look at Michigan
The first half had a look of a playoff team playing a middling non P5 team. It was amazing. More of that please? Jake Rudock circa 2014 returned for the 1st half. That is all we will need for 5 of the remaining 8 games IMO. Jake Rudock circa 2015 decided to show up in the 2nd half. I didn't like that as much. Jake got away with a few poor decisions that in other weeks were INTs and if the announcers were even close to correct Jake missed a lot of opportunities in the 2nd half as he looked tentative again. That was not great to see as you hoped the 1st half would give him loads of confidence. It didn't matter for this game but as you project the rest of the year you want to see more consistency. That said, at least we saw hope in the 1st half performance. Final #s were 14/25 for 198 with a TD toss and Jake had a few nice scrambles in there as well. Distribution if you are curious were 6 to WRs, 6 to TEs, 2 to RBs. With the type of offenses UM is going to face for half the conf schedule that is going to be more than enough, especially the 0 TOs. (but again there were some close calls)
Good Smith returned. Maybe he needs to be the starter only in even weeks (week 2, week 4, week 6) and go with Ty on odd weeks? Smith suffered an injury late - was not sure why he was in at that point but sounds like he will be back soon enough. I doubt we really will need him next week. Isaac got very little play this week as they tried to get Green on track - to no avail. 10 carries for 28 yards after Smith had pounded BYU into submission and softened them up - sigh. Green feels MAC bound in 7 months.
That defense though! Wow. Last year a lot of Mgoers clinged to the NCAA stats of "#7 defense" as the official NCAA stats look at nothing more than average yards given up per game. When you look at the quality of QB play (and thus passing yardage) in the conf vs most others (exl ACC) it explains a lot of those inflated stats of many Big 10 defenses. The advanced stats showed UM to be 35th to 40th nationally which "felt" a lot more correct.
This year? It feels like a top 10 defense in any realm - and I expect the advanced stats to support it when they become relevant in a few more weeks. The DL and DBs always have an important synergy - when one plays well it helps the other. When both play well - watch the f*** out. That was what happened Saturday. I am curious what Ryan Glasgows UFR reading will be because in the 1st half he looked like Mike Martin reborn. And BYU's OL is not some garbage outfit. Dude manhandled some punks and penetrated like (redacted for softball that's what she said prose). Wormley was generally quiet and we're still waiting for that breakout game from Henry but this is the beauty of this line - every week it seems like different guys show up. I believe Hurst had some really nice plays in this one too.
Then you go back to the secondary - Stribling had a great game as best as I could tell without UFR abilities. With eraser Lewis on one side, if Stribling can even be an "above average" Big 10 corner you have the holy grail of any defense - 2 really good CBs. It was almost a shame that by the beginning of the 2nd quarter, Mangum was in full yips mode as I would have liked to see other guys like Clark and Peppers tested in space but these are first world problems of the highest order.
The LBs were generally quiet as there was almost no intermediate passing game (no surprise as BYU throws to WRs 90% of the time) and the DL was cleaning up so much very little got to the second level. Until the garbage time drive BYU had 90 yards. Amazeballs. All this defense was missing is creating turnovers - this has been true through 4 games. But damn that was an awesome defensive effort and seeing development of individual players makes the heart warm.
If the defense continues to play like this, 9 wins becomes a floor even with "I'm having a hard time channeling 2014" Rudock. The offenses of Rutgers, Minn, Northwestern, and Maryland are so pedestrian even UNLV Rudock can suffice.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY RANKINGS
Basing games on WHEN they are played and WHERE this was my general view on degree of difficulty for each opponent coming into the year and adjusted weekly, Again this is not how good the team is in a vacuum but how they match up vs UM.
Look folks, slots 4 thru 7 are very difficult for me here. I feel like all these teams could be placed in a grab bag and they all pose sort of the sam level of difficulty but in completely different ways. These are the remaining swing games in the schedule.
|Week 4||Week 3||Week 2||Week 1||Preseason|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
- Utah (+2) - Well who saw that score coming? While the data is too new for me to utilize, S&P+ had Utah's unadjusted offensive stats showing the team as one of the 15 least explosive offenses in the country (a fact shared by Oregon State, and UNLV) thru week 3. Uhh, that's going to change this week. Now keep in mind Eastern Washington destroyed Oregon's defense in Eugene too - while MSU's (at home) did not. But larger point - I thought Utah's offense was incapable of such fireworks. And with a pretty darn solid defense this makes Utah a very tough out if they continue to play offense anywhere near that level. To a degree I think this was a snowball effect game - Vernon Adams was totally ineffective with his finger and we saw why the back QB is the backup QB and they handed the job to Adams after 3 weeks on campus. All that said, you win by 42 on the road in the conf vs anyone who is not of Purdue or Colorado level - it means something. At this point I'd have Utah as a top 10 team nationally. A very interesting game vs Goff and top 20 Cal is next - let's see if there is a hangover and if Utah's defense can shut down that explosive Cal offense. The Pac 12 south should continue to be an amazingly entertaining division with USC, UCLA and now Utah apparently at the top of the heap with ASU (sad face) and Arizona looking like pretenders.
- Indiana (+1) - Indiana continues to surge up the rankings! 2 spots in 2 weeks! Mostly because Rutgers and Maryland are crap teams and Indiana has a scary RB and competent QB. Sudfeld had a pretty quiet week in Indiana terms but Howard continues to rumble thru defenses as a massive workhorse (33 carries). Wake Forest is not a good team coming off a 3 pt loss to Army but of the "crap teams" Indiana seems the most dangerous. I guess. Indiana held Wake Forest to 24 pts which in Indiana terms is a shutout.
- MSU (-1) - To a degree I still think MSU is mailing it in but they have faced an interesting array of half decent QBs in 3 of the first 4 games. The way to beat MSU is thru the air so they cannot play 842 guys in the box. So they have actually faced teams with QBs who can spread them out. Sadly the QBs at CMU and WMU are probably better than most MSU will face in the Big 10 conference. If playing in the Pac 12 or Big 12 with their super cool aerial attacks this defense might be leading MSU to a 8-4 type of season. But that's the benefit of Big 10 footbawl! In the 2nd greatest rivalry of MSU football, CMU was only down 17-10 game until MSU scored a bunch late. MSUs run defense constantly put CMU in long third downs .... that CMU convered on thru the air. CMU could not run on MSU (2.1 ave) - shocker. MSU also blocked 2 field goals. The 2 years of no real injuries "reversion to mean" continues to hit the team as their star LT Conklin exited in the 2nd quarter. Still TBD on his status but with Purdue and Rutgers next on the docket he can rest a few weeks if its not serious and be back for UM. If he is gone for a longer period of time that would mean both starting tackles are out. MSU still looks like a good team that can beat a lot of teams even when it is not playing well - which to me, is a sign of a talented roster. But like a lot of Carr era teams it seems to not be playing up to talent when facing mediocre opponents. Is this a top 5 team? Doesn't look like it - but still a top 15ish team with only 3 tests left on its schedule. Cook was mediocre again and does not look like he has taken any measurable steps up from 2014 Cook. The run game did pick up but this was the Chips. Right now I am feeling a lot better about UM D vs MSU O esp if both their tackles are out for the game. I still have a lot of concerns about UM O v MSU D since trusting Rudock to rip apart that secondary would take a big leap of faith. But this game looks a lot closer on paper now then it did 3 weeks ago.
- Minn (-1) - Minnesota plays Northwestern next week and I am happy for that because it will at least give me clarity on how to rank these 2 teams. Both had uninspiring weekends and both seem built for UM to beat in a grind it out battle. Both are built similarly with parallel strengths and weaknesses. Minn beat the Ohio Bobcats late in a close one. Ohio is not terrible but their 3-0 record coming into this game came against Marshall and 2 creampuffs. Minnesota was their one "road payday" game. Leidner actually had a very unLeidner stat line (22/32 for 264 .. and 8.2 ave!) Rodney Smith and freshman Shannon Brooks formed a potent 1-2 punch at RB. But Ohio did a decent job of running on Minn and their QB also had a decent game. This is a very winnable game for UM but I need to place someone at 4 in my DOD rankings and Minnesota won the coin flips.
- Maryland (-1) - I wrote this last week about Maryland QB Caleb Rowe "He has a big arm and takes big risks so he is INT prone." So yeah about those 4 INTs. Poor damn Maryland is going to go to their 3rd starting QB vs Michigan as Rowe joins Perry Hills on the bench and Ok State transfer Daxx Garman (4/9 86 yds 1 TD 1 INT) jumps to the head of the class. Garman was wholly mediocre at OK State and with the lack of talent around him at Maryland should continue that trend nicely. On the plus side Brandon Ross actually had a decent run game but most weeks he is usually just Brandon Ross - i.e. mediocre. He averaged 3.8 ypc vs USF and 1.8 vs Bowling Green. UM's defense should swallow him whole and if kind spit him out in less than 3 pieces. Now West Virginia is one of those mid tier teams found in other conferences that can put up 40+ on you when all is clicking and thus upset the teams at the top of the conf on any given week. The Big 10 doesn't really have teams like this hence if you are really good in the Big 10 it is difficult to be upset. Unless it's 10-9 to Minnesota. As for Maryland, this is a horrible team and I feel bad for Will Likely. BUT DONT KICK IT TO WILL LIKELY OUT OF COMPASSION. Maryland is 2-2 after finishing the "easy part" of their schedule - next they play UM, OSU, PSU, Iowa (who put up 62 last week), Wisc, and MSU. Well at least you still have basketball Maryland.
- OSU - Wake me up in a month. OSU's offense is still not playing that well and still beating meh teams. The defense is looking good but again level of competition caveats.
- BYU - I didn't move BYU down despite being destroyed because again - on any given Sunday are they that much different than Northwester, Minnesota or PSU. I don't feel like it. It looked like a team out of gas with a QB that was lost. I still can see this team with 8-9 wins by end of year and their close game at UCLA still carries weight.
- Northwestern - I can sort of copy and paste the Minnesota comments here. That said Ball State looks worse on paper than Ohio but who knows. Ball State lost by 33 to Va Tech and beat EMU by 11. Which is almost like losing to EMU. Much like Leidner at Minn, freshman Clayton Thorston actually had a good game after derping around for 3 weeks (18/31, 256 yds - 8.3 ave). That's - count em - 2 Big 10 QBs who threw for 8+ per this week! Justin Jackson had his normal splendid game and NW probably mailed this one in a bit. Much will be revealed next week when Minn and NW should play a scintillating 7-6 affair.
- PSU - Hackenberg is alive! My main worry for PSU aside from a good defense is Hack prob has 3-4 games in him this year where he looks like a promising NFL draft prospect. This was one of those games (21/35, 296 yds - 8.5 ave). Wow that makes 3 - count em - 3 QBs in the Big 10 who threw for over 8 yds. That might be a record for the past decade. So in a strange twist, PSU has been riding its run game the past 2 weeks and as Hack showed up the run game disappeared. San Diego State held them to a 2.1 average. And San Diego State is not good. They lost 35-7 to Cal for example. PSU's D held them to about 250 yds total. Not as cool as 105 yds but what can you do. So again - is there much different btw PSU, Minn, NW, or BYU - on any given day they pose the same challenge just in very different ways. Night game in Happy Valley will add some degree of difficult but it is difficult to move PSU at this point. PSU plays a weak Army squad then has a tricky game vs Indiana, before heading to the Horseshoe. Let's see if there is an upset alert with Indiana coming in to town.
- Rutgers - Rutgers beat possibly the worst P5 team over the past decade - Kansas. It means nothing. Rutgers ran 58 times. For 312 yards. But it's Kansas so just LOL and move on. Janarion Grant is to kickoff returns what Will Likely is to punt returns. So after Michigan's many TDs vs Rutgers, I'd advise to NOT KICK TO JANARION GRANT.
- Oregon State - Oregon State looked halfway decent for a quarter or so at home vs a sleepwalking Stanford team that is still sort of a mystery. Kevin Hogan was allowed to throw 14 times all game. There was no need for a 15th. Hell there was probably no need for a 8th. I like OSU's staff and in due time they will be a quite solid team. I still expect a lot of pain this year but maybe as their dual threat QB gets some experience they can upset a team or two along the way. I'd truly enjoy it if one of those teams was Oregon. Jordan Villiamin also looks like a fun player that I wish was in a UM uniform. OSU has a bye this week but then has the easy part of their schedule with the flying Rich Rods, followed by Washingon State and Colorado. Maybe a win or two is in that group. it gets a lot tougher from there. Maybe in due time OSU can pass Rutgers - goals are important.
- UNLV - UNLV put up 80 pts on some horrid FCS team that lost by "only 52" to Boise State. Therefore UNLV > BYU. Or something.
So the outlook is less sad then last week as Iowa Rudock was found for a half. And the defense went from "is it that good?" to "it's that good." Unfortunately even Iowa Rudock locks in on his 1st read a lot, tends to hesitate, and throws a lot of near picks...when not throwing an actual pick. For half the remaining games even generic Rudock is more than fine. It might also be fine vs PSU and Indiana - depends on how the defense plays those games. Main thing is not to do that turnover thing Jake. Please.
The lack of explosive offenses in conf really plays to UMs strength and should allow it to play a low risk offense itself. 4 of the next 5 weeks showcase offenses that on a good day usually hit 20 - Maryland, Northwestern, MSU, Minn, Rutgers. I'd be very disappointed for anything less than 3 wins in that group and 4 should be "probable" at this point. 5 would be swell.
Knock on wood but Michigan has avoided the injury bug that is starting to hit a lot of teams - some of these teams just ahead on the schedule and most without the depth of an OSU or UM.
We said last week BYU was one of the 4 "swing" games left on the schedule and if we split those 4 we are in danger of a 7 win campaign. A split now seems extremely unlikely and 3-1 at least a floor. That gives you 8 wins with realistic "upset" chances (if good Jake comes to town) against the 2 top teams left.
DON'T KICK TO WILL LIKELY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
[Ed-S: Bumped from the diaries. He writes these every week after the games so if you like it look out for it.]
Why do we keep these?
In my last ItBS diary, I alluded to the fact that I would be traveling to Michigan during the week for a family wedding. Unfortunately, my travel plans had me flying from Detroit to Dallas during the Michigan-BYU game. But never fear, I taped the game, avoided social media all day long and watched the game last night. What a game it was; I'm definitely glad I made the effort to avoid any spoilers.
As this was my first trip back home since my dad passed away over two years ago, I expected this trip would not be a normal one. There were plenty of private moments, but as my dad was a big Michigan fan, there were some things that happened that might be of interest to this blog's readers. If you just want to read the normal post-game boxscore analysis, skip ahead to the link. If you want to read about why football matters, or at least, why it matters to me, read on. The next few paragraphs speak to why, as Jim Harbaugh says, football matters. It's the bigger story, if you will.
My dad was a collector. He collected Michigan football programs and ticket stubs. The first thing we would do when we got to the stadium was find the program vendors. Dad would buy two programs and carefully wrap them in black plastic garbage bags to protect them from the elements. He would tuck those into his Michigan bag that kept his binoculars (and unlike many Michigan fans, he actually put binoculars in his binocular case) and his radio and earphones. He would get two programs every game because at the end of the season, he would give one complete set of that season's programs to, I believe, the UofM alumni association of Lansing to raffle off for their scholarship fund. The other set of programs he kept. He made it to most of the away games. On the rare occassions where he couldn't go, he'd ask a friend to get him a couple programs. On Friday, my brother and I decided to keep those programs, at least for the time being.
My dad had a dream of one day displaying all of the ticket stubs on a wall in a Michigan room in the house. He never got around to doing that, but we still have all those ticket stubs. Nothing would get my dad more upset than when a ticket-taker would rip the ticket in half, instead of tearing it off neatly at the perforation. Dad would even separate 3/4 of the stub from the ticket to make it easier for the ticket-taker. Phil Hartman played a character on Saturday Night Live called, "The Anal Retentive Chef." That was my dad.
[After the jump: Be careful, his bow tie is really a camera]
Viva Dad Rock!
This game in a single image:
That’s Wilford Brimley (as “Uncle Douvee”), on a horse, with a bow and arrow, escaping a fireball created by the dynamite he placed around his cabin deep in Bayou, which he detonated to kill a phalanx of guns-for-hire trying to kill him and his “nephew”, Jean Claude Van Damme’s “Chance Boudreaux”, is the movie Hard Target. It is an incredibly dumb movie that may be the best 97 minutes you can spend in a day.
Tanner Mangum and the BYU offense was that cabin on Saturday, except UM wasn’t a bunch of goons circling in for the kill, but instead a bunch of grizzled warriors streaking away on their trusted steeds, swatting away passes, grinding up linemen, and warning all those who listen about the dangers of high blood sugar.
Michigan gave up exactly 3 offensive plays over 10 yards, and one was the Stribling near-INT that became a tip-drill reception on the second drive of the game for the Cougars. BYU’s average yards per play was 2.1, and it was nicely split between 2.3 yards per rush and 2.0 yards per attempt in the air. BYU punted 11 of the 12 times they had the ball, with the 12th possession ending the game. On those other 11 drives, they didn’t have a drive longer than 8 plays or for more than 41 yards, and went 3-and-out 7 times and had two 6-play drives that netted them…0 and 8 yards, respectively. Hell, it took BYU playing out the string on the last drive of the game to crack 100 yards of total offense.
On the other side of the ball, UM’s offense did what you kind of expected. After the first drive of the game resulted in a quick 3-and-out and a couple of “yeesh” collar pulls from the faithful as Rudock looked out of sorts with ill-timed passes, the offense proceeded to march down the field on it’s next 5 possessions and score 4 TDs and a FG. All those drives were for at least 47 yards, including drives of 80, 90, and 68 yards, the first two being of the bludgeoning 10-play variety and the other featuring Smith Beast Moding through BYU.
— Michigan on BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) September 26, 2015
Smith finished with 125 yards and the above-noted TD on 16 carries, the team recorded 254 on 51 with two more rushing TDs from 2015’s Dual Threet Memorial Award Recipient Jake Rudock, and that was with UM definitely letting up on the gas a bit in the 2nd half. And a week after his worse passing performance as a Wolverine (and, in all fairness, probably as a starter anywhere), Rudock had the quintessential Rudock-ian performance, completing 56% of his throws for 7.76 ypa and a TD, got rid of the ball when that was the right call and, for the first time this year, finished without a turnover. As per usual, he spread the ball around (9 different players caught at least one pass, with Darboh leading the way with 4), and (usually) ran the ball effectively when necessary.
Last week I described the game against UNLV as the most vanilla game possible, with Michigan going full Milton Berle* after the half. Some people criticized that playcalling because of the passing game’s struggles, but I thought it was appropriate given how overmatched UNLV looked. And that’s why I think Harbaugh is different than a lot of college coaches – he does what he needs to win a game and improve his team, but outside of perhaps a rivalry game he doesn’t seem particularly wired to improve the “optics” of a win by running up the score. If this was Mortal Kombat, he wouldn’t go for the fatality; he’d just let your player stumble around and fall over while he’s taking another sip from his can of Crystal Pepsi.
So in this game, UM basically did the same thing after the half, being content to run the ball (25 times in that second half vs. 10 passes) and getting off the field with minimal injuries (it doesn’t sound like Smith’s ankle is all that bad). It was just that the first half wasn’t so much vanilla as Superman ice cream covered with Viagra and cocaine.
It’s been three weeks now of UM dismantling their opponents to a degree we haven’t seen around these parts in nearly a decade. Since Utah, UM has outscored their opponents 94-14, and you could argue that’s a bit misleading given how often UM has let up on the gas in the second half. It’s still a long season ahead, but at this point it’s hard not to be excited about the heights this team could hit this year and beyond.
* Milton Berle was known for having a rather large member, and was (in)famous for winning, um, measuring contests handily, with Jackie Gleason once advising him to “go ahead, Milton, just take out enough to win.” And no, Google image searching isn’t a good idea on your work computer.
It’s getting more and more difficult to come up with superlatives to describe the defensive effort we’ve seen every week by this team. Oregon State just put up 24 points and 386 yards against Stanford on Friday, or 17 more points and 248 more yards than they did against UM, and 79 of those yards came on their one scoring drive to open the game. That same Utah outfit that dropped 62 on Oregon on the road could barely muster 17 against UM, and UNLV just put up 72 points against Idaho St.
As Brian noted last week, UNLV was so scared of Peppers and co. wreaking them on screens that they didn’t even consider throwing one to the one NFL-quality guy on their offense until well into the blowout. They basically pitched a shutout until Decker hit Boyd on a couple of nice passes late in the game.
And in this game, BYU barely scraped by 100 yards total of offense after coming into the game averaging about 430 yards/gm before the day started. Tanner Mangum, he of the 12.3 ypc and numerous long-range bombings, averaged 4.6 ypc in this game, and if you throw out his tip-drill completion of 14 yards you get 3.7 ypc.
I’m not sure that any team in the country has been playing better defense than UM thus far this season (given how their opponents have looked against other squads), and that’s with breaking in a new corner, the loss of Mone before the season, and the various transition costs associated with the coaching change even with the Mattison-aided continuity.
Best: No More Mr. Nice Guy
The defensive dominance thus far begins with this defensive line. You know you absolutely dominated a team’s offensive line when your leading tackler is a cornerback (Stribling with 4), followed by your NT and DE with 3 a piece (Glasgow and Ojemudia). Your top tackler in the LB core was Ben Gedeon, with 2 of his 3 tackles on kick returns, and it wasn’t for a lack of effort by Desmond, Gedeon, Ross and Bolden. It was just that when an opposing team runs 50 plays, 16 of which end in incompletions, there aren’t that many opportunities for your second level to get to the ball carrier. The defensive line recorded 3 sacks on Mangum, 5 more QB hits, and held BYU’s leading RB Adam Hine to 33 yards on 8 carries, or 4 yards on 7 carries if you throw out a 29-yard scamper in the first quarter. And I’d like to single out Ryan Glasgow, who had 2 TFLs and just demolished BYU’s offensive line for long stretches of this game.
Best: Blinded by the Light
During the telecast, McDonough and Spielman talked about how UM’s defense has been, both by ranking and in actuality, very good these past couple of years, and how they were put in bad positions by the offense. And while that is absolutely true, I also think the insinuation that UM could have “relied” on those defenses to win games, as they seem capable to do with the 2015 outfit, is not. The defense under Hoke was quintessential Carr-ian – great when you “put on your big-boy pants” and smash into each other like wildebeests or when UM had a clear physical superiority, but increasingly anachronistic when tasked with stopping the more “modern” offenses you see across college football. The talent was there, but as soon as the QB started to move around the pocket and little slot receivers were introduced, the schemes seemed to fall apart or, at the very least, seemed unable to adapt quickly. They looked great on paper until they were punched in the mouth, and then all bets were off.
This team is different – when you punch this defense in the mouth, it goes all T-1000/Borg on you, assimilating your tendencies and exploiting your weaknesses, and that’s when the fun stops. I know it’s early in his tenure, but I think this flexibility, this adaptability, will be the greatest benefit D. J. Durkin brings to this team. This is going to sound incredibly cliche (as is most of this post), but the players are being put in positions to succeed, and you see that not only in the box score and the RPS scores, but in the scary calm you feel when the ball leaves the QB’s hand and you are reasonably confident that a cornerback will be in the right position on the receiver, with safety help on the way. It’s when you see a jet sweep or a short WR screen and know that a linebacker and Peppers is about to hold it to minimal gain. When you see Mangum spin away from the pressure (and there was always pressure), survey downfield with that cannon ready to go off for a 65-yard field-flipping dart, and have to dump it off behind or over his nearest receiver because there isn’t anyone breaking in the secondary and a couple of maize and blue jerseys are bearing down with cruel intentions.
I’m sure those around these parts with more football knowledge will point out areas where the defense still struggles, and I recognize that teams with solid offensive lines (MSU) or dynamic playmakers (OSU) will probably still give them headaches, but as we stand here on the last weekend of September, I don’t see a single offense on the schedule that UM can’t adapt to rather effectively.
Best: Born to Run
Another weak, another dominant performance on the ground. This week it was De’Veon Smith rumbling for 125 yards, including a 60-yard score that was basically the physical manifestation of De’Veon Smith if Smith wasn’t a human being already.
It’s a video game play, but not like a football video game play, but instead like Dig Dug where Smith just burrowed underneath everyone and popped out on the other end with nobody the wiser. Brian keeps saying Smith is the closest runner he’s seen to Mike Hart, and this play is the type Hart pulled out for 4 years. Just seeing a hole and deciding he won’t get tackled until he’s in the endzone or the entire defense lassos him down.
Credit should again be given to the offensive line. TFLs were minimal, and while BYU doesn’t have a dominant run defense UM’s backs were rarely being hit in that first half until they were 3-4 yards pass the line of scrimmage. Even when Rudock was sacked, it didn’t feel so much like the line broke down in protection as much as BYU just brought the right number of people and Rudock either held onto the ball a bit too long or just ate the sack because the game was so out of reach. I’ll be interested to see how they grade out this weekend, especially Braden and Glasgow, who seemed to just be manhandling guys at times.
And Jake Rudock showed the type of mobility that Harbaugh expects in his QBs, which brought a new dimension to the offense that absolutely helped loosen up those defensive fronts. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to run for quite that freely against the better lines in this conference, but even the threat of Rudock on passing downs should add a needed dimension to the offense going forward.
Best: Carry on Wayward Son
I mentioned it earlier, but Jake Rudock had the best game of his short UM career but being, well, Jake Rudock. His completion percentage was a bit lower than you kind of thought watching the game (though 56% on 25 throws with a number of out-of-bound throws in the second half to save downs attributed to that number), but after the first-drive jitters he looked really solid out. Ace linked to it in his recap, but this catch by Darboh felt like the turning point for Rudock’s day, even though it was early in the first quarter.
All year I’ve been noticing that while Rudock clearly had issues with downfield accuracy and vision, he was also not being bailed out by his receivers the way all QBs tend to. And it’s when you get one or two of those “my bad” balls on the positive side of the ledger that not only do you look better in the box score but you also play better.
Rudock is a 5th-year senior and he has his limitations, including a desire to make the “perfect” throw instead of the “let my guy be better than the other guy”, but I always thought had he connected on one of those long throws to Chesson or Darboh against Utah, or those clear PIs against Darboh by OSU, or that twisty-turning bomb to Darboh against UNLV, he’d have looked better on the scoresheet and, I think, fans would have been less bothered by fears of his limited arm strength or ability to stretch the field. As soon as UM’s new American Hero did his best Odell Beckham, you could see the offense open up and Rudock become more comfortable. It is incredibly feelingsball, but trust in your receivers is essential for any QB, and today you saw what a competent, comfortable Rudock brings to this offense.
Now, Rudock still needs to improve his timing and reading of the play (he missed a BYU corner slipping on his first pass that would have been for huge yards, he threw a ball to Canteen before he even turned around, was quick on a short pass to I believe Darboh on that first scoring drive, and nearly threw a pick on a blown-up WR screen), but he looked light-years better than he did even a month ago. And he seemed comfortable throwing to everyone, which explains why 9 Wolverines caught balls and Khalid Hill caught twice as many as Jake Butt without it looking remotely out of place. My hope is that he looks good against Will Likely next week before taking on NW and MSU.
Sorta-Worst: Down Under
Because I have to be cautionary about something, I guess, I was a little bothered by O’Neill seemingly unilaterally deciding to run on 4th-and-16 in the 3rd quarter. Love the Aussie spirit, but in games that aren’t quite such a blowout it probably isn’t a great idea to try to run for a first on your own half of the field with that make acreage ahead of you. I like that the punter has the ability to make that call in Baxter’s special teams because of its unpredictability, but that was the wrong one to make given the circumstances.
Oh, also, my heart breaks a little seeing Jake Rudock run this offense and remembering that Devin Gardner was stuck playing in Hoke’s dinosaur offense for years. Nevermind…I’m moving on.
Best: Don’t Stop Believing
Last week I talked about how I thought UM had a real chance to upset both MSU and OSU this season, and there was a contingent of readers who thought I was a bafflingly-myopic homer. And I’ll totally cop to that somewhat. But right now, OSU has some questions at the QB position and has struggled against pretty mediocre competition despite the final score. The NIU game was probably closer on the scoreboard than in reality, but Cardale Jones remains a guy who completes a bit over 55% of his passes and looks less and less like a major running threat as teams start to prey on his accuracy. Obviously, having Barrett off the bench to step in if necessary is a great luxury, but this remains a boom-or-bust offense that relies heavily on its defense to cover up their mistakes, and that might not hold true for the rest of the season. It sucks that UM won’t play them until the end of the year because I assume they’ll have some of these issues ironed out by then, but it remains a very vulnerable #1 team.
As for MSU, they were outgained for the 3rd straight game, this time by Central, and may have lost Conklin for some time. That Oregon win is looking less and less impressive and the Ducks play well below expectations, most recently getting waxed by Utah at home. This year they are also suffering some sustained injuries to key players (Davis, Conklin, Copeland, Kieler) for the first time in this current renaissance, and depth is becoming a major issue. Playing Purdue and Rutgers should give them some time to at least try out replacements and heal up, but after what UM has done to teams like Utah and BYU defensively, I’m not sure Connor Cook is going to look like the first-round QB some are touting him as. And that defense isn’t getting any better in the secondary, so if UM can establish a running game the screens and play-action throws might be there for the first time in years.
I know there are games to be played and UM still has to face tough defenses like PSU and Minny along the way, but at this point I’d be disappointed if UM didn’t at least split with MSU and OSU and be in it for the division title at the end of the year.
Best: Already Gone
Looks at schedule