"The face of the operation is Briatore (referred to exclusively in the film by his colleagues and angry, chanting detractors as "Flavio"), an anthropomorphic radish who spends most of his time at QPR plotting to fire all of the managers."
We've been talking about Coach Harbaugh's recruiting at Stanford of players who were not highly ranked (see Brian's recent post on the front page), and some of us have been worrying about his recent addition of non-four/five stars to the 2016 class. We know where Stanford ended up under Coach Harbaugh, but I thought it would be helpful to see where his players started and then ended their college careers as individuals.
Below is each player recruited by Coach Harbaugh in 2007 and 2008 (he inherited some kids in 2007 from the prior staff). I focused on those years because they were the years in which Stanford was still mostly mining two and three-star talent. In fact, Andrew Luck was the only consensus four-star player Stanford landed in those two years.
The star rankings you see below are from 247. The numerical rankings are from 247 as well.
You'll notice that I described each player's NFL career (where applicable), and I did that because I think it's a valuable bit of data, not because I think it tells the whole story of a player's college career. I also noted the player's highest honor as far as being all-conference or all-American. I did not note whether or not a player was all-conference for, say, two seasons or one. I also did not note personal awards such as the Maxwell Award.
For those who don't want to read about each player, the summary of what I found is this: Despite only having one consensus four-star, Stanford's 2007 and 2008 classes produced five first-team all-Americans, eight first-team all Pac Ten players, two second-team all Pac Ten players, and four honorable mention all Pac Ten players (note that I counted Owen Marecic as both a first-team all Pac Ten player, an award he won as a FB, and an honorable mention all Pac Ten player, an award he won as an LB). That strikes me as somewhere between "remarkable" and "probably the result of wizardry."
The individual players recruiting rankings and careers results are below (apologies for the spacing issues):
RB Chike Amajoyi *** (0.8294 ) Part-time starter at LB and first-team all-conference special teams player (non-returner/non-kicker).
FB Owen Marecic **(0.7745) First-team all-conference at FB/honorable mention all-conference at ILB. 4th round draft pick.
TE Coby Fleener *** (0.8333) First-Team All-American at TE. Caught 96 passes for 1,543 yards in four seasons. 2nd round draft pick.
SDE Matthew Masifilo *** (0.8889 Honorable mention all-conference. Undrafted free agent who spent time on Tampa Bay’s roster.
QB Kellen Kiilsgaard *** (0.8833)(inherited from prior staff) Gave up football for baseball.
ILB Jonathan Frink *** (0.8778) Lost his career to persistent injuries. Still interested in the glavin and the…hey lady!
K David Green *** (0.8715)(inherited from prior staff) Won, lost, and won again the starting punting role, averaging 41.7 yards per punt his senior year.
WR Corey Gatewood ***(0.8558) Played WR and DB. Was on the Vikings roster very briefly as an undrafted free agent.
WR Doug Baldwin ** (0.7778) Second-team all-conference. Caught 96 passes in four years for 1,360 yards. Undrafted free agent currently plays for the Seahawks.
OT Brad Hallick *** (0.8463) Switched from OL to DL after an injury. Played very little. Has his own website. http://bradleyhallick.net/
WR Sean Wiser *** (0.8451)(inherited from prior staff) Switched to safety and had 60 tackles in 2008. He seems to have not played football anymore after that, but I can’t confirm that.
OT Tyler Mabry *** (0.8368)(inherited from prior staff) Seems to have been a career back-up.
QB L.D. Crow *** (0.8333)(inherited from prior staff) Transferred to UCF after not seeing game action in two seasons at Stanford.
OT George Halamandaris ***(0.8211)(inherited from prior staff) Appears to have been a career back-up.
RB Jeremy Stewart *** (0.8000) Rushed for a total of 920 yards in four seasons. Has been an NFL journeyman.
OG Matt Bentler ** (0.7889)(inherited from prior staff) Appears to have been a career back-up.
S Taylor Skaufel ** (0.7852) Recorded a total of 119 tackles in four years. Was a part-time starter.
SDE Thomas Keiser ** (0.7444) Honorable mention all-conference. Recorded a total of 31.5 TFL and 19.5 sacks in three seasons before declaring for the draft after his junior season. Has been an NFL journeyman and is now on an Arena League roster.
ILB Max Bergen ** (.7444) Appears to have been a career back-up.
QB Andrew Luck **** (0.9768) You know the story.
OC David DeCastro *** (0.8847) Switched to guard. Unanimous All-American. First round draft pick.
WR Christopher Owusu *** (0.8708) First-team all-conference as kickoff returner. Caught 102 passes for 1,534 yards in four years. Returned three kickoffs for TDs. Briefly in the NFL.
OLB Chase Thomas *** (0.8641) All-American (first-team by default – The Sporting News didn’t name a second team). Recorded 50.5 TFLs and 27.5 sacks in four seasons. NFL journeyman.
OT Jonathan Martin *** (0.8620) First-Team All-American. Second round draft pick.
OLB Fred Craig *** (0.8620) Transferred to Penn after one season at Stanford.
ATH Michael Thomas *** (0.8484) Became an honorable mention all-conference DB. Currently a Dolphin after being signed as an undrafted free agent.
ATH Harold Bernard *** (0.8451) Apparently a career back-up at DB.
CB Quinn Evans *** (0.8315) Transferred to Northwestern after two seasons as a back-up at Stanford.
OG Sam Schwartzstein *** (0.8273) Second-team all-conference. Briefly in the NFL.
DT Padric Scott *** (0.8093) Transferred to Florida A&M. Briefly in the NFL. Now in the CFL.
CB Marcus Turner *** (0.8042) Transferred to the Univ. of San Diego.
OLB Alex Debniak ** (0.7556) Recorded 56 tackles in four seasons.
K Daniel Zychlinski ** (0.7333) Started at punter his senior season with a 43.1 yards per punt average.
CB Johnson Bademosi ** (0.7333) Started at CB his senior year. Recorded 122 tackles total and 16 total passes defensed in four seasons.
WR Griff Whalen - no stars and no numerical ranking (he was apparently preferred a walk-on ) – Caught 80 passes for 1,058 yards in four seasons.
RB Delano Howell *** (0.8877) Began his career at RB and played there a bit before becoming a first-team all-conference safety. Briefly in the NFL.
Three-star h.s. player and college All-American Jonathan Martin
The 2015 MLB Draft will be held Monday (rounds 1 & 2), Tuesday (3-10), and Wednesday (11-40). Here's a preview from a Michigan perspective, covering both current players and members of the 2015 recruiting class.
Three of Michigan's top juniors—Jacob Cronenworth, Evan Hill, and Travis Maezes—are expected to be drafted. On his appearance last week on WTKA, Wolverine head coach Erik Bakich said that it's looking like Cronenworth and Maezes will be drafted on day 2 and Hill on day 3, and he's anticipating that all three will sign. Baseball America's top 500 for the draft has Cronenworth at #194, Maezes at #376, and Hill at #381. The only senior that Bakich mentioned as a possible draftee was Jackson Glines. He might go late on day 2 or on day 3. (Note on Cronenworth, a two-way player at Michigan: he's likely to be drafted as a pitcher.)
With the first two recruiting classes he put together at Michigan, Bakich had the fortune to not lose any of his recruits to the draft. This year, two players in particular have been garnering draft buzz. First, here are the 11 Michigan signees or commits that I'm aware of.
Jack Bredeson — 6-6 RHP/3B, Arrowhead HS (Hartland, WI)
Andrew David — 5-10 SS/2B, Massillon Washington HS (OH)
Charlie Donovan — 5-11 SS/2B, Westmont HS (IL)
Jonathan Engelmann — 6-4 OF, Burlingame HS (CA)
George Hewitt — 6-3 3B/MIF, Salisbury School (CT); hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Ricky Karcher — 6-4 RHP, Saline HS (MI)
Ben Keizer — 6-2 LHP, Portage Northern HS (MI)
Troy Miller — 6-3 RHP, Soquel HS (CA)
Joe Pace — 6-0 OF/2B, Notre Dame HS (Sherman Oaks, CA)
Ako Thomas — 5-9 2B/SS, Mount Carmel HS (Chicago, IL)
Will Tribucher — 6-2 LHP, San Clemente HS (CA)
Note that Bakich said last week on WTKA that the class actually includes 13 players—5 pitchers and 8 fielders—so there are 2 I'm unaware of. It's clear that the California pipeline continues to be tapped, and in fact Bakich said that 5 of the 13 are from that state. (It wouldn't be surprising if the missing California commit is a juco, following in the footsteps of Glines and Cody Bruder.)
Back to the draft: Jonathan Engelmann seems to be the member of the class most likely to be drafted and sign with an MLB club. Baseball America has him at #253. He also appears in MLB's Draft Tracker, with this comment:
A former infielder who outgrew the dirt and moved to a corner outfield spot, Engelmann is a strong athletic high school hitter with some tools you can dream on. The University of Michigan commit is still growing and getting stronger, learning to use his 6-foot-4 frame to its fullest potential. An aggressive hitter at the plate, there is still work to be done on Engelmann's mechanics and timing. But he is able to make loud contact and there is plenty of raw power for the right-handed hitter to tap into. Engelmann is an average runner with enough arm to be an athletic right fielder in the future, though he might play center field should he go on to play for the Wolverines. Engelmann is very much potential over performance right now, but his high upside is bound to draw interest.
Charlie Donovan is the other one with significant draft buzz, coming in at #405 on Perfect Game's draft ranking. Prep Baseball Report (see under "Comments"), which has him ranked #16 in the 2015 class in their overall rankings (covering about two dozen states), is more bullish on him, calling him (see under "Comments") a "top three–round talent" and that he's a "likely early round pick in next month’s MLB Draft, signability put aside." According to Big Ten blogger Chris Webb, Donovan recently worked out for the White Sox, but Webb thinks Donovan will end up at Michigan.
Troy Miller is another one to keep an eye on. He's listed in the MLB Draft Tracker, although less prominently than Engelmann and Donovan. Overall, it should be an interesting few days of draft watching.
Said this post was coming yesterday just put this season and this team into perspective.
Here are the records that were set this season-
Lauren Sweet was also the first Michigan player to ever hit a grand slam in a World Series game when she did so in the WCWS First Round against Alabama.
Earlier today, the team was greeted by fans at Alumni Field as they arrived home.
A POTENTIAL MODEL OF NFL DRAFT BEHAVIOR
As the next installment on an admittedly slow-moving series of diaries on the NFL Draft, I’ve decided to do the behavioral component of this study next. I have always been fascinated by the talk – the endless talk – in the run-up to the draft about who should go where, when you draft certain positions, and the like. I decided to look at it from a league-level view – it would be a little tedious to break it down to individual teams, and indeed the individual needs of teams vary from year-to-year and while it would be interesting to track a specific team to see if they’ve got developmental issues at a position, it is easier for purposes of a diary to see what the trends look like by position and round.
Building on data that I already had collected – from 1995 to this year’s draft, I first built a table by position or position group in the case of DB (too few players listed specifically as CB, FS or SS for it to be telling in their case) or P / K (which I combined for a similar reason) and totaled the number of players drafted in each position or group by round (n=4,810 in this study). There were some interesting things merely in the raw data:
Significantly more than any other position group, defensive backs of one kind or another are the most common in the NFL Draft per this sample. 957 of them, in fact, have been draft in the last 20 years in various rounds, close to one-fifth of all drafted players in that period. The next two in order of appearance in the draft should not surprise anyone, I think – linebackers (638, or 13.26%) and wide receivers (599, or 12.45%). What the table above is showing, of course, is mere totals and as you can see, some areas have a relatively steady hum of activity if you look at it like that. Another level of analysis was needed.
Here is the breakdown in terms of percent of total by position or group and by round:
Now, this is more interesting. You can see in the first round, for starters, a higher level of activity at defensive end, offensive tackle and quarterback, which you might expect. The second round tends to be a hodge-podge, if this data is telling us the right story, and then in the third round, activity picks up for offensive guards, linebackers and wide receivers. Running backs spike in the fourth round and you start to see a slight peak for tight ends in the fifth round. The seventh round is simply filling needs, hence the glut of green.
To get a cleaner look at tendencies by position, I normalized this data by position and here’s that table:
It’s telling you a similar story to the second table, but what you are seeing here – for those who are not stats people – is the number of standard deviations above or below the average amount of players taken by round. This was merely to show in more stark terms where the spikes in activity were at various positions. Those individual graphs are below:
One thing I intentionally left out is longsnapper. This is not because I have anything against them, of course, for indeed as we know in Ann Arbor, they sometimes make serviceable wide receivers in a pinch (see Sugar Bowl for details). It is because – and this might just be a problem with the Pro Football Reference database – there has been only one longsnapper drafted in 20 years of draft data. Again, it might just be the database, but I nixed it because there are too many people like me here who would see n=1 for a position and grumble.
As with most of my diaries, I don’t have a particular conclusion here – there’s not really a message in this data other than that there seem to be definite trends in draft activity by position, and quite a bit of that is determined by teams trading up or trading down as well, but teams do that with specific players and/or positions in mind, so that strategy is not necessarily confounding anything here, in my opinion as there are oft-debated informal guidelines about where to draft various positions.
In any case, if this a reasonably accurate picture of modern draft behavior, then it is interesting to see what more than 30 teams’ combined draft strategies is producing.
A Historical Fiction piece i wrote for my Creative Writing course, it could only be five pages, but would have been around 8 if i could have done what i wanted.
Teammates, and Champions
Charles walked along Main Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan on a gloomy August day, there he saw the infamous Big House; 106,000 empty seats waiting eagerly for the 1997 season to start. He thought to himself, “I can’t wait for this season, man, they have no clue.” He started jogging back to his dorm to eat, then get ready for bed after a long day of lifting, class, practice, then film; the almost unbearable life of a college football star. His roommate and teammate, Andre Weathers, was watching film on his vintage TV that his mother bought him the year before. Last season Andre struggled learning the new defense and his confidence was a little shook. He would always turn to Charles for advice, whether he could act on that advice would be up to him though. During the 1996 season CB Charles Woodson was finishing up his second year as Michigan’s starting defensive back. He was considered one of the best in the country at the position his Freshman and Sophomore years and many analyst docked him as an All-American, multiple award-winning, first round draft pick.
The opponent they faced first was the Colorado Buffaloes, a team who was large, experienced, and extremely well coached. The weekend was four days away. Michigan was in Schembechler Hall, named after the beloved Bo Schembechler. The team meeting was held there every Tuesday and was ran by Coach Car, a handsome and very intriguing older man who seemed to knew every button to push on every player. A motivator is the simplest way to put it, but to people who knew him he’s much more. Halfway through the meeting as Car is explaining the motto of the season “Trust, Leadership, Willpower”
which was engrained in every player as if it was their very favorite childhood memory, Charles Woodson stood up on his older broken desk and shouted to his teammates,
“This is OUR year, and this is MY year, this YOUR year, and together WE will make history!” Teammates cheered “Yeah Woodson!” “Hell yeah boys! Let’s win this for Michigan.”
The team rallied around coach Car and sang the notorious fight song “Hail to the Victors” as they jousted their venerated Coach into the air. The night ended on a great note and the feeling was in the air. It was their year.
That same night Charles was lying in his bed when he heard the fuzzy TV on out in their small living room. He was confused as to why it was playing and clearly remembered turning it off right before he went to bed. He went to check, and what he saw filled him with a great sense of pride. At 2 A.M. Andre was watching film on Colorado.
Andre and Charles went to bed, with visions of a National Championship dancing in their heads.
The week went by at a rapid pace and it was game day. The noon kickoff was approaching fast and the fans had been tailgating since 6 in the morning. The whole campus was buzzing as the 17
th ranked Wolverines faced the 8th ranked Buffaloes from the beautiful city of Boulder. ESPN was talking about the game the whole week, as it was one of the premier matchups of opening day. People were football hungry and it showed. Every game that was played that week had very detailed write-ups and predictions of the score. The Michigan-Colorado write-up was very one sided with the 5 analyst predicting the Buff’s to win easily in Ann Arbor. A quote from E. Jackson, who was the Ann Arbor Free Press sportswriter, was being read aloud by Charles in the locker room just 5 minutes before kickoff, “Colorado stomps Michigan, 38-12.” The players were pissed and rallied up together. Quarterback Brian Griese was giving a very emotional, heart-felt speech. The team was fired up, and ready to tap the “M Club Supports You” banner, a tradition held for many years. As the Maize-and-Blue clad ran out of the tunnel you could hear 106,000 fans cheering for what seemed like miles. Kick off was here.
Michigan jumped out to a 10-0 lead at the half, and the energy in the stadium was appreciable. The defense was relying on the tough man-to-man defense from Charles and Andre. They had locked down the Buff’s receivers all half with only 3 receptions total. In the locker room, Coach Car applauded the team and inspired them to fight on, and win the second half as well. The Wolverines did just that as they cruised to a 27-3 stomping of Colorado. The Michigan defense didn’t give up a touchdown thanks to the great play of the veteran secondary. The hard work of both Charles and Andre paid off. In a post-game interview, E. Jackson caught up with Woodson just before he ran into the tunnel.
Jackson asked Woodson, “What did the defense do today to stump the highly potent Colorado offense?
Woodson responded briefly and quickly “It’s our year. Thanks for doubting us.” Charles then ran off into the tunnel with his winged helmet held high.
The Wolverines went on to win their next 5 games. 6-0 heading in to State week Charles thought to himself, halfway there. Woodson was excelling on the field, with 32 tackles, and 4
interceptions. As a defense they hadn’t gave up more than 24 points in a single game. That score coming from the always tough Iowa Hawkeyes. Notre Dame was the next closest, with only 14 points. Michigan was ranked in the top 8 and people started giving them a close look, as a possible contender in not only the Big Ten, but in the National picture as well.
Andre Weathers was also playing extremely well, and posted a respectable 22 tackles with 2 interceptions. The Junior corner was no longer struggling; instead, strutting himself around campus. They felt like kings, and in some aspects, were treated as such.
Michigan was prepared to play the in-state rival Spartans. Some viewed the Michigan St Spartans as the Wolverines “little brother” in terms of results on the field, and academically. The Spartans came into the game with a 2-4 record, something the Wolverines shouldn’t have scoffed at. To MSU players this was their National Championship.
Charles Woodson was a target for the Spartans as he told the local news, “Michigan St is formed up of players that Michigan didn’t want, that Ohio didn’t want. Classless, dirty players, they go against everything we stand for.” Coach Car heard these comments on the News and was pissed, calling the young Woodson on the phone.
“What the hell were you thinking Charles? You can’t go around talking to the news like you have no repercussions! Are you trying to get us killed Saturday?” Charles started to respond, but Coach told him to shut up, “I’m sorry but I’m going to have to sit you for the first half.”
Coach Car hung up the phone. Charles was sitting on his small bed in his apartment, Andre asked him what was going on and he told him the he was sitting the first half of the State game. Andre went on thinking in his head… You’ve got to be kidding me...
Prentavious Jones-Darbo would be taking his spot, the highly touted Freshman from Santa-
Monica, California. Half-way through the second quarter, Jones-Darbo was completely toasted by the State receiver and the Wolverines ran into halftime trailing 7-0 to the rival Spartans.
Michigan started the third quarter with the ball, driving 78 yards on just 6 plays for a quick score tying it all up. The Spartans next drive was ended shortly, as Woodson jumped nearly four feet into the air and snagged the ball with one hand, tip-toeing his foot down right before it hit the sideline. The Wolverine crowd erupted and the momentum shifted. The Wolverines went on effortlessly to shut the Spartans out the second half going on to win the Paul Bunyan Trophy, 23-7. Wolverine players ran onto midfield with the Olde Paul Bunyan Trophy, and sang “Hail to the Victors” as loud as their voices could raise, Michigan had triumphed Little Brother again.
Michigan was 8-0. Charles Woodson was in the running for one of the most prestigious awards known to man, and Ann Arbor was now the place to be. Michigan went on to win their next four games which included a drubbing over 8th ranked Penn St 34-8 in State College. The Wolverine faithful was rocking and the college football world was in awe of the 2nd ranked Wolverines.
December 17th, 1996. “Standing on that podium, hoisting the Heisman trophy was a dream of mine, a dream turned reality, congratulations to the guys that were up there with me.”
Charles won the Heisman trophy, and was the first defensive player to ever do so. He truly was in a class of his own. Michigan had Washington St in the Rose bowl, which would determine if Michigan won the National Championship.
The Wolverines and Charles were unstoppable. Michigan was the team everyone wanted to be, everyone wished their season had turned out like the beloved Wolverines. Coach Car was AP coach of the year, an honor that was highly respected. Michigan beat Washington St in that Rose Bowl. They were the undefeated National Champions.
Running into the locker room the Wolverines sang “Hail to the Victors” one last time.
Charles spoke to the team, “Before this season started I knew we were going to win it all. Thank you guys for allowing me to win the Heisman and a National Championship!” the team broke out in cheers.
Coach Car proceeded to tell his athletes, “I am so gracious for this team. I have NEVER, and I mean NEVER, been more proud to coach the men in this room.” Coach Car started crying and gave the crystal ball, the trophy of the champions, to Andre Weathers. Andre shook his head in disbelief.
“Hey Charles, get your fancy ass over here.” Andre said. Charles and Andre held the crystal ball over their heads in a way only a champion could do.
There is an interesting dichotomy of the views of Michigan's defense of 2014 - some view it as a "top 10 defense" because the NCAA stats say so. Others (hand raised) use more of an eye test and advanced stats, specifically FEI and S&P+ via Football Outsiders, which have various measures to adjust for SOS, garbage time points, etc. (more info on how those stats are derived can be found on that site - I wont rehash)
Let's take a closer look at the NCAA stat for total defense which sports journalists of both the print and video variety tend to parrot. What does it really track? Only 1 thing: total yards given up per game. It is very simplistic and in my estimation misleading. My thesis has been this gives an overinflated value to all Big 10 defenses because Big 10 offenses have really stunk it up of late, especially the past half decade. So this piece will try to fact check my opinion.
There have been very few premium QBs the past 6-7 years in the Big 10 until last year... the last golden batch was 2007-2008 when you had Henne, Smith, Stanton. Before that you had to go to 2004 to Navarre, Sorgi, Krenzel, Smoker. 1 year of Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins really are all you have had up to about 2013 and after 2008. It's been 18 years since the Big 10 had a QB drafted in the 1st round although there is finally the potential for 3 at once in 2016 with Cook, Hackenberg, and Jones. But even Hackenberg was a disaster last year. So you get the general point - when you look at passing stats of Big 10 offenses vs those of the Pac 12, SEC, Big 12 - it has lacked severely for most teams... Wisconsin was throwing out a converted safety last year as a QB and they were the 3rd best team in the conf. Gary Nova - in the conference for all of 1 year, was the 3rd best QB (If you group all the OSU QBs as one since only one plays at a time) in the conf last year. Kevin Hogan in the Pac 12 ? A lower third QB ... in the Big 10? Awesome throw god....
I don't recall what week it was (maybe week 8 or 9) 8 of the top 25 defenses in the country per the NCAA stat were in the Big 10. Even in the year end results the Big 10 had 4 of the country's top 10 defenses (PSU, Wisconsin, UM, MSU)... and 6 of the top 22 (OSU, Iowa) Wow what a performance! Elite defenses all over this conference!!
Or is this really a confluence of mediocre to poor offenses with some former powers looking awful (PSU, UM) and other recently high octane offenses (Indiana) hampered by a true freshman QB, while others were run by a former safety for much of the year. Advanced stats say the latter - in fact only 2 offenses made the top 30 in the country via FEI; OSU and MSU. Some Big 10 teams in the West avoided both those offenses, and others only played 1. So you could in theory go through your conf slate playing 0 or 1 of the top 30 offenses in the country. Wisconsin's 1 dimensional offense was 33, and then you have to drop to 50 to find another Big 10 team. It's was an awful year save for a few teams on that side of the ball. And advanced stats say only Wisconsin and PSU had anywhere near elite defenses - and you saw what OSU did to Wisconsin.
So with run heavy schemes without Jeff George, Chuck Long, Drew Brees (hell Kyle Orton) types populating mid level teams in the league (and of course those schools wont have that type of QB every year), Big 10 defenses have feasted. Or at least that is my opinion so I thought I'd use advanced stats to compare the major conferences.
Below is a comparison chart of 7 teams comparing FEI offensive stats of their conference only schedule in 2014. The lower the average rank, the better the average offense faced. I've created a pool of 2 Big 10 teams (one from the East, one from the West), 2 SEC teams (one from the much tougher West, one from the East), and then 1 team from the other 3 power 5 conferences. I chose mid level type teams (excl Michigan which had 5 wins) of 7-9 wins on average to try to compare similar teams from each conference in 2014. Not the top teams, not the bottom teams....
This led me to: Nebraska, LSU, Tennessee, Louisville, West Virginia, Utah -along with control group Michigan.
My theories going into this were:
- The Pac 12 features the most NFL arms and prolific offenses so their defenses would be most stressed and thus a high defense ranking in that conf actually means something.
- The Big 10 and ACC would both suffer from a lot of mediocre offenses and thus their defenses (per NCAA stats) would be overinflated.
- The Big 12 rank in terms of opponent offensive rank would be closer to the Pac 12 although the struggles of Texas would hurt.
- The SEC West would rank very well, somewhere near the Big 12 while the SEC East would be hurt by the brutal (Michigan/PSU like) Florida offense
These are obviously 1 year data points specific to any 1 team (or 2 teams) in a conference (picking another team would give some variability) but I do think by and large they would hold up over the past half decade to give us a general trend (Obviously the Big 12 has changed body count over that time frame as has the Big 10 and SEC).
The Rankings Unadjusted
Let's see what the data told us (the # to the right of each team is their offensive FEI rank - lower = stronger) UM was 82 for comparison.
|NC State||38||OK St||70||ASU||16|
What does this data set say?
- As predicted in theory 1, Utah had the most onerous schedule. Pac 12 offenses are very good - they only faced ONE offense with a rank outside the FEI top 48. Again there are only 3 teams in the entire Big 10 with a ranking inside the top 48. Week in and week out - its brutal and the 32.0 ranking clears the field. (of course a cynic could say Pac 12 defenses are bad and Pac 12 offenses feast on bad defenses but I'd say the eye test disagrees - the Pac 12 offenses put a ton of pressure on you with a lot of pass oriented spread teams).
- As predicted in theory 2, Big 10 defenses had a huge advantage as the 57.9 opponent rank for UM and 56.6 for Nebraska were far and away the worst readings out of all 7 teams. And for all the talk of the how weak the Big 10 West is, the Big 10 East had even worse offensive outputs via FEI. But its very close - any defense in the conference had a much easier time than in any other conference.
- I was wrong in theory 2 about the ACC, I thought their offenses were as bad as the Big 10s. In fact they were right on par (with Louisville's 49.0) to the SEC East, and the Big 12.
- I was wrong about theory 3, than the Big 12 would be closer to the Pac 12 then not. The offenses in that conf were not dissimilar to the ACC, and SEC East. But part of that is due to both Oklahoma State and Texas having really bad offenses so it's a bit of an outlier this year. More on that later.
- I was correct on theory 4, the SEC West had the 2nd best offensive output - thus difficult on their defenses, and the SEC East was pushed down to average due to Florida. In fact every SEC West opponent for LSU was in the top 50 - even better than Utah's opponents. Surprising as we assumed this was a down year for SEC offense with a down year for SEC QB play.
The Rankings Adjusted
Now I decided to take this one step further and create an adjusted set of data. What does the adjusted data do? It simply takes a handful of teams above and puts them nearer to a historical reading - those teams would be UM, PSU, Clemson, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma State. I also threw in Indiana to try to make Michigan look better :P and also to account for their offenses of late which under Wilson are usually decent...when not run by a true freshman model. So I re-ran the numbers giving those schools a 35 FEI offensive rank. That is not world beater but it is solid (Wisconsin like). Let's see how the data changed.
|NC State||38||OK St||35||ASU||16|
What did the rerank do? It benefited the Big 10 East (UM) and Big 12 team (WV) the most as it rocketed up PSU - Indiana - OK State - Texas. 2 teams for each schedule - and in a 8 game schedule that is (math alert!) 25% of the schedule adjusted. Louisville benefited from Clemson, and both SEC teams from Florida. There was no benefit to Utah.
Results? The SEC West moved ahead of the Pac 12. A bit surprising because it felt like a down year for SEC West offenses. But these are clearly the 2 most competent conference / divisions from an offensive standpoint. Coming in 3rd was the Big 12 - which more fits my theory #3 above. So I believe my theory that the Big 12 is a good offensive league is true in general but didnt hold so much in 2014 as Texas and Oklahoma State had abnormal readings.
The Big 10 East and SEC East would be more on par with each other if PSU/Indiana (and Michigan) and Florida were more normal rather than abysmal. Then just behind them would come the ACC if Clemson had been a more typical offensive power as they usually have been under Chad Morris. Then way way way at the bottom is the Big West - which would support the case the Big 10 West sucks if UM and PSU can ever find their way. But for the purpose of this exercise - even adjusting to "normal times" for PSU and UM, and a Kevin Wilson Indiana the typical Big 10 defense is going to have the easiest time out there- and hence their stats are going to be inflated via NCAA.com's stats. Throw in their normal foray into the offensive juggernauts of the MAC in their non conf schedules and it gets even more slanted for Big 10 defenses. As expected the ACC would not be too far behind the Big 10 in a "normalized" environment.
The other 3 conferences are on a different plane, esp the SEC West and Pac 12 in terms of offenses and their defenses suffer. Or put another way - if your defense is performing in those conferences / divisions they have really earned it.
Or if you are a Big 10 apologist you can just yell they dont play no stinking defense in the SEC or Pac 12.... Or you could also blame cold weather for bad offenses and bad passing attacks but teams in Boston, Columbus, East Lansing, West Lafayette (in the Tiller years), Ann Arbor (in the Carr years), South Bend, et al seem to be able to run nice offenses even in northern climates so I dont buy the excuse. Lack of good QBs is more the issue.
Before looking at this I felt UM disappointed on defense last year relative to expectations - despite their "top 10!!!" ranking. Now - adjusting for what appears to be the easiest set of offenses faced in 2014 in any conference / division it makes it even more disappointing considering a relative good amount of talent and experience on that defense. Most advanced stats only had the defense around #40ish in the country despite an array of mediocre offenses faced. Going forward, it is worth keeping this sort of data in mind when comparing conference defensive achievement - the Big 10 (and ACC) defenses seem to have a quite clear advantage.