"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Hello everyone, Six Zero here with the final 2010 installment of:
SIX QUESTIONS WITH BRIAN
Inspired by the official site’s “Two Minute Drill” series and TomVH’s famous Q&A segments with potential recruits, this weekly feature highlights some of the more famous personalities here at MGoBlog. Without pulling back the infamous veil of blog anonymity, we’ll get to know some of your favorite posters better and possibly shed some light on their definition of why it’s so darn Great, To Be, A Michigan Wolverine.
Brian Cook. Or, to give his full given name, Brian Fielding Fritz Harmon Wistert Forest Hercules Oosterbaan Bump Bob Bo Ron Dan Jamie Monte Anthony Ali-Haji Brown Jim Desmond Elvis Hutchinson Todd Tom Drew Leroy Tshimanga Tyrone Charles David A-Train Chris Marquise Marlin LaMarr Braylon Mike Leon Brandon Zoltan Denard Demetrius Cook. The third.
All official namesakes aside, it’s no accident that Brian has found a way to make his living following the team(s) we have sworn our allegiance to. Like many of us, the pride and love and occasional ennui we share for Michigan has been bred throughout Mr. Cook’s entire life. His love of the maize and blue is a God-given gift, and like the way others have been blessed with the talent to sing, draw, or run without secured footwear, Brian has been found his calling in life to use his gift to make the Internet, if not the world, a better place. Let’s catch up with him for this exclusive interview:
1. Once upon a time there was a guy named Brian who decided to start something called a blog. Can you recall exactly when, where you were and what you were doing when you decided to start this thing called MGoBlog?
I'm pretty sure I was laid up on my girlfriend's couch hoping my ribs weren't broken. But first the Wayne's World flashback fingers...
In college I'd co-founded and edited the Every Three Weekly and kept telling myself that I'd only be an engineer for five years and then I'd be awesome, or something, and after I'd become an engineer I kept looking for ways to make that happen. One attempt was supposed to be a magazine about the "Art of the Letter"; a friend and I wrote a bunch of letters to celebrities and hoped they'd respond. No one did. Our letters had no art. Here's one:
WHAT UP MY DOGG JON VOIGHT,
Dude, you probably don’t really want to hear this, but your daughter is really fucking hot. And of course you know I have nothing but honorable intentions towards her, even though she’s as hot as previously stated. Not that I’ve ever met her.
But I was just thinking, dude, if she’s that hot her mom must have been really fucking hot too. Yeah, dogg, you’re the man. The motherfuckin’ man. Literally.
Anyway, in between discussions of how hot your daughter is and attempting to pause Tomb Raider just right so that we can reflect on this fact, we decided we should start a magazine dedicated to the art of the letter and ask you to write us a letter about anything—although if you wanted to talk about how hot Angelina Jolie’s mom was we would totally understand, totally—as long as it’s, you know, pretty interesting. And stuff. Yeah. Really.
So write us, pimpmasta playa JON VOIGHT. True dat.
They were all basically like that: insult some celebrity, ask for a letter. We actually sent these out. We got a PO Box and everything. No one ever wrote us back. In retrospect, obviously. By then I'd heard of blogging and started one with the same guy and some other friends that was directionless and spectacularly unsuccessful. I was the only one who wrote, and not often.
Eventually I decided I needed to do something on my own. Many one-sided conversations about Michigan football with friends that ended with glazed eyes and the little charts (charts!) of Michigan's recruiting classes that I'd doodle in meetings--Justin King featured prominently--made me think that if I was going to write about something it should probably be the thing I already spent too much time following.
The actual creation process was greatly aided by a pratfall. I was leaving my girlfriend's house, it had snowed over a coat of ice, the driveway was angled, and I was carrying my work computer. When I slipped, I instinctively tried to not shatter a 3k laptop and ended up crushing my ribs. They weren't broken but it felt like they could have been and I spent the next few days on my couch, 'working from home' by learning CSS and revamping a blogger template so that it didn't look generic.
Ah yes, the American dream of ‘working from home.’ If I did that I’d probably never be home. Anyway, describe what MGoBlog was like for the first, say, month of its existence. And, when did you realize that this was working, and that you could actually do produce MGoBlog for a living?
In the first month it was a series of short posts linking to other content. It was also very ugly. The long posts and columns that would become the site's trademark were largely absent; posts were frequent and along the lines of "here's a link to this other thing with maybe a sentence added on." It was kind of like Get The Picture except way worse.
I started throwing together longer stuff after that year’s Signing Day by assembling whatever information I could about recruits and linking it up on Rivals, and eventually a small readership formed. After that happened I stopped promoting the blog at all and settled down into content generation. A pattern that's held throughout the blog's existence started up where offseason traffic is pretty much flat, there's a big spike during football season, and then the next offseason's traffic is 2-4 times that of the previous one. I don't advertise at all.
After a couple of those cycles the blog was at around 2000 pageviews a day. I got fired from my job for not doing it--Tropico and blogging take up time--and was in idle, wondering if I should try to get another job or move to New York or what, when Jamie Mottram emailed me with an offer to be one of the lead bloggers for this new AOL Fanhouse thing. That plus the text links and nascent advertising on the site added up to a number somewhere around the poverty line, so I said okay and wrote a lot of eight-dollar posts for AOL. That was when I thought I might be able to do this for a living. I hedged pathetically when anyone asked what my job was, though, and I didn't "realize" it was working for another couple years.
The Lloyd Carr retirement and job search was probably the tipping point, where I was getting information from people who just liked the site and newspaper reporters were specifically debunking stuff I'd passed along and I was just laying everything I'd heard out there so that readers could judge what was happening for themselves. By the time Rodriguez was hired the blog had quadrupled its base traffic and having a tax return my mother would not be terrified by was a distant possibility. At some point I stopped hedging about what I did and developed a spiel about how I was not homeless (CPM advertising plus donations plus text links plus t-shirts plus freelancing).
2. You enjoy some degree of recognition from the Sports Information Department. How big of a victory was it to develop an official relationship with the university itself, and what does it give the blog that it didn’t have prior to that recognition?
The way that worked was pretty weird. I'd met Bruce Madej, the SID, maybe once or twice in passing and he'd talked about getting me into the press box for a game or two, something I was and remain totally opposed to. I'm where I am now because I've never been in a pressbox, and while I won't turn into Drew Sharp the instant I cross the threshold I don't see much value in it for me except from an anthropological standpoint. (See: Brian is pwned by Tom Dienhart, which should make it clear that someone's got to do it but it's not this guy.)
But I'd been thinking about adding some actual reporting into the mix and thought Tim, who knew Madej from his days at WOLV, was a guy well positioned to bridge the gap between blog and reporting. Meanwhile, I was in-studio at WTKA as John Bacon and Knight fellow Richard Dietsch discussed the demise of the Ann Arbor News. Dietsch winked as he mischievously asked Madej point-blank if he'd give MGoBlog a credential, and Madej said "yes."
So we emailed back and forth a couple times and set up a meeting. I expected skepticism. Michigan had a reputation for being extremely old-fashioned about things. The reason GBW has a magazine is so they could get access. Internet sites were denied at the time they started up, and "The Fort" was internet shorthand for Schembechler Hall for a reason. So I'd mentally prepared some talking points to deal with whatever concerns they'd have.
There weren't any. They had a list of requirements they wanted any website to meet to get a credential, which they presented to me just because they wanted my input on it. And they said the first year Tim might have a little trouble getting into big games because the press box was small, but after that he'd be fine. And that was it.
So... I'd like to say MGoBlog knocked the doors down but the News going down and Greg Dooley's existence (Dooley gets along with everyone and is the kind of extrovert that defies blogger stereotypes I largely live up to) were more important.
As to what it gives the blog: there is the obvious content. As we've gotten more established we've gotten more interviews for Hail to the Victors and hopefully we'll start getting more for the blog itself. We're trying to get a field pass, which would be another step. But we're still trying to figure out what makes the most sense in a world where press conference transcripts are immediately available in four different places; the stuff Tim did last year for Friday Night Lights, which requires no access at all, has been way more valuable.
3. How does being Brian from MGoBlog change your gameday experience? Are you recognized when you walk through the hallowed gates into Michigan Stadium? And what’s the best part of being Brian from MGoBlog??
Increasingly, yes. I remember the first time it ever happened. It was after the 2007 Northwestern game. I was helping matters along by wearing my "Zoltan For Space Emperor" shirt and some random guy walked by and said "Brian!" and I was like "I don't know you!" and he was like "MGoBlog!" and I was like "dude." Then an hour later someone bought me a beer. It was at that moment I knew exactly how Kathy Griffin lives her day-to-day life.
Now it will happen a couple times whenever I go to a Michigan sporting event. If you have done this to me I have probably been awkward, but this is not your fault. I am an engineer. I remember when I got my first friend. It was in fifth grade and he was just screwing with me. You are not the problem.
As far as the best part about doing this whole thing, it's the aftermath of an important emotional event for the fanbase when I have written something I think helps people wrap their head around things. I much prefer this to be a good event but of late it's been helping people cope instead of consolidating their joy. I'm still pretty confused by what Jim Carty first diagnosed as a cult mentality around the site where people openly despair at my inevitable graduation to the big time -- I'm just this guy -- but what I understand in it resides in those columns.
4. When have you been most proud of MGoBlog? And, being a creative person myself, I’ll ask-- are you ever satisfied with it? What is the thing you like the least about what it has evolved into?
The way I answered the previous question answers the first bit of this one, but to be really specific the column I'd put on the gravestone is The Age of Miracles. Secondarily, I'm not sure which guy it was but it was probably MCalibur or Misopogon or the Mathlete (block Ms all, eh?) who posted the tipping-point diary where I felt I'd gathered this community around the blog and set the gates open and these guys had stepped forward with outstanding content that would probably not have existed without that "create content" link. That's the accumulation of a lot of effort, and a validation of the entire painful move off of blogger. Since then the diaries have been consistently inventive and useful and I've marveled at the ability of people who just care a whole lot to produce great stuff.
As to satisfaction, no, I have a list of a dozen things I'd like to get done that hardly shrinks. A couple are getting towards a checkoff, FWIW, including a mobile site and some more database-oriented sections of the blog. Even so, things keep getting added to the list and the site keeps looking more dated and Drupal 7 is coming out...
As far as the thing I like least about the site: as it's grown the message board continually approaches MLive or the worst parts about the premium boards. I've tried to erect barriers that would keep this down, and they've been somewhat successful, but when Doctor Saturday posts something that's a tiny bit wrong about Michigan and gets raked over the coals for it I feel I'm losing a battle. I simultaneously loathe and understand the term "mgoidiots"; people who deploy it are not that distinguishable from the people targeted but they are somewhat. I wanted to have this bit of the internet where people would have serious conversations and hilarious interactions without animosity and that didn't happen even if Steve Sharik gets frontpaged at Smart Football. It happens in bits, and that's still better than a lot of places but the same tedious learning about who needs to be ignored and who needs to be attended to happens. You can't fight entropy.
5. Is this your job for life? Or, should I say, would you ever consider selling and/or walking away from MGoBlog?
I really hope MGoBlog is my job for life as long as we start going to bowls on the regular in the near future. Insufficient emphasis. I desperately want MGoBlog to be my job until I retire. I've rarely been so attuned with a fictional character as when Sterling Cooper was trying to get Don Draper to sign a contract, and when he actually signed it and was immediately slapped in the face with it I felt it was cosmically justified. So... yeah. It will take a lot to do something else.
Never say never, but it is extremely unlikely I'd ever walk away or sell the site. I love what I do, I have job security, I am my own boss, and the revenue is on a path where I should be able to support a family. I can't imagine wanting to do something else.
At some point I will probably start disconnecting for longer periods of time during the summer -- since the blog started five years ago I've taken one two-week vacation, days here and there for the 4th and other one-off holidays, and that's it. I'd like to be able to wander around a foreign country for a while at some point before kids make that an impossibility. But do something else? Not likely.
Obviously, this is your livelihood. Can you describe a typical workday for you? And, as always, what do you like to do for fun on your own time?
I wake up at 9 (season) or 10 (offseason) or 11 (offseason after Troy Woolfolk explodes) and immediately start assembling whatever the noon-ish post is going to be. Sometimes I've already put something together (or Tim or Tom has or there's a diary worth a bump) and it goes up soon after I get up, but most of the time those are afternoon things. After that I scan twitter, message boards, and Bloglines, then move on to the next thing I need to do. That could be something immediate or working on another post for the afternoon or working on a longer-term project. Depending on how much outside help there is that day and how much I've gotten done, I knock off sometime between 3 and 5 and do stuff around the house or just surf the internet; after dinner I'll usually start writing some more stuff up. During the season big hunks of Monday and Tuesday go to UFRs. I stay up late and get a lot of work done between 10 and 2 AM.
There's a lot of playing it by ear; things tend to be ready when they're ready.
My main hobby turned into my job, so now I have scant answers to the second question. Now my main non-internet hobbies are playing dorky German board gamesand being terrible at soccer. You have no idea how bad. The best shot I've ever unleashed was directly at my own keeper.
If it makes you any better, I’m sure all of us are bad at dorky German board games. Before we move on, describe the perfect meal.
Roasted chicken. My fiancee makes it and the last few times we've dispensed with the sides and even the silverware. We just flip the thing upside down and promise each other we'll never film the carnage. It is so good. Learn to do this.
6. Can you explain why the sky is blue? Or, why are you a Michigan fan?
Heredity and everything else. The family has had season tickets since the mid-50s and there's even a legend that my grandfather ushered at Ferry Field that seems apocryphal given the age he would have been at the time. The legend exists, though, and that's what's important. I remember falling asleep during that Rose Bowl we lost to Washington as my dad got agitated and staying awake through the one where Tyrone Wheatley cut a blazing swath through the subsequent, Emtman-free edition of the Huskies.
When it came time to pick a college, I applied to Michigan and MIT. MIT said no, but I wasn't going there anyway. Seriously: they deploy the acronym "IHTFP*" everywhere. Also it would have cost triple what M did. So I went to Michigan, saw a national title as a freshman, graduated with a computer engineering degree in 2001 when the dot-com bubble was imploding, got a masters in the same thing because of the bubble, and have not actually left Ann Arbor since 1997. Also now my job is dependent on Michigan someday not being terrible.
So... yeah. Every possible reason that has ever existed.
*("I Hate This Fucking Place")
So you’re saying there’s more than one reason, then. Finally, who's your all-time favorite Wolverine?
All sports: Jed Ortmeyer. He sealed that during the infamous "Molly" game when he delivered two of the most crushing legal hits I've ever seen in the first ten minutes, and then put it in a hidden tomb when he and Eric Nystrom played a give-and-go for the winner against Denver the next night. Carl Hagelin's got a shot to beat him this year, though. We'll see.
In football I have to give the obvious answer: Mike Hart. This is not interesting but it is true. If I was going to try to be interesting I would go with David Harris for reasons described in the All Decade Team, but it's tough to have the same sort of visceral reaction to a linebacker that you do to a skill position player. Hart was physically inadequate for Division I football but did not care. He was the sort of football genius that makes the detailed observer both enthralled and incapable of communicating exactly why. So he was sort of art. And he never fumbled except inside the five against Florida and we still won that game.
Jason Avant is a close second. If David Molk stays healthy the next couple years he'll be up there. I am developing a severe bias towards players I think are great before anyone else does.
My plans for MGoProfile never included Brian, actually. I initially wanted to focus on the everyday joes that sit at the same counter as the rest of us and shovel the manna of MGoBlog down their throats with the same silverware as everyone else. Plus, I’ve dealt with Brian a bit now, and I know he’s not a glory hound. The blog has never been HEY LOOK AT ME I’M BRIAN AND THIS IS MY BLOG ABOUT SOME TEAM AND OH BTW I’M AWESOME K THX BYE. I really didn’t think he’d want any part in these profiles at all.
But after the ball started rolling, I’d started focusing on some of the staffers here such as F/A and Tim, and it seemed kind of wrong that we hadn’t profiled Brian himself. So I asked him subtly and he was open to the idea—I was actually a bit surprised in fact, and even admitted to him that I didn’t think he’d want to be included.
In the end, Brian said yes precisely because of what I discussed above. The blog is NOT about him, or his life, or his interests, or only what he thinks about something. We read about Michigan sports in ludicrous detail, and there’s little room for what Brian had for dinner last night or what he thinks of True Blood. So when the opportunity came to spotlight him in a profile, it really was something we don’t actually know much about. Plus the historical aspect of the blog that Brian can offer is absolutely one of a kind. Jon Voight, bitches. Jon Voight.
And so it is my pleasure to announce that this season of MGoProfile has officially concluded. It’s been a fun ride, and I hope you all have enjoyed getting to know some of our most colorful personalities as much as I have. There are plans already in motion to continue next offseason, sometime in the spring or so after the hoopla of a Big Ten championship season finally dies down. Hehe, see you then.
I’d also like to personally thank TomVH and his lightning quick web accountability. This series began almost before my eyes as an informal exchange between us; all told the entire concept and first entry was knocked out in probably ten or fifteen minutes. But it all snowballed from there. Couldn’t have done it without you, Tom.
Yes, the season is less than 10 days away, and the offseason is all but over. Finally, gloriously, it’s time to stop explaining what happened and predicting what will happen—and instead live the dream again. Our Wolverines are 0-0, and-- regardless of wingless helmets, imploding ankles, and Martell Webb’s rhinological profile-- we are free to cheer and hope and believe once again. Most likely this will be one of the most important years we will ever experience as a fan of Michigan football—and either way the history of the program will be forever changed by the 2010 season. We will live and die together, my brothers. (And sisters).
I will see you all on the other side. Go Blue.
It appears that the thinking of the B10 Office regarding The Game goes something like this:
"It would be a shame to have a setup where Michigan and Ohio State could not play each other for the Big 10 title. Besides, a potential Michigan-Ohio State Big 10 title game would have tremendous appeal to the networks when we're trying to sell the broadcast rights (not that we would ever let a thing like that drive our decision making . . . wink, wink).
So to make this a possibility, we'll put Michigan and Ohio State into separate divisions.
But this creates a new problem. It would be a bad thing if they played each other the last game of the season and then played immediately again in the Big 10 championship game. This could dilute the interest of the networks to whom we are trying to sell the broadcast rights (not that we would ever let a thing like that drive our decision making . . . wink, wink).
So we'll move The Game to earlier in the season so that there will be time for the networks to "cleanse their palettes" between the two games. Problem solved. We'll slip this past everybody by announcing it in drips and drabs in late August, and no one will be the wiser. Martini Time."
While it may seem like a tidy little solution to the Big 10 Office, many Michigan fans and college football fans in general are outraged. We believe The Game should be played the last game of the season, one shot. You have to go through the other team to advance. Win or lose, it's final. It's the cumulative end-point of the season, the crown jewel of "rivalry weekend".
We now have to hope against hope that the Big 10 Office will come to its senses and not let what happened to the epic Oklahoma-Nebraska and Miami-Florida State rivalries happen to the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
But if the Big 10 still insists on putting Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions and not allowing them to play each other back-to-back in the regular season and the Big 10 championship game, there may be a way to do that that still preserves the essence and tradition of The Game:
- Play all of the traditional Big 10 rivalry games, including The Game, at the end of the Big 10 season the Saturday before Thanksgiving, just like they are played now.
- Schedule a non-conference game the Saturday after Thanksgiving, between the last Big 10 season game and the Big 10 championship game.
The non-conference game would be like that end of season Hawaii game that many of the Big 10 teams have played over the years, except now it would be for everybody.
There would be plenty of tomato cans available to schedule for the end of season non-conference slot, most of whom would have finished their own regular seasons and would welcome the extra paycheck. The two Big 10 championship game opponents can rest their first string and use this game to give their second/third string some reps. The non-Big 10 championship game teams can use the non-conference game to keep their team sharp for the bowls, avoiding a long layoff.
The significance and tradition of the Big 10 rivalry games would be preserved. They would still be played at the end of the Big 10 season on "rivalry weekend" the way they are now, and would still be the final word on the Big 10 standings. The non-conference games would have no bearing on the Big 10 standings or a slot in the Big 10 championship game.
This solution is not perfect of course. Many fans will not relish the idea of sitting in a cold stadium in late November to watch their team take on the seventh place MAC team. The networks would not exactly be scrambling to show these games either. Luckily for the Big 10, we have our own network to save the day. It can be an all-BTN overflow channel extravaganza day. The Big 10 would even get to keep all the TV money.
This is by no means preferable to the sensible solution of keeping Michigan and Ohio State in the same division and letting them brawl it out in The Game at the end of the season for the division crown and the right to go to the Big 10 championship.
If the Big 10 is adamant on putting Michigan and Ohio State in seperate divisions, then The Game should still be played as the last game of the season. There is no good reason to move it every year because of the possibility the teams might play each other consecutively a couple times a decade.
But if the Big 10 is hung up on Michigan and Ohio State never playing each other back to back and won't budge from this position, then a non-conference buffer game would be much more preferrable to moving The Game to the middle of the season. As a last ditch effort to keep The Game from becoming just “a game” it may be the best hope we’ve got.
So, MVictors has a good post about conference realignment and The Game: http://mvictors.com/?p=7960#idc-container
Craig Ross talks about the divisional title conditions as well. My 2 cents (AKA, everyone else is NUTs b/c the following is the most logical avenue of reasoning):
1) A simple question: Why is Michigan-Ohio St the greatest rivalry in sports? No really, think about specific reasons.....
OK, now is it really b/c it's played on Nov 22nd? Or in November? Or the end of the year? Can a date on the calendar define the importance of this game? Not really. The reason the Game is so big is simply b/c when the teams play, the BIG TEN TITLE always seems to be on the line. This is the crux of the rest of this post: Overwhelmingly often, the M-OSU winner definitively determined the BIG TEN CHAMPION. That is what made The Game, well.... THE GAME. Nothing more, nothing less. Not the weather or the date on calendar.
Based on the above, if both M and OSU were in the same division, THEY WOULD NEVER DEFINITIVELY PLAY FOR THE B10 TITLE. They would only play for the division. Hence, the game loses it's significance. The Game went from 'determining the B10 Champion' to 'determining the division winner.' By definition, this would be less important.
I therefore submit that, if you truly want to protect the importance of The Game, you MUST support M and OSU being placed in different divisions. Therefore, unlike the alternative, the opportunity to play for the B10 Title will still be available thus maintaining the sustainability of the importance of The Game. It will sustain it's own importance if it deserves to: if M and OSU are good enough to meet in the B10 title game on a regular basis. If they aren't good enough to do this, nothing can sustain The Game's importance.
Obvious point: We must play every year to avoid the Neb-OU situation of the recent past. Hence, the protected rivalry game.
Obvious point: playing a 2nd time in the Title game WOULD BE AWESOME!!!
Not-so-obvious point: Would it not benefit (from an on the field competitive viewpoint) both OSU and M to move The Game a week or two earlier to avoid having to play the 2 biggest games of the year in consecutive weeks? In addition, this may reduce the number of times when the divisions have already been determined prior to the last week of the season (thus diminishing the stake of The Game some years).
Finally, the MVictors post linked at the top discusses the inherent disadvantage M and OSU would have simply by virtue of having to play each other EVERY year in the cross divisional protected game. Craig Ross suggests a complicated point system to mitigate this disadvantage. I submit a simpler strategy for determining the divisional champions:
-- intra-divisional record determines the division champion.
-- overall B10 record is the 1st tiebreaker.
-- head to head in the 2nd tie breaker
moving head to head to the 1st tie breaker may be fine, but then makes overall record moot and essentially makes the cross divisional games worthless.
The End...... ?
Of all the Michigan season previews you read, this has a pretty good shot at being the nerdiest. I will be focusing the preview on the statistical contributions of the departed and the returning. The culmination will be a series of beautiful charts telling you just how many games Michigan is going to win this year (or at least how many they won in one of the thousands of simulations I ran). The key metric you need to know is PAN, Points Above Normal. Normal is technically the NCAA FBS average, but you could also think of it as BCS conference replacement level. A Normal team would generally place in the bottom 2-3 of any BCS conference in a given year or in the top 2-3 of a non-BCS conference in a given year. For a little more detail on how it works, there is a short primer at the end of the column.
On to the preview.
Tate Forcier took the majority of snaps last year and has the more robust data set from last year while Denard has shown vast improvement through spring and camp and is the rumored front-runner for the starting position. Here is what they did last year.
Forcier: Had a passing PAN of 37 points on 278 qualifying plays (QP). This was good for third in the Big 10 (behind Tolzien and Cousins) overall but was second behind Tolzien on a per play basis. Tate’s rushing PAN (which excludes sacks) was –5 on 90 carries, meaning in 2009 Tate was worth about 32 points above the average NCAA player, second only to Kirk Cousins of Michigan St in the Big 10 and ahead of the 27 points in 13 games posted by Terrelle Pryor.
Robinson: Very limited sample size, but with 27 QP Denard had a passing PAN of –1 point. His –.04 PAN per attempt would have ranked him second to last in the Big 10, ahead of only Ben Chappell at Indiana. There was little element of surprise when Robinson was on the field that the ball was staying on the ground. Despite that, Robinson posted a positive PAN (+1) on the season. At .01 PAN per play he was ninth in the conference of players with at least 50 QP and second among all quarterback on the ground, behind Terrelle Pryor’s .05.
Despite an unknown quarterback situation coming into the season, it reasons that a sophomore Forcier would exceed a freshman Forcier and if Robinson can beat him out, then the quarterback production from Michigan should be about the best in the Big 10 this season.
In the most wide open position battle on the team, Michigan is looking to replace departed seniors Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown. In injury limited time, Minor was still the 5th most valuable back in the Big 10 last year with over 6 PAN on only 95 QP. His .06 PAN per play was third in the Big 10 behind John Clay of Wisconsin and Jaycen Taylor of Purdue. The production of Brown will not be as difficult to replace. WIth 80 QP Brown had a –3 PAN for the season. Brown was more active in the passing game with 10 catches on the season.
Looking to fill the void will be two players who saw limited action last year.
Vincent Smith: Had 31 QP last year and a 0 PAN. Running backs tend to skew negative so a 0 PAN would have put him 10th in the Big 10 among qualifying backs.
Michael Shaw: 33 QP in 2009 and a –4 PAN. At –0.13 PAN per play, he would have been in the bottom quarter of Big 10 backs.
In limited time last year, Smith outperformed Shaw. With Smith missing the offseason due to injury and Shaw battling academic issues, it looks like several players will get their chance to prove themselves on the field.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
The good news is that almost everyone is back from last year. The bad news is that no one did much in 2009, Michigan did not have a single receiver in the top 15 for the season. Greg Mathews is lone departee and was second last year with 25 PAN (receiving PAN do not directly correspond to other PAN because there is no good way to offset the good plays, catches, with bad plays so all you end up with are the positive plays).
Roy Roundtree: Finished the year red hot out of the slot. His 27 PAN in the last four games of the season were more than any other Wolverine had for the full year. If he could have produced at that pace for all 11 FBS games last year, he would have been top 2 in the Big 10.
Martavious Odoms: Third on the team with a 21 PAN last season but looks to have lost out on the primary slot role due to Roundtree’s emergence.
Kevin Koger: Michigan’s main tight end was fourth in 2009 with a PAN of 16.
Junior Hemingway: Came out of the gates on fire with the team’s season high single game PAN of 11 against Western Michigan but only managed a 15 for the season.
Darryl Stonum: Provided more value as a kick returner than he did as receiver, his 2009 PAN was 9.
Based on his strong finish to last year, Roundtree is the only member of the receiving core who looks to have a strong role locked up. Whether it’s from a single individual or the group as a whole, Michigan’s wide receiver will need to do better than 2009’s 8th place ranking for receiver value.
So we lost one guy. He was OK. Brandon Graham exploits are well noted but just for the PAN refresher, defensive players are measured by the number of negative (for the offense) plays they make and their magnitude. Graham led all Big 10 players with 47 points taken away from the offense, a stat normally dominated by linebackers.
Ryan Van Bergen: Finished 12th in the Big 10 among D-lineman with 19 points taken on 25 plays made.
Mike Martin: Lacked the big play ability of some of his Big 10 counterparts with only 10 points taken away, but was second among all tackles with 30 plays made.
Despite losing Graham, the move to more three man lines and the strong performances by RVB and Mike Martin last year make this the most secure position group on the defense.
Michigan’s linebackers flat out did not make plays last year. Only Indiana and Illinois got less production from their linebackers. Michigan’s “best” linebacker was Jonas Mouton who came in 25th among Big 10 linebackers in points taken.
Jonas Mouton: led the group with 17 points taken on 34 plays.
Obi Ezeh: Right behind Mouton with 16 points taken on 35 plays.
Craig Roh: Would have been a top 25 defensive lineman in the conference last year and should see his production increase above last years 13 PT as he moves to more of a standup role.
This group has experience but a long history of mediocre performance. The hope is that the coaching consistency can help this group turn the corner but at this point Roh is only one who seems able be a positive difference maker.
Classified as a safety, Stevie Brown was the most productive defensive back in the Big 10 last year with 32 PT. Classified as a linebacker he was still top 10. Donovan Warren had only Stevie Brown and three other DB’s in front of him at 26 PT. Where the linebackers are a question because of limited production the secondary is a question because of limited bodies.
Jordan Kovacs: the lone returner that managed to crack the top 50 DB’s last year. The walk-on garnered 16 points taken on an impressive 30 plays made.
The only good thing about the secondary going into this season is that the expectations will be very low. Any success they can manage will likely be more than most fans are counting on.
One of the biggest challenges Michigan has in climbing the hill this year is their schedule. Based on my PAN projections, Michigan has the 22nd toughest schedule in the country and second toughest in the Big 10 behind Minnesota. Only Minnesota and Indiana have easier Big 10 schedules and that’s because they don’t get to play Indiana and Minnesota.
So where does this all net out? Here is Michigan’s team PAN since 2003 along with my 2010 projection.
As detailed in the comments of by wannabe Blogpoll, PAN projections are done using 2/3 historical performance (2003-2008) and 1/3 previous year performance. Based on previous years, this combination of program history and most recent performance yields the most accurate pre-season predictions.
So what does that mean for wins? Using all teams PAN predictions I ran a Monte Carlo simulation for the season and at the 6.6 PAN above, this is your win expectation chart for 2010.
Over a 50% chance of 7-8 wins, a 93% chance of bowl eligibility.
If this projection seems either too high or two low, I ran 3 additional simulations, one with Michigan’s PAN increased by 3, one decreased by 3 and one with performance at last year’s level.
At last year’s performance the chance of bowl eligibility drop to 56%. At the optimistic side, wins average about 9 with a 27% chance of 10+ wins.
*PAN is calculated by assigning every play a value based on how much the play helped or hurt the offense’s chances of scoring. Every down, distance and line of scrimmage combination is assigned an expected value, the average points scored across college football in that same situation. If a play increases the expected value, the respective teams and players are credited with the amount of increase.
All plays are then adjusted based on strength of opponent. Plays against weak opponents are penalized and downgraded while plays against strong opponents are bumped to reflect the degree of difficulty.
Only games against FBS (D1A) opponents, games against FCS (1AA) opponents are non-existent in any numbers used in this work.
Qualifying Plays (QP) are all plays in the first half and plays in the second half when the game is within two touchdowns. End of half run out the clock drives are also excluded.
AN OPEN LETTER TO BIG TEN COMMISSIONER JIM DELANY
August 25, 2010
Mr. James E. Delany
Big Ten Conference
1500 West Higgins Road
Park Ridge, IL 60068-6300
Re: “What would Bo and Woody do?”
Dear Mr. Delany:
With all the rumors going around, I am writing to tell you how distraught I am that you are even thinking of putting Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions and moving The Game to earlier in the season. I have been a season ticket holder for 16 years and a huge Michigan fan since I was a boy. That said, I will spare you the talk about tradition and try to persuade you that, solely from a national interest and marketing perspective, Michigan and Ohio State should be placed in the same division and The Game should continue to be held on the final week of the regular season (or as close thereto as possible).
Michigan-Ohio State has developed over the past 40 years into THE college sports rivalry. No one sat down and came up with a formula or marketing plan to make it happen. It started with Bo and Woody in 1969 and grew organically into something extremely special. Alabama-Auburn doesn’t have it. Florida-Tennessee doesn’t either. Notre Dame-Southern Cal comes close, but still falls short. Even Texas-Oklahoma, albeit a significant national game very recently, has not held close to the same national interest historically. You cannot create a rivalry like The Game by trying. It just happens. And the idea that the B10 now thinks it can “tweak” the rivalry for marketing purposes is, well, so obviously a bad one, I cannot believe it is not immediately apparent to everyone.
If the goal is to have two Michigan-Ohio State games each year, please reconsider how “great” an idea you actually think that is. First of all, a Michigan-Ohio State rematch might not happen very often (see Miami-Florida State). If that is the case, then you will have substantially reduced the national significance of The Game for no benefit whatsoever. I am not speaking about regional interest, which will always exist, but national interest. The Game will become just another Alabama-Auburn or Cal-Stanford. Second, if a rematch happens too frequently, everyone will bemoan the fact that the two teams are playing twice far too often. Due to the frequency, the novelty of the rematches will wear off rather quickly. Moreover, the regular season game will lose much of its significance because the implications of the B10 Championship game will be far greater (i.e., the winner will go to either the Rose Bowl or BCS Championship). Thus, from a national perspective, the whole idea of trying to double the value of The Game by setting up two Michigan-Ohio State head-to-heads each year is fundamentally flawed from the start.
Additionally, consider the three modern examples of how major rivalries have fared as conferences have moved to divisions over the past 20 years. One (Texas-Oklahoma) has been successful while the other two (Oklahoma-Nebraska and Miami-Florida State) have failed miserably. The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry works because every year the two teams have to go through each other to reach the B12 Championship game. It is a battle to the death for the B12 South. If anything, that rivalry has thrived by having both teams in the same division. In contrast, the Oklahoma-Nebraska and Miami-Florida State rivalries are all but dead except for whatever regional attraction they still hold. The only thing I can think of that could possibly enhance the current Texas-Oklahoma rivalry would be if they moved it to the final week of the B12 regular season. With the B12’s new round robin format, I would not be surprised to see that conference attempt to do something along those lines in the next few years. How ironic would it be to watch The Game lose much of its luster and the Red River Rivalry take its place in part because the B12 successfully copied some of the key elements of The Game and the B10 abandoned them?
My strong suggestion would be to leave Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State in the Eastern Division along with Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana. Yes, this is the plain old geographic solution (not intentionally and, if need be, the bottom three teams of each division could be moved around to optimize rivalries), but sometimes the simplest answers are actually the best. The combination of Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa in the Western Division should be, in most if not all years, sufficient to provide the heft and gravitas necessary to guarantee that every B10 Championship game will be competitive. Moreover, over the past 10 years, it cannot be denied that the trio of Northwestern, Illinois and Minnesota have been a stronger “bottom three” than Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana. Should Illinois rebound even partly from its recent slump, the Western Division actually could develop into the tougher of the two divisions from top to bottom. Under this relatively uncomplicated divisional alignment, the B10 would still have The Game, unadulterated, not watered-down, possibly even during the final week of the regular season, and the B10 also would have a great new B10 Championship game that would frequently showcase the winner of The Game as the representative of the Eastern Division.
Finally, and this is not a threat but a sincere caution, if the B10 chooses to drastically change The Game and that decision turns out badly, like it or not, whatever else you do will be largely viewed through the prism of that legacy. You will not be remembered primarily for enhancing the B10 academically or athletically. You will not be remembered primarily for having the courage and foresight to launch the Big Ten Network or for expanding the B10 with the brilliant addition of Nebraska. You will be remembered primarily as the key decision-maker who thought he was smarter than everyone else and who, as a result, inadvertently destroyed the greatest rivalry in college sports in a misguided attempt to make the richest conference in the country just a little bit richer. I do not think I would want to risk that as my legacy if I had any other reasonable option. I am absolutely certain I would not want to try to explain it to Bo and Woody when the time comes.
In sum, the far more responsible and less risky decision is to leave Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State together in the Eastern Division. If the B10 does that and it turns out that one division is consistently stronger than the other, no one will blame the conference for revisiting the decision and rebalancing the divisions in five or six years (or whenever conference expands again). However, if geographic divisions work reasonably well, the B10 will have avoided the risk of splitting Michigan and Ohio State and moving The Game – something that carries dubious marketing value at best and unquestionably goes against all sense of tradition and history. Notwithstanding the best intentions, by substantially playing around with the magic that is The Game, the B10 risks irrevocably damaging its unparalleled national appeal and could actually kill the goose the laid the golden egg. Such a drastic step should be considered only as an unavoidable last resort.
Michigan Law ‘91
Back in April, I wrote a diary called Blue Moon in my Eye in which I developed a regression model that could be used to develop a projected win total assuming that reasonable estimates had been used as inputs. At the time I thought that the team would be capable of winning at least seven, probably eight, and maybe even nine out of thirteen games this season. Since then, things have, uh, how do you say … changed. With the loss of Woolfolk, how do those numbers change?
The New Blue Moon
Before I get to that, there’s a good reason to update the model. In April, I mentioned that turnover margin is meaningful factor in regard to outcomes, but I lacked enough data to break it out specifically and therefore decided to leave it as a lumped parameter; turnovers were doomed to fade into the ether that is Intercept. No more, the NCAA has finally included turnover data in its database and now there is enough data to mix into the model. The new model has an improved R-squared value (0.752 as improved from 0.675) using just three end-of-year factors: offensive yards per game, defensive yards per game, and total turnover margin. Last time I didn’t include the model because it was mine, my own, my … preciousss. That was incredibly lame and nerdy (both with holding the coefficients and referencing LOTR) but we’re talking stats here so no one should be surprised. Another reason for divulging the goods is, now that there are four dimensions, a chart would be useless. Behold, the Blue Moon Model coefficients:
- I left the P-Values in there for those who know what that is. For the rest of you, it suffices to say what I said last time: that ish be money, yo.
- The second column (Normalized Coefficients) is there to demonstrate the relative importance of each factor; in short, defense is a skosh more influential than offense and turnover margin is a little over half as important as both.
- The use of the model (first column) is simple, start with the intercept then multiply the other the coefficients with their interrogation values and add everything together. Use it to gamble at your own peril. Until such a time as you can accurately predict end of year stats for these categories, the model is only good for using as a platform to base sophisticated guesses off of.
Probable influential factors that are embedded in the 25% of the variation not explained by the model (1 – R_squared) are:
- Return Teams effectiveness. Good return teams will establish good field position thus reducing OffYds/G.
- Coverage Teams effectiveness. Bad units will allow the other team to establish good field position thereby reducing DefYds/G.
- Field Goal Kicking effectiveness. If you get into field goal position and miss, you’ll have a lot of yards but nothing to show for them.
- Penalties. Penalty yardage will increase/decrease your production depending on if they’re called on you or them but doesn’t necessarily change how effective each team is at controlling field position.
- In round terms, factor influence on winning percentage breaks down to 30% Offense, 30% Defense, 15% Turnover Margin, and 25% Other Things.
Shine Down on the Big Ten (and it’s self-absorbed neighbor)
Below is 2009 Big Ten Data and Blue Moon Model expectation (BMM Expect).
|Team||OffYds/G||DefYds/G||TrnOvrMgn_Tot||2009 Wins||BMM Expect.||Delta Wins|