to play football, not to play trumpet
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|
FF101: Day 4 – Offensive Linemen
Offensive linemen are the men that do the most and get the least credit. Not many kids grow up dreaming of some day being a starting left guard, and it’s sad that that’s the case. Offensive line is the most underrated position in all of football, both in terms of the recognition they get and in terms of enjoyment due to a stellar combination of physical and intellectual responsibilities. There is the obvious when it comes to offensive linemen: they stand several inches away from another hulk of muscle and run into them like two rams.
(Sorry for the advertisement beforehand, but the narration of this is oddly appropriate for offensive linemen as well).
However, the intellectual part of the game cannot be lost with offensive linemen. Defensive fronts constantly change, blitzers show and back off from all possible angles, and as an offensive lineman you now have to prevent the defense from doing what it’s trying to do while successfully allowing your team to do what it is attempting to do. It truly is one of the most overlooked positions in football, but its purpose and necessity for the success of a team cannot be ignored.
When I first started coaching I went to an offensive linemen class put on by the former offensive line coach of the Buffalo Bills during their great super bowl runs of the early 1990s. Afterward I was able to strike up conversation with the man and he actually walked me through many more intricacies of the offensive line one on one. I later got to actually coach with him. I owe much of my knowledge of the offensive line to this man as I had never played it before. I also owe him my Alan Ameche Story (shameless plug here), which is one of my favorites, that I told randomly a while back.
Anyway, long story short, he was teaching me how to properly get in the 3-point-stance. The best way to coach is to be able to do it yourself. So we are going over it again and again and I finally get the stance right after a while and he asks me “Are you comfortable.” In response, I, being new to coaching and this being a man that knows his stuff, shyly reply “Yes.” He slaps me across the back of the head and yells “You’re a gosh damn liar!” I was in shock and a little nervous. Honestly, I did not know what to say or do. Finally he continued, “But everyone is, they all say yeah. But if we were so comfortable standing like that then we would walk around like that and have conversations standing like that. It’s not comfortable. It’s extremely uncomfortable! It’s your ass wanting so badly to get out of that stance that makes it so great!” And so I give you the 3-point-stance.
3-Point Stance: The 3-point-stance is the most common pre-snap stance of offensive linemen, though it may not be for much longer as more pass heavy teams begin to favor a 2-point-stance. Regardless, we will first cover the 3-point-stance. (Important note: This is a very different 3-point-stance than for fullbacks, defensive linemen, etc.)
Legs: Flexed at the knees, somewhat like doing a squat.
Feet: Feet need to be about shoulder width apart, maybe a little more if he’s a bigger fellow. It is important to note that he should not stand too duck footed (toes pointed out). It will feel much more natural to stand with his toes pointed out with his feet spread apart as they are, but it will lead to a lack of balance and power. His toes should be pointed essentially forward. Therefore, it is common to tell people just learning the stance to kick out their heels, and that should help. Other than that, if an offensive lineman is a position other than center, his feet should be slightly staggered with his outside foot being planted somewhere between the instep and heel. He should not go beyond the heel as this will lead to being off balance. The weight should be placed firmly on the soles of his feet. His forward foot should be flat (you don’t get much power playing from your toes) and the heel of his back foot should only be about a quarter of an inch (about 2/3 of a cm for you metric people out there) off the ground.
Feet and footwork are of the utmost importance for offensive linemen, it is important that that is not overlooked when teaching.
Hands: The first hand I’ll talk about is the down hand. Typically the down hand is the hand away from the ball (this usually leads to better balance for being able to both pass and run block). To start, it should be dropped essentially straight down from the shoulder just inside your knee. There should not be much weight on this hand. The down hand is simply used as a guide. A common emphasis when coaching is that the offensive lineman should be able to swipe the grass in front of him without falling forward, backwards, or to the side regardless of the direction the hand is swiped. The offensive lineman should be able to pick it up and set it back down without any shifting of balance. The weight should be on the soles of his feet. In the old-days (at least my dad tells me) the knuckles of the offensive linemen used to give away run or pass because of the amount of weight put on the hand. This tip off should not exist.
As for the off hand, anywhere from the wrist to elbow should be rested calmly on the inside of the thigh. Weight should not be applied to this hand as it is necessary to use this hand to quickly attack defensive linemen.
Other: Back should be straight to slightly arched back, head should be up. Make sure the butt isn’t too high as this will lead to poor balance. It is also important that offensive linemen do not tip off the play with their eyes, head direction, feet direction, or lean.
(I don't know who that guy is, but he has good form)
2-Point-Stance: Very common in today’s pass oriented offenses. What is lost from leverage is made up for by being able to quickly go to a pass blocking stance. The knees and feet do not change much from the 3-point-stance. The big difference is the back is more upright and the head a little higher. Hands or wrists should be rested on inside of thighs.
As most of us are aware, there are two different types of blocking schemes: Base and zone blocking. The distinction will be made below, along with some other blocking types.
In a zone blocking scheme the offensive linemen block a space rather than an actual man. This can have extremely good results, as defensive linemen stunts and what not are somewhat negated. This can also have negative connotations when you’re Texas, you don’t have a good power run game, and Nick Saban puts his DTs heads up on the guards with the linebackers stacked. It can also hurt when you’re playing USC in the Rose Bowl without developing a successful counter play to slow the defensive flow to the ball. Anyway, the two types of blocking in this scheme depend on if the offensive lineman is covered (a defensive man is lined up directly over top of the offensive lineman) or uncovered (no defensive linemen directly in front of him). When a offensive lineman is covered (or the defensive player is shaded away from the play side) the lineman blocks directly to the second level (LB level). When the offensive lineman is uncovered (and there is a defensive player in the gap toward the play side) then the offensive lineman reach blocks.
Reach: (Also a base block) When an offensive lineman attempts to reach the outside shoulder of a defensive player, and thus blocks him back inside.
In base blocking the offensive line reads the defensive front and communicates appropriate blocking schemes to successfully run the called play. Important note: If there is a split down the middle of the diagram and two blocking types on this diagram on each side, this means that these two blocking styles do not work on the same play).
Double/Combo: The difference is that a double takes the man that is blocked and drives him into the LB, whereas the combo is initially a double, but then one blocker releases to the LB. The man that releases is determined by the direction the LB takes. If the LB runs inside, the inside player (guard in this case) releases to the LB, and vice versa.
Down: When an offensive lineman heads directly to the second level and blocks the linebacker inside.
Drive: A drive block is when any blocker takes the defensive player over top of him and drives him the either out of the hole or simply backwards, away from the play (This can be seen in the diagram for Trap/Cover).
Trap/Cover: A trap play sucks the defensive tackle into the back field by sending the two offensive linemen nearest him toward the LB. This typically baits the DT into thinking they messed up, when suddenly a trap blocker (typically the opposite side guard) pulls tight to the line of scrimmage (as tight as he can) and kicks the DT out of the hole. For this to work however, the defensive man over top of the trapping guard must be covered so that he doesn’t also explode into the backfield. Thus, the center typically covers for the trapping guard. A cover block typically also happens for any pulling plays.
Step/Cross: These two blocking combinations are very similar. Both involve the outside blocker to, in essence, cover block for the (in a way) pulling inside blocker. On the step, the pulling blocker pulls up toward the linebacker, blocking him back inside. On the cross, it is identical to a trap, however, the player being trapped is now the end with the outside man (typically a TE or Tackle) covering for the puller.
Fold: Rather than trap the DT, sometimes it is preferred for the guard to be a lead blocker for the TB. This usually happens in single back type plays. What happens is the C cover blocks for the G, pushing his man as far out of the hole as possible. The guard then slides right off the centers butt and shoots up toward the second level, essentially becoming a lead blocker (and get your mind out of the gutter, I know it sounds dirty, but come on, this is football!).
Pull and Reach/Lead: Pull is when the guard “Pulls”, or swoops around the offensive line and blocks someone on the outside. A pull and reach is when the play side guard pulls around and does a reach block on the end. A pull and lead is when either guard pulls (in this case the far guard) and blocks the first off colored jersey (defensive player) he sees (typically on the inside).
Pull and Kick: Much like a trap block, this happens when the guard pulls and kicks out the end, creating a seem right off his butt (ha ha, dirty joke here).
So now you have learned the stance of an offensive lineman and the basic blocks. In the future, on the next cycle, we will look at what to specifically call some of these combo and double blocks. We will also look at chop blocking and more what you are looking for in the people that play each offensive line spot. Hopefully even further in the future we can start to look at specific blocking schemes against particular fronts.
Up next we will be looking at the receivers, which includes wide outs, slots, and tight ends. Hope you are enjoying the courses and I’ll see you next time.
I more or less c/p'd this from the comments of MCal's most recent post. Read it if you haven't, because it's great. He's great.
Anyway, I was just idly thinking about how Troy Woolfolk's injury in an instant dashed our Motor City Bowl dreams, worrying that 3 wins would be more humiliating than 4. But unless my method sucks, it looks like most college football starters simply can't do that much* to affect their team's chances.
Let's say on average the worst team in college football wins 1 game. Call that replacement level. Every school in college football has at least the talent level this worst team does. That means an average team has 5 wins above replacement. Football Outsiders breaks wins down using a 40/40/20 rule. That is, 40% of wins are attributable to defense, 40 to offense, 20 to special teams. So an average defense will be worth 2 WAR (40% times 5 WAR). If each player is about as important as the other (probably true on defense), then an average defense will feature a unit of ~.2 WAR players (2/11, rounded). Average defensive players are worth just 1/5 of a win above the talent of the worst college football team.
To round out that scale, we should still try to get some idea of how good the best players are. The approximate range for defense yards per game allowed is about 200 ypg to 500, with 350 about average. The difference between best and worst is twice as much as the difference between average and worst. As long as we assume that yards convert linearly to wins, it looks like the best defense (4 wins better than the worst team) would have on average ~.4 WAR players. Even the very best defenders are going to max out in all likelihood around 1 win above the worst players.
So Woolfolk in himself won't mean the end of the season...unless we can't supply replacement level players. And given our depth, maybe that could be problematic? On the other hand, as MCal pointed out, are we really going to be worse than various other terrible outfits around the country? Northwestern and Indiana are always dealing with these kinds of problems. Achieving replacement level should not be a significant hurdle.
On the other hand, let's look at what we can expect from the defense this year given what we now know. The offense last year was about average. Special teams were above. Exactly how bad was the defense? Wholly average teams get 2 WAR from defense, 2 from offense and 1 from special teams. So let's say we got a full 2 WAR from offense and 1.25 ST wins. If we were a true talent 5 win team (i.e. Michigan won 5 games because they weren't unduly lucky either way), that means 1.75 wins from the defense. I think we can probably assume BG was worth .75 wins in himself. Martin, RVB, Roh, Brown, Woolfolk, Warren were varying degrees of not horrifying. Kovacs, Floyd, Ezeh and Mouton were all near replacement level. In fact, let's run with that. 1 win split among the actual contributors (Martin et al.) still means slightly below average talent in that group. If BG's dominance was not so great, they'd come out better of course. This isn't the most robust analysis ever, but I think most observers would paint BG's season as seriously that good.
And if there's one thing we're sure of, it's that losing one dynamic player isn't that big a deal. Depth can absolutely make up for a lack of stars at the top end if all you're trying to achieve is competence. I happen to think the offense will be well above average and ST will be fine. The question, I think, comes down to how dominant the DL can be and, after that, finding guys who can do a couple things who maybe have some flaws in their game. Moundrous may have trouble walling off a slot receiver on a vertical, but if he can stuff the run he'll have value over Ezeh last season. And then maybe Demens can do the pass drops/blitzes on passing downs. Piece by piece, use everybody. That's the way we'll have to do it. And just maybe we'll see a bowl game this year.
*Exceptions granted for quarterbacks and, in case Brandon Graham is reading, Brandon Graham.
Try to do this yourselves. When I do it, I can only find one configuration that works for me at all:
- "East" -- PSU, OSU, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern
- "West" -- Michigan, MSU, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska
I really think this is what the powers that be have in mind. Think about it -- if you separate OSU from Michigan then you pretty much have to keep Wisconsin in the division. Nebraska has to stay with Iowa, so it's done. The divisions are in fact geographically contiguous. All major rivalries are preserved within the divisions except one, or maybe two if you count MSU-PSU.
One problem with this is the reality that the winner of OSU-PSU will almost always play for the conference championship. How often will one of the others break that stranglehold? Twice a decade? Less? You're taking the two programs from the largest and richest football recruiting states in the Big Ten, both without in-state conference rivals, and isolating them in a division by themselves. Yeah, that will work!
What are they thinking?
I'm going to guess that they are thinking that this will create a competitive championship game every year. They are right -- the champions of the West are likely to be a very good team. But they will almost always have more losses than the East champion, due to more parity within their division.
While it's fun, the point of the game is not to knock OSU out of the national championship every once in a while. That is so 1969. The point is to beat them and not just go to the Rose Bowl, but go onto the national championship ourselves. These divisions work against that ultimate goal. Indeed, any Big Ten divisional alignment that separates Michigan and Ohio State has this same fatal flaw.
I guess Dave Brandon would argue that the primary goal of conference play is to win the Big Ten championship, no matter how the Wolverines get there. That's true. But to play for the BCS championship, most years Michigan will have to win three games against OSU/PSU. Strength of schedule might allow us one conference loss along the way if the SEC champion isn't in the same predicament. That's likely to be the new reality, folks. Get used to it.